So that’s our last family holiday of the year over and it’s time to get back to work, literally. Tomorrow is the start of my last week of maternity leave for Alex. I feel so blessed to have still been able to have maternity leave following Alex’s death. A couple of weeks off would nowhere near have got me back in a place emotionally and mentally where I could have functioned properly at work. This period of time has been so precious for me and knowing that the end of it is so close is bringing up so many conflicting feelings. I wasn’t expecting to have this time with my boys to just simply be at home and be a mom with no other distractions such as work or the newborn Alex we were expecting to bring home. The time off has also been essential for me to heal and get acquainted with our new normal. In the early days we called things like this ‘gifts from Alex’, things we never expected to have if Alex had been with us, they often seemed small and insignificant in the wake of Alex’s death but we had to find some positives amongst the sadness and time off to heal and be with my boys was definitely one of them.
I guess the thing I’m feeling most strongly at the moment is anxiety, I’ve never been an anxious person so I find it a tough one to navigate and deal with. I feel anxious about so many things, not just simply returning to work and settling back into my job. Of course I am definitely worried about getting back into the routine of work, making sure we have a dinner ready for when we all get home, doing packed lunches and making sure we’re all up, fed and dressed ready to be out of the door on time. But these aren’t new hurdles, I’ve faced these challenges before and after a few tired weeks I soon get back into the swing of things. The things which worry me most are inevitably related to Alex, my new outlook on life, my children and coping with the sad days.
I’m different. I look like me, I talk like me, I even act like the old me most of the time but dig a little deeper and I am irrevocably changed. The new me has lost the majority of her patience and tolerance for the complainers and pessimists of the world. Unfortunately however, I work in a customer facing role in a busy hotel and complaints are part and parcel of the job. It’s an aspect of my role that has never really bothered me too much in the past, in fact I always quite enjoyed resolving any issues and making sure the customer leaves happy. I feel so differently about it now though, it all seems so trivial and non-consequential in the aftermath of losing Alex. How do I stop myself from telling the guests who are getting irate over their egg being too runny at breakfast, their dinner being five minutes late or their bed being too hard that life can be a LOT worse. How do I stop myself from simply telling them that I’m really not bothered? Losing Alex really has put so much of my life into perspective. I just want to tell them that I wish my child was here to taste a runny egg when he’s old enough, I wish I could feed him his dinner five minutes late and watch him race to eat it all or screw his little button nose up at the foods he doesn’t like. Most of all, I wish I could put my beautiful baby into his bed at night and tell him I love him, I don’t think he would care if it was too hard and I would sleep on concrete every night of my life without complaining just to have him back in my arms.
And what about the bad days? They still happen, maybe not as often but when they come there is no escaping them. There is nothing that can stop the waves of sadness, guilt and regret that come over me and nothing that will stop the tears. In the past, I’ve had no problems leaving whatever issues I have in life at the door of work and putting on my ‘be happy for the customers’ face but I worry that won’t be so easy anymore. Being off work has given me a safe place to feel whatever I feel on that particular day and I really have found that to be the best way to deal with my grief. If I’m sad I’ve been sad, if I’m angry I’ve been angry and if I feel I need to go and spend some time with my little boy I have been free to do so. I find it hard to suppress my emotions like I used to, my face struggles to hide what I feel. But I also know that I need to function to the best of my ability at work and be professional at all times, something which doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with grief. I don’t think the hotel’s TripAdvisor reports will fare too well after the guests experience me sobbing on a down day. I guess I just have to hope that I can pull myself together on those days and find that strength to leave it at the door.
How will the boys adjust? I have a feeling that they will deal with this a lot better than I will but it’s my job as a Mom to worry I guess. Will they notice that tired grumpy shouty Mom makes an appearance a bit more now that she’s back at work? Will they notice that I am away from them for longer? They have both taken Alex’s death so well, we have been open and honest with them from the start and they have come through with an unconditional love for their little brother, a firm understanding of where and what he is (a star) and hopefully no negative lasting effects. The one thing that has become clear though, is that they are both very clingy with me since we lost Alex. They will always choose Mommy over Daddy, a normal boy thing I know, but it’s a lot more intense since Alex’s arrival and me being at home all of the time. I guess we just have to carry on as we started and hope that by being upfront and preparing them in advance for me leaving will mean that they will run into nursery without a backward glance. Driving to work having left behind two distraught children screaming your name doesn’t make for the best start to the day.
It’s not all gloomy though, on the other hand I am also excited and eager to return to work. I do love my job, I have a great group of colleagues and it’s generally a happy place to be. My employers have been incredible through our experience of losing Alex and I will always be thankful for their love and support. Although it feels like another step away from Alex I am looking forward to getting this part of normality back in my life, I think it will be a good thing for all of us. I feel guilty for saying it since losing Alex but I still get the normal feelings of isolation which many stay at home moms experience. Some days I crave adult conversation, I miss my work friends and the giggles we used to have and I find that my brain needs a challenge. Again, I feel guilty saying it, I know that so many people would give anything to have what I have and I honestly do cherish every moment, more so than most, but there is only so much CBeebies and PlayDoh that I can take before my brain cells shut up shop and leave me forever.
Most of all though, I’m excited to have a group of people back in my life who know Alex. They met Alex and watched him grow in my tummy, they all tried to guess the sex when I secretly knew that he was a boy, they brought me cake when I needed it and quizzed me excitedly when I returned from a midwife appointment or scan. It will be a relief to be surrounded by a group of people who I don’t have to explain myself or Alex to. I know they will speak his name without fear or uncertainty and that feels like one of the most amazing things right now.
So I’m off to make the absolute most of this last precious week despite my anxieties and pray that I can still fit into my suit!
Love Rachel & Alex xx