In the first few days and early weeks after my son died, I wished to feel normal again. I longed, not just for the pain to ease, but just to feel like myself again. It felt like I lived in a bubble, everyone around me was living their normal lives but I was in a very lonely, isolated bubble of vulnerability and pain.
I have never felt pain like it – physical pain, mental pain that affected how much I could do, how much I could cope with, how much I could enjoy, how much I could focus on. I felt like I could break at any moment – each day was about forcing myself to get out of bed, to do something rather than just wallow; to do something rather than just desperately want my baby back.
There was an aching in my arms for the baby I couldn’t hold and a physical pain in my heart as it ached for what I had lost. In those early weeks I wasn’t sure how much of this I could cope with – was this it, for forever? But as the weeks passed, there were more glimpses of hope, of happiness.
About six weeks after Jamie died, we had a family day out and I remember saying to my husband that I actually felt happy. In that moment, I felt happy. It was fleeting but I still felt it.
There was to no return to normal – how can there be? I functioned, I was able to continue to love my children with every cell in my body, I was able to look after them and their needs and, eventually, I was able to work again. The first two years after Jamie died are a blur, I remember very little of that time. apparently that is normal after a trauma.
I often work with bereaved parents – some have just lost their child, others are further into their journey. I recognise the look of pain in the eyes of a recently bereaved parent, there is nothing like it, they are broken. I know some of the journey they have to make to fix themselves enough so they can live again.
I want to say to bereaved parents…
Your days will be filled with heartbreak until eventually that eases enough so you can live again. There won’t be a day that you don’t think of your child – initially it will consume you but, eventually, that will ease to a manageable amount on most days. On the raw days, it will consume you again.
You may well make yourself busy, to stop yourself being consumed by sadness, grief and longing but those days will need to happen and your brain will make them happen. You may well be triggered by something you least expect which will cause uncontrollable tears to fall but you will need that release to keep living and to heal a bit more. Not everyone will get it – they will think you are over the death of your child, they will expect you to be over it at some point. Some people will never know what to say and they may avoid you. You may even lose friends. But you may gain new friends because some people may surprise you with their love, empathy and compassion – they will get it and they will provide you with support when you need it. You may never be able to talk about your child without crying.
You need to look after you, be kind to yourself.
The road to recovery after losing a child is long and it is a different path for everyone, even the parents of one child will grieve differently. Therapy and medication can be part of your journey because loss and trauma may change you – there may be more anxiety and depression, there may continue to be so much pain that you want to numb yourself. With the right support, eventually you will live again but there’s no time scale on any of this because it s different for everyone.
For me, now, most days are good, happy days but I would say that it took about a decade to adjust to the trauma, to accept and manage my anxiety, and to accept that normal is not coming. There’s a new normal now, where anxiety, grief and missing my child are familiar – I have accepted this, it meant he was here, it meant he mattered.
Recovery from babyloss, from childloss can’t be forced, it can’t be rushed, it takes as long as it takes. Life will continue, you will enjoy life again but it takes time because we have to experience the grief to learn to live with it.
Janine – mum to Jamie who died when he was 3 days old in 2007