4 months in...
4 months since I saw my son staring into the fridge with the door open.
4 months since he played his last rugby match.
4 months since I washed his last set of clothes.
4 months since his last 'comedy walk' through the living room.
And what a rollercoaster of a month June has been.
I initially wanted to write this blog post about character strengths. I use them in my work because I am passionate about them, I am fascinated by their place in our wellbeing and the vast amount of research outlining the benefits that they can bring us (if we get the balance and context of them right). However, writing just about strengths felt forced and prescriptive, and after all, this is not a Positive Psychology blog... just a blog of a bereaved Mother who happens to be a Positive Psychologist. So instead, using my most stable and top signature strength of Honesty, I write authentically about my fourth month into this journey, the ups, the downs, and the insights... and maybe just a little dip into how my character strengths are working to support me right now.
Feeling the feelings
The stark reality that my boy has gone forever has really hit home this month. I am reassured this is common after the initial (protective) shock wears off. In addition to the daily flashbacks which I still have, and the crushing sadness of the grief waves themselves, I began to have what I am now calling 'WTF moments'... moments I can only describe as sudden surges of reality of the absolute bloody finality of it all. These invariably begin with a flashback of what I know to be true, of what I saw on that day, but then also very quickly become like one of those theme park rides where the floor drops out suddenly from underneath you. They do the same thing to your stomach, you see. For me, these WTF moments cause a sea-sick kind of nausea, a headrush, and sometimes dizziness.
Despite the grief waves getting fiercer, not gentler (despite what most people around us think), I spent June continuing my commitment to facing all of the feelings that arise, no matter how difficult.
For much of his short life, Finn was an avid dancer. He performed at our local theatre several times, as well as various other events. Last month, one of the youth dance companies, of which he had been a member, invited me to attend their annual show - which they had beautifully dedicated to his memory in their programme. Honestly, I wasn't sure if I could do it... sitting in the same theatre where I had watched him perform so many times, on the same stage, with some of the same kids? I thanked them kindly, but I didn't confirm. I spent a few weeks making excuses in my own head as to why I couldn't possibly go - I am breastfeeding, I can't take the baby, I have other places to be. Then I thought about my daughter, the second avid dancer in our family, and soon realised that my example to her was not only important, it was vital. So, after confirming our attendance, I took my 5 year old to watch the beautiful, and moving performance. Despite crying my way through the show. I was grateful to have attended, honoured that they wanted to dedicate that beautiful performance to my talented son, and proud of myself for facing my fears.
I have heard it said often that we do not 'get over' our grief, we simply grow stronger around it. Only time will teach me if that is true. I only know that if it is true, facing it head on is the only way I will possibly hope to do this.
Pride and Joy
The phrase Pride and Joy is one I have never thought about much. However, I have felt a huge sense of both pride and joy for my other children this month... my eldest son has somehow managed to finish college, despite my urging for him to take as much time as he needed. He didn't, because he wanted to do things his own way, which I absolutely commend him for. Promptly after his final exams he took his girlfriend on holiday. I insisted that yes, I would be very happy in fact to deliver them and collect them both from the airport, (admittedly partly to control my own anxiety about sending them up into the sky in a fast moving vehicle under the control of someone else's piloting). Of course, they were fine. They rode quad bikes across the bare ground and swam under a waterfall in the sunlight, returning to the safety of my car at 3am on a Tuesday morning. I drove them home with a combination of coffee-induced excitement and immense relief, proud of their spirit in continuing living their young lives with such admirable zest and enthusiasm.
My young daughter also, of course, wanted to do things her own way. So much so, that following a lovely impromptu camping trip and visit to a castle we took at the start of the month, she competitively decided to make her own junk modelling castle, partly to 'out-do' another child in her reception class in exchange for class commendation points. Her castle moat, complete with rainbow water made from ripped up pieces of coloured tissue paper, blew behind her in the windy playground like a trail of joyful confetti. In return, she landed herself not only her desired class points, but also a Headteachers award, and a certificate for class star of the week. Not bad for a heavily grieving 5 year old.
This month, it has begun to astound me that people have started to avoid Finn's name in conversation, as if it will somehow upset me. I see faces freeze when I mention him, as if I might be suddenly shaken from my calm exterior into a 'remembering' of my own intense pain. How can they not know how many triggers a bereaved parent faces in a day without their child alive in the world? Of course I remember Finn's life, and now his death, every minute of the day... in the supermarket as I choose cereal, on every street in our town, on the face of every teenager that passes me, in every song on the radio, in the bathroom cabinet, in the car, in the shower, in the garden, and in the many, many fleeting memories of our lives that run through our heads as human beings. I so want to tell them please not to stop mentioning his name, never, ever, because it is not my fault he died, and the physical absence of him is enough of a punishment. Yet, I understand that that is about me, and not them. Maybe they just can't.
Some triggers are harder than others. Like suddenly being at the back of a MacDonald's on the hottest day of the year, in the middle of an increasing swarm of teenagers shouting, laughing, sharing videos and being generally very much alive. YES to wanting to escape. YES to mindfully accepting that my own anxiety was being massively triggered, and YES to breathing through it rather than running for the door.
So, as for character strengths... Well, my signature strengths are Honesty, Hope, Gratitude, Perspective and Love... Not only did they all show up in June to help get me through and find ways to move forward, but I also leaned back into them like a bunch of good friends.
If you want to check out yours, they can be found here: www.viacharacter.org