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Joy after Loss

A robin in half darkness

Alek and I escaped to southern Spain again this winter. It was the fourth anniversary of Anton's death just before Christmas.

One January day, we sat on the sunny terrace of a small village restaurant, having lunch with an old friend who came to stay. Close to our table there was a guitarist singing old songs from the sixties and seventies.

Without being consciously aware of it, I found myself singing along, enjoying the music.

Then all at once I began to cry.

The songs hadn't particularly reminded me of Anton, but they had reminded me of the way I used to be. When our youngest son Stefan was little, he was asked by his teacher to describe each member of his family as an animal, and why they reminded him of that particular creature. When it came to me he wrote:

Mum - Robin: Always happy. Chirpy. Likes singing.

That robin was the old me. Someone who sang, and danced, and laughed and played. Someone who loved life.

There were rare times quite early on after Anton died when I did find myself expressing humour; though often it was black. Our boys were always very funny and used to bounce banter off one another all the time. When the two of them were on form I was often rendered unable to speak from laughing so much. A little, oft-repeated family joke was that if either of them complained or said something negative when we were all together as a family, enjoying special occasions, the other son would always say "Now you've ruined Christmas!" Just a few days after Anton died I said to Stefan: Well, Anton has well and truly ruined Christmas now! I still can't believe I cracked that joke, given the fact that at that point I was drowning, in the devastated floodlands of the newly bereaved.

But generally, I think I was pretty humourless for a long while. And alongside laughter and playfulness, music (especially songs I could sing along and dance to) was just one of the things that was lost to me after Anton died. Even now, I still can't bear listening to tracks I used to love because they evoke an old sense of joy, and joy can be so achingly akin to agony.

In the past couple of years, since I have been able to experience small moments of enjoyment or real pleasure, I have noticed how, at times these emotions quickly turn into sadness. This was particularly true in the beginning of this slow shift that enabled me to feel pleasure again. Maybe I was playing with my grandson and he said or did something funny or cute, and I experienced a little spark of real happiness. Then suddenly it was over. I was in pieces, and desperately trying to reassemble myself before he noticed the stricken look on my face. Or I was having a little fun, sharing some silliness, and in the moment I realised I was actually laughing, it was as though a bucket of cold water was thrown over me. I was immediately sober and joyless.

It wasn't positive emotions per se. It was those tiny sparks of intense positive emotion.

They're so close to pain.

And then of course there's the guilt. I'd ask myself how I could possibly be able to laugh when my son is dead. As for singing, well that is something too closely associated with joy for me, and joy just feels so wrong, even now, more than four years on. There's a part of me that has firmly closed the door on joy, as though I don't believe I ever deserve to experience it again.

So sitting in the Spanish sunshine, singing, it felt wrong. In singing, I had momentarily re-experienced the joy that comes from music, evoking feelings that were once a huge part of who I was, but am no longer. When I cried that day, I was not so much crying for Anton as crying for myself. The lost parts of me. The me I used to be, and will never be again. The grief that follows the traumatic loss of suicide changes us all, profoundly and irrevocably, and my new normal in some ways bears no relation to my old normal. I am both the same person, and yet a very different person to the one I was before.

Have you ever noticed that watching a certain film can make you cry, yet others that appear equally emotive do not affect you in the same way? The stories can be similar; even relate to the same topic. But where one film touches a deep shaft of emotion, the other leaves us largely unscathed. Its not only about how well the film is scripted or directed. Something about it is tapping directly into our own unique emotional pain, which can often be buried quite deep. Not only do we often not know what precisely has triggered it, but the nature of the hurt itself can be quite hidden from our consciousness. Very deeply held pain frequently stems from experiences of unmet emotional need. The film's story may bear no obvious relation to our personal experiences, but if something in the telling chimes with us in some way, it may become a powerful trigger for our own emotions.

I recall the funeral of a friend many years ago. She and I had not been close and I didn't see her often. She had suffered from an incurable illness for many years and when she died I was sad, but I wasn't distraught about her death. Yet when I sat in the church and listened to the funeral service, I became utterly inconsolable. I was embarrassed, even ashamed, given I was not a relative or even a particularly close friend. Something about the funeral service generated a direct connecting line to a deep, unresolved pain that I was carrying. Even now, I couldn't tell you what it was. Sometimes its impossible to identify the mechanism that has elicited the reaction. All I know is that it touched a long held, historic source of grief.

Intense as it was in the moment, the pain was not really about my friend; it belonged to another time in my life. My tears probably needed to be shed; the experience of grieving in that church was a cathartic one, and afterwards I felt a profound sense of peace. My grief at losing my son cannot be cast off with my falling tears. It sits often very weightily in my chest, unreleased by any amount of weeping, wailing, screaming or yelling, though I am able to find some peace from the exhaustion following a good cry. On certain days, however, particularly round the anniversary of his death in December, the sense of loss rises to a crescendo of crippling agony, leaving me doubled up, physically wounded by its intensity.

But as the years pass, it mostly grows imperceptibly softer. The jagged, raw edges have slowly become blunted. I love Anton as much as I ever did. I miss him. I yearn for him. But my yearning exists in the full knowledge that he will not come again, and somehow my heart has grown more accustomed to that knowledge, and for most of the time, I am able to bear the knowing of it. Unbelievably, I have grown used to not seeing my boy, to not hearing his voice. But he is part of me as he has always been, and will be for the entirety of my life. I go through life with him.  I carry him in my heart.

And though he took his own life, he had always loved life, and lived it to the full.

And he loved fun and laughter and music.

These days, I find I am able to experience pleasure and happiness, and increasingly I am able to laugh without crying; in fact I spent almost the whole weekend laughing when our oldest friends came to stay recently. And it actually felt ok; it really did.

So maybe, just maybe I could allow myself to feel that joy again one day.

Our sons hugging one another

After I have shed my tears

in the January sunshine,

I sense a little warm

nudge of encouragement.

Knowing that Anton

would be the first one

urging me on,



I open my mouth

and begin

to sing.

A Therapist Surviving Suicide

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Feb 28

Such a lovely joyous photo of your two boys XX

I think venturing to different places can no doubt provide ‘glimmers’ from the darkness, when facing the utter devastation, confusion, disbelief and heartbreak that is child loss.

The temporary distraction of different sounds and scenery or a busy city, new scents, warmth etc .

I know other bereaved mums or dads prefer to be quietly at home or tending to a garden, crafts, writing etc

Familiar things.

Or some do amazing campaigning work to fight for change.

Or else walking , swimming, gym, being active etc

For some others it helps to be around children or volunteering - to help others, or caring for pets etc

Or the routine of…

Mar 01
Replying to

All so true Mari, I find I am easily overwhelmed these days so have to focus on doing just one thing at a time. I love the starfish story and remind myself of that when I feel its all too much


Tip Lewis
Tip Lewis
Feb 28

When an absolutely beautifully written essay on loss, love, regrets but likewise hope. I found myself resonating so much with your words. We do lose a very deep part of ourselves (both from our distant past but also our immediate past) as we attempt to understand our loss. As I have experienced this, I am now undertaking, through without a real choice, to Step into the New. Losing the ones we love and especially to suicide, means that we also lose our identity as to who we once were. I am now One of One; not One of Two.

Thank you for sharing this insightful and inspiring article as it has helped me already in knowing that I am not…

Feb 28
Replying to

Thank you for taking time to comment on this post Tip. It is true that we can lose our sense of self and identity; I hope that you will find yours again, as I am beginning to find mine. Wishing you continued balm along your journey ❤️


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