Navigating Through Grief
The loss of a child to suicide is quite unlike any bereavement. It comes with many added bells and whistles that as a society we don't like to talk about. We share posts on our social media about mental health awareness but one of the big issues with bereavement by suicide is stigma and isolation and no matter what, people do pass judgement, our friends do get bored and want us to move on and become the person we once were, they may or may not say that but that's basically it. As parents we face a new reality that involves incredible anxiety, fear for our surviving children, fear for loved ones, anger, shame and loneliness. Somehow, in amongst all that we have to find a new normal , a strategy for getting through the days and not completely losing the plot. Often we have to give up work and then have additional financial burdens to manage as well. We have to find a way to navigate through that grief.
That's pretty much where I found myself 5 years ago. I don't know how I have arrived at this place but I am still here. I am not brave, that would imply a choice, this was not of my choosing , suicide doesn't distinguish , it cuts across class, gender , age and race and it blows up everything around it. There is pretty much no support for survivors so you are basically left to your own devices, you sink or swim. Armed with 2 knitting needles and some yarn I made it to the shore where I still am today and I'm still knitting.
I think it started with a book by Ann Hood called " The Knitting Circle", a story about her own journey surviving the loss of her daughter and the members of a knitting group who accompanied her on that road. It struck a note, my own knitting ladies were like a team of guardian angels in those first weeks and months, they listened and gently distracted me with trips to wool shops, learning new techniques, dragging me to knit and natter when I'd rather have stayed in bed. All the while surrounded by squidgy yarn and the click click of needles, gentle, rhythmic and meditative, a kind of woolly reiki if you like.
For me knitting became time away from inside my own head and my own thoughts which was really not a place I wanted to go. It was an escape route, time out, a journey to a different place where I didn't have to think . Of course stocking stitch was not an option, the more anxious my thoughts, the more complex my knitting had to be to distract me. Fair isle became my preferred knitting medication, following the different charts and colours became a chant, a mantra " ....blue, blue, blue, yellow , blue blue , yellow", and in summer the chants changed to "....knit, knit , yarn over , k 2 together"......I'm not mad, who knits fair isle in the summer??? So then it was lace, then Shetland lace, the more tricky, the more i found I could relax.
My ever patient husband said nothing as regular deliveries of sewing and knitting books arrived, nothing wildly expensive, just second hand books from Amazon. Little presents arriving for me in the post to cheer myself up, something just for me to look forward to, a little bit of self preservation. Through intensive practice and lots of reading I became quite a decent knitter and not a bad seamstress either. I knew I could never go back to the pressures of my old job, my head and heart weren't in it. I still suffer from massive anxiety and panic attacks and these days I know my own limitations and know not to push it. So I set up Percy Le Moo Moo as way of selling some of the things I made and giving the impression I was actually working and not sat at home weeping and watching daytime TV , which I was doing a lot of as well!
It was earlier this year that I became involved in campaigning for better support for those bereaved by suicide. For most people we are offered medication or 6 week counselling sessions which are often not fit for purpose. Along the way I met with other mums who had also lost children to suicide, other women who were often awake at 3 am wondering how the hell they were going to make it til morning, people damaged and broken who were desperately trying to find a few hours peace. Many of us were knitting, knitting through grief, in the early hours, in the afternoons at home watching episodes of "Poirot", escaping with a ball of wool, some needles or a crochet hook and finding a few hours where we didn't need to think, we could actually switch our minds onto a different reality and get a break.
I think this is nothing new, I was thinking this morning about the women during the wars who knitted for the soldiers and yes, it was to provide socks and warm clothing for the troops in the trenches but I also think it helped give them a break from the terrible worry they must have felt not knowing if they would see their sons and husbands again. These were women who were all to aware of how fragile life was and dreaded that knock on the door. I think through history we have sat alone or in groups, knitted and talked, put the world to rights and through the hardest of times we have knitted and used the familiar chanting of the pattern to take us to another place even if just for an hour.
So if you are reading this and you are in a dark place I just want to urge you to keep going. There is an apt quote by John Irving, "You've got to get obsessed and stay obsessed and keep passing the open windows", find your hobby, whether it's crocheting granny squares, quilting, knitting dishcloths or embroidery. Keep at it, if it allows you to travel to another dimension for a few hours a day it will do you good. Join a Facebook group, there are tons of online knitting groups, I've made some lovely knitting friends all over the world, you can join in with knit a long's, learn new skills and maybe meet some people. You can dip in and out to suit yourself but keep going and allow yourself some time away from the hamster wheel. There is always a chink of light, find it and hold on!