Written by Sarah Pridham, mum of Jasper, for Still Aware.
Continuing from my previous blog about the life lessons that I have learnt since the loss of our son, here is Life Lesson #6.
“I have heard it said that the greatest loss a human being can experience is the loss of a child. This is true. It doesn’t just change you, it demolishes you. The rest of your life is spent on another level” – Gloria Vanderbilt.
There is no fancy title or name for this life lesson (sorry about that) – it quite simply is about how much my perspectives and outlook on life and many things to do with life changed following the loss of our son. The first 27 years of my life ended at 9:31am on the 28thof August 2017 (when our son passed away at 31 minutes old) and the new chapter of my life started at that exact moment in time. Yet again it is amazing how much 60 seconds can change your life! Basically, there was the me before the loss and the me after the loss and to be honest I am not sure how much of me actually remained the same ‘old’ me (I guess the only people that would be able to answer that would be those closest to me – but I don’t really want to know).
The first significant perspective that changed was how my world had literally been turned upside down – I tell a lot of people about this thought and a lot ask me what I mean. Basically I spent 37 weeks and 6 days (the time I was pregnant for before going into labour) thinking about just how different life would be – realising that life was no longer about anything else other than our child, every decision that we had to make would be based around this one tiny human being – now the most important person in our life and world. I spent that time imagining and thinking about family holidays, Christmas time, first birthdays and of course Mother’s Day and I also spent this time thinking about the kind of mother that I wanted to be. It really was 37 weeks and 6 days of going from being so excited too nervous to excited again (and you get the picture!). So, after spending all this time adjusting my perspectives and outlooks on life and how life was going to be – that perspective got flipped on its head the moment we lost our son and suddenly I was walking upside down in this world. Life went from just being my husband and I – to 37 weeks and 6 days of changing our perspective on our life to include a third member into our family – to suddenly going back to just my husband and me once again.
When I write these blogs and sit here and think back along my journey so far (and writing this one it has been 17 months today since our loss) it amazes me to really think about how much my outlook on things have changed. Things that used to be important to me suddenly weren’t (and things that weren’t important suddenly were), things that used to interest me didn’t anymore (and things that didn’t interest me at all suddenly did), things that used to annoy me seemed to stop annoying me (and things that never used to annoy or bother me, suddenly started to), things that I used to enjoy doing didn’t anymore (and things that I never thought that I would enjoy doing I suddenly did). Really the list could go on and on, but I think by now you get my point. It really is amazing just what loss can really do to people. Let me explain a couple of different perspectives and outlooks that changed for me in further detail, so that you can see in a little bit more detail what I mean.
I used to love flowers – loved having them around me and loved receiving them (tulips were my favourite). Funny how something as simple as my perspective on flowers can change so much following the loss- I started to receive flowers in the hospital the day that our son passed away – I know that it was thoughtful and lovely of those people who were sending them to us, but I remember thinking how people are meant to receive flowers with ‘congratulations’ cards and balloons on them following the birth of a baby – instead I was receiving ones with ‘thinking of you’ or ‘I am sorry for your loss’. Then we got home, and the flowers and cards kept coming – surrounding me everywhere in the house, reminding me that we should be receiving completely different flowers. Then, of course, more flowers with the funeral (which ended up back at home). The thing with flowers is they die – they don’t last forever – even though I was dealing with so much death around me already, I was then dealing with the reminder every time I looked at the flowers that were starting to die around me as well. So, this left me with my new dislike for flowers (apart from tulips) the only flowers I like are any of the roses that come from our son’s memorial garden.
My outlook on life changed a lot as well – in the first couple of months the grief was so intense and consuming that I really thought I was going to quite literally cry myself to death. Then one of many sleepless nights I started a fundraiser – I was so nervous (I had never done one before and I really didn’t want it to be unsuccessful) but I knew that I wanted to do something positive in our son’s memory. I had realised that as his mother, I needed to still find a way to be his mother and that he could still live on and that his memory could still live on through me. So, I set up an online fundraiser, and long story short it turned into this very large movie night fundraiser where I had managed to raise a total of $11,400 (Of course I did have a lot of assistance and help from friends and family members). This money was then used to purchase various items that were then distributed between 6 different hospitals around Adelaide and regional Adelaide for supporting other parents that would unfortunately experience the tragic loss of a baby – a Cuddle Cot was donated to the Crystal Brook hospital, a Jaundice Meter was donated to the Wallaroo hospital, memory boxes and copies of the book “Saying Goodbye” were donated between the above two hospitals as well as Flinders Private, Lyell McEwin, Women’s and Children’s and Ashford Private hospital.
Once this fundraiser was completed I knew that I was on the right path to what I wanted to be doing in our sons memory – it didn’t take away the intense grief, or the journey of life after loss, however it did make my outlook on my immediate future change because I knew that by doing things like this it was still a way that I was able to be a mother to our son. So, I then joined Sill Aware as a volunteer ambassador and started to write these blogs. I also started to plan my second fundraiser, which is called “Footprints in the Sand” (to be held in 5 weeks today) and have a couple of other things in the start lines as well – but I’m not announcing those just yet either. A lot of people as me if all these things that I do have help/or do help me with the pain and loss itself, and to those people I will answer – NO! My perspective of my situation changed dramatically one night when I realised that I was still a mother and that I had two options – to do nothing for our son and his memory or to do as much as possible, and of course I chose the second option. It doesn’t work for everyone and it isn’t something that everyone will want to do, but for me, I knew that I wanted to give my son as much as I could in his memory and to make the love that I have for him continue on and so this is how I will continue to move forward with this long journey of grief and loss.
Honestly I could probably write a book on how my perspectives, views and outlooks have changed, but to end this blog I want to discuss the smaller ways in which they have changed – hopefully there will be some people out there that may read this blog and haven’t been through baby loss themselves, that can read this part and gain a greater understanding on just how deep the journey of life after loss is for bereaved parents. Questions – they are just as common in our lives as eating breakfast or having a shower, they are so common that sometimes we don’t even realise how many times a day we are asked a question or how many times a day we answer a question. Well something as simple as a question is completely changed to a bereaved parent as well. I used to enjoy meeting new people and getting to know them – now the initial contact just fills me with dread and anxiety and for me, brings up the most painful question that I can ever be asked. You say hello, introduce yourself and then at that moment the pit in my stomach starts to swell (like to ocean on a rough day) and then the question comes…” Do you have any children?” and in that moment of time I am instantly transported back to the 28thof August 2017 and all of the pain and intense grief floods me all at once. I have heard from a lot of other bereaved parents that in that moment they have to decide on one of two options – do they answer that they do not have any children, or do they answer that they do but their child is no longer with them, well for me I have only ever had one option as a reply. I would never think of telling someone that I didn’t have a child – for me this just isn’t an option, so the reply (fairly practised in the early stages of grief I may add) is always the same, or very similar “our son passed away just after he was born”. I’m not even going to discuss what happens with the reply in this situation as I am just trying to portray to those that haven’t been through this how something as simple as a question is forever permanently filled with dread and anxiety for the rest of my future.
Apart from questions there was one other small thing that I changed my outlook on quite quickly after our loss – something as similar and regular as a question but even harder to face and that is paperwork. Again, just like a question paperwork is something that is so regular and common in adulthood – something that I used to just sit there and do and be done with and it really didn’t bother me. Well funny how things can change so quickly. Of course there is the horrible paperwork that you fill out whilst you are still in hospital following the loss – the Centrelink forms, the funeral forms, the birth and death certificate paperwork and then the paperwork with the police to state that you have viewed the deceased’s body and you have to sign off on it (well I did anyway) – as hard as all of this paperwork is, I’m not actually talking about this paperwork. A couple of months after I received a simple survey (one where you can fill it in for feedback, but you have a chance then at winning some money) so I thought I may as well try. Well this was one of those horrible light bulb moments where I realised just how much simple things had changed. I was about 70% through the survey when the next question popped up – “how many children do you have?”. I started at the screen blankly – what answer do I put?! I soon realised that I had to select the 0 option. There was no ‘other’ option or ‘leave a comment’ section there was simply only one option for me to use and it felt so wrong – so I had to select 0. I was just left sitting there feeling like a terrible mother. I couldn’t select 1 because he wasn’t physically here with us but at the same time, he is still our child and we ae still parents so how could I just select 0 like he meant nothing to us, like he didn’t exist. Well I didn’t have a choice – I selected the option, completed the survey and then just sat there in silence (I cant even say how long for), but at some point it sparked the thought, a thought that I hadn’t yet had and that was about how many times will I be faced with this question in paperwork in the future, for the rest of my life – for the rest of my life I will forever be filling out paperwork and be left feeling like I have done something horrible in our sons memory, be put in a dark place where for that moment in time I wasn’t able to acknowledge him or include him in our family or everyday life. I even realised that if we do ever have another child, I will still be placed in a horrible situation when completing paperwork – instead of selecting #2 as an option to this question, I will only be able to select #1 and he will never be able to be included in the ‘formal’ parts of our life.
I don’t think people that haven’t experienced this type of loss realise just the depth of how much changes in our life – not just for one moment in time, or for the first year, but for every moment in time of every year for the rest of our lives. I hope that some of these people take the time to read this blog so that they can start to contemplate in their own mind a little to do with the depth of this loss and how much it changes your outlook and perspective on life. It’s the small, every day ways that your life is affected which are the hardest to face and deal with.
I try to live each day for our son – try to be the best version of myself that I can and try to continue to honour his memory and continue to build his legacy. There are many days and times where this is truly difficult to do, and I still have days where I just want to curl up in bed and not face the day. I continue to take life one day at a time and try to appreciate the small things as much as possible throughout these days, at times I struggle but then I remind myself that I have been changed by the loss of our son. There are four main tasks of grieving – to accept the reality of the loss, to process the pain of the grief, to adjust to a world without the deceased person and to find a connection to the deceased whilst embarking on a new life. Death doesn’t just change your perspective and outlook on life, it really does change you to the core – it’s just different for everyone.
“I am not the person I was before that moment in time. I will forever look at myself under the lens of loss. I have been broken and put back together. I have known grief. I am fragile. I have scars. I am weak, and I am strong. I am filled with happy memories and sad regrets. I consider myself changed, perhaps for the better or perhaps for the worse. It depends on the day. But I am changed. Death has changed me”.