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  • Writer's pictureAbi Gibbs

Positive Psychology in the darkest of times...

Welcome to The Phoenix Project blog... a space to speak my truth.


Living with loss; loss of a child; suicide survival; Positive Psychology


Normally a blog starts with 'Who am I?'

This is a tricky question to answer on today of all days - Mother's Day 2022.


I am Abi, 39, and the Mother of 3 beautiful living children, the eldest of whom is 19, the youngest, just 12 weeks old. I am also the Mother to another child, who lived to 15. My son, Finn, passed away just four weeks ago, after taking his own life.


So... why a blog?

I have considered this question long and hard in the last few weeks.


Very early on I had an instant need to seek out others who had been through the same awful experience as myself. Sadly, I soon found many. In fact, it shocked me how many. What I sought from them was not support as such, but hope. Hope that I would survive the incredible pain that is losing a child to suicide. Hope that I would one day be able to experience a sense of peace. Hope that the guilt I felt would not consume me so fully that I would not be able to care for my other children, two of whom are still very young. I knew within days of Finn's death that I wanted to help others from my tragic experience of loss. I just didn't know how this would look. This blog is hopefully a place for me to help both myself, and others.


Me, Etta (3) and Finn (14)


In addition to my role as a Mother, I am also a qualified Positive Psychology Practitioner. The irony of this was not lost on me - in fact, I have spent a lot of time battling with this as I consider how this even begins to fit into my grief. I have asked many questions of myself around this.

Why couldn't I prevent this happening, with all my knowledge, experience and awareness of the human mind?

Why didn't I notice the place my son was in at the time he decided to leave us?

How could I continue to call myself a Positive Psychologist when I was in so much pain?

What was even remotely positive within this awful situation...? One of the most painful questions for me also arose; did Finn misunderstand Positive Psychology and think that this meant 'pretending' to be positive when you aren't feeling that way? For the first week or two I agonised over these questions (among the many, many others). These will be answered in the fullness of time. I aim to be bravely authentic in how I go about this - because if nothing else, there is way too much shame around this subject. This only serves to add to the overwhelming sense of guilt that a parent experiences when they go through this. The only way to reduce shame is to speak the truth.


I honestly did not expect to find anything in Positive Psychology that could help me at this time. In the past, through deep trauma and pain, my belief and knowledge of Positive Psychology had always found something to offer me. For example, despite the painful circumstances of our lives, there was always something I found to be grateful for... even at my very worst points, I gripped tightly onto the only thing I could find to be grateful for - that my children were all still alive.


So now what...?


What I very soon found is that not only do I still deeply believe that there is always something to be grateful for, but that an experience such as this can actually amplify that gratitude. Not all the time, definitely not every minute of the day, but for moments at a time. I am well aware that I am lucky and blessed to have other children, and that not everyone has this. I cannot imagine the extra emotions that accompany the loss of a parent's only child. What I can tell you, however, is that having other children does not 'make up' for the loss of the child you had. They are different people, and your unique relationships are different with them; as individual and unique as each and every relationship in your life. There are things I wish to tell my son that only he would understand. There are things I laughed with him about that only we would understand... and I will forever miss that. Deeply.


Gratitude

So what am I grateful for today? On my first Mother's Day after losing my son.

I am grateful for my other children, absolutely, and without question.

I am also grateful for my son, Finn, and the life he had. Yes, this was so very much shorter than I wished it had been, and yes, the way he left us brings me unimaginable pain. But despite this, I can somewhere inside find a sense that I would still rather have loved and parented my beautiful boy than to have not known him at all. It was an honour to be his Mum, even with all the challenges and pain this has brought.

I am also grateful that from the moment he passed until today, I have been able to see the beauty and care in various people around me. Yes, this has not been across the board - some people have been unkind, hurtful and insensitive. I have very quickly learnt how to put in stronger boundaries than I have ever done before. One thing others further along on this journey have said is that you will soon see who your real friends are. This is hugely true. This has come as a shock, in ways both beautiful, and undeniably painful. People have surprised me, over and over again - not by perfect words (there aren't any), not by perfect actions (none will bring Finn back), but by trying their best to show me how much they care and helping me to feel less alone. Today, I could not be more grateful for that.



So what now?

This blog is a space for me to be honest and authentic about my experience of losing a child to suicide, from a Positive Psychology perspective, but also as a grieving Mother. It will evolve over time, in the same way that me, my grief and my new self will evolve over time. It is not meant as an expert guide, I am far from an expert. It is not meant as advice, though if it helps someone find even a small sense of hope at a much-needed time, I will be very glad. People's own grief journeys are entirely unique, and there is lots of information on how differently we process loss. This is just mine.


With authenticity, love and care.

Abi x

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