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.

Grief is a tsunami of treacle

I think I did grief a disservice last night; I made it seem too soft, too poetic. I neglected to mention the brutal punches in the stomach, leaving you gasping for breath, unable to envisage a life when it didn’t hurt [and feeling guilty if it didn’t] What are the tears for; the absence? The memories? The memories which will no longer happen? The things unsaid? The reality? The broken jigsaw. The people left behind.

Grief is a tsunami of treacle. Grief is not an option. Grief is a constant exhausting battle. It hits you again every morning, when you wake and re-remember. Grief is angry. Grief is putting on make up and going to work and smiling. Grief becomes a part of you and a part of your daily routine; lingering, all encompassing; swallowing that lump in your throat and simply surviving. Breathing.

I can’t see the screen for a haze of hot tears. I’m listening to Lukas Graham’s “You’re not there.” This song was on the radio as I got in the car after registering Dad’s death.

Time can heal your wounds if you’re strong and standing tall
I’ve been doing all of that, it didn’t help at all
They say, “You’ll grow older, and it’ll get better still”
Yes, I will, but no, it won’t
They don’t get it cause

You’re not there

Grief makes you question your existence and mortality; it shatters the ambivalent notion that death happens to others people, far from now. Grief makes you wonder what its all about; why we’re here; and what happens in those moments between life and death, and beyond. I think back, inevitably, to that Tuesday; the blank expression; the brutality of the CPR; those moments when someone ceases to be someone, and becomes a corpse. It’s those things you think about at 3am when your heart is thudding and your mind is filled with the unanswerables.

People everywhere are walking around with this, in Sainsburys, at work, in school, at the park … carrying on, yet weighed down by loss, by sadness. Life must’ve been so carefree before; so content. I’m back there, walking down the path at the allotment, oblivious. That Tuesday hadn’t been the best, but I could tell you every detail of the drive to the allotment; putting on my boots and getting out of the car. Little things, insignificant things. Those crocheted prayer mats in the little room in A&E. The sweet tea; the beige book with lilies on the front about bereavement.

It’s 15 weeks ago tomorrow. I just counted.

 

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….

 

Two year old you

Dear Fred,

17156074_2103858033173957_1695764839204359995_nToday is your second birthday, and whilst you’re spending some time with Daddy, I wanted to write a Blog about 2 year old you.

It was wonderful watching you and your friends enjoy your birthday party yesterday; clambering around on the soft play, eating “choo choo cake”, singing songs and generally having lots of fun. The only thing missing was your Grandad, who helped Momma plan the party – and was looking forward to it very much. In the car on the way to the party as I told you all the people who would be there, you repeatedly asked for “Gandad,” and Momma had to explain once again that she too would love to see him, how it was very sad, but how I was sure if he could, he would be there in spirit. I’m writing this because whenever you’re reading this Blog, Freddie; you will probably have forgotten the wonderful memories and times you shared with your Grandad. But yesterday you asked for him, and I know he would’ve loved your party and been so proud of you. Yesterday was the first big event  without Grandad around, and Momma did need a couple of glasses of wine at the end of the day.

So, two year old Freddie….

LOVES…. Thomas the Tank Engine, Postman Pat DVDs [you’re already quite au fait with changing the DVDs yourself in the player], chocolate buttons, Weetabix for breakfast, collecting the eggs from the chickens, playing on momma’s phone, driving your mini car – especially reversing when you’re supposed to go forwards!; Percy cat – who you call Lala, singing “twinkle twinkle chocolate bar”, Tots Rock on fridays, morning and bedtime “boobie”, reading books on Momma’s lap, going down the big slide at the park, bathtime bubbles … Your favourite meal of the week is chicken curry; the hotter the better…

DISLIKES …cleaning your teeth, eating the eggs you like to collect, sitting in the buggy …

17155674_2103857676507326_6559896394241886088_n

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You are such a fun, cheeky little chap – forever making me laugh.It is incredible that you’re 2 already. I look back on the day you were born with such wonder and amazement, and always will. You rocked my world, little boy. Momma was pretty naive going into a pregnancy on her own, unsure what everything entailed. These have been the best two years of my life, and even in the present sadness, you keep me going and remind me of what’s important.

So bring on more adventures, little boy. You are so loved.

Momma xx

 

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…

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….