Last weekend was the 4th anniversary of the accident. I would like to say that it gets easier every year but the build up of anxiety before the date and the feeling of loss and sadness still feels as intense as ever. In some ways it feels like the accident was yesterday and we were with Nicko and Emily last week as I can remember them so clearly, sometimes I feel I can almost reach and touch them and hear them calling me, yet in other ways, after everything we have been through these past 4 years, it feels like a lifetime ago. Which of course is what it was, a different life. Myself and the children have had to rebuild our life without two precious people in it. I heard a great analogy for grief this week, or was it a metaphor, either way it struck a chord with me. You will need props for this one, so get a small ball, any ball, and two containers, one in which the ball fits pretty snuggly and the second which is much larger. Now put the ball into the first small container, you will see that it takes up most of the space. The ball represents your grief and the container is your life, you can see that at the beginning your life is pretty much all consumed by your grief but as time goes on and your life expands (now move the ball over to the second container) your grief remains the same size but will feel less all consuming as your life has grown around it. This clearly illustrates what we all know, that grief never goes away, we will always miss those we have lost but our life can’t help to expand and grow as we meet more people, move jobs, take up new hobbies, move house, whatever it is, helps us to expand our world so even though the grief never goes away if becomes more manageable and less painful.
That analogy of course is completely irrelevant when it comes to coping with difficult days in the year when our grief is at the forefront of our minds and it once again becomes all consuming. For me these days in order of difficulty are: Emily’s birthday (the loss of seeing who she would become is intense and every year I can see her friends turning 10, 11, 12 etc but she only ever reached 8), Nicko’s birthday, the anniversary of the accident, mother’s day (I still have her card from the year she died telling me how much she loved me), father’s day (hideous for all the children), Christmas day, any of the children’s birthdays as Daddy is not there to see them turn one year older, our wedding anniversary, my birthday …..each of these days magnifies the loss of what was or what could have been and the yearning for them is very intense. As you can see there are quite a few days in the year when we need to think a little bit about how to get through these days without totally relying on a bottle of vodka.
My first action and piece of advice is to plan what you are going to do on these days. I have learnt that there is nothing worse than waking up with the whole hideous day stretching out in front of me and not knowing what to do or where to start. The plans need not be rigid, but there should be one or two ideas in place to give a focus to your day. It could be visiting a favourite place of those you have lost or doing an activity that they enjoyed – last weekend the children and I all went to Thorpe Park as Nicko and Emily loved rollercoasters and it was a fun, uplifting, positive and distracting day where we all talked about them, cried for them but most importantly remembered them. That leads me onto my second piece of advice, never feel guilty about having a good time, that is not what they would have wanted for you and never feel bad about having a little me time or pamper time, looking after ourselves is very important to grieving and healing.
It is important to be patient and compassionate with yourself, admit this will be a difficult day so prepare for that, perhaps take a day off work or ask some friends to be with you or to help out. You will feel distracted and tired and not your usual capable self and this is totally fine. If you are supporting someone on a difficult day, take their lead on what they want you there for, is it to listen or someone they can just be with and be silent with? People get so worried about saying the wrong thing but you are not going to make them feel any worse than how they are feeling anyway and often the grieving person needs someone to listen to them, someone to sit with them and let them cry or reminisce, you don’t need to say very much at all, just being there is often enough.
On these days you can feel very isolated, you see everyone else having a lovely special day with their loved ones and that can exaggerate your pain. This is totally normal and seems very unfair, you may feel angry for the situation, angry at your loved one, or perhaps you feel envy when you see others celebrating a special day. Whatever you are feeling let yourself feel it and preferably talk to friends or family about it, especially those who understand your situation, you don’t need to spend the day alone or put a brave face on it, try not to keep your emotions bottled up. Don’t minimise the loss, you don’t need to be strong on this day, you are allowed to grieve so give yourself permission.
It helps me to write them a letter on their birthdays and I write a note to Emily on mother’s day and keep it with my notes from her. Writing is a great way to release emotions – from grief and pain to guilt and anger – pour your feelings out on the paper, you feel so much better. Write about your feelings and memories of your loved one. Death doesn’t need to be the end of the relationship, just the ability to talk in the physical presence. I often have a conversation with Nicko or talk to him when I want his opinion on something, I knew him so well that I know what he would say. When you are finished writing read it out loud to yourself, this can be very comforting.
Honor Your Mum’s or your Child’s memory and create new rituals. Light a candle in a church, visit their grave, plant a living memorial in the form of a tree or a bush – do something that they enjoyed doing. We always go for a walk to get a mint choc chip ice cream as that was Emily’s favourite or we make her favourite chocolate cake on her birthday and we always eat a lot of Cadbury’s on Nicko’s birthday!
I hope this helps you cope with your painful days and I’d love to hear from you about what your new rituals are and your ways of remembering. We are all in this together, you are not on your own.