Grief; 7 months on

This Blog began as a MummyBlog full of pregnancy thoughts, childbirth and sticky finger memories. This year it has inevitably also incorporated bereavement and grief, and moving forward from such loss whilst mothering a toddler. My most read Blog post to date is the one I wrote on January 11th, the day after finding my Dad dead. I sometimes read it back, feeling every moment – pleased that I did capture those raw, horrific images so soon after they happened. Seven months on, I’ve realised that for me there are two traumas; the actual events of that Tuesday afternoon, and the loss of my Dad. Perhaps people don’t talk about these things; but writing is cathartic [I have a sleeping toddler!] – and I think it’s important to process and share the journey. You never know who else needs to hear it.

Last week a doctor phoned me from the Ambulance Service patient liason office. I had contacted them asking for the reports the crew made when they arrived at the allotment. I’d finally admitted to myself that something I really struggled with was those endless minutes before the paramedics arrived; when I was on my own with Dad. I felt a huge sense of guilt that in my panic and shock, I didn’t spring into the kind of Holby City CPR action that you might expect. Whilst my gut instinct told me it was already too late; how did I know? I remember every awful detail; and the truth is, I wasn’t very good at the CPR; I was a shaking shocked mess; scared of the man I loved most in the world. As the months have passed; it was those moments which troubled me the most. I let him down; I should’ve done more; what if I lost vital moments because I couldn’t get it together? He was only there helping me; he’d have done it for me; I know he would. The grieving mind plays a lot of tricks; and the moment of finding him remains an ongoing nightmare. I wanted to talk to the Ambulance Service because perhaps they could clarify; perhaps they could tell me if I’d fucked up. The doctor understood. He had Dad’s SATS and heart rhythm readings taken when the crews arrived, in front of him. He said that from those readings, Dad was most likely beyond help before I arrived, but the 999 operators have to start you on the CPR, and the paramedics have to keep trying. I should perhaps feel better; that my inability to help didn’t really make a difference – but I’m not sure that’s the point. I wish it could’ve been different.

I chew it over in my mind; being stuck behind a lorry on the way to the allotment; wondering if I hadn’t been held up – maybe I’d have been there when it happened; maybe it wouldn’t have happened at all. Initially the allotment was a source of huge comfort and a place to be close to Dad … but as time has gone on, all I see is the image of him lying on the decking. And this too makes me feel guilty; because surely he’d  have wanted me to be stronger than that? He was helping me to create the allotment dream I had for Freddie, when he died. And I’ve sort of given it up …. because on the way in I see that yellow defibrilator in the box and immediately I’m back to that day, running with it in my hands, feeling like I’m not moving anywhere, knowing it’s too late. The memories are too raw; too stabbing. There are times when I see an ambulance with its sirens on, and I’m back in the police car following the ambulance that day. And there are times this feels so unfair; why; why did he not only have to die; but why did I have to find him? You can’t not see it, you can’t not remember it.

Yesterday I wrote another measurement on Freddie’s wall growth chart, and instinctively counted how much he had grown since Grandad died. Sometimes I have to stop and think; did we have that chair when Dad was alive, or, did he see that toy of Freddies? Time is an odd concept. Dad never met my new partner; and I’m pretty sure he’d have liked her a lot. It’s things like this which make you realise life goes on, but is never the same. It still takes my breath away to think I’ll never see him again; that this chapter of my life is over forever. And it’s hard; it’s really hard. Last weekend Freddie and I were in Guernsey with my partner’s family; and Dad would’ve loved it. There’s part of me which automatically wants to phone him and tell him …

I go to Dad’s grave once a week; occasionally more … not because I feel close to him there [the engraved stone actually makes it feel surreally real] – but because I want it kept colourful and tidy; just like his beloved garden was.

“But where is Grandad Mummy?” is Freddie’s question of the moment. I hope both he and Dad know, that I’m doing my best.

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And so it continues…

Last Tuesday was the first Tuesday since January 10th when I didn’t check the calendar to ensure I knew how many weeks it was since Dad died. At a guess I’d say 15 or 16; but I don’t suppose it really matters. As the seasons change, the image of finding Dad on that sunny Tuesday in January, begins to fade – or rather not provoke the terror it once did. The heart thudding nightmares have, for the moment at least, disappeared; replaced by dreams of Dad alive and well. I’m not entirely sure which is worse.

I’ve found the past week or so rather heavy and sad. I’m not sure why. It would be Dad’s 66th birthday next Sunday, and this could be playing on my mind. Another first on the inescapable conveyor belt of firsts. Gone is the raw, numb horror of the early days of grief; and in its place is a deeper, lingering “forever sadness” that he’s not here and never will be. As time goes on there are less things where he left them, less tangible connections to the man who was such a huge part of our lives. Occasionally I forget, and think I must tell Dad or ask Dad, or wonder why I haven’t seen him. Sometimes in town I still catch the back of someone I think is him, and for a moment this has all been some sick joke. It is disconcerting and exhausting. I wonder how we’ve got through these months; constantly reminded of his absence. Freddie has new clothes, new toys, another mark on his height chart. Freddie no longer says “Gandad” when I cook a curry; and I realise this is it – the unpredictable and unforgiving cycle of life, of death, of love and all the chaos inbetween.

There are days when I’m constantly battling to push out of my mind my reactions that day. If only I’d arrived sooner; if only I’d been better at initiating the CPR. If only I’d seen it  happen. If only he hadn’t been there, helping me.

I had a bit of a Facebook rant earlier [I used the C word on a Sunday; Mea Maxima Culpa] about these months really showing me who cares, who has my back, and who is prepared to be by my side on this journey no matter what. Likewise, I am now fully aware of who doesn’t care. True colours are known. Freddie is my priority. My funny, cheeky, ever growing Freddie, who counts to 10 and rides his balance bike in the park. His Grandad would’ve enjoyed so much sharing all these firsts with him – and instead we’re embarking on our year of firsts without Dad….

 

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….