Abigail

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Abigail

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Abigail

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Author/s: Kelly Owen

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Abi was beautiful and clever and wonderful

Some days I feel a heavy sense of confusion with my grief and the effort of trying to hold myself and my family together with some kind of normality. Yet, it’s often on days like this, when a sort of gloom has set in, that I receive an unexpected message of comfort.

It could be a school friend writing a note to Abi on her RIP page on Facebook, wishing her well in heaven, letting her know she’s not forgotten. A kind word from a friend, something I read, or a sign I see in the beauty of nature around me: a golden sunset, a bird building a nest in our garden, a forget-me-not…

At the weekend, I received a message from a friend who wanted to relay a story of how Abi had touched her family that week. With kind permission, she has allowed me to share this on my blog.

At the time, it brought tears to my eyes with the heartache I felt from missing my girl, but then, if this is how it is to be, I felt thankful that her memory is living on, that people are still talking about her and how the fact that she died is not ‘hushed up’ in front of children.

So, here is the message:

‘This week over dinner, out of nowhere, my five-year-old said: “Abi was beautiful and clever and wonderful.” 

I said, “Pardon?”

He told me that his class had been talking about Abi this week – it must have been regarding her tree which my son said was now taller than the teacher [the class have been studying spring and there is a blossom tree in the playground planted in Abi’s memory].

He then said how Abi loved school and how proud everyone is of her having been a pupil at the school, then he said again: “Abi IS beautiful and clever and wonderful.”

How amazing is it that Abi is being talked about and held up as a familiar role model among children too young to have really known her? I love that and I just wanted you to know too. Xx’

I’ve learnt so much from my children and the children all around us in response to Abi’s death. They understand. They love. They don’t feel awkward or embarrassed. They say things as they are.

I feel privileged to live in such a caring community that wants to keep Abi’s memory alive as much as I do.

It reassures me that in four years from now, when my new baby son starts the school, he, too, will be able to talk about his eldest sister and that, despite never knowing her, he will come to know and love her through the memories of others.

 

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A reflection on grief in the Bible

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I wrote and adapted this old post of mine for the recent Service of Remembrance at my church earlier this month. This annual service is aimed at those have lost loved ones in the past year or so. Indeed, we attended during the year of Abi’s death and it was incredibly moving.

With memories of that, two years on, I was somewhat anxious about what to say. Preparing words of comfort for people at pretty raw stages of grief was more challenging than I thought. It’s easy enough online when people seek out the kind of words I write, but to stand up and speak about my view of grief was daunting.

I didn’t want to write something too personal, people in grief need to feel supported not to absorb the grief of another. I also didn’t want to write something too ‘spiritually fluffy’, along the lines of ‘trust God, your loved one is with Him’; all too often I’ve read of people who believe that some Christians dismiss their grief because of the promise of eternal salvation, as though grief itself is somehow sinful, which isn’t and shouldn’t be the case at all!

So I decided to write a reflection on what it is to grieve, and all the gritty emotions that go with it, and how important it is. So important in fact that Jesus Himself openly grieved. I wanted in some way to try to reassure the people hearing my thoughts that what they might be feeling was normal, and necessary, and true to Christianity!

While I was nervous about speaking out (I’m more confident behind a screen where I can edit whenever I like!), I felt it important I did so. If I was in the congregation, hearing words of faith, grief and hope from another person who was travelling a similar journey would mean so much more to me than if it was read by someone reading it in my place.

The words were well received and I felt a sense of accomplishment that I’d done it. The service overall was more hopeful for me this time, and somehow uplifting.

Anyway, here is what I read:

One of the shortest sentences in the Bible comes from the Gospel of John and helps to show us that, despite all that He knew about the glory of heaven, Jesus didn’t gloss over the harsh reality of grief:

The sentence is: ‘Jesus wept.’ (John 11:35)

In context, this passage reads:

‘When Mary [Lazerous’s sister] reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.’

Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’

Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, as He had arrived at his home too late to save him. In that moment, He shared in the unquestionable sorrow and pain that Lazarus’s death brought to those closest to him. He knew that the death was a sad thing for them, but, most importantly, He made it okay to grieve. He mourned with the mourners.

It may seem hard to visualise Jesus, the Son of Man, crying about death, when he knew the promise of eternal life. Yet the tears Jesus wept on this occasion were not those we might shed in empathy or pain, they were tears of pure grief.

Jesus wept.

Jesus felt the gut-wrenching sorrow, the sadness of losing a friend, the sadness of others, which caused tears of grief to fall from his eyes and likely his stomach to churn and his heart to ache. He felt it all.

Belief in the promise of eternal life in heaven can be a comfort to us at times of loss, but that doesn’t mean that our sorrow isn’t real or isn’t meaningful. After all, it is not spiritual to put a happy face on a sad thing. Jesus knew we had to die and he felt the sorrow of parting just as we do.

Jesus showed us that death is a time for grief; we mourn … alone, with Him, with family, friends and strangers. The sadness of being parted from those we love remains with us always, because the grief we feel is a direct link to the love we have given. And God’s love is far greater than anything we can possibly feel, so it makes sense that His sorrow for us would also be great.

At times I have felt like Lazarus’s sister, Mary. I have prayed to Jesus, if You had been here, Abi would not have died. But, in my grief, this short passage of the Bible helped me understand that Jesus is there for me at every moment, in my most difficult times, my good times and my everyday life. He’s there when I cry; not just as a comforter, but to feel my pain alongside me. This has not always be obvious to me, particularly when I feel alone and lost, but this passage reminded me that grief should not be hidden, nor excused, but given endless time, understanding and patience.







Chasing Dragonflies

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What Disney’s Inside Out taught me about grief and loss

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I recently took my daughter, age 12, to watch Inside Out. It was a rare day that we had alone and I felt it would be a poignant film to see together.

Having researched the film (which I have to do with anything I expose my children to), I was impressed by the reviews which said the film offered a unique way of viewing how our emotions work in a way that children could relate to. I initially wanted to see the film because I thought it would give my daughter further insight into why she might feel the way she does and then have more understanding of her emotions. All this wrapped up in an entertaining Disney Pixar movie!

But I wasn’t prepared for the film to speak to me! To my grief. To make me think about Abi, too.

The film starts with a baby being born and in that baby’s mind is an emotion, Joy. When she pushes a button on the simple console (inside the baby’s mind), the baby feels joy and those moments get stored as memories in the form of glass balls. Extra special ‘core’ memories are stored in a central section of the mind.

But Joy is quickly joined by Sadness, a surprisingly lovable Eeyore-type character who can’t help pushing the button sometimes or touching things she shouldn’t. When Sadness touches a core memory, which is happy (yellow), she turns it blue, sad. This is irreversible.

There are three other emotions: Fear, Anger and Disgust. All have relatively minor and obvious roles to play.

You watch the child grow up and the simple console becomes more complex with various buttons and levers on it. The emotions play their various roles, Anger pushes the button when a tantrum builds up for example. And they all share a turn on the button during challenging, slightly dangerous but exciting moments.

But the focus of the film is on Joy.

Joy’s aim is to keep the girl happy at all costs. She adores the girl. She runs around saving the girl from the other emotions, who all think they need to have a turn on the button. Her hardest task is keeping Sadness in check.

When the girl’s parents move her to another state and school, the upheaval is a strain on all of them. Sadness feels compelled to push the button and keeps touching core memories, turning them into forever unhappy ones.

Sadness and Joy end up lost in the girl’s mind and have to find their way back to the central control room in order to stop the other emotions from taking over. As usual, Joy is rushing about desperately trying to protect the girl’s last few good memories whilst keeping Sadness from turning everything blue. But she becomes separated from Sadness and it’s not until she finds her and they work together that they find a way back.

Meanwhile, the girl is angry, scared and confused, thanks to the other emotions, who believe they are helping her, literally putting ideas into her head. She decides to run away from home, back to where she used to live.

Sadness manages to turn all but one of the core memories blue and Joy succumbs to stress and sadness too. They finally get back to the central mind just as the girl runs away. The idea to leave is removed and she changes her mind and goes home.

The last joyful core memory is of the girl’s old life back at her old home. It was that memory that she was trying to get back to, by running away. Joy plugs in the memory in an attempt to cheer the girl up and save the situation. When she arrives home to her worried parents, Sadness reaches the control and touches the memory. Joy stops her but as she does the memory becomes both yellow and blue, happy and sad. The girl cries in sorrow for missing her home but the memory stays happy because she is still with her parents. She’s able to tell her parents how she feels and they ‘grieve’ this loss together.

The emotions, particularly Sadness, are validated and listened to, empathized with. My heart swelled when I realised what the film was saying to me… that Joy had to let Sadness share some of the ‘mind space’ in order to help the girl find her joy again! That sadness is a key emotion, that happiness isn’t always the way to fulfilment; grief is a natural emotion and is necessary for many situations – not just death but also the grief related to loss.

Another way the film highlighted my grief was that I saw all the memories being built up inside the mind – a happy day at the park, cuddles with mum and dad, doing well at sports, being with friends, the occasional sad or angry memory – and as well as the memories of all my children, I thought of Abi.

Again, I questioned, what is the point of all those memories if they end with death? If there’s nothing else after our bodies stop living why do we bother having memories and emotions at all? We might as well be like animals. I know the answer of course. Abi has taken her memories with her to heaven. And what about my little Bella, my baby that didn’t even get to be born and with only a sense of love as a memory?

I have 39 years of memories in my mind – a huge mixture of good, bad, happy, sad – they make up who I am, they make up my soul, and that is what lives on. It was heartbreaking to be shown that Abi’s mind stopped making memories with us on that awful day. But the film also reconfirmed to me, and my daughter, that without sorrow there can be no joy.

It may not be an obvious blockbuster, like Frozen, but Inside Out may just be one of the most significant children’s films ever made.

Chasing Dragonflies

About

I’m a 30-something married mother living in Gloucestershire. I have three school-aged children (two girls and a boy) and a baby boy, born in February 2014.

Our eldest daughter, Abigail, died aged 12, on 10th February 2013, following a sudden brain haemorrhage at home on 6th February.

At the time, I was still coming to terms with two consecutive miscarriages; one early at seven weeks and then losing our fourth child, a girl we named Bella, at 14.5 weeks pregnant, just two weeks before Abi died. We’d had a horrible couple of months leading up to that loss, as it was expected but kept very private. My mind was consumed by that and raging hormones, and my body was still healing, but nothing could have prepared us for the tragedy and heartache that was to follow …

I have been churned up inside ever since with so many emotions, thoughts and feelings. I went to the doctor in the early days, not knowing what to do about this and she simply said ‘write about it’, so I started this blog. It’s true that no pill can be prescribed for grief, and thankfully I find writing comes naturally to me and is a theraputic way to release my thoughts and get things off my chest.

I have also since realised that, by sharing my thoughts, there are other people out there who are interested, are in the same place, or want to understand what I’m going through. It’s been a two-way means of help and support as my network grows and I meet like-minded people.

I may be, no, I need to be honest about my feelings here in order to express the reality of human emotion during a time like this. Due to this sensitive subject, sometimes my blogs might be difficult to read or comprehend (grief is a very sticky subject!), they might be angry or sorrowful in tone, but I want to ensure I capture the moment as accurately and honestly as possible and would like to stress that it’s never my intention to offend or upset others. Indeed, it’s these outpourings which are useful for me to read back on over time, to recall how I felt and assess how far I’ve come, (or not). So, if this site can be of help to me as well as others, it can only be a good thing.

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Check it out at chasingdragonfliesblog.wordpress.com

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