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The First Year or two: Finding Connections

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When Anton died, I didn't know how I would continue to live. Quite honestly, I didn't see how I could possibly survive it. During the first hours and days my moods veered between blind terror and the numbness of shock. The sheer enormity of what had happened felt life-threatening. I didn't know where to turn, or what to do. At times I felt as though I was quite literally drowning in grief.

There must be a way of surviving this...

In the first days after our loss, Stefan, our youngest son said something to me that lodged in my brain, and made me stop and think. He said "Mum, I've been thinking. Sadly, this happens to many, many people. That means there must be a way of surviving it."

Such a simple statement, but it represented the tiniest pinprick of light in that dark day.

Of course he was absolutely right. We may be damaged, even broken, but (horrifically) we are far from alone.

Over the weeks and months after losing our boy, my moods slowly fell into a painful rhythm. Deluges of tears and episodes of panic and terror alternated with emotional shut downs. I stumbled through the days, just wishing they would end so I could find precious oblivion in sleep, though at night it often eluded me.

But gradually, something else started happening too...

During the rare moments in between these states I tentatively began to seek help. To begin with, my primary need was reassurance that I could find a way to live alongside the pain, that it wouldn't always feel like this. I felt like I was on a precipice; about to lose my mind. I needed to hear from others who were proof that it was humanly possible to survive.

I searched for blogs, articles, books, websites. I looked for support groups, online and local. I Googled "My son is dead" and other stark phrases. At the same time, I wrote hundreds, perhaps thousands of messages to friends and family expressing how I was feeling; my fear, my horror, my grief, my anger, my loss. Just knowing that someone was reading my words, listening to my anguish, helped because it validated my despair. Some didn't know how to respond to these messages, but some were absolutely brilliant (and not always the ones you'd expect). Regardless of their responses, I continued to do it until eventually I no longer needed to (for me that was about 18 months - thank you to everyone who read those messages!) and I am so thankful I could do that. Putting words to feelings really can help in the short and longer term.

When something terrible happens to us, we humans need validation, and we need to be heard. Therapy and counselling work, in part, due to these two things. Such intense emotional pain demands to hear "I hear you. You are going through hell"; and perhaps more importantly "You will get through this".

I constantly sought to connect with others through those first two years after my son's death, and this was ultimately a big part of what got me through. At times of great emotional pain, we need to plunder all the resources at our disposal, without shame. Nothing, literally nothing, worse (other than losing all my family) could have happened to me; if I couldn't ask for help now, then when? What's more, I knew that I had no choice. I needed those connections like I needed air to breathe.

Whatever gets you through is right for you; this is no time to ask whether a friend minds you talking non-stop about your pain or demanding constant reassurance for 3 hours!

Outside immediate friends and family there are many helpful organisations you can find through a few Google searches. Below I mention just a few of those that helped me in the first couple of years. For more see my Reading Recommendations post:

TCF: The Compassionate Friends is a wonderful, multi-faceted resource provided by bereaved parents for other bereaved parents. I cannot praise them enough. They have a brilliant helpline; videos of amazing mums and dads talking about how they are surviving the loss of their children; retreats; walks; support days; local and online groups and more!

Suicide & Co provides an amazing amount of information about suicide-bereavement resources and also has a counselling service

SOBS: Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide has lots of information, and provides local groups all run by people bereaved by suicide, plus an online group for men

Bags for Strife is a fabulous charity that sends out little bags of support and love to anyone bereaved by suicide

CALM: Campaign Against Living Miserably campaigns against suicide, particularly amongst young men, and provides support through a helpline for anyone going through a rough time, specifically including those bereaved by suicide

A blog I personally found helpful is by Susan Auerbach, who lost her son Noah in 2013. Her book "I'll Write Your Name on Every Beach" is also worth reading.

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