Sunday, 30 March 2014

When A Child Dies

It seems like it's getting further and further between blog posts, as life is so busy.  I want to continue my blog because it's a record of our family, but I also don't want to feel pressure to blog, just because I feel like it's about time I did a post.

I want to record things that are important for me and my boys - things we are going through, events that I know they will want to remember, and the every day little things that make me laugh.

But I also hope that things that I share and say may help someone, somewhere.  I often get lovely comments, emails and messages from people saying that what we have gone through has helped them, and I guess that's another reason that I continue to blog, even if the posts are spreading out more and more. 

Over the last few months I've gotten messages from strangers, asking me how they can best help someone they know whose child has just passed away.    It's such a hard question to answer as each person is so different, and everyone's journey of grief is so different.

We all have our own experiences which shape who we are, what we believe, and how we deal with things, but it has made me think about the things that I can share with others, about how to help someone who has recently (or not so recently) lost someone.  

In this post I will focus on the things I have learnt after Noah passed away.  Losing a child and losing your husband is so different, and really can't be compared. The ways to help in these different situations can be very similar, but also very different, so I may do another post in the future about how to help someone whose partner has passed away.

The things I'm going to say are nothing new.  It's probably been written about hundreds of times before, but I haven't read very much about grief and the stages or how to help others through their grief.  It's just too much going through it.  I haven't felt like reading about it would help me at all.

These are the things that I've learnt since Noah passed away.  If someone's child dies:

Be There
...depending on how close you are to the person.  Having heaps of visitors just after someone has passed away can be too hard, especially if they are people you aren't close to.  If you want to let someone know you are thinking of them, but you would never have dropped into their house any other time, then don't go.   Send them a card, an email or a text instead.  It's lovely to know that so many people care, but it's so hard to talk to so many people when you are just surviving, especially people that you don't feel comfortable with. 

If you are a close friend, you may not know what to say or do and that's okay. Just be there.   Be honest and tell them you don't know what to say, but just be there and listen.  It's better to say that you don't know what to say, than to say things that are going to hurt more because you feel awkward.

If they don't want to talk, still just be there. Just hold them, hug them and let them know you are there for them no matter what. Get busy around the house and just let them know you are there.
In The Early Days
Don't say 'let me know if there's anything I can do'.  Everyone means well when you say this, but when you are overwhelmed with grief and shock, you don't even know what you want.  Just jump in and do something - anything.

Help in practical ways.  The last thing you feel like doing is eating, let alone cooking.  Drop off meals in disposable trays or plates, so they don't have to worry about which dish belongs to who, and how and when to get it back to you.  If they have a big freezer bring meals that can be frozen. You don't feel like cooking and eating for months afterwards, so it's nice to be able to pull out a frozen meal when you're having a particularly hard day.

If they have other kids, bring food for school lunches.  It's such a help to have pre-made sandwiches and treats which you can pull out of the freezer. 

Ask if you can help at all with funeral arrangements.  Can you help find and sort out photos, or help make a special display?  Do they need help finding an outfit to dress their child in?  Do they want help with dressing their child.   Do they need help with other things like arranging flowers or providing food for afterwards?   How are they going to pay for the funeral?  Do they need help with this?  You may not be in a position to help personally, but may be able to work out a way to help them.
If they have kids ask if they would like you to take the kids out for some fun, for a few hours.  They may be grateful to have some quiet time, where they can let the tears flow without worrying the kids, or they may want to keep them closer than ever before.  Just ask and see how they're feeling.

Special Gifts
Send a card.  It seems like something little, and at the time you get many cards, but months and years later it's so nice to be able to pull them out and reread them again.  It reminds you that so many people care.

After Noah passed away we were given beautiful and thoughtful gifts from many people.  These things meant so much as they acknowledged Noah and how much we loved and missed him.  We were given beautiful jewellery and figurines, plants for the garden to plant in memory of him, books, photo frames, quilts, vouchers for meals and many other things. 

Stick Around
Don't just be there early on, but be there weeks, months and years later.  Send cards months later just to let them know you're thinking of them.    Remember their child's birthday and know that this will be one of the hardest days. Send them a message or a card, to let them know that their child hasn't been forgotten.   Know that Christmas and Easter and every other holiday now feels so different, and are especially hard. 

Grief is so lonely.  The days are long and the nights are even longer.  It's especially hard when their partner goes back to work for the first time after their child has passed away.  Invite your friend to join you for lunch or a play at the park with their other kids, but don't be offended if they aren't up to it.  Keep asking.  There will be days when they want to get out, and other days when they are just wanting to be alone.
Mention Their Name
 Their child passed away.  They were once here.  Mention their name and talk about them.  Cry about them, and laugh about them.  You may be scared to mention their name as you don't want to upset them or make them cry, but they're sad anyway.   They're always sad.  It means so much when someone mentions your child's name, because you realise that they are missed by others, not just you.
Don't Act Like Nothing Happened
A beautiful couple from church recently lost their three month old baby, very suddenly.   I wasn't close to them, but knew that they wanted to talk to me so I went to visit them as soon as I could.

The husband apologised to me and said he was so sorry that he didn't hug me more after Noah and Aaron passed away.    He said he was away when Aaron passed away, and he was very nervous about seeing me for the first time when he came home.  He said he came to church and expected to see everyone hugging me, but no one was.   He said all he wanted to do was give me a hug, but because no one else was, he didn't feel like he should.

When his daughter passed away, he then realised that all they wanted was hugs and acknowledgement that it had happened.  He said he was sorry he never hugged me,  and said 'everyone needs hugs'.   Since that day, every time we see each other we give each other a hug.
It hurts so much when people just act like everything is 'normal'.   Life is anything but 'normal' now and just someone saying  'you're in my prayers', 'I'm thinking of you', 'how has your week been?' or giving you a hug or a rub on the back as they walk past, means a lot. 

Words Can Hurt
Sometimes people say things, hoping to help, but instead they can really hurt.

"You're lucky they won't turn into a teenager" (I'd give anything for him to be here and to be a teenager!).

"You're so lucky you have your other boys" (yes I am, but I felt anything but lucky at the time).

"You're so strong, you'll be okay".  (There are many days when I don't feel strong, and I don't want the pressure of having to act like things are okay). 

"Isn't it wonderful that we know that 'families are forever''. "Thank goodness for the gospel" (yes it is wonderful, and it's good to be reminded sometimes that we will see them again, and our beliefs do help as we know that this life isn't 'the end', but when you have to live 50-80 years without someone, and your heart literally feels broken and you can not imagine ever feeling any joy again, you just want someone to acknowledge how hard it is, despite believing what you do). 

Ask and Listen
Ask how they're doing, and be prepared for the answer.  If you don't want to really know the real answer, then it's better not to ask.   You know when someone genuinely wants to know how you are, and when someone just wants to hear the words 'I'm good'.  We know you can't fix things, but just listening helps. 
Don't Compare
Don't assume that you know what they're going through, even if you have lost a child yourself.  Don't compare your grief to theirs.  Everyone is different, and has different experiences.  At the time you can't even think about what others have been through, and it puts pressure on you to stop feeling the way you do.
An Hour at a Time
I used to hear the phrase 'just taking it a day at a time'.  Grief isn't like that at all.  You don't take it a day at a time.  You can wake up feeling okay, but an hour later you can feel overwhelmed with grief.   You can wake up feeling terrible, but then by lunch time you feel like you can face the day.

Be aware that your friend is taking things just an hour at a time.  Check on them regularly.  Ring them in the morning, then send them a text at the end of the day.   They may not always have the energy to talk in person or on the phone, but just somehow let them know you care.

Let Them Grieve
It's hard to watch someone in so much pain, but allow them to deal with it how they need to. It's okay if they want to stay in bed, as much as it's okay if they want to keep busy.  Don't tell them that they should or shouldn't be doing something.  No one should feel like they're being rushed along the road of grief.  It takes years and years, and there will be many bad days and better days for a long, long time.  

It's okay to cry.  Let them cry, and cry.  “Don't be ashamed to weep; 'tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.” 

If they want to talk about what happened, let them.  Part of the healing is talking about the details.

Don't tell them that it's time to 'move on'.  'Moving on' is such an awful term. It makes you feel like you are leaving them behind.  No one wants to leave their child behind and forget them.  All a parent can do it to try to work out best how to continue on without their child here on earth.

If they're having a terrible day don't assume they're not coping.  If it's months when they are really struggling, then maybe they need some extra help to get through it, but they're going to have many terrible days, before there are some better ones.

If they're talking a lot about them years later and are still sad, it's okay.  They will love and miss them forever. 

If they're having a 'good' day don't just assume that they're doing okay.  They may be out and about and smiling and talking, but their heart is still broken and they still need your love and support. 
I will probably remember a lot of other things after I've posted this, but hopefully this will help someone who may not be sure how to help a friend, after their child has passed away.  Many of the things I mentioned are the same for when someone's partner passes away,  but there are also other things that I will share later, that are only specific to losing a partner.

It's a long and lonely road, but with great friends the journey can be made a lot easier.  I believe that this is one of the ways that Heavenly Father works - through others.  I'm so grateful for special friends and family who have loved and supported me, and allowed me to deal with things how I have.   Without them it would be a lot harder every day.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Take Me Back

I noticed that Aaron's old laptop was getting full, so I started to go through old files to see if anything could be deleted.  I came across this gorgeous videos of my boys in 2006.  I love watching the way that Jay interacted with Noah and seeing Noah's face light up when he hears his names and when Jay touches him.

Jay and I had a great laugh while watching this and Jay said 'I'm Kobe!!'.  His attitude is totally like Kobe.  It gives me hope to know that Kobe will hopefully one day grow out of it too :)

I wish so much I could go back to these days.  They were hard days as Noah always needed a lot of care, but I would give anything to have it all back.  

Monday, 24 March 2014

Smooth Kobe

Kobe has been begging me to buy him a suit jacket to wear to church for ages.  He was in luck on Saturday as they were half price, and he was so excited.  He tried it on in the shop and wanted to wear it around all day.  When he put it on he started walking around like he was the coolest thing ever.

He was so excited to wear it to church on Sunday.  He cracked me up as he sat there in his jacket looking all spiritual, but he was reading Harri's 'Avengers' book.   Aaron would seriously be so proud of him - looking smooth and also reading something that he loved too :) 

Monday, 17 March 2014

I wish they were never here

Grief is such a long journey.  At times I feel like we are starting to get on top of things a little bit, but it never lasts long.  It seems like the four of us are never feeling 'okay' at the same time.  It's so exhausting having to deal with my own grief, as well as helping the boys through theirs.

Each of the boys have struggled in their own ways since Noah and Aaron passed away, and at the moment it's Harri who is struggling the most.   He has been struggling a lot since the summer holidays, and I hoped that starting school would help to settle things down, but it seems to have made it worse.

He was excited to start doing Rainbows again, as he knew that it helped him a lot last year, but it doesn't seem to be helping him as much as it did last time.  He said that it makes him sad to go, as it makes him think about Aaron and Noah more. He has been very teary every day, but especially at bed time.  He's having trouble sleeping, having nightmares, is very anxious and has started sleep walking again.
A couple of weeks ago I realised how busy I have been with work, and how much the boys were feeling it, especially Harri.  I told him that I felt like I haven't been spending very much time with him lately, and he looked at me like I had gone crazy and said 'I see you all the time Mum!'.  I told him that seeing each other, and actually doing some fun things together was different, and he then started crying and agreed with me.  I asked him if he wanted to go on a special date - just the two of us.  At first he was excited, but then he started crying again and said it made him feel sad because the last time he had a special date was with Aaron and I just after Noah passed away.

I told him it was up to him, and he decided that a little shopping trip in town and Cold Rock sounded like fun. 
It's nice to see him smile, but unfortunately it doesn't stay for too long.  He keeps on crying lately saying that he wished people didn't have to die and asks why two people from our family had to die.  He has been looking at their photos, and then saying to me that he wishes they were never here. 

When I asked him why he says that, he says it's because then he wouldn't be sad. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Half The Teacher He Was

My brother Chrish messaged me the other day asking me if I was still alive, as he was worried as I hadn't blogged for a while.  I told him I'm only just alive, as I'm so busy and tired and feeling like I can't get anything done, let alone find time to blog.

It's a 'good' busy and tired though, as I am working every day, teaching at two different schools and I love it.  Even though my work is part time, my hours are spread out over five days, so it feels like I'm working full time.  On my shorter days I end up spending a lot of time after work getting things done, so my 'half' day often becomes a full day. 

I spend a lot of time at night and on weekends getting things ready for school, and keep telling the boys that it won't always be like this, because I feel like it's all I'm doing at the moment.    I know I have to make myself leave school when my hours are over, and have to spend more time doing other things otherwise I will never have any time 'off', but it's nice to have something else to focus on and put my energy into. 

I love my job teaching EAL - English as an Additional Language.  It's a challenging job in many ways, but so rewarding at the same time.   At the moment I'm teaching four siblings who are refugees from Afghanistan.  They have now been in Australia for just over six months and amaze me with how fast they learn and how well they have adapted to their new life.  
They still have very limited English, but are becoming more confident every day.  The first week they were very quiet around me, but now their personalities are coming out and they are very cheeky at times.  They make me laugh every day with the things they say and do.   One day one of the boys was being silly so his sister said he was being 'cray cray' (meaning 'crazy').  I cracked up laughing and asked her where she learnt to say that and she said 'television' :) 

Another day we were singing the song 'heads, shoulders, knees and toes' and we decided to sing it really fast.   They cracked up laughing as we were singing it so fast, and I said 'oh that was too fast!' to which the girl said 'sing three fast!'.  She obviously wanted to sing it faster and thought that if we sang it 'three fast' rather than 'too fast' then it would be faster. 

My favourite part of the job has been seeing them do things for the first time. They hadn't been swimming before last week, so seeing them in the pool together having the best time made my month, especially as it was such a huge step for the girl.  They don't know how to swim, but were so happy playing in the water.

They kept calling out to me 'Miss King!' (I'm usually called Mrs King) and would point to the waterslide and say 'me go?' hoping that I would say they could go on the slide.  I wished so much that they could've gone on there, but our school wasn't using it that day.  Hopefully later in the year they will get the chance to do that. 

It has also been fun learning some words in Farsi.  They think it's hilarious when I try to count to ten in Farsi and love that the shoe is on the other foot, when I find it hard to remember certain numbers.  One of the boys cracks up and says 'no tell, no tell!' when the other kids want to give me a clue about what the next number in Farsi is.  

Another fun part of the job is teaching them life skills such as crossing the road safely, and how to catch the bus home.  I have gone on a couple of bus trips home with them, to make sure they get off at the right stop and cross the road safely and we have fun making books later on with photos we have taken of what we have done.  When I have been on home visits their parents are so lovely and even though they don't have very much they offer me food and really want me to stay for a long time. 
One day a week I have been doing relief teaching at Noah's old special school.  It's long term relief which has been good as it means I can plan things in advance.  I have been able to work with certain kids doing work with switches on the computer and iPads and using switch toys as well as giving teachers release time off class, and doing I.T. work with setting up iPads.  

I love seeing the kids regularly and it's nice to know that they hadn't forgotten me from when I left last year.  It's a very different feeling working there as a teacher, instead of being a Teacher Aide and it feels strange to be in charge of a class rather than just being in the class, but it's nice to have some confidence back and to know that I can teach. 

At the end of last year the boys and I were praying that I would get some work this year, and now I feel like I'm working too much, but I don't like to say no to the work as I know how hard it can be to get work as a temporary teacher and I know how blessed I am to have work.  I'm keen for the relief work to finish as I would love a day off a week so I can get on top of things at home, but for now it's nice to keep busy and to do something that I love so much.  

When I'm teaching I am always thinking about Aaron and how much he loved his work and students.  I know he would be so happy for me to be doing something so rewarding.  It's been such a huge challenge to go back to teaching after having fourteen years off, especially after what we've gone through and are still going through, and I still have a lot to learn, but I just hope that Aaron is proud of me.  

I'll be happy if I can be half the teacher he was.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Twelve months in our 'new' old house

Time doesn't just fly when you're having fun.  It flies when you are grieving too.  It's crazy to think that it's been just over a year since we sold our home and moved to our 'new' house.  At the time it was the hardest decision to make on my own, and I knew deep down that it was the right thing to do, but I still worried about whether I was doing the right thing.

The boys were not happy at all to sell our home we built and to move to an older house, but last week Harri said 'I love this house more than our old house, even though it's older'.  When we first moved in, the boys pointed out all the things 'wrong' with the house...there are cracks in the walls and ceiling and the floors creak, but now they all tell me how much they love our 'new' house.
When we first moved here we were all worried that we were leaving Noah and Aaron behind, because we wouldn't have any memories of them here.  But on the other hand that is mostly why I made the decision to move house, because it was just too sad to live in our old house.  It was no longer a place that felt like home.  It was a place we hated being, because they weren't there with us.

Even though they've never been in this house with us, it still feels like they are here.  Sometimes we feel them really close, and other times it seems like they're so far away, but we all know that they would be so happy for us to be living here.   Jay and I always talk about how much Aaron would love living here.   It feels like we've been here for many years.

We now look forward to being at home.  We love the light and the space, but the best thing is living so close to the boy's schools and work. Life is still so hard every day, but we are adjusting to our 'new normal'.  A new house doesn't fix things at all, but I'm so glad I made that hard decision twelve months ago, as I can see it was a big turning point for all of us.  It has made our lives a lot easier in may different ways. 
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