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.

 

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

0,1,2

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…

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 ….