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  • Writer's pictureelmarfleet

November: Always

"This Romeo is bleeding

But you can't see his blood...

...It's been raining since you left me

Now I'm drowning in the flood...

...Now I can't sing a love song

Like the way it's meant to be..."

These are the first two lines of each of the first three verses on Bon Jovi's Song Always. This song is about a break up and tells of his regret for things that he has done to his love and their relationship. Whilst his story doesn't match mine, I connect with his emotion and many of the lines he writes. Tears flow down my cheeks and my stomach tightens as I listen to his song. Grief truly feels like I'm bleeding but no one can see the blood. I'm changed forever and I hate learning how to be with others when they can't see my pain. Grief doesn't just rain on me, it drowns me. Love songs hurt with the sweet sorrow of love and pain and I know that I can no longer hear them how they're meant to be. Grief is all this love inside me with no where to go.

"...And I will love you, baby, always

And I'll be there forever and a day, always

I'll be there 'til the stars don't shine

'Til the heavens burst and the words don't rhyme

And I know when I die,

You'll be on my mind

And I'll love you always..."

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-2004) was a Swiss-American psychiatrist and a pioneer in near-death studies, she said, "The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to." This month I find that grief has now become part of me. I yo-yo from feeling beaten up by my sorrow for Tom and all he went through, for how much I miss him, for our future being stolen from us, the list goes on... and then I yo-yo to feeling such passion and strength to want to channel my energy into helping others understand what we can all do to help people when they're grieving. I focus on my boys. Children have always been a significant part of me - from when my little brother was born when I was 14, to deciding I wanted to be primary school teacher at 16, to 4 years training and to 12 years teaching in 3 schools, to becoming an Advanced Skills teacher first and then Deputy Head, before falling completely in love with my own 3 beautiful boys. Children matter. They give their all to every day and don't hold back. I have always felt their energy and enjoyed helping nurture it to grow and fly with the unclipped wings of innocence, curiosity and joy. I want to now bring together the strands of my past to tie into a meaningful path on which to walk forward. I'm rebuilding myself around the loss I suffer. I can't be the same as I was so I will use what I now know to live my new life. I will try to unclip my wings.

"...Well, there ain't no luck

In these loaded dice...

...We can pack up your old dreams and our old lives

We'll find a place where the sun still shines..."

The poet in Bon Jovi gets that right and I know I need to make a difference for me, my boys and for others. But this November has been challenging and tough, both physically and mentally. I've felt overwhelmed in my yo-yoing of emotions, so much so that I have woken up in the night feeling dizzy and sick. I'm not ill. I'm grieving and I know that, but it's scary and I worry what I should do for the boys. I have to now always consider what that one step ahead may be. There's no one here to discuss and share this with or to take control. It's just me and I know that.

This November gave me the opportunity to talk at Matthew's school to his teachers, teaching assistants, office admin staff, caretaker and afterschool leaders as part of their INSET days after half term. I feel truly blessed for this on so many levels. Preparing for my presentation gave me time to research what grief is like for children aged 7-11 and to explore my own children's grief in this age bracket. I also examined my past teaching experience, looking into what I actively did to support bereaved children I taught as well as critically examining whether it was good enough. Could I have done more? Could I do better? What do I think schools could and should do for bereaved children? How can schools support these children to truly look after their needs as grievers now whilst being mindful of how this will impact the young people whom they will become? Schools can do better and I believe that I know how. I feel truly lucky to have had the opportunity to give this presentation to Matthew's school staff. It came down to 2 hours and was exhausting but I was listened to and I know my advice was taken on board. If I can help just one teacher make one bereaved child's life better then it is all worth it. My exhaustion and my sleepless nights is nothing in comparison with that and a week later I saw that positive impact.

November is a month of remembering. Schools often schedule the theme of Remembrance into their long term planning for this month due to Bonfire Night and Remembrance Day. They explore the history of these events every year through the curriculum and in assemblies, as well as the emotions associated with remembering and of course loss. It's where learning about a topic connects with learning from it. I have remembered learning about and reflecting on the pain felt by others for many years in Remembrance assemblies, church services, watching the memorial at the Cenotaph on tv, and I have always felt a pain for others but it was always a little disconnected, a little watched from the side-lines. Now though, I get it. I know that depth of emotion like I never knew before. This year, Matthew's school knew to look out for their bereaved children who will feel like we do and it helped. It helped beyond just "keeping an eye" - lip service many in childcare give to hearing a parental concern. Matthew's school actively supported their bereaved children this month and I am incredibly proud to have been a part of this. Teachers emailed bereaved families to tell them what the school was planning to do. They asked surviving parents to talk to their children and they put options in place for those who wanted to do or be somewhere else. They were given options and they were given control. Our children's experience was acknowledged and their feelings were validated. I cannot describe passionately enough how significant it is to have feelings validated. Grief needs acknowledgement and time. It's ok to feel as you do when you do and for however long. Everyone needs to know that, whether you are 1 or 100, but perhaps if we can learn that whilst we are a child we won't need to hear it so much when we are adults, it will be an intrinsic belief we carry inside giving us lifelong reassurance and strength.

Through research for my presentation I learnt about an ongoing model of loss from Princess Alice Hospice where Tom passed away. It's where a bereaved person has a continuing relationship with their special person who has died. It's not about living in the past but about recognising how bonds formed in the past can influence our present and future and how they can provide solace and support for easing the transition from past to future. I feel excited and reassured to find a recognised description for how I feel. An Instagram quote from Scribbles & Crumbs says: "We talk about them, not because we're stuck or because we haven't moved on, but we talk about them because we are theirs, and they are ours, and no passage of time will ever change that." I have a husband and the boys have a dad. The best husband and the best dad, and I want to honour and celebrate that. This month the boys and I have made memory bead strings. I especially like it that Sam wanted to make one with me. He was very clear in the reasons for why he chose his beads and I loved the conversations we had together about his daddy. He was 3 when Tom died and I know his memories going forward will be made from a combination of photos, videos and stories told to him rather than his own concrete ones, but talking about them helps him build ownership of his relationship with his daddy and that feels right. Sam's memory bead string is just right. He chooses a clear bead for ice and snow which his daddy loved and we remember the last holiday we had together in Austria in January 2019. He then chooses an orange bead for the sun (Tom always kept out of the sun - I haven't had a suntan since we got together in 2001!) and it made me smile to tell that story to Sam, my memory now unlocked and shared with our boys. Next he chooses a pink bead, "for parties because Daddy liked parties and pink is for the balloons". Sam is right there! Next he chooses a sparkly one because Sam likes sparkly things and I like that he wants to put himself into the craft and memory string. The next bead is brown for Mummy's hair, then a purple one for Matthew, the heart bead is chosen next, "because Daddy loves us", then a grey one for Daniel and finally a blue one for Chelsea Football Club. Like all the crafts we've made this year, this one gives us a special moment in time to keep, to treasure and to help us maintain our ongoing relationship with our love for Tom.

I read The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup this month to the boys. Like so many of the picture books I have chosen this year, Britta's illustrations are as beautiful as her words and story are, and I am thankful to have them to share with my boys. This story starts with Fox, "who had lived a long and happy life", falling asleep forever. I'm not sure why so many of these books on death have foxes in them, but this is another one. Britta's fox is a new fox to us and he's beautiful and shines in orange against the white snow. Britta tells us, "Everything around Fox was still and peaceful. Snow began to fall, gently covering him with a soft blanket". Forest creatures start to appear beside Fox and begin to face their sadness and grief. I like this part. It feels appropriate to just let feelings flow and to sit with them. We are told that, "Fox had been loved by everyone. He had been kind and caring. No one could imagine life in the forest without him. The animals sat in silence for a long time." And like the animals, we know our story can't end there however much we might want to just sit with our deceased loved one and our grief for them. Owl is the first to speak and he starts to share his memories of things he would do with Fox. In response, the other creatures "remembered and smiled" and begin to share their memories building a wonderful picture and story of Fox we as readers don't know. The creatures' happy memories begin to fill their sad hearts with warmth and they notice a sapling of an orange plant start to grow out of the snow where Fox was lying. It grows "bigger, stronger and more beautiful with each story" and their hearts begin to feel lighter. Britta writes that, "The more they remembered, the more the tree grew, higher and higher and more and more beautiful, until it was the tallest tee in the forest. A tree made from memories and full of love." I love these words and I am reassured that I'm doing the right thing in maintaining our ongoing relationship with Tom for our boys and for me. Like Britta's memory tree, it will continue to grow big and strong, to buzz with life and to give strength to us who loved him so much.

Instead of sharing a specific book read with my older boys this month, I want to share my thoughts on a movie we watched. Thanks to lockdown 2020 we subscribed to Disney+ and Netflix, and Saturday night became our new family tradition for Movie Night. We're out of lockdown this November and there aren't the restrictions of before, but going 'out' is hard when everyone else seems so happy in their whole complete families. I am jealous for what they have but I don't wish them my pain, I just want my whole complete family back. An Instagram post from Grief & Grits allows me to feel as I do, she explains that my jealousy is just "grief, expressing a wish" and tells me to "hold my heart gently" so I do with gratitude for her words. I do all that I can and we don't miss out on seeing friends or on fireworks this month but I balance it with movie nights in, holding my heart gently. The nights are getting darker earlier and colder with the change from autumn to winter so we light the fire, Matthew makes popcorn and we snuggle up with blankets, drinks and our memory bears.

I can't tell you how many films include bereavement and death! Just scrolling through Disney+: The Lion King, The Fox and the Hound, Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, Up, Coco, Frozen, Soul... Even the films on Netflix that I think will be ok aren't. 'We bought at Zoo' - of course, you bought a zoo because your wife died leaving young children and buying a zoo gives you a new chapter in your lives. Of course! It's hard, and yet reassuring too. We see our lives reflected back at us and that's actually ok. I really like Coco and love the idea of being able to see our loved ones again. It highlights the importance of remembering those we have lost and in remembering we can bring back all those wonderful feelings we felt when that person was in our lives. The ongoing model of loss again.

It's another film though that leaves a bigger impact on me this month and that's Onward. It's a magical quest tale set in a fantastical world inhabited by mythical beasts but its message at the end has such heart and enlightenment that I'm blown away and tears flow freely. The story follows two brothers on a quest to spend just one day with their father who died before the younger brother was born. It's a brilliantly funny story but the end is significant. Ian, the younger brother, whose deep desire to meet his father pushes them on through the quest with his hapless older brother, Barley, being pulled along with him. At the end only one of the brothers can spend a few minutes with their father before the magic wears off and you expect it to be Ian given the depth of his desire to meet his dad. It's at this moment when Ian realises that Barley has been his father figure as he has grown up and that Barley needs the time with their dad more than he. I haven't thought of this before but now I see it. Sam's big brothers, especially Daniel have already stepped up to help him and to help me. We haven't got Tom here anymore and they need to do more than they would if he was still with us. We carry our memories and our love in our hearts making us who we are but we also have each other. It's a constant balancing of what we have not got anymore with what we have and I am truly grateful for what I have in my boys. We are learning to rebuild ourselves around the loss we have suffered. We will be whole again but we will never be the same. And nor should we be.

"...And I will love you, baby, always

And I'll be there forever and a day, always

I'll be there 'til the stars don't shine

'Til the heavens burst and the words don't rhyme

And I know when I die,

You'll be on my mind

And I'll love you, always."

Jon Bon Jovi

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