The Loneliness of the Bereaved Parent

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These are some almond and blueberry cakes. Each cake is supposed to have 3 blueberries but I didn’t let a lack of blueberries stop me from making them. Only one cake met the quota! If like me you love marzipan, you’ll love these. It’s a simple, tasty recipe (see below).

I am the 1 in 200. Sadly in Ireland and the UK 1 in 200 babies dies before, during or shortly after birth. 1 in 200 sets of parents are heartbroken.  This figure is surprisingly high, but we, the bereaved parents are the minority. We are the 1 among 199.

Life can be lonely as a minority parent. There is something uniquely challenging about losing a child at the same time our peers are celebrating theirs. The majority parents are celebrating pregnancies, new babies, first milestones, first days in school, communions, exam results, etc. This leaves minority parents thinking “this should have been my son/daughter”.

I have experienced a different kind of loneliness as a minority parent. My previous experience of loneliness found me looking for company on a quiet day. This new type of loneliness finds me avoiding or carefully chosing company. I don’t feel so alone when I’m at home on my own or with Conor’s Daddy. I might reach out to other bereaved parents because there’s nothing like hearing the words “me too” to ease the loneliness. However sometimes, when I am surrounded by majority parents, I can feel like the loneliest person on earth.

I am now able to recognise other women living a different life to the majority. Like me they may have had a child die. They may be struggling with infertility or waiting to meet life partners. These woman are in your staff room and within your extended family. They may go silent because there are times when there is no more lonely a situation than one where you are surrounded by the excitement that comes with majority parents talking about babies or children. Be mindful of the silent women in your groups. Never assume that having no living children or a single child is a life choice. Reach out to these women with sensitivity. You might just help them feel a little bit less alone.

*Top tips…

Here’s the recipe. Be sure to have enough blueberries!

https://alittlethoughtforfood.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/berry-marzipan-cupcakes/

 

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Food for Thought…

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Do the carrots in carrot cake contribute to your 5 a day?  This cake also contains fruit (orange/lemon zest and sultanas) so it’s practically healthy. I made it for Conor’s Grandad’s birthday. There was lots to go around and everyone loved it. You need a bit of patience to do all the grating of carrots and zesting of fruit but after that it’s pretty simple stirring all the ingredients together.

Conor’s other Grandad (my dear dad) died last year following a 7 month illness. His doctors were very honest with him from the start and he was given a very guarded prognosis. Together with his doctors he made the decision to give treatment ago. My dear dad was a realistic optimist. The realist in him knew this illness would probably kill him. The optimist in him hoped the treatment being offered might give him some more time with us. Before his retirement Dad had worked as a project manager. He lived his life with the same level of organisation he gave to his work. Dad subsequently project managed his illness and death. Once diagnosed Dad put his financial affairs in order. He communicated his wishes in relation to end of life care and dying. We were fortunate that we were able to realise Dad’s wish to die at home. I know this isn’t always an option. Dad died at home surrounded by all his family. After his death we used his instructions (in a file on his laptop) to organise a funeral. He got given a day he would have been proud to attend. He even picked out the photo to use in the funeral service booklet. I believe that Dad’s conversations and planning gave us; his family the greatest gift of all. While we were in the grips of grief we were guided by him and his wishes. We were able to come together to give him the death and funeral he wanted. This gives me great comfort.

The topic of death is such a taboo in many people’s lives yet we will all be touched by dying and death. Most of us will also have to say goodbye to loved ones. While my father was dying I observed some people only comfortable to talk to him about the weather and traffic. Dad respected peoples’ comfort levels and he knew who he could open up to. Thankfully there were people for him to have the big conversations with. It could have been a very lonely place for him otherwise.

Conor’s Daddy & I had never discussed dying or death before the sudden and completely unexpected death of our son Conor. To be honest I had never even given the topic much individual thought. We found ourselves with just days to give birth and plan a funeral.  Looking back I’m not quite sure how we managed it but we did. We gave Conor a beautiful service attended by our inner circle of family/friends. We were still far too shell shocked to cope with a large funeral. We are now the owners of a family burial plot with space on Conor’s headstone for two more names. We know we want to be buried with Conor.

Soon after Conor died I wrote to an organisation which runs pre-marriage courses for couples wanting a church wedding in Ireland. Much of the content is outdated with couples now living together before getting married. I told them of the need to add conversations about dying and death to this course. Ireland has changed and people aren’t simply marrying another from the same town as they did in previous generations. Ireland is very much a multicultural state. Indeed Conor’s Daddy and I, like other couples are from two different countries living in a house which isn’t our forever home. Where does this leave couples should one of them get very sick or die suddenly? We are also living in an age of choices around dying and death. There are so many options. There are burials, cremations and leaving bodies to medical science. Dad had the time to plan and communicate his wishes. Not everyone gets this time. We need to open the lines of communication when we are well and able to make decisions. Dying is a part of life. We could take away the taboo and potential loneliness if it could become part of normal family conversation. It would also give loved ones direction at a most difficult time. We all need to have big conversations about end of life care, death and organ donation with our loved ones. It doesn’t have to be morbid. It might sound crazy to some but Dad and I had a laugh at times discussing our thoughts on dying and death. The big conversation may end up being the greatest gift you too can give to your family and loved ones.

#BigConversation

@DyingMatters

*Top tips:

http://stiritupmagazine.co.uk/recipe/mich-turners-moist-carrot-cake/.

Here’s the brilliant recipe. I decided to soak my saltanas in orange juice instead of rum as I’m not keen on rum. It was very easy to turn into a showstopper cake with cream cheese frosting.

Find what you like to do and keep doing it.

For the year after Conor died I was a regular attender at a support group for bereaved parents. I met parents who were both newly bereaved like us and others who were facilitating groups a number of years after losing their children. Looking around the room it was obvious to me how much better those who were longer bereaved were functioning. They could talk about their children without the tears, sobs and snot (grieving isn’t pretty!) of the newly bereaved. Theirs was a language of love. Ours was a language of not just love but also of fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, jealousy & guilt to name a few.  I felt paralysed by my grief in those early months.  I wasn’t just dealing with the sadness of losing Conor but was having to re-learn how to live in a world I barely recognised.  At the support groups I asked these longer bereaved parents for advice. I asked what helped them to feel better. It frustrated me that I rarely seemed to get any straight answers or instructions.  I wanted to learn how to feel happy again. I wanted to learn how to live my new life. Yet I wanted Conor to be part of my new life and not simply a family secret.

It took me a long time to realise that there isn’t really any advice to give a bereaved parent (something the non-bereaved who want to see us fixed struggle with). All you can do at the start is to keep breathing. Slowly functioning gets easier and the new life a little less scary. You appreciate the good days and do what it takes to survive the bad days. You surround yourself with those who lift rather than knock you.  However,  one piece of advice I do recall receiving is to ” FIND WHAT YOU LIKE DOING AND KEEP DOING IT”. I have embraced this concept.  I prioritise doing what I like to do rather than simply doing what I need to do. We got in a cleaner which frees up our weekends. I now live guilt free – chores can wait. I have since found joy not just in baking but in crafts. Here’s today’s Cakes for Conor…

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I made this mosaic tea tray in a class I joined with other bereaved mothers last year. This class is one of the highlights of my week. It brings me both peace and joy to have “Conor time” while making something so beautiful. The two hours pass in an instant. I recently made this patch for a national remembrance quilt…

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Both these pieces were made by the person who failed her art exams in school! It isnt about having a talent its about finding what you like to do and doing it – guilt free.  It’s about giving yourself moments of peace and joy and making those moments last longer. They dont cancel out all the hurt but can bring some healing, if only temporarily to a broken heart.