by Maureen Hunter
The Harbingers of Bad News
It’s happened to me three times. It’s been three times too many. Each time it was unexpected and unwanted and I don’t want it ever to happen again. They are the harbingers of bad news, those messengers whose job is to tell of the unbidden tragedies – the police.
The first time they came I was 16 years old and my parents were near dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. The second time they came knocking at my door my 2 and 4-year-old children were sleeping and my third baby was a blip in my womb. My husband’s car was near on unrecognizable and so was he. But it’s the third time I want to share with you and what was indeed the worst of all of them.
Every time I heard of a family who had lost a child, my hand shot up to my heart automatically as I thought of how horrendous, how awful that would be and how I couldn’t possibly do what they were doing – living without their child. Little did I know it was going to happen to me.
The Pain of Grief
In 2006, as I lay sleeping, my 18-year-old son lay crumpled and torn in the wreck of his car. When the police came I was stunned and shaking and couldn’t believe what they were telling me. I couldn’t believe it 5 days later when he died in the hospital. I couldn’t believe it in the days, weeks and months after. In those days when somehow my heart was still beating and my lungs were taking in air but my spirit was crushed and broken.
I cried everywhere and often but my most frequented place was in front of the fridge laden with photos. There I sobbed into his picture and my heart fell out of me in a bloody trail, the pain was so great. All I could do initially was let the pain do with me what it would. It ravaged me and ripped me to shreds as I succumbed to it and let it shove me into the dirt and trample me to pieces.
The Survival of My Broken Self
I didn’t think I could survive and didn’t know how I would. At times, I didn’t much want to either. All I wanted was to be where my son was, the longing and missing was crippling. The dark shroud of grief near suffocated me, engulfing me, engulfing my life, engulfing my love. Nothing was immune from the darkness that pervaded everything. And so came the moment when I’d had enough. As another bout of intense pain flooded through me, I uttered the words that were to change my life. I said “No!”
“No, I will not live like this for the rest of my life.”
“No, I will not let pain be all that I know.”
“No, I will not become a victim of my circumstance. I don’t know how but I will…somehow get through this.”
That was to become a pivotal moment that cemented itself into my psyche and paved the way for me to see a little clearer. It enabled me to make decisions in my life based on that commitment to myself and to the memory of my son. I refused to let his legacy be pain and pain alone.
Although I was doing many things that in hindsight I realised were paramount to my healing and which I’ll share with you shortly, I was also beginning to think about my what now and my where to from here? It’s a difficult thing to feel grateful or lucky in any way when tragedy strikes. Yet I did. I felt very lucky that I had money and few responsibilities. It was freeing and I could focus on my needs, my survival and my future.
I took time away for me, for the restoration of my heart and soul and came back to my old life anew. I made many changes. I moved to a new town, a new job and made a new home for myself. In the process I met a wonderful man who companions me through this life without my son, who is there to support me and love me and I feel very blessed for that. I made a commitment to live beyond my pain but it doesn’t mean the pain is never there. It is. There are moments where it visits me and sits astride me in its powerful way that it has, and I let it, for a while till I can be more powerful than it once again. The see saw of grief remains always. The impact of loss is forever but it doesn’t have to be devastating forever. Life can have colour and bloom in new and different ways.
My Healing Helpers
Grief is unique and individual. Many things I did intuitively, some ideas were given to me but in the end it is my journey, as it is yours. It’s for you to find your way; unfortunately no one else can do it for you. Here’s what helped me the most and which I did regularly:
1. I got my feelings and emotions out of my body where they were near crippling me. I screamed them out (in my car), I wrote them out (in my journal) and I talked them out (to the people I felt safe with). I still do including the anger!
2. I actively sought out support. Grief was too big for me alone. I decided I needed all the help I could get. I went online and offline, though then there was no Facebook. I joined The Compassionate Friends (TCF) and now volunteer for them. People who understood and who were walking a little ahead of me were my lifeline.
3. I kept my relationship with my son strong. It wasn’t the relationship I wanted yet it was there, beyond the physical, a connection, a bond that I was going to nurture and grow as best I could. I talked to him, wrote to him, connected with him in many different ways. He is around me in my home, in the jewellery I wear and is part of my life in so many different ways. The essence of him and what he brought to my life is mine always to keep and to hold.
4. I read avidly. I needed answers, facts, hope, inspiration and to know I hadn’t lost my mind totally. I needed someone to normalise all that I was experiencing and books did that for me.
5. I structured a routine and regularity into my life, especially in the early days. I tried to do something each and every day that got me out of bed and got me up. My animals were a big help to me, they were my motivators that gave me something to think about other than myself when I was all consumed by me, me and me.
6. I got outside every day. I listened to birds, held out my hands to the fury of the wind and sat on the veranda and felt the rain come in. Nature connected me to life, to renewal and to simple pleasures again. I also looked for signs. I saw messages in clouds, picked up butterflies with a smile and rejoiced when I saw an eagle soaring, taking strength from something greater than myself.
7. I started rituals for my son, for remembering, for connecting. Regular things like lighting candles on certain days. Planting out a new garden in his memory. Always buying a bunch of white roses on his anniversary day. When I started my website, the name I choose was part of his name. I brought him into my life always. He is a part of me now and forever.
8. I did something nice for myself often. A special soap. A soothing bath. My favourite coffee at my local café. I planned a day out somewhere different. Really simple things but they gave me a forward focus, a focus that was more than pain alone.
9. I gave back to others and still do. Grief can soften our hearts and bring compassion into our lives in incredible ways. I mentioned I started volunteering for TCF. They had helped me immeasurably and I wanted to do what I could to help them, to help others. For similar reasons that is why Esdeer, my website, and Stepping through Grief on Facebook came about. In some small way, if what I had experienced and how I had got through would give hope and comfort to others then that would be a very special way to make something meaningful come from such a devastating loss.
10. I was grateful. I was thankful each and every day for my children that were still here. For my grandchildren. For the smell of flowers. For my dog that licked and loved me. For friends who dragged me out of bed when all I wanted to do was curl up and die. For the sun that warmed my dead bones. For being able to walk every day by the ocean and smell the sea. Later, I could even see the gifts in my grief. What Stuart’s death had taught me, what he had given me and how I had changed in a good way through it all.
11. I realised I couldn’t change the past. It was very hard to accept. I so desperately wanted everything to be as it once was, for it to be a nightmare I could wake up from. I couldn’t. No matter how much I suffered or how much pain I was in I couldn’t change the fact that Stuart had died. I remind myself of that often, I can’t change what’s happened I can only change me.
You will find your own ways through your grief, but know that your loved one will be with you always in your heart. They will live on in you and touch your life forever more.
About the Author: Maureen Hunter is an inspirational writer and grief steps mentor giving comfort and hope to many. She is passionate about helping people to step through grief and build a new and different life after loss, one in which their loved one is always a part of. You can find more of Maureen’s articles and resources on her Website, Esdeer, and on her Facebook Page Stepping Through Grief.