Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Book review: The Enchanted Wood

We have tried an experiment with the bedtime stories and it has worked! We have introduced a book with chapters. So, rather than reading thee stories that reach a conclusion, we have started reading 'The Enchanted Wood' by Enid Blyton.

I found a lovely illustrated, hard-back copy in a local book store. (I also managed to get two of the other three books in the Faraway Tree series in the same style.) Although there is not a picture on every page, there are enough illustrations in the book to keep my daughter's interest.

I was a little concerned that she wouldn't be able to remember what had happened in the story from one evening to the next but she has proved me wrong. She loves the book and insists on having at least one chapter (equivalent to two stories) each night. In fact, we are on our second reading of the book because she didn't know what to do once we got to the end!

I'm planning to give her the second book in the series for her birthday and keep the third one until Christmas.

I loved the Faraway Tree stories when I was a girl, so it has been a delight to re-read them with my daughter and to introduce them to my husband. They contain the perfect mix of imagination and wonder: from 'pop-cakes' to the changing cloud lands at the top of the tree and the scrapes that the children and their friends find themselves in. The characters names have been changed slightly to keep with the times (Jo, Bessie and Fanny have become Joe, Beth and Franny) but mostly the story is the same.

I love the old-fashioned use of language, which gives my daughter new words to learn and new ways of expressing surprise and delight. The chapters are well-paced and just the right length to keep a young reader's (or listener's) interest and the sub-stories are not too long.

It has been 30-odd years since I read the books for myself and I am glad to be reading them again with my daughter. Perhaps in 30-years time, she will read them with her own children?

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

No one feels another's grief

No one feels another's grief, no one understands another's joy. People imagine they can reach one another. In reality they only pass each other by.
(Franz Schubert)

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One thing I have been conscious of since Monty was born is that I haven't had (or made) room for other peoples' grief. My primary concern throughout my bereavement journey has been my own health and the welfare of my husband and daughter. However, I recognise that many others have been affected by my son's death: our immediate family (the grand-parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and great-grandparents who were looking forward to his arrival), friends and colleagues.

At the very beginning, I could only focus on my own emotions and take account of my husband's and daughter's reactions. I couldn't process anyone else's experience of my son's stillbirth. Perhaps that was wrong of me? It seems selfish in retrospect but I just didn't have the emotional capacity to deal with external factors, I just had to concentrate on myself and my little family unit. So, I didn't solicit inputs to the funeral service, I just wrote it with my husband with the help of a bottle of wine (although my mother wrote a 'letter from the grandparents' that we later included). I was aware that other people needed a grieving process and so we organised the Festival of Light but there was no way that I could have organised or invited people to attend a funeral and wake. Maybe I should have done more to recognise others' need to grieve and pay their respects?

A few weeks after Monty was born, after the funeral had taken place but before the Festival of Light, my Dad phoned me. He wanted to talk about Monty but didn't want to make me upset. (I think I said that nothing he could say would make me more upset than I already felt!) He said he was struggling to understand what had happened and kept thinking that life shouldn't turn out this way - he ought to have four grandchildren and it wasn't natural that one had died before he was born. I didn't know what to say, except that I was struggling with similar emotions.

Then, my boss came to see me and she said that several of my colleagues had taken the news of Monty's stillbirth badly and sometimes became overcome with tears at their desks. I didn't really know how to deal with that!

Even now, 16 months later, I find it hard to understand how other people feel about Monty. I know that our family are extremely sad for his loss and wish that things had turned out differently but I can't imagine how they feel day to day about him not being here. Perhaps I should try to do more to engage with wider family and friends when I talk about my son and to empathise with their experience of grief in relation to his loss? It is hard, though, because I am still so involved in my own emotions.

Stillbirth remains a taboo subject for many people and not everyone feels comfortable talking about a dead baby. No-one feels another's grief but I want to break down some of the barriers associated with baby loss and bereavement stress and to try to help others in dealing with the emotional conflict that it creates.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Every single year, we're a different person

A friend asked me recently, how I feel now that more than a year has passed since Monty was born.

We have children of similar ages - her elder daughter is two months older than my daughter and her younger daughter was born three months after my son. We have both recently experienced grief: she lost her mother a couple of years ago; I lost my son in November 2012. We have been on our own bereavement journeys.

I am different now. Neither the person I was when my son was stillborn, nor the person I was before he died. I can't explain how - just different. Grief has aged me and changed my perspective on life.

Getting past the first year has been a huge task. So many 'firsts' to acknowledge and deal with. I know there will be more to come but now they will be fewer and farther between.

I have felt as if some of my emotional burden has been lifted since we passed Monty's anniversary. I wound myself up to his 'birthday' and held myself together but, the next day, I crumbled. It was a good job I had booked the day off work and arranged to see my bereavement counsellor because I was a mess.

I am definitely feeling better. I am more confident (although my self-confidence and self-esteem are markedly lower than they were before) and I have started to take on more in my hobbies and at work. This week, I have increased my working hours and I'm concurrently working on four projects. That was unthinkable a year ago, when I was just contemplating my return to the office. However, things are not back to 'normal'. I used to be a social and extroverted person but I am less so now. I find it difficult to meet new people and at work I'm not ready to return to line management - I just can't take on the responsibility of other people.

My focus and priorities have changed. It's all about me, my husband and daughter, my son's memory and our hopes for another baby. My family.

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All of us every single year, we're a different person.
I don't think we're the same person all our lives.
(Steven Spielberg)