Walking briskly from the car park, whilst my husband Roger returned to the car for the shopping bag, my foot slipped and I fell. It was clear this wasn’t a ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off’ sort of fall. Two very kind people stopped to help, calling an ambulance as it was clear that my leg needed medical attention. Roger reappeared, shocked to find me lying on the pavement. The fantastic ambulance crew gave me much needed pain relief and whisked me off to hospital, Roger following in the car.
X-rays showed I wouldn’t be going home that night, so Roger collected some necessities, whilst my leg was painfully plastered from ankle to thigh and I was admitted to a ward. The whole situation was a blur and very surreal. A routine day unfolded into this dramatic and rather scary one, but I’d little idea what a life-changing injury this was.
Some parallels to bereavement
You may well ask what relevance this has to bereaved parents. However, I found strong parallels to many of the emotions felt in 2002, when our son died. Clearly, it was a major shock and an event which would change my and my family’s lives forever.
Bryan was 30, the middle of our three boys, who were each living independent lives. To my permanent regret, my relationship with Bryan since his teens had been quite troubled and stormy, though by this time things seemed to be much more stable. He had always been very sociable, had a good circle of friends and good relationships with his brothers, especially the youngest. They were each other’s ‘go to’ person, with birthdays only 6 days apart, and they always tried to spend that time together. Bryan had been married, but was divorced. We knew he had his problems, but we could never have imagined what happened. In February 2002, we experienced the dreaded knock from two police officers informing us that Bryan had taken his own life.
You might already see some parallels here: shock, going through those early days in a blur, that surreal sense of this happening to someone else not us, the sense of disbelief.
My slow recovery
I had major surgery for a shattered femur and damaged knee joint. Metal replaced bone removed from the femur, a new knee joint and metal rods strengthened the femur and lower leg. I was in hospital then rehab for a month, only eventually allowed home when mobility aids were in place and the assurance that Roger was there to help and support.
Some days I felt I would never be mobile again. Hospital staff were wonderful – kind, caring and hugely encouraging, but despite all that, I often felt it was all too difficult and painful. There were days of tears and despondency.
Does this ring bells to those of us bereaved of a child? Days when everything seems just too much effort and the sense that this is how life would always be now?
It was a fantastic day when I was allowed home. Still on a walking frame and struggling with mobility – but home. Physical recovery was so, so slow. I don’t think, even then, I realised just how major this injury was and how long recovery would take. I thought, coming home early October, by Christmas I would be almost back to normal. Wrong!
I had regular visits from a lovely, patient, encouraging physiotherapist, who was also realistic about recovery time. Oh, the frustration of thinking I could just get on with life: household chores and especially gardening – and finding I couldn’t do what I wanted to.
Again, the parallels are there with bereavement. The constant tiredness and tears. Getting up, thinking this was a better day, only to fall once more into despondency, emotions sometimes changing by the hour let alone day-to-day.
Continuing to carry the heaviness
Carrying the metalwork in the injured leg echoed the heaviness of sadness and loss after losing Bryan. Sometimes there was even a degree of guilt (why hadn’t I walked slower, more carefully that day?), reminding me of the guilt I felt after Bryan’s death (could I have done or said anything different to change the outcome?) Physically, muscles had to heal and strengthen, just as emotions had done.
My mobility will never be quite what it was, but it did improve significantly. I began moving around well, albeit often with the help of a walking stick or Roger’s arm as support, and even managed to resume some of the activities I’d previously enjoyed. In many ways, this mirrors our journey of learning to live well without Bryan.
Others who helped
In both situations, the support and encouragement from others was key in recovery. After Bryan’s death, family, friends, church and faith all played an important part in keeping us from sinking too far. After the injury, the medics as well as the ongoing support from family and friends has made a huge difference. One doctor took time to explain the injury, surgery and what was actually happening physically in detail – hence why it would take time for recovery. That was so helpful.
Talking to someone who truly understands how bereavement can feel, particularly after suicide – the ‘ups and downs’ of recovery and the time it takes, someone who is realistic about occasional setbacks – gave me hope and encouragement that recovery was possible. Bereaved Parent Support became so important.
Walking with a limp, but with confidence
Two and a half years on from the injury, I experienced a physical setback with pain and weakness. The physio says it’s most likely to be muscle weakness and has provided me with a programme of exercise to help. It feels a little like ‘back to the drawing board’.
There’s a parallel here, too, in that it is possible and even likely that we can still have setbacks in later years after bereavement. But over time, we have usually learnt strategies for managing these setbacks, so they don’t floor us as they did in the earlier years. We have confidence that it will pass. Like my conversation with a physiotherapist to reassure and support, it’s always worth talking through the occasional ‘blip’ with someone we can trust.
Just as I’ll always carry the weight of the metalwork in the injured leg, so I’ll always carry the ‘weight’ of the loss of our son. I’ll probably always walk with a limp, and life will never be quite the same again – on both counts. Recovery from the loss of a child, as from major injury, doesn’t have a set time limit. We are all different in how we heal, but, with help from others and with time, I have learnt to walk again – physically and emotionally and I now fully enjoy the good things of life.
I hope and pray this can be an encouragement to those on this path to recovery and looking for that new normal. We can find it! We all have slightly different timescales and we find different ways to healing – but life can and will be good again.