Maternal mental health problems are very prevalent, yet few employers mention them in...read more
Whatever happens once you become a parent you never stop.
When your child dies that doesn’t mean you stop being their parent or looking after them – even though some people stop referring to or mentioning them as if they never existed. Maybe they think that mentioning them will bring more pain. Some people have said they don’t want to remind me. But I will never forget my daughter. Ever. I think about her all the time. I speak to her all the time. I may get upset talking about her, but not talking about her is much worse, even if it makes others uncomfortable to see me upset.
When I say that you don’t stop looking after your child I mean that every day I do something for her. That might be cleaning her room or getting a wicker stand that she would have liked from the charity shop to put all her amazing clothes on or chasing up all the judicial goings-on that never seem to end. It also means planning a party for her for her birthday so that her friends can get together and remember her. And it means writing a book about her – slowly – based on all the things she wrote about our family life and all the blogs I have written. It’s a joint endeavour. I always used to tell her she was a great writer and she never believed me because I’m her mum. But I’m also a journalist and an editor so I know good writing when I see it.
I’m also meeting lots of other parents who have lost their children. And lost is the right word, I think, because there is a constant feeling that they must be somewhere that you just can’t get to. It’s hard to believe that someone so vibrant can be nothing and I don’t think it serves any beneficial purpose to believe it either. I used to say to my daughter when she was five and asking about what happens when you die: “What do you want to happen? Because no-one knows so why not believe what you want.”
All of the parents I meet are trying to reshape their role from parenting a child who is physically present to parenting a child who is physically absent. A lot of them are campaigning for extra safety measures or more support for families. They are a vast resource of love and yet they often get treated as somehow unhinged. They want to know the full details of how their child died not only because their child matters, but because they don’t want any other parent to be put in their position.
This week I met a mum whose child was not killed, but had to have her leg amputated. She herself was injured too and her mother died. She has set up a helpline for other victims. I was going to write ‘of road accidents’, but accidents doesn’t really describe an event which leaves people dead and severely injured and their families in trauma for all eternity and which is often the result of deliberate action on the part of the perpetrator. We don’t really have the right vocabulary for it and that affects our understanding of the enormous impact of such events. I met the mum through an event held by Transport for London which involved senior leaders listening to victims’ and families of victims’ experiences. I’m not sure what will come of it, but those who attended seemed engaged and visibly shocked at what they heard.
For me, it was another way to look after my daughter by trying to make people understand the impact of her death and the endless distress caused by dealing with the justice system.
There are, of course, happier ways to look after her. Another daughter went to a screening of the new Timothee Chalamet film last weekend and TC himself was there. She was beside herself – she just texted ‘it’s himmmmmmmmmmmmmm’. Her sister would have been right by her side. She was the Timothee Chalamet champion in our house. I bought her tickets for Christmas 2019 to go and see him in a play. Every day, every week there is something we all do for her. We don’t even have to say that it is for her. We just know.