Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Our Lips are Sealed

This weekend someone who was very well meaning told me that I need to move on from Emilie's death and stop dwelling on it. They pointed out that it will be difficult for John and the kids when I get upset around Emilie's anniversary and that it may be easier for them if I didn't.

... If I didn't get upset ...

Today is her anniversary - six years.

The advice I received from this well meaning person this weekend got me thinking about the way I handle grief and emotion. I believe that as parents we have a responsibility to show our children healthy ways of managing emotion. Samuel misses Emilie - whether he fully understands what he misses or not is another matter but when her anniversary comes around we talk about her.  We go away as a family and make new memories together, we have cake together, we celebrate her life and sometimes we cry.

This weekend I cried in-front of my children.  When I discussed this with Sam and asked him if he understood why I was upset, he simply replied 'because Emilie was your daughter and we all miss her.'

When the above advice came through in email form my initial reaction was panic. Old anxieties surfaced and I worried that by showing emotion and grief in-front of my children I was reversing the parent/child relationship and inviting them to care for me.  I didn't want them to see my weakness.  I wanted to pick myself back up, dust myself off and carry on regardless of what was going on.  Emilie died six years ago and really I should be over it by now. Right?  Life moves on and we don't mention bad things that happen - it's not the British way.

And yet this felt so wrong.  I was reminded of the hours after Emilie was born.  She was wrapped up in her hospital cot and was lying next to where I was sitting.  I was doing ... well I can't really remember.  She didn't need feeding and she didn't need changing yet the normalcy of having given birth carried on.  I had still undergone a hugely traumatic birth.  I had lost blood, I was exhausted and my blood pressure was dangerously high.  Everything ached terribly and I had been given medication to lower my blood pressure and medication to stop milk production.  I had a terrible headache which is associated with pre-eclampsia.  I was seriously ill.  I couldn't just leave and carry on - I had to stay where I was until I was well enough to go home.  This sense of having to stay where I was was probably a positive thing as my default is to do just what I've described about - to get away from the pain; to push it away, to get rid of it, to put a lid on it and move on.  Because I had to remain in hospital I had the opportunity to clean and dress Emilie.  I had the opportunity to hold her, to cuddle her and to kiss her - to take precious photographs.  These were not things I wanted to do.  My initial reaction was to get rid of her.  I did not want the pain of seeing her and I did not want physical proof of her existence.  I wanted the excruciating pain gone from my life.  In short, I wanted to move on.

The hospital staff, our friends who were with us, and John were hugely supportive of me over the two days we spent with Emilie.  Our friends Dave, Jenny and Carol held her and commented on her beauty.  They cradled her like any other newborn baby and they loved her unconditionally.  For this I will always be grateful.  And then something amazing happened; a midwife - a stranger - came into the room.  She wasn't my  midwife and I never saw her again.  I can't even remember why she came in, but remember her being there.  She walked straight over to the cold cot where Emilie was lying and looked into it.  She turned to me and said 'she is beautiful, and looks just like you'.  I remember being taken aback - what was the correct response?  At that moment the only response I could think of was a snappy 'you do know shes's dead, don't you?' (In a strange way this memory has always made me laugh - I often think of that poor woman!).  She replied that yes, she did know that Emilie was dead yet it didn't change how beautiful she was or the fact that she was our much wanted, much adored daughter.  The kindness of strangers can be amazing and form the whole two day nightmare this is one of my most vivid memories.

She was still our daughter.

Someone told me yesterday that a life so short is no less precious - and how true those words are.

So I will carry on remembering her.  I will let myself feel this emotion at anniversary time and will not push it down.  I will show the emotion - where appropriate to my children - as I believe it is as healthy for them to see my vulnerabilities as it is to see my strengths.  And maybe - just maybe - children seeing the emotional strength and the emotional vulnerabilities of their parents, and being able to use healthy and appropriate language to discuss these emotions, is a step in the right direction towards not having children who grow up believing that emotion is bad; believing that putting on a strong front is the best way to be - and descending into mental health problems later in life.

We need to talk about these things.
With September progressing I feel my anxiety levels rise, triggered by the back to school chaos with a child with Autism and my husband away in South Korea for the first couple of weeks of the month amongst other things.  This is a post that has been in progress for a couple of weeks and has undergone change, development and rejection but is one that I felt needed to be written.
Six years ago our daughter, Emilie, died.  It is her anniversary in less than two weeks.  It is the event from which this blog grew and is a defining moment of my life – the point at which ‘before’ became ‘after’.  My life bears no resemblance to that which it did before Emilie’s death and I am completely changed as well.
She changed me and her death made me into the person I am today.
But that is not especially what I am writing about now.
Four days ago my dad died.  He was probably ‘dad’ in name only.  I did not know him well and had not seen him for over a decade.  He made huge mistakes when I was growing up - which are not for this blog – and at the age of 22, after his separation from my mum, I made the decision to protect myself and withdraw from him.  It wasn’t really a conscious decision at the time but became a conscious decision over time.  I did not like the person I became when I was faced with the prospect of seeing him.  I did not like the panic attacks, the anxiety, the obsessions and the lies and when I had my own children I realised that my priority had to be to my own family.  I had to learn to be a parent and work out what that looked like for myself.
But now I am faced with fresh grief – and with decisions that are really hard for me to make.  At this anniversary time I am struggling to isolate one grief from another; the grief of Emilie’s death from the grief of the death of an absent parent.  How should I feel and what is the right way to respond?  If the past six years have taught me anything it is that grief is hugely personal.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve and the social norms and rituals that surround death can often make personal grief hard.
I have spent the past few years thinking that I have finished grieving my (lack of) relationship with my dad yet the news of his death hit me much harder than I expected. Maybe this is because of its close proximity to Emilie’s anniversary, maybe it’s because I have dealt with it alone while John is away or maybe it’s because grief is actually cyclic and, as I have said before, time does not heal all wounds.
Right now I am firmly rooted in the Anger stage of Kubler Ross’ Grief cycle and I’m happy here – it’s easy to wallow in my own self pity rather than having to deal with the acceptance that I will never receive the answers or apology(ies) that I have so longed for.
Yet I feel like a fraud.
The majority of people who know me well will know about the difficult relationship I had with my dad and my grief feels like a lie.  It becomes something I believe I don’t deserve to feel and the hurt, pain and disappointments of the past 35 years are coming back to haunt me.  Is there a correct way to mourn the death of an absent parent and how is it possible to reach a position of acceptance and forgiveness when it is now totally one sided?
I don’t have the answers and I possibly never will – it is something new that I will have to learn to process and I don’t want anger and hatred to surface as I learn to process things.
And then there’s September ... Samuel picked up a conker this morning and I struggled to share his excitement.  They will forever be a seasonal reminder that we are drawing closer to the anniversary of Emilie’s death.  Her death came at such a significant time in the year – that change of season from the heat of summer to the beauty of Autumn and then my grief led me into the barrenness of winter where I genuinely hibernated with the warmth of the air until spring came round again.  And as I enter this new wave of grief I feel myself ready to hibernate again whilst I process everything that has happened.
Hopefully with the promised change of season from winter to spring that seems so far away at present, I will enter a place of forgiveness and acceptance and will be able to move forward.  For now, after days of agonising and wrestling with guilt, grief and anger, I need to be able to be with my immediate family as John returns from South Korea and make choices and decisions that are best for us.  I need to be ‘ok with not being ok’ about this particular situation and that is something that is not easy for me.
But who ever said that grief was easy ...?