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My darling baby Sofia should have been 7 today. A whole seven years have passed.
I’m sure if my biggest nightmare hadn’t come true, the last seven years of her life would have flown by just the same. No doubt, in the blink of an eye, she would have turned into a grown-up girl while I still considered her my baby.
This past year, more than others, I’ve regularly wondered what she would have been like. What she would have been passionate about, what things would have given her joy.
Would she have loved girly frilly things, would we have watched Frozen endless times together, would she have loved dance lessons or music lessons, would she have wanted a One Direction duvet cover for Christmas?
At Christmas I had bittersweet moments watching Nicholas play with his cousin who was born only 7 months before Sofia. For the first time I watched them playing together imagining him playing instead with his big sister.
Grief, just like parenthood (and how grateful I am to be able to compare them), doesn’t get easier over time; it just gets different.
No matter how your grief path is shaped (and yours will be like nobody else’s), life goes on. Whether you want it to or not, life goes on. Whether you accept what happened or not, life goes on. Whether you’re only able to take the smallest of baby steps or your path scales the steepest of mountains making you cling on terrified you’ll fall or it flattens out and lets you take a breath, your path continues forever. It’s like a rollercoaster you’re destined to ride until you die.
Grief has this amazing ability to lie low for a while, then, seemingly out of the blue, make its presence felt.
Time does, however, make it easier to pick yourself up when you plummet. Time also makes the lows less scary. When grief is raw you can be terrified of never being able to claw your way back up to some sense of normality. Because of this you may lash out and fight as the grief pulls you down. Time makes it easier to accept the inevitable lows, and, by not being so afraid of them and knowing they’ll pass, the lows aren’t as deep or as scary or as long.
Last night, kissing Nicholas’ sleeping head before I went to bed, I felt so thankful to have him, so grateful he’s let me be a hands-on mum. But I was also overwhelmed by the passing of time and how much our lives have moved on since Sofia.
When Sofia was born, we were desperately trying to finish doing up our first home. It was going to be filled with so much love and laughter and life. After she died, I grew to hate the house. It was full of so many wonderful memories of hope and so many dreams of what we had assumed our future would be.
As the months and years passed, the house stayed still just like our lives. Sofia’s nursery remained untouched with the hope it would be filled with a baby brother or sister for her. I made a permanent dent in the sofa from endless hours of sitting on it while watching the seemingly continuous parade of happy mothers out of the window. It was like time had stopped.
Nicholas arrived and we moved out of London, saying goodbye to our sad house. And now after an unsettled period where we weren’t sure where we’d let life take us, we’ve bought our second family home, a house I fell in love with because it filled me with warmth and love as soon as I stepped inside.
We’re starting another phase of our lives, a happier one. But at the same time I feel as if this new phase is putting a bit more distance between me and Sofia. While her memories remain as strong as ever and my arms still ache just as strongly as they did the first day I could no longer hold her, perhaps for the first time since her death I feel time is passing normally.
Depression and suicide have recently touched the family of a good friend. Robin William’s tragic death this week showed that severe depression affects even people who you might think are better able to get help either due to their fame, connections or bank balance.
Depression can affect everyone.
I used to think people who committed suicide were incredibly selfish, only thinking about themselves and not caring about the aftermath left behind. Perhaps being a minister’s daughter I saw more of the aftermath of death (in general) on families left behind a bit more than the average person. But more probably it was because I couldn’t empathise with depression sufferers.
Now when I hear someone make a ‘selfish’ comment, I just think that person has (luckily) never suffered serious depression.
After Sofia died, I came dangerously close to the precipice. How close, is something I don’t like to think about now; it’s better to focus on the fact that it’s now very very far away on the distant horizon.
Severe depression doesn’t just envelop you, it smothers you. Smothers to the point where it won’t let anything else in. It won’t let you think about anything else. Or anybody else. It’s like a cancer eating away at your whole being.
On top of that is the debilitating sense of no longer having control. You feel hopeless, helpless and overwhelmed. The depression is in control, not you. This is a Catch-22 – you don’t see how you can regain control and it’s difficult to believe how anything can change the situation.
Even if you do manage some positive changes your low self esteem will make you excessively self-critical. It’s too easy to put a negative spin on things, belittle your achievements or even put it down to luck. You might not even feel worthy of getting better.
Thoughts of suicide can arise when your future seems even worse than your awful present; you feel that life is simply not worth living. But going back to the loss of control, there’s also unfortunately a ‘positive’ feeling to suicidal thoughts. Deciding to take your own life is an act you DO have control over and from this perspective sadly I can understand why some people choose it.
Returning to Robin Williams, here was a man who gave so much laughter and joy to others while he was battling severe depression. In his daughter’s moving words, “one of his favorite things in the world was to make you all laugh.” But where were HIS clowns?
These thoughts are just from my personal experience of suffering from depression and PTSD.
This week saw the English evolutionary biologist, ethologist and writer Richard Dawkins ignite another Twitter storm, something he’s not unfamiliar with.
Later in the week he posted a piece on his blog entitled ‘Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?‘, referring to his tweets and stating that “These dilemmas are uncomfortable. It is the business of moral philosophers to face up to the discomfort and teach their students to do the same.”
“I deliberately wanted to challenge the taboo against rational discussion of sensitive issues. I had noticed indications that rape and pedophilia had moved out of the discussion zone into a no-go taboo area. I wanted to challenge the taboo, just as I want to challenge all taboos against free discussion. Nothing should be off limits to discussion.”
“The point was a purely logical one: to judge something bad and something else very bad is not an endorsement of the lesser of two evils. Both are bad. I wasn’t making a point about which of the two was worse. I was merely asserting that to
express an opinion one way or the other is not tantamount to approving the lesser evil.”
While Dawkins’ examples to show a comparison doesn’t act as an endorsement were deliberately shocking, my mind wandered to some lesser shocking taboo subjects which are just as difficult to discuss with reason, the main one (naturally for me) being grief. A topic where it’s almost impossible, if not impossible, to leave aside emotion and confront it only with reason.
And this whole idea of emotions preventing us from being able to freely discuss certain topics, hypothesise and logically reason, has been swirling around my head all week. On one level it’s the childlike defence mechanism of covering your ears and drowning out what you don’t want to hear with ‘la, la, la’ and on another level it’s protecting yourself from a topic that’s too painful for you (any news story about a dying child has me either leaving the room or erecting my invisible bubble around myself to shut it out).
Hubby sometimes tells me off for blocking out topics I don’t want to hear. I like to think though that it’s more of a thoughtful response, a logical choice – I’m choosing to take myself away from a situation in order to keep my strength;
choosing ‘flight’ over having to ‘fight’ my emotions. I don’t see that in this case I’m one of “those whose emotions prevent them from going anywhere near the conversation” (as Dawkins posted).
Before I lost my daughter, logic and reasoning ruled my world. If you asked me how I was, my reply would involve descriptions of things that had happened without any connection to any kind of emotion (although I was unaware of this at the time). In fact most emotions for me focused on words rather than anything resembling a feeling, and I was very good at choosing the perfect words.
When Sofia died, this became a major issue for me. I could easily recount the events that lead to her death; I could tell you what she looked like and how she smelt and how heavy she felt in my arms, but how did not being able to hold her or smell her or see her make me feel? I had no idea how to express that or even to recognise the immense range of emotions that suddenly were fighting to be felt.
Words and thoughts are logical and controllable. They make sense. They are wonderfully neat and precise. Emotions are not.
It’s much easier to discuss topics that are free from emotion or that can be easily detached from emotion. Put emotion into the equation and suddenly there are untold rules about what can and can’t be agreeably discussed.
Stumbling along my grief path I’m learning how to simply feel moments without having to put them into, not only the right words but, any words at all. I’ve found this new skill very freeing and also makes life a lot lighter when I’m not being
weighed down by the dictionary in my head. I can be in the moment more and savour the emotion (or feel it fade if it’s not a positive one).
I think this has also made me a more rational emotional human being. No, I’m not taking a backwards step and going back to defining rather than feeling my emotions! Before I was very similar to a toddler who easily gets frustrated and loses his temper dramatically and often without warning because he’s still learning to communicate his needs and feelings, and the only tool he has is a tantrum. Over time most toddlers will learn healthy ways to manage and express their strong emotions. Unfortunately I didn’t surpass the emotional age of two.
Perhaps many of us, for whatever reason, don’t move a great deal past the toddler who’s emotions rule his behaviour, unable and unwilling to understand logical reasoning, and lashing out at those who do.