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Life Chez Dee Episode #66: "So much more than a card"

I’ve been doing loads of sorting out lately … sorting, clearing, filing, tidying. There’s still lots more of gardening sorting to be done for me to feel accomplished, but given the inclement weather of late I’ve turned my attentions to sorting inside the house. I’ve bundles of stuff ready for the charity shop and I’ve given lots away via a local freecycle site … and it’s rather liberating that decluttering is well underway. I wouldn’t describe ourselves as hoarders by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s incredible the amount of stuff we’ve accumulated. The thing about sorting and decluttering is that it’s a long process … you start on one drawer, and it leads to another, you start on a shelf in one room, and you’re suddenly in boxes in another, and the lockdown sorting has reached new levels with even the “top drawer” being organised.

Over the weekend Justin began his rainy day project, and finished painting the bedroom doors and walls around the upstairs landing. We’d started this ages and ages ago, and got completely fed up with the whole thing and we sort of just lived with the painting job unfinished. Whilst he was up to his ears in white gloss and “pebble shore” emulsion, I moved my attention and focus to the spare room upstairs, the room which has become an office cum place to store all the charity stuff and where I keep some of Edward’s things. I turned to a box on one of the shelves, an old paper box, once full of printer paper, but now full to the brim with letters, messages and cards which were sent to us when Edward died.

I remember receiving each and every one of those cards like it were yesterday, and I couldn’t help feeling rather overwhelmed by the enormity of what they represented. Not only that I no longer had my child, but of how many people reached out to us with thoughts, words and deeds, all so kindly sent or freely given to us with care and love, and how we felt comforted in some small way that others were thinking of us, desperately wanting to do something for us, desperately wanting to help in a situation which was helpless. All of the love and support shown to us was appreciated more than you will ever know, and only now really appreciating how much was actually done for us, because at the time I know how numb I was and how many of the weeks and months following Edward’s death were a haze. To read all these messages now, not only triggers memories of how lovely and caring people were at the time, but much more than that, it’s is just lovely reading just how much Edward was loved by so many.

I found the books which were put at the back of church at Edward’s funeral for people to write in. For us, every message, every thought, every memory was all we had to hold on to of our precious child. Many people wrote in the books, but many others sadly didn’t, and there were lots of blank pages still remaining in these. I decided that I wanted these books to be treasures to keep, and not kept in a paper box on a shelf. If I’m honest, I’ve looked at that box many, many times, unable to delve into it, as I’ve knew in doing this I would be taken to a place deep within me again, lost in my thoughts, and my memories, and my pain, my sadness, my emptiness of not having my child here.

Some may say that I shouldn’t go delving into these cards, reliving all that pain and trauma all over again, but the truth, which I’m not sure people realise, is that I live with this pain, emptiness, weight, longing every single day. There isn’t a moment in any day when Edward is not in my thoughts. Happy, sad, comforting and painful thoughts flash through my head constantly, ever thinking of him, talking to him, looking for him in all I see and do.

I’ve had to take a break several times from sorting this box. It has been incredibly emotional, intense and incredibly tiring, and because my tears are just flowing. Flowing so freely that I’m now afraid that I’ll spoil the cards, the tears will roll down my cheeks and pool on the precious messages, and smudge them, spoil them, erase them. There are hundreds and hundreds of kind words, which I’m re reading. For those who sent these cards, I cannot thank you enough. You may think that when you send a card it is read once and then discarded, but you would be so wrong. I read and thought, and digested and absorbed every word, both then, and again now. Some I remember vividly, others are a blurred memory, but today I am able to read, think, digest, absorb, and remember.

I’m feeling a little battered if I’m honest, and so I’m taking a break in the proceedings to sit and write. I’m so tired that I don’t even know if I’ll be able to write, my head is not clear ... it’s fuzzy, painful, exhausted and I feel a little dizzy.

I’ve been cutting up the cards and messages so that I can display them easier in the memory books I mentioned. I have been cutting and sticking so much that I’ve gone through 5 Pritt Sticks already, and I’ve actually got a blister on my thumb from the amount of cutting I’ve done.

I look through the names of those who offered their thoughts and condolences, and I think about all the happy times they, or their families, or their children, spent with us, or with Edward, and I think about who out of those told me how much they would hold Edward in a special place in their heart, and I wonder where some of those people are now.

Edward died three and a half years ago, which isn’t that long ago; it both feels like yesterday, and forever all at once. He has missed, and therefore so have I, the end of the chapter on his primary school days; so too has he not been a part of the new school term starting this chapter of his education journey, making new friends, growing and deepening old friendships, learning new skills, finding his path and choosing his options to set him on the road to another further education chapter, another he won’t be able to experience.

Losing a child is forever. I cannot begin to explain how much as a bereaved parent you carry your child with you. You live all these moments in your head so that your child hasn’t missed out on anything. He hasn’t stayed the same age, he’s grown with his friends, because as I see those friends walking to school, or out and about, I see how they’ve grown, how they’ve changed, and in my head, and my heart, I see Edward.

Friday saw National Bereaved Parents day, which is rather ironic that I should be sorting through all these things on this day of all days. I didn’t know it was this day beforehand, this only came to light later on when I spotted some posts on social media.

As with all these times when I’m thrust back into the moment, it also sits with me for a long time, and sends me to a time of deep reflection, reflection of the trauma, reflection on the memories I have of Edward, reflection on going through my mind all the things in life which Edward has been denied, going through all those situations imagining Edward still here, what he’d be doing, saying, thinking. I also turn the reflection onto myself, how I am, how I feel, how so significantly I’ve changed.

I think of all the situations where I’m told I’m strong, and yet I’m breaking apart inside. I think of the times I’m difficult, angry, snappy, touchy, weepy, paranoid, anxious, and how many situations I’ve been in where I’ve felt like this. I reflect on my interactions with various people and how they have reacted to me, and I think how many other bereaved parents probably feel this way too. Time has moved on, the world has moved on, and I have moved too, but not so as to have put Edward’s death in the past, but rather carried Edward with me as time moves on. I have changed enormously, and evolved to deal with the cards life dealt me, but my changed self is not really understood, and yet I understand myself more than ever before.

The hurt doesn’t go, it is carried every day. If I had a penny for the number of people who have told me how time heals, I’d be a very rich lady, and it’s probably the biggest load of tosh I hear more than anything. Time does not heal. Time changes you. Time enables you to become better at managing and hiding the pain. I can laugh and still be sad; I can joke and still be aching within; I’ve learned to smile through the pain. I can laugh, joke, chat, smile, but little will you realise that I am in two places at once, and I am no longer one person, I am two people.

I feel as though Edward is so much within me, that we are one. Whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, whoever I speak to, Edward is with me too. I seem able now to look at him from within, sharing the chats, jokes, laughs, memories, as if he were still with me. I may get in the car on the way to somewhere, or home from somewhere, and I have a conversation with Edward, sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head. I don’t need to tell him what’s happened, because he’s with me, but we talk about things nonetheless, I ask him for advice, I ask him for help, I give him jobs to do, I send him on missions. My conversations with him are a little more grown up than they perhaps would be if he were here, but I still rely on his drive, determination, instinct, fairness, passion, enthusiasm, energy, and hot headedness in many a situation.

So often I can carry Edward with me and function as normal, but from time to time, he breaks out, and I break down, and the wound which he helps make better within me, becomes, open and raw once again, it is overwhelmingly painful, and my own healing has to take over with the tears flowing, not a little, but raging torrents of tears, making their way around the boulder which sits in my throat; oozing from my eyes as I carry the weight in my heart as if I were being crushed by something so heavy I can never free myself.

I know he’s watching me; he’s been throwing feathers at me today, and a metal robin badge he dropped onto the desk in front of me. I read a card from one of his school friends, just as something was delivered through my door from that family. All such coincidences, and yet far too many coincidences to be just that.

There are those who will say don’t look through these things, it will make you feel sad, but sad is the one thing I don’t feel when I think of Edward, even through all the pain and the heartache of him not being here. I feel sad he’s not here, yes of course I do, but I’m not sad to read, talk, hear about and chat about Edward. Edward didn’t sadden me; Edward dying saddened me. There’s a difference.

Me not looking at these cards will not heal me, nothing will heal me, nothing except being able to see Edward again. But photographs, anecdotes, snippets and stories are all I have. The memories are what I cling to so tightly, because I don’t have my son here with me anymore, no more stories, photographs, stories to tell, no more experiences together. I’m left with my memories, and those of others who kindly share them with me.

I’m glad I kept the cards, and I’m glad I re read them. I love that Edward was known by and loved by so many. It’s nice to know that his memory will live on in others, and when his name is spoken and a story is told, that will live on in others who perhaps didn’t know him. And so Edward is alive in the stories told to others.

Those who sent cards, and still send cards, with a few words, thoughts, snippets, please don’t think that they are just a few words, they really are important, special, and so much more.

"So much more than a card" by Elizabeth Dee

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