This is a collection of things that helped me in my darkest hours of grief. I think one thing I’ve learned is that everyone deals with grief differently, so what I found helpful might not necessarily help others but nonetheless, these are the things that helped me through. I’ll continue to add to this as I think of things.
#1 Talking- when we first lost Nieve my mind felt like a giant ball of cotton in a tangled mess. I felt the need to sort through it and begin to unravel the knots in my mind and I found as many different ways to do that as I could.
Talking helped me process and talking I did. After we lost Nieve I needed to share what happened again and again and again. I now know that the biggest mistake other people make is thinking that we DON’T want to talk about it- that they are protecting us by avoiding the subject. The truth is other people aren’t protecting us, they’re protecting themselves. I’ve been guilty of it myself before I walked with my own grief. In the early days I felt the need to ‘coach’ some people on how to handle our grief. I would message them before seeing them to tell them that we wanted to talk about what happened. I’ve also learned that some people feel the need to say or do the right things, to try to ‘fix’ you somehow. I’ve found that the best thing is to tell people exactly what you need as most people just want to help.
I began sending emails to my brother as a space where I could express myself without necessarily needing a response but could still feel ‘heard’. I also sent emails to Nieve in an email address we had set up for her when I was pregnant and I found it helped me to still feel connected to her. I think writing is such a powerful way of exploring your feelings because you tend not to repeat or go round in circles like you can do when you’re speaking.
I felt a strong urge to connect with other people who had experienced baby loss themselves. I joined the ‘Sands’ forum and connected with other women who had experienced loss-Suddenly I wasn’t alone any more, I had other women standing by my side and helping me through. I got a sense of reward from helping them too. Some of these ladies became close friends who I still speak to daily and have been amazing support to me as I hope I have been able to be for them. I joined bereavement and baby loss groups- these were another great source of support for me, a safe space where I could talk about Nieve to people who understood. I also connected with people who were long ago bereaved. I wanted to know what life could be like at the other side of the heartbreak, what the future could look like. I found that acquaintances and friends of friends who had experienced baby loss reached out to me to offer support and I welcomed this with open arms as these were the people who’d walked my exact path – people who are now living full lives and who served as beacons of hope during dark times.
I started counselling straight away and I was lucky as my area offered free bereavement support although this was only on a bi-weekly basis so I ended up paying for privates sessions too. Counselling was a tremendous help and I learned lots of helpful techniques to deal with my grief and negative feelings. I believe that am I becoming a more rounded person because of it and I definitely feel more resilient.
#2 Accepting that people grieve differently. Matt and I did it differently right from the start. He wanted to be proactive in the face of grief and I felt the need to emerse myself in my feelings. I think the thing that helped us to stay strong as a couple was communicating very clearly about what we each needed. At first he felt the need to ‘fix me’ when I cried and in the end I had to tell him that he didn’t really need to do or say anything other than to hug me and to be there. I also learned to respect that he needed to keep busy with tasks. At first I found it difficult to comprehend that he wanted to spend time fixing his car after our daughter had just died but I grew to understand that he needed to find purpose for his time. We did it very differently, very separately yet we did it together, alongside one another. I cried daily, he cried rarely -but I understand that people can experience the same emotion and express it in different ways.
We’ve learned more about each other through this experience and have a new respect for each other’s strength which has brought us so much closer together. We don’t seem to get bogged down in trivialities any more as we see what a waste of energy they are. It was right after losing Nieve that we decided that we wanted to get married- it’s in honour of Nieve’s memory and a testament to the bond which has withstood the agony of losing our child.
#3 Positivity. In the face of the most awful tragedy, it was so difficult to stay positive. But there is something about the human spirit and its strive to survive that forces you to try to be positive. I found it very strange (and felt incredibly guilty) that I could find things to laugh about daily amidst the worst tragedy of my entire life. The human spirit wants to survive and to thrive and I think that’s why in the end, we get up and keep going.
I started keeping a positivity diary which I filled out daily. Each day I wrote down something I was thankful for and something I had achieved. Sometimes this was tiny things like being thankful for a morning of sunshine or the thing that I had achieved was merely getting up and showered and dressed, but the whole process added light into my life during a time of darkness. It switched my perspective from being continually bitter about my daughter’s death, to reminding myself of all the beauty I did have in my life.
Matt and I made a list of mantras- positive statements which helped me to stay strong in the early days and I recorded these on the ‘think up’ app which allows you to record positive affirmations in your own voice and set them to a music piece of your choice. I listened to it daily and found it became like a song that gets stuck in your head as the affirmations would go round my head when I wasn’t even listening to it. These are some of the affirmations I used:
- Matt and I have each other
- Every difficult day is another step towards healing
- Even the darkest days have some light
- We will be happy again
- Sometimes you can’t see the tiny steps you make towards peace
- Things will get better, we’ll have more positivity as time goes on
- We still have each other, no matter what
- I choose thoughts that make me feel good
- We will still have a family
#4 Celebrating milestones. At the start of our grief journey I felt lost in a very black hole and I felt like there was no way out. One thing that really helped me was to recognise the tiny steps of progress I was making and try to celebrates each small success. It became like a grief to do list and helped me to see that even though the pain was still the same, I was moving forwards. Theses are the sorts of things I included:
- Can be alone for an hour/ half a day/ feel comfortable being alone
- Can concentrate on a TV show/ a film/a magazine/ a book
- Go out to a pub/ for a meal
- Can attend a social outing with close friends/ with aquaintences
- Can make small talk with a stranger
- Can drive alone
- Take care of my appearance- dress up/ do make up
- Go shopping alone/ travel somewhere alone
- Go into a public space with a baby/ smile at a mum and baby/ ask about a friend’s baby/ see a friend’s baby
- Not feel overwhelmed by emotions- half a day/one day/one week/ a fortnight
- Look forward to getting up in the morning
- Develop a daily routine
#5 Accupuncture. I went to weekly Accupuncture after losing Nieve and it really helped me to relax and gain more control over my emotions. My acupuncturist was a women’s specialist and had met ladies who had experienced different kinds of baby loss before so she was the ideal specialist for me.