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….