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:
- Taken overdoses of tablets.
- Cut myself over and over again.
- Stuffed myself with junk food then made myself sick.
- Kicked out and screamed at the empty bedroom I face every day to the point of exhaustion.
- 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?
- 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.
- I talk. I phone my husband or my close friends and tell them I am not feeling good and that I need help.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.