Grave

I’ve written a number of posts recently. They are currently sitting in the draft folder, that graveyard for the unpublished.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with them: they’re just incomplete. I write without a plan or even a clear process – diary-like, I write what is relevant at the time. Believe it or not, I am conscious of making mistakes (although I am aware I do) and will leave a post for checking and publishing later. This, clearly, often doesn’t happen. When I finally go back to the post it is no longer relevant so I don’t post it. Silly, really, as this matters only to me.

I’m sat on the 12.47pm train to London. I shouldn’t be.

The plan was to get the 18.47 train. But then life spun, as it often does I’ve realised, and my options changed.

On Sunday evening, my sister text me quite late at night, asking if I was awake. She called me, and let me know that my cousin was in hospital in a coma. He had collapsed whilst eating and they suspected a heart attack or stroke. His own father had died at a similar age of a heart attack. Unfortunately, many of my Dad’s siblings had heart issues, as did my dad.

I haven’t seen my cousin for a while. He is older than me and since Dad’s death, I see less and less of his family. This cousin used to visit my Dad regularly though – one or twice a fortnight – and was one of the few people who did. He had shown me kindness in the past, and whilst latterly had clearly been poisoned by my evil step-brother, I was sad about him.

I didn’t sleep well.

The next morning, I was informed that he had indeed died, not of a heart attack. It appears he had choked on his food. The ambulance did not arrive for 50 minutes.

I don’t know any more than this. My guess is that his wife had suspected the heart attack and maybe didn’t check. Or perhaps she was unable to help him. Either way, my heart ached for her and how she must feel now.

Yesterday I felt low, grave, morose. I drove to town to drop off my PCR test but there was no excitement. I got home, exhausted, and messaged my boss to let him know I was not great. He offered the rest of the week off and after much stressing and contemplating, I agreed.

At 10am this morning I changed my train ticket, hastily finished preparations, and here I am.

I still feel low. I should be excited, and there have been moments of that, but I’m not really.

As usual, I have put my own pressures and worries on to this trip before I even started. This situation has just added to it.

What I will say, is that his face has been the only thing to make me feel an ounce of happiness. He is like a sunbeam, breaking through my dark clouds.

I can’t wait to see him.

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Just like that

I awoke this morning to the sound of messenger: the sound of Wildcard calling me.

I answered with that nervous-excitment anticipation I always feel when he calls. To my surprise, he was up and heading towards his car – unusual for a Sunday where he gets his only lie-in.

“My friend had died.”

Someone had posted in a group chat of people he studied with. His friend was early thirties and I could see Wildcard struggling to comprehend the information. He was on his way to his friend’s house to see what was happening. In Islam, the dead are buried quickly and he didn’t want to miss it.

Half an hour, the sound of messenger roused me again.

“I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it.”

His friend had been driving with his parents and sister as passengers. A drunk driver had hit the car. His friend had died instantly. His mother had died this morning and his father and daughter were in hospital. Just like that, two lives lost and another two in the balance.

The story has lingered in my mind all day. My family have arrived, I’ve cooked and entertained, and yet my conscious self, the one with this knowledge has sat apart. Like an outer body experience, my mind has churned and processed whilst the rest of my has carried on.

Wildcard is waiting to attend the burial but the body of his friend remains in the hospital morgue at present.

Isn’t it strange how life can change, just like that?

Lost

Well-meaning people are beginning to get on my nerves.

“It is meant to be”

“It is a fresh start”

“A chance to try something new”

“A chance to do what you really want”

Here is the thing:

I’ve not just potentially lost my job. I’ve lost so much more:

Faith in myself

Trust in myself and others

Pride

My sense of achievement

Everything I have worked hard for

Who I am.

I’m not beautiful. I’m not slim or sexy. I’m not intelligent. But I was successful. I worked hard and I made it.

And now it is lost. I’m lost. Because I don’t know who I am without it. Or if I will ever have the strength again to find something else.

Envy

I have done well today. No tears until an hour ago. I want to think that is an achievement of some sorts.

Today would have been my dad’s 81st birthday. He died nearly three years ago.

I’m going to state a rather blunt fact.

I am not envious of people my age who still have their parents. Good for them. And besides, their dad is not my dad.

No, I envy them because they haven’t felt this. They have no idea, no comprehension of what this is.

My Dad’s illness and death broke me. I know that. And when I got put back together, I wasn’t the same – a bit like a broken teacup. I might look roughly the same but I am not and never will be. I don’t work the same. I’m weaker, more fragile.

Time will heal. Sure. This is kind of true. Time has taught me to go about my day to day life. It has shown me how to carry on, put one foot in front of another. Eventually, you learn not to cry every day.

The pain though, the pain never goes away. You just learn to deal with it. To sink it so deep in your soul that you can manage living again. But it is still there and it demands its time.

What happens then, is special days and holidays become the trigger. His birthday. Your birthday. His death. Fathers’ Day. And when those days creep in like a dark shadow, you feel the life you are clinging to, slowly being overwhelmed by that shadow.

So, yes, I am proud that I didn’t cry all day. But I am not surprised that I cried or that it hurts or that I miss him as much as the day he died.

The sting in the tail though is what this does to you. The repercussions. It makes you value your remaining loved ones with a vehemence you didn’t know existed. You demand more from your life, because death has taught you how precious this is. And you realise that actually, some people are not as important to you as you thought. And so you let them go.

The fear though, the fear of further loss, that is the most difficult. The ones that are left after your heartless, grief stricken cull…those that are left are cherished beyond belief and the fear of losing them crushes you. It wracks you with an anxiety that weaves around your veins reaching every part of you.

And so, you who have not know loss and grief yet, I envy you.

Second the worst

Officially this is the second Fathers’ Day without my Dad.

Last year my dad had been gone barely a week. I was numb, in shock, grief exhausted… Trying to plan a funeral whilst trying to keep the peace and hold it together. We planted a rose bush in Dad’s new garden and ate Toblerone.

This year has been devastating. My grief has been renewed. I’ve cried and ached and missed. I’ve been solemn and quiet and locked in my grief.

I know it’s commercial. I know today is just another day without him. But that’s what makes it painful: another day without him.

Father’s Day for us was a chance to focus on our Dad. To buy him a Toblerone. To make him a nice tea and spend time with him.

Today’s Fathers’ day was a symbol of loss for me. It’s been a hard couple of weeks.

Anniversaries.

A year ago today my dad was still alive in hospital. I was enjoying a Wrestlemania themed birthday evening with my family (don’t ask) and then was going to visit Dad in hospital with my sister.

I have a lovely picture of my Dad and I from that visit, forehead’s together. He has just given me a present which he had kept in his hospital bedside table. He told me how glad he was that I had come to see him on my birthday.

However the smiles aren’t reaching either of our eyes. Dad is pale and tired. I’m already mourning my Dad, wondering and hoping he will come home this time but knowing this is probably my last birthday with him. It was.

I planned my trip to purposefully cover my birthday. I’ve had no cards or presents today and that’s absolutely fine. Dad hasn’t given me his hallmark newspaper-wrapped hand carved gift that he’d spent weeks planning and making. (My house is full of them and I love each and every one.) Dad hasn’t made my breakfast and I haven’t seen my sisters. I miss them all but for this year, the first year, this is what I needed: to escape from the memories. From what should have been and always was.

This morning I drove my children to the local village and we each selected a birthday cake from the patisserie.

I got ready listening to my favourite songs on the record player and danced with my son as he giggled at my exuberance.

We then went to a local restaurant for the ‘plat du jour’ and my children laughed at my nervous attempts to communicate in French with the poor waiter. My driving is much better though!

We have relaxed in the sunshine this afternoon and then went for a walk in the countryside to feed the local donkey.

It’s been a lovely day. It doesn’t feel like my birthday but that’s what I wanted. Dad made birthdays, just like he made Christmas and Easter and every other holiday and festival. Dad made every day, in fact, even when he was ill.

We are quickly approaching the anniversary of my Dad’s death. I can’t help but re-live each moment as each day passes. I suppose this is part of the process. It seems an age since I last saw him, held him, cuddled him and yet feels like only yesterday that he died.

Life is funny like that.

Although I long to see and hear my Dad today, I’m actually missing my sisters the most. Maybe because I know I could have seen them today. We are the three musketeers, desperately trying to live positively through this experience and replace something irreplaceable with love and support for each other. I love them so much. I know it made Dad happy that we are so close and look out for each other.

This evening my children and I have played dominoes and cards and I completely forgot what day it was. Birthday or not, this holiday has meant that I am spending quality time with my children and that’s the most important thing. My Dad taught me that.

A morning smile.

I don’t believe I’m alone in avoiding going to bed.

Daytime usually means I’m occupied somehow: work, housework, family, friends. Of course grief has, and still does, hit me from time to time and I think about Dad a lot. But during the day – certainly during the week – they are usually fleeting heartfelt thoughts.

That’s how I’m coping. I need to carry on.

Nighttime is different. The minute my head hits the pillow and my eyes close, the grief hits me hard. Memories, thoughts, regrets… they play in orchestral fashion, bittersweet and lilting or tumultuous and powerful.

Mornings are similar. I no longer wake up to the stab in the heart as I realise and remember he is gone. But I always wake up thinking about him, somehow.

I know I look tired. I look at myself in the mirror and I see that grief has aged me. I’m tired and pale and I have bags under my eyes. Ah well.

This morning, however, I woke with a smile. A memory of something my Dad did, from a little girl to adulthood… A joke that he replayed with every daughter and every grandchild. It made me smile as it did when he was alive. A memory of him which was vibrant and beautiful. Unforgettable. Something that was uniquely him.

I was told in bereavement counselling that this day would come. That the positive and beautiful memories of my Dad would shine through. The image I’ve had of my Dad, for so long, has been of a tired, sick man. It was good to think of him as he really was: strong and funny.

Smiles are good.

Irony

The irony of this blog has not been lost on me. I started it when I separated from my husband in an attempt to see this as a positive chance to start my life again.

The irony of course, comes from what happened afterwards. Seems like Life wanted to change anyway, regardless of my marital status.

In November last year I had a ‘breakdown’, although I much prefer the Teaching Unions’ labelling of ‘burnout’. I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. Once the tiredness had finally ebbed, I was left with a numbing darkness: a malevolent emptiness which reeked on my own self-dissatisfaction and sense of failure. In those burned out eyes of mine, I had failed at my marriage, failed to keep my Dad well, failed at my job because I wasn’t strong enough, and failed as a mother because I was weak and a mess.

Months later, sedated by antidepressants and the memories of counselling, I returned to work. The phased return helped and soon I was feeling like the old me again. Not the new me my blog had promised to recount, but the old me.

And then, only a couple of months later, Dad deteriorated further. We thought we were losing him in April but he survived somehow and we were told that he was at the end of his life and we should prepare that he would have about twelve months with us. I believed we would be lucky to have another Christmas with him, but I hoped. He was a strong man despite his illness.

He returned home frail and didn’t seem to recover the way we had hoped. There were more tests, doctor’s appointments, carers… And then the ambulance calls in the middle of the night, only for him to be sent home days later with more medication.

Then in May he was admitted again with severe anaemia. Within days, a chest infection started. Then a little heart attack. And still we had hope. We had til Christmas, didn’t we? We had a year! He’d pulled through before.

After a week we started to doubt. He was not getting better. The hospital were not giving up, but our hope was fading. Our handsome, strong Dad was pale and weak and sleepy. He was black and blue from blood tests and transfusions.

And then, on June 6th, after discussion with the doctors, we made the decision to withdraw treatment – Dad’s non-invasive ventilator – the thing that was keeping him alive. He wasn’t getting better and we couldn’t see him suffer any longer.

Dad died less than twelve hours later with me and my two sisters by his side. And my life as I knew it ended.

I’m not the same person without my Dad. I’ve lost what little strength I had recovered after my ‘burnout’. A colleague has described me as a ‘broken woman’ and its stark accuracy startled me. I feel broken.

The clichés – a ‘part of me is missing’, ‘something has died inside me’ – how I wish they were metaphorical! I always thought they were but then I had never experienced grief like this before.

I write about my grief to cope with it. To remember it. Because it, in a slightly strange way, is also a part of Dad and I don’t want to forget this part either. And I hope these honest reflections can help someone too. Help them realise that they are not going mad, that these tumultuous feelings are a normal part of grief. Grief is not just crippling sadness – something I didn’t know until now. Grief is a very lonely place.

Change was a positive aspiration two years ago. It’s now a source of anxiety and pain.

My counsellor tells me that my grief is ‘healthy’. I’m told that it’s ‘selfless’ which is a good thing apparently. These are just words to me. I’m glad I’m not dipping back into depression again but these words mean nothing. I’m still grieving.

For six months I have tried to do what is expected of me. Carry on with my life. Keep being a mum and a teacher, a sister and a homeowner. As each month has passed, I’ve tried to hide the grief which is still as strong as it has ever been. (Maybe that’s it – you never get over it, you just learn to hide it better? ) Apparently, I’m not doing very well at this.

Last Sunday, after some Christmas shopping, I returned home and cried and cried and cried. I went into work Monday morning, frog-eyed and raw, to speak to HR in the hope they’d let me hide myself away in my office and work. Carry on, the way I’m supposed to.

An hour later, I’d let out my grief again. I’d discussed my pain, my fear about Christmas. My fear that people saw through my very carefully constructed facade of being OK.

My fears were well founded. My colleagues say that I am not the same, that I don’t have the same ‘gumption’ I once had.

How hard I have tried to hide this! I know I don’t have the same strength, but I didn’t want everyone else to see this. It was OK in the beginning, people expect you to be that way. But after a time, I believed that I should be back to myself, externally at least.

Although I feel like a failure, I’ve been told that I’m not and people don’t see me as one. I’m not sure I agree on either count.

Day to day, most days, my grief is a burning ember inside me. It’s a gossamer veil that covers me. Change is a catalyst though. It stokes the embers and the grief burns in my chest. Like today – simply preparing for Christmas with final shopping and cleaning and tidying has caused anxiety all day. Such a strange emotion as I’m not sure why it’s anxiety, but that is what I have felt and what I always feel when I experience change since Dad has died.

I know Christmas will be hard. Its a change. I’ve never had a Christmas before without my Dad: now I will never have one again with him. My anxiety is a symptom of this knowledge.

But somehow, this week’s grief and work revelations have created something new in me. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want people to see me as weak. How can I find myself again? I haven’t created these changes but I need to embrace them somehow. Use them as a catalyst for positivity if that is at all possible. That determination, the strength that has been bred in me, encouraged in me, from my Dad, is wanting to fight back. It was fine for me to pretend to be OK if I thought no one realised. Now I know that I have failed to hide it, I’m even more determined.

I can’t change my grief. I can’t erase it or end it. It’s there because I loved my Dad and will always love my Dad so it will always be there too.

I have no answers to this. It’s another irony. I share my grief in this blog because I believe that grief is personal but should not be private. And yet, I’m determined to find a way to hide it.

I’m shaking my head at myself as I write this.

So, to all of you that are missing someone this Christmas, I know how hard this is. I’m with you. We are not alone. I will be sending a prayer to you all, as I pray to my Dad, asking him to send a little bit more of his strength my way.

Merry Christmas xx

Grief

I woke this morning with a song on my lips. Dad’s song. I hadn’t dreamed of him and yet the song was there.

The pain is sharp and nagging today and won’t be squashed or pushed aside. It’s raw and malevolent.

I can’t stop crying. I long to hear my Dad, to feel him squeeze my hand, to breathe him in when I hug him. I need his kindness, and strength and love today. But it’s not here, and never will be again, and the truth of that is crushing and destroying and painful beyond belief.

But this is grief. It lulls you each day. It never disappears. It’s ever present but it hides in shadows, tricks you in to carrying on only to cripple you when you least expect it. And that’s OK. I welcome the grief because it is a sign that my love is still there, still alive and well and will never leave, even if Dad has.

My heart goes out to all that are grieving today. God bless. 💗

Peace

Sunlight caresses the surface of the lake,

Its diamond waters cold yet inviting.

The mountains stretch up to greet the heavens,

proudly displaying their many shades of green.

Starlings dart; rabbits scamper while

shoals of fish glide and kiss expanding water ripples.

Blue, blue sky… Endless and endearing.

I feel at peace in my wondrous awe,

recognising the beauty of life amongst my grief.

For how can I not believe in heaven, when it is right before my eyes?