Living with my grief

Living with grief is hell. Absolute utter hell. It comes in waves; it hits you like a tidal wave when you least expect it. It doesn’t give a moment’s thought as to when it strikes. It doesn’t wait until I’m tucked up in bed, alone and hidden from view. The wave hits when I’m walking down the street, when I’m sitting in a cafe, when I’m playing with Tomi and Cai. And what I’ve learnt is that I can’t hide it. I am a mother who has lost a child. That is what it is. That is what it will always be.

I had clinical depression and anxiety before this tragic event in my life. I was slowly getting better. But the loss of my son has been so horrific that I will never now get better. It makes me bubble inside when people tell me, ‘Oh give it time, it’ll get easier, you’ll get better.’ No. No it won’t. Easier perhaps in that I learn to perfect my acting, but that’s about it.

As with my last blog post on my grief, I am writing this today as it has been a particularly tough week again. An assessment by my psychiatrist has given me a new label. My clinical depression has deteriorated and now includes elements of psychosis and delusional guilt; my anxiety has become severe. They are frightening labels to carry. But they are words, diagnoses. But they are diagnoses that people don’t understand; that people are scared of because they can’t see them. That’s the trouble with mental illness. That’s why I’m writing about it. It’s real and it’s terrifying.

The new diagnoses has meant my medication has been increased. Again, I know that people (even those close to me) worry that the medication is not allowing me to grieve fully. What I try to make them understand is that without the medication, I wouldn’t be here. But that’s too incomprehensible. Of course I’d be here. I have two sons who need me, a husband. I have my book to look forward to. I have a future. Believe me, I would not be here. I know it. 100%.

So that is why I take the medication, so that I can try to live. Because I have to. It’s either this, or taking the easy option; the option which haunts me, tempts me on a daily basis. But I am fighting it, day after day, night after night. I will not let the easy option win.

Next week, it will be 5 months since I lost my son. 5 months. How can that be possible because I’m still there, stuck on March the 25th, confused, hurting, lonely, trapped. And I now have a new weight to carry. Guilt. Guilt that is eating away at me. Why did I let my little boy go that day? Why did I not keep him safe? Why wasn’t I the one holding him when he was so badly hurt and needed his Mam?

These are the questions that feed on me, like vultures. They make me want to tear my hair out. They make my legs buckle. They make me physically sick. I let my boy down so badly and I will never forgive myself. People can shout at me that it wasn’t my fault and that I could never have known. It won’t make a difference. Nothing that anyone says will change it. It’s the guilt that I have to carry for the rest of my life. And it is so heavy that breathing for me has become a challenge. Getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge. Being is a challenge. Grief is a challenge.

I get angry. Why me? Why my little boy? What have I done that was so terrible that my little boy had to be taken from me? Why have I been robbed of the one thing that every mother does – to hold their child when they are hurt; to whisper soothing words to make the pain go away? I never got to do that. I never got to say, ‘Sh… Mam’s here, it’s ok,’ whilst I stroked his face. This tears me to pieces. It’s like someone ripping my heart out and jumping up and down on it.

This is my life. I’m being brutally honest because writing it as it is helps me a little. There is no softening it. It is how it is. It’s a vast ocean that I’ll swim in for the rest of my life. And this is why I grasp onto anything that will keep me afloat. My family. My close friends. My writing. Some days I’m drowning and am clinging onto these life rafts with the mere tips of my fingers. Some days I have a tight hold on them. Perhaps one day I’ll feel like I’m on a boat, safely sailing through my grief. Perhaps.

The next fortnight is going to be so incredibly difficult. We have the inquest to face – the cold, harsh, blunt reality of that fateful day. And so I must battle to cling on to my lifelines. That’s what I’m focusing on. That glimmer on the horizon. My debut book publishing. An achievement that I must try to be proud of. An achievement that my family is proud of. An achievement that Ned was proud of. And I owe that to my Ned. He wouldn’t want his Mam to give up. He’d say, ‘Come on Mam, write another one now.’

So I’m saying, ‘Ok, Ned. I will. I’ll do it for you.’

 

 

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A month to go …

In exactly one month’s time, my debut children’s book, ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ will be on the shelves in bookshops. How surreal! My dream a reality. Scary and thrilling at the same time. Exciting and deeply sad because of the loss of my little boy earlier this year.

All my blog posts over the past four months have centred on that tragic loss. My grief has been all-consuming and the pain that I’ve been in every day has been unbearable. I worried about how I would be able to look forward to my book being published. But my book has turned into a lifeline – something that has given me focus and direction. No, the pain of the loss of my little Ned hasn’t lessened, but it means that I’ve had something to grab onto as grief leaves you feeling like you’re adrift at sea, alone and frightened.

I started writing five years ago, after Ned contracted meningitis at six weeks old. Once he recovered I realised how precious life was. How it can be snatched away in the blink of an eye. As I was off work on maternity leave, I decided to sit down and write a short story. I thought to myself, ‘Right enough of this one day I’ll write a book nonsense. I’m going to sit down and actually give it a go.’

My first short story was called ‘Waiting for Light’ (it’s posted on this blog) and I was thrilled that after writing it, I entered it into a competition with Writers’ Forum magazine, and it was placed second. That was the boost I needed. I wrote several short stories over the following months and won or was placed in many. But deep down I knew that I wanted to write for children. And I wanted to write a book.

I returned to work and fell into a downward spiral of depression and anxiety – yet writing was that one thing that I could hold onto. I started writing ‘Grace-Ella’ in the early hours before I had to go to work. A year later I had finished. I had written a book. A children’s book. And despite the depression having taken a real hold of me, I felt a little something – pride I suppose.

After pondering over what to do with my book and reading countless articles on publishing and researching agents and publishers, quite by chance I came across Firefly Press. A Wales based publisher that wanted to publish books for children aged 7-9 that were based in Wales. My story fit the criteria so I sent it off, convinced that it would be rejected and would stop me from pursuing this ridiculous dream. I mean, I had read that it was virtually impossible to get published without an agent, and even more impossible to get an agent without being published.

Three months later came an email for a full manuscript request. Fast forward another month and I was sitting with the publisher and editor of Firefly Press drinking coffee and discussing the real possibility of my book being published. I don’t think I have to say that I floated home that day.

Editing was done and my story was put forward for a book grant with the Welsh Books Council. Then came the waiting … and waiting … and waiting. During this time I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety and started taking antidepressants. It was such a relief to know that it wasn’t just me being stupid and weak – I had an actual illness that needed treating.

Then came the email that my book had been given the grant and an offer of publication from Firefly Press. Well, I squealed and leapt about and did the conga around the house with Tomi and Ned. I had done it. Despite the depression and anxiety, I had worked hard and achieved my dream.

That was last year. I knew that I had to give up teaching as it was the primary cause of my illness, so made the decision at the end of last year, when I had to go off on sick leave to have a hysterectomy, to give up teaching. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I had three little boys to raise, bills to pay, a fairly crippling mortgage. But I was also severely depressed and had to get better.

As soon as I posted my resignation letter something lifted off my shoulders. I could breathe a little easier. Everything seemed that little bit brighter. I was able to give my full attention to my boys and my writing. I was able to take them to school and pick them up every day. Whilst they were at school I wrote. I could take them to swimming, football … the countless clubs that they attended. I had time for reading and homework in the evenings without having to rush them to bed so that I could get on with marking and preparation for school. For the first time in a very long time, I was happy. Really happy. I had my writing and I had my boys.

Then it was all snatched away from me on the 25th of March. My little Ned, only 5 years old, set off with his grandmother to an Easter Egg Hunt and I never saw him alive again. My world was shattered.

I’ve blogged in detail about my journey through grief so I’m not going to go into it here. I know that I’ll never be the same person as I was before. I’ll never again experience true happiness. I’ll never again wake up without that heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’ll never again have a day when I don’t cry.

But, because of Ned, my dream of being an author has come true. I have a book that will be out there for children to read. Ned loved reading. He was reading well above his age, devouring three or four books a night. He was so excited about Mam being an author. And so every day, I get out of bed because I have two other little boys who need their Mam. And I know, deep in my heart, that Ned would want me to continue to pursue my dream. He wasn’t a giver-up. He would try till he got things right. So I won’t disappoint him. I’ll make him proud by writing down the stories that drift into my head.

‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ will publish in a month’s time – September 15th. And I know that wherever Ned is, he’ll be shouting ‘Go Mam, you’re awesome.’

 

grace-ella-lowres final coverO

Broken Souls

The pain cuts too deep

A vulture feeding on flesh

‘Till there’s nothing left

And bones crumple

To the ground.

Gone.

 

Soaring, flying free

No pain for all eternity

Searching soul-filled skies

Until we meet

And our hearts beat.

Whole.

 

The pain cuts too deep

For broken souls

As they search the sky

For the answer to why

A bitter hurt so deep.

Destroyed.