A punch made without warning, allowing no time for preparation or defence on the part of the recipient
Up until now loss and grieving have only ever been brief visitors in my life. When you lose a loved one who has lived a long and happy life there is a certain amount of inevitability about it. Death is, after all, a horrible but normal part of life. Losing a loved one before their time, however, is a much different proposition. I lost my Aunt just over 11 years ago and it was devastating. She was like a second mother to me and her death was somewhat unexpected and definitely untimely. It was the first time I had lost somebody where I felt like life had changed as a result of them no longer being in it.
Losing your own child, however, raises the grief stakes much higher than I ever could have imagined. But you never think that it is going to happen to you. It’s only other people’s babies that die and therefore you don’t allow your mind to go to that awful place. This, unfortunately, makes you all the more unprepared for it, if it does happen to you. I remember a few years ago there was a woman from work whose baby died. I didn’t know her at the time but always thought that it must have been the worst thing in the world for herself and her husband. These tragedies effect you, but at the end of the day when it is not happening directly to you, you can take a break from these emotions or even chose not to go there at all. When you are living the tragedy there is no break, no respite, no walking away.
When we lost Benjamin it felt like a part of me died with him. The aching, the longing, the emptiness. All unbearable. It was the first time in my entire life that I felt like life wasn’t worth living. It can only be described as complete and utter despair. Not the despair people talk about when their football team loses or they don’t get the job they were going for. Actual gut-wrenching, soul destroying despair where you never want to face the world again.
My most vivid memory from the first week after Benjamin died was waking up on those first few mornings in the hospital. I would forget for a split second that he had died. The realisation that followed was like reliving his death again each morning. Just as devastating each time. In hindsight, the familiarity and predictability of the grief in those first few weeks was in some ways easier to deal with than my grief now. Back then it was a consistent flow of the strongest emotions I had ever known. I never felt “ok”. It was only ever the worst heartbreak over and over and over again.
I now find myself in the land of the sucker punches. I never know when it is coming or what form it will take. The element of surprise seems to be it’s favourite strategy. It doesn’t matter whether I have had a “good” day or not. My emotions are on a knife edge and it can tip either way without warning.
Yesterday Benjamin’s thank you cards arrived in the post. I had designed them the week before as a nice way of acknowledging all of the flowers, cards, gifts and messages we had received from people over the last few months. I had been a little upset doing it, however, mainly I felt good. I got to honour and celebrate our boy the way he should be. Yesterday had been a good day. I hopped up on my bike and did a short wind trainer session, followed by some light weights and Benjamin’s walk down to the beach. I was actually in a good mood. As soon as I opened up the box and looked at the cards, however, boom, it hit me. I started crying uncontrollably. Like a bolt out of the blue I was back in a very dark place. All the feelings of loss and yearning returned as if we had lost him the day before. The funny thing is that I was looking forward to them arriving. I was proud to send them out to family and friends. I was excited to share my favourite photo of Benjamin with everyone. But somehow instead of being happy I was wrapped up in Merv’s arms, my heart scattered in pieces around me, again. The surprise of the flood of emotions almost as bad as the emotions themselves.
It makes sense to me why it happened. Sending out cards to family and friends on the arrival of your baby is obviously supposed to be a joyous occasion. Yet again, a normally happy event is one of the saddest things we will ever have to do. It’s like with each of these rituals we perform the reality of his loss sinks in more. The reality of life without him becomes more and more heartbreakingly “normal”.