Parenting lessons in the midst of loss

What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.
– William Henry Davies

These words have been repeating in my head over the last week or so. They’ve been in my head because my grandmother, who brought me up in my early years, died on the Sunday before Easter. I knew it was coming. And yet knowing didn’t make that final news any easier.

I was at my sister-in-law’s house and we were getting ready for a day out. I looked up from the email on my phone telling me the news, and suddenly my world had changed. The colour had drained from it. Nothing was ever going to be the same again.

Grief is a hard taskmaster. It doesn’t matter how long or short a time you had with someone you love. It is not comforting to think that it “was just their time” or any other platitudes people always say. They might be true, but you need to take some time to process your feelings in your own way. You deserve time to reflect, and the person you love deserves it too.

But I had no time to stand and stare. Off we went on the day out, me “not wanting to make a fuss”, chasing around after my children and acting like everything was normal. And it continued through all of the next week. My eldest was home from school and I had all the time off work for once. I’d planned lots of fun activities for us and I didn’t want to disappoint him.

But all week I was wishing I could just stop and grieve. To quote another poem:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone …
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message, [S]he is dead.
– W.H. Auden

I had to keep going, but I wanted to stop. People would ask how I was doing and I felt like it was a stupid question. Everything should stop. She is dead. The world has changed forever. She is dead. Could everybody just stop going about their daily business please? She is dead.

But the world doesn’t stop.

I felt angry at first that I couldn’t stop and grieve the way I wanted to. But now my son is finally back at school, and I have a day off and I can do what I want, I think he saved me as well.

If she had died before I had children, I would have fallen apart. I probably would have gone to bed and felt sorry for myself for days and days. But instead, I was able to focus on these little people who needed me more than I needed to be sad. I knew I would have time to remember my grandmother. But in the meantime I was able to spend time with people who love me just as unconditionally as she did.

And it made me feel grateful that the only mother I’d ever known had lived to see me become a mother. Not everyone is that lucky. And it made me think that, while feeling sad is okay, the reason I feel sad is a blessing. To move away from poetry to slightly more popular culture:

A heart that’s broken is a heart that was loved.
– Ed Sheeran

I am so sad to lose her because she was a good parent to me. And I’m finding the best way I can remember and honour her is to apply her example to my own parenting.

So here are some parenting lessons my grandma taught me.

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My grandma and me on my 1st birthday

She was always gentle

There is no doubt that she told me off and disciplined me when it was necessary. I remember having a tantrum so bad one time when she wouldn’t let me stay up late on New Year’s Eve one year because I’d done something naughty. I was pleading to stay up by crawling on the floor and accidentally bashed my buck front tooth on the floor, splitting it in half. Ouch!

But she didn’t yell at me. She reasoned with me. She told me when I was disappointing her. And I never wanted to disappoint her. She taught me the value of being good for its own sake. And no matter what I’d done, she was always ready to give me a big hug.

So this week, when my children tried my patience, instead of getting cross and shouting, I’ve been giving them big hugs. It’s surprising how easy it is to fix things with hugs.

She always listened

From when I was a toddler who wanted to pretend to be a cat or keep snails as pets, to being the woman who needed to talk about my PND, my grandmother always listened to me. I was always able to tell her absolutely anything and she would just listen. She wouldn’t tell me what to do. She didn’t judge me. She wouldn’t make it all about her. She wouldn’t change the subject. She would just quietly take it all in and say something comforting.

I want my children to tell me important things when they’re adults, so I’m going to listen to them starting now, even if it’s that same knock-knock joke I’ve heard a million times.

She shared my pride and gave me confidence

If I was proud of something I’d done, I could call and tell her about it and she would be just as enthusiastic as me. She would never be unimpressed, or think that the achievement could have been bigger or more prestigious. Right down to when I would try hard to dress up nicely for a meal out. I remember she would always say “ooohhh” in admiration for my looks. She never tried to make me be like her, or like she might have wanted me to be. She was impressed by who I was on my own terms.

Our children don’t always turn out to be who we expect, but we should always love them for being themselves and trying their best.

She taught me kindness

When my grandma first moved to Florida, she found her house was infested by small lizards and tree frogs. They were little green frogs that made noises like puppies barking. She would catch the frogs and gently put them outside. But they would keep coming in.

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Some people’s next move would be to call some sort of exterminator. But not my grandma. She put little dishes of water out all over the house so the frogs wouldn’t get dehydrated. She went to the pet shop and bought mealworms to feed them. Every evening before bed she would walk through her house calling the frogs and would hand-feed them those nasty little mealworms.

She fed the lizards too. And stray cats. Birds. Even the squirrels. They would all eat out of her hand like she was Snow White. If only they would have done the housework for her too!

Her example of kindness even for creatures that others treat as pests is something I remember every day. She taught me to turn inconvenience into a chance to be kind. I only hope that, through example, I can show my kids that it is always better (and easier) to be kind than to be cruel.

Moving forward

And so I am getting used to a world in which I can’t call my grandma and tell her about my day. She can’t share in my successes or commiserate with me about my failures. And it’s going to take me some time to get used to that. And I’m going to feel sad. And some days, I’m not going to be okay about it.

But I know that she hasn’t left me completely. She’s there when I hug my children, when I listen to them and talk to them softly. She’s there when I sing them to sleep. And I will never stop feeling grateful for her giving me a gift of love that I can pass on to my children.

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When my grandma first met my eldest.
Tammymum
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Mindfulness and coping with grief

Trigger warning:  the topics of losing a loved one and teenaged death are discussed in this post. 

I am going through a tough time at the moment. My grandmother, who raised me in my early years, is very ill. She is unresponsive in hospital, and it’s looking like I’ll never get to speak to her again. So although she is not completely gone yet, I am already missing her. I will probably be writing a few posts about my grief and in tribute to her when the time is right. In the meantime, I asked the wonderful Hayley from Mission: Mindfulness – the blog to share some thoughts on how to cope when we lose someone who means the world to us. Hayley’s thoughts here are helping me every moment that I wish I could hear my grandmother’s voice on the phone.

A guest post by Hayley from Mission: Mindfulness: the blog

Dear Reader,

Nicole wrote to me a few weeks ago asking me to write a guest post for The Mum Reviews blog. Nicole is a blogger buddy of mine who I didn’t want to let down, and I was honoured to be asked. I really wanted to write something that fitted with her remit of mindfulness and suffering a loss, yet I was fearful of writing such an important post. I am certainly no therapist and not an expert in grief management, but said I’d have a think and get back to her. And then yesterday I knew what I wanted to write, so here it is.   

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Today was the usual busy morning at our house.  Porridge being served.  Bread being toasted.  The radio blaring out.  The kids were, well, just being kids really …

And then suddenly an unexplained and unanticipated sadness hit me – coming from what seemed like nowhere. I was transported to a different place and time. But, as I tuned into the song on the radio, I recognised what was going on. Oasis’s “Masterplan” had started to play. My chest felt like I’d been squeezed too tightly in a big, unsolicited hug, and my eyes prickled in the familiar sensation I feel when tears are close.

Although nearly 20 years ago, the power of music was able to vividly remind me of a tragic event. A time when the fragility of life became palpable to me.

The time when my older sister’s boyfriend was suddenly taken from the world in a tragic car accident.

We’d all had a fabulous summer – working and playing together. It was the era of Britpop, and some of us were enjoying the twilight of our teenage years, while others were embarking on the beginning of their 20s. I recall the new Oasis album had been playing A LOT as we drove around the country roads of Lincolnshire, causing great debate. Some of us loved it – Adam, my sister’s boyfriend, being one.  Others of the group were not so sure.

That I remembered all of this as if it were yesterday is testament to how powerful music can be. At that moment, the sadness of losing Adam seemed as raw as it had at the end of the 90s.

And yet Adam had not been my sweetheart. Nor my son. Nor my grandson. Nor my  brother. Nor my best friend. And so I can only begin to imagine how many times, and how intensely, this happens to people who were these things to him. And as my thoughts overtake me, whisking me away from my residual feelings, I wonder: how did they cope?

Of course it would be crude to speak of a hierarchy of grief. Yet in reality it seems that the rawest of emotions come when a person is taken from us too young. By this I don’t just mean someone of a similar age, or younger, to the beautiful Adam, but even someone much, much older who still also seems to have so much life and living left. That sense of injustice and anger which mixes with the deep sadness of the grief must be an almost overpowering blend of emotions.  Understandably these can lead to very dark thoughts.

Until recently it has seemed the norm in our culture – in keeping with the idea of the British “stiff upper lip” – not to allow these thoughts and emotions to consume us. Rather, to distance ourselves from them as quickly as possible, to distract ourselves, or worse still for our “inner critic” to take over and berate us for not “coping” as we perceive we should.

Instead, Rumi, the 13th century Muslim poet (much quoted on Mindfulness courses and retreats) offers a different perspective. The suggestion is to allow these feelings and thoughts to freely come and freely go.  Without judgement.

To be with them for a moment or two. If that feels okay at that particular moment in time. To view these thoughts and feelings as passing guests and treat them accordingly.

This principle, so important to mindfulness, is eloquently described in Rumi’s poem The Guest House. 

The Guest House

Translated by Coleman Barks

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Wishing all who are going through difficult times at the moment much love.
Hayley xx

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Tammymum