My way of being Williams mum

“Parenting a child that isn’t here is infinitely harder,
than parenting a child that is”

When William died I can remember coming home for the first time since I had carried him out of our house when he had passed away. What I came home to was silence, but that silence was so deafening, the silence pierced every thought and I wasn’t able to escape from it.

William was still wholly dependent on me when he died. He was only one. We had gone from a flurry of nappies and being late for everything to silence and having nowhere to go.

The first year after William died was pure survival, just to exist was difficult, to exist in a world that William no longer lived in. Every single second, minute, hour and day was painful. Physically painful. I had to survive to find out what had happened to William, I had to endure an inquest, I had to hear those words ‘with better care William could have and should have survived’. If it wasn’t painful enough already, that twisted the knife that was permanently lodged in my heart.

When William first passed away I lost count of the times that people used the phrase ‘time heals’. Well-meaning people, not quite knowing what to say, trying their best to help, to say something, anything. At the time my response, perhaps not out loud but definitely in my head was that nothing can ever heal the death of your child; and I still stand by that. Time doesn’t heal but it does allow you to learn how to live again and I guess in a way that is healing.

As the time passes though you feel isolated as if you are in a different life from everybody else. When William first died my whole world stopped, and so did everyone else’s around us, but although tinged with sadness, people’s lives inevitably return to normal. They had to work, had their own families to look after, whilst we were just stuck. For the first-year people will look at you with that tilted head and enquiring face, taking extra care with how they ask how you are but as time passes greetings return to normal, well the way they were before William died. They stop asking how you are, genuinely wondering about how things are to fleeting acknowledgments.

After a while I had a stock answer, “yeah I’m ok, yano” and do a little tilt of my head, the conversation quickly changes to something trivial, something that is happening in the now. I’m okay with this now. Every time that I bump in to someone I don’t want to have to say well actually, when I woke up this morning William was still dead and I’ve still got to endure another day without his cuddle, his smile, his touch, his everything.

Dead.

That word, the word that everyone is afraid to use. A cold, hard, definitive word that no one likes to use. It’s strange because when William first died, I would tell people that he was dead, but after a month or so it changed to much softer phrases such as passed away, died, fell asleep, you name it, anything to avoid that word.

People are afraid of death, people are afraid of talking about dying, death and the dead. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe its fear, maybe its ignorance of not knowing what to say in response, but whatever it is I find myself softening how I talk about William’s death so as not to make the other person feel awkward. When I talk about William’s death on a pre-planned platform, such as the recent HSJ Patient Safety Congress it gives me the arena in which to express the cold, stark nature that his loss represents. I do wonder perhaps without the sepsis campaigning where my mental health would be. For me I find that campaigning is my way of somehow being William’s mum in the present, here and now.

When he died I had no nappies to change, no bottles or food to make, the mounds of washing soon depleted. In fact I didn’t wash William’s clothes that hadn’t already been washed. There was nothing, the investigation into his death soon took up most of my time, but once this had, thankfully concluded there was a deep chasm in which I needed to ‘do’ something. This is where my campaign journey began, my desire to ensure that no other parent has to endure the indescribable pain of losing their child or a child that has to lose a parent when it could be avoided.

Campaigning has helped me, it has been my way of grieving. It has not just been a time investment for me, but every time I stand up and open up my soul, it is an emotional investment for me. The moment I say ‘thank you for listening’ the emotional hangover starts. I think to be honest the part of me that I can no longer give to William, I give to others. It helps me and I hope it helps them.

My most important job will always be mummy to two beautiful boys.

William and Arthur.


www.justgiving.com/williamoscarmead

Advertisements

Sepsis and Me

I have a very strange relationship with sepsis. Ultimately it is what caused the most devastating loss in our family. It is what robbed my first-born child of his life. I didn’t even know what it was and hadn’t even heard of it before William’s death certificate was presented to me. Now I know so much about it that it seems impossible that there was ever a time when I didn’t know that it existed or that it was an integral part of my life.

You would think that because sepsis stole the life my of one-year old baby that I would never want to let the word roll off my tongue again but it is what consumes my life on an almost daily basis. It is something that I cannot let go of. It is something that I have to speak about and it is always on my mind.

I work for the UK Sepsis Trust but to me it doesn’t feel like a job. If I didn’t work for them I would campaign, I would blog, I would educate the public and health professionals about sepsis and the reality of what it can do. Sepsis is an integral part of my life that is unavoidable, perhaps not as unavoidable as William’s death. William couldn’t avoid it and neither can I.

When I talk to health professionals about William’s death, about those horrifying moments that I found my lifeless child in his cot, rigor mortis having taken over his fragile little body, the words catch in my throat. Reliving it, retelling it and recounting every single painful moment is almost like a punishment, dipping myself back in to that moment. I invest so much emotionally when I talk. But it is not something that I can escape from. I could of course choose not to talk about it. I could choose not to revisit, but these thoughts and those memories live in my mind, they are part of my make-up. As much as William’s life is made up of the most wonderful memories, William’s death happened too. It is part of my life and it is what has redefined me.

I am always asked when I arrive at a talk or conference whether I get nervous. I don’t, not really. I don’t have butterflies in my stomach, I don’t have sweaty palms and I don’t feel any sense of anxiety. After all, the subject I talk about is my life, I can’t get it wrong. It’s not a test and no one is judging me. Something that every parent wants to do is talk about their children. Their pride and joy. I cannot talk about William’s latest achievements or what he’s up to. I have finite memories that I can recall, there will be no more memories to make. So, in order to talk about William, I talk about his death, because that is also part of his life.

Sometimes I get messages from people, saying that because of a talk that I’ve delivered, or a blog I’ve written or a video I’ve shared that they heeded my advice and due to that their loved one was diagnosed and treated successfully for sepsis. This warms my heart and for every story, every child, every life it still gives me goose bumps and it still makes me cry. I cannot help but feel that I wish there had been a ‘me’ several years ago when William was poorly.

I know that whatever I do William lives on in the hearts of the lives that he’s saved. I cannot bring him back, if I could, I would. I have not accepted William’s death, how can you accept something that is unacceptable, but what I have done is made peace with myself that one day I will be with him again. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I know that it is but one heartbeat and one breath away.

I haven’t just seen the devastation that happens when sepsis enters one’s life, I live it, I breathe it. It is what tore my family apart, it crept in to my son’s life and it was what stopped that golden heart from beating. I will not forgive it, I will not give in to it. I have embraced it, I implore it, I share it, sepsis forms every part of my way of being William’s mum. If I can help just one family from enduring the pain that we live in, then I’ll keep sharing, I’ll keep talking, I’ll keep telling sepsis that you might have won the battle but you most certainly have not won the war.

Love prevails. Always.


www.justgiving.com/williamoscarmead

I wasn’t there and now you’re not here

I’ve sat here and just stared at the screen not being able to find the right words to write. The screen saver comes on, your face, I lose myself in those deep and loving brown eyes and I realise there are no right words. There are simply no words.

I’m struggling so much right now, as the sun sets on another day without you I wonder how many more sun sets I will witness before I get to hold you again. If only I knew, if only I was able to mark the days off on the calendar with a big Red Cross. Maybe God knows, Sometimes life feels like a punishment. I feel so cruel and guilty saying that, in part due to your little brother, after all, how ungrateful is it to not want to be here when your little brother is here? But it doesn’t work like that. I’m torn, irreparably torn. Forever divided between two places. Here and there.

The happier my day becomes the more sad I feel. How is it possible for these two parallel worlds to exist concurrently; how is it possible to feel happy but so sad all in one. It’s terribly confusing. As we prepare for your little brothers baptism next Sunday I just can’t help but feel laden down with your missing presence. It’s not something I want to put to one side, it’s not an emotion I wish I wasn’t feeling. In a way I want to feel it, I want to suffer, I want to hurt, I hurt for you, I hurt for all that you are missing, I hurt that you don’t get to grow, that you no longer get to witness the sun rise and set.

You would be four years old now, approaching your first year of school. I talk often about the boy that I think you would have become. Quiet, intelligent, calm and loving. A little boy with so much depth, you already had that. I would lose myself in those big brown eyes, your way of loving, when I looked in to your eyes I felt an overwhelming sense of home. I could feel the love, it was tangible. Your curious and quiet nature meant that we were able to spend many tender moments together, I will forever be grateful for these. My body aches for these moments again. I am full of questions and wonder about the little boy you would have become.

When I first found out that I was pregnant I was scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t be a good enough mummy for you, that I wouldn’t know what to do, that I wouldn’t know what your needs were. I had no need to be scared or nervous, you made being a mummy easy. After you died I spent many hours with psychiatrists, trying to fix me, trying to convince me that life was worth living. It was during these sessions that one particular psychiatrist tried to understand just why I couldn’t bear to live without you, as opposed to trying to convince me that it was possible. He understood that all of my life, like most people as we grow up we learn from those around us, society, family and friends lay expectations in your lap, as we grow into adults we feel as though we are finally getting our freedom, but we’re not. The moment that we witnessed the world around us and all the harm that it could do is when we lost our freedom, our innocence.

Growing up I was fiercely independent. I have always felt that I am my own responsibility. I have always felt that I have only ever needed to rely on myself because at least that way the only person who could let you down was you. I have always kept something back, been wary, never giving my entire being to someone, that was until you came along. When I could feel you growing inside me, when I could hear your heart beating I just knew, I knew that this is what I was waiting for. I was waiting for you. I invested physically and emotionally in you. I knew that you would be all that I ever needed, I knew that you would never let me down, I knew that you would always be with me.

Call me a cynic but I have always lived with the thought that I was only round the corner from something going wrong. Inevitably, in my life, it has. But when I had you I knew that despite all that I have been, all that I have done, I got you right. I could be everything you would ever need. Only two weeks before you died I put you in your car seat and cried, why? Nothing in particular, nothing set me off, I just couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have you, I knew that despite everything, no matter what happened, that I would always have you. It would always be me and you. Then you were gone.

I can’t help but feel, despite the failings in your care, the many apologies, that I failed you. I had one job. People joke about managing to keep their kids alive today, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t protect you, I couldn’t save you. You closed your eyes, you slipped out of consciousness and you took your last breath, your beautiful heart stopped beating and I wasn’t there.

I wasn’t there and now you’re not here.

Today I have travelled nearly 400 miles to deliver a talk about your life, and also your death.        People often ask me how I manage to retell the moment that I found your lifeless body, how I tried in vain to pump life back in to you, how I laid, cheek to cheek and begged you to wake up, knowing full well that you never would. It is painful, it is hard, with every word that I speak I know that I am doing the right thing. The gaping hole that your life left cannot be filled, but somehow I have had no choice but to continue, and I suppose this is my way of being your mummy still, until we meet again my baby boy.


www.justgiving.com/williamoscarmead

Life after loss

I’ve not written for a very long time. I write often, in my mind, but sometimes I just can’t muster the strength to purge the words from my soul. This child loss game, I say game, it feels like one, constantly rolling the dice never knowing the outcome, day after day, roll after roll, it’s like one long game, not an enjoyable one and there are no winners. Waking each day and wondering whether today your piece will move forwards or backwards is a complete loss of control. That’s what happens when your child dies. You no longer have control.

I think after three and a half years life has a sense of ‘normality’ and we do, we do have some sense of normality. We had no choice. It was either sink or swim. At times I’ve wanted to sink and I’ve come very close. But Arthur forced me to swim, he is very much a protective factor in my life, a reason to live, hope, a future. For all the light that he brings to my life he cannot take away the turmoil that I feel inside. After this much time it is a deep inner longing, it weighs heavy and no matter what you do you cannot shake it off.

There is a common belief that anniversaries, birthdays, mothers days are the hardest; and they are hard, but they’re not the worst. It’s all the small things that grate the most. We took Arthur to the park recently, he absolutely loves the park, especially the slide. No sooner has he got all the way to the bottom he’s climbing up for another go, on repeat. The absolute joy on his face is irreplaceable, a complete freedom, innocence, joy, his laugh, infectious. It is wonderful. But with every heart stopping moment of euphoria there is a parallel deep sadness that shaves slices off my heart. William should be there helping his little brother to the top of the slide, they should be going down the slide together holding hands, squealing in delight. He should be here.

All I am left with are imaginations. When Arthur is playing in the garden what would William be doing? When Arthur goes to bed would William help me read him a bedtime story? What would they be like in the bath together? I imagine that William would have a calming effect on Arthur. I equally think that Arthur would drive William bonkers. William so calm, thoughtful, his every move a considered one. Arthur is the opposite, his zest for life oozes from everything he does, he barrels in to everything head first, head strong and determined. The two boys couldn’t be any more different, but the bond is there, the mannerisms are obvious, their likes and dislikes, and this is what hurts the most, I’ve lost my son, Paul has lost his son, but Arthur has lost his brother. He will never meet him, play with him, cuddle him, play fight with him, he will never know him. I feel desperately sad knowing this, and it will never change.

Child loss is colossal. It didn’t just happen on the 14th December 2014, it recurs every single day, it recurs every time I load only one toddler in to the car, it recurs every time I only kiss one baby goodnight. It recurs every single moment of every single day and it will last a lifetime. William will never start school, he will never graduate and fulfil his dream job, he’ll never fall in love, he’ll never get married or have children; but he’ll also never play on the slide with his brother, he’ll never read his first book, he’ll never confide in his brother, he’ll never be best man at his wedding. I won’t see him grow in to a man and I will never hear him say ‘mummy, I love you.’

Ultimately I am blessed, I am blessed with life, I am privileged to wake up every single morning, the one thing that William wants more than anything is his life, the one thing he cannot have, the one thing we gave him that was then so cruelly taken away. I cannot and will not waste mine. So can you see, every day is a tug of war. Constantly too-ing and fro-ing between here and ‘there’ wherever ‘there’ is.

These days my outlet is weekly therapy, but the sacrifice I pay for not wasting my life and living everyday as if it’s my last is that I internalise everything. The pain manifests itself wearing many different masks. Somedays I find myself very reflective, somedays I am plagued with PTSD, somedays I am frustrated, but everyday I am consumed by guilt. Every. Single. Day. I feel guilty that I couldn’t save him, I feel like I failed him because I should have done things differently, I feel stupid because I listened to people and followed advice. I feel sad for Paul, I feel sad for Arthur, I feel sad that he has no idea about all that has happened before him, I feel sad that one day he will know. I feel sad that one day he will share in our grief, that he will learn about death when he doesn’t need to. I feel sad that I will never be completely here, a part of his mummy that is always missing.

For every happy day there is a sad one, for every smile there is a tear, for every glorious memory there will always be moments that are incomplete. For every moment that I am ok, there will be moments that I am not ok.

So for all of you out there who struggle with your own demons, the only pressure you have is the pressure you put on yourself. Be gentle, go easy on yourself. Slow down, take a breath, step back and remember that tomorrow hasn’t happened yet; so don’t worry about it. And for those of you who see me smile, share in my laughter or create happy memories with me just remember that underneath I am fragile, I am still reeling, I am still trying to understand.

I am still missing him, and I always will.


www.justgiving.com/williamoscarmead

Christmas will never be the same…

Today is a sad day, every day is a sad day, but this time three years ago we announced when William’s funeral would be. Instead of uploading hundreds of photos that all seemed to look identical, William covered in paper and sellotape, playing with the boxes that the toys came in, instead we were inviting people to his funeral.

Christmas, a time of year that over the centuries has evolved from its very religious beginnings, now a commercialised time of year, that we all use as an excuse to down tools and spend time with our loved ones. Who can blame you? No-one needs an excuse to see that joy on their little ones faces, that excitement of knowing Father Christmas is coming, writing a letter to Santa, leaving a mince-pie, carrot and a tipple for Santa on Christmas Eve, visiting any number of events laid on by local attractions for our children to sit on Santa’s knee, and finally that sound of tiny stomping feet and squeals of glee, when they discover Santa has been, a stocking brimming full of toys that will be played with once, a tree that is barely recognisable under the weight of all the gifts.

We have none of that for William. We will never have any of that, not with William. William didn’t get to learn about Father Christmas, William didn’t get to star in his first nativity, William didn’t get to write a letter to Santa, he did sit on Santa’s knee, his bear containing William’s ashes gripped tightly by Santa, but that isn’t what we imagined would be the first time William would sit on Santa’s knee. We didn’t get to track Santa’s sleigh as he visited those in the Far East before he made it to the UK, we didn’t get to buy him a personalised book from Santa. On Christmas morning we awoke to silence, no little feet stomping down the corridor, no squealing, no excited little face, no ‘mummy, daddy, he’s been’. No William.

Our floor was clear of William’s wrapping paper, we didn’t have an obstacle course of his toys littered around the house. We didn’t have a little boy to give his first brussel sprout too. We didn’t get to show him a cracker, he didn’t get to wear a party hat or a cute little outfit. We didn’t have the struggle to put him to bed, too high on the simplicity of playing with his toys. We didn’t get to pack him and 500 toys into the car to visit family and friends, where his beautiful smile would make anyone’s Christmas. No, we had nothing of William.

Two years ago we went away, we went to stay somewhere completely unfamiliar, needing to get away from the suffocation of William’s absence in our home. But, regardless of where we were, the crushing pain packed itself in our suitcase and followed us. My heart hurts, it physically hurts in my chest, it doesn’t go away when I breathe in or out, whether I lie down or stand up, whether I have a glass of wine or not. My chest is crushed, my heart aching, aching to hold my little boy on Christmas. Three years ago at Christmas William’s fragile and broken body was still with us. I held him for several hours twice on Christmas day. I cried over his beautiful presence, I held him so close, I feared I might squash him. This year, we didn’t even have that. We will never have that again.There are very few that will understand this pain.

Paul and I stayed in a beautiful hideaway in Dartmoor National Park, there were families with children there, but we spoke to lots of couples who like us were ‘hiding’. Christmas not a happy time for them either. Some vastly wealthy couples, but grief does not discriminate, a loss of both parents recently meant one couple needed to be somewhere unfamiliar. At Christmas dinner, we had William’s teddy in a high chair, the chap on the next table ordered his parents favourite wine. Simple things, that somehow bring us closer to those loved ones we so desperately pine for. We met a U.S district judge, a man with a very powerful and influential position in society, reduced to tears by William’s story. For some Christmas isn’t a time of joy or craziness, it has become a time of painful reflection. A time that you look at your watch and hope that another hour has passed.

Every painful aspect a reminder of what should be, William would have loved the Christmas trees in every room, William would have loved splashing in the muddy puddles in his wellies, William would have loved the array of treats littered around the castle to keep the kids entertained, William would have loved afternoon tea, bitesize little sandwiches, perfect for his dinky little fingers, William would have loved to have found the stocking hanging on our door on Christmas morning, William would have loved to decorate the Christmas tree in our room, William would have loved the table magician, William would have loved the owl that sat on the reception desk, William would have loved watching the hunt as the horses and hounds made their way off the estate, William would have loved to sit in front of the grand fire by the most extravagant Christmas tree waiting for Father Christmas to call his name out to go and collect his present, William would have loved to watch the ferret racing, William would have loved the playbarn, William would have loved everything, but William was robbed of all of those things and we were robbed of William. All I want for Christmas is my son. Just one second, just one cuddle, just one stroke of those chubby little cheeks, just one look at that infectious smile, just one smell, just one touch. Just William. This is a wish that will never be answered.

I have felt nothing but guilt, my whole body consumed by Williams last few hours, what must my boy have been feeling, what did he want to say but couldn’t, what sort of mother am I to listen to what I was told to do, what sort of mother am I to listen to people who had no idea what they were doing, not just one person but multiple people, not just once but multiple times. The one thing I wanted to do and prided myself on was protecting my little boy, knowing that no-one could ever protect him and love him like I do. But sepsis does not discriminate, William was not unlucky, William was let down in the most unimaginable way possible. They have taken away our Christmas, our birthdays, every day, our life, our William. No manner of apology or putting right what went wrong will change anything, nothing will bring William back. Nothing can make Christmas bearable. Nothing can take away the fear, the anxiety and the guilt that any mother would feel for not somehow saving her child.

During midnight mass in the local church, William’s teddy was wrapped in my embrace, I struggled to make it through the service, the tears came rolling down my cheeks, choking on the tears, the words the heart cannot speak. As I stood, I went to the vicar and I asked him to please pray with me. He held me and William, and he prayed that his little soul would be in peace and to bless his beautiful soul. He also prayed for me, William’s mummy, to find comfort. I am yet to find any. I know that day will come, I know that day will be when I get to join my son again. In a place where there are no hours, days or years, where it is eternity. Where there is peace from this suffering, where I know that I will never be separated from my darling little boy again. A place where the first thing I will do is find my son, and the second will be to never let him go again. On that day, and that day only I will find peace.

This year, this Christmas we are blessed with William’s brother, Arthur. Something I could never have imagined three years ago. Something, sometimes I still struggle to comprehend. How can I be so lucky, lucky to have two beautiful children, but for this to be entwined with such pain and loss. As I drink in every movement Arthur makes I am crippled by the movements that William will never make. It is like living in a parallel universe, for every simply euphoric moment with Arthur I am reminded and crushed by the moments that I will never have with William. I feel as though every moment I live I am lost and once again found.

Life doesn’t get easier. Christmas doesn’t get better, torn between love and loss. But what these last three years have taught me is that life is so unbelievably fragile. Life is not promised. We are but one breath, one heart beat from it being over. Savour every moment, every breath, be thankful when you open your eyes in the morning and hug your children close. Make your memories today. Love today. Live today. I will never take one single second with Arthur for granted.

William, wherever you are my darling little boy. For every step I take on Earth, it is one step closer to you. One day we will be forever. Until then, all of my love is being sent to you this Christmas. It is one less that we have to spend without each other.

You would be incredibly proud of your amazing little brother. And for every waking moment, everyday is Christmas day, every day brings with it your greatest gift to daddy and I, Arthur. There is no greater gift, than life itself, and mummy cannot articulate how proud she is of you for giving your life to save others. And mummy wants to say thank you. Thank you for giving me Arthur, thank you for saving my life, and thank you for making me the person that I am today. Without you, I would be a shadow. You have bought me into the light and through Arthur you have once again given me light.

I love you, x


www.justgiving.com/williamoscarmead