IN­SPIR­ING STORY OF GRIEF AND HEAL­ING AT HOSPICE LUN­CHEON

Talk of the Town - - Front Page - JON HOUZET

An emo­tional story of sick­ness, loss, grief, love and heal­ing touched hearts at Sun­shine Coast Hospice’s Breast Can­cer Aware­ness lunch, at The Red Ap­ple Emporium, last Sat­ur­day.

Si­mone Blanck­en­berg, from Cape Town, shared her story of sur­viv­ing can­cer and then deal­ing with the loss of two small chil­dren.

Blanck­en­berg (nee Lowe) grew up in Gra­ham­stown and was fa­mil­iar to many of the 139 women who at­tended the lun­cheon.

“Grief is such a taboo sub­ject and makes so many peo­ple feel un­be­liev­ably un­com­fort­able,” she said.

“Yet the only thing in life that is cer­tain is death – so we will all grieve. I hope that I can share a lit­tle to­day of my own ex­pe­ri­ence with grief, what I have learned and what I wish other peo­ple knew.”

The el­dest of three sib­lings, Blanck­en­berg said she had an idyl­lic life un­til the age of eight, when her mother Lindy died from com­pli­ca­tions fol­low­ing a car ac­ci­dent.

“My com­pletely shel­tered life changed for­ever,” she said.

But she said she be­lieved the loss of her mother at such an early age equipped her to be able to face the chal­lenges to come.

About a year later, her fa­ther Mur­ray mar­ried Deb­bie, who at the age of 23 took on the mam­moth task of par­ent­ing three lit­tle chil­dren who were not bi­o­log­i­cally her own.

When her fa­ther and step-mother di­vorced nine years later, Blanck­en­berg said she en­dured an­other pe­riod of grief.

When Blanck­en­berg was 23, she was di­ag­nosed with can­cer for the first time.

“I got off rel­a­tively lightly the first time around, but at the age of 29, it came back a lot more ag­gres­sively, this time in my lymph glands.”

She un­der­went surgery and ra­di­a­tion treat­ment, and was told she could end up in­fer­tile.

“At the time, I was so fo­cused on beat­ing the can­cer, that I never re­ally paid too much at­ten­tion to this,” she said.

She then met her hus­band James and was in­formed af­ter med­i­cal tests that she would never be able to have chil­dren as she was not pro­duc­ing any eggs.

But three months later, she fell preg­nant with their “mir­a­cle baby”, Mur­ray, and seven months af­ter he was born, she fell preg­nant with Is­abella. Is­abella was born on Fe­bru­ary 1 2015. “I felt like the luck­i­est per­son in the world – an amaz­ing hus­band and two pre­cious chil­dren,” Blanck­en­berg said.

But then tragedy struck when Bella was seven months old – she as­phyx­i­ated in her cot.

“Our life was changed in an in­stant – for­ever. It is im­pos­si­ble to find words to de­scribe that day, or the days that fol­lowed as we tried to get to grips with the fact that our dar­ling Bella had died, and that we would never see her again,” Blanck­en­berg said.

She said she and James grieved dif­fer­ently – he was a crier and she was not.

While she was in shock and went into cop­ing mode, con­tin­u­ing to work and func­tion, James fell apart, griev­ing and weep­ing solidly for the first few months af­ter Bella’s death.

Then, as her hus­band was start­ing to feel a lit­tle more able to cope with life and func­tion again, she started griev­ing deeply, and her hus­band was there to sup­port her. They spoke about hav­ing an­other child, but although her hus­band wanted to wait, she wanted to forge ahead.

She con­ceived again, with an­other boy, and they de­cided to name him Thomas.

For six months the preg­nancy went ac­cord­ing to plan, but then at 24 weeks, Blanck­en­berg started bleed­ing heav­ily.

She was in hos­pi­tal for two weeks and then at 26 weeks and three days, lit­tle Thomas en­tered the world when Blanck­en­berg had a pla­cen­tal abrup­tion.

He weighed just 700g and de­spite ev­ery ef­fort from the med­i­cal team, he suf­fered in­ter­nal bleed­ing and died just three hours later.

“To say I hit rock bot­tom is an un­der­state­ment. I was still griev­ing for Bella,” she said.

They had to carry on with life and get out of bed in the morn­ing. Their first child Mur­ray kept them go­ing as they had to feed him, read him sto­ries and play with him.

“I thank God for this. We have been de­ter­mined not to al­low Mur­ray’s en­tire life to be im­pacted by the loss of his sib­lings, for it not to re­sult in the loss of his par­ents as well,” Blanck­en­berg said.

Her hus­band started a blog af­ter Bella died, and Blanck­en­berg was at first ap­palled that he was mak­ing their tragedy pub­lic and putting their vul­ner­a­bil­ity out there.

“How­ever, I’ve come to re­alise that our blog has be­come one of the most pow­er­ful tools in both the pro­cess­ing of our own grief and help­ing oth­ers know how to deal with us.”

It’s also helped oth­ers who have ex­pe­ri­enced loss, specif­i­cally that of a child, she said. “Our chil­dren’s legacy lives on through this.” Fam­ily, friends and the com­mu­nity had been an in­cred­i­ble sup­port to them, she said.

“But so­ci­ety in gen­eral is ill-equipped to deal with grief,” she said.

She gave some tips from her own ex­pe­ri­ences on how to deal with peo­ple who are griev­ing:

Just ac­knowl­edge peo­ple’s loss – more of­ten than not it will be ap­pre­ci­ated.

Don’t try to fix or ra­tio­nalise their pain – grief is not a prob­lem to be solved.

Say their loved one’s name, of­ten – they are des­per­ate to hear it.

Don’t ask what you can do to help – just use your ini­tia­tive and do it.

Re­alise that some­one’s loss will change them for­ever – don’t ex­pect your old friend to emerge again af­ter the so­cially al­lowed two weeks’ of mourn­ing.

There are two days a year they need a time­out – their loved one’s birth­day and the an­niver­sary of their death. Be gen­tle dur­ing these times.

Be con­sis­tent in your sup­port – once every­one else has moved on, those di­rectly af­fected are still griev­ing.

Don’t take it per­son­ally when your griev­ing friend for­gets some­thing – they just can’t cog­ni­tively deal with it.

Never tell a mother her child is in a “bet­ter place” or that “ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son”.

Blanck­en­berg said she had per­son­ally learned the value of ther­apy, re­silience, vul­ner­a­bil­ity, to have an at­ti­tude of grat­i­tude, that she can’t con­trol ev­ery­thing, and to cry.

See Si­mone and James’ blog at is­abella1509.com

We have been de­ter­mined not to al­low Mur­ray’s en­tire life to be im­pacted by the loss of his sib­lings

Pic­ture: JON HOUZET

FEEL­ING IN­SPIRED: Guest speaker at Sun­shine Coast Hospice’s Breast Can­cer Aware­ness lunch, Si­mone Blanck­en­berg, left, with Gra­ham­stown Hospice di­rec­tor Tr­ish Gil­lies, Red Ap­ple Emporium co-owner Llewell Viljoen, Sun­shine Coast Spar co-owner Les­ley The­unis­sen, Con Viljoen, Zelda El­liott of Hospice and Sun­shine Coast Hospice ad­min­is­tra­tor An­gela Hib­bert

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