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My Complicated Grief
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The holiday season is now over. Despite the severe restrictions imposed for the 2020 holidays, I must say that for my part, Christmas 2020 was much better than Christmas 2019. It is true that last year, I technically had the opportunity to see more people, walk around the stores and do a lot more. However, when we are not in good health, being free doesn’t help much. Being healthy is much more important and I wish you all good health as we begin 2021.
Last year, friends and family were suggesting activities that I should do in order to take my mind off things; “You should go see a movie, spend a day at the spa, or go out for a nice dinner!” and more. What they couldn’t realized was that no outing could have brought me any kind of pleasure. A month and a half after the accident was not enough time to be feeling better. No matter the activity, my heart ached, I felt severe pain and a deep void. More specifically, most of the time, I had difficulty standing for more than 5 minutes and literally felt out of breath. Sometimes, I could be okay for a short period (eg. 30 minutes), but it was quite rare and very unpredictable.
How Complicated Grief Affected Me – Symptoms
Although my sleep was generally adequate with the help of sleeping pills, I was still extremely tired and exhausted. I had trouble answering the phone and would therefore ask Carl to listen to my voicemail messages. This went on for months, which was normal under the circumstances. I’m not saying that today I have no more pain, that I have no heartache, on the contrary. But at least I can say that there are times when I feel like more like myself.
During a dinner over the holidays, someone kindly accepted to be with Adélie at the hospital so Carl and I we could have a nice evening with others. I remember after dinner, it was suggested to me “why don’t you stay a little later to enjoy it and have a little fun?”. Holding on to my tears, I responded “how could I enjoy this? “. It was impossible for me to enjoy anything. Any “beautiful moment” was tarnished by the deep sadness that was eating me.
Even though it was a lovely dinner with loved ones, I just wanted to rest my head on the table in my arms. I was not hungry. My heart ached and I had to catch my breath. I couldn’t stand myself, although I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I tried to stay presentable and not appear too sad. People couldn’t tell how bad I felt. After all, there are no lessons on grief in school (unless you study psychology) and grief is a subject that is unfortunately still quite taboo.
At that time, I thought I felt this way because of the bereavement; a deep and cruel mourning following the loss of my child. It is true that I was dealing with complicated grief, but I was also experiencing many signs of depression. I had actually fallen into a depression; a situational depression as experts call it, caused by the traumatic event of the accident and the loss of Zackaël. On top of all that, Adélie was still in the hospital at that time. She almost died, and there were many unknowns relating to her health and recovery. She didn’t speak yet, didn’t walk, her right limbs were inactive, she often had fevers, vomited frequently, and so on. It was all too much for my system to take, a grieving mother with a broken heart.
What is Complicated Grief?
Complicated grief is a persistent grief in which the death of a loved one causes suffering for a longer time than typical grief. It is said that about 5%-7% of bereaved people suffer from complicated grief and I would imagine that it must impact the vast majority of bereaved parents.
In general, death of a child is the most difficult kind of loss, and bereaved family members are at elevated risk for depression and anxiety for close to a decade after the loss. In addition these parents are at risk for a range of physical illnesses.source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK220798/
Now, in 2021, some moms who’ve recently lost a child ask me how I got through it. I am so sorry that those parents have go through such an event. I don’t know if I can say that I “made it through”, but I’m able to say I made it through the first year. And “getting through” doesn’t mean we did it like a pro. It just means that we survived, that we did the best we could, that we are still here and we are trying to improve. Everyone experiences grief in their own way. In truth, the way I lived my grief was very different from the way Carl lived his.
How to Stop Complicated Grief
I knew I had to get out of the house in order to avoid sinking into a deep depression. So that’s what I did. Every morning, I would get up and get ready to go see Adélie at the hospital. I went out as often as my weakened body would allow. I talked to people who came to visit. I went to gathering and events organized following the accident, even though I sometimes didn’t feel like it. Despite the fact that I followed everything the books would “suggest” I do, nothing could stop the pain that haunted me. People probably didn’t realize how much pain I was feeling all the time.
Coming back to the question of what I did to “get through”, it’s a subject that I plan to touch on eventually in another post. First, I will admit that I eventually started taking anti-depressants (Buproprion), which I believe helped me with my energy levels. I just couldn’t just go on like this. Sometimes, if you’re not getting better despite doing all the right things… sleep, getting help, going out, essential oils … you don’t have any choice but to try something else. Medication can’t alleviate sadness and grief, but at least it can help with energy and I’m not shy to mention it.
It is often said that the first year is the worst, known as the “Year of Firsts”. I hope so, but I am not sure. In fact, in some groups of bereaved parents, I read that many parents have great difficulty for years, no matter if it is the 1st or 3rd year. This is what complicated grief is, we don’t know if we will be better tomorrow. The loss of a child is far from typical grief. We all expect at some point that our grandparents and even our parents will leave us (at a certain age). But no one decides to bring a child in this world knowing that he or she will die before them, let alone their little body dying in our arms.
We spent most of the 2019 holidays at the hospital with Adélie. In my case, I couldn’t say “holidays”, because really, there wasn’t much to celebrate. I had lost my son, my daughter was badly injured (and with a lot of unknowns), my son was very sad and traumatized (although the extent of his trauma wasn’t as evident at the time as it would later become). Carl and I survived and did the best we could.
Despite all the sadness, we had a lovely family dinner at the hospital on December 26th, thanks to CHEO who gave us access to their meeting room. Adélie could not speak (she had a tracheostomy tube), she did not eat on her own and did not walk. Despite all of this, we were happy to be together as a family with our little Adélie. We had the chance to give her little gifts, to make her smile, and she was so happy to see us all at the same time.
We could not have survived without the help of many, especially those who stayed with Adélie. When Adélie was in the hospital, I wasn’t physically or mentally able to spend nights in the hospital. I already felt like a zombie during the day (with the symptoms mentioned above). Fortunately, Carl didn’t have as many physical depression symptoms. He had more energy and was therefore able to spend nights in the hospital.
Our family helped us for a lot of the hospital nights as it was important that we also be with Maxandre at home. Thanks to our parents, Yvonne and Francois, Michael and Judy, my brother Joel and his wife Mylène, Carl’s brother Malcolm and his aunt Margaret for all the nights you spent at the hospital with Adélie. These were not restful nights, often disturbed by our poor little girl’s nausea, her loud cough from her trachea tube, noises from other patients (shared room), and so on. Thank you also everyone who kept Adélie company during the day. To all of you, we will always be grateful for your kindness and generosity.
You might have found this post a little depressing, but I think it’s important to give you the context before I post more about what has helped me with depression. Finally, for those who are interested, I recommend watching this video (French). I relate 100% everything mom says, even her last sentence about being happy.
That’s it for now!
Thank you for reading this post even if it was a sensitive topic. If you enjoyed it, don’t hesitate to comment :-).
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