From somewhere there to somewhere here
“There” is the place you’re at in the beginning. It’s place to the place you’re in later, which I’ll call “here”. But of course, “here” will change over time and you may even think that “there” has changed as well – just don’t use those dreaded words “moving on” with me. This poisonous little phrase claims to be an aspirational goal which you’re told you must believe is attainable – and more than that, you are told that it’s desirable. As a bereaved parent one of the things I find most distasteful about the whole idea of “moving on” is that it implies your grief is a temporary state and it’s quite right to think you would want to leave it behind you as soon as possible.
“Moving on” isn’t even about you or what you need – it’s all about what other people need. People like “tidy” and your grief is very untidy. People have a natural herd instinct and they don’t want you to be the sad grief-stricken sheep wandering off on your own, they want you to be part of the happy herd. People are afraid of your grief or maybe they’re afraid of your differentness which fills them with a dread of disorder. Disorder is fearful. Or maybe it forces them to face up to the fact that at some point in all our lives, grief for everyone will be an inescapable truth.
We are often reminded to admire people who conquer their grief. These people apparently should be our role models. These “wonderful” people achieve a place of serenity, acceptance and forgiveness. Well, good for them if they can do that and yes, I do admire them for it but I frankly can’t imagine being one of them. More than that, I ask if these are the “good guys” – who are the rest of us?
I already know the answer to that, as frankly no-one can do over-thinking more than a grief-stricken parent. We are obsessed and we know it but not only can we not stop – we fear to stop. We know we’re letting ourselves be ruled by our grief in a way that’s unhealthy, but we can’t stop. If you’ve never known this type of toxic grief then be plain glad you haven’t, be glad you’re not me and be glad you’re not one of the many, many people who knows it only too well. Just be happy that you haven’t had to travel this road because if you did you would discover it’s as awful as you imagine it would be.
My friend and Making Families Count colleague, Frank Mullane set up the charity AAFDA after the deaths of his sister and her son and this is what he says “Moving on is the most ridiculous and inappropriate term I have ever heard. It relegates grief to the same level as changing jobs. I have witnessed young professionals in their twenties and thirties using this term to the families. It is so bizarre.” Yeh Frank!
The death of a child is a very, very hard death to live with. On a personal level I’ve lost both parents and a partner and they were all awful, but nothing came close to losing Nico. For a mother the loss of a child is a searing, physical agony. I’ve talked with several mothers who tragically lost their children at birth or soon after and they grieve, not only for the loss of their child, but also for the loss of all of the life they were going to spend together. For every birthday, holiday, school day Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas Day that now never will be. For every smile, step, joke, song, drama, party and bike ride that never will be. All around them are constant reminders of other people’s babies, children born on the same day but now living and hugging their mums and writing them cards. They are all too aware that people around them really have a need for them to move on. They are a stone in everyone’s shoe, a reminder of how close they too were to being the same – how easily their child might have been the one who died. They really don’t want those weeping mums around them. That’s why everyone rejoices with happy hearts when those mothers go on to have another baby. Back into the happy herd with that sobbing sheep and no more awkward silences.
We were lucky – we had lots of days together with Nico. Lots of birthdays, Christmases, holidays, school days, school plays, sports days, outings, bedtimes, cuddles, tears, arguments, laughter, music, sing-a-longs and lots of wonky Mother’s Day, birthday and Christmas cards which thank god I have kept. We have a vault of memories so huge it almost overwhelms me. But now part of those memories and part of Nico’s life, strange as it sounds, has become the manner of his death and the long, long fight which has followed. My son wasn’t ill. If his death was no-one’s fault, we might be finding ourselves in that place of acceptance and be at the start of being able to remember with love and peace. Instead our grief has strung out over years and years and we are strung out with it. I am a piece of blue tac, pulled out longer and longer and thinner and thinner in order to stick things together.
Anyone who has ever been through grief on this scale knows the truth is that eventually (and often that can be after a very long period), what has happened to you and how you feel about it, just absorbs into you. It becomes part of who you are, the way you think, feel and talk and the way you view the world. It becomes part of your character. Perhaps there will never come a time when you never leave it behind and perhaps that just has to be alright.
I have joined a new herd. Yes, we are a herd of sobbing sheep and yes, we have all been “there” and at the moment we are “here” – wherever that is. And wherever here is, is where we’re going to have to be, for now.