The little things…

Yesterday it was a chocolate orange in Tesco Express, sitting nonchalantly on the shelf. I’m not a fan myself, but Dad loved them and always had one at Christmas, on Fathers Day and his birthday; a Dad tradition. And there it was staring at me, reminding me that he wouldn’t have one again … that I wouldn’t buy him another. I’m getting rather good at stifling the tears now, so managed to pay for my petrol without sobbing; but it was another stark, insignificant reminder of the finality.

This morning I was cleaning my car – which is quite a mission given my soon to be 2 year old and the clutter of toys and hats and coats and mud, and chicken shit encrusted wellies. Anyway, there in the footwell was the newspaper from Tuesday 10th January – the day Dad died. I’d bought it that morning as a friend and I were collecting holiday tokens. With everything that happened afterwards, I’d forgotten all about it … couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. The day when my “before” and “after” line was drawn … when things changed forever. I have a growing amount of paraphernalia from that day; little pointless things that now have so much meaning; Dad’s receipts from that morning, the medical packaging found at the allotment, the newspaper..

This evening it was marking a new height on Freddie’s giraffe chart in his bedroom. The last measurement had been made on 5th January, when “Gandad” was still alive. Another stop the clocks moment,of which there are plenty. My little boy is growing and his Grandad can’t see it.

And so it continues. I think the adrenaline from the past [nearly 6] weeks is beginning to leave me and a malignant exhaustion has set in. A dark realisation that the present; the now; is hard. There are simply no words to describe it [so why, you may ask, do I try?]. Sleep remains difficult, and often I’m woken with the deep pounding of my heart in my chest as my subconscious relives the events of that Tuesday. It seems cruel that even sleep doesn’t offer respite. This afternoon when I’d failed miserably at napping whilst Freddie was with his Dad; I found myself at the allotment, sitting on the decking, watching the chickens, beside the funeral flowers which are still looking lovely. Some mummy friends have joined forces in project allotment, and it is there that I feel closest to Dad … where he last walked, the air he last breathed. It was an unfinished project; and making a good job of it means a lot to me.

I have realised just how big a part of my life Dad was. I always knew it, and always appreciated it – but I hadn’t quite comprehended the huge gaping void now so obvious. I listen to old voicemails, just so I won’t forget his voice. I miss his phonecalls, his presence, his companionship. I miss watching him be Grandad.

If you’re reading this, Fred, in years to come – Mummy’s sorry if she has been sad these weeks; if you’ve caught her crying in the kitchen or lacking the amount of energy she usually has. I’m sorry for not knowing what to say to you sometimes when you still stand at the window waiting for your Grandad or “Gandads car”. One day, my darling, you’ll understand how hard it all is – but for now, know that your cheeky smiles and snotty kisses, are keeping Momma going…

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The things I’ve learnt…

The main thing I’ve learnt over the past three and a half weeks, is that grief is messy and individual, sporadic and intense, all consuming and desperately illogical. This morning I found myself crying as I threw away an empty shampoo bottle. When I bought that, I thought to myself – everything was okay, Dad was here. The new shampoo represented a moving on, of sorts… and so it is with so many things. Today I took Fred to the park next door – where Dad walked most days. It was a bright sunny day, and I longed for him to share it with me. Oh Dad, I thought to myself … four weeks ago today we were walking in this very park,together.

I returned to the allotment a couple of days after Dad’s death. It was something I had to do. For one, I wanted to find his glasses, which the paramedics had placed in the shed. I also found some medical packaging for adrenaline injections and airway tubes. I brought them home with me because they seemed so connected to Dad’s last moments. They remain in a cupboard in the kitchen. It helped, in some ways, seeing  a quiet, peaceful allotment without the horrors of that Tuesday afternoon, which will be forever etched on my heart.

I have learnt that there is a lot to organise when you feel least like making decisions and organising anything. There is a lot of waiting, for coroners and death certificates, being placated with “it’s a busy time” [poplar time to die, evidently]. Then the funeral arrangements, the photos for the order of service,  the writing of the eulogy which I hope to be able to deliver on Monday … it seems never ending. People to tell, phonecalls to make, things to tick off another list. Gin to drink.

On Wednesday I went to the Chapel of Rest to see Dad for a final goodbye. I didn’t go to have a chat to him -because I could do that anywhere…. but it was important for me to have a different last image to the one I had. I was so nervous; perhaps because I worried I would be left with a worse image. Ultimately it was the right decision to go. I’d taken the photo Dad carried around in his wallet,of him and Freddie in the park;and a card the nuns had given him in Calcutta, with a Mother Teresa prayer on it. I placed those in his hands – it somehow felt fitting that he’d always carried them around, so they should go with him. He looked smaller, but he looked like Dad; and his nails still had soil underneath them. He’d have liked that. I gave him a kiss on his forehead and left with a sense that he was okay, wherever he now is.

I’ve learnt who my friends are these weeks; the friends who’ve cooked Freddie meals, done my laundry, sent virtual hugs, adminstered real ones; held my hand as we walked into the Chapel of Rest, made arrangements to be here for me tomorrow and monday; phoned me, listened… these are the little acts of kindness you don’t forget. Just as you don’t forget the people who haven’t done any of those things and have interfered and involved themselves in disagreements then take offence when I tell them to fuck off. Grief is raw and raging; grief provokes arguments. Essentially, different people are coming to terms in different ways, with the fact that however much we don’t want it to be true – Dad isn’t coming back.

Last year when Dad was in hospital awaiting a heart transplant, one evening a heart was found. Ultimately the surgery didn’t go ahead because the donor heart wasn’t healthy enough; but I spoke to Dad that evening on the phone – and there was an unspoken understanding that this could’ve been a last conversation.  He told me at least three times to “look after that little boy”. I told him that I loved him.

And so it is that my little Freddie is the ray of sunshine to get me through. My little Freddie who has a new photo memory book of his dear Grandad, and still looks confused when standing at the lounge window asking for “Gandad Momma, Gandad?”

Monday is nearly here… and the last thing I can do for my dear, kind, courageous Dad, is to stand there and read my eulogy …because he deserves that….

 

My Dad, My Dad,My Dad

I  never imagined I would be writing this Blog post; the grief is raw, the haze is thick. I’m writing this now, as every Blog post I write; for Freddie. I need Freddie to know what a wonderful Grandfather he had; how much we loved him, and how much he adored his only Grandson. I need him to know how devastated I am that on January 10th 2017, the year he had professed would be “a really good year” just days earlier – he left this world; and left me bereft and inconsolable. I need to write every detail before it fades from my memory. I cannot be the same person today as I was yesterday. Cathartic?

Yesterday afternoon I was meeting my Dad at the allotment; he was helping me [okay, he was pretty much doing] the roof on my shed. It was a bright, mild day; he had phoned earlier and asked if I needed any shopping [milk and bread please Dad]; we agreed to meet at the allotment, and I looked forward to seeing him. I arrived, changed into my muddy work boots, and made my way down the path. I got halfway before I realised something was wrong. It was too quiet, something didn’t feel right. On the decking was something grey; it was my Dad’s anorak, and my Dad was wearing it; slumped there on his back. I think I screamed “Dad”, I pulled out my phone and dialled 999. I screamed that I needed an ambulance. This wasn’t good, I knew it wasn’t good. Was he breathing? I cried that I didn’t know, that I thought they were too late. Could I see his chest moving up and down. No. No. No. I remember the operator telling me to take a deep breath. “It’s my Dad” I screamed, knowing in my heart that he was already gone. His face, his expression – it wasn’t him anymore [yet now that’s all I can see; somebody tell me how to unsee it?]. Somehow, I tried to follow instructions; the zip was stuck on his coat, I couldn’t move it to reach his chest;my hands were shaking. I needed to be brave. I remember pulling his coat and jumper up and  thinking this was wrong. This was my Dad. I sobbed, thinking I’d be sick. And then I saw a figure  a couple of plots away; a man I’ve talked to on occasion about planting things and chickens. I screamed for him to help me.Next thing, he’s following the operators CPR instructions whilst I’m running to the local school for their defibrilator, repeating the code I’ve been given all the time. I’m wearing these big clumpy boots and I can hardly breathe for panic. I’m trying to run but I can’t seem to move fast enough;I’m cumbersome and flailing. I remember the dryness in my throat as I periodically yelled “help me,someone help me” until a teacher from the school came to meet me and fetched the defibrilator once I’d correctly remembered the code. The run back was longer, I contemplated ditching the boots and running in my socks. I’m back on the decking, with my Dad splayed there, his chest being pounded by dear Andrew, whose brow is drenched  with sweat. He tells me not to watch, to go and wait for the ambulance.

I run back to the gateway, yelling at the ambulance which has gone the wrong way. I’m really sobbing now, telling them they’re too late. “It’s my Dad” I keep saying, interspersed with “Oh my God”, “he was on his own” and “No,No,No”. I’m sitting in the mud rocking, willing it to all be a nightmare. A policewoman is there, tapping my shoulder, asking if I want to sit in her car. “He’s gone” I tell her, remembering what I saw. The paramedics  are working on him, Andrew returns my phone and says they are giving it 25 minutes. It can’t be real. This is my Dad; my beloved, kind, generous Dad. We were meant to be laughing and talking, and making plans for raised beds.

We have the blue lights flashing in the police car as we follow the ambulance. I feel sick. It’s mostly silent, other than a call to my aunt to check she’s with my mother; telling her the bare essentials; that I found my Dad collapsed at the allotment and we are on our way to hospital. I’m ushered into one of those family rooms with crocheted prayer squares and multiple boxes of tissues. I don’t know how long we were there for, but it seemed an eternity. When the doctor arrived, he didn’t need to tell me the outcome. I’m handed a book on bereavement, and I ask for my Dads things; his watch, his stuff, his £7.48 change in his pockets, his wedding ring, his keys. Did I want his shoes? I don’t know. Do I? I don’t think I want his shoes. I give this question too much thought,unable to quite take it in.

We don’t have the blue lights on on the way back. I’m trying to work out how to tell my Mum, who is home packing a hospital bag for my Dad, who she presumed had tripped on something and injured himself. The kind policelady comes in with me. I hide the booklet on bereavement and the envelope inside my jacket. “I’m so sorry” I said, “there was nothing they could do.”

I try to close my eyes and I’m  there, walking innocently down the pathway to the allotment. In my mind everything was perfect until I see the anorak, his outline;lying there. My Dad,my Dad,my Dad. I can’t yet cry; can’t yet think -it’s just the location; the vacuum of my discovery.

I find  a bag in the back of my Dad’s car with my milk and bread,and some juice for Freddie. He was always dropping things in for us; and it struck me as I carried the bag up the stairs to my flat, that this would be the last Daddy care package I would ever receive. Never again would I see my Dad, hear his voice, enjoy his company. I find myself looking at innocuous object thinking “the last time I used that my Dad was here, things were normal.” – and things will never be the same again.

This journey of grief is in its infancy. I don’t know how I will get through it; but my little boy – the apple of his Grandad’s eye, is my reason for plodding on in the fog. My Dad was such a good man; he helped me so much; to his last breath he was helping me. I couldn’t have asked for more,and whatever the future holds it will be lacking something incredibly special.

 

 

2016 – mixed, but survived …

For this first Blog of 2017 I’m sitting in bed with a mug of hot Ribena, whilst my teething snotty little boy naps in his cot – his faithful kitten curled up beside him. It’s quite nice, being snug in bed listening to the rain pitter patter against the windows. I was meant to go to Cheltenham racing today, but it hasn’t happened, and I’m not overly disappointed. My bets are placed though, and I may catch some ITV racing action later. I saw in 2017 around a log burner with good conversation and company whilst Fredders successfully slept in a travel cot upstairs [the kid is getting good].

We survived Christmas relatively unscathed but the lounge is now even more like a Smyths Toys outlet.

2016 seemed to rattle past at an alarming speed. This time last year I still had a baby, and now I have a bustling soon to be two year old – who never fails to make me smile. My heart could burst at the fun, the cheekiness, the giggle, of this little boy. This little boy whose feet grew a whole size in a month and is now sporting a very grown up size 7.

2016 saw the acquisition of an allotment, 3 [now 2] chickens, Percy Pickle the cat, a new car, a week in Woolacombe, a week in Pembrokeshire, days at Badminton Horse Trials, In the Night Garden Live, ThomasLand, the Safari Park. It saw Freddie starting a new wonderful nursery [Mayfield House, I love you], Freddie’s first Cambridge Formal Hall, his first proper pony rides [and a donkey on the beach at Weston!], winning “best dressed bear” for Bear Grylls at the NCT teddy bears picnic, and finally learning to SLEEP for more than 2 hours in a row. On the downside, we had a long, difficult summer with my father incarcerated in the QE awaiting a new heart. The long car journeys and the anxieties watching someone you love so poorly, was quite stressful – and I’m very glad to have Dad home again. Mum was diagnosed with Parkinsons which has also taken its toll.

It’s not always easy, this single parenthood malarkey; but it’s definitely worth it. I can hardly remember what it was like not to have Freddie in my world …

Hello 2017 … lets do this.

Christmas

I was cuddled up with Fred on the sofa watching “Saving Santa” …. which begins with the quote:

Christmas is a day that holds all time together.
People take from Christmas
their memories of
happy times and sad,
past, present and future.

As I stroked my little boys freshly cut hair, and helped him peel his satsuma; I was taken back to Christmases past … one particularly dark year, when I distinctly remember sitting in my writing shed at the bottom of my parents orchard. I was writing [another unfinished novel, I suppose …] by candlelight, chain smoking, listening to the radio, somewhere around 2am, wrapped in an old blanket. It was a lonely place to be; I look back at that young woman, lost; struggling; unable to envisage a future … and want to whisper in her ear that everything would be okay. “A candlelight carol” came on the radio, an arrangement by John Rutter which I hadn’t heard before. It contains the line “How can you measure the love of a mother, and how can you write down, a baby’s first cry.” I still have this in my itunes library … [you can listen on youtube here ] and I remember so well the hopelessness of that Christmas. Fast forward to 2014, and I sat resting my hands on a growing Freddie-bump, listening to the same carol. It is hard to believe how much has changed since then. 2014 was an emotional Christmas – preggers, alone, recently moved into my flat, and wondering how I would manage. I recall crying in the shower a lot, talking to my wriggly little Freddie in utero, reassuring him that his momma loved him so much and would always try her best. Last year I sat with my 9month old on my lap, listening to the same carol, appreciating it’s poignancy all the more; amazed that I was a mother. This evening I’m listening to it whilst my little boy sleeps in his cot [for the fifth night this week] …

I’ve never been a huge fan of this time of year … although now I have my boy, I am warming to the magic through a child’s eyes. The Christmases I spent in Calcutta made me very cynical about the western commercial craziness  … and I don’t say that from a religious perspective [forever the agnostic]. In Calcutta we served rice and dahl to the street dwellers who queued for hours outside the gates of Shishu Bhavan on AJC Bose Road. The hot meal was their greatest present. I look at the sacks of presents in my wardrobe for Freddie, and remind myself that one day I will take him to Calcutta, to understand that not all little boys are as lucky. I do miss Calcutta at Christmas; the volunteer’s Christmas play in Motherhouse on Christmas Eve; the carols, the human chain passing the rice and dahl on Christmas morning … Sr Andrea summoning me to the parlour for a serious conversation …. those were happy Christmases, and Christmases devoid of presents and commercialism. I remember one such Christmas when having worked all day, myself an an American volunteer friend [yes Maddy, if you’re reading …] fell into bed realising we hadn’t in fact eaten all day! We ended up getting a khadi roll – a Calcutta street food speciality, costing about 15p, as our Christmas dinner!

A little while ago I blogged about mental health; and I find this time of year so delicate for so many …. like the quote from Freddie’s new favourite DVD [“Again, Momma, Again, Pease Momma!”] – it inevitably evokes memories, of times when things were different, when situations were different; when people were together. The media project the ideals; the happy families, the perfect food; the seemingly effortless happiness … and the reality is often so different.

It will all, very soon, be over … and the Valentines cards will be in the shops.

Until then, see you on the other side ….

A drunken kitten

If I told you that last night my toddler threw a pear across the dining table which hit [yes, hit, good shot] my 5 o’clock glass of Sauvignon Blanc and then laughed and said “yes Momma” when I told him this was naughty …. only for the cat to lick up the remaining wine whilst my back was turned, throw up in the night [the cat, not me], utterly hungover this morning, you would probably gather it has been an eventful week [and it’s only Tuesday!]. An alcoholic kitten at 5months old? My mothering skills are epic. Luckily there was another glass left in the bottle.

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From left to right; Violet, Virginia, Vita …

I need to introduce this Blog to Virginia, Vita and Violet – my three recently acquired rescue chickens. They are lovely girls, producing some eye wateringly whopping coloured eggs. Slightly concerned that Virginia and Violet gang up on Vita … but I guess that’s where the pecking order comes from. Fredders is really enjoying feeding the “tichens” as he calls them, every morning before work; and the Good Life begins. Naughty Mr Fox had better leave my girls alone! Roll on those summer evenings ….

In all honesty the past couple of weeks haven’t been altogether easy. I’ve had a growing feeling of unrest, and have had to decipher what I need to do to change things. There are plans afoot – so watch this space. I feel like I’ve fallen into various ruts recently, but 2017 is going to bring some exciting things with it … I feel much clearer and more positive about what I want for me and Fred. It’s hard work, keeping yourself in check and moving forward despite surviving on 3 hours sleep …

Did I mention sleep? I’ve finally decided it’s time for Fred to sleep in his cot …. not an easy task at 21 months when he’s been used to snuggling up to Momma. Consistency is the key. And you wonder why I’m drinking wine at 5pm on a monday? Again, I shall report back …

Now, dear readers, I must hang the washing, vacuum the lounge, prepare a curry for this evening, and contemplate the dreaded Christmas letter.

Nurturing my inner PollyAnna

I often Blog about the joys of motherhood and the beautiful moments we all want to last forever. There are so many of these, and I’ve always tried to cherish the ever fleeting moment – even when running on 3 hours sleep. Freddie is without a doubt the best thing to have happened to me; that goes without saying. This week, however, has been tough … it’s partly because it’s dark and dank and cold outside; partly because I’m exhausted, Fred’s been snotty and therefore slightly grouchy [okay, scratch that, he’s been a little bugger at 4,30am for the past three days] – payday has seemed a long way off, and quite frankly I’ve felt inadequate and a little lonely – not to mention hormonal. It’s bloody hard work on your own; and much more so when it’s not summertime when everything seems so much more do able and the days so much easier to plan; no coats and wellies to lug around; light evenings to burn energy at the park ….this afternoon we have watched a DVD [Fred’s current favourite thing in the world, especially if he can ram two in the DVD player at the same time], played cars, coloured, drawn pictures on the chalk board; cooked food in Fred’s kitchen … before tea and finally settling a very overtired little chap to sleep. It was a joyous feeling as I tiptoed out of his room [yes you read that correctly; my child is sleeping in HIS cot in HIS room this evening!], leaving the kitten to act as a purring teddy. I jumped in the shower with a sense of utter liberation. My lovely friend Mandy will be here in an hour with a curry – the wine is chilling in the fridge. Thursday is my Friday; so bring on some much needed relaxation and adult conversation [come on kiddo, you can do it … you can sleep for longer than 3 hours in a row!]

Of course, I love being a mum more than anything; but I don’t want this blog to only document the good times. I was so tired this afternoon I just wanted to curl up and sleep … and despite not wanting to shove Fred in front of a screen to occupy him – it was so easy to do so. I was reminded of a comment from a friend earlier in the week – that it’s okay to be just “good enough” some days … my child is warm and fed, he has a lot of toys to play with and activities to engage with … and yet now he’s asleep I’m feeling utterly guilty for not being quite good enough today; for lacking the energy to bounce around and do more. 4.30am seems a long time ago. Please go back to sleep, I whispered this morning – please go back to sleep …. momma’s eyes are not looking pretty, despite trying the piles cream trick.

I am sitting with a cup of tea nurturing my inner PollyAnna. It is 2 years ago this week since I got the keys to this flat and became the owner of a mortgage. I’m so glad that I chose this place to call home … so many memories in these walls already … so many happy photos line the walls.

Tomorrow is another day. I will try harder tomorrow.