I wrote this 3 years ago and it was featured in Still Standing magazine. They still post it and it still gets a lot of likes, shares and comments. I was not alone in my feelings, however, 3 years on I am not so angry and more forgiving, But I wasn't at the time, and that's ok.
I’ve been having a difficult time with letting go of people that have abandoned us. One thing I find hard is that in no time at all people had left us. We were such a centre of attention and then all of a sudden everyone was gone. And we were left with hardly anyone around us. The medical staff, friends and family, all gone in a blink of an eye. Or more precise upon Emma’s last breath. It started at the exact moment when she died. The hospice group came in and took all her meds away, the fentanyl and the morphine. The things that were keeping Emma out of pain, all gone like they never existed. Like she never existed. We were left alone in an empty room.
We felt like we were held in some kind of warmth and light to get through this horrible situation by everyone around us. And as soon as Emma died everyone left. Only wanting a Celebration of Life to pay tribute and say goodbye to our beautiful girl. We, her parents will never say goodbye. I hated planning and executing the Celebration of Life. It was an incredibly difficult thing to do and I have very little memory of it. I hardly remember who attended. I was numb. Not really there.
I know people are gone because they don’t know what to say. I wouldn’t know what to say. But I am tired of that excuse. It’s not good enough to just leave without a word. How do you expect me to feel? “Text me if you want to go for a walk.” It’s the easiest thing to say to someone knowing that they never will. I don’t even know what I would say to people if I bumped into them now. But, most of the time I avoid them. It has become too awkward and uncomfortable for me. I don’t want to start the conversation that will lead to this, the awkward and uncomfortable.
I was speaking with a neighbour yesterday. Someone very active on Emma’s FB page, I had never spoken to her before. She only lives down the road. It was a nice conversation and we talked about Emma and grieving. I got a little teary and she said. “Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to make you cry” and I said “I want to cry, I want to talk about Emma. No one ever talks to me” and that surprised her. But, it’s not surprising to a bereaved parent. We have to work hard at maintaining friendships. We can’t be too sad or too angry or complain. We have to pretend we are happy when we are not. We have to sit and listen to the conversation that we don’t want to hear. We get told how we should feel. People say things like, “I couldn’t imagine”, “I don’t know what I would do”, “I don’t know how you do it.” Like we know some secret and as long as you don’t it will never happen to you. We feel like lepers. Like the death of our child will rub off on you. We didn’t love hard enough, pray hard enough, want our child to live hard enough. This is all crap. That is the hard part. That we are just like you. And that is the hard pill to swallow. We are just like you.
So where do I go from here? Do I leave Victoria? That could make it easy. Or maybe that would be really difficult. Moving to a place where I don’t know anyone and having to start all over again. That can’t be easy. Or is it. Is it easier to just pretend that you’ve had this amazing life and you only need to tell the people you want about Emma? Like it’s a precious little secret. But, that’s not who I am. I wake each morning to honour Emma. What will today bring to make her proud.
In movies, they always have the family that lost a child as the weird family. Like, old Mrs Smith lives in that house alone and went weird after her daughter died. The parent always has lost their mind. I get it. Understood. I am now part of that group. Well, it’s not right. I am here. I am still Emma’s mum. I am grieving, but I am also a person, I am also a parent, I have other feelings. It hurts that you have walked away. But, I forgive you. I know you don’t know how to do any better. I know we are all doing this without a manual.
This is my journey and I will take it with my daughter beside me with or without you.
June 21st 2021
It doesn't matter what we do. We could hide, we could run, we could disappear. But we just can't avoid. No matter what we do at this time of year it always pulls us back. It always pulls us back to a time when we were losing our girl. The thoughts, the feelings, the heartache, are all there like it's happening all over again. Different, but the same. It's the trauma of the event. Her death. We don't want it to be different. It was such a traumatic moment in our lives. We don't want to erase anything about it. We lived it. We honour it. We honour her by not forgetting. By not trying to erase it.
Five years on we are different, but the same. The human response to life, to death.
Grief is always moving, always changing, always there.
We wear it well. We own it. We honour it.
As we will for the rest of our days.
Our beautiful girl in life and in death.
There was a shift this past year. An acceptance. It has taken a lot of work to get here. I’ve had to let go of a lot of anger. I was angry that Emma was gone. Still am if I’m honest. But the anger doesn’t resolve anything. It just makes things harder for me.
I am not happy that Emma is gone and there are still moments where I can’t believe she is gone. I feel more at home with my grief. I know it will be here forever and will change constantly and I accept that. I have no choice.
It’s amazing what a human can do when they have no choice.
June 20th 2020
The day before. The day before my life changed forever. This is how it goes. This is how it will be forever. The emotions build up and the feelings and the everything. I remember the day like it was yesterday. A seemingly everyday kind of day. Well for most, not for us. We were trying to squeeze every moment out of the day. In my head, in my heart, something knew. It had been telling me for days. But I wasn’t ready. Would I ever have been ready? I said you could go. I knew you needed to go. But I didn’t want you to go. I had to be a mother, a parent, and put everything I wanted aside and let you do what you needed to do. That’s how it goes. That’s what you sign up for. But this? When it’s over. Did I sign up for this? This will last me a lifetime. Oh, and how I hope it’s not a long lifetime. Just long enough to see the other one through. When he’s ready. Not now. But always on my mind. Until we meet again my love.
I love you. I miss you. Forever and always.
I was pouring all my emotions into my writing. I never wrote before Emma died, well, I mean daily. I started the day she died. That night. When I had so much more to say to her. It was the only way I knew how to express it. Writing is what got me through. Still does. It was something that worked for me. It took a while to realize it. But a few months after Emma died, I realized that the writing was taking me somewhere. On a journey of trying to heal a broken heart.
June 21st 2019
My Dearest Emma,
It’s been 3 years since you left us. I remember every second of that day. When I woke up that morning, I had no idea that you would die later that night, in the wee small hours of the summer solstice, June 21st with a strawberry full moon. I know you chose that day. I could hear it in my head over and over again, two one, two one. So why did it come as a surprise? Because I was willing you to live longer. To awaken and tell us this was all just a bad dream.
That didn’t happen. You quietly and peacefully slipped away from us. Away from your body and out into the mornings light. I could see you and feel you go. You swirled around your baby dogwood tree for a while, maybe dancing in the joyfulness of your new freedom of movement and then you drifted away from us to go explore your new world.
You made us promise we would be ‘ok’ again. And it’s not that we haven’t tried to live up to that, but it’s not that easy. Life is much harder than I expected since you died. Losing you was like having all the air sucked out of me and having to learn how to breathe again …sometimes not wanting to take that breath.
And now on the 3rd anniversary of your death. I don’t know what we will do. I don’t know how I will feel. But I do know I’m still not ‘ok’ with it. That I’m not ‘ok’.
I’m still light years away from being ‘ok’ with your death. But I am trying. I think being ok will come on my death bed when I know that I will get to see you again.
And what a reunion that will be.
All my love,
My journal entry speaks for itself. I was still heartbroken, raw, but starting to have movement forward. My heart was just starting to realize Emma wasn’t coming back, three years on.
June 21st 2018
Two years. And now what. Am I supposed to just move on? Am I supposed to just be ok? Well, I’m not. Far from it. I try and try I won’t be ok. So, what do I do now? What do I do? That is the question I ask. I need to know because how else am I supposed to carry on without you? When I think I may be only halfway through my life, what an agonizing thought.
Was I any further ahead in the second year? It didn’t feel like it. I was still trying to get used to life without Emma. I was trying, but it wasn’t easy. It was still early days. Two years on, it was still so raw.
June 21st 2017
I can't believe it. There are times when I still think you're here. Still, times when I can't believe you're gone. This is impossible. How can I go on living when you're not here? Not possible. Life is meaningless. No purpose no beauty no light no colour no sound. Stillness. Void. Blank. My heart aches every day every moment. I miss you so much. My heart breaks without you.
Even a year on I couldn’t believe that Emma was gone. I still expected her to walk into the house and tell us that she was on this long journey and just got back. She was lost and couldn’t get home. But she’s home now and everything would ok.
Your mind can play tricks on you. Even though I was there when Emma died, my heart still hadn’t caught up. I still longed for her.
A year on we had moved slightly ahead. Only slightly.
June 21st 2016
I went into the other room around midnight to put my head down for a few minutes.
I slept for about an hour and then I heard a door close, it woke me up.
I went back into your room and took up position on the other side of you. Daddy was already there.
I sat there for what felt like forever and no time at all. Your breathing was raspy.
I know now from all the books I've read about death, that this is normal.
The death rattle.
I know this now, but I didn't know that then.
Nobody tells you these things.
Nobody tells you this is normal.
And then just like that, you took your last breath.
And just like that, you were gone.
Not many people ask me about the day Emma died. What happened in those moments? We don’t talk about death so I had no idea what it would be like.
I was terrified. I thought the walls of the house would crumble around me. I thought the world would stop.
But it didn’t.
Life outside our home continued.
Have you been told that you need to move on or that you yourself feel that you need to move on? How did that land with you? How does that sit with you?
I know it didn’t sit well with me when I would hear it. I know people mean well, but they usually don’t understand how it feels to lose someone so close. Or that is how they have dealt with it in their life.
People want us to hit the reset button and continue where we left off. It’s not that easy, is it? We have had a profound loss and it changes us in a way we never knew would happen. And we don’t know until it does happen to us.
I truly believe that you can move forward through your grief. But, how long that takes depends on the individual.
When I went to talk to a counsellor in the early days of grief about the death of my daughter, I was told it could be between 5-10 years to move through the worst of the grief. It sounded unbelievable. That is a long time. How would I survive?
Now that I am past the 5th year mark, I completely understand what she meant.
For me, around the 4th anniversary of my daughter’s death I felt a shift in my grief. I could feel myself moving through the storm to the other side. I had worked really hard on my grief. Looking it straight in the eye and allowing it to flow through me. I had tried everything I could find around me to help me go through this process. This is how I work; this is what worked for me. I can look back and see the process now.
Grief is a process and how you move through it is what works for you. Some people don’t want to sit and chat, some want to move about or make things or build things or help people. There is an endless list of what a person can do to help themselves. It’s not selfish or indulgent. It’s self care.
I know people want to fix things, especially when it comes to grief. But you don't need to fix it. There is no fixing grief. The best thing you can do is just be present and listen.
Sometimes grievers need to repeat their story over and over. It helps them process their loss especially if it was a sudden or a traumatic death. Be patient. You may need a friend in the future to do the same for you. Be present. Showing up for them is very real for them. Suggest to go for a walk, a coffee, a chat on a bench at this time, at this place, make it a date and then all they need to do is accept or decline.
To say 'call me if you need anything' can sound quite empty, open-ended. Grieving people often have a hard time asking for help or making decisions, so it's up to you to reach out. Or not. It depends on your relationship with them. But if you have thought 'maybe I should give ... a call', then do it. You won't regret it. It may not be an easy conversation, but when in life were things meant to be easy.
Long after the funeral grieving people will still need you. Check in with them. People always make the mistake of assuming how the griever may feel. Unless they have told you to give them space they probably would really appreciate a call.
Sometimes quite a bit of time has passed since you connected them and you may feel that you've blown it. What is the worst that could happen if you did contact them? They'd tell you off? Well at least then you'd know you blew it. You could start by saying 'I've been a terrible friend, but I didn't know what to say'. Honesty always wins.
The short of it is. Unless you are an incredibly rare human, we will all encounter grief. And we will not know how it will feel until it happens.
So until then go gently and kindly, with love and patience. And reach out!
I'm angry because you died.
I'm angry because you left me here.
I'm angry because you were too young to go.
I'm angry because we have no future together.
I'm angry because people say stupid things.
I'm angry because I had expectations.
I'm angry because I believed them.
I'm angry because you are gone.
I'm angry because you died.
It's ok to feel angry after your loved one died. It's often the one emotion that is pushed back, pushed aside or pushed down.
We are taught that anger is a negative emotion, and we shouldn't feel it. That we shouldn't connect with it. But, like all the emotions it deserves its rightful time with us.
I felt angry that my daughter died. Not immediately, but after some time it came up for me. And I still feel it often, quite often.
But now I know it won't last forever and I know it will come up again and I know I can I get through it. It's more comfortable now. I wear it better. I still don't like it, but it doesn't consume me.
That's what grief has taught me.