Finding release …

The sudden death of my son has been my first real experience of grief. Yes, I’ve lost both sets of grandparents when they were at an old age, but this is the first world-shattering experience of grief I have had; and it’s the worst kind there is. With three words, I shattered into a million fragments that will never fully piece together again. I’ve been thrown into a vast ocean, its waves constantly wash over me as I struggle to breathe and keep afloat. Three simple words: He’s passed away.

The world changed for me that day. It became a world of horror and inexplicable cruelty. This wasn’t my life. This wasn’t how it was meant to be. I had just given up teaching whilst on sick leave, recovering from a hysterectomy. My book was being published this year; I was starting to feel like me again. Having suffered with depression and anxiety for the past four years, I was finally beginning to feel the tiniest fluttering of happiness. It was like a bud beginning to flower. This was my new beginning.

Then crash. My whole world catastrophically crumbled down around me.

I have blogged about my journey through grief as it is such a painful, incomprehensible and lonely place to be. It’s not just an emotional turmoil, it also physically hurts. Quite simply, you live in a nightmare from which there is no escape.

A friend of mine has recently found herself in this nightmare, having lost her husband. This is partly why I’m writing this blog today. It’s also partly because someone asked me the other day if time heals. There’s only one answer to that: No.

So what is it that I want to share with others who are living in this nightmare? What can I offer when I know that words fall like autumn leaves around you when you’re in the darkness of grief. I think that what I want to say is that coming up to 8 months, I’m still here. I have battled day after day and have made it this far. Am I better? No. Grief is not an illness. There is no cure. It’s something I have to learn to live with.

How? How do you escape from the dark nightmare? 8 months in, I am still in the dark nightmare, there is no escape from it. It is my life now. But there are days where I can see a glimmer. It may only last a few minutes, it may last most of the day, but it is there. Not every day. Days without the glimmer are dark and dangerous. Those are the days when I hurt so much that I hold myself in a tight ball, begging for some release from the pain. Those are the days where I pace the house in a panicked frenzy of not understanding. Those are the days that I don’t want to be.

Right now, those days still outweigh my glimmer days, but thankfully, I am slowly starting to find ways of releasing the pain. Through counselling and the support of my mental health nurse, I’m slowly learning.

Over the past 8 months, I have tried many ways to find that release:

  1. Taken overdoses of tablets.
  2. Cut myself over and over again.
  3. Stuffed myself with junk food then made myself sick.
  4. Kicked out and screamed at the empty bedroom I face every day to the point of exhaustion.
  5. Thought of ways to end my life.

For each of these, I was told by friends, family and health professionals to stop; they were doing no good only harm. But what did they know? They had no idea of the pain I was in. They could tell me a thousand times over that I needed to distract myself when the overwhelming darkness began to suffocate me. Why I would say. I didn’t want to distract myself. I wanted to take the tablets because I knew I would sleep. I wanted to cut my skin because it hurt and I deserved to hurt. I wanted to overeat because I hated myself so much. I wanted to lash out and scream and bang my head against the wall because I let my little boy go on that day. I wanted to die because my little boy was somewhere and he needed his mam.

I had to realise for myself that these methods were not working. They weren’t giving me any release. Taking tablets was giving me a few hours in A&E and the guilt and shame that followed would eat away at me for days. Cutting myself wasn’t doing anything other than making a mess on my skin which I tried in vain to hide. Overeating has made my weight creep up which leaves me feeling angry and full of self-loathing. Ending my life isn’t an option. I have a husband and two sons. Two little boys who need their mam.

Slowly, I have stopped using those methods and I hope I’ll never fall back into that self-destructive pattern of behaviour; but I can’t say it’s a certainty. That realisation had to come to me by myself. I had to see for myself that what I was doing was not going to help. I have had to accept that I have to find non-harming forms of release. I have learnt to recognise the danger signs and know that I have to get myself away from them. I can’t let them overwhelm me. I can’t let them win.

What’s different for me now? My grief hasn’t lessened at all. It never will. I know that. I can’t escape it. It’s real, it’s happened to me and I have to learn to live with it.

So what happens now when the dark thoughts begin to overwhelm me?

  1. I breathe. I sit, with my feet firmly on the ground and I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. I keep doing this until the trembling stops and my breathing slows down again.
  2. I talk. I phone my husband or my close friends and tell them I am not feeling good and that I need help.
  3. I take medication. Some may think this is wrong. For me, it is completely right. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and right now, I need the medication to help me live with it. I am prescribed a small amount at a time – a safety net against overdosing.
  4. I visit Ned’s grave every evening where I let myself fall apart and cry till the tears dry. I have been told by my counsellor that crying is healthy, that my body needs to do this. I take the longer route home so that I have time to clear my head.
  5. I sit down and write – anything. I use words to get some of the horror out so I have that little bit more space to breathe. It’s clear to see that these are the ‘correct’ methods of release. But it takes time to get here. Being able to do them doesn’t mean I’m no longer in pain, they are simply ways of trying to manage my pain. They are the driftwood that keep me afloat. I’m still in the vast ocean, only the above helps me to keep my head above the water; they keep me alive.

For someone reading this who may be in the darkness of grief, I hope my words show that tiny glimmer at the end of the tunnel. Breathing, that comes first. Admitting you need help and asking for it, that comes next. Make sure you have a tight support network around you. Taking medication is an individual choice. I wouldn’t be here writing this without it. Knowing and accepting that you’ll cry and feel that there are no more tears left then cry some more, every day. But cry it out, don’t try to hold it in. And it’s ok for your children to see you cry. It isn’t a weakness. It’s a form of coping. The last one, finding something that gives you that release – writing, painting, yoga, running, cooking, cycling, gardening – anything that you can feel some pleasure in, because when you get that momentary pleasure, you will release a little of the built-up grief.

By doing these 5 things, I am here. That’s my aim right now: to keep myself here. I feel no excitement towards anything, I don’t feel happy. But I am here. I am being Mam to my two boys. I am keeping Ned’s memory alive through writing and talking. And although my body is full of the darkest pain imaginable, my heart beats the strongest love possible for my three sons.

Just breathe …

(Dedicated to those who helped my little Ned on the 25th of March)

Last Friday I went to meet the brave heroes from the Wales Air Ambulance who attended the scene of the crash on Friday, the 25th of March – the day I last saw my little boy Ned. I cried on the way down, I cried as we were given coffee and waited for the two men to come in. When they came in, I felt a strange calmness engulf me. Here were the two men who had all the answers to my questions.

They told me what happened from the second they landed the helicopter on the road, 35 minutes after the call, to when they had to finally admit the battle was over. They told me how peaceful the scene was. They told me how brave my little Ned was; how he clung onto his life for over an hour, but his battle was in vain. His injury was fatal from the outset.

The two men, one an anaesthetist and the other a critical care paramedic, are dads themselves. They shed tears as I cried. They told me that they had worked on road accidents for 15 years, but that Ned was the one case that would stay with them forever. Ned touched them and they have my little boy tucked away in the corner of their hearts.

A fireman had knelt next to Ned the whole time and hadn’t stopped talking to him, and had tearfully pleaded with them not to give up when they had said that there was nothing else they could do. My police liaison officer and her sergeant stood next to him willing the ending to be a different one. My police liaison officer now carries a photo of Ned in her purse.

They asked me to tell them about Ned; about this special little boy who has touched so many hearts.

So I told them about my little boy. I told them how he was always smiling and laughing. I told them how he loved to perform and would always put on shows for us to watch. I told them he was always the last to get up in the mornings. I told them how his hair stuck up at funny angles no matter how much I brushed it.

I told them he loved jam sandwiches with the crusts cut off and only if it was jam no bits. I told them how, when he walked into a room, he instantly attracted everyone’s attention without even trying. I told them how lovable he was, how he would cling to me at bedtime and tell me he loved me more than the whole wide world, and would ask for the biggest kiss in the world on his cheek so that he could feel it there till morning. I told them how I had to sing ‘Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer’ to him every night.

I told them how he was determined to learn to ride his bike without stabilisers over the Easter holidays and how proud he was to be moving up to Stage 3 swimming lessons after the holidays.

I told them how children swarmed around him in school, everyone wanting a little piece of my Ned. And he gave. He befriended everyone – from the shy little girl who loved to watch him perform to the boisterous boys he would join in a rugby tackle.

He sounds just like he looked, one said. A lovable mischievous little scamp. And that’s exactly how he was – bursting with life and energy; full of wonderment and excitement about the world around him; already labelled as a ‘gifted and talented’ pupil at school. Perfect.

So why take him from this Earth? Why hurt him so badly that his little body could not survive? Why leave two little boys without their brother? Why leave a Mam and Dad falling apart without their precious son? Those are the questions I’ll never have answered. Those are the questions that form grief.

Since that day, my grief has turned into a deep, deep sadness that sits in the pit of my stomach. I feel a cold emptiness; I guess it’s the realisation that my little boy really has gone. The nightly nightmares of images of how I could see that fateful day have stopped; replaced by a sad reality; a reality that hadn’t hit me despite his bed having been empty for 7 months. Acceptance – that will never come. I will never accept that I’ll never hold my little boy again. Never.

The crew we met were lovely, gentle and loving people. So as the world sometimes seems crazy and incomprehensible, and makes us question its cruelty, I think of these men who showed my Ned nothing but love. And I thank them from the bottom of my shattered heart for what they did. They fought for my little boy with every ounce of their being. They are true heroes – the ambulance paramedics, the police, the fire crew and the Air Ambulance Crew.

I will always think of my little boy as my angel, even before he was taken. There was something so very special about him. I live day by day, sometimes hour by hour. I feel such a strong pull to my little Ned, but I feel an equal pull to my two precious sons at home – living, breathing, wanting and needing their Mam.

So when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I say to myself is that all I need to do is breathe. Just breathe. Anything else I achieve during the day is just an extra. As long as I’m still breathing, I’ll be here. I may be a crumpled heap on the floor; I may be curled up in a tight ball in the corner of Ned’s bedroom; I may be knelt next to his grave crying endless tears; but I’m still breathing.

Tragedy has struck friends of ours this past fortnight. Another cruel, cruel accident which has left a young woman a widow at 41, and three young children to grow up without a dad. My advice to her has been to simply keep breathing. The horror isn’t going to go away; it doesn’t get easier with time, it changes, you learn to live with it. But as long as she keeps breathing, she’ll be here.

Grief is a living thing; it moves around the body; it changes form; but it will be there, inside me, inside my friend, for the rest of our lives. That gives us a choice. We live with it, or we don’t. Sometimes it becomes so powerful, so all-encompassing that you have to find release. I’ve blogged about the dangerous ways I’ve chosen in the past and I will try my very best to help my friend live with and release her grief in ways that won’t threaten her life.

For me, right now, it’s writing. It’s breathing slowly as I write the turmoil onto the page. I step out of myself. This is a good form of release and I hope that this is where I’ll stay. Because as long as I keep breathing I will have words. Words to put on paper, words to shout out loud in anger, words to cry into my pillow. But they are all words and for a few brief moments, they give me release and they keep me here.

To the Crew

You battled strong, you battled long,

You tried to right that which was wrong.

There was no more that you could do,

My broken heart sends thanks to you.

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No More Today

I’m torn apart

With a broken heart,

Just a crumpled heap

Who cannot sleep,

For sleep brings fear

And a trickling tear,

As images flash

Of that horrific crash.

 

A day will dawn

Yet still I mourn,

And time stands still

It always will.

Because here I’ll wait

My loss too great

To carry through

A life without you.

 

Each day I try

Each day I cry,

Each day I miss

Your goodnight kiss.

An empty room

You left too soon,

Cruelly snatched away

No more today.

 

How do I live

When I can’t give

My lost little boy

A life to enjoy.

I let him go

That I’ll always know,

For what was right

Was to hold him tight.

 

I’m sorry, Ned, I love you so

I wish and wish I’d never let go.

For now you’re gone

Your life is done,

And I’m torn apart

With a broken heart,

Just a crumpled heap

Waiting for eternal sleep.