Monthly Archives: October 2014

Not having the answer

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“To tell or not to tell?” is not the question.

“When and how to tell?” is the question.

Am I talking in riddles? – not really; all I am doing is expressing my dilemma. Nine and a half years along the line of loss, one thing which has not become markedly easier (as a bereaved parent) is how to introduce the topic of your lost child, when you are thrown into the company of a new group of people, whether in the workplace, or socially.

This year I have had two job changes. In the summer, I took what turned out to be a temporary assignment and within a couple of weeks, it was appropriate for me to share what happened to James with my new colleagues, largely because of a conversation about loss; it felt right at the time.

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However, then I found there was a marked difference in how I was treated. Suddenly, people were treading on eggshells around me and there was a kind of sympathetic deference directed towards me which became quite uncomfortable.

I was not in post long enough to discover if this would have lessened over time.

I have now been in my new permanent job for a month, and here is the other side of the coin; ….not telling people *yet* means that James feels like ‘my guilty secret’ or taboo subject … and I feel awkward for not sharing him. But the difficulty lies in gauging when is a good time to share my story, and how then, am I going to cope with the well-meant responses of my colleagues?

I just know, that however gently and carefully I tell the story, it will cause a reactive response for which I need to be prepared. How to choose the right time to share?

 In some ways, I must say it is quite liberating not to be pre-judged, or made allowances for, because I have this particular ‘tragic’ status. In the early days of grief I felt that my face shouted my loss, and now…. I have the confidence to know I am not visibly ‘marked’.

I am accepted simply as ‘Andrea’, not as ‘Andrea, that poor lady who lost her son’.

The sympathy is unavoidable but not helpful!

I do not generally ask for feedback to my blog but in this particular instance I would like to know how other bereaved parents manage to cross this particular hurdle…. how to decide the right time to impart something that you know others will find difficult… and how to deal with your own reaction?

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Not blowing in the breeze

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Something dreadful happens to your confidence when you lose your child. It disappears like bathwater down the plughole, draining away and leaving you feeling like a hollow shell. I well remember that time in early loss, being quite incapable of making the simplest mundane decisions, yet I had to arrange my son’s funeral, a traumatic task that defies comment.

But the good news is (you knew there would be good news…) you will in time become a reasonably similar version of who you were before.

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 I remember reading an article by American grief counsellor Mitch Carmody in which he spoke of the bereaved parent living life a heartbeat behind everyone else; it is as though our timeframe has slipped slightly, but that sensation does lessen over time.

I believe that being at the very brink of endurance imbues the bereaved with a different kind of strength. We have all read of superhuman feats…. “man lifts car to save passenger”… and looked in awe at the Iron man challenges undertaken by athletes that push them to the absolute limit.

It strikes me as very interesting that so many bereaved parents go on to achieve things in their lives which require strength, and above all, confidence.

I know several bereaved parents who now express themselves as writers and artists.

I know those who have challenged authority and won, those who campaign with organisations overseas and make a difference.

I know those whose fundraising efforts in memory of their children are tireless.

I know some who have moved to a different area to successfully make a different life.

Others conquer phobias and say, “Now I feel more normal” … whatever that means!

Nothing that life throws at you afterwards is ever going to be as bad as what you have faced and survived….and when you conquer things, large or small, that make you anxious or nervous, you are drawing on many new strengths. For some their strength may come from faith or spiritual beliefs. For myself, it tends to be a little bit of everything (after all, everyone knows I have a toolbox for my grief…) and undoubtedly the love and support around me, both seen and unseen, ensures that I hold my head high and walk through life with greater force and purpose these days.

I have said before that it is hard to find any kind of gift in loss but perhaps this new strength and confidence is the gift we should harness and embrace to take us forward in our lives…. without our beloved children.

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Warp, weft and the worldwide weavings of bereavement support

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So… who could ever have known … that when I joined the Drowning Support Network eight years ago …being guided in that direction by a contact on TCF … in 2014 I would meet the lady who has become such a great virtual friend.

My Dear Karen! – we refer to each other as our ‘go-to’ person.

I can ‘go to’ Karen with anything I need to say, and she can ‘go to’ me too. We have shared so very much about our boys.

Picture then, how it was when we finally met in the unglamorous surroundings of British Rail’s Woking Station. Karen and her husband  Erik travelled to the UK via Amsterdam, and suddenly …. There they were!

So many emails. So many shared confidences about our boys and how they passed. Different but similar. So much online talk about how we work through our grief and how we live, post loss. And the ways in which all our family relationships are affected by what has happened.

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I have massive admiration for Karen because she is conquering the demons of travel — claustrophobia, flight phobia … and yet … and yet … she came ALL the WAY from Melbourne to the UK. Good on her!!

And then … we went to Kingston.  One of our first ‘shares’ was the memorial plaques for our sons.  Ours in Kingston, theirs in Australia.

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And then we met with my bereavement pals. Three dear friends.

Three warm, compassionate women who have lost sons to different circumstances. We have been meeting around four times a year for years now. We are a tight group. We have never altered our dynamic. We share a lot. And…. my dear Karen was brave enough to come to one of our ‘ladies who do lunch’ meetings. I have to say that the ladies were on their best behaviour! And afterwards I received the message,

“Just wanted to say how lovely it was to meet Karen, such a nice lady and very enjoyable lunch!

Shame she can’t fly over for all our lunches.

I hope she enjoys her time over here, say hello from me next time you speak, or should that be ‘Good Day Sheila’…..”

And the web effect goes on.

Karen and Erik met in Gloucestershire with another mutual DSN  friend  – whom I have also met twice. A brave lady, who says,

“ I had the most extraordinary time with Karen and Erik yesterday. We clicked immediately and talked nonstop about our boys, exactly how we all dealt with their deaths and how we feel about and deal with life now, it was so lovely to talk to people who understand about what we went/go through. They are such lovely open people and I wish I had friends like that here. It’s quite strange how you can suddenly almost slot into a relationship with somebody, bonded immediately by this tragedy”.

And then…. and then….off they went further up country. They met with DSN people whom I do not know but whom they know. Then they met in Scotland with a lady who found me and my book and DSN all at the same time. The lovely warm Jackie!

She said, “Karen and I met up last night for drinks and a meal along with Erik and Ally. It was lovely to meet up with them, the connections between us all made for very relaxed and comfortable conversation (if a bit tearful).
We talked a lot of our precious boys and also how I found DSN through reading your book.
For me it is really lovely to hear that eventually there will be happy times …that we will find a way of living along with the overwhelming sadness we feel”.

How would all this have happened without the internet? … well…. it would not. I am so very thankful for these wonderful connections.

saml2           jamboxxx