United by a Common Bond of Grief and Loss

United by a Common Bond of Grief and Loss

I have recently visited a certain local café on a few occasions. I struck up a friendship with the woman who usually manned the till. Today I was heading for lunch with a friend when he asked “Will we go to this café or to that one?” I instinctively replied “Can we go that one please? The woman on the till is really nice.” He flashed me a look that suggested “Either I’ve misheard you or you’re crazy.”

As a matter of fact, all of the staff in that café are very pleasant and helpful, but most people select a café based on the quality of the food or the value for money, but not solely on the personality of the person who rings in your purchases on the till!

Today however, when I went to pay for my panini, my usual friend was nowhere to be seen and I felt a twinge of disappointment. Mind you, the person who was operating the till turned out to be someone that I knew from a previous job so I had a quick catch up with her instead, which was nice too.

Just after I had finished eating, my lunch companion disappeared to take a phone-call. I looked around to see if there was somebody else to chat to. There in the corner I spied my ‘cash till friend’ (the one I had been hoping to see) sitting at a table having her lunch break. I slid into the empty seat opposite her and said a cheery hello. Her face lit up with a big smile – she had previously told me how much she enjoyed her job and that meeting people was one of the best bits.

I knew from our brief conversations that she had children so I asked how her family were doing. In the course of the ensuing conversation she told me that her oldest boy had died in 1993, aged 14 years. In that precise moment I knew exactly why I had always felt a connection with this woman! I told her about Leah and showed her a photograph. Her eyes misted over.

She told me of the devastatingly tragic circumstances in which her first-born son had died, of their last conversation, of the phone call informing her that something had happened, of the drive to the hospital and of her own intuition that had told her that things were very serious even before she arrived at the hospital.

She also told me a little about some of the very difficult ways in which she and her husband had tried to numb the awful unbearable pain. Then she told me of how she had finally come to a place of peace when she “surrendered her son to God” and accepted that this much loved young boy had only been given to them “on loan.” She told me too about the priest who has supported their family through it all, who never forgets, who still visits them periodically.

She said to me “This conversation is no accident you know.” I nodded in full agreement while blinking back my tears. It was like balm to my soul to be in the presence of someone who truly understood, for whom no explanations were necessary.

She thanked me for speaking to her and we hugged.

There in that cafeteria, two mothers, united by a common bond of grief and loss, sharing each other’s pain, we hugged.

Royalty-free clipart of a

Thank You

Thank You

I absolutely love the beautiful, grace filled, writings of Kara Tippetts, who recently died from cancer.

In this, one of her older blog posts, she writes –

As I reached the parking lot, the dear woman and her husband, who asked me my hard times of day, jumped out of their car. Her husband wrapped me in a big hug and said, I’m 6:30 every day, and she called to me, I’m 10 every night. I was undone. I cry now thinking of this couple doing battle with me in my weakest moments. I would like to say those times of day are getting easier. They are not, but I know I’m not alone in them.”

As I read this, I think of the many who prayed for us (and continue to pray for us), when we were barely able to pray for ourselves.

So many days and nights spent in hospital with Leah, being told things no parent ever wants to hear, feeling so alone, yet always knowing I wasn’t alone.

In the quietness of our hospital room, a text or a Facebook message would come in, with a word of encouragement, or an assurance that somebody, somewhere, was praying for us.

How could we ever have got this far, without the many who have supported us emotionally, spiritually and practically?

One of my many favourite Bible verses has long been

1 Samuel 23:16 (NIV)

And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.

It’s not always about preaching and teaching, sometimes it’s about a hug, a squeeze of the hand, a thoughtful but inexpensive gift, or just being there for somebody, letting them know that someone really does care.

image

A Sword will Pierce your Soul

A Sword will Pierce your Soul

Luke 2:34-35 (NIV)

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

When Jesus was a baby, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple to present him to the Lord as was the custom in those days. A man called Simeon, who we are told was “righteous and devout”, took baby Jesus in his arms and spoke the above words.

What stands out for me is that Mary was told that as a result of all that her son would suffer “a sword would pierce her soul”.

Jesus came to earth to die for our sins, which is incredibly good news. Was Mary told “don’t worry, be happy“, because this would all work out for the best? No, she was told “a sword will pierce your own soul“.

Even two thousand years ago, there was a profound understanding of the love of a mother for her child, and the utter devastation that a parent feels when their child suffers and dies.

Leah faced death with serenity and without fear. I know that she’s in a much better place and is rejoicing forevermore – a princess united with her King.

However, for Horace and I, Leah’s illness and death is like a sword in our hearts. Leah’s passing has left a gaping hole in our family. Sometimes my grief is so overwhelming that I wonder if my kids feel like they’ve lost their mummy as well as their sister? Grieving just drains our emotional energy as parents.

There’s so much to process. Leah had just nine months from diagnosis to death. We’re still trying to take it all in. Sometimes I even struggle to believe that the events of 2013 really happened.

Asda have a slogan called “rollback” where they claim to rollback their prices to a time when things were cheaper. Since Leah died I’ve often fantasised about being able to roll my life back to an earlier time when ALL of my kids got off the school bus at our house everyday and I had their dinner ready.
Leah always arrived home hungry and got upset if she couldn’t smell dinner cooking as she came through the door.

This is Leah last year with Miriam’s cat Mittens.

image

That’s partly why I’ve still kept all of Leah’s medication. I periodically need to open her medication drawer and look inside, just to convince myself that the events of the past eighteen months really did happen. That it wasn’t all just some crazy dream from which I’m about to wake up.

I went back to work part time in the Health Service two weeks ago. I’m deeply appreciative of the fact that my employers held my post for me while I was off and were also very supportive of me throughout that time.

The weekend before I returned to work saw me plunged into an even deeper level of grieving than I had previously experienced. It was awful, just awful.

Before Leah was diagnosed I had written in my diary “Is it normal for someone to enjoy their work as much as I enjoy mine?” 

After all the experiences of the past year I wasn’t sure if I would even still like my job any more. I didn’t know if I could leave my grief aside sufficiently to be able to focus on my work.

Well, so far so good. I do still love my job and I have found myself able to focus. I find it a very welcome distraction from the sword in my heart. I’m glad to once again be a provider within the Health Service rather than a recipient of services.

I certainly don’t forget about Leah or any of my children while I’m working – I just temporarily forget my pain.

Then when my day’s work is done I walk out the door and connect with my grief and loss once more. Sometimes I’m crying before I even drive out of the car park. Still, it’s good to be back at work.

During Leah’s illness and subsequent death, I submitted three Health Service related, written complaints. None of these were ever intended to be a “witch-hunt” or to single any one person out for criticism. In my letters I always sought to emphasise the positive and to point out the strengths within the services that we were receiving, as well as highlighting the changes that I felt were needed. As a mummy I wanted the very best services possible for my daughter and for other seriously ill young people too.

Sometimes it’s not lack of money that’s the problem, it’s lack of awareness of how our behaviour as professionals impacts the recipients of the services we provide.

Yes the NHS is strapped for cash, yes there have been some awful cutbacks, but ultimately the NHS is made up of individuals, some of whom are incredibly stressed because of very heavy workloads.

However, overall the NHS has been very good to Leah and I. Overall Leah received excellent medical and nursing care across three Health Trusts. Overall we have been well supported emotionally by the health professionals involved in Leah’s care. We met some amazing individuals – consultants, doctors, nurses and ancillary workers – whose compassion and genuine care for us was very evident and whose timely hugs said more than words ever could.

Now that I am once more a provider within the Health Service I hope and pray that I also can make a positive difference in the lives of others.

As I travel to and from work I usually have Rend Collective, Leah’s favourite band, blasting out:

Joy

You’re the joy joy joy lighting my soul
The joy joy joy making me whole
Though I’m broken, I am running
Into Your arms of love

The pain will not define us
Joy will reignite us
You’re the song
You’re the song
Of our hearts

The dark is just a canvas
For Your grace and brightness
You’re the song
You’re the song
Of our hearts

 

Jehovah Jireh

Jehovah Jireh

image

One of the names of God in the Bible is Jehovah Jireh which means “The Lord who provides” and one of the biggest ways in which God has provided for me and my family this past year has been through other people.

Some of you are related to me, some aren’t.

Some I knew before Leah was diagnosed, some I didn’t.

Some live nearby, some don’t.

Some have touched our lives briefly, others are clearly here for the long haul.

What you all have in common is that you have ministered to a specific need in our lives at a specific time or times – be it practical, financial or emotional – and for that I thank you.

Everyone has played an important part in helping us on this most difficult of journeys.

Don’t ever worry that you don’t know what to say to me please – a lot of the time all I want or need is a hug 🙂 💕