I can’t believe I have never featured my cupcakes in Cakes for Conor. I have made two batches so far. Both were packaged nicely and given away as thank you gifts. The homemade cupcakes taste so much better than the artificial and garish shop bought ones. Having become a home baker, I no longer waste calories on shop bought cakes! I learnt how to pipe the frosting (simple butter icing) on a course at the Baking Academy of Ireland. I shouldn’t boast but my piping was much neater than my fellow classmates. I used my fondant icing flower cutters to decorate. I am particularly proud of these cakes and my newly acquired skill in piping.
I have recently returned to work after a longer than planned absence. There are many people telling me “it will good for me to be back at work” and “good for me to have something to do”. While I know people are well meaning I have struggled with people (its never any other bereaved parents) telling me what they think would be good for me or telling me what I should do. I interpret being told what I should do as a criticism of what I am doing. I wish there was a guru guiding my every move, but sadly there isn’t and so the next best thing is me. Grief is as unique as a fingerprint. No one knows more about how to live with my grief than me. No one but me knows what’s best for me. I thrive on encouragement and not criticism.
This week in work I was asked to review a job description. It contains a list of essential and desirable skills for the role. This process has got me thinking about my new life. Something people don’t realise is that while I have been out of the workplace, I have been working harder than I have ever before had to work. I haven’t been doing nothing waiting for “something to do”. I have had to develop a range of skills for a job that’s completely different to the one I applied for. Being a bereaved parent has to be among the toughest of all jobs. The bereaved mother doesn’t get any rewards for her sore leaking breasts, sleepless nights and a lifetime of worry. There are no smiles, giggles, cuddles or “mamas” to enjoy. One year on I feel proud of the following skills and roles I have acquired doing a job I was totally unprepared for:
- Survivor. Everything changed the day Conor died and his Daddy and I had to learn to simply survive. In those early days we ate because we knew we should, not because we were hungry. The dinners may well have been witchetty grubs for all we could taste. Our home became the cave we felt afraid to leave. Clothes were simply for warmth and not fashion. Hygiene wasn’t important and there were days when I even forgot to brush my teeth. I was unable to be alone.
- Counsellor. Both Conor’s Daddy and I have good and bad days. We both grieve in different ways. We have had to learn how to support each other and communicate our feelings. We try to simply listen to each other and be present. I also use these counselling skills when talking to my new “colleagues” ; all the other bereaved parents I now know.
- Researcher. I have read and re-read stories of survival and theories about grief. For a long time I was searching for a way to rid myself of all my sadness. I thought by learning as much as I could about grief I could somehow find a shortcut to “getting over it”. I’ve come to realise that there is no shortcut. With time I’m coming to terms with the idea that I’ll never get over it and nor do I want to. I will never stop loving Conor and so I’ll never “get over” his death.
- Teacher. Sadly, baby loss is still a taboo subject in society. This year I have experienced the loss of both my dear Dad and son. There is no taboo in the death of a father whose long (ish) life can be celebrated. Many people knew my father and mention him with ease. I feel healing in the sharing of stories about his life and what he meant to people. Many of these same people do not know how to mention my son. The lack of shared stories makes grieving for my son more complicated. I have found myself having to educate people. I teach the message that I want people to mention Conor. I want him remembered and his short life acknowledged.
- Diplomat. There have been times in this past year when I have felt angered by people who say hurtful things. While the old me was a pacifist, the new me is quick to anger and has skin as thin as filo pastry. This isn’t a peaceful combination. I am having to learn when to take something on and when its best to walk away.
- Storyteller. In my role as a researcher I read that healing comes with telling your story. Telling Conor’s story has been my privilege. It is my favourite part of my new job.
- Nurse. Sadly my dear Dad became seriously ill during the past year. He died peacefully at home surrounded by his loving family who each took on different roles in his care. I took on being his nurse. I’ve also had to learn a whole medical vocabulary associated with baby loss. I never anticipated having to read and understand an autopsy report for my own child. For all the medical content, it may as well have read “lightning strike”.
- Builder. I am having to rebuild my life which has changed beyond recognition since Conor died. Unfortunately there are no self assembly instructions. The process is trial and error and is much slower than anticipated.
- Baker. Ours is now a house that smells of fresh bread. Enough said.
Acquiring these skills has taken up so much energy. I am now having to dig deep to find the energy for the workplace and so far I am managing to do this. I know I have been so busy surviving that I haven’t been able to be the best sister, daughter, friend, niece, auntie, godmother, cousin and in-law I can be. However, please remember, I am working hard and doing my very best.
There are loads of recipes online for cupcakes. YouTube has lots of clips explaining how to pipe frosting. Give them a go….
This is the Banana and Coconut Loaf I made for my colleagues to eat during our department meeting. It’s a lovely moist loaf. (See recipe below). I think banana & coconut is a winning combination. It always feels like a waste to throw out over ripe bananas so I find myself using them up in a bake. It’s a silly idea really as I end up using a whole load of other ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar etc) just to avoid throwing out two bananas! Its a very easy loaf to make, so go on, sweeten up your work meetings with a slice of cake.
Somebody I know described grieving to being like a boat on the ocean without a mooring. As an ex sailor this image has stayed with me. I know that the sea can be a very unforgiving place. I also know what it’s like to look towards land and feel completely removed from what is going on there. Conor’s daddy & I are good swimmers but being out at sea can be incredibly lonely and frightening. Sometimes we get a glimpse of what it might be like back on dry land but for the most part, just one year on, we are still out at sea.
I have been giving a lot of thought to what’s helping us stay afloat. It’s the idea of CONNECTION. Much of our young adult lives are spent making friends and looking for life partners. I am always amazed by the effort Irish people go to to find people in common. I’ve even been asked “You’re from London, do you know……… ?” The need to connect becomes even stronger after a life changing event like a death of a loved one. When we connect with other bereaved people we learn we are not alone. For a while we stop asking “why us?” because we realise there are others with no moorings too. Our connections with those on dry land remind us that people care and that we haven’t been forgotten. It makes reaching dry land seem more achievable. During better days we have the energy needed to connect with others. Yet its during the bad days that we can find ourselves alone and most in need.
Through the power of social media we have found ourselves connected with a man whose young wife died the same year as our Conor. Spotting a beautiful but heartbreaking picture of a man on a tandem with daisies where his wife should be drew my attention to his story. Dave and his dog Lotte are cycling from Croatia back to the UK raising funds for his wife Emma’s favourite charities and planting Daisies along the way. After a short exchange of messages Dave dedicated a day of his cycle to our Conor. I invite you to read about Conor’s day in Croatia on Dave’s website daisytrailcycle.com. I subsequently received an amazing gift of a picture from Dave’s friend Sarah which I’d like to share (look carefully at the reflection)…
At the start of this week Dave and Sarah were two strangers. Their generosity and interest in Conor tamed a potential storm and will never be forgotten
This week I returned to the workplace. It was always going to be a tough milestone. One year ago I left work to start my maternity leave a very different person. I didn’t think life could get any better. One year on my heart breaks for the loss of Conor and more recently my dear Dad. I feel like I have landed back into the workplace having been shipwrecked. I have a wonderful manager and colleagues who are going out of their way to help me to settle back. After Conor died my manager sought the advice of someone whose job it is to support bereaved parents. She was told “keep in touch, even if you feel like you are being pushed away and be the one to initiate”. This is exactly what my colleagues did. Over the year they connected and reconnected with me. I felt like I was returning to open arms that would be ready with lifeboats if needed.
Knowing now what it feels like to be at sea without a mooring, my manager could not have been given better advice. I previously would have thought that if it felt like I was being pushed away, I should back off. Now I realise that connections really can be lifesaving.
Here’s today’s recipe:
- 250 g plain flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 200 g caster sugar
- 55 g desiccated coconut
- 2 eggs
- 90 ml sunflower oil
- 2 ripe bananas
- 125 ml soured cream (I use buttermilk)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract ( use the good stuff and not cheap vanilla essence)
Preheat the oven to 180. Line a medium loaf tin. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. (I don’t sieve flour but mix with a hand whisk.) In another bowl beat all the wet ingredients. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix gently until the mix is evenly combined. Spoon into the lined tin and cook for about 1 hour until risen and golden brown. Good Luck!
For this animal themed post I wish to share the cat cupcakes I recently made for my brother in law ‘s birthday. Knowing I’d be bringing a cake he requested a cat themed one. I was told it’s an ongoing joke with his friends. I googled “cat cakes” and found the most amazing creations. I copied the one I thought looked the most do-able. They are decorated with white chocolate buttons & smarties.
I have been struggling for sometime with the “elephant in the room”. The Cambridge English Dictionary describes this notion as “an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about”. One situation that always sets me back is finding myself in the company of people I know, who would rather talk about anything other than my loss. One year on my favourite subject is still Conor. Do people really think I’d rather talk about the weather? I want and need to talk about my son. I have come away from phone calls and face to face interactions where my loss is not mentioned feeling broken. On the flip side, a conversation about my son or my new life can take me out of a dark place.
As if I am not dealing with enough in my new life, I have given myself a hard time over this constant need to have my loss acknowledged and my son mentioned. I wonder if I am being selfish needing to tell my story over and over. I don’t like feeling needy. I get annoyed with myself for having too high expectations. I am told that people do care its just they don’t know what to do or say. For fear of upsetting me or feeling uncomfortable people say nothing. I asked Conor’s Daddy about why I have this constant need for acknowledgement. He advised me to stop asking Why? and to recognise this same need in all the other bereaved parents we’ve met.
This week the tv soap “Eastenders” featured a storyline about a stillbirth. Its not a show I watch and I couldn’t bring myself to watch my story played out on the small screen. The program was followed by a helpline number. The fact this topic warranted a helpline number and numerous warnings has reminded me of the enormity of our loss. I am living every parents worst nightmare. How could I not be broken hearted and how could I not be feeling this much pain. I lost my only child. By listening to me and acknowledging my pain you are validating both my loss and my emotional response to my loss. You are telling me “its ok not to be ok” and that I have the right to feel like I do. By changing the subject you are giving the message that my son and my feelings do not count. I realise am not being selfish, I am simply doing what I need to do to survive this loss.
Currently on Twitter #SayTheirName is trending. It was started by the actress who played the heartbroken mother in “Eastenders”. Lets hope we can spread the message and get rid of all the elephants from the rooms of bereaved parents. Cat cupcakes are far better company.