Are you Looking Forward to Christmas?

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The anticipation of events is something that is knocked out of you like stuffing when you lose your child… or indeed after any close bereavement. I was reminded of this as we turned the calendar from August into September. The late summer bank holiday is the last break before Christmas; the clocks go back at the end of October and we will be in a world of shorter days and longer nights – at least here in the UK.

On a personal level, I have much to look forward to in September. I will be visiting my new grandson in Cornwall in a couple of weeks’ time. We are also greatly looking forward to the long awaited meeting of my Australian friend Karen, and her husband Erik. We have been corresponding by email for years now, since connecting via the shared loss of 19 year old sons. It will be so good to meet! But the poignancy is similar for both events; James would have so loved to be an uncle, and equally he would have loved meeting a couple from Melbourne, home of one of his favourite childhood TV programmes!

I have always enjoyed going away on holiday, but in the early days of loss, although our time away was pleasurable, I found coming home again particularly difficult. It felt as though being on holiday provided a breathing space, and once I was home again I had to pick up the threads of the relentless 24/7 nature of coping with grief. I am pleased to say that feeling has lessened over time.

I suspect that bereaved parents suffer from an element of post-traumatic stress disorder, something that may well not be sufficiently recognised by those supporting the bereaved – though I do not possess the knowledge to confirm or refute this. But in any case, show me the bereaved person who does not experience recurrent thoughts and flashbacks and know the numb, detached nature of shock and grief? It is a challenge to work through these feelings to welcome a return of positivity and optimism. But it can be done … in time.

Observing the changing of the seasons is one way I have found of re-affirming the natural cycle of life and death. From the sharpness of the frost in winter to the warmth of the summer sun, my natural surroundings allow me to feel sensations again, to emote and to be able to express my feelings.

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Sometimes on a run along the canal towpath, my tears flow freely, mingling with soft rain falling, and I do not feel distress, just a calm underlying sadness that James is no longer here to share the joys and tribulations of all our lives.

Running in itself, or any form of exercise, releases those treasure trove endorphins, which make you feel better, and if you can persuade yourself out into the fresh air, this goes a long way towards lifting mood.

What is more, walking is free and you can do it almost anywhere and by taking more notice of your surroundings you will gradually reclaim some of the beauty of your personal world.

I am grateful to be allowed to share some wonderful words, written by a friend, which underline my own belief that it is not unrealistic to expect an eventual return to happy, meaningful life after loss.

“Today I had my first unambiguously happy memory of my life with A___The first time in nine years that I’ve been able to smile totally and feel it in my heart, without the memory getting drowned in guilt, regret, pain and sadness. The first time I haven’t castigated myself for being happy. The first time that the joy of his being overtook the horror of his leaving.”

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