Mother, writer and drug policy reform campaigner Anne-Marie Cockburn will be joining us at BritMums Live next weekend to share her frank and moving story. Here she shares what happened 3 years ago, and how she is looking to the future. Join us at #BML16 to hear her keynote speech: 5,742 Days, a mother’s journey through loss.
“When my worst fear actually happened, a new fear began to emerge.
As the 3rd anniversary of my 15 year old daughter’s death draws close, I shudder at the thought of those agonising stages of early bereavement. Martha, left home on a beautiful Saturday morning and never came back. What unfolded that day is a dark and gloomy nightmare – a sinister Hollywood script, that doesn’t feature ordinary people like us. That beautiful sunny morning gave no hint to what was looming ahead.
A few weeks prior, she’d admitted taking ecstasy with friends, so like any responsible parent, I sat her down and tried to help her see sense. I lectured her on the dangers and like most parents I hoped that’d be enough of a deterrent.
What Martha swallowed turned out to be 91% pure, possibly enough for 5-10 people. ½ gm of white powder caused such hideous devastation, wiping out her beautiful life within a couple of hours of taking it. As I type these words, I still can’t quite believe that they’re true – I’m still deeply shocked and probably always will be.
My beautiful girl was my only child and I was a single parent – so you could say that she was my entire world. Martha gave me a purpose and a firm identity – I loved being a mum. But when the clock struck 2.17pm on that fateful July day, the world heard me repeatedly shouting “I’m not a mum anymore”. It was as though my name had been wiped off my own birth certificate and I was once again wondering who I was.
But, some extraordinary things happened within the acute numbness of early bereavement. In the very moment my girl slipped from this world, the words “I have a future and I have a life” popped into my head – I have no idea where that came from, but that’s exactly what happened and that’s been my mantra ever since. I’ve had to draw on that thought so many times since that fateful day – all of us need hope to cling to and as I looked out at the barren landscape that represented the world without Martha, all I could do was start to sew seeds and start cultivating a new life for myself.
There’s a strange fear in knowing that I survived it and I’m actually doing surprisingly well. But surviving beyond the unimaginable, makes me also wonder what type of person I am. How am I still able to feel great joy despite what’s happened? But then again, that new fear helps me to remain vigilant, as a voice within says “you’ve survived until now, but never presume that the aftershocks won’t get you at some point.”
In some ways Martha’s death taught me how to live and I now live more fully than I have ever lived before. The pain is less acute and is more like a dull ache now and this motivates me to do the best I can with the life I have left. At times it feels as though she’s still here and she’ll walk in the door any minute, the bond between a mother and a child is so strong, so real – but at other times it feels as though she’s a fictional character that I made up.
Within a few hours of Martha dying I started to write to pour out what was going on inside my head and didn’t stop for 3 days. Within 102 days I had finished my book, 5,742 Days: A Mother’s Journey Through Loss. It’s a real-time account of the first few hours of early grief, through to the party I held to acknowledge what would have been Martha’s 16th birthday. Those who have read my book say it’s surprisingly uplifting, despite the context and I’m so glad that out of the ashes of despair, saplings of hope can flourish.
When the police returned Martha’s school bag all it contained were her converse trainers, which I now take with me to conferences, schools and prisons. Those empty shoes are a simple symbol of my loss – there is no-one to fill her shoes and that is true on so many levels, she truly was a one-off. So now I take the steps around the world for both of us as I work out what this ‘new’ life is all about.
Ultimately the reason why I feel I’m doing so well is because I choose life, I choose to make the most of what I have left and I choose to create a positive legacy for my precious Martha for future generations to learn from, long after I’m gone.”
Learn more about Anne-Marie, her daughter Martha and the work that Anne-Marie is doing in schools and prisons at her website www.whatmarthadidnext.org. You can also follow her campaign on Twitter @5742Days