It’s 4.30am, and I don’t know what the time was when I woke up, but I’ve given up trying to get back to sleep – nothing new there! I’m now sitting at the kitchen bench, wrapped in my favourite spotty dressing gown and I have no idea what I’m going to write.
I’ve been asked to share something about my experience as a bereaved mother, in time for this year’s International Bereaved Mother’s Day. Simply, I wish that I didn’t even have to write this because then it would mean my life was normal, and as I had planned it. My husband and I wouldn’t have lost our beautiful 7 year old daughter and our other daughter wouldn’t have lost her sister.
A Mother’s Gut Feeling
Nearly 3 years ago, our lives changed forever and nothing – absolutely nothing – is ever going to fix it.
My daughter’s story is kind of long, but the short version is that we didn’t know she was sick. Months down the track from that horrible day, we’d discover she was born with a syndrome that cut her life short, but on that day, it was a typical day. Our daughter hadn’t been well for 7 weeks. There was a week of this, and a week of that – all ‘normal’ childhood ailments… vomiting, constipation, viruses etc but I knew in my gut that they weren’t ‘normal’.
How can a mouth full of ulcers be normal? Or weight loss so noticeable that her elbows were bigger than her arms? How can day after day after day of high temperatures be normal? Or having your child bend forward and get locked into a position and her crying and begging for me to phone an ambulance because she can’t move?
For me, this adds a whole dimension to my loss that I wish I didn’t have. Guilt. And I have a whole lot of that! I should have followed my mumma gut and pushed harder for someone to notice and agree with me that things weren’t normal, but I didn’t and now I don’t have her.
When our lives changed forever
Our daughter died in front of us, as well as other people who she trusted and loved. For that, I am thankful. Everyone who was there with her during the worst time imaginable knew her and knew what a special kid she was. Now, I know you might be thinking that all mothers think like that about their children and you’re right. But you know when you meet someone and they have just that little bit something extra special in their soul?? Well, that was my daughter. She was kind. She was forgiving. She was incredible. Whenever I am doubting my lack of action in the lead up to her death, I can hear her voice saying “It’s OK, I forgive you”.
What grief looks like for me
Looking back on time since losing her, I have some very clear and vivid memories. I also have chunks where life just passed in a blur. I was told that everyone’s journey through grief is unique and there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.
I’ve had times where the tears just won’t stop and it feels like my heart is being squeezed in a vice and I think that it’s never going to stop. There are times when I’m with friends who have more than 1 child and I wish that was me. I’ve had times where I’m at work, (the place where we lost her) and every fibre in my body is screaming at me to run away and never go back. There are times where I’m doing something that brings me great joy and I’m loving that exact moment in my life. Then it’s like I’m being hit with a sledgehammer and my mind tells me “What are you doing?? Why are you laughing and having fun?? Your daughter is dead!” And I’ve had times of feeling numb – completely and utterly numb.
Living with a pebble and rock
One thing that doesn’t change is that no matter where I am, or what I’m doing, there’s a nagging uncomfortableness in my heart. Sometimes it’s like a pebble and other days it’s like the biggest rock you could ever imagine. What I am slowly coming to accept is that I don’t think it’s going to disappear, and that’s OK. I can still function with a pebble. It doesn’t stop me from living, or doing things that I enjoy. It just comes with me and rattles around in my chest, giving me random twinges of pain to remind me that it’s there and then settles into a position that’s less noticeable. On the day’s where it’s the biggest rock you could ever imagine, I don’t move far. Often, it’s just to the photocopy room at work and that’s where I stay, or to lie on her bed and cry and even though that biggest rock you could ever imagine really, really hurts, it’s ok – it will change and become a pebble again when the time is right.
Losing a child has taught me so much and I am thankful for this. I feel like it has changed me for the better and I am thankful for this. It has allowed me to meet some pretty incredible people and I am thankful for this. It has made me realise how strong I am and I am thankful for this.
I can do life with a pebble. I can do life with the biggest rock you could ever imagine. I can do life after losing a child and you can too.