No one is ever prepared for the death of a child but something that hardly anyone mentions is how much of yourself you lose with your child.
I have said before that you lose your future or at least the future you thought you and your child were going to have but you also lose the life you had alongside their life. And you lose part of yourself along the way.
One part of yourself that you lose is your self-confidence. We are proud and confident as parents showing off our beautiful and intelligent children. But when one dies, all that confidence is lost. You start to worry about your judgment; after all, wasn’t it bad judgment that caused the death of your child? You start to worry about your ability to think critically and to think strategically; after all, you are only able to live in the here and now. The future is unthinkable.
This often makes work difficult as you are supposed to apply judgment and critical thinking to policy issues but mostly you really don’t care about those issues. Once I had plan A and if that didn’t work I had plan B, C etc. I have no plan now. There is no back-up plan for the loss of my child. There is no strategy to deal with the future. Instead, I have coping mechanisms to get me through each day.
You start to take much less interest in the happenings around the world. Many events and issues do not seem to be as important as they once were. Most events and issues do not affect you directly. People’s lives become uninteresting and you wonder why they spend so much time fretting over things that will not make them happy or fulfil their lives.
It is as though through your child’s death and your own suffering, you have learned something about life that others do not know. You have some new sort of new knowledge. Having that sort of knowledge places you apart from the everyday world that most people inhabit.
I do not feel part of this world. I sit on the sidelines observing a process that I do not feel involves me. I have not felt like I was part of a team at work for close to 177 weeks; since Clea died. Now, that I have started a new job (my second new job in 12 months – probably not the best idea), I do not have the confidence to apply myself. Sometimes, I simply do not want to apply myself and sometimes, I do not understand the urgency or importance of work. Even before Clea died, I was never one to ‘dedicate’ myself to my work and now it is even worse.
It seems that my entire CV belongs to someone else. That is not me; not anymore. No where on my CV does it mention that I survived a tsunami or that my daughter died in that tsunami or that I still probably suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Most people think that this is all my business and do not feel obliged to pass the information on to prospective employers. I see a psychologist privately; not through work. My work knows nothing unless I tell them. I have somehow hoodwinked people into employing me and now I cannot live up to their expectations. I am a fraud in someway or I am someone else. Wouldn’t you, as a manager, feel somehow defrauded?
My brain doesn’t work the way it once did. I am unable to grasp concepts as quickly as I once did. I do not have the desire to achieve, or the will, and I do not have the depth of feeling required to be concerned about issues. My memory is not what it was either. My heart is heavy and strained with loss and there is little space left for ‘work-related issues’. All these things could be put down to getting older but they are also exacerbated by grief.
I am unsure how much to tell my new work colleagues (all are relatively young and none have children). How do I explain that I box my life into separate compartments so that I can function? How do I explain that any element of stress may bring those compartments crashing together, the outcome of which may not be nice? Can I be bothered explaining to them the depths of emotion and pain and trauma that you feel when you have lost your child? How can I explain this to people who think that their work is their only priority and appear to have little responsibility outside the work environment? To quote George Johnston in his book Clean Straw for Nothing: “You are an alien everywhere, because alienation is something you carry inside yourself, and all you can do is fashion little enclaves and try to live inside them.”
I am concerned that they may think that I am making excuses or that I ‘simply can’t cope’. They would be surprised how well I actually do cope. I often look at people and wonder if they could cope with my life. One colleague told me how ‘lucky’ (what a word?) I was to work four days a week. I thought, yeah real lucky, I get to spend my Fridays with my dead daughter and my insane father, trying to keep myself sane. Wonderful!
As I told my new manager, I am not interested in promotion mainly because the higher up the ladder you go the more you have to deal with other people’s problems – I have enough problems of my own.
This is a life that I have to deal with in my own way and although I am not confident that I can do that, I am trying to do just that because I know nothing. I remember nothing.
You know nothing? Do you
I remember …
T S Eliot – II A Game of Chess, The Waste Land