This blog is written by Anyone’s Child campaigner, Anne-Marie.
Martha Mary Fernback died aged 15 from an accidental ecstasy overdose on the 20th of July 2013 in Oxford. Her mother Anne-Marie Cockburn has been campaigning over the past few years to have all drugs legally controlled and regulated as part of Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control.
7 years on from the death of my only child aged 15, 7 years is almost half the life she lived. 7 years I’ve spent without her here, safely by my side. 7 years sounds like a long time, but the pangs in my heart tell me that time doesn’t stop me missing her, grief just changes shape, it doesn’t go away. I have a 7 year itch for Martha.
The world feels so unsettled at the moment; COVID, the widely varying interpretation of lockdown rules, worry about livelihoods and where we fit into it all. Going out at the weekend will no longer feel like the carefree release from the working week that we used to yearn for. The Friday feeling seems somewhat diminished, when all we’re doing is closing our laptops and reaching for the remote and a glass of wine – very similar to last night and the night before, and… groundhog day.
Bereavement is a bit like that – your world becomes very small, you create your entire universe within your home only sharing your life with a select few close friends and family. You become very wary about stepping out from the safety of your home – there is emotional danger everywhere. In the early days it was Martha’s friends coming out of school, or people wandering along with their children, or even a bit of music that would set me off, sonnets for Martha everywhere I went – it all seemed distorted and loud.
An exhausting, visceral journey that takes your breath away as you writhe around in the agony and wearily swim back to the safe waters of your home. Close the door, lock the world out, wrap yourself in a blanket and escape to your dreams. Bereavement is both raw and mesmerising – moments of extraordinary connection with nature and with yourself. Your new perspective provides insight, depth and understanding that separates you from the world, a veneer dividing those who walk in your shoes with those who can still bask in the blissful ignorance of unbruised hearts and carefree lives.
Bereavement diminishes the future history you had been holding in your head – all that potential, all the hopes and dreams planned and wished for. This new way of living requires you to surrender to it to a degree, to accept the changes to your life and asks you to soul-search in order to survive it. Everything you’ve experienced in your life until this moment are the tools you need to draw upon – your new survival kit, matched with a caring and nurturing inner narrative to help motivate and stimulate what will become the contents of your next chapter.
A new blank canvas presents itself to you – facing the bright glare of that blank canvas hurts your eyes as you turn back and yearn for the familiarity of your old life. But you know the blank canvas is all you have to work with, so you close your eyes and try to sleep the nightmare away, but it welcomes you every morning – “hello again, yes it’s true, it did happen.” You shake your head and breathe in slowly and deeply – nature’s fuel to energise your lacklustre body.
Making your first mark on that new blank canvas is daunting – you feel as though you’re rattling around in this new life and nothing fits. You look in the mirror and a haunted reflection looks back at you with derision – “So, what are you going to do now? But do get a move on.” Time is a cruel master, tick, tick, tick, beating along with the rhythm of my heart, symbiotic, a quiet tune gently whistling away in the wind.
The day comes when you have no choice but to make your first mark on that new canvas – one tiny dot, like planting a seed to cultivate and nurturing that seed starts to take up all your focus. That seed contains new potential, new hopes and dreams, new adventures to be had. Painful as these new steps are, take them you must, otherwise you’ll get stuck and what good is that? We’ve all met stuck people, it’s sad to witness and try as we all do to help, we know this is predominantly a lone journey – one that requires us as individuals to find our own way. To find inner strength from nowhere to take the first step and a self-belief to show that your life is still worth the effort.
I know how to nurture and care. From the minute I knew I was pregnant with Martha it was as though the force of the universe was within me, willing me to do whatever it took to safely grow and present this wonderful new person to the world. I listened intently and my girl was born looking ethereal and perfect – she looked at me with one eye open and one closed as though she was undecided as to whether I was the right person to guide her through the next 15 years and 9 months. The bond you feel for that brand new little person is like no other – it’s the most powerful feeling in the universe, an unbreakable magnetic force.
Tick, tick, tick, the clock was ticking then and little did I know what was in store for us. My girl was beautiful and loving, her sharp insights and fearlessness in challenging the status quo – her care for the homeless, or those who were suffering, she’d ask me what she could do. When she was 14 she wrote to her MP about the provision of teenage mental health services in the city. She taught me so much about love and life, she was ‘almost there’. Teenage angst, insecurity, identity, outside approval, anxiety, Martha also suffered from all these things – a normal teenager, a child of her time. In the moments she surrendered to the worries modern life presented to her – her natural self shone through and she looked radiant and peaceful.
I have to accept that Martha’s life didn’t turn out as pictured in my hopes and dreams, far from it. This is so painful to admit and I shudder when I think about what happened to my Martha too vividly. I recently spoke at a webinar on behalf of ‘Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control’, see the talk below to find out why I’m campaigning for all drugs to be legally controlled and regulated.
Every parent hopes that their child will turn out to be a loving and caring person who knows that they’re loved. I know as Martha’s mum that during the 15 years and 9 months, 7 hours and 36 of her life, my girl knew she was loved and for that I am truly grateful.