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.
Vic often said “I must be such a disappointment to you. I have done nothing with my life!”
This morning I read these beautiful words and so wished I could have shared it with Vic.
“This is to have succeeded” posted on June 4, 2013 by Dr Bill http://drbillwooten.com/2013/06/04/this-is-to-have-succeeded
“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.” ~ Bessie Anderson Stanley
To laugh often and love much – That Vic did. She always had a smile on her precious face. Even when she was in dreadful pain she would try to smile. When she was in a lot of pain her laugh was shrill. Pain seldom stopped her from laughing… In 2007 I said to Vic that my life was sad.
“That is terrible Mommy. Why?”
I felt like hitting my head against a wall! What did the child think? In 2007 Vic must have had 18 operations; developed every hospital superbug in the book; developed septicaemia, had a high output fistula; developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome; spend months in ICU and survived having the ventilator turned off… Vic was op TPN (Total Parental Nutrition) for months…she had a massive open wound that we could not keep covered with a colostomy bag. It was too big and positioned very low down.
“I worry about you every second of the day baby. I worry whether you have vomited and how much you vomited; I worry whether you have been able to eat anything… I worry about your wound. I worry about your pain control….”
“Mommy, that is so sad. At least once a week the boys and I laugh so much that my tummy hurts from it…”
Vic in 2007
Vic loved unconditionally and with every fibre of her body. She gave everything! She was a wonderful daughter, mother, friend…She loved her family, her siblings, her friends and her boys. She LIVED love.
Her last words ever were “I love you Mommy”
… to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; Worldwide, intelligent people, respected and admired Vic for her courage, tenacity… We called Vic the “baby whisperer”. Children loved her. She loved children. Her only ambition as a toddler and teenager was to be a Mommy. She loved her sons beyond comprehension…
The Baby Whisperer
…… to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; Vic suffered a lot of betrayal in her little life. People got tired of waiting for her to die. “Friends” spoke about her “addiction” to pain medication behind her back… They used her illness as a weapon against her when she was at her most vulnerable. False friends (and loved ones) spoke their “minds” and condemned and judged Vic for choices she made… Because she was ill people thought they could say what they wanted, when they wanted.
….. to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; My precious child was so naïve. She refused to see the bad in people! The only time she got irritated and miserable was in hospital. She always found the good in people. She did not speak badly of people. When I was angry with someone she would placate me…point out their good points… She knew that if she voiced her own anger it would have driven me over the edge. Vic taught me unconditional love, forgiveness and tolerance. Vic brought out the best in me and the most other people.
…..to give of one’s self; Vic was a people pleaser. She would turn down MY bed!!!! She made sacrifices for each and every person in her life. Even in death she worried about other dying people who were less privileged than she was. I promised her at 2 am on the 16th of November 2012, a mere 2 months and 2 days before she died, that I would start Stepping Stone Hospice! She kept talking to me about Stepping Stone until she lapsed into a coma. We started on the 1st of January 2013 and Vic died on the 18th of January. Our first patient. Our first death.
…..to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; Vic left the world a better place. Her sons are monuments of the person she was; her dream of a Hospice has been realized.
……to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; With the 2010 Soccer World Cup Vic went crazy with enthusiasm; she bought every gimmick that hit the shops; she went of the “soccer train” in her wheelchair, she watched every single soccer game.
Vic loving World Cup 2010
……to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived Vic’s legacy will live on through her sons and Stepping Stone Hospice. Long after I have died, people will continue to benefit from Vic’s dreams and goodness.
—this is to have succeeded.” My angel child – you succeeded! You succeeded in life and with living. You made the world a beautiful place filled with goodness and hope. I am so proud of you. You lived life to the full. You made a difference! You lived a greater and more successful life than most people. You have put the world to shame. You are my hero!
This video touched me so deeply at every level.
I was petrified of holding Vic as a baby. I was even more petrified of anyone else holding my baby. I had a strict “Look but don’t touch” policy.
“Don’t worry,” people said. “She won’t break.”
Vic’s first known fracture was at the age of 3 weeks. She sucked her little thumb and fractured it… By her 3rd birthday Vic had had 41 fractures.
As she grew older she became more careful. Physiotherapy strengthened her muscle and the stronger muscles protected the bone… By the time she celebrated her 18th birthday, Vic believed that she was invincible.
At the tender age of 21 Vic got married. When Colin proposed I cried and asked him whether he was aware what life with my OI child would mean… Of course he did and despite my pleading and sermons about the danger of pregnancy, Vic fell pregnant 6 weeks after the wedding…
Vic embraced her pregnancy as she embraced life. She survived the pregnancy and the birth.
Jared was six weeks old when Vic started battling to pick him up. Her little wrists deteriorated to such an extent that she needed surgery to both wrists when he was 7 months old.
Baby Jared stayed with us for a couple of week whilst Vic recovered.
It was the first time in my life that I felt useless, hopeless and helpless. I could do nothing for my child. I had been relegated from being “the Mother” to being “the mother-in-law”. My position in the family had changed forever.
When I watched this video I was catapulted back into Vic’s desperate attempt at living a full and normal life.
I remember my blind anger at Vic for falling pregnant…. Unknown number of fractures…Untold pain.
I remember Vicky believed that she was invincible…
I remember KNOWING that “Babies break bones…”
I read a heartbreaking article that truly hit home
“A mother was discovered pushing her dead son in a swing late last week. The unnamed woman is believed to have spent hours with the toddler’s body at a local park in Maryland—she had possibly been there with the dead child for the entire night, according to neighbors. Police were called after concerned neighbors noticed the mother at Wills Memorial Park in La Plata for “an unusually long time.” “ http://firsttoknow.com/watch-mother-found-pushing-dead-toddler-on-park-swings/?utm_source=ftk_nwsltrF
More disturbing were the comments:
“People who are mentally unfit should never have children. My God this news of the father wanting custody set off this unfit mentally ill mother yet again. It is just to much strain for people who are mentally ill to bring up a child safely. The father is just as much to blame by marrying a mentally ill person in the first place to have children. God help them.”
“why are good baby given to bad mothers like this they dont deserve to have children I hope god punish her.”
Thank goodness that some sanity prevailed in some of the comments:
“I feel bad for the mother. When people grieve they can fall apart mentally, especially when a parent loses their child.”
“How do you know she was a bad mother? She was obviously in shock to be doing what she did. Aren’t you quick to judge?”
This is the world we live in. A world that consists of two sets of people… Those who have lost a child and know the devastation of mourning a child every single day of their lives and those who can pick up a phone and talk to a living child; who can go visit, hug and hold their child(ren).
The first will more than likely comment “why are good baby given to bad mothers like this they dont deserve to have children I hope god punish her.” and a parent who knows the devastation of losing a child will potentially comment “How do you know she was a bad mother? She was obviously in shock to be doing what she did. Aren’t you quick to judge?”
I know that Vic’s death left me reeling from pain, anger and loss. It was so hard letting her go. It was impossibly hard seeing her little body leave home for the last time.
Yet, some Facebook friends will pass snide comments about people posting photographs on their Facebook pages of the dead child and soppy messages… Yes, I am guilty. I post photos of Vic and soppy messages that convey my longing for my beautiful little girl.
Unfriend me if I get up your nose. I will grieve whichever way I chose. Your child(ren) are alive and you have absolutely no idea of what true loss is.
My child is dead. I burn candles for her and sometimes I fall asleep holding a photograph of her. I have sat sobbing just hugging her ashes. Does that make me mentally unfit? No, I am just another grieving mother and you will never understand. And, I hope you never have to understand!
How do we deal with life’s losses and move forward? People far wiser than I am, said that we never do get back to normal. That a time of numbness, confusion and uncertainty eventually merges into a new “normal”.
I am often filled with profound sadness over what will never be. Vic will never see her boys graduate. She will never have that mother and son dance at their weddings. She will never know the joy of being a grandparent.
Jared and I were chatting the other evening and he said “Most of the time I bury my sorrow. I try not to think how much I miss Mummy. But sometimes when I lie in bed the tears just start…”
I told him how guilty I feel because at first, in a perverse way, I enjoyed the freedom of snap decisions to go away for a weekend or dinner without having to make elaborate plans for Vic’s care.
The house is too big … too empty … too quiet. How can one tiny little person leave such a humongous void?
Are we moving forward? Yes, I believe we are. We are healing very slowly. We are functioning well in the “other” world. That world that has no understanding of our world. The boys are both excelling in their studies. They have lovely friends. They have good lives. But, they do not have their Mummy. It breaks my heart thinking how deprived they are of maturing under the loving care of their mother.
I read once that healing is a journey, not a destination or a point in time. I know we are scarred. When we light candles for my beautiful baby girl I know that grief will remain a part of our lives forever. But we will go with the ebb and flow of our grief – it is part of our journeys.
Navigating the Ebb and Flow of Grief Posted on June 28, 2013 by Maria Kubitz
Grief is fickle. Unpredictable. And indifferent to whatever mood I’m in. Most days my grief lies dormant under the activities of everyday life. Little triggers will continually remind me its there. A sad news story on the TV. A girl at the park who reminds me of my daughter. But I can go about my regular routines with no interruptions. Other times, the triggers are bigger, and the grief bubbles up and takes over my mood. Tears well up behind my eyes, ready to release at the first opportunity. My patience seems to evaporate and everyday tasks become cumbersome, meaningless, and even difficult. Usually the bursts of grief from larger triggers only last a few hours or at most a few days.
But sometimes it lingers and grows.
What I didn’t expect is that even coming on four years after her death, I still find myself in situations where grief becomes so overwhelming again that it feels like I’ve gone right back to the debilitating early days of grief. Feelings of sadness, pain, lethargy, dis-interest in things I normally enjoy. Going to work becomes a struggle. Even taking care of my kids feels like a burden. I know these periods require extra attention and care, and I navigate through the best I can, asking for support along the way. I just wonder if these episodes will ease over time, or if I should just expect them to become a permanent fixture of my “new normal” life?
If the death of my daughter has taught me anything — and it has taught me A LOT — it has taught me that we have more inner strength than we can ever imagine, and that with time, attention, and support, we can navigate through just about anything life might throw at us.
It is a mere 850 days since Vic died. 2 years and 4 months seems so short… 850 days seems far more representative of the longing. It seems “longer”….
I woke up this morning with tears pouring down my cheeks. I so longed to hold my child. I know that the boys remembered too. Jon-Daniel posted on his Facebook “Appreciate your Mom, tell her you love her, make her smile – because the only time she ever smiled while you were crying was when you were born!” The first to “like” his post was his brother.
I imagined that the longing would get better. It doesn’t!
At first it felt as if I was overseas – away from the trauma of Vic being ill. I always felt guilty at the “reprieves” I had when I was travelling for work. Now I would give anything and everything for just an extra minute with my child.
It was hard standing next to Vic’s bed hearing her cries of pain. It was even harder seeing the despair in the eyes of her precious boys when they stood next to their mom’s bed helpless to ease her pain and fears.
So often over the years I wanted to run away. In the end, when Vic cried from fear of dying, I felt the need to put an end to her suffering well up in me. I put my hands over my ears and screamed in my head.
How do you answer your child when she cries “I am so scared”?
We have a patient at Hospice who vocalises her fear the way Vic did. Today I just held her. How do you still the fear of the unknown in a dying person? And NO!!!! It has nothing to do with religion. Everybody is scared.
From that dreaded moment when a patient is told they are terminally ill an avalanche of shock and fear hits them. It is called actually “named” – terminal fear. Vic (and Elizabeth*) fear dying, pain, saying goodbye, loss of control and mostly all-encompassing the fear of the unknown.
Vic’s overwhelming fear was that people would forget her – that she would be replaced…. Vic questioned her life’s worth. She did not work and in her mind that meant it that she had not achieved anything. That she would leave no legacy. No matter how many times we reassured her that she inspired hundreds of people worldwide, the fear never left. I hope that she now knows how powerful her legacy is! That hundreds of patients have benefitted from her death wish and, most importantly, that her sons are her true legacy.
I have witnessed that grieving starts the moment of handing down the sentence. It is a long and hard journey for the dying person, their loved ones and friends.
And, today that Elizabeth’s* fear rests heavy on my heart, I know that we will provide her a safe haven where she can relax into death. We will hold her hand and guide her family through this dreadful trauma of saying goodbye to a wife, mother, grandmother and friend.
I pray for wisdom and strength to handle the déjà vu of Elizabeth’s* final journey.