Warning – this post contains some content that may upset bereaved parents
It is there. It is there when I wake up in the morning, it is there as I get ready for work, it is there as I drive to work. While I am at work it hides sometimes, but it is still there and I can feel it the whole time I am awake, and even sometimes when I sleep.
It is insidious, devious, nasty and cruel. It can sneak up on me and scare me out of my wits when I am least expecting it. It follows me around, it won’t leave me alone. Sometimes I face up to it, and tell it to F**k off, I get angry, but I know it is far stronger and superior to me. Sometimes I am scared it will eat me up, take over and destroy me, but in my stronger moments I know I just have to learn to understand it and love it, and learn to be friends with it and then I can start living again.
The only word that we have for it in the English language is ‘Grief’. But that is not it, that does not describe what I am talking about. Grief is manageable, grief is what we feel when we lose someone or we lose a relationship. Grief is the emotion that people feel when someone has died and it encompasses sadness, pain, heartbreak, loneliness. I have all these things but that is not it.
On the same day my son Toby died, the person I was died too. I was a 55 year old woman who was stumbling through life. I thought I knew what I wanted, what I valued and what my life stood for, but oh how wrong I was. I knew nothing, and that day I became as helpless as a newborn baby, but without a nurturing parent to protect me and show me how to grow and cope. I became an amorphous mass of cells, with a brain that had been shaken up as surely as it some thug had mugged me and bashed my head against a wall. Everything was changed. Life, love, happiness, dreams, safety, knowledge – all gone in an instant and what was it to be replaced with?
How does any mother read a post mortem report which described her son’s body parts being dissected and analysed, how does she get up every day and go on after that. How – tell me how?
I must be dense, because the last time I saw Toby’s body lying in his seagrass casket, clothed in a new shirt I bought him at ‘Fat Face’, it never ever occurred to me that his head had been cut open and his brain removed and cut in half. That never crossed my mind, which is probably a blessing.
One thing that I do know is that I learned the strength of my character and I learned that a Mother can face seeing her only child’s empty shell after his spirit has left the world. I know that I could never have faced what followed if I had been too cowardly to face that. I do not judge anyone who could not face that but something deep within my inner psyche knew that I would regret it to my dying day if I had not had the courage and fortitude to face my worst nightmare that I ever could have imagined.
I do believe that God or whatever has designed us, the most complex of creatures, so that we can bear much more than we could ever imagine. I went alone, no one was with me. I walked in alone and placed a card and a teddy bear in his hands. His fingernails were black, but other than that he looked like my Toby asleep. They had done a good job whoever they were that had put him back together and dressed him. He had a very slight smile on his face, do they do that specially? He had a slight beard. New checked shirt, his friends always kidded him that he dressed like a lumberjack, and new underpants and socks, but his old jeans and no shoes, apparently they don’t allow shoes in the incinerator.
How could any person, let alone a mother go through these things and not be changed irrevocably and permanently.
So it is there. It is more than grief, it hangs around me like a shadow, but if you met me in the street you wouldn’t see it because it is sneaky. When I meet people it goes underground, it rarely shows itself. Even if I told you about Toby you would be shocked because you would be looking carefully for it then and you might think, ‘how can she appear so normal?
I can’t answer that question. I am not the only person in the world to live with this parasite that has invaded my world, burrowed itself into every fibre of my being. There are lots of us, and when we find someone else who is infected with this cancerous thing, it helps, because we see other survivors living with it.
We can learn to live with it and coexist. It becomes part of us, but it can mutate into new cells that help us value life even more than before we were infected. We may even learn to see how it brings gifts into our lives, that we wouldn’t have had if it hadn’t come along.
We may even wear it like a badge of courage, a purple heart or a Victoria cross.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Of course if we had a choice we would never have let it into our lives, but now it is here woven into every cell, every fibre, every blood cell, every chamber of our soul, what will we do with it?
If our strength of spirit will allow, we will show the badge to others and show them how they too can survive this unwanted invasion. We wear our badge as testimony to our loved one, who we loved and lost.
So it is there, it is still there. It is here today and it will be there tomorrow, next week, next year and every day until the day I depart this life. But I have a choice. To rant and rave and wish it never came. Or to accept that death is part of life. To love is to risk loss, to live is to risk dying. I could give into it, let it eat away at me and consume me, or I could invite it in. Ask it to pull up a chair, offer it a cup of tea, and then ask it what it can teach me. I have a choice.