The power of a memory

The most captivating smile xxx

The most captivating smile xxx

If a smile could say a thousand words, then this would be it. The smile that has taken my breath away so many times, and continues to do so even as I write this. Even more so because this smile was for me. Those magical deep brown eyes sparkling through those long lashes just for his mummy. How can he be gone? I remember that day, we had just finished getting ready to go and feed the ducks, still on maternity leave we spent every day in each others company, I could think of no better place to be. Grumpus had just taken his socks off, and I had given in and relented, giving him the remote control, fascinated with the buttons I managed to put his socks on successfully, and his shoes, and for those who know Grumpus this was an achievement. It didn’t last long, as soon as I started the car, I heard the familiar sound of velcro ripping, followed by a gentle thud as one shoe, closely followed by the other would make contact with the floor. By the time I had reversed out of the drive I would catch sight of him in the mirror playing with his socks. Did I mind? No. Did I find it funny? Yes. My smile so full of pride I would turn to be met with a smile just as big. These were the moments, single moments in time that remain imprinted in my mind. Grumpus was so much fun. A beautiful soul inside and out.  The power of this memory is spell-binding. It leaves me crippled with tears. Tears of joy that I was blessed to experience them, but tears of complete despair that I will never experience this again, this is all it will ever be, a powerful memory.

Just as powerful and equally as crippling is that moment, THE moment, the single moment in time, one single moment that my life came crumbling down to my feet. As much as I am reminded of those precious memories I am plagued with the one that took it all away. As deep as William’s smile is imprinted in my mind, the moment I found him dead is just as deep. If the call handler of that 999 call stood in a crowd of a thousand people, with my eyes closed, I could pick her out. How she remained calm whilst I screamed hysterically down the phone at her, is a job I do not envy, was she traumatised when she ended the call, after being told ‘life was extinct’, yes. She is human, she will remember that call just as vividly as I do. As William laid on the floor by my knees in front of me, I placed the heel of my hand just above where I felt his ribs join, and I followed her instructions “….and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4….rescue breath 1…..rescue breath 2…..and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4….” and it continued for an agonising 3 minutes and 44 seconds. Every second that I watched the digits change on the phone display 3:40, 3:41, 3:42 I felt my life slipping away, the paramedics came thundering up the stairs, I continued CPR to the call handlers steady rhythm, 3:43, 3:44 then the paramedics took over. A mask was placed over William’s mouth and the I could see the paramedic feeling for a pulse in William’s neck as he squeezed the breathing bag, desperately trying to get oxygen into my baby. The sleeping bag William had spent his last night in had been pulled off, his little vest cut off, the second paramedics hands reached round each side of his chest securing pressure, his thumbs compressed William’s chest with so much force, over and over and over, until he stopped. The paramedics took one glance at each other, and I knew. As the paramedic removed his hands from William’s chest I screamed, he turned over his left shoulder, gasping for breath amongst screams, I was delivered the most powerful memory ever to be imprinted in my mind “I’m sorry my love, but he’s gone.” Perhaps the most powerful words ever spoken to me. A power of a memory, a definitive moment in time, the power that has to change your life is quite astonishing.

I had only ever heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the news. I never really understood what it was, I certainly never understood how debilitating it is, it has left me completely defenseless; powerless to act against by body’s own mechanism to remember, to visualise, to relive that moment. It leaves me crippled unable to function. Unable to circumvent the most harrowing moment of my life. It doesn’t matter how much time passes, I still remember this memory as much as I remember the beautiful memory of his smile. I don’t get to pick which memory I will be thinking about at any given moment. All it takes is to hear someone say ‘1’ and the 2 and 3 and 4 shortly follow in my mind. My whole mind and body transported back in time, I have no choice but to process that moment all over again.

I am completely at the mercy of my mind. Whatever memory pops into my head is how my day will go. The mind is the most powerful tool we have, but it is so very dangerous. It captures every memory, not just the most amazing and captivating ones, but also the most painful, enduring ones. I don’t get a choice. To know this much pain is to know this much love. All consuming, in everything I do.

Life after death

Someone said to me the other day that it was less than 100 sleeps until Christmas. What does that mean for me? That doesn’t mean less than 100 sleeps until I can hang our stockings up, what that means is that it’s less than 100 sleeps until my darling boys second birthday, and shortly after will be the first anniversary of the worst day of my life. Christmas represents everything that I have lost. Like with everything that I do, it is done through gritted teeth. We went away to London, we had an ‘okay’ time, we visited places where there were multiple happy faces, stood outside Buckingham Palace feeling very patriotic as we witnessed the changing of the guards, but we were only doing all these things because William died. We wouldn’t have been there had William been alive. Other than going to work, doing anything else leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, knowing that we wouldn’t be doing whatever it is if William was here.

This Summer was supposed to have been full of days at the beach burying daddy in the sand, countless ice creams and evenings snuggled on the sofa. I visited the beach once, if I’m honest it was all too much watching those families having so much fun. Lathering their little person in enough sun-cream to protect an elephant and the never-ending queue to the ice cream hut. Before leaving London Paul wanted to visit the London Aquarium, as we stood in the queue, the man in front had a little boy about William’s age, as I stood there and watched him I could see the excitement emanating from his face. Eager to escape from his pushchair, impatient to see the sharks. Why wasn’t that William? Why were we here? As we made our way over the glass floor, sharks and turtles swimming beneath our feet. I could only stand there, close my eyes and imagine how William would react. Would he kneel down and point at the fish? Would he be scared and want me to pick him up? Would he run from one side to the other, not wanting to stop for fear of ‘falling in’? I will never know. I will never get to hold him up awkwardly so he could poke the starfish and limpets in the training pool. I will never be able to explain why he’s not allowed to take one home but promising him that he can have one when we get home, hoping he’d forget my promise. Instead I was stood there taking pictures of William’s teddy containing his ashes next to a starfish.

William and the Starfish

William and the Starfish

I have no idea what people must have been thinking, I didn’t really care, after all this is London. The one place someone asked us about the significance of the teddy was Buckingham Palace, as Paul took a photo of us both, a lady enquired why we had a teddy, Paul looked at me, I looked at Paul, as I started to explain the lady’s face dropped, the sentiments shortly followed. She probed further. I hadn’t experienced that, most people would generally shy away after apologising profusely, but this lady didn’t, she asked about William, she asked to see his photo, she asked about our trip. We stood there for 10 minutes talking to this lady. I don’t remember her name, I wish I did. That lady validated my sadness, she accepted my grief, right there in that moment. She didn’t treat me like a fragile piece of china, she didn’t walk away not knowing what to say. She accepted the way I felt, she looked in my eyes and told me how sorry she was that I had lost my son, but she didn’t dwell on his death, she wanted to know William, who he was, the little person that despite everything brings a smile to my face, even if it’s only a memory. The strength of love that bought us all the way to London to share him with everyone. She spoke his name, ‘what was William like?’, ‘had William started walking yet’. What this lady did was understand that by asking me questions about my son, she wasn’t going to upset me. She understood that nothing she could say would possibly make me feel worse. By talking about William, she was recognising that William existed, bringing his memory alive. I loved that.

William visiting the Queen

William visiting the Queen

For me everyday is full of memories that I won’t be making. Full of what if’s. What would William be doing now? I’m organising a balloon release for William’s birthday in November and I sat the other day and thought William would love that, but then of course if William was alive there wouldn’t be a balloon release. As time draws ever closer to William’s birthday my anxiety levels rise, I try to distract myself to keep busy, but it’s impossible. Regardless of what I do, my mind does not leave William, it does not leave that Sunday morning, it doesn’t stop whirring round, continual questions, the answers ever evolving, but it doesn’t matter how well I wear the mask, how well I manage to engage in conversation, inside I am crippled. People care, but people can’t share the pain because they don’t understand it, I wouldn’t want to share it, to share my pain would be to misplace my love. Grief is so isolating.

Was that you in the hospital?

As I imagine what you would be doing today sweetheart. I ponder not just what you would be doing today, but tomorrow, and in your future, a future that has been snatched away. I try to explain to people that I will never know what you would have been like when you were a young child, a teenager, or when you were a man.

I knew only the baby and toddler that I was blessed with for 382 days. I will never get to hear you say ‘mummy I love you’, ‘mummy can I have a biscuit’, ‘mummy please can I stay up 5 minutes longer’. All the conversations I dreamt of having, the conversations I had already played out in my head. I couldn’t wait for the ‘why?’ conversations. Don’t touch that, why? Please sit still, why? Please put your shoes and socks on, why? Vegetables are good for you, why? And so the conversation’s would go round in one very long, repetitive circle, but I couldn’t wait. The anticipation of your first day at school and taking the first photo of you in your school uniform. I couldn’t wait to sit up into the small hours making an outfit for your first Nativity play, to watch you from the audience in your big shepherd debut or maybe even Joseph. I often wondered whether you would enjoy sports, would you prefer to get muddy playing football, or would you prefer to sit and spend your hours playing the guitar or reading a book. Can you remember our little conversations in the car as we would drive past the rugby club, I would say to you, that’ll be mummy in a few years, standing in the freezing cold in the rain on the sideline, cheering you on. I imagined myself having to collect you down the road from the cinema, because I would embarrass you on your first date with your first girlfriend if I picked you up right outside. I couldn’t wait to see you blossom.

When I came to collect you from nursery I would sneak in the front door, without you noticing me. I would watch you, watch you interacting with the other children. Watch you give your toy to the curly-haired girl next to you, babbling something as you did it. To be a witness to you becoming your own little person filled me with so much pride. I just wanted to shout to everyone, ‘that’s my little boy’. This was one of many times in a day that I would pay a penny for your thoughts. The nursery told me that you would sit and observe the other children playing patiently, and when you were ready you would crawl over and join in. Pick up the toys and ‘talk’ to the other kiddies. Then when you were finished you would put your toy down, crawl away and resume your watching. I marveled at your innocence, your intelligence, I was overwhelmed that you were mine. Overwhelmed that I was the lucky mummy collecting you from nursery. The most fortunate person to have had you all to myself for 9 months to then feel the exhilaration  of what giving birth to you felt like, to give you life, to feed you, to watch you fall asleep in my arms, knowing that I was living the dream. I would pinch myself daily, thinking it was a dream, the most magical dream. I always thought you were too good to be true.

Every day I look for signs that you are here, signs that you are letting me know that you’re okay, signs that you’re comforting me to let me know ‘it’s’ okay; but the truth is sweetheart, I don’t. ‘It’s’ not okay, none of it is, it never will be. I don’t hear, see or feel signs, perhaps because I won’t allow myself to be receptive to them, maybe they are there but I don’t interpret them. I have an enormous sense that acknowledging signs is accepting that you are gone, accepting that the only way we will be together in this life is the feeling I get from seeing a falling feather, hearing a song on the radio or a rainbow when I’m crying on the way to work.

There is only one time in the 262 days you have been gone, that I felt you with me. I had just been admitted to hospital, your daddy had gone home, he wasn’t allowed onto the wards. I was waiting in the communal area, I wasn’t allowed to go in to my room because the nurses had to check my things first. I was totally alone, loneliness had come knocking a long time ago. As I sat and waited I had never felt so afraid, afraid of this place, afraid of the way I was feeling and afraid of life without you. As I sat there, as clear as anything I heard someone say ‘It’s okay mummy, it’s okay.’ It was so clear, I spun around to see who said it, but there was no-one there, only the little old lady talking to herself in front of me. Was that you? Was that you letting your mummy know that you were watching over me? I like to believe it was.

I spend every day living life perpetually on the edge. Hanging over, feeling the rush of energy surging through my body, the wind taking my breath away, the desire so strong to let go and fall, tumbling through the air, I can feel the relief as I sit here and write this. Why don’t I let go? The weakest of links hold me in place as I seek to find answers for you. I must see that through. For now I am holding on with my fingertips, teetering on the edge, my voice the only outlet I have, my love totally consumed by grief. In the meantime I am without meaning, I am without you, signs or no signs. I am homesick.

Are you dealing with depression?

I have just typed ‘depression’ into the Google (UK) search engine to see what the definition is according to the official Oxford Dictionary. It wasn’t until page 4 that I found it: “A mental condition characterised by severe feelings of despondency and dejection, typically with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep”. People, me included rarely reach page 4 of the search engine. Our impatience and need for information sees us settling for an answer on the first page, even if it isn’t the answer that we are looking for, we make it fit. Those of us searching for depression looking for information or self-help on the internet more often than not find it on the first page. Especially with a very general term like ‘depression’. It remains to be seen whether the answer we are really looking for is on the first page, we operate under the same veil, we accept what we read, less than 10% of people advance onto page 2 of Google, like they say ‘when the glove fits…’

So what information did I glean from the first page? Well, there are links to the NHS website, several large charities and a self-help website. If you had any doubt before starting your search whether or not you are depressed, you will diagnose yourself after the first few excerpts. Who of us doesn’t suffer with low moods? Who of us doesn’t experience stress at work? Who of us doesn’t have periods of time when you feel tired or you can’t be bothered to go out? I would guess, and it’s only a guess that a large proportion of the population at some time in their lives experience these symptoms. So does that mean we are all depressed? Feeling low maybe, a little worried or anxious about something, but would you be concerned enough to visit your doctor thinking you are suffering with depression?

Whichever website you read, on as many pages you can bear to scroll through, the common denominator is that depression is a mental health condition. How a person behaves, how a person reacts to certain information and situations, what threshold a person has to cope in different situations, their thoughts, feelings and sense of well-being. Not only can these factors alter when a person is depressed, these factors can alter, resulting in depression. A condition that cannot be seen, a condition that is judged, a condition that people loosely use ‘oh, I am sooo depressed’. It is a condition that is very personal. Unique to the person that it is plaguing, treatment varies from person to person, antidepressants might suit one person but another might need a more holistic approach. Some don’t talk and suffer in silence. One thing for sure is that for those suffering with depression, hearing the words ‘snap out of it’, ‘you just need to do something to get over it’, ‘think more positively’ amongst other things, is not only ignorant it is very hurtful.

I am grieving, does that mean I am depressed? Initially probably not, as I succumbed to shock, numbness, anger and denial, you ride on the crest of a wave of grief, and as the wave breaks you come crashing down. At this point reality sets in, I am left to resume what my life is now, having to live life on life’s terms not my own. The pain of being left behind by someone I can’t live without. My natural reaction to grief persists, and will do until my last breath, but depression loiters, how can it not. Do I feel low? Yes. Do I have an aversion to going out or doing things? Yes. Do I feel hopeless, helpless and useless? Yes. Do I feel guilty? Yes. And the worst feeling of all, do I feel suicidal? Yes. These are some of the reasons I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Reluctant at first to diagnose any medical condition, after all, a mother is likely to react in such a way to losing their only child, but I have progressively sunken lower. I function, but emotionally and mentally I’m stuck in a washing machine on a never-ending spin cycle.

Do I suffer with anxiety? Yes. Do I suffer with PTSD? Yes. Do I suffer with insomnia? Yes. I have never been familiar with these conditions, let alone experience them. So this is new to me. Do people understand why? Yes. And I find myself thinking, well my baby died, my beautiful little boy died and I found him, the way I feel is totally justified. But why do I think this. I think this because unless people know what your story is they judge you. Stood behind me in the queue in the supermarket they whisper ‘you’d think she’d brush her hair before going out’, but what they don’t realise is that going out is a major feat on its own, being in an environment where there a smiling, happy toddlers, my mind constantly trying to process what William would be doing in that moment. Would he be running off up the aisle, giggling? Probably. Would the cashier lady comment about how cute he is? Definitely. Would I struggle to juggle my keys, purse, shopping bags and wriggly toddler all the way to the car? Absolutely. So no, I didn’t make sure my hair was neat, because when I got out the house the last thing I thought about was brushing my hair. I got in the car and looked in the rear view mirror at William’s empty car seat, and drove past his nursery on my way to the supermarket. The last thing I was thinking about was the way my hair looked.

My message here? Don’t judge people. When you bump in to someone in the street and they’re in a dream world and they don’t apologise. Don’t think they’re rude, that could have been me walking down the street after visiting my son in the chapel of rest. When you are sitting in a cafe having a coffee and the person on the table next to you is moody, and has a face like thunder. Don’t tell them to ‘smile love, it can’t be that bad’ that actually was me, I was waiting for my grief counsellor. And when you’re stood behind someone in the supermarket whose hair isn’t as neat as you’d expect and you think they’re scruffy. Don’t judge. That was me. If you knew why, would you think the same? Would you judge me as you had done 5 minutes earlier? No.

Depression in all its form’s, largely isn’t visible. Just because we don’t walk around on crutches with a limp doesn’t mean we aren’t suffering. Don’t make assumptions about people, be kind to people, be understanding and compassionate in all that you do. Life is too short in comparison to the length of death.




Life is a path: death is a destination

Can you imagine what it actually feels like to not be able to live with yourself. I don’t mean that figuratively but literally. All my life I have been very independent, and when I was told the chances of conceiving my own baby were slim to none, I focused on the practical side of life. Buying a house, studying for a job that wasn’t just a job but a career. I am a very black and white person, the most dominant part being logical, the part of me that has been my core survival. The emotional me has always only had a very small role in my life. That was until William was born. Wow, the intensity of love was frightening, I didn’t know love like that existed and it was all mine. There was nothing that could change it, I didn’t know how I had lived without it for so long. I had finally been born, I was finally alive.

My life it seemed had always been a journey of survival, a survival that relied upon my logical, practical side, a side that had never let me down. When William was sick, I did what I was supposed to do, I took him to the doctors. When I wasn’t satisfied I took him to another doctor, when he didn’t improve I took him back, again and again. In the hours leading up to William’s death I knew something was wrong, and I took him to those that we trust, I walked away reassured I was doing the right thing. The day before William died the niggling feeling, my mother’s instinct was telling me, he’s just not right, so I called for help and advice. Twice that day. Following advice, I was apparently doing the right thing. But it wasn’t the right thing. This I could tell you until I’m blue in the face that William’s death was out of my control, I would trade my life for his, but I still blame myself, I let myself down and I let my boy down.

With hindsight, there’s that word again, a curse word and knowing what we know now that William’s death was avoidable only reinforces that blame is warranted. I know every fine detail of the weeks, months, and those last few hours of William’s life. It doesn’t matter how many people tell me over and over that it’s not my fault, I shouldn’t feel guilty, I wasn’t to know, I did everything I could, the reasoning, but regardless the guilt remains. The guilt is born from what any mother would feel as her normal sense of responsibility for her baby, and the inherent belief that we have ultimate control over what happens to us, what happens to our loved ones and our built-in desire to protect. The despair only magnifies the deep-rooted guilt and makes me feel like a complete failure as a human being, and most importantly as a mother. Existing through each day, resisting the urge to end my life is potentially the hardest fight. A fight I know I’ll lose.

These feelings of guilt creep into every aspect of my day, every thought, intensified by my love for William, my need to close my eyes, go back to those moments and take away his suffering. This is something I have no control over, I can’t go back, I can’t change it but guilt allows me to control the situation I find myself in during every waking moment. I know that the decisions I made at the time were always in William’s best interests. The guilt I know is unfounded, feeling guilty is not the same as being guilty, this is so hard for people to understand. Guilt is all-consuming, made up of despair, regret, incompetence, failure, sadness, and these all form the worst feeling of all, blame.

I feel vulnerable, I am constantly anxious, I am worried, about what I don’t know, I no longer have anything to worry about. I have very little control over any of my feelings, the realisation of the horror that is my life is racked with guilt. My whole body aches with love, now I share my love for William with the world as my only witness. Guilt is the most painful companion to death.

William my sweetheart, you saw me take my first breath as you took yours, I saw you take your last breath, and when I take my last, we will be together. Forever.