How you can be a good friend to someone who has lost a child.

Image-1Nothing can prepare you for the loss of a child. Nothing. But as a friend you can be there when someone you know loses their son or daughter.

Grief isn’t pretty. But love and support are. They make all the difference.

  1. Think before you speak. When the funeral director dropped off a tiny urn containing the ashes of my son, his parting words to me were “at least you can have another child”. Words spoken cannot be taken back. There is nothing you can say that will lessen the loss. But you can say “I’m so so sorry”. Really that’s all you can say.
  2. Leave space. I wanted to talk about Lucas and the pain I felt. That life had stopped and that it would never be the same again. That I felt angry, not with God but with the stupid people who said stupid things (I’ve forgiven them since). Leave space for your friend to say whatever they want even if it may seem shocking. Death isn’t neat or nice.
  3. Be kind. Your friendship won’t be the same for a while. Their loss will affect you too. Don’t feel guilty that your life is normal and theirs isn’t. It’s not your fault and your friend won’t think that either. You are not to blame. Your life goes on and your friend will still want to hear about what you are doing. It will help them to escape their grief.
  4. Be practical. When registering the death of your child you need to fill in a lot of paperwork that can’t be done at home. Offer to drive your friend to the Registrar. They won’t want the added pressure of finding a parking space and are likely to bump into new parents registering the birth of their newborn baby. That is painful. Moral support makes a massive difference.
  5. Cook, wash and clean. Everyday tasks are impossible in the early days of loss. Get together with some friends to cook meals, do the washing and ironing and hoover. Don’t wait to be asked. Just do it. Believe me.
  6. Always remember. Dates are important. Birthdays, anniversaries and significant family events will be difficult, especially in the first few years. A short note, a home cooked meal, a little gift. Really that’s all it takes to feel loved and supported.
  7. Tell them about me. That I have said that there will come a time when they feel that they can live again. I want to give them hope. They will laugh and life will find a new normal.
  8. This is just a small list. There are so many other things that you can do and if you don’t know what they are just ask.
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Patchwork Saved My Life

It’s a pretty dramatic statement but it’s true.

When I was at my lowest point suffering from anxiety and depression, there was nothing that would lift me out of a very dark place. Nothing gave me pleasure. I felt anxious, sad and lower than I would ever have possibly imagined.

When I was a small girl I used to stay every so often with Helen. Helen was deaf and lived on her own. When the doorbell rang she had a light bulb in every room that lit up. I loved learning about her world.

Helen had a passion for sewing and her home was filled with beautiful things she had made. It was Helen who taught me the art of Traditional Patchwork, otherwise known as  English Paper Piecing.

Little remnants of precious fabric that she had held onto, stitched onto paper hexagons and then sewn together with a small whipstitch. It is time consuming, and if you are quick it might take a year to make a quilt. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the process that is so beautiful.

It was January when I began sewing again. A dark cold month exacerbated by my illness. I sat on my sofa and stitch by stitch I felt I could breath again. Slowly and carefully, patch by patch sewing together all of those precious remnants. It was life-giving. It was life-saving.

IF I OPEN THE CAR DOOR AND FALL OUT IT WILL ALL BE OVER

We were on the motorway on our way to a holiday with friends. In the back of the car were my two sons. I felt like I had my hand in a plug socket and a powerful electric current was flowing through my body. Nothing would take it away. I was so desperate for it to go, to feel normal, to feel well.

But it wouldn’t go away. It was with me from the moment I woke in the morning to the moment I fell asleep. As soon as I opened my eyes it was there, wave upon wave of anxiety. Even completing the simplest of tasks took a herculean effort. I understood why depression and anxiety drove people to drink or drugs; all I wanted was a momentary escape.

I hadn’t expected to have a relapse. Things were going well, I had felt fine. The antidepressants had worked and I was ready to come off them, or so I thought.

What I didn’t do was speak to my Doctor. I had been on antidepressants for about four months and I thought I was better. Instead of asking for medical advice, I literally stopped taking them.

All was well for a couple of months and then I began to feel a knot in my chest. That knot began to spread, until I felt my chest getting tighter and tighter. It took me a couple of days to realise that the anxiety had returned.

I called the Doctor and got an appointment and a new prescription and started taking the tablets again, but they don’t start working overnight and I was back to square one. Except this time it felt worse, much worse. What if I would never get better? What if I would have mental illness for the rest of my life? What if the tablets didn’t work this time?

I had always wondered what Hell would be like and here I was feeling like I had arrived, with no escape.

And that’s why I nearly opened the car door. It was so tempting to end it all. But of course I knew that I couldn’t do that, to myself, to my family and friends.

In that moment I chose. I chose to have hope, to believe that I could and would get better.

As I write this I want you to believe that too. That you can get better, you can recover from mental illness, that death is not your friend; it is your enemy. You are here to have life, and life in all its fullness. Look around you at the signs of spring. Of the daffodils and crocuses in bud. They are there and I am here to show you that there is hope that you can recover and life can get better. Grasp it with both hands.