It has been 2555 days since my beautiful child succumbed to her horrific illness. It has been 6 years, 11 months, 30 days. I have been swinging on a pendulum of grief and recovery for the past 84 months. It has been an ongoing battle to balance the pain and guilt of outliving my child with the desire to honour her final wish.
Dr Colin Murray Parker said “Grief is the price we pay for love”
My love for my child will never die. I will never forget my child.
As I live in the past I continuously remember (some long-forgotten) things. I remember her baby softness, her toddler cuteness, her primary school years when she developed a sense of humour, her defiant teenage years. I remember Vic falling in love with Colin, getting married and falling pregnant 6 weeks later. I remember the gentle, beautiful mommy she was to her boys. I remember her fierce love for her boys. I remember her descent into ill health. I remember her last days. I remember her last breath.
I feel compelled to say the following to those of you blessed with healthy and living children. As you love your living children I love my child. Unconditionally and every second of the day. I too want to talk about my child… Just as you do. When you talk about your child and his or her achievements I don’t squirm in my chair. When I talking about my child you try and change the subject. I have heard a friend say “I have heard the story before “and walk away from the group. If I repeat a story it’s because I don’t have new memories. I only have old memories to hold on and repeat. Your discomfort doesn’t make my child matter less.
Vic’s life was cut short.
Not my love for her.
I will grieve for a lifetime. I will never “get over it”. My love for Vicky will last for the rest of my life. Every milestone in my grandsons lives remind me of our loss. Milestone birthdays, Jared’s wedding and now Kirsten’s pregnancy. Jon-Daniel graduating at the end of the year… Yet I have experienced joy. I have hugged and wiped tears from the eyes of other bereaved parents. I have been filled with pride for my precious child’s brave and selfless journey through life and death. I look at the boys and am filled with pride for the young men they are. I remember with pride what a wonderful mommy Vicky was. I am filled with sadness that Vic will never have the privilege of holding her first grandson.
Tonight, as the pendulum swings back I once again descend into this intense state of grief. Tomorrow morning at 10:35 it will be 7 years since Vic stopped breathing.
Today I allowed myself silence and unchecked tears. Next week I will continue to honour my child’s life by fulfilling her final wish. Rest in peace my precious, beautiful child. You will forever be in my heart. I will never forget.
Happy birthday my precious Angel Child.
I wonder whether you were excited about your birthday? Do you still celebrate your birthdays or do you celebrate the day your pain and suffering ended?
I miss you so much, sweetheart. Although I still cry for you almost every day I honor your legacy every single day of my life. What a community changer you were… Through your suffering, almost 1400 people have received love, dignity, and quality of life.
Would I rather have had a healthy child? YES!!!! But this was our destiny and out of our control. Your suffering led us onto a path that we would not have chosen voluntarily.
So my little Angel, tonight we will have a dinner and talk about you the entire evening. We will do your birthday eulogy as we did all the years you lived. We will talk about your stoic bravery. We will laugh about your idiosyncrasies, your inability to remember or tell a joke. We will remember your ability to smile through your pain. We will hear your voice saying “I am fine”.
We will cry for your empty seat at the table and the huge void in our hearts.
Someone asked me whether it ever gets any easier and I could only say “No”.
The pain has not gone away. The pain will never go away. The longing for another “tomorrow with you” will never go away… Every morning is a stark reminder that another “tomorrow has broken”.
But Baby Girl, I looked at old photos of you tonight and the dreadful pain in your eyes was a harsh reminder of your suffering. I am seldom not awake at 2 O Clock in the morning…injection time. I am haunted by your whimpers of pain, your tears when you say “Help me, Mommy. I cannot handle the pain anymore”. My feelings of helplessness.
I was talking to someone yesterday (about you) and she said “I could never see my child in so much pain. I would take him out. I would not be able to handle it…”
Did I ever consider it? You know I did. You begged me to do it. But in the dark of night, there was always a remote possibility that “tomorrow” would be better. Sometimes it was.
But today is not about me and my grief. Today is the reminder of the happiest day of my life – the day I held you in my arms for the first time. Know, that I will always love you. .
You will always be the highlight of my life – my greatest joy. Know that I am at peace that your suffering is over.
But always know that I wish your life was different.
I hope and pray that you have found the peace that eternity is supposed to bring
Happy birthday my angel.
I have not posted in a long time. I keep thinking up posts but I never seem to have writing time. I do dream of having time to write my book. No, let me rather rearticulate that…I dream of having time to attempt writing a book that will capture the pain and indignity that my little girl suffered. The book must portray the immeasurable value of her legacy. It is not only a huge responsibility and project but the fulfillment of the deathbed promise I made.
On Saturday I spoke, at a fundraiser, about the story behind the starting of Stepping Stone Hospice. I was given 20 minutes but I think I took much longer. I wanted people to meet Vicky. The “healthy”, carefree child/woman with a heart full of hope. I wanted people to see how during the last 10 years of her life she was stripped of so much.
And, when she realized that there was no more hope to feed on…
I did not have the time to talk about the bedsores that developed the last day, the fact that I did not know I had to turn her every two hours… I wanted people to understand the helplessness her boys felt seeing their mother in so much relentless pain. The trauma they experienced seeing Vic live through the pain, the indignity of the disease, her quiet resolve of accepting “it was over”.
It felt almost “clinical”.
How do I begin to share the horror of my child’s journey? My horror of seeing her being wrapped in a plastic sheet… the horror of knowing that we lost the battle? The “now” nightmare of being able to sleep and wake up in tears because I miss her so much…
For so many years I did not sleep because I was scared I would not hear her. Physically and mentally I was exhausted. Now…I do sleep but my soul is tired.
I must capture the heartlessness of the medical profession; the lack of counseling; the importance of hope… I must capture the bravery of a tiny little girl fighting for just one more day – one day at a time.
But most importantly I must fight to keep Vic’s legacy alive. I have to make a difference so that, in Vic’s words, “no one will suffer like I did.”
Five years, 3 months and three days ago I lay next to you listening to your labored breathing. You lay motionless in your bed. Your hands and feet were ice-cold. Your body was burning up with fever. Daddy and I counting the seconds between your breaths. My hand on your little heart and my head next to yours.
I remember whispering how much I love you; that there was nothing to be scared of…I felt your heart beat getting weaker and weaker; your breathing becoming more shallow by the minute.
When your little heart stopped beating my heart broke into a million pieces. As your soul soared mine plummeted into a hellhole of grief and despair.
I knew that it would be hard but nothing in the world could have prepared me for the pain that followed. My heart aches for you and I would give anything to hold you one more time. To hear that mischievous giggle…
Never again will I hear that sacred word “Mommy” …
We miss you so much. Our family will never be the same again.
“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.” ― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
I spent the weekend packing up Vic’s flat and working in the garden. I bought new herbs for my herb garden. I changed the outlay (or started) of the back garden.
This year may be easy or it may be a struggle. I know that there will be days of profound sadness but I also know that my sadness will be put to good use. I believe that, by putting my grief to work, I will find a way to get through my sad day.
In the words of Robert Frost – “In three words I can describe everything I’ve learnt about life. It goes on. Despite our fears and worries, life continues”
My “profound sad days” will remind me why there is a Stepping Stone Hospice and why I do, what I do, at Stepping Stone Hospice.
I do believe in tomorrow.
I do believe that this will be a year of healing.
I do believe that it will be a year of recovery – at every level.
Today I started packing up Vic’s “things” …Tupperware, crockery, cutlery, whatnots… the stuff
I drank coffee from her favorite mug. I tried to crate the “stuff” into equal portions. I came across the boys’ plates, their little mugs, their christening gifts. Vic did not have a lot of material things. Eight dinner plates, eight side plates, and 8 dessert plates… unmatched glasses and hundreds of tokens of love. She was so rich in love, memories, and stuff. A suitcase full of notes from friends, literally hundreds of cards and thousands of photographs.
I sometimes think Vic thought she could take her stuff with her to heaven.
I pulled out a plastic container from the bottom of the pantry cupboard. I opened it. Someone had taken all the “stuff” off her bedside tables and the headboard the day she died and put it into a plastic crate.
“Someone” – Thank you!!! I cannot imagine that I would have had the strength to do it at the time.
The stuff in the plastic container that I found today brought me much comfort. Five years ago it may have unleashed more anger and bitterness in my heart.
Vic was at peace with her God. She sought guidance, strength, and comfort from Him. She did not ask for a cure anymore. She asked for strength…Not forgiveness but strength and guidance. Why not forgiveness – Vic had made peace with her God a long time before she died. She asked once and then it was in the past – forgiven.
She was childlike in her faith. She did not continuously ask for the same thing. She asked once and then believed that if God wanted her to have it, He would give it to her without her nagging. I remember once thinking that she is so accepting of her lousy life. She lived a life of “attitude of gratitude”.
What an example you were to the world and especially me. I strive for your serenity. I am your biggest fan.
Love you Baby Girl
Five incredibly long years ago I finally had to let you go. I fought so hard for you. Just another year…another month…another week…another day… And then it was over.
You stopped breathing.
It was simply over.
The reason for my existence was gone. There was nothing to do. I washed you and dressed you and waited for the undertakers to fetch you.
They came and went. My heart broke all over again watching you leave home the very last time.
I made your made bed and had your room cleaned. And then I waited for the boys to arrive…
Oh dear God, the pain in their eyes… I don’t ever want to see it again.
I arranged your funeral. I did your eulogy. I cried myself to sleep and cried myself awake. I packed up your cupboards. I carried on with Hospice. I learnt to breathe without you.
Today it is 5 years. Where has time gone? I thought my heart would be healed by now but the pain is as much as 5 years ago. It is not so harsh. Pain has become a familiar companion. It goes to bed with me and wakes up with me.
I am filled with self-doubt all the time. Am I making a mess of the boys lives? Am I making the right decisions?
I constantly battle my emotions. I wake up with my hair drenched in tears. I fall asleep praying for the boys and those of us left behind. I spend my days smiling.
Oh sweetheart I would give anything to change places with you. I wish you could be with your boys. They miss you so much. I can never be a mother to them.
Some days this is too hard.
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I have survived 1423 days (3 years, 10 months, 23 days) without my beloved child.
It has become easier. I am used to the pain. I am at peace with the fact that my child’s suffering is over. I honor her memory every day of my life. Every day, when I walk through the In-Patient-Unit of Stepping Stone Hospice I thank her for her selfless request that “no-one should suffer the way she did”.
Families talk to me about my brave little warrior and thank me. Thank me? I don’t think so. I would never have had the guts to start a Hospice. I would still be lying in my bed grieving.
Life has been hard without Vic. It was so difficult getting my life back on track after she died. I have missed her wisdom and guidance with the boys, I have resented the fact that I have become a backup mother to my precious grandsons. I wanted to be a mother and a grandmother. I hated being a bereaved mother. I still do.
Our lives have settled. Until May this year.
On the 31st of May, I received a phone call from Jared (eldest grandson) to tell me his father had died. I was filled with terror, heartache, and fear. My go-to person was no longer around to advise me and run interference with the boys.
I was in England at the time of Colin’s death. I flew back the same afternoon. All I can remember of the flight was how my face ached from crying. I was heartbroken leaving my little UK granddaughters behind. They sobbed. I sobbed. We all sobbed. I dreaded arriving in South Africa and facing the boys’ heartache. I was consumed with guilt that I wasn’t with them on that horrible day.
I arrived in South Africa to meet two dazed young men. I had to go and identify Colin at the mortuary and once again arrange the funeral of a child.
On the surface, the boys were brave and yet so devastated. I was heartbroken. At a certain level, Colin’s funeral was more difficult than Vic’s. Colin was young and healthy. He had truly connected with the boys and they loved spending time with him and his new family to be. They loved being part of a family. Vic had been ill for so many years and her suffering inhuman. I was relieved that her suffering was over.
But Colin was so young and alive. He had so much to live for. So much to give. He was at peace with his life and in love with a wonderful woman.
The day Colin’s clothes were brought into Stepping Stone Hospice, as a donation, I had a total meltdown. It was the second time a child of mine’s clothes were donated to Hospice.
Yet, time passed and I am once again getting used to the pain. That horrible empty feeling in your heart when you suffer a great loss…
I read many blogs and I often wondered why people remained stuck in their grief. I wondered why they were unable to move forward…
Vic’s eldest son started displaying signs of PTS (Post-traumatic stress). He suffers from panic attacks and stopped wanting to be home. He was angry with the world and especially me.
There are many reasons for this and it is not for me to write about his reasons.
What I am able to write about is the fact that Jared was trying so hard to protect his little brother and I from the pain and trauma of Vic’s death that he never dealt with it for himself. He spread his angel wings over us and never stopped looking to see whether we are okay or not.
Now this beautiful, “parentified” young man is caught up in a cycle of trying to deal with the layers of grief resulting from his parents’ deaths. He is working so hard to learn how to deal with his complicated/compound grief. He is brave and beautiful. He is in so much pain.
But, I know that in time he will heal. He is no longer avoiding his grief. He is dealing with the cancer in his heart eating away at the very grain of his soul.
I pray that I will have the wisdom to guide him through this difficult time in his life as he guided his brother and me through the first years after Vic’s passing. I pray that he will always remember my love for him. I pray that I will learn to cope with my guilt of not protecting him from something that I was aware of…
I now know why people remain locked into that cycle of grief.