Where are you, Ned?

Today would have been your 7th birthday. But you’re not here. The house is quiet. There is no laughter or singing, or doing the conga. There was no bouncing on our bed at 7am with shouts of ‘Happy birthday to meeee!’

Where are you, Ned?

It’s been snowing here, snow like you never got to see. Enough to build a snowman in the garden – one of the things you always wanted to do. School is closed; no school on your birthday. You would have been happy with that, I think. What would you have asked for this year? I don’t know. You would have wanted a party, and a friend for a sleepover in your new bunkbed that you never got to sleep in.

Where are you, Ned?

On your 5th birthday, you told me about all of the things that you were going to do now that you were 5 years old. You would have lost some teeth and the tooth fairy would have been. You would have learnt to ride your bike without your stabilisers. You wanted to have ‘chicken spots’ and I think you probably would have because Cai caught them last year. How simple was your list, but how precious. Important milestones in the life of a 5 year old. But you never got to do any of them.

Where are you, Ned?

This question haunts me every day and at night when I cry myself to sleep.

People say that you’re in my heart – yes, you’ve been in my heart since the second you were born, but that’s my love for you, it isn’t you.

Some say that you’re right beside me, but I don’t feel you. I don’t feel your small hand in mine, or your arms wrapped around my neck at bedtime. I carry your memory with me, but it’s not you.

You’re buried in the ground. I watched in anguished pain as they lowered you encased in a white box. But that was your beautiful outside shell. You had already left. I sit beside your graveside, but you’re not there.

I visit the roadside to place flowers; I sit in the spot where I’ve been told you took your last breath. But you’re not there.

Some say that you’re in Heaven, but I don’t know what I believe because taking you away from us so cruelly makes no sense.

Where are you, Ned?

Are you waiting for me? Are you reaching out and I just can’t see you? Are you shouting, ‘I’m here’ and I just can’t hear you?

Where are you, Ned?

If I knew then I would be right there with you. I’d wrap you tightly in my arms and never let go of you again. I’d tell you I’m sorry and whisper I love you for eternity.

 

 

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Stepping Stones

This is my first blog post in a while. Christmas was an immense battle which left me exhausted and broken. But very slowly, piece by piece, tiny step by tiny step, I’m getting stronger.

Next month will be the two year anniversary of Ned’s death. He also would have been celebrating his 7th birthday. Two years? It feels like yesterday.

April will bring the one year anniversary of Dad’s sudden death.

I have had people say that it’s time for me to accept what’s happened now and move on with my life. I don’t bother to reply to these comments. They don’t deserve a reply.

So, where am I at? I still have the same diagnoses: Complex Grief Disorder, PTSD, Depression and Anxiety. I still cry myself to sleep every night as I have done every night since I lost my little boy. I still have panic attacks and become fearful of leaving the house. I still have suicidal feelings. I am still on very strong, very high dosages of medication.

But, and it’s a huge BUT, I am slowly learning safer coping strategies to deal with my grief and my mental illness. I have learnt and now accept that some of my coping behaviours in the past have been harmful and ended up leaving me in a worse state than I already was.

With the amazing and endless support and care of three wonderful professionals – my GP, my psychologist and my bereavement counsellor – my behaviour patterns are changing. There are three main changes that I have made over the last month:

  1. I have stood up to certain people who have intimidated and bullied me for years, simply by telling them that they are no longer a part of my life.
  2. I have started to write for children again. Being a children’s author was always my dream and I have realised that I’m not ready to give it up.
  3. I have started running three times a week – no music, no running buddy, just me and the world around me.

Three small stepping stones on a very long road to recovery. They may seem like nothing to some people, but believe me, it has taken a tremendous amount of grit, determination and energy for me to get here. It has been a huge battle.

I will never recover from losing Ned. I’m not the same person as I was two years ago. That person died the second the police officer told me that Ned had passed away. But there is a new me forming. A very different me. My view on life is very different. What I want from life is very different.

I will never stop grieving for Ned. The tears I cry at night will never dry up. I will never forgive myself for letting him go on that horrific day. But I know that I have to be here for my two other sons. And I want to see them grow up. I love my three boys equally with every beat of my heart.

There will always be bad days and I may not be ready to step onto the next stepping stone for a very long time. But as long as I can keep both feet steady on the stone I’m standing on and not fall into the deep water below, then I’ll be ok.

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.’

 

Grief’s Grip

I haven’t posted for a while, simply because I haven’t known what to write about. I haven’t known anything. Days pass by in a blur. Weeks go. Most days I’m unsure what day it is. This has been my life for the past 18 months. But surely it’s got a little easier I know some may think. No. No it hasn’t. In fact the opposite. Each day since Ned died brings more pain and more suffering. That’s grief’s grip on you. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t play nicely. It isn’t gentle. It’s your worst nightmare.

I’ve always written honestly about my experience with grief and mental illness. Why lie? Who would benefit? Not me and certainly not any reader. If the writing is too raw for you, then you don’t have to read it.

I wake up every single morning and think, ‘Please, not another day. I don’t want to face this life. I just don’t want to be any more.’ That doesn’t necessarily equate to suicidal thoughts. I have had incidents of these, but mostly it’s just a sense of not wanting to exist; not wanting to have to think any more; not wanting to have to pretend and act just to get through the day; not wanting to feel the desperate guilt that I’m a terrible Mum; not wanting to be terrified that I’ll let my other two sons down the way I let Ned down. All this, jumbled up in my head all day, every day.

I am so tired. Physically, emotionally and mentally empty. Most nights are filled with horrific nightmares. I wake up crying and sweating, disorientated until reality becomes clear and sits vice-tight on my chest.

Yes I have counselling. Yes I’m having psychology sessions, which include EMDR therapy which I’ve written about. I’m functioning. I’m breathing. But I’m not living. How can I? I let my little boy die, I don’t deserve to live. My boys deserve their Mam, of course they do, but I’m only a shadow. I try, I really do. But deep in my core I feel nothing but emptiness. A black hole waiting to swallow me whole.

‘Other people have lost children. They get through it. It just takes time.’

‘You will get through this. You will live again.’

‘You have to live. You have no choice. You have a husband and two sons.’

Grief affects each of its sufferers differently. The generalised comments that I get mean nothing. Grief’s grip makes me physically sick; it leaves me in a panicked heap unable to breathe; it makes me cry an ocean; it makes my limbs heavy; it makes my heart hurt. Of course it does because grief is the price you pay for loving someone. I loved my little boy more than I could ever put into words. I miss him so much I can’t even let myself think that I’ll never see him again. And so I must suffer. I must live in grief’s grip. There’s no escape. There’s no cure. Maybe one day it will loosen its hold slightly. Maybe.

Galar a Fi

Dwi wedi penderfynu ysgrifennu yr hyn yr oeddwn yn ceisio ei ddweud ar noswaith lawnsiad ‘Galar a Fi’. Dydy siarad yn gyhoeddus ddim yn rhywbeth sy’n dod yn naturiol i mi, ond mae ysgrifennu yn. Do, mi siaradais ar y noson, ond yr eiliad camais oddi ar y llwyfan, doeddwn i ddim yn gallu cofio r’un gair o’n i wedi ei ddweud! Poeni wedyn, fel ydw i. Nes i ddweud yn iawn? Nes i wneud synnwyr?

Felly dyma fo’n ysgrifenedig, yr hyn dwi’n ei obeithio fy mod wedi llwyddo i gyfleu ar y noswaith. Dyma fo yn ddu a gwyn rhag ofn i mi fethu.

Ateb cwestiwn oeddwn i am ba mor bwysig oedd ysgrifennu’n agored ac onest i fi. A dyma fi’n ateb…

Mae o’n hollol bwysig i fi fy mod i yn agored ac onest. Dysgais bwysigrwydd hyn cyn i mi golli Ned. Cuddiais y ffaith fy mod yn sal am sawl blwyddyn. Trio cario mlaen. Gwneud esgusodion. Ond llusgo fy hun at y doctor bu rhaid yn y diwedd a chyfadde nad oeddwn eisiau byw rhagor. Y doctor wedyn yn gafael yn fy llaw ac yn dweud fod pob dim yn iawn, bo fi’n sal, yn dioddef o iselder clinigol a’i bod hi’n mynd i fod gyda fi bob cam o’r ffordd wrth i mi frwydro’r salwch.

Cododd bwysau o’m hysgwyddau. Dwi’n sal, feddyliais, a mae hi’n mynd i fy helpu. Mynd ati hi wedyn yn wythnosol a siarad; gadael i’r holl deimladau oedd yn pwyso’n drwm yn fy stumog allan. A doeddwn i ddim yn teimlo unrhyw gywilydd. Salwch oedd gen i, nid fy mai i oedd o.

Dechreuais ysgrifennu blog ar iselder, gan bo ysgrifennu yn rhywbeth dwi’n neud, rhywbeth sy’n fy helpu i. Ond dechreuais gael bobl yn ymateb i’r blog, yn dweud bo fy ngeiriau i’n eu helpu, bo nhw yn yr un man a fi. Cefais syndod enfawr – fy ngeiriau i yn helpu eraill? Dyna oedd deimlad da.

Ond yna daeth fy myd i ben. Daeth y geiriau fwyaf creulon gall unrhyw riant eu clywed … roedd Ned wedi cael ei ladd mewn damwain car. Ned bach fi. Bachgen bach pump oed. Doeddwn i methu gwneud synnwyr o ddim byd. Doeddwn i erioed wedi profi galar o’r blaen, felly pan ddaeth fel hunllef fyw i’m bywyd, doedd gen i ddim syniad sut i’w reoli.

O’r oriau cyntaf fe ges i help broffesiynol gan y meddyg teulu a’r tim iechyd meddwl – a hynny gan fy mod wedi cyfadde chydig dros flwyddyn ynghynt fod rhywbeth yn bod efo fi. Pwy a wyr beth fyddwn wedi ei wneud petai’r help yna heb fod ar gael i mi o’r cychwyn.

Does gen i fawr ddim cof o’r misoedd yn dilyn y ddamwain, ond roedd y cymorth yn ei le, fel rhwyd diogelwch yn dynn amdanaf. Ac roedd ei angen arnaf. Roedd fy ymateb i i’r golled erchyll yn un cymhleth a pheryglus.

Pan ges i’r gwahoddiad i gyfrannu at y gyfrol hon, y peth gyntaf feddyliais oedd, os ydw i am gyfrannu yna mi fydd yn rhaid i mi ysgrifennu’n gwbl agored ac onest, neu fel arall beth byddai’r pwynt? Ond mae’n anodd siarad allan. Mae’n anodd cyfadde’r pethau difrifol dwi wedi eu gwneud, a chyfadde eu bod dal yn cripian fyny arnaf o bryd i’w gilydd, ddeunaw mis ar ol y ddamwain. Mae’n anodd rhoi eich hyn yn yr agored lle da chi’n gallu cael eich barnu. Mae’n iawn yn yr ystafell ddoctor, neu gyda’r cwnselwr neu’r seicolegydd a’r drws ar gau. Ond siarad allan fel bo pawb yn clywed, mae hynny’n wahanol.

Bues i am hir yn meddwl sut i ddechrau. Doedd gen i ddim geiriau byddai’n gallu disgrifio’r hunllef dwi’n byw ynddi. Ond yna fe ddaeth yn glir ataf. Dweud wrth Ned. Dyna dwi’n ei wneud wrth eistedd ar lan ei fedd. Dweud y cyfan wrtho. A dyna ni, llifodd y geiriau allan a cheisiais dangos effaith galar ar fy mywyd – dangos y poen, yr euogrwydd, y salwch.

Dwi’n gwbod fod rhai wedi ei ffeindio’n anodd i’w ddarllen; yn ffeindio’r darn yn frawychus. Ond gallai ddim cuddio. Gallai ddim cau’r drws ac esgus nad fel hyn yw fy mywyd. Pwy fydd yn elwa o hynny? Nid fi, ac yn bendant neb arall.

Felly dyma fi yn siarad allan, yn dweud yn uchel i bawb fy nghlywed. Dwi’n dioddef, dwi mewn poen anioddefol. Dwi wedi cael diagnosis o iselder seicotig a PTSD. Dwi ar lot fawr o feddyginiaeth ac yn derbyn therapi wythnosol gan seicolegydd.

Ond does na ddim un tabled all wella galar, gan mai nid salwch ydi galar. Mae o’n gallu arwain at salwch fel sy wedi digwydd i mi. Ond mae galar ei hunan yn hen fwystfil hyll sy’n byw y tu mewn i chi. Mae o yn eich esgyrn, yn eich calon, yn eich enaid. Mae o’n anferthol, ond mae rheswn dros hyn. Y pris mae’n rhaid talu am gariad ydi galar.

Does dim gwella, dim ond ceisio dysgu byw efo’r hen fwystfil sydd raid. Ac mae hynny’n broses hir ofnadwy, mae’n siwrne a fu’n parhau am weddill eich bywyd. Does gen i ddim yr ateb ar sut mae gwneud hyn. Does gen i ddim syniad. Dim ond bodoli dwi’n neud ar hyn o bryd. Ond mae hynny’n ddigon am nawr. Jyst bod yma – yn wraig i Bleddyn ac yn fam i Tomi a Cai. Ac efallai yn fwy pwysig na dim, yn dal i fod yn fam i Ned. Siarad amdano bob dydd, rhannu atgofion gyda’r teulu a ffrindiau agos. Cadw Ned yng nghof bawb oedd yn ei adnabod, a’r rhai na gafodd y fraint o ‘nabod y bachgen bach direidus oedd yn wen o glust i glust drwy dydd, bob dydd.

Dyna’r anrheg dwi wedi ei chael o gael y cyfle i gyfrannu at y gyfrol pwysig hon. Mae enw Ned yna, i bawb i’w weld. Fy machgen bach annwyl i na gafodd y cyfle i fyw ond am bum mlynedd. Ond oherwydd ‘Galar a Fi’, mi fydd o’n byw yng nghof pobl am byth. Ned.

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EMDR Therapy (2)

Yesterday I had my second session of EMDR therapy. The biggest thing I learnt is that this therapy is exhausting. Considering I’m sitting down with my psychologist for an hour, at the end of those 60 minutes, I am physically, mentally and emotionally drained. My psychologist had told me that this would happen and has strongly advised that I go home to rest after each session.

Yesterday, we progressed from my ‘safe place’ to the very beginnings of reprocessing the trauma. The trauma for me is, of course, the sudden loss of my little boy Ned last year in a horrific car crash.

The therapy works with images. I needed an image I had of that day, before Ned left in the car.

As I recalled the image I began to cry and I became extremely agitated. My legs began shaking and I began to scratch at my skin. My breathing quickened. I felt physically sick. I had to make a statement to go with my image. It was simple. ‘It was my fault.’ I let Ned go. If I’d said ‘no’, my little boy would be here this very second being his usual bundle of energy and happiness.

With this image in my head, my psychologist began the reprocessing. This is when I follow her fingers from left to right for a set amount of time (45 seconds). No speaking is done during these sets. At the end of each set, I’m asked how I’m feeling physically and emotionally.

I am so amazed at the effect this therapy has on me. I feel physical changes. By the end of the session I no longer felt sick, I wasn’t agitated, I wasn’t crying. In my mind I had an image of Ned choosing his favourite clothes to go on his day trip – his purple jeans and a blue top with an orange dinosaur on the front. He was smiling. He was hopping from one foot to another. He wanted to go. And I let him go because I didn’t know what was going to happen. How could I?

The session ended with me returning to my ‘safe place’ where I don’t have to hide my grief. I don’t have to pretend. It’s ok to cry for the loss of my little boy. It’s ok to howl in pain there. It’s ok.

My psychologist explained that the reprocessing would continue during the next few days and that I would likely experience strong images. I have to practise being able to ‘go’ to my safe place, preferably when I’m calm and not anxious.

I’m no scientist. I have no real idea how the brain works. But I do know that when I’m sitting with my psychologist for that hour, something is happening in my brain and that something is hopefully going to help me to live day-to-day. That’s what my lovely psychologist has given me – the gift of hope. She is amazing and I will be eternally grateful to her.

During a very difficult weekend before yesterday’s session, my pain and anger was so all-consuming that I resorted to some of the self-harming behaviours that I have written about in the past. These behaviours give me temporary release. They in no way make it go away. They are not helpful and they are risky. They are behaviours that I want to stop.

I will never stop hurting for the loss of my precious son. Never. I will never stop crying for him, for the life he should have had. I will never not wish to feel his little arms wrapped around me again. But I do want to be here for my two other precious boys. I want to be their mam. And I want to do everything I can to keep Ned’s memory alive.

I will always have three sons; three beautiful, precious sons who I love more than I could ever put into words.

EMDR Therapy

This is my first blog post in quite some time. Since losing my little boy, Ned, last year, I have blogged about my journey through grief. These blog entries have shown how my grief has affected my mental health, and I have spoken openly and honestly about this.

I have recently contributed to a book in the Welsh language about grief. There were 14 contributors to the book, each with their own story, each with their own unique experience of dealing with grief. The book has become a huge success and has started several discussions about the need to be open about grief; about the need to talk honestly about it.

By also writing openly on my blog, I hope to reach out to someone. I hope that someone can read an entry and identify with it and thus feel less alone. I also hope it helps those who know me personally to understand a little better what life is like for me.

Due to having pre-existing mental illness which has escalated dramatically since losing Ned, the support I have needed has been complex.

Grief is not an illness. There are no tablets that can help make it better. It will never go away. One can only hope that somehow, they learn to live with the pain. I have weekly bereavement counselling, specifically for my grief.

I am on strong mental health medication specifically for my depression and anxiety.

I therefore have two paths – my grief and my mental illness. These paths have now become intertwined. They can’t be separated. So where do I start? How do I begin to deal with such a complex and frightening concoction? I struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. I struggle to remember which day it is. This is why I have to rely on professional support.

I see my wonderful GP fortnightly. We re-assess my medication, my mood and my actions. We talk. We both agreed that I still needed more. I’m not moving on. The hole I’m in is still as dark as it was on March the 25th, 2016.

This has lead to my decision to have psychology. I have reached a point where my coping strategies have become dangerous.

I began having psychology a month ago. My psychologist told me that the therapy she would be using is called EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing), which has been successfully used to treat PTSD.

I came home and Googled the therapy and to be honest, it all sounded a bit strange. I couldn’t really grasp what I was reading. This is one of the reasons that I have decided to blog about my experience of having EMDR therapy. What I understand so far is that my brain has been unable to process what happened last year. Ned’s sudden death was so traumatic, my brain just hasn’t been able to cope. This has lead to me having PTSD (I have  previously written a post about living with PTSD). The aim of EMDR therapy is to reprocess this trauma so that my brain can store the information in a much let intrusive way. It will never take away the pain I feel at losing my little boy, but it will hopefully make my grieving journey safer to manage.

I have only had one session so far, so I’m starting at the very beginning …

My psychologist asked me to visualise a safe place. Somewhere real or imaginary where I can go when my feelings begin to overwhelm and suffocate me. No one else can be with me in my safe place.

It took a little bit of time, but I did find my safe place. It’s a small cottage which opens up onto a secluded beach. I’m alone in my cottage therefore I don’t have to pretend. I can grieve openly for the loss of Ned and my dad. I can cry without trying to hide my tears. I can scream at the waves crashing onto the shoreline. I can curl up on a chair wrapped in a blanket, close my eyes and lose myself in my memories. There is no one worrying about me. There’s no one waiting for me. There’s no one wanting me for anything. I’m alone and I can simply be me – the broken me that I have become.

Once we had established my ‘safe place’, my psychologist began with the eye movements. I visualised myself in my cottage then followed her fingers from right to left for about 25 seconds. This was repeated several times and at the end of each set, I was asked how I was feeling. I honestly couldn’t believe that I was experiencing physical changes in my body. The weight in my stomach felt lighter, my limbs felt lighter, my tears dried and the most important one of all for me, something that I haven’t been able to feel since the day my little boy died, I felt like it was ok. It was ok for me to be alone. It was ok for me to think only of me. It was ok to be broken. I didn’t need to hide.

At the end of the session, my psychologist explained that we would continue with this until I’m able to access my safe place without her help. I need to be able to do this before we start reliving the trauma.

As yet, I have been unable to access my safe place when I’ve been in a heightened state of crisis over the past week. My psychologist has said that this will take a long time. She has encouraged me to try to return there when I’m feeling calm and quiet. The more times I can reach my safe place, the easier it’s going to get.

I am full of positivity about this therapy. I will never ‘get over’ losing my little boy. I will never stop hurting. I wouldn’t want to. He’s my son. The little baby that grew inside me. The little boy who was always at my side, beaming at me with his beautiful dimpled smile.

I have two other beautiful sons too that need their Mam now more than ever. My hope is that with EMDR therapy my coping strategies will become safe ones; that I will no longer turn to the ‘risky behaviours’ that I have used to cope over the past year.

I hope that slowly, step by small step, I can move forward in my life, with Ned safely tucked up in my heart.

 

Happy endings …

I’ve been worrying a lot lately about my 9-year-old son and the massive losses he has experienced in the last 12 months. Prior to March 25th, 2016, Tomi hadn’t experienced any form of loss. We’ve never had a pet; my husband and I haven’t separated; he’s never had to change schools.

Tomi has always been a thinker and would often say at bedtime that he didn’t want me to grow old because old people die. That was his idea of death.

His first experience of death was so different to this, there is no way possible that this wouldn’t have an impact on him. On March 25th, 2016, his little brother Ned and his grandmother died in a horrific car crash. Ned was 5 years old.

Tomi came to Ned’s funeral and became deeply traumatised by Ned’s burial. He kept saying that Ned was trapped in the ground. Only once after the funeral has he been back to the grave with me. He cried and said, ‘We’re never going to have Ned back are we?’

He started having counselling (and continues to) and we’ve been given specific books that talk about death and grief. But reading them, I felt that Tomi was detached. Eventually he said he didn’t want to read them (he didn’t like reading anyway).

Fast forward to April 15th, 2017. My dad, Tomi’s grandad, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Another massive loss. When I told Tomi, he looked bewildered and lost. He was silent. He turned away from me. I suppose it was too much for his young mind to process. How can Taid be gone now too? How can his whole world shatter even more than it already had?

Although Tomi doesn’t like reading himself, he does enjoy listening to stories. I began to look for books where the main character had suffered a loss. Not the books given by counsellors, but just fiction books for children (although I think children’s books should equally be enjoyed by adults). I thought that if we read a story together where the character had the same feelings etc as Tomi, maybe he would begin to see that his feelings are ok. Maybe he would begin to understand. This is how powerful fiction can be, in my opinion. Yes we can escape to another world, but we can also find someone, ‘a friend’ who we can identify with. This is what I wanted to find for Tomi. I wanted to read a story that wasn’t explicitly about death and grief to him. I wanted him to have a ‘friend’ who felt the same as him.

Two books grabbed me – two very different books. Now, please don’t think that I’m writing this blog to judge either book. Who am I to say that an award-winning book is ‘wrong’? I simply want to explain my reaction to reading these two books as a grieving parent.

The two books I’ve read are ‘Time Travelling With A Hamster’ and ‘Bigfoot, Tobin and Me’ (read in that order).

As I read ‘Time Travelling With A Hamster’, I quite quickly had a heavy feeling in my stomach. I became anxious about how the story was going to end. I wanted to finish the story, I had to know. If you haven’t read the book I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but I can’t explain my reaction without mentioning it.

As I read it late at night I began to beg silently – ‘Please don’t say that Al’s dad will come back to life at the end. Please don’t do that to me. Don’t give me a book that has a happy ending that is filled with false hope.’

Like I said, I am not judging. I’m simply stating my opinion. The fact that Al does manage to ‘save’ his dad and that Dad is back at the end of the book left me crying angry tears. I wanted to shout ‘No! No you don’t get to have the dead person back. They’ve gone.’ I would do anything to have Ned and my dad back, but I can’t. It’s impossible. How could I read this to Tomi, a 9-year-old who desperately wants his little brother and Taid back? How could I let him see that in stories you get to have the happy ending, but in real life, sorry but you get to suffer.

This is how it made me feel as a grieving parent. I’m not saying that my feelings are right. Maybe for another reader the ending would be a relief, an escape. But when you long for a happy ever after and know that you’ll never get it, I found it a really tough read. I haven’t read it to Tomi. I can’t. I can’t let him have the tiniest belief that maybe he can build a time machine and go back and save Ned from that crash. Because that’s what he would think. The story is so powerful it made me believe for a while that maybe time travel could be possible. That’s when the anger and uneasiness began. I didn’t want the story to give me something I could never have.

So I looked again. I found ‘Bigfoot, Tobin and Me’.  When I got to the ending of this book, I cried again. But this time, they weren’t angry, frustrated tears. They were sad tears yes – Lemonade doesn’t get to have her mum back – but I also felt peaceful, hopeful. I cried when Lemonade thinks about her mum and says, ‘If somebody gave me that chance again, I’d never let her go. Not ever… when he (Tobin) got to even hope that his dad was coming back, I wished I could hope too. You know, that Mama would come back to us, too… But Mama is never coming back. I can’t even hope for it. And it’s just not fair, that’s all.’

And there it is. The reality of losing a loved one. It isn’t fair. They can’t come back no matter how much we want them to. But the story ends with hope for Lemonade. She has her grandad and new friends. It doesn’t say that things will be easy for her and that she’s going to be happy every day for the rest of her life. But she will be ok. She’ll make it.

That’s what I want Tomi to see and feel and understand. Here is a young girl who has lost her mum and who is grieving and angry and sad and experiencing all the emotions that he is, but she’s going to be ok.

This book I will read to Tomi. It has become such an important story to me. It’s so beautifully written, and sprinkled ever so slightly with magic, the real magic of hope.

I have cried the whole time I’ve been writing this blog post, but I felt I had to write it. It has made me question whether children’s books should always have a happy ending. In a way yes, I think for younger readers they should. But a happy ending that is based on false hope makes me feel cheated. An ending that leaves me feeling hope – that’s a happy ending for me.

If I hadn’t lost Ned, I probably wouldn’t have reacted like I have to ‘Time Travelling With A Hamster’. But I have lost Ned. Tomi has lost Ned. Tomi has lost his grandmother. Tomi has lost his Taid. Tomi needs to know that despite this devastation, he’s going to be ok. He’ll never have them back, but he will be ok.

I would be really interested to hear from anyone else who has read these two books and what your opinion is. Are there other fictional books that you feel deal with bereavement ‘correctly’? Should we hide reality from our children? Should fiction merely be escapism? Does fiction have the power to ‘help’ a child who feels alone in a world where bad things happen?

I think fiction does have this power which is why I feel so strongly that if a story is going to deal with real-life issues, then they should be dealt with in a ‘real’ way. This doesn’t have to be brutal. It doesn’t have to leave a child crying. It can leave a child feeling that someone else knows. And that someone else is ok at the end.

Tomi’s counsellor feels that children are shielded from bereavement. It’s not something to talk about. Why talk about something so incredibly sad with a child? But when tragedy strikes and your child’s whole world becomes a world he no longer understands, that’s when you realise that shielding a child from it causes more harm than allowing them to ‘experience’ it gently and safely.

My little boy is grieving. He doesn’t understand his emotions. Why him? Why did he have to lose his brother? No one in his classroom has suffered like this. He needs a ‘friend’ who understands. He needs a story that is like the story of his life. He won’t ever get the happy ever after, but he can be given the gift of hope. He can learn that it’s going to be ok.