For instructions on grief, please read this leaflet
There are many stories of people’s challenges being highlighted this week for Mental Health Week. I was reading a beautiful blog post by a Mum who lost her daughter Abi, and then the tsunami of brochures that were put in her hands about seeking support afterwards. The numb poem that she writes that follows below I believe will resonate with many people. Her blog is called Chasing Dragonflies.
Her post reads:
You’ve stood with me on this journey, You saw my daughter being rushed into your ICU
You stabilised her, You kept her young body going
Gave us hope after hope that she might wake up
You showed empathy when that hope was gone
We’re sat together in the treatment room
Now so large without her bed in the middle
She’s just died
The line stayed flat
She didn’t linger like you said she might
You’ve taken her body to theatre
Her organs might at least help someone else
Someone in our shoes
We’re numb, tense, feeling sick
You sit a while and listen to us talk about her
We’re not believing she’s really gone
But it feels good to talk
To share that she was more than just another patient
She was our wonderful girl
She still is
Then you start being practical
Talking about getting death certificates
You sound as though you’ve said this a thousand times
Deliberately slowing your words so it doesn’t sound so
I can’t focus through the mist of tears
You give us leaflets to seek help about everything
We go home, leave her body behind
Your job is done
Our daughter’s life ended at her death
Our lives have changed beyond recognition
We find ourselves thrown onto a road we feared to travel
The journey has only started for us
I am in pain
I’m not feeling well now, Doctor
It’s my turn
I think I’m really very sick
But I’m an adult, a grown up
I have my own mind
I know what I want
I shouldn’t need you anymore
You see, I think my mind has broken
With the trauma of what I’ve seen
But then I have those leaflets
What happened to them anyway?
Perhaps they’re under the pile of sympathy cards?
Maybe they’re in the bin?
But it doesn’t really matter
Because I can’t read for crying
I can’t comprehend the words
Death, grief, funerals, legal stuff are a foreign language
I don’t know what to do
I need a hand to hold mine
I need ears to hear me when I can’t speak
I need gentle guidance to do what I must
Why do you expect me to know what to do?
Why do you think you, or I, will know what I feel?
Do you honestly believe I’ll have the strength to pick up the phone and say
‘Please stranger, please help me understand why my daughter is gone’
‘Please tell me why I can’t stop crying?’
‘Please explain why my chest hurts so much?’
‘Please show me how to care for myself and my family in the same way, without her here’
‘Please help me understand why I don’t care about conforming anymore’
‘Will I ever care enough about school or work again?’
‘Does it really matter if I don’t recycle my newspapers or pay my bills?’
‘Please tell me why I can no longer tolerate certain people’
‘Please tell me what to do when I’m standing in a queue and my legs buckle’
‘or the tears spring from nowhere and I get strange looks’
‘or I start shouting at the person in front of me for not knowing that my daughter is gone while he complains about queuing’
‘Please show me how not to run, run away from it all and leave my most-loved behind to pick up the pieces’
‘Because I don’t think I can face it’
But flight is not an option
I cannot run away from this
Now I’m scared and you doctors all seem like aliens to me
While I once trusted you when my throat was sore or I had a nasty bug
To take my pain away
To make me better
Now you are looking at me lost
I’m the one with all the knowledge
I’m the more experienced one
You don’t know what to do
This won’t be solved by a prescription
You have no pill for what I’ve been through
You tell me to talk to a councillor, there are plenty around
So you give me another leaflet
Your job is done
But all I’m left with
Is another piece of paper with ink on it
When a person dies, the hospital does their job, but that stops with death, when the body is passed to the funeral home. Don’t get me wrong, the doctors do wonderous work; we felt supported by them, but after Abi died, we were alone. The bereaved are simply left to it. People assume we are being ‘looked after’ by someone, that’s simply not true.
Bereaved parents are left to work out for themselves what help they need and then to make the effort to find out what services they can have access to. The ‘leaflets’ contain the numbers of so many services – all offering help but it’s almost too much choice. Where do we begin? Telling your story to even one stranger is a big deal, imagine how many times you have to do that to get to a point where you find a therapy/charity/councillor that can help you? Our loss feels diluted, like we’re calling around to find the best deal, we can’t even speak let alone think for ourselves clearly.
So we don’t read the leaflets. We don’t make that call. We amble along until one day something snaps and we are spiralling out of control. But it’s too late for the ‘gentle’ approach, we now need medication and intervention. We’re now ‘a problem’, all because no one held our hand and showed us the way.
New mums are offered some maternal support in the immediate days and weeks after a baby is born. Those midwife and health visitor visits are so reassuring. To have someone turn up each day regardless and check in on you. This service isn’t great either, but it’s better than nothing. Better than the nothing that we get when a child dies. We’re still people, we still have mental health, we still need support.
It’s World Mental Health Day on Friday 10th October. I would like to think that the world does sit up and pay attention to the needs of those suffering with mental health problems, including those who grieve.
I’m also linking this post up with Baby Loss Awareness Week. The same thing happened to me when I lost my baby, Bella, just two weeks before Abi died. The nurse gave me a few leaflets and cards to seek counseling and that was that. I felt like I’d been hit by a bus and wanted to hide from the world. Then Abi died and I was hit again. More leaflets, only this time with even more for me to do. Each doctor knew what I was going through, but the response was the same.
For more on this, please read Leigh’s deeply moving post about Easy and Quick Access to Counselling after Baby Loss. After Leigh lost her baby boy, Hugo, she realised more and easier access was crucial to the support that bereaved parents so desperately need. She’s doing wonderful things to try to make changes to how mums are supported immediately after a loss.