Before I joined the ranks of the bereaved parents, I think I naively imagined that when a parent lost a child, they would somehow fairly quickly turn all of their attention to their surviving children.
What I didn’t understand is that when your child dies, you become so consumed with yearning and longing for the child that you have lost, that it’s almost like you now love them even more than when they were alive.
You become desperate to hang on to your relationship with your now dead child, desperate to somehow or other preserve their memory.
I’m part of a private facebook group of parents bereaved by cancer. Some time back we were discussing our feelings on clearing out things belonging to our child after they had died. As one would expect, opinion was divided between those who (like me) had cleared out and given away some of their belongings and others who felt the need to keep everything exactly as it was when their child had passed away.
Then I mentioned the fact that I have kept all of Leah’s medication and dressings. Several parents responded to this by saying that they had to get rid of their child’s medication soon after their child passed away, or they would have used it to take their own life.
These parents have other children, but their emotional pain and overwhelming desire to be with their dead child was so great that suicide had become a realistic option.
Thankfully I haven’t felt suicidal since Leah died, but I do understand to some extent how these parents feel. It is so difficult to go on living after the death of one’s child.
One of the things that’s been very difficult since Leah died, has been for Miriam (our youngest child) and I to do things on our own together. When Leah was alive, it was never just Miriam and me. I almost always had a minimum of two kids in tow.
When Leah died, Miriam became like an only child. She hasn’t wanted to do things on her own with her parents and she has spent an awful lot of time alone in her room.
None of us ever wants to see our children suffer. Seeing the pain of grief and loss in the eyes of my “baby”, knowing that this is a pain I cannot fix, has at times felt excruciatingly painful.
The main reason why Miriam and I couldn’t go places on our own together, is that to do so would have been to constantly remind ourselves of Leah’s absence and that just felt too painful.
I was used doing things on my own with my eldest daughter, so that hasn’t been an issue. In 2012 she and I went on holidays together – she took me to London/Cambridge for 10 days as a special birthday treat.
Rachel is away at University now and has a part-time job as well. We love when she gets home for the weekend. My son is like someone who is surgically attached to his computer – he suffers separation anxiety if he has to leave it for any length of time.
Thankfully, during 2014, there were several occasions when friends accompanied Miriam and I to places like Portrush and Portstewart, so that we still got to do fun things together, just not on our own.
There were times when I asked her to go places on her own with me but she refused – she wasn’t ready.
Then, last week something happened, Miriam asked me if I would take her over town yesterday. We planned a girlie day together. I let her set the agenda.
On the way to town in the car Miriam said that she wanted to weed Leah’s grave and I replied that we had no gardening tools with us. She suggested that we got some in the Pound Shop.
In the gardening section of B&M Bargains Miriam found a planter in the shape of a shoe: “Oh Mummy, can we get this for the grave? Leah loved her pink converse!”
Miriam also chose some pretty windmills to add colour to the grave.
Then it was time for some clothes shopping – for Miriam.
When the shopping was all done we headed over to Ballyoan Cemetary. Miriam started weeding the grave. I was dispatched with an empty milkshake bottle to get water for the plants, from the tap which is half way across the Cemetery.
I stopped to chat to people along the way, so Miriam had most of the work done by the time I got back. We assembled the windmills and she decided where to place them.
No shopping trip is complete without the obligatory McDonald’s:
Our last stopoff was was to visit Miriam’s wee cousin.
So, exactly fourteen months from the day when Leah went to be with her Heavenly Father, Miriam and I enjoyed our first proper mother daughter day out together and it felt good.