18 months after losing my 17-year-old son to suicide, and a little over a year after losing both my parents, I hit a slump, a horrible grief pit. Each day was heavy and aimless, like I was wading through treacle in heavy boots.
Why did I feel so rubbish at this point, and why worse than a year ago? Shouldn’t I be making progress I asked myself. Unbeknown to me 18 months post-loss is a common time for grief to hit hard.
Looking back, I had spent most of the first year of grief in a strange numb bubble, just going through the motions. I had encountered so much loss, three deaths in 7 months, barely coming up for air before the next loss hit.
I had also been super busy, putting into train the next chapter of my life, leaving my job and relationship, selling my house and moving 300 miles to Newcastle. Complications meant I rented initially so I had to embark on finding and buying a house. Once finalised, I started my house renovation, again keeping me physically active and my mind occupied.
Once life slowed down grief crept up and caught me unawares. I found myself mentally preparing for the second anniversary, some months in advance. I questioned whether this would become my life, just anticipating the next special date. There were so many scattered throughout the year, teasing me each month.
I joined a new suicide grief support group and found I was one of the longest grievers. Others in the group are initially surprised that my grief is still hitting hard, making me question my situation more. I had also naïvely thought grief lasted about a year, obviously before it happened to me.
After a trip to London to see family and friends, I awoke in my new house in Newcastle and thought ‘So, this is my life, this is where I live, but what now? I’ve made this choice and should be ‘happy’ but I’m struggling’.
Actually, admitting this to myself was a key moment. I had been so focused on getting away from the toxicity of my previous home and starting afresh that I hadn’t properly considered what lay ahead. I was used to structure and familiarity, but I was thrown into ambiguity, losing the safety and routine of my previous world.
Alongside this, in the second year of loss, those around you are desperately looking for the positives in your life, happy news and future hope. The birth of my first grandchild and settling into my new home became the focus of others’ conversations. I wanted to scream that the good stuff doesn’t balance out the bad. They live alongside each other, which makes for a confusing mix.
Grappling with identity whilst reeling from the impact of the loss and its aftermath is also common in the second year. I questioned my narrative, my story, and wondered whether I was defined by it. I didn’t want to be seen solely as the suicide loss mum, there is more to me than this. However, the traumatic loss of my child is, and will always be, the most significant thing ever to happen to me. I’m also using it as a platform for change.
So, what has helped me to navigate the second-year slump? I wanted to write some top tips in the hope that they might resonate with others too.
Reviewing my journey – looking back at what I had achieved, how far I had come, and the different place I was now in. The list of achievements was incredibly long, not just from a physical but mental place too. Using my journals to review my progress was validating and really cathartic.
Revisiting what helped – especially at the start of the journey, when surviving was the focus. During the second year I lost my way with coping strategies and self-care, seemingly forgetting how to do it. I found much of what had sustained me, journaling, podcasts, bike rides, batch cooking were worth returning to.
Disregarding the expectations of others – I found myself questioning whether I should be feeling like I did and focusing on what others thought. It took a social media post to stop me in my tracks. The question was posed “Have any of them gone through this, walked in your shoes? Why do I think their opinion matters?’. This completely resonated and reinforced that self-compassion is vital.
Reassessing what I’m trying to achieve - I had a future vision but I had lost energy. Taking time out to re-consider this was needed. I realised some initial ideas were too triggering so readjusting and being comfortable with new approaches helped my focus and motivation.
Managing new experiences – I had initially burnt out, throwing myself into numerous activities. Stepping back to consider what brought joy or connection was insightful. I’ve scaled back with gentle activities now appealing. I recently attended a gorgeous glass painting workshop at Durham cricket ground, a place Samuel visited as a child, which felt incredibly poignant.
Being patient and kind to myself - this has been my greatest learning. Realising that I’m on a long journey and the only person making the rules is me. Appreciating that my future will evolve. Keeping an open mind and managing expectations of myself needs to be my focus.
If you feel you would benefit from one to one coaching following loss contact Suzanne Howes www.coachingafterloss.com for a conversation.