What I know about grief…

Until you’ve suffered grief in its rawest form, you simply cannot understand how it feels for the person who is suffering. You may be one of the people who say such things as ‘time heals’, or ‘you’ll get better in the summer when the sun’s shining’ (yes, I have been told this). Or you may be one of the people who don’t talk about what has happened because you think this helps.

I had never encountered real grief until I lost my son last March. Since then, I have been living in the dark belly of grief and this is what I now know:

  1. Grief is not an illness. You can’t ‘get better’. It stays with you for the rest of your life.
  2. Time does not heal. Time may heal a wound on the skin, but it can’t possibly heal grief because it’s impossible to turn back time.
  3. Grief is so very lonely and isolating. People expect things of you that are just no longer possible.
  4. Grief is unique to every person – my husband and I are grieving in completely different ways.
  5. Bereavement counselling helps because I can offload and say whatever I’m feeling without being judged. And I’ve learnt that crying is a good thing. You have to let some of the emotions out.
  6. People are afraid of grief. It doesn’t get spoken about openly. It still carries taboo.
  7. Grief is not linear. You don’t pass through certain stages and reach peace at the end. Some days you can be in the depths of one stage, to find yourself in another the following day, only to be right back at the beginning the next.
  8. Grief affects your body emotionally, mentally and physically. It’s exhausting.
  9. Grief is the worst pain anyone can ever have to endure.
  10. Grief is utterly terrifying.

I believe the loss of your child is the worst kind of grief possible. No parent should have to see their child dead, encased in a coffin. No parent should have to watch as their child is lowered to the ground or cremated. No parent should have to live with the eternal torture of this loss.

It takes a very special person to be able to help a grieving person stay afloat. I have less than a handful of true friends who have been with me since the beginning of the nightmare and I know that they will always be there with me. These are the people that are able to not make the pain their pain; they are able to put their pain aside and do whatever they can to help me. These are the people who I will be eternally grateful to.

Grief … 12 months gone

I wanted to write this post mainly because I have become tired of hearing people tell me that once the first year has passed, following the loss of a loved one, you get better, life becomes easier. Grief is such an individual journey. No one can understand it until they too live in the nightmare.

It’s coming up to the one year anniversary of the death of my son, Ned. I am not ‘better’ because grief is not an illness. There is no ‘getting better’. You live with it for the rest of your life. Some days are slightly easier than others. Some days are utter hell. That’s as good as it gets.

Physically, there are several changes in me. When the accident happened and I first starting living in this nightmare, I lost a lot of weight. I have had to rely on medication to survive. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t take the medication. My dosage has been increased several times throughout the past year. A side effect of this is that I’ve re-gained the weight lost and have put more on. I look overweight and bloated.

I am drained of colour. I have been since I was given the news that my 5 year old precious little boy had died. My skin has a dull, grey pallor. My eyes are glassy and I have a faraway look about me, so I’ve been told. I feel disconnected as I look at others living day to day.

I have started to lose my hair. At the moment it’s around the hairline and I have spiky little tufts, similar to how it was after giving birth. I hope that the condition won’t worsen but it’s out of my control.

I am bone tired. No matter how much sleep I get I still need more. I ache with tiredness. I look like I haven’t slept in months.

I still have an unstable relationship with food. I can’t sit and have a family meal. I have only managed this a handful of times over the last twelve months. This means that I tend to binge at times when I suddenly realise that I’m hungry. I know I should be eating healthily, looking after myself better. But when you hate yourself and live in this perpetual darkness, you don’t think about yourself. I make sure that I do everything  possible to ensure that my other two sons have a normal, happy childhood. It is so hard when all I want to do is curl up and die.

I feel nauseas most of the time. I am always on the verge of tears and am constantly battling them back. I continue to have panic attacks, at home and in public. Some are severe, some I can control.

So that’s what’s happening physically twelve months on. Not a pretty description really. These are the manifestations of my grief that others can see.

Mentally, I am suffering more than I have ever suffered in my life.

There’s an emptiness inside me, a gaping hole. I feel the nothingness in my arms where once he would wrap himself tightly around me. I’m starting to forget what it felt like to hold him and that terrifies me.

I cry endless tears day after day. I lie in his bed which I haven’t changed since the day he died, but his smell has faded. This also terrifies me.

So not only do I live with the devastating sadness of losing him, I now live with the terror of really losing him – his smell, the feel of his hands around my neck at bedtime, his straight from school hug. They’re fading and I can’t stop them no matter how hard I try to grasp onto them. We have video recordings of him which I can’t bring myself to watch right now, but his physicality, his being is fading.

I blame myself for what happened. It was one word. If I’d said ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’, he would still be here, filling the house with his energy and love. I made the wrong choice. I have to carry that with me for the rest of my life. I will never forgive myself for saying ‘yes’.

I’m lonely. I have never felt more alone in my life. No one can know how I feel, not even those closest to me. I lie in a crumpled heap on his bed because there’s nothing I can do to stop the pain. There’s nothing that anyone can do.

I’m not a religious person. I have no definite beliefs. I don’t know what I think happens when we die. I’m no longer afraid of dying, but I still don’t know what death means to me. I don’t think I ever will. It’s too big. I get struck several times a day with the knowing that he’s dead and it leaves me winded, gasping for air. But to think that there’s a never – never see him again, never hold him again. No. I can’t accept that. I have to cling to some form of belief that I will see him again. I will hold him. He will ‘be’.

Twelve months on, I’m not ‘better’. I never will be. The mental torture of my everyday life is showing on me physically. I ask if anyone who knows me well and reads this not to make the general assumption that after the first year things will get easier for me; that I will learn to cope better; that I will learn to live with what has happened.

Twelve months on, I still carry the devastating sadness and the guilt, but added to these now is fear. Fear of everyone moving on and leaving him behind. Fear that I’ll forget the tiniest things. Fear that the day will come when I succumb to the voice that screams at me at times to take an overdose and that it will be the one that has one tablet too many. Fear that I’ll let my other two sons down the way I let Ned down.

If I had to give words to how I feel right now, there are five adjectives that I can come up with.

Devastated. Heartbroken. Guilty. Lonely. Terrified.

I am a mam who has lost her son – the little boy who grew safely inside me for 9 months; the little boy who was always by my side for five short years. Ned.