suewen

Life, Death and Spirituality

Five Stages of Grief

– as identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Most importantly, you must remember that your grief is as unique as you are.

The five stages of grief as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, one of the first authors I read after Rowan died, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  She suggests that this skeleton framework is the one most of us use in learning to live without our loved one.

Grief can be the result of the loss of a loved one through death, the loss of a relationship (marriage break-up or friendship break-down), the loss of a pet, job loss, the loss of a personal vision or dream – so many causes and so many actions and reactions.

Denial, the first of the five stages, helps us to survive the initial impact of our loss.  The world is cold and cruel and meaningless at this stage.  Life makes no sense whatsoever.  We feel numb and totally overwhelmed.  Denial is a way of pacing ourselves.  It allows a little bit of reality in at a time.  This process aids our survival after a loss.  If all the pain and angst and shock hit us in one fell swoop it is unlikely so many of us would survive to see the next stage in our grief process.  Through this denial, you are unknowingly beginning to heal.  You are gaining a tiny little glimmer of strength.

Anger is the next stage we have to endure.  It is a necessary part of the healing progression and you need to allow it to happen.  The stoic folk among us sometimes try to stem the anger.  This is a dangerous strategy.  The more you truly feel your anger, even though it might feel destructive at the time, the quicker you will begin to heal.  Anger can be strength.  It can provide you with a temporary buttress and anchor to hold on to in the oblivion and emptiness of your loss.  Anger is another symptom of the power of your passion for the loved-one that you have lost.

Bargaining is a strange phenomenon.  We say we won’t and then we do!  ‘Dear God’, you pray, ‘let this all be a bad dream’.  ‘I promise I’ll devote the rest of my life to helping others……….if only you…..’  It is easy to get lost in a sea of ‘If only’ and ‘What if’s’.  What we desperately need is for life to return to what it was.  We want our loved one back at any cost.  We would sell our Soul at this stage to have them home with us.  We blame ourselves in the ‘if onlys’.

Well, bargaining didn’t work did it?

Depression sweeps in like a tsunami.  We then fairly and squarely slip into a relentless and ever-darkening depression.  We are acutely aware that no amount of bargaining, wishing, hoping, shouting or screaming is going to bring them back.  Grief grabs the opportunity with both hands and dashes in, deeper than we ever imagined that it could be.  You sit in this depression thinking that you are losing your mind.  You are not.  You are actually showing that your mental health is as it should be.  You are exhibiting an appropriate reaction to suffering a great loss.  Some people see this depression as one that needs to be fixed.  They expect you to snap out of it, to move on.  The loss of a loved one through whatever circumstances is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate reaction.  In fact, to not experience depression would be against the ‘norm’.  You may well want to withdraw from life, hide away.  You may even wonder if life is worth living any more – ‘What’s the point of going on?’  The thing to remember is that depression is a stage and a necessary step in the process of healing.

Acceptance is the last of the five steps that Elisabeth talks of.  Don’t confuse ‘acceptance’ with ‘being okay’ with what has happened.  The truth is that we will most likely never ever feel okay about the loss.  This acceptance is about acknowledging  reality that we have lost and that this loss is a permanent reality for us.   The reality will never be okay but we will eventually learn to accept it.  We will learn to live with it.  We realise that life has changed and we must learn to readjust.  This acceptance may mean that we have a few more okay days in amongst the horrendous ones.  We may find ourselves beginning to live again and enjoy the odd thing again.  It may be that we feel, for a moment, that we are betraying our loved one by laughing again.  As we accept we make new connections and new relationships.  We change and we grow and we begin to live again.

So there we have it – the five stages of grief.  These stages all need to be experienced before we can come out the other side………but, just to keep us on our toes, they can come and go……  We may experience one, move on, move back again – leap to and fro between them all for a while – grief is not off a conveyer belt – it is custom-made and personalised every time.

Eventually the sun shines again and you keep your loved one locked away in your heart, ever present, never forgotten.

JUST A QUICKY – BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR……

In a psychic sense, whatever is contained in our conscious and sub-conscious mind, unbeknown to us, is being unconsciously and telepathically manifested.  This is why we have to be aware all the time of any negative thoughts bumbling around inside our heads!  It also pays to be very careful in the way you word your daydreams and wishes.  The Universe has a funny habit of bringing you exactly what you ask for!  It has difficulty in interpreting anything that leaves an element of ambiguity around a desire.

At the onset of 2016 I was visiting a good friend of mine.  We were talking about cats; much loved by the both of us.  I happened to say to her that I would love a kitten to turn up on the doorstep……….that way Chris couldn’t blame me for bringing another wee bundle home – it would be fate, luck, providence, destiny!  He surely couldn’t turn it away?

May 2016 saw me opening the kitchen door to throw some rubbish out.  There was a small flash of black…….and nothing – gone!  I mentioned to Chris that I thought I might have seen a small black kitten shoot off when I opened the door.  A couple of days later Chris said to me, “that black kitten you saw……it wasn’t black….it’s a silver tabby”!  He had experienced a similar occurrence.  On opening the door, a wee flash of silver disappeared into the beyond!  I said that I was sure it was black.

A couple of days later we saw a black kitten and a ginger tabby kitten hiding under a bush.  I said to Chris, “ah, so there were two”!  Chris said that he was sure that he had seen a silver tabby and that the wee ginger tabby was a different kitten.  We began putting food down outside the kitchen door; two bowls; one for the black kitten and one for the tabby.  We watched with interest.  There was definitely a black kitten, and a ginger tabby………and a silver tabby.  We then noticed that the ginger tabby was very adept at changing size!  We had a clutch of kittens living wild in our garden, one black, one silver and three golden/ginger tabbies!

This was the start of an eventful, rather cold winter.  We started luring them closer to the kitchen door until they would come in and eat in the kitchen.  We hated to think of them outside in the freezing cold but we couldn’t get near enough to them to touch them.  We spent our time at home with the door wide open so that they could come and go at will – note I said we!   The Crid was guilty of doing this of his own volition too!  2016 was the coldest winter we have ever lived through.

Spring came and summer followed.  Our cats numbered eight in total!  We had our own, beautiful majestic tabby, Mr Long-Cat Yowling (Rowan’s beautiful boy) – now known, because it feeds his ego, as Mr Majestica.  Obi-Wan Kanobi, our long-haired silver tabby who had been with us since we lived in Alexandra, and who sadly died a short number of months ago having reached a respectable fourteen years of age.  Miss Whitey-Lighty Loo, our old white lady who chose us herself two years ago.  Rumi, Sananda, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael were our newcomers.  Rumi and Sananda set off for a new life in Winton at the end of 2016.  This left us with our three tabbies of varying size – all male thankfully.

The New Year saw us ferrying one tabby at a time to the vets thirty kilometres away to be spayed – not a cheap business.

This winter we are hoping that it will be a little warmer.  We can now close the door but we have had to remove the door to the cat-door because our newcomers don’t like it swinging closed on them!  A gale blows in periodically but who worries about little things like that?  I shall be a little wary in future when I wish for something though.  I shall make sure that my desires are very clearly stated.  However, The Crid and I will certainly not be lonely in our old age.

BIRTHDAY MUSINGS

BIRTHDAY MUSINGS

Well, doesn’t time fly?

Waitangi Day, known affectionately in our house as ‘Rowtangi Day’, is looming.  This year the dawning of this day heralds Rowan Cai Parker’s twenty-first birthday!  On that auspicious day back in 1996 our family had decided to go to Wanaka for a picnic only to be thwarted by Rowan’s determination to grab Waitangi Day as his own personal holiday.  Francis, his older brother, is highly unlikely ever to forgive him for his mistimed arrival!

Twenty-one. Wow!  He is all grown up.  I am pretty sure he was pretty much all grown up when he came into the world.  I remember looking into his eyes when he had got to the stage when he could focus and feeling mesmerised.  He held my gaze with an intent curiosity and I now recognise that I was looking at a very old soul.  I think he was summing me up.

Milestones come and go, and as a bereaved parent, you always ask yourself two salient questions as anniversaries arrive, “I wonder what he would be doing now”, and “I wonder what he would look like now”.  You imagine the scrapbook that you might have put together for him and the power-point created to embarrass him at his party!  You think of the inevitable speech that his older brother Francis would have subjected him to with much humour and not a little revenge.

The story of the duck attack on the beach at Lake Wanaka would be told again, much to his chagrin!  I won’t elaborate here due to my absolute belief that he would make my life a complete misery if I did!

A friend of his whom he met on The Spirit of Adventure contacted me the other day.  This was a friend whom I hadn’t had contact with before.  She sent me a message saying

“Hi Sue
This may be a little out of the blue but I was on Spirit of Adventure with your son Rowan and became friends with him there. He talked lots about Owaka and I’m here visiting currently and thought I would go and see his grave in the Owaka cemetery but didn’t see it and was just wondering if I perhaps missed it or if he was laid to rest in another spot.”

I didn’t see this message until she had left Owaka which was very sad.  I love catching up with friends of Rowie’s and listening to their stories about him.  I explained to her that we keep his ashes still on the piano in the lounge.  She replied saying

“No worries, I should have got your number off Liv and called! I’m in Moeraki now flying out tomorrow, but I went to the school and saw the lovely memorial there, it was really nice.  Rowan told me all about Owaka on the ship so it was nice to visit. Piano is a lovely spot, it would have been great to meet you, if I am ever down in Owaka again I will have to get in touch.  I hope this message finds you well.”

She then sent me a photograph of one of the stones with its plaque at the school and pointed me in the right direction to find other photographs of him that I hadn’t seen before.  These exciting little occurrences that happen along the way during our journey make it all the more bearable.  We have great pleasure every time someone new introduces themselves to us as a friend of Rowans.

When you don’t hear anything from anyone for a while you start dreading the fact that he might be forgotten one day and that is a really scary thought.  I would hate for him to be forgotten.  Perhaps that is part of my need to continue these blogs; to bring him closer to me in these moments.

I was advised to start writing about Rowie in the August following his death.  Jodie felt it would be therapeutic for me.  She also thought that my writing might help other people going through a similar loss.  I find that writing about him also helps keep him alive for me.  I see him, feel him, hear him when I am writing.  I find myself listening for responses from him when I think a thought or ask a question.  These responses are real.  For a period of time I didn’t trust them – I didn’t trust my interpretation of them – but four years on I am aware of what is real and what isn’t.

I went to a Kelvin Cruickshank workshop way back in 2013.  He was the first person to tell me that Spirit are absolutely aware of you talking to them and that they do respond.  He told us how to recognise a response to a question posed to Spirit.  He said ‘you ask the question and will receive an immediate response from Spirit’.  ‘The response is so quick that you haven’t time to dream it up yourself!’  I didn’t truly understand this until, further down the track, I threw out a casual question to Rowie as I was driving along in the car and I was blown over by a speedy, humorous response that came right back at me – a response that I couldn’t possibly have dreamed up myself!  I burst out laughing because I was immediately aware of where it had originated!

Jodie and I were emailing each other last week and she let slip that Rowie still pops to see her every three months or so.  This delighted me.  I just love to hear that he is interested enough to keep popping back – even though his life on the other side must be amazing and exciting and extremely busy!  I decided at that point to write Rowie a letter for his birthday this year; a letter from my heart that he can read at his leisure.

BAH HUMBUG

 

I’m not feeling very festive this year. I have handled the holiday period better over the last three years than I am this year. I feel tearful and it doesn’t take very much at all for me to fold in a watery heap!

I spoke to a friend about this yesterday; a friend who has lost someone very close to her. She explained that for the first two or three years you steel yourself well in advance because you know that it is going to be an horrendous time. Having prepared yourself, you are hugely surprised when you come out the other side relatively unscathed and you are even a little proud of yourself for coping so well! Four, five, six years on you become a little complacent and don’t spend the time preparing like you did. This is when it sneaks up and bites you on the bum!

I find that I am anxious this year; tummy churning with a need to breathe deeply every few minutes. The old familiar ‘weight on the chest’ has returned with a vengeance. I am unable to relax, find sleeping difficult, feel a sense of panic without really knowing why, have difficulty concentrating and to top it all off, I am irritable!

I have been told that a good coping mechanism for these low spells is to distract yourself. This distraction must involve some physical movement, not just a change in your pattern of thought. Change of thought has a habit of leading you straight back to the same place again. The idea is to get up and make a coffee, hoover the lounge, change the beds, walk the dog, go to the loo, even the simple act of applying hand cream can help to make that all too valuable shift in thought so I am told.

I posted a notice on Facebook today.

Never apologise for being sensitive or emotional. Let this be a sign that you’ve got a big heart and aren’t afraid to let others see it. Showing your emotions is a sign of strength”. Brigitte Nicole.

This may or may not be true but there are times when trying to hide emotion is stifling and far from helpful. A good cry never hurt anyone although sitting at work crying your eyes out opens yourself and others to a good dose of embarrassment!

Anxiety can cause our brains to misinterpret or exaggerate minor events and turn them into major disasters. As I’ve said previously, if you give in to sadness, anger or anxiety first thing in the morning, your day tends to go from bad to worse. This is when you bring distraction into play. Relaxation techniques like meditation can be very useful if you can control yours fears long enough to still your mind. This wonderful mindfulness technique using adult-colouring books works a treat for me.

People tell me that eating a healthy diet and participating in regular exercise influences all aspects of life. Apparently a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle habits can contribute significantly to anxiety management and prevention! I’m not convinced that avoiding alcohol, caffeine, salt, sugar and refined foods is going to help me deal with my anxiety and grief this Christmas! The only thing keeping me going is the thought of a Champagne breakfast with plenty of bacon, berries drizzled in chocolate, rare roast beef, glazed hams, pavlovas, trifles, wine, BBQs, liqueurs, cocktails……………oh my goodness who would swap these things for a healthy diet?

Exercise? At Christmas? Well, wouldn’t you know it? The gym’s shut and too many cars on the road to take my bike out. I might find myself walking a lot more than usual though – to the fridge and back!

What started as a perfectly sensible, level-headed blog is now turning into custard.

Just a thought for Christmas – a hug is the perfect gift; one size fits all, and we are all happy to exchange them x

EXCLUSIVE CLUB

I have spoken before about the ‘Secret Society’ that grieving parents belong to. No-one confesses to belonging to this society until they are dragged kicking and screaming through the doors. There they meet others who suddenly appear; people who they may have known for years but not intimately enough to know that they belong to that same exclusive club. You recognise in each other the pain, sorrow, anguish that you each live with.

There are certain things grieving parents don’t want to hear from people. Members of that exclusive club are very aware of these forbidden statements. They have a deep-seated abhorrence of these well-meaning platitudes and dismissive turns of phrase.

‘At least……’ is something I began to dread hearing. People trying to be kind but turning Rowie’s death into a triviality. The worst one was ‘at least it was quick…..’! Hey! It certainly was. Not a second to think about it!

I heard others say that their nightmare was the ‘time heals’ statement! No! No – it certainly doesn’t! Four years on Boxing Day since we lost him and time most certainly hasn’t healed the hurt. I still get that panicky, breathless grasp of fear when I think about Boxing Day and the days that follow it. I think about the hurt our close-knit family had to endure and I am angry, tearful, agitated. Pleasure is something that no longer really exists for us in its pure sense; it is always tempered with a sadness that we can’t share the fun together as a family. When I think of Rowie’s accident I am still appalled, shocked and troubled by the visions that are created by this thought. No. Time most certainly doesn’t heal the hurt.

People who say ‘you need to have a faith’ make me very angry. I have a faith; maybe not a mainstream faith, but I have a faith nonetheless. But tell me, how does having a faith take away the hurt of losing a child that you have loved and carried for a lot longer than their actual years; a child that was dreamed of long before they arrived? Okay, he’s moved on – he’s in Heaven. Why should that make me happy? He should be here with Chris, Francis and I. In a way this throwaway statement is quite critical and cynical. It is stating that if you had a stronger faith you would fare a whole lot better in dealing with curved balls! As if we haven’t enough to berate ourselves about without having to deal with a statement that only serves to increase your self-criticism in allowing such a heinous thing to happen to your beautiful child.

‘Everything happens for a reason’. Now that is a statement I can personally relate to. I am pretty sure that we all have a ‘death date’ – a time and date set by ourselves before we reincarnate. I believe that there are no coincidences and that everything does indeed happen for a reason. I firmly believe that if Rowie hadn’t gone down to the Chaslands on Boxing Day, he would have died anyway – in one way or another. For me this statement has resounding truth but for others it will cause immense angst. There is no reason in Heaven or earth that is good enough to allow a much adored child to be torn from its parents’ arms. I have lost count of the amount of times I have said that a parent should never have to outlive their child – it just isn’t a natural course of events. Ask any parent what their very worst nightmare is and I guarantee they will all whisper the same thing; too scared to say it out loud.

What can you say to help a grieving parent?

I’m not sure. We are still learning.

Something I do love is to talk about Rowie. I love to hear other peoples’ memories of him too. It takes no encouragement for me to talk endlessly about him. He gave us so much to remember; he was unique; there will never be anyone like him. Encouraging us and allowing us to talk about our lost children is probably the most helpful thing you can ever do.

Christmas is just around the corner. My stomach has been leaping and ducking and diving for the past few weeks with apprehension. We have surprised ourselves for three years in a row now; we have managed to survive the festive season and come out the other side relatively unscathed. As this season approaches again I always wonder if we will survive the next one. I guess we will come out the other side as before. It’s hard to explain to people when you turn down invitations to celebrations that we really wouldn’t add anything to the party spirit. It’s not that we have given up or that we are mourning. It’s just that it is extremely hard to laugh, joke and be merry at a time of year that holds so many horrendous memories.

2017 just around the corner. I hope it proves to be a cathartic year for everyone – one that begins to heal any hurt and pain that each of us might be feeling for one reason or another. Let’s hope that it proves to be an amazing and healing year for the whole world!

CHOICES

In the past I have been very susceptible to people who carry negative energy – I could be happy and full of excited anticipation for the day and then crash just as quickly when someone dealt out a negativity blow. I am learning to cope with this. In times gone by when this happened I would descend into gloom and the hours would get progressively worse as negative energy filled the remainder of the day before I slept again!

I am not saying avoid people who have worries or problems – these folks we can and should help. I am perfectly happy providing a shoulder to cry on or lending an ear to people who want to off-load their troubles or anxieties. I will help anyone who has a desire to help themselves. I will help anyone who is struggling to see light. The people we need to avoid are the ones who are grouchy and cantankerous; the ones who wake up with a crabby attitude who have no intention whatsoever of releasing it. They hang on to that snappish and petulant behaviour like a dog holds on to a bone and they enjoy taking everyone around them down too. They have the sort of ‘if I’m not happy then I’m sure not going to let you be happy either’ type mind-set! They are vindictive and fully intend to spoil your day.

If you are happy in your own skin; resilient and strong, then taking on these people can prove to be a positive experience for both them and you but if you are struggling to keep your own head above water, these are the people you need to steer clear of.

We all have choices. Every day of our lives we have a variety of choices to make; some of them minor and others earth-shattering! Some of these choices only have impact on ourselves; others effect those around you too.

I finished the short-term contract I was working on when Rowie died. I was tied in to a District Supervisor role with Statistics New Zealand. I had worked for them on the 2011 Census when they pulled the plug due to the February earth quake in Christchurch. As a ‘results orientated’ body, I had made a commitment at that time to take part in the next Census (whenever it was to be) so that I could see one through from start to finish.

My District Supervisor role was one that selected, interviewed, recruited, trained and supervised seventeen collectors for the Census. 2012 saw the recruitment process commence for the 2013 Census (the rerun of the 2011 Census). My area was vast. It covered South Balclutha down the coast to Fortrose, Waikawa, Curio Bay and inland to West Clinton, Pomahaka, Tahakope, Mataura Island.

Rowie died during the Christmas break and at a time when we were bang in the middle of interviewing and recruiting the collectors. I was buddied with a bordering Supervisor, Nikki, which meant that we interviewed and trained our collectors together. I had to make the decision (or choice) at this stage, as to whether I continued to work through the Census or resigned and left them to find another to take my place. The decision was made, albeit in a haze of grief, to continue with the role. To be honest, I don’t think I really even considered resigning – I just presumed I would continue without even questioning it. Hindsight tells me that my ‘buddy’, Nikki, was an extremely patient, compassionate and long-suffering buddy! She led me through many of the processes like a guide-dog would lead his charge and I will be grateful to her for ever.

I saw the Census through; our contract finishing in late April. When we finished I flopped. I realised at that stage that I needed to take some time to process my grief that had been stored away in some dark recess.

My break from full-time work lasted for two and a half years. I did some part-time work as relief Practice Manager at the local medical practice and I read a lot, wrote copiously and spent many an hour researching, buying and then creating healing bracelets with crystal gemstones. I made the choice not to work full-time over this period because I didn’t have much confidence in my ability to concentrate enough to carry out a full-time job successfully. Not only did I have a menopausal brain (similar to baby brain); I had a grief brain too! A positive liability to be sure!

During this time I did what I do best; I cooked up a storm! Historically I have loved to spoil my boys with food (Chris, Francis and Rowan) – and after Rowie’s death I turned up the kitchen a notch – I continued to spoil Chris, Francis and his wife, Maree. They were all working and I was at home. I cooked meals for us all – sent meals home with Francis, invited them here; made up batches of food for us all to freeze for another day. Francis learned he was to become a father – I continued to cook like a mad thing! After Harri was born Chris and I would take the Sunday roast down to cook at Francis’ house so that they didn’t have to pack up the baby to transport her up to our house just for tea; a very useful two and a half years!

I have been very lucky in my working life; I have always had the pleasure of working with professional people who have respected my abilities and professionalism. My choice was to qualify as a medical secretary for this very reason – so that I could work within a caring profession and with compassionate, sensitive people.

After this period of assimilating my grief I decided the time had come for me to return to gainful employment. The choice made, I started looking for work. I asked the Universe to show me where to look and I very quickly was pointed in the right direction by a warm and funny friend of mine. I have been back working full time now for ten months.

Now aged sixty, I feel privileged to have spent my forty working years with team players who have respected my role as much as I have respected theirs. Should this ever change, I am lucky enough to be able to stand back and make a choice; stay with the negativity or move on. And, above all else, as an old friend said to me the other day, “don’t allow negative people to live in your head rent-free Sue”. Good advice Vicki. You can choose to experience each high and low in fear, in sadness, in anger, in joy, in excitement, or in love. As the leading star in your own life’s movie, it’s completely down to you.

So many lessons learned in the last four years Rowie xx

DON’T LAUGH

I had a bit of an epiphany this morning!

I always like to wake early enough to perform a little ritual! I lie in bed on my side with Rowie’s picture grinning at me from the bedside table. My first words are always, ‘Love, Love, Love” – which has grown over the last three years to be my shortened form of “I love you, I’m in love with you and I will love you for ever”. These are the words that I said silently in my head, whispered, shouted, chanted, screamed for many months after Rowie died; hoping that he would hear me and understand just how much I was missing him. It sounds kind of corny but it became a routine; a ritual over time, and is something I now need to do before I start my day.

Anyway, I digress!

I had said my three words and was lying there thinking – this is my early morning kind of ‘meditation’. I’m not entirely sure it is true meditation; not like my TM that I do in my healing room, but I certainly have a great deal of inspirational guff that comes to me in these moments; so much of it unfortunately forgotten as I then move into ‘tablet taking/inhaler taking mode’ to kick-start myself before setting my feet on the ground and starting my crazy daisy not so lazy day.

Well, this morning I grumped at Rowie. I told him, in a light-hearted grump, that I had contracted to spend this life time with him and he had cheated me out of doing this! An answer came back to me immediately; bounced back as if off a taut rubber sheet. The answer was this.

“Get over it! We are all on a journey. Sometimes you start the journey with someone and you travel and finish the journey together – like going on holiday I guess, with a mate or family. Sometimes you travel alone – set off and return alone. Other times you will set off alone but pick other people up along the way. And of course there is always the journey you start with someone else but you part company with somewhere en route with a promise of catching up again at a later date…………”

It was suddenly as if a light had switched itself on. Chris, Francis, Rowan and I had started a journey together. Rowan took a detour! At some stage further along our track we will catch up with him again; for a huge hug and an amazing catch-up!

I can almost hear him saying, “there are times when you can be incredibly slow Mum!”

I got out of bed with a spring in my step this morning – and it wasn’t just the anti-inflammatories that got me going!

My visit to an awesome friend out at The Nuggets always uplifts me and gives me food for thought. She is such a positive joy germ and I always come away with some of her positive energy which she gives willingly.
There are people who are good for you and there are people who drag you down. Stick with those that lift you up. You don’t need to be unkind to those who drag you down. Just choose to be with those people who make you happy and with those who you in turn can help.

GRIEF IS A STRANGE BEAST

Grief is a strange beast. You expect and acknowledge the waves of heartache, tearfulness, abject sadness in the first few months after losing your loved one. You expect the same knee-jerk reaction on anniversaries because these are vivid reminders of past fun, joy, and loving times. You also expect that the grief will never ever disappear because you have lost a very important part of you – it is surely like losing a limb – you accept that it has gone and you have to adapt to living without that part of you.

You don’t expect the grief to hit you full tilt again over three years later.

I have had a rough few weeks. I couldn’t tell you why. I just find that I have hurt more and missed Rowie more in the last few weeks than I thought I ever would again. I wake up in the middle of the night; cold fingers of fear grappling at me. I then find it virtually impossible to go back to sleep again and if I do, the sleep is broken and restless. The fear that wakes me isn’t the ‘reliving the accident’ type of fear or the ‘raw fear’ when we waited to hear if he was alive or not. It is like I am looking down a long, lonely tunnel with no foreseeable end – to coin a phrase, ‘there is no light at the end of the tunnel’! When I get up in the morning the pain eases a little because in the cold light of day nothing is ever quite so bad as the “darkest hour just before dawn”. I can function OK. I get up, go to work, function well at work and come home again – but I don’t feel ‘happy’ at any stage throughout the day. Nothing excites me any more.

For those of you who have travelled the same road as us, I am sure you have experienced the same thing.

I am horrified to think back to my grandmother who lost her eldest son in an accident. She lived until she was ninety six – probably a good eighty years after her son died. How in Heaven’s name did she manage to live that long without him? She also outlived her younger son, my father. Imagine losing two children. I find this thought crucifying.

I am still pushing forward; I know that Rowie is around us. There are days when I feel like I can almost touch him. I see his face more clearly again. There was a time when I lost sight of him; couldn’t bring him into my mind’s eye without the visual stimulation of a photograph. Again, I’m not sure why this happened, but I am glad it has passed.

I am sure this new, intense grief will pass also. It is almost cyclic in its happening. I am sure Rowie wishes he could give me a great big hug and tell me everything will be OK. I know it will be OK in the end; but it’s a long, lonely tunnel.

I am grateful that he chose to be a part of our lives and I am grateful that we had nearly seventeen years of the fun, loving essence that was Rowie.

QUANTIFYING GRIEF

Is a Grief Support Group useful for those of us who have lost children?

We didn’t attend any grief counselling.  I did ask if there were any local groups who could help but there weren’t any.  There had been a counsellor who travelled from Dunedin once in a while but that facility had been cancelled due to lack of use.  Perhaps this was indicative of the lack of trust we, as parents have, in the efficacy of a counsellor who has no first-hand experience of losing a child.  I am sure text books attempt to do the experience justice and those who set out to help others have hearts big enough to want to heal us; but it just isn’t that simple.

Losing a child is the loneliest, most isolated journey I believe anyone can experience and the only people who can come close to understanding and appreciating it are those who have shared this experience themselves.  It’s a bit like a ‘secret society’ – unless you belong you are true outcasts – and the cost of belonging is more than anyone would ever choose to pay.

Owaka have lost more than their fair share of children over the years.  For a small community, we have been astounded at the number of families who have been hit by the tragedy of losing children.  It is something we were unaware of until we joined this ‘secret society’.  Suddenly life-long members began to approach us with their stories of heartache and sadness; suffering and pain that they carry with them every day.  When I say ‘every day’, this is a fact.  We carry this pain with us every day.  There is never a day when we can forget the hurt that accompanies the devastating loss of a child.

We start the journey by counting the days, weeks, months up to the first anniversary of their death.

No matter how many years go by, there are two days every year when the hurt is exceptionally severe; firstly our children’s birthdays, when we continue to count their years and wonder what they would look like now; what they would be doing with their lives.  Secondly, the anniversary of our child’s death – a date indelibly engraved on our hearts and minds – one that sends chills several weeks out until the date has long past.  Rowie passed on Boxing Day!  We lose the whole Christmas and New Year season to grief.  Christmas Day – the last memories of him.  Boxing Day – excruciating pain of loss.  Chris’ birthday on 30th December, lost in the grief.  New Year’s Eve – was the day that we farewelled him.  New Year’s Day – his beautiful brother, Francis’ wedding anniversary – is yet another casualty.

So many people don’t want to mention our children to us.  Often, those who see us from afar feel a severe discomfort and this discomfort keeps you from approaching us.  It is a fact that talking about our angels gives us great comfort.  To hear stories from others about our loved ones’ antics and the memories that keep these souls alive in others’ heads gives us great comfort.  We like to know that they are still missed; not just by us, but by the wider community.

Our hurt can’t be fixed by you – we learn to get by – we even learn to laugh and enjoy things again; but our lives will never ever be the same.  We don’t hit a date that says “grieving over – move on”.  This is why it is so hard for those who don’t have this experience, to begin to understand the absolute isolation that we feel on the death of our child – and the despondency and vertical, greasy slope that we have to try to climb.

Mums and Dads who miscarry their babies join the same secret society.  So many people don’t realise the pain that parents-to-be suffer when they lose their unborn babies.  They suffer the same abject despondency that all parents suffer when they lose their offspring.  We tend to take these losses with a pinch of salt.  The unborn baby was an unknown entity – how can they feel such acute pain?  Again, unless you have suffered this loss it is very hard to understand the complete devastation experienced by mum and dad.  We suffered several miscarriages during our early married life.  Each one is permanently etched on our minds; each one mourned and remembered.

The fact of the matter is that our loss is wholly unnatural, deviant.  No parent should have to suffer the loss of a child and it is not easy for those closest to us who have to deal with us on a day to day basis!  We have good days; we have bad days.  As grieving parents, it isn’t always easy to go about daily chores with a smile and an attitude that belies the hurting that goes on inside.

The secret society stands by, watches and understands the pain.

The secret society stands by, watches and understands the pain.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

I learned so many things from Rowan when he was here with us, but I have learned so much more from him since he passed.  I continue to be taught by him – something that amazes me every day.

When he was here; an everyday influence on my life, he taught me to remember and enjoy the simple things and not to take them for granted.  He got excited about food.  He rushed and grabbed the camera to capture the image of a meal that he knew, without a doubt, he was going to enjoy.  He would scamper around the supermarket with an enthusiasm which was a delight to see.  To him, a visit to the supermarket wasn’t pure drudgery; an evil, expensive necessity.  It was a pleasurable, exhilarating outing – one that held great promise of treats and taste explosions and chocolate milkshakes!  He never outgrew that excitement.

If you went out with Rowie for the day, you would never get the sulks and the grumps that happen with so many children.  He would find things to laugh at wherever we went; exuberant laughter, but not cruel or derisive laughter.  He was persistent.  If he felt you weren’t enjoying the experience as you should, he would redouble his efforts to make you happy.  You couldn’t stay miserable with him around – he had a certain knack of bringing the inner child out in everyone.  Eight years between Francis and Rowan could have been a chasm – it wasn’t.  Rowie managed Francis with an expertise greater than his years!  His older brother was putty in his fingers.  He could always get a smile from him.  He could turn the worst mood into mirth.  We were meant to dance to music – according to Rowie anyway!  He was forever bursting into action; arms flying, legs moving in an awesome parody of some character he had seen on television.  He captured the essence, eccentricity, with perfect comedic timing.

I think what I am trying to say is that we all need to take responsibility for our own happiness.  Rowan grabbed at enjoyment in whatever he did (apart from cricket).  He turned the most mundane day into an extraordinary one.

He started his day with a 10 minute shower, no more, no less.  It was only after he died that we found his “shower music” on his IPad!  Exactly 10 minutes of lively, rhythmic music simply entitled – “Rowan’s Shower Music”.  I wondered how he timed his morning ablutions!  I wondered why the IPad accompanied him to the bathroom every morning!  What a way to start the day though – singing and dancing your way through the first minutes of your day increases your vibration ten-fold – can’t help but have a doozy of a day following that!

Rowan did everything wholeheartedly (except for the possible exception of school work………)!

He enjoyed people.  He loved meeting new people and was expert at making people feel comfortable in his company.  His ex-boss described him to me the other day as having a “charisma” unusual in someone so young.  His happiness was totally self-inflicted!  Maybe he knew that he wasn’t going to be here for the long-haul so maybe he thought  that he would pack as much fun and happiness into his short life as he possibly could?

I had no real direction before Rowan died.  After I moved to Owaka, I worked short-term contracts because I didn’t really want to commit to anything long-term.  I had no real passion about anything I did.  I had lost the passion that gets you up in the morning.   For the first time in a very long time I didn’t really enjoy working at all!  The fun of it had kind of tarnished.  Rowan taught me passion again.  He indirectly taught me my life purpose.  He made available to me ways to offer comfort to other people.  He has introduced me to people with like-minds who have amazing stories of their own to tell.

The days when I lumber out of bed, complaining about the cold, complaining about the aches and pains, grumbling at the cats for leaving something squishy for me to tread in – these are the days when what follows can only be described as total train-wreck misery!  They get progressively worse as the hours pass; they compound my unhappiness and I suffer for the whole of the day.

The days when I hop out of bed with an eager anticipation and a smile on my face; those days are the ones that hold magic and serendipitous meetings and phenomena that are wonder-full!  These are the days that I take responsibility – I own them!  I consciously make the choice to be happy.  These are the days when I set myself up for fun, laughter, joy, pleasure.  Well here’s a thought – I might even borrow the IPad and make a ten minute “Sue’s Shower Music”……………….