Welcome to our next ‘campfire’ story.
The Campfire for the Heart project is a collection of true, international stories of human resilience. Although every story is unique, they all highlight our ability to adapt positively to bad experiences and showcase our indomitable human spirit.
If you have a resilience story to share, or know someone who does, please contact Natalie Stockdale through www.stockdalewellbeing.com.
“There was an animal in the room, who made a hideous and loud roaring howl. That animal was me…”
I had all that I ever wanted – a family. I had a loving husband and four precious children who, at the time, ranged from my eldest son, Adam (19) to youngest son Joseph (11). Life was good and I felt blessed.
Valentine’s Day 1997 was to change our world forever.
I woke with a weird feeling, but kept it to myself. We all went to school and work as normal. I worked in a bank. On this day, I received a call from a son to say Adam had been involved in an accident! I told him not to worry, whilst feeling the blood drain away from me. I excused myself from work and made several calls to police and hospitals in the area. None of them had any information.
I then called the coroners’ office. I gave my son’s name to the man who took the call, saying he may have been in an accident. The man put me on hold and when he returned, he casually replied “Yeah, he’s here.”
There was an animal in the room, who made a hideous and loud roaring howl. That animal was me and I felt like I had electricity going through my whole body.
The bank manager called the police who drove me home – to face what was left of my family. What greeted me was one hysterical son asking me to tell him it wasn’t true. Another son was bewildered and frightened. Surely, I must have landed on another planet! This isn’t real. It must be a mistake.
In those early months, I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to wake up to my new hideous world. It seemed the rest of the world around me was surreal. I felt like an alien on another planet. My children struggled also, but I could barely be there for them, other than go through the motions, on auto.
I couldn’t be the wife I was to my dear husband either. I hated the world, God, life and everyone who had all their children. I struggled to find a purpose for living. Whilst that sounds selfish, my pain was great. I was frightened that my life was going to remain like this forever and I couldn’t bear it!
About six months later, I found a bereaved parent organisation, ‘The Compassionate Friends Victoria’.
I was trembling when making that first call, but immediately felt ‘connected’ to the lady who took the call and gently welcomed me to an organisation that no one wants to be a member of.
This gentle woman explained that all who work there are themselves bereaved parents or siblings. She told me that my feelings were ‘normal’ and that eventually, with time, the pain would ease. This was such a relief and my fears of remaining in that surreal and very dark space, were alleviated. They became my lifeline to my new world!
It was about this time, however, that I noticed my physical health decline, starting with pain in my soft tissue and muscles. I put it down to age, although I was only 39! It turned out to be fibromyalgia and continues to this day. My iron levels became extremely low, affecting my energy. I ached just to pick up my toothbrush! I later developed serious pain and limited movement in all my joints.
About eight years after we lost Adam, I noticed my hearing on one side deteriorating. After investigative surgeries, they discovered I had a rare form of cancer in my middle ear, the third case in history. After 18 hours of surgery, I lost my middle and inner ear and a balance nerve. I had to re-learn to walk and am totally deaf on that side.
I now also have bursitis in most joints and when asked by an osteo therapist, “When did all this start?”
I replied, “Over 20 years ago.”
His next question fascinated me. “What was the trauma you suffered back then?”
I know many bereaved parents through Compassionate Friends and can honestly say almost all parents’ health, mainly mothers’, had been severely affected within two years after their loss.
After about five years of focusing on family and work, I became a volunteer at the centre. I took grief calls and spoke publicly about my experience on behalf of the organisation. I actually started to ‘live’ again, rather than just being alive. Through speaking, supporting and giving other bereaved parents hope, I had found a new purpose.
I continue to volunteer in honour and memory of my precious son. Whilst life gives you tragic events, you have the opportunity to use them in a positive way- eventually.
My life is precious, and I use it to be the best I can be for myself, my family and for others who are struggling though this tragic nightmare. I have always tried to find a positive in the negative. It is usually there, but only when we come through the other side of our pain do we see it.
I still miss and think of my precious Adam every single day, but with a loving warmth, not pain. I am who and where I am today, because of where I’ve been.