To a grieving parent at Christmas …

This is my second Christmas without my little boy, Ned, who died in a car crash on Good Friday last year. He was 5-years-old. That day shattered my heart, destroyed me. Grief is the cruellest infliction on a human.

Grief never goes away. It has often been described as the ocean. Calm and breaking gently on the shoreline on some days. Angry and vicious, battering waves threatening to drown you on others.

There are always triggers that make days, even parts of the day more difficult. After losing a child, Christmas is definitely one of the most difficult times of the year.

How are you expected to get through this time of the year that’s meant to be filled with magic and merriment, when the pain is sharper and the sadness deeper?

I don’t have the answer, but I thought I’d share some ideas that have been offered to me by the professionals who help me on how to get through this horrendous time …

 

1) I’ve created #NedAdvent¬†this year, to help me look through photos of Ned. It has been painful, but with a purpose, I’ve been able to lose myself in my memories. I see it as a gift to Ned. I can’t leave a present under the tree for him, so I’m sharing to keep his memory alive.

2) To get through the Christmas holidays I have to have a plan in place. I have to know what we’ll be doing every day, otherwise I feel like I’m drowning. For Christmas Day, the plan will be hour by hour. I will focus on each hour and feel relief at the end of each one.

3) I will fill the time with close friends and family. Even if you don’t have the energy to make much of a conversation, just having them there is enough, especially if you have other children. They can distract your other children and help keep things as ‘normal’ as possible.

4) Accept the sadness. It can’t be avoided. Cry with your family and friends – they shouldn’t be afraid of your tears.

5) Find time to have some space and peace by yourself. For me, this will be at Ned’s graveside where I will let the sadness flow out of me. I will allow myself to feel the emotions that threaten to overwhelm me and release them. Cry, scream, punch a pillow. Whatever helps.

6) Talk about your child. Share in the memories. Your child may not be there as a physical presence, but they are there in your hearts and deserve to be spoken about.

7) Do something different to what you used to do – form a new tradition. This could be anything from when you usually open presents to where you spend Christmas. I don’t know what ours will be yet, but we’ll choose something.

8) If you have other children, make sure that they know that it’s ok for them to be happy. It’s ok for them to laugh. This doesn’t mean that they’re not thinking of your lost child. Allow them to enjoy Christmas. Children need this.

9) If possible, get out of the house as a family on Christmas Day. Go for a walk somewhere just to get some fresh air.

10) Don’t put pressure on yourself. If things don’t go as you planned, that’s ok. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Christmas will be painful, it will be sad and you will feel an overwhelming emptiness. Go with this, don’t try to fight it. You will get through it.

 

I am filled with dread, sadness and a suffocating emptiness when I think about Christmas Day. But I have to get through it for my two other boys. I’m not strong. I’m in a very dark place, but somehow I’ll do it.¬†And so can you.

 

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Dear Ned

I can’t believe it’s coming up to Christmas again. A second Christmas without you. How can that be possible? I don’t remember much about last Christmas, but the Christmas before? 2015? I remember it well, but I should have memorised every second.

I do remember Tomi insisted on waking you up at 6am. You always liked your sleep and a little lie-in. I loved the way you would come from your room all bleary-eyed with sticky-up hair and wrap yourself around me to say good morning.

Tomi, he was the opposite wasn’t he? But you never complained. And certainly not on that morning when Tomi brought your stocking to you from the end of the bed. You both came to our room to open your stockings on our bed, managing to wake Cai up in the process. But hey, he didn’t mind either.

Do you remember opening the living room door and seeing the mountain of presents Santa had left you? Tomi tore through his at record speed. The first thing you did was check that Rudolph had eaten his carrot. You then opened each present carefully, treasuring each gift, whilst Tomi eagerly passed them to you. You had Woody and Buzz Lightyear, a keyboard and drums.

You and Tomi set up your own band – you on keyboard and Tomi on drums. You wanted a lead singer and decided that you’d ask Uncle Mark on Boxing Day. I texted him to warn him! Your music was … loud.

After lunch, you gave us a performance – a story about the lonely Christmas tree. You stood in the middle of the kitchen and made it up as you went along, but it was beautiful. You took a well-deserved bow at the end. You loved stories and were looking forward so much to my book being published the following September. Can you remember us practising our signatures?

Three months later, you were gone.

Your drum set sat silently in your room. Your keyboard leaned tuneless against your wardrobe. Buzz and Woody sat on the shelf waiting for you.

…………………………………………

This morning I forced myself to open the Christmas box that Dad has brought down from the attic. I pulled out your stocking and held it close. It will forever be empty of gifts but forever filled with love. I carefully took out the decorations you made in school, ready to put them up. I haven’t managed to do that yet.

I left the box and took out the Christmas placemats and coasters from the cupboard in the kitchen. I’ve set them on the table. I’ve set a space for you. I’ve given you the Rudolph coaster because I know that one’s your favourite.

I sat at the table crying. What would you have asked Santa for this year, Ned? I’ve tried to imagine. But I don’t know. I don’t what you’d like now. Would you still be a performer? I think you would. I think we would have had another of your lovely stories. But I don’t know for certain. I never will.

But I do know that you’d want a big cwtch when you woke up, just like you wanted every morning. And I know that you’d want to make sure that Rudolph is ok; that the other reindeer aren’t being mean to him. And I know that our home would have been filled with noise and laughter and music if you were here.

I don’t want to walk into the living room on Christmas morning, Ned. I don’t want to see the empty space where your presents should be. I don’t want to sit at the table staring at the empty space opposite me where you should be sitting.

I want to feel your warm little body wrapped in my arms. I want to see your dimpled smile. I want to hear your laughter. I want you here, where you belong. But that’s a gift I can never be granted. Not even Santa can bring me what I wish for most in the world.

So I’ll sit at your graveside and I’ll close my eyes tight. I’ll let the tears fall because I’ll see you. I’ll see you standing in your pyjamas your arms outstretched, your dimpled smile crinkling up your eyes. And I’ll gather you up and hold you and tell you that I love you, Ned, more than you could ever possibly know.

Mam

 

 

Heartache with a headstone

Last Thursday, December the 1st, my little boy’s headstone was placed. I knew that this was going to be a huge deal. Seeing my son’s name in stone; the dates of his short life. I tried to prepare myself for it, but how do you prepare for something so awful? You can’t.

I went alone to see the headstone on Thursday afternoon and as I walked across the cemetery, the wind was knocked out of me and I couldn’t breathe. I fell to my knees. A sound escaped from deep, deep within me.

It wasn’t the stone. Before the stone was placed, Ned’s grave had been a small mound. I have sat next to this mound with my arm draped across with my eyes closed day after day. It’s been the closest I can get physically to my little boy. But on Thursday, the mound had gone. The ground was flat. Ned had gone.

I scrambled, half crawled over. Where was he? Where was my little boy?

There stands a beautiful stone with his name engraved onto it, but for me, it now feels empty. I don’t know where to find Ned anymore. I have nothing to physically hold onto. He really has gone and he’s never coming back.

This is another huge step in my complex grieving journey. I spoke about it today with my psychologist. I told her I didn’t know where Ned is now. I don’t even have that little raised mound of earth to hold onto. She asked me if I needed something to cling onto. Isn’t Ned with me all the time she said? But this is something I’ve struggled with all along. Yes, I think about him every minute of the day, but I’ve clung onto that little mound with all that’s left of me, like clinging to a branch out in the vast sea.

I don’t know what to hold onto anymore. One of his favourite teddies? An item of his clothing? But it isn’t the same. That mound represented Ned. And now it’s gone.

I never for one second thought that this is how placing Ned’s headstone would affect me. He deserves a headstone, of course he does. But where does the journey take me now? How do I stop from drowning in grief’s ocean?

I don’t have the answer, but I’m clinging to the hope that somehow I get through this new phase of grieving and continue on my journey.

Always remember that grief is unique to every individual. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Every way is filled with pain and anguish. My advice for anyone who knows a grieving person? Be their piece of driftwood. You don’t need to know the right things to say. You don’t need to know the right things to do. You just need to be there.

‘Catch a grieving person, try to make them stay,

Hold their hand so tightly, don’t let them float away.’