Eight years ago in October 2010 my son, Charlie, died very suddenly. He contracted meningitis at 14 weeks old and died a week later. It was a horrendous week of agonising lows and culminated in us having to turn his life support off. The next day we had to go home without him. My body was still making milk for a baby that wasn’t there, my arms empty, I was in post partum mode and my brain was wondering what on earth had happened?
He was gone but my body and mind couldn’t accept it. I carried on expressing my milk and donated it to premature babies. I couldn’t bear to stop producing milk. It was such a big part of my relationship with him so I wanted to stay in that mode; I wanted to still be the person who had a baby in their arms. For those moments I could close my eyes and pretend he was still alive.
I threw myself into a massive campaign to raise awareness of the signs of meningitis. I tweeted every celebrity I could think of to get people to read Charlie’s story. I did interviews with magazines, newspapers and radio. All the time what I was really doing was pushing my grief away. I put it in the “to do” pile. That could come later. I had work to do.
I couldn’t look down and see the big gaping hole in my life and all his things gone (as requested by me). It was too unbearable to think about. Too awful to be real. So I didn’t think about it. I thought about raising money and saving other people. It sounds admirable and brave but it was just a coping mechanism - a way to avoid going through the grief process.
Then six months after his death I found out I was expecting another baby. We’d made the decision to have another baby fairly quickly for many reasons. Partly so there wasn’t too much of an age gap with our eldest son and partly to give us something else to focus on and look forward to.
Again, the grieving process was put on hold. I was pregnant, I couldn’t grieve. At least that’s what I told myself. It was another reason to put it to the side. Another excuse to bury my head in the sand that he’d gone.
Life went on and we had a daughter who kept my mind occupied and my arms were full again. She was never a replacement for Charlie and never will be but she was a welcome distraction. I was so full of love for her and still am.
It was only recently when the Alfie Evans case was all over the media that I had a breakdown. It was similar to our case in many ways. Same hospital, he was in intensive care and we had to turn his life support off. Charlie could have been in the same room, had the same doctors and staff as Alfie. To see people call murderers to them was too much for me to handle. I don’t think those protestors realised the harm they were doing to the other parents in Alder Hey. By fighting for Alfie they were causing great distress to the other parents and children who were in there going through their own battles.
With all those feelings I’d pushed away, now bubbling to the surface, it made me realise: I’d forgotten to grieve.
I’ve now started having grief counselling through Meningitis Now and working through my feelings. I’ve finally stopped the excuses and I’m learning to accept that he died and is not coming back. Even writing that hurts unbearably.
I don’t recommend my coping strategies. They may have seemed positive at the time but they just put off something I was always going to have go through. It’s so important to experience that process early on and not push it away. As a wise friend once said to me, “Grief isn’t something you can go round, it’s something you go through”. Almost eight years later I’m starting to understand that and beginning the long journey to acceptance.
The Meningitis Now Helpline is 0808 80 10 388.
To read Charlie’s full story and the signs and symptoms of meningitis please visit www.charliecheekychops.blogspot.co.uk