A Mother’s Grief

ELIZABETH CHARLOTTE BOGOD my younger daughter. There is a terrible aching gap in my life.  I miss her so very much. I loved her so very much.  They say it gets better as time goes on.  It does not.  It is an ache that does not go away.  She was my child, my best friend, and I think about her hourly, daily and particularly in the small hours of the night when I am lying in bed awaiting sleep, In the middle of a movie or  television show, my thoughts stray.  I find it difficult to follow a story. I see her on the living room sofa, at the front door. I find myself saying all I want is to hug you just one more time to say goodbye – please come back.  If it were possible to visualize tears, they would be here, running down this page.

I go through a revolving door of mixed and ranging emotions, that of anger – anger at being the machine that brought a damaged product into this world, anger at not being able to find the schools, the teachers, the doctors, to help her, anger at myself for sins,  anger at things I did not do for her, anger at myself for my sometimes  impatience, anger that our society failed her and anger at Elizabeth for leaving me in such pain.  Just as quickly, my emotions change and I see her through her own eyes, how she saw herself. I see how she perceived her life as unable to find structure, balance, security, value, meaning.  She told me “Mom, I do not fit in this world”. This was her perception of who and how it was for her and had been all her life. There was always more than a grain of truth in what Elizabeth said. She was born without some of the basic abilities most of us take for granted. The biology of the human being requires to be loved, accepted, included. We cannot do without them and Elizabeth could not find them.  She was alone and human beings cannot live in society alone and lonely. In the raw truth, her perceptions were not misplaced.

If, as they say, there is a solution to every problem, then, as a parent, I failed to find that solution and I take on that mantle. Elizabeth was loved by her family but the developing teenager, the adult of middle years, needs more than family love, she needs the adventure and excitement of the love of others beyond.  A Rabbi once said to me, “Judy, in this life we need three things for happiness – the big wide world, our family and, in between, we need the something which connects the other two”.  Elizabeth did not find “the something which connects to the other two”. She did not find a community in which to feel included, to be wanted, to be a part of.  The older she got, the more the solution eluded her.  I can see that – through her own eyes – how she saw a scary future, how she had reached a point where there was a meaningless fog she could not penetrate and she had no more energy to expend –  the point of no return. Words cannot say how sorry I am that I was unable to help her find this help but this is not about me – it is about Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, please hear my message.

I have to discipline my self-talk to omit the “ifs” – what if we had done this, what if I had done that. “Ifs” are part of the past and present, but there is no past and no present; there is only a future and my daughter is not a part of that future. Through internal struggles, turmoil and emotional processing, I realize that Elizabeth is at peace – that her daily battles and challenges, which she faced constantly, consistently, relentlessly, are over and that her mother, her father, and her siblings, all must be at peace for her because she is at peace and she wanted so badly to be at peace . 

In her death, a part of me – a large part – has gone with her. The telephone does not ring, “what are you doing today?”, we do not do groceries together, we do not have Sunday evening dinners, we do not have hugs in the kitchen, we do not talk philosophy, current affairs, fashion, gossip, a laugh, we do not even have a good row! Every time I see a mother and daughter together, I feel tears.  I pass the Bridal Store almost daily. We would look in the window of the Bridal Store and she would decide which white dress she liked the best. “No puffy sleeves” she said. She wanted so much to be a bride. She never will. It is a lonely, unearthly silence. I loved her so much. For myself, I will never be the same person again – I am broken.

Both Philip and I owe so much to our son and our elder daughter and their partners who have been our rocks throughout this tragedy, an absolutely incredible support, It is strange but in some ways we have all come to be closer as a family. Perhaps we recognize the fragility of life and the sorrow of suffering. I try not to “wear my heart on my sleeve”.  There is a time and a place for when, and if, to bare one’s feelings and it is important to me, as the matriarch of our small family, to provide positivity to strengthen and maintain our family bonds.  A cheerful face, trying to live an active, fulfilling life is all I can do to keep the pain at bay and, in the pretense, who knows, maybe I will become the face of the person I show to the world? 

Here, alone, on this Memorial Website I can be my true self, allowing myself to release feelings that are deep, visceral,  cries from my soul – feelings of abandonment, loneliness, guilt and sorrow, the terrible aching chasm that is ongoing and relentless, the constant replaying of our last night and our last conversations. In Elizabeth’s passing, I realize the pain it inflicts on those left behind, and, if it were not for the realization that I would leave behind an utterly devastated and grieving spouse, I too, might reach the point of no return.

How courageous she was.  Being born with neural deficits, learning disabilities and added to this, adolescent Crohn’s Disease – she was thrown a very tough hand.  It was so difficult for her to achieve the things we all take for granted – friends,  career, education, a significant other.  She blotted out her pain with her amazing gifts of creativity, art, writing and her uncanny skill, with no training, to develop technological products, blogs, websites, Power-Point presentations, workshops, her skills of facilitation and public speaking. But it was not enough, no human can live that way. She had a real sense of caring and sensitive insight to the pain of others and a natural response to give of herself to others when help was needed. She was tireless in her advocacy to make change and I know of several times when she put herself at risk to help someone when she saw an injustice or an unfairness. Yes, she knocked against many walls and often the bricks fell out.

Her childhood and adolescent years were spent not being accepted in social circles because she was “different”.  In adulthood, she was again isolated. All we want out of life is to be included, to be needed, to be valued, to have fun, to love and to be loved.

In my life, I have all she so desperately wanted – the simple things – wonderful children and a loving spouse.  To a large extent, I can identify with Elizabeth because I, too, have learning disabilities, not nearly as severe as her’s, but I know the isolation these cause, and even the school bullying.  Like her, I am troubled by loneliness, I know how it is to be in a room full of people and feel alone, how difficult it is to make friends, to be accepted by “the group”. I too experience feelings of jealousy and envy which I have a hard job processing and suppressing – a family trait inherited from my father and my maternal grandmother who both had similar perspectives. I am so sorry, my sweet girl, for passing all these genes on to you. Elizabeth entered this world with an unfair start.  It took resilience and courage to always be in competition mode in this fast and vast world.  In the end, she found the daily grind of challenge too hard, too overwhelming and she ran out of steam and strength to continue the battle. Heartbreaking as it is, I have to have understanding for her decision.

I have been sorting her baby photos.  Who would have thought that the chubby, happy smiley baby depicted in these photos would no longer be in this world?  I cannot believe she will not walk in and help me with the sorting!

Death is so final. There is no way back. I want to tell her, “I miss you, please come back”.     I want to show her this Web Site so she can see how talented she is, what a wealth of legacy she has left behind, how highly she was thought of, how so many people have said such nice things about her, how she would be so surprised at the more than 100 people who attended her Memorial Service.

She has left me a legacy and possibly also to you. In some ways for me there is comfort to have with me the paper which she touched, the paint which she mixed, the poems which she typed.   But I would give it all away to have her back. 

I have received much caring and loving support from many people and I thank each and all for that. Among these, words which particularly resonate with me: “You will never stop grieving – you will have to learn to live without that person”.  At least I am old, and if there is a heaven, it will not be too long before we meet again. Elizabeth had so much to offer this world, her kindness, intuition, genuineness, passions, skills, love of environment, love of all animals, philosophy, ideology, extraordinary creativity in art, stories and poems – such incredibly brilliance – but she was the only one unable to see it.

Rest in peace, my angel.

MAY 12, 2015

I can never find the words,
to tell the world how much I miss you.
No scars on the outside,
as tangible proof that I am in pain.

When you left this world,
you took a piece of me with you.
A piece of my heart
 evidence that you’re no longer here.

The hole is always present.
I feel it with each breath I take.
A reminder of the loss,
a reminder of when our lives changed.

Nothing could ever fill this hole,
this I know is true.
I wouldn’t if I could,
because it reminds me of you.

One day my heart will mend,
and will be whole again.
When I see you in Heaven,
forever can begin.

– Lacey Harris-Willoby, 2014

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Parent Voices

01/05/2018

Things Bereaved Parents Want You to Know About Grieving for a Child

‘Sometimes, the greatest fear is when everyone stops talking about her or him, as if they never existed.’

The death of a child is never an easy subject to broach. No matter how long you’ve known the parents it can be difficult to know how to talk to them about their grief.

Fear of getting it wrong can mean some people avoid the conversation altogether and this silence can be isolating, according to Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds, whose son Josh died in a road accident in Vietnam, seven years ago.

“We asked ourselves why in a world where death will always make front page news, real life conversations about death, dying and bereavement are so problematic,” they said.

In a bid to shed light on how grieving for a child is so different from other types of grief, Harris and Edmonds have now directed a documentary called ‘A Love That Never Dies’, which will be released into UK cinemas from 18 May.

The film charts their journey to Vietnam, India and across the USA, where they meet with other families who have also lost a child, all of whom have found grief variously isolating and transformative.

2017 Beyond Goodbye Media Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds say their grief for their son Josh is not something time can heal.

Harris and Edmonds have chosen to share the things they as bereaved parents wish others knew about their grief in the hope it will help others to understand and empathise with those who have experienced a parent’s worst nightmare. Here is what they told us: Grief can’t be fixed. Grief is not an illness, nor is it simply an unfortunate thing getting in the way of a “normal, happy life”, grief is a constant. When a child has died, that doesn’t mean that you stop loving them or that they are not present in your life anymore. Grief is the form love takes when someone dies and grief is important – it is how you learn to live inside your loss, how you carry what cannot be fixed. In a strange way you need grief – it is how you survive.

People say that time is a healer but grief for a child has no end, that grief is for
life and it’s not something you will “get over”. What may be observed is that grief comes in waves – at times overwhelming, at times barely noticeable but it will remain.

Avoid judging or making assumptions about how long a parent should grieve and don’t ask a bereaved parent to move on or find closure. It’s for them to decide how to get on with life and platitudes about what their child would want will not be helpful.

Grief for a child is not like other kinds of grief. When a parent or a grandparent dies it is, in most cases, in the natural order of things. Death comes to us all but the death of a son or daughter (at any age) is out of tune with nature. For most bereaved parents life will now seem very unfair. This is not to say that other forms of grief aren’t valid, but when an older person dies, generally speaking you have a whole life story to remember and have their history to tell. When a child dies it’s not only their history, it’s their future that is also lost.

Understand that the people you knew have changed. Bereaved parents are very different people to who they were before their child died. When your child dies, a huge part of you dies too.

In attempts to reconstruct their life again, to find a purpose to carry on, many previous assumptions will be challenged and they will discover many new insights that will have a profound effect on who they are. They will be traumatized by their child’s death and that shock to the system will provoke a new way of looking at life. Their priorities and views may change, they will be in the process of finding themselves again, in what becomes a very uncertain world.

Do your best to have patience while they learn how to trust again. If responses to your offers of help seem ungrateful, believe that it isn’t personal.

Don’t be afraid to talk about their child or to say their name. They will not crumble or cry at the mention of their child’s name and even if they do, it’s not you that has caused their tears; they will more likely be tears of joy that you have decided to share a memory with them. These tears are a kind of release in the same way that laughter is.

Their child’s death has left a huge hole in their lives and they may want to talk about their child, to remember how they lived. To recall memories is to know that you cared for their child but perhaps more than that, sharing stories about their child’s life will help them to accept their death – to make it more real. Sometimes, the greatest fear is when everyone stops talking about her or him, as if they never existed.

Much of the time they will hide their grief. Bereaved parents can be very good at putting on a mask – and the longer it has been since the child died, the better they may become at hiding their grief. When you meet them, they may laugh and joke, but that could well be a cover for what’s really going on. Grief is exhausting and it’s not something people necessarily want to share, to them it may be akin to living in a parallel universe and wanting to do so alone. There will also be times when they will need to hold the pain of their loss so close that any attempt to relieve it may be rebuffed. Don’t be offended if you begin to feel shut out from their grief, it is not personal.

Don’t run away from grief. Grief is frightening and grief following the death of child is even more frightening. It’s frightening for you and it’s frightening for them. They understand how difficult it can be to connect, but don’t run away from their grief. If you’ve tried calling and get no answer send an email or text message, don’t be discouraged, let them know that you’re there and when the time is right, they will reach out. When that happens, try just to listen and to accept what are some very strong emotions. They will know how painful, how awkward and how helpless this could make you feel but if you can listen patiently, without judgment, then they will know how much you care.

Grief can be a period of growth. Grief is not all doom and gloom and there is much to be learnt from grief, perhaps even more from the grief which parents will experience after the death of a child. We all suffer – at some point in our lives we will all face tragedy and turmoil of one kind or another. Some would say that the only true connection between two human beings is through suffering. That it’s in those times that we can see change in ourselves and growth in our understanding of others. Bereaved parents have been broken by this grief and inevitably that forces them to look at life anew and to change – mostly to think for the better.

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Don’t be overwhelmed, become informed about suicide prevention and surviving suicide loss

When Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) President and CEO, Louise Bradley, lost her best friend to suicide more than 25 years ago, there were almost no resources at Bradley’s disposal. Grief stricken and guilt-ridden, Bradley felt devastated and alone. “We’ve seen a lot of changes around mental health problems and illnesses in the last two decades,” said Bradley. “But suicide remains misunderstood, and we can’t afford to tiptoe around something so important.”   Every year in Canada, 4,000 people die by suicide. It’s estimated that for every death, 25 people are profoundly affected.

To address the difficulties individuals and families face following a death by suicide, or in the wake of an attempt, the MHCC has collated two essential resources that offer tools, readings, information and contacts specifically linked to both suicide prevention and surviving a suicide loss. In collaboration with the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, the Centre for Suicide Prevention, the Public Health Agency of Canada and an Advisory Committee made up of people with lived experience, the MHCC has worked to create a simple, user-friendly summary of available tools to help people cope following a crisis.

“We didn’t want to presume to know what would be most helpful to people, so we asked,” explains Ed Mantler, Vice-President of Programs and Priorities. He is referring to an online survey conducted by the MHCC that elicited more than 1,000 responses from people affected by a suicide attempt or loss. “This isn’t meant to be exhaustive,” explains Mantler. “It’s been curated to reflect the tools people found useful when they were living the experience.”

Separated by topic area, clearly referenced and with easy to use hyperlinks, the toolkits take an overwhelming topic and break it down into digestible chunks.

“When you are in a crisis, you need something to make life a little bit easier,” said Bradley. “I wish there had been a one-stop shop to point me in the right direction so many years ago.

After a loss – or an attempt – it’s common to feel despair and hopelessness. We want to give people a means to quickly get information about how to deal with those feelings in a constructive way.”

From dispelling common myths – like knowing that asking someone if they feel suicidal won’t lead to a suicide attempt – to offering safe language to communicate about the topic, the toolkits are informative without being overwhelming.

“These toolkits aren’t a replacement for a conversation,” says Bradley. “But they can help you figure out who to call, where to turn and how to get help. It’s a long journey back from an attempt or a bereavement. And no one’s path is the same. The toolkits offer guideposts to use along the way.”

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6 Responses to A Mother’s Grief

  1. Marianne Whitlock says:

    Dearest Judy,

    I’ve just been going through this amazing memorial website. I feel truly honoured to have read the posts, thank you, and been allowed an insight into your journey and Elizabeth’s challenges. I’m so terribly sad for Elizabeth yet very strongly believe after reading everything that she has, through her work, created a legacy that will continue. What a courageous, creative and talented lady she was. It is a perfect tribute to Elizabeth.

    With lots of love, your neice and Elizabeth’s cousin, Marianne xxx

    • judyb200 says:

      Thank you, Marianne. It is good to have your caring words. Hope Russell and the boys are keeping well, and yourself too plus all my family in UK. All love Judy

  2. Karen says:

    You are so eloquent mum, this is where Elizabeth got her talent. I am so proud of you and Dad for putting together this amazing tribute to my darling sister Elizabeth. Like you said, if only she could have seen how truly talented and loved she was

    • judyb200 says:

      Karen, how hard this must be for you to lose your sister – we feel your grief. Continue to cherish those three wonderful kids as a source of comfort to you, knowing as you do, that they are happy, healthy and in a loving environment. You ever loving Mom and Dad.

  3. Peanut & Jelly,

    My heart is breaking with you. We all stand with you and carry the burden of pain. You are not alone. She adored you both, better parents she couldn’t wish for. Jelly, I understand the intricate relationship you had with Elizabeth. My dad is also one of my best friends. When I have had tragedy and despair in my life, he has been my rock. Always there to protect me and lift me back up on my feet again. Your pain is two fold and is completely heartfelt.

    The question is where do you go from here? How do you pick up the pieces and move forward? What did we learn from Elizabeth’s life? What would make her happy and smile?

    I know of one. Live your life to the fullest! If you don’t have the strength or desire to do it for yourself, do it for her. Live for her and do the things that she couldn’t do for herself.

    Grab your lover Peanut and go to Hawaii. Put the grass skirt on and do your hula dance!
    She would absolutely love that and squeal with excitement and laughter.

    Live and smile for her. Remember the laughter and joy she brought into our lives. Rejoice in her name and memory.

    Love
    Sean

    • judyb200 says:

      Sean, you are the best. I know Elizabeth thought the world of you. Yes, we heard you talking horses one of the few people interested to do that. She loved the Smurf game at Christmas. You write so well, so pure, you touch my soul. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. There is nothing we can do for Elizabeth except to remain proud of her and this Memorial Web Site is the best way to do it. The Web Site will be out there in the “cloud” after we, you, the children, are long gone. Somebody will say, well who was Elizabeth Bogod?, and they will be able to read her poetry, laugh at some, cry at others. They will be able to see her art work. If they did not know her before, they sure will have a better picture now. We are listening to you, Sean, you are right, there is life left – not that much – but life. At the present, it is one day at a time with constant triggers. At first we said we cannot go away this year – it would seem to be on the back of tragedy. Well, listen, I am going to use the code word “D” for secrecy – ask Karen about why; we are going to D (with the Toronto lot) in September, one week of sheer fun, hilarity, groovy and outrageous!!!. Might find a Smurf for you! Maybe we could meet you there? All our love, Judy and Philip

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