This week always gives me the chance to write about grief – and, with 5712 babies dying each year in the UK, this is probably very relevant to a lot of parents.
Grief is so unique to everyone and I would never suggest that my experience is the same as anyone else’s but there will be similarities, we will all have things in common.
Grief has been a part of my life for eight years – when my baby son died. The grief has changed from always being intense, raw and physically painful to me being able to function, to hope, to plan and to feel less intense pain. Now the raw pain only surfaces a few times a year.
I have never been a person who believes that there is a limit on grief but I hadn’t expected this, I hadn’t expected it to hurt this much, for the pain to be just under the surface. I hadn’t expected it to change me. I have experienced the extremes of feeling the strongest I have ever been but also the most vulnerable.
My dad died three years ago and, while I miss him everyday, the pain isn’t the same as losing a child – part of me died with Jamie and I will never get that back. His birthday will always be that day when I am not good – although the reality is that it is actually that week before when I am not good.
Traumatic grief involves distress related to intense fear and helplessness, which is where similarities to birth and motherhood can be made. For some women birth is a traumatic event involving fear and helplessness or they may have a traumatic start to motherhood with crippling depression or a poorly baby.
Grief and trauma can make me feel angry and there is no making it better when it is raw and when it is making me feel hopelessly sad. When my grief is raw it is like living in a bubble and watching the world go by as normal as I struggle with it. When it hits I get emotional and stressed and I feel vulnerable because nobody else gets it and I desperately want it to pass so I can have my perspective and my life back again.
Whether you are experiencing grief or trauma, it is unique to each of us but some things might help…
- this is really tough but be honest with yourself, even if you don’t want to be honest with other people. Admit to yourself how you are feeling – I am a big fan of writing it all down. Pouring everything out onto a blank sheet of paper or a black screen helps to work out what is going on in my head – it helps me deal with the small stuff so I can tackle the bigger issues.
- speak to someone – talk, talk, talk and sometimes this needs to be a therapist or a practitioner because it can be more beneficial to speak to someone who isn’t closely involved or connected to you. I have been able to open up to a therapist and say things I could never say to my husband or my closest friends because I would have worried, or even scared, them.
- sleep – if your mind needs to shut down and sleep let it. Sleep is a great healer so try not to fight it. I have had days where I have been so desperate to sleep I felt like I was drugged – I could barely keep my eyes open.
- do the basics and don’t worry about anything else. Life is busy, with lots of juggle. If you are struggling just do the essentials and, maybe, ask for help with everything else.
- eat something – you might not have much of an appetite and even less of a desire to cook so try to snack as well as you can.
- wallow, cry, punch a pillow, don’t feel you have to be brave or strong – it is ok not to be any of those things.
- do what feels right – keep busy, clean, go for a walk, go for a run, sleep
- find a place where you can feel safe – sometimes all you can do is breathe and be somewhere you feel safe. My safe place is my bed – I have had days when I could barely leave it.
Different things can work at different times for different people – at extreme times of grief I need to just be alone for a while to I ride it out until it passes and I can function again. Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it is brief. Grief and trauma can also bring panic and anxiety and adjusting to and managing that also takes time.
Experiencing grief and trauma is so fucking hard, it is exhausting, it is cruel, it messes with your head and it is the most isolating and lonely experience. For the rest of the year I can justify Jamie’s death – he was very poorly and we wouldn’t have wanted him to suffer, at least he lived long enough for us meet him – but for this week I get to be angry because it just isn’t fair that my boy died, that I don’t have a son to raise, that I am living with two children and not three.
If you are grieving and if you are dealing with trauma – look after yourself, take your time and fuck being strong. Just be.