GUEST WRITER: Ann Billington

Ann Billington

With all the commercial noise surrounding Mother’s Day, it stings me to think how difficult this week must be for many of you who have already lost your mum, never knew her, or have experienced the loss of a child.

For this reason, I’ve decided to hand the blog reigns to several authentic communicators over the next few nights.

First up, is Ann Billington. Ann and her husband Paul lost their youngest boy George Joseph Billington just over two months ago.

Sunday will mark Ann’s first Mother’s Day without her little ‘G-force.’

She writes in the hope that her words will comfort others. I know they will


Photo credit: Mel Birt.

The Other Side of the Coin

By, Ann Billington.

The first thing I become aware of as I wake every morning, is that my son is not here.  Sometimes I see him at the side of my bed as he had been so many times first thing in the morning.  “I’m awake Mama, let’s go downstairs.”  He was afraid he was going to miss something even though he was always the first person out of bed each day. I would hold his hand or pick him up and we would face each new day together.

The last thing I think of before I go to bed is how it felt to lie next to him and fall asleep. I only slept with him on the nights he just couldn’t be left alone. I remember holding his foot and feeling his breath on my chest. I picture myself kissing his lips. He always said such wonderful things to me before he fell asleep or he made a contented sigh as I rubbed his back.  But his space is cold and empty, those moments are just memories now.

It’s the time in between morning and night that gets a bit tricky. Each day can be a string of mundane jobs that I methodically push myself through or I can actually feel a little alive for one minute just to find reality crashing back in. It all seems pointless or meaningless yet I know in my heart that isn’t entirely true. His life had meaning and being his Mom (Ann is American, hence the different spelling) meant the world to me, but seeing this through the cloud of grief is not easy.

I found myself in the doctor’s office a few days ago suffering from my worst migraine to date, my husband almost carried me in the clinic doors. The doctor was about to give me some injections to get my symptoms under control and she asked, “Is there anything else I should know?” I had to say it out loud to a stranger.  “Yes, we just lost our six-year-old son to cancer.” The doctor fell into shock and asked for clarification. I heard her say, “Oh, Jesus”. As soon as it was out of my mouth, I felt it set in, a panic attack. Now I was a complete basket case, a shell of my normal strong self in front of this woman whom I’d never met. I began to sob. My trauma unleashed from just under the surface from where it lives.

My poor husband (who is not comfortable with even mild emotional leakage) begins to frantically rub my back and tell me that everything was going to be ok. Bless him. He carries his own trauma and grief, yet it looks oh so different to mine.

I reply, “It is NOT ok.  It will NEVER be ok.  We will survive but it will never be ok.  Not without him.”

The thing about the hardest moments, the thing about despair is, you can only live there for so long. The human mind is built to survive.  It is an innate drive that literally forces us out of the darkness.

I call it “flipping the coin”.

You see, you can only stare at a car crash for so long before your mind forces you to look away.  You can only imagine the worst for a short period. What happens next is, your mind decidedly flips the coin. You have to look at the other side. You have to search for and accept some level of hope because life is made of both parts, they may not always be in proportion but both sides always exist.

That is how we are built and I am convinced that this is the key to managing loss, the antidote for fear, the way to build confidence after failure. We flip the coin. We polish up the shinier side and we focus on it. Focus on it until we can put it down, face up and move on.

This is my first Mother’s Day without my third son; I don’t know how I will get through it. I now know that the avoidance is what is causing me to panic. The loss is too great, the void too big to ignore. I tried to write only about the good things and it just felt forced and false. To be able to stand with both feet on the ground, less than two months from the loss of my youngest child, I have to be honest. I am suffering and I am struggling but I am surviving.

I never feel happier, more alive, and more important than when I am staring into the eyes of one of my boys. The pure love that comes out of those eyes that only exists for me is the greatest gift I have ever received. I have watched them all be so brave.  I have watched each of them love and nurture each other through what no young boy should have to go through, and try to find their way during a painful and confusing time.  They have made me very proud.

So this Mother’s Day I will get out of bed, I will feel my loss as I look for that little face, I will cry. But I can promise you that at some point in the day, I will flip the coin and remember how blessed I am to have been given so much love by three such wonderful, thoughtful and brave boys and I will survive.

This Mother’s Day and possibly all others to come, I will be a grieving Mother. But I am choosing in this defining moment in my life to be so much more. I am choosing to face my pain and to talk about it. I am choosing to not just focus on the incredible loss but to recognize the unbelievable achievement. I am choosing to honor him in a way that he deserves.

Somehow in battling cancer along side of my son, I was able to put forward a better version of myself.

I am hopeful that having this tool in my toolbox will one day allow me to not just survive but to live again; live like I did when he was here. My son was strong, positive, joyful, and full of love and lived each day to the full. He showed us all how to appreciate what we had and focus on what we could do instead of getting stuck behind our limitations. He made me a better version of myself and that is how I choose to live in the moments when the grief subsides, even just a little.

My son helped me to learn how to count my blessings when I’m down. I can let the love of my true friends in when I am at my weakest.  I can grieve for him and still be grateful for the years I did have him to love. I am able to understand that darkness is not the opposite of light, it is merely the absence of it.

I’m not simply ‘looking on the bright side’ of things, I’m taking in the whole picture and it isn’t all bad. I learned this from my son who didn’t survive yet was able to thrive up until the moment he left this earth.

I hope that by sharing my story, I can help someone who may be struggling this Mother’s Day.  I hope that my son can inspire in you what he has in me.  Life is for living, no matter what you find yourself up against. I hope you can see that there is always hope, always light in every situation and the other perspective is right there.

Right on the other side of that coin.





Photo credit: Mel Birt.

Editor’s note: Feel free to share this beautiful post with anyone who may going through something similar. It could be a powerful source of courage to others. Ann (a psychiatric social worker) is working on a psycho-social program at Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

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Posted in General, Self care, The big issues.