Making Lemonade Blog

At just over 9 months since losing Lauren to breast cancer I've started be able to answer the question of 'how are you?' with the words "good thanks", as opposed to "not too bad". What will seem like a very small difference is actually huge to someone who has agonised over their response to that question for quite some time. A large reason for my progress there is that aside from generally feeling that I'm coping, I've actually started to rebuild my life after loss, which brings another set of challenges to the fore.

Below is a list of goals that I set myself and shared to my Making Lemonade Instagram page on 01 January 2021 and an update on each, but also why I'm feeling a sense of what I call 'smothered pride'.

1) Start My Marketing Consultancy

This was top of the list, the motivation was to get back to being financially stable and self supportive whilst building work around my life and Molly as opposed to the other way around. It's also the inspiration for today's blog, because as I sit here today not only have I successfully created Whole of the Moon Marketing Ltd, but this week I've secured enough work to see me through the next 6 months and achieve my very simple goal of providing financially whilst picking Molly up from school everyday (ish).

2) Continue to support others through the Making Lemonade blog

When I created this list I'd just started realising how much of a support I could be to people by sharing, talking and listening to others about our experiences with grief, bereavement, mental health challenges and solo parenting. To the point now where I've realised that actually 100% of people will experience a loss and grief of varying degrees throughout their lives, yet the general perception of grief and the support required is still pretty skewed to people thinking it's just the inconsolable sadness you feel immediately after the loss as opposed to other things such as the topic I'm writing about today and as such we are all so ill prepared for when loss occurs (if there can be such a preparation of course). I'm pleased to say that by using our story and my counselling sessions as a vehicle I've been able to take part in conversations on the radio, have interviews with local newspapers and national online news websites and have really found a desire to keep opening these conversations up and influencing the quality of the discussions because ultimately you don't know what you don't know and rather than having to find out when you are in the thick of the early stages of a bereavement if you can hear someone like me sharing my experiences then it may help you to at least know where to turn.

3) Focus on my health and well-being

As I've written about in previous blogs, since Lauren's incurable diagnosis I have been challenged with anxiety attacks and stress related mental health issues, these generally manifested themselves as chest pains and arm pains and initially had me worried that I'd got an issue with my heart. After some tests at the hospital and with the doctors, I was told that these were caused by stress and anxiety. Thankfully over time and with the support of some counselling therapy I've found other outlets for these emotions (like writing this blog) and grounding techniques that help to limit the impact of these on my day to day life. However, I also decided that being nearly 21 stone and with the responsibility of being a solo parent that I needed to sort that out too and am pleased to say that I am making great progress on that front having lost 2 and half stone and counting.

4) Continue being the best Solo Parent I can be

Less measurable than the first 3 goals so far and kind of weaves it's way into all of them, as most of them are driven by creating and rebuilding a life in which I can achieve exactly this goal. But in terms of being a solo dad to Molly, it is probably the area of my life where I want to achieve the most and actually feel as though I'm doing that. I've tried desperately to offer here structure, routine and a sense of security over the last 9 months so as to try and limit the challenges she encounters as part of the journey of being a bereaved child and will continue to do my utmost to educate myself and do my best to develop an understanding of how best to support her through those challenges.

5) Rediscover myself in widowhood and try to find things that bring me happiness

Moving forward and moving on are two completely separate things and as a young widow I am learning that losing Lauren is something that I'll always carry with me and never move on from. But, the art of healing in my opinion is to move forward at what ever pace you can manage (which often varies on a daily basis) and rebuild your life around your grief so that you just don't trip over it as much. When you do it'll still hurt the same, but by rediscovering yourself and trying to fill your life with things for you as opposed to things to fill a gap then there'll be more things to keep you from falling in the black hole. I'm still figuring this one out and am at the moment getting enough from the 4 goals above to keep me occupied whilst I do so.

Probably the most significant point of movement in this area is that many link moving forward to being in new relationships and finding love again. Whilst I don't buy into the fact that this is the only way to move forward, I am now at a stage where I am open to the idea. Being open to the idea is very different to being ready to do it, but where as earlier in my journey it felt that it would never feel right to even consider it, now I am accepting of the fact that I don't necessarily want to live the rest of my life single, there were life goals that Lauren and I shared and whilst the opportunity to achieve them together has gone, that doesn't mean that my life goals have died with her, I just have to find alternative ways.

The most important thing for me here is to approach with care, I want to be at a stage where I bring people into my life for me and not to fill the gaps left behind after losing Lauren, only then will it feel right. That said from an outsiders perspective, the world of dating seems as though it is a bit of a minefield and might be a deterrent in itself!

So what is 'smothered pride'?

As I've found in the past, it's not easy to put labels on the way that being widowed makes you feel. Having laid out my intentions at the start of the year and going through how well I think I'm progressing with all of them, I am (which is new for me) feeling very proud of myself. The personal growth that I'm experiencing, the achievements that I'm making and the way that Molly and I have been adapting to life after loss over the last 9 months has felt like quite some journey on a road that will never finish.

However, I'd trade all of that growth and progress in an instant to have Lauren back and no matter how proud I feel of myself, nor how much positive momentum I build up, it is smothered by the sense of loss an absence. The person that I'd want to share these things with, whose face I'd want to see beam with pride and who was my biggest supporter and advocate isn't here and that's another one of the aspects of grief and bereavement that I don't think people expect, realise or can empathise with.

The positive side of this story is that despite the adversity and challenges I've faced, I'm showing that there is life to be had after loss and that I'm finding ways to move forward. The other side of that, and the bit I suppose I'm really trying to share to help those on the same road normalise their feelings and those lucky enough not to be on this road to understand is that it's about moving forward with your grief and not moving on from it.

For the usual close with a song part of my blogs, this song played on the radio whilst thinking about the content for this blog and how actually healing is a long, gradual process where it sometimes you feel like you're making progress and sometimes you don't but it's really just about being patient with yourself, so I interpreted some* of the lyrics in this song to be a message to myself.

Thanks for reading and being a part of our journey!

99 views1 comment

With Molly being just 3 when her Mum died I've had such a focus on how she processes her loss and the pace at which she is given the information about death.

Earlier this week she broke my heart when she said...

'Daddy, do you remember when mummy used to...'

'But I don't want to talk about Mummy, 'cos it makes me sad and I think about her all the time and that makes me sad'

It was interesting, because for the few days prior to this conversation I had noticed that she was crying a lot more than normal, she'd been saying things like 'I don't feel like doing things' and in hindsight she was obviously really processing her loss and feeling the weight of her grief very much in the same way that it floors me from time to time.

So, I waited a day or so for the right moment and then I read her a book called 'Missing Mummy' by Rebecca Cobb. The book is close to home for Molly and talks about the same journey that she has been on, it helps to normalise her situation but also her feelings and opens the floor for her to talk about anything that's on her mind through the vehicle of somebody else's story.

Thankfully I'd prepared myself for the questions that she decided to ask as she was really interested to know about funerals and it provided me with the opportunity to build on her understanding of death.

I'd decided early on to treat her understanding of death and loss like building blocks, I wanted to be able to introduce one block (part) at a time and make sure her understanding was firmly in place before adding more blocks and trying not to overload or scare her in the process.

The first block was about the fact that Lauren would be dying, why it was going to happen and all credit to Lauren who actually put the foundations down for this which was so incredibly brave. It was important here for me to use words that couldn't be open to interpretation so we used dying and died instead of passing away, we used the words cancer instead of sick or poorly and in no way have I allowed her to think that Lauren could come home at any point.

Then I wanted her to know more about the things we might feel, how we can remember people and that it's OK for her to feel a full range of emotions. This one is less like a building block and more like the cement that holds the bricks together and will need constant reassurance and application with each block that's laid.

Next, I wanted her to understand better what happens to someone's body when they die and how it stops working and that they don't need it any more, this is a really tough one because it's hard enough to get our adult minds around, but is essential for being able to talk to her about cremations and funerals. This one has so far been the longest piece, because the way Molly saw the situation, was that Lauren and just gone somewhere else, as she was. Luckily I didn't need to get into talking in too much detail about spirits and heaven etc, I'm still trying to figure out how I explain this too her, because actually although I believe in an afterlife I have no idea what I think that looks like. But to help support this message I decided (with advice from her child bereavement counsellor) to read her Always and Forever by Debi Gliori because in it's illustrations it depicts quite well a scene of one of the characters being dead in a very child appropriate way.

Which brings me to our recent conversations about funerals and cremation. I'd bought Molly a piece of cremation jewellery and am really keen for her to be involved when we eventually inter Lauren's Ashes. But I was very aware that the idea of putting someone's body and coffin into a fire could potentially be a scary concept and cause her some unsettling emotions if she hadn't got her head around the previous building block. In preparation for this conversation and in an attempt to be clear in my mind about the language and structure this conversation would take, I read a children's book called What Happened to Daddy's Body? by Elke Barber. I'd decided not to read this to her directly so as not to confuse her with it being about a Dad. But it definitely helped me know how direct I needed to be with my language and when the opportunity presented itself and she asked 'Daddy, what happens at a funeral?' I told her...

'That Mummy's dead body is put into a coffin and taken in a big car to big room, where her family and friends all sit to say goodbye to her. There was a nice lady stood at the front who reminded everyone all about Mummy and how lovely she was. Then at the end, everybody left and put a flower on Mummy's coffin to say goodbye as they were leaving. After that they lowered the coffin and Mummy's body into a fire and burned it, turning it into Ashes.

After that we all went to the hall for some tea and cake and to talk about Mummy and that's when you came to see everybody, do you remember?'

She really took the information on board well and then I showed her the small scatter tube of Ashes that we have at home at the moment and explained that the necklace I gave her a few weeks ago actually had some of Mummy's Ashes inside and it transformed the situation into quite a nice moment where she kissed her necklace and spoke about how special it was.

I'm not quite sure what the next block is, I'll keep working on this one for a while as I'm sure there'll be more questions or confusion that I'll need to iron out. But I'm really proud of her and how well she is adapting and dealing with such a huge loss at just 4 years old. She is doing her Mummy proud and I'll do my best to keep supporting her on her journey with grief.

Here are some other books that I have read to Molly throughout her grief journey and would recommend all of them for different reasons, my biggest piece of advice would be to read them yourself first and be prepared for questions that your little ones may have.

Swipe to see the covers which are linked to their Amazon listing.

And as is generally the way, I like to finish with a link to a song and although an entire song may not always feel relevant sometimes there may be even just one line or lyric that really speaks to me. This song really feels appropriate when talking about the message I'm trying to give to Molly.

Thanks for reading and being a part of our journey!

176 views0 comments

It's a week since Valentines day and with it not being a first that I'd been particularly anxious about, it really taught me to expect the unexpected and the importance of something my counsellor had advised me in the past.

Valentines day wasn't something that Lauren and I were particularly over the top about, in the earlier days of our relationship we'd celebrate it a little more, but over recent years it was more just a small gift, card and an excuse for an indulgent dinner.

Having tackled much bigger firsts and survived, I suppose I'd been lured into a false sense of security about Valentines day and how I'd cope. I hadn't really given it a thought and I certainly wasn't worried about how I was going to feel. I woke up in the morning to my usual wake up call from Molly and her request for breakfast and even though I'd bought her a little valentines gift, giving it to her didn't trigger anything and I still felt okay about it.

Then I sat with a coffee and started to browse through social media and began to see the expressions of love in abundance, it seemed like there were so many more this year than ever before and each one was like a woodpecker pecking away at my resilience until it broke through and I was floored and ended up going back to bed feeling really sorry for myself and ghosting anyone who tried to call.

I've waited til now to share this blog, because I wanted people to enjoy their Valentines day without me putting a dampener on it. Actually I encourage people to embrace and express their love, I'm one of the many living examples of how you need to make the most of the time you have and hold on to happiness (reference to the song shared at the end), because you really don't know what's around the corner.

I've recently started to feel that even though this journey is painful, even though it's hard and even though it's a journey I'd prefer not to be on, there is no way l that I'll travel it and not become a better version of me. I'm learning an incredible amount about myself, about empathy, about parenting and about life in general and with it I'm developing a skill set that is enabling to survive grief, but will also enable to face anything life throws up in the future.

However, Valentines day was an example of a lesson learnt in expecting the unexpected and the importance of having a support plan in place. In the build up to Christmas, my counsellor advised me to create and put in place an emergency support plan, what she meant was, arrange with a person/ people to be on hand should I need them. Whether that need be company for a distraction, or childcare for a chance to work through some feelings, or even just a phone call for a bit of moral support.

At Christmas I found I didn't actually need the plan, but on Valentines day after 2 hours of laying in bed and feeling sorry for myself, I decided I needed to get Molly and I out of the house. It was then that I realised I should have made a plan, because I honestly felt like I didn't know where to go or who to turn to. I felt as though being the lonely widow would have put a downer on peoples valentines day and I really didn't want to be a burden. Whereas, if I'd pre-agreed with someone that on the chance I feel a bit rubbish to expect a call that bit of anguish wouldn't have existed and I'd have probably acted earlier.

Anyway Molly and I ended up going for a walk and a coffee (Molly had a babyccino) around the park and to my in-laws for the afternoon and like all of the things we've faced, we carried on our 100% success rate of getting through them. But, it would have perhaps been a bit kinder on me, if I'd expected the unexpected and put a support plan in place.

So, my aim going forward for any day that could remind me of Lauren's absence and the life we've lost, I'll have a plan in place. As mentioned earlier, it's really important to hold on to happiness and whilst the content on social media that day triggered something in me, I'm not at all resentful to those that are fortunate to have their loved ones with them, I'm just gutted that I don't.

Thanks for reading and being a part of our journey!

137 views0 comments