Our world was turned upside down the moment we got that phone call, while abroad. Our eldest son, Matthew, had died.
Two years later I can still hear and feel the scream that involuntarily came out on that Amsterdam street.
We joined a new club, so to speak, at that moment. We were part of a group of parents who had lost their child, who had outlived one of their children. Some of the comments made in the coming days showed just how little we and others then knew of what it was like to lose a child.
We moved through the journey home and telling our other four children, one of whom was in New Zealand at the time. We dealt with the logistics and funeral arrangements on adrenaline. They were things that had to be done and we were empowered by the prayers of others and by necessity.
Then the real journey began
I work in hospice care and I thought I knew about grief, but I realised then that I only knew the theory.
Then began the real journey through the acute and overwhelming pain. It was at this point that we recalled, from reading the Family magazine previously, that Care for the Family have a support group for bereaved parents. I rang them and was put in contact with Mike and Kath, and then later with Roger and Pat as our befrienders. We were matched with them because they had lost a son in a similar way to us. That was so so valuable. They listened and we felt that they understood our pain. No two grief journeys are the same but they have similar elements. Pat rang me regularly and listened as I poured out the pain, the confused thoughts, the anger with the world and just how very much I missed Matthew. David spoke to Roger, not so often as he didn’t feel the need to, but he always knew he could.
Through them we heard about the support weekend for bereaved parents. Our extended family were very supportive and David’s sister offered to care for the younger children so we could get away. As it happened it was almost a year after Matthew’s death – we were dreading the anniversary and unsure about how to acknowledge this terrible day without it becoming a day the rest of the children would dread. Maybe we could get some ideas from others.
How we felt when we arrived
We arrived at the hotel fragile and scared about being so vulnerable in such a new group. We met Roger and Pat for the first time and shared a table with other parents who had lost a child in a similar way. That was the first relief. All the loving touches of flowers, sweets and tissues were really appreciated. Yes we were nervous, but we felt the love of the team, we saw that people had survived the experience and were living again and we felt so gently looked after. It was amazing to walk into a room with just over one hundred people and realise we had all lost a child. The usual ‘elephant in the room’ was not there – it was ok to say our child had died. We didn’t have to worry how others would react and feel that it was better to keep that as our big secret.
The weekend looked at various aspects of grief and the journeys we all face. Away from home and work, here I could be the grieving mum in a safe environment. David said that he felt more comfortable here than he had for months in a normal social setting, knowing his pain was shared by all these other parents. The most memorable talk had to be the one about the grief being like a ball that currently overwhelmed the bowl it sat on but how with time the bowl got bigger and, though the ball had not changed size, it fitted in the bowl better. I have shared this illustration with so many people. It helped me and I believe it has helped others too; it gave me hope that, in time, what I felt now would change for the better.
A place of hope
That first Bereaved Parent Support Weekend gave us hope – and that was vital to our ongoing journey.
We did attend again the following year and plan to go this year too. It feels like a place we can go and spend time with our grief, with our memories and see how far we have come since those early days. We can remember our son with more happy memories than the sad fact of his premature death. We had also attended a local group where we felt some of the folk were stuck in the place of overwhelming grief ten years later, and we didn’t want to be like that.
We are so grateful to Care for the Family and the Bereaved Parent Support team for helping us to a place of hope.
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