Hundreds, maybe even thousands of times, since I lost Toby I have pondered my desire to carry on living. I still don’t know how I have carried on, because if you had asked me 2 years ago how I would cope with losing Toby I would have told you with 100% certainty that not only would I not want to go on, I wouldn’t be able to.
Well, life is full of surprises and I am constantly surprised, even shocked, at the way I have coped. I don’t think surviving after your child dies makes you brave, but I do feel I have displayed a great deal of courage over the last year and a bit.
My Dad was diagnosed with cancer days after Toby’s funeral and I nursed him until his death just a few short months later. That was brave. You could say I had no choice, but there is always a choice. I could have collapsed under a haze of anti-depressants or alcohol or stress, but I got up every day and not only did what I had to do, I looked after my Dad, took him to hospital appointments and made his last days as happy as I could in the circumstances.
I had no space to grieve for my son. Maybe this was a blessing in disguise, I don’t know and I can’t say, even now.
Then I was left alone, but I got up every day and did all the normal things. I showered, did my hair, put on make up, went out. I did not look or act like a grieving Mum. When I say that I should explain that I am aware that most people including myself have preconceptions about how people should behave in certain circumstances. I myself was guilty of judging Kate McCann when Madeleine McCann went missing because she didn’t look like a Mum who had just lost her little girl. She appeared on TV emotionless, calm and collected and spoke to the press and TV people. I expected her to be a quivering, weeping wreck. When I lost Toby I totally understood. I went into shock and when a policeman knocked on my door and told me my son had taken his own life I just walked around and made tea and thought that I had to cancel the chimney sweep.
The next day I went to Argos to collect a juicer I had ordered on-line the day before I knew my son was dead. I was standing in the queue in Argos thinking ‘what would people think of me if they knew I was in Argos the day after my son died’. It was bizarre. I know now that I was in shock and I know now that my body and brain had shifted into some kind of ‘emergency shut down’ mode that would enable me to function over the next few weeks when I had to honour my son and lay him to rest and say goodbye. I had to give him a send off that would enable his friends to say goodbye. I couldn’t collapse, I had to go on and I did.
I can’t remember a single day when I didn’t get up and get showered and do my hair and make up. All my logic and instincts told myself that I should be lying on the floor weeping for at least 6 months.
So it has been a learning experience and I have learned not to judge anyone who is grieving and I hope people won’t judge me and think that just because I appear to be strong and brave and coping well that I didn’t love my son with every fibre of my being and that I don’t miss him with an aching, searing intensity every second of every day.
So what next for me? I don’t know is the answer. To all intents and purposes I am doing amazingly well, but it is still early days. Since Toby died, I lost my Dad, I got a job, I wrote my blog, I wrote newspaper articles about my experience and became a trustee for a charity that is working to reduce young suicide called PAPYRUS. I got a puppy and I completed a counselling course and joined a choir and even went to Salsa classes for a while.
How the hell I did any of that stuff I don’t know, maybe I just have an inner strength and survival mechanism that spurs me on. Have I had dark times? Yes of course I have, many, many and as I started this blog post I have thought many times about just quitting this life.
So what stops me? The other day it hit me in the stomach and made me weep. I don’t want this to be the end of my story.
I don’t want to be the Headline ‘Grieving Mum couldn’t go on after losing her son’.
I want the headline of my obituary to read ‘Despite facing adversity Anne……. Fill in the blanks –
climbed Everest and raised a million pounds for charity….. met the love of her life……….. started a support group that helped hundreds of parents…….. her efforts reduced young suicide….. won the lottery and bought a villa in Tuscany… won the Nobel peace prize …..opened an animal sanctuary
This is the start of the next chapter, and Toby’s death is a chapter in my life that I would rather leave out of my life story, but I can’t – it’s in there, but there are more chapters to come so this is not the way my story ends.