No Mans land……
I’ve always been big into christmas, the build up, the festive buzz, the celebrations of just because its December, meeting up with old friends, the ritual of christmas jumper nights outs etc you get the picture. right after the big day though I hit a wall and i’m over it all very suddenly, the sitting about often in dreary weather, the constant rolling buffet of food thats lovely and all but far too over indulgent for the slug that i always fear that I have become since the evening of the 25th december.
I am an activity person and don’t watch much tv so I can never really justify sitting and watching all the things lined up for christmas (even if i know something is due on and i really want to catch it, i somehow never manage to) theres some kind of inner self loathing that I have related to sitting on a couch and watching tv… an old friend of mine used to compare this need for activities even on a hang over (usually on a hang over when thinking back to this old friends comparison), to the brother in step brothers when he moves the bed so there is more room for activities lol
So anyways the no mans land in between christmas and new year… not the biggest fan. January also is not my best month, by january I’ve come to the end of my tether with the limited day light hours, cold, wet and grey days. I think I probably suffer a little from SAD syndrome if we want a label on it, but january does notoriously offer up a plate of shit historically.
This leads me onto the subject for this blog that I have been toying with posting for a long time. Its something thats been on my mind a lot this christmas and I felt that although maybe depressing for some it also will strike a chord for others, its heightened awareness for me this time of year that not all people are having a picture worthy time surrounded by friends and family.
Not long before christmas this year a friends neighbour lost her 7 month old baby boy to cot death… just on a random day he’d gone for a nap and a little while later when she checked on him the unthinkable. I’ve not been able to shake the thoughts of her and her family this christmas, its heartbreaking to think of at any time of year but as i say heightened awareness. She and her husband have another young child and because i’m in the same situation with two children of the same ages I just cant bare to think about the pain she is going through at a time of year when there is so magic for children, one of hers has been tragically taken.
So there it is….Grief, thats the topic I wish to touch upon. Yes, not that cheery for this month of good will and hope for the new year almost upon us i hear you think, but its on my mind that maybe not everyone feels like they’re having the best time and its important to acknowledge that.
(I might add that I did have a wonderful christmas with my little family but I realise I am lucky and i count my blessings every day for that)
Being that I obviously like to write its probably no surprise for you to learn that I keep a grief diary, have done since the sudden loss of my father 3 years ago this coming january 8th. Maybe ‘grief diary’ is an odd title because I’m not sure theres a method to how you can keep grief in a diary. Anyways I use it to jot down things that come into my head that I don’t want to forget… the fear of forgetting things was one of the first worries I had after Dad died. The little things that he did that made him him, the classics like the sound of his voice, how he laughed the many random Dad’isms’ that he had. I wrote as many down as i could, frantically. I remember being so sad we didn’t have more of those things on video, recorded, forever.
I called his phone a few times after he died just in desperate attempt to hear his voice but it had been disconnected 😦
I think everyone has a list of things that annoy them that people say when faced with the hard task of ‘finding something to say to someone grieving a loss” and for me one of the biggest peeves is the age old “time is a healer” … I genuinely think this is utter BS and more that time allows us the luxury of familiarity and in that theres a natural coping mechanism like any other muscle memory.
The past 3 years has taught me that I don’t think you can possibly forget the things I was worried about forgetting because they are ingrained in our very beings, its just the shock of it all that sent me into overdrive for drawing things in close in attempt to protect what was left. By way of another quite stupid but symbolic example, the day after he died I flew home back to my then, ‘baby’ girl and husband and not thinking straight, i had perfume in my hand luggage which the airport staff rightly so wanted to take from me and destroy… now this particular perfume was near on impossible to get hold of then and so even more so now. I had worn it at my wedding, it was my signature smell for years and I couldn’t bear the thought of them taking it from me to just destroy it when at that moment it was sooooo important to me that I didn’t lose anything else. Lucky for me after the tears, tantrum and a little explanation about my ridiculous behaviour they allowed my sister to collect it within the next twenty minutes from departures. I never got the girls name on bag search and I kicked myself because I really wanted to personally thank her for being so kind (she was so worried for me i’d miss my flight)
The shock and autopilot lasted a while… i’m not sure how long exactly maybe a month because the funeral didn’t happen until the end of the month and I was definitely in ‘the haze’ up until then, I know that. The only thing that would stop me in my tracks would be a card from someone who knew me and Dad well enough to write something that meant something. Luna provided me with a good cog system of ‘the show must go on’ I can lose myself in my thoughts if allowed but luckily she rarely allows me to do this because she’s always been running at 100mph so I have to chase after her.
I didn’t have any time off work (i’d not long since returned on a two days basis when luna had turned 1 the previous september) as I have always found that work is a distraction for me and the commute of an hour each way provided me with some head space usually to sort things out in my head and just think and remember if thats what I needed to do. Plus I dress up for work and put my face on and to me this helps beyond what it may otherwise seem. I talked about this in my blog about make up and how i deem being presentable vital for my personal good mental health.
In direct contrast I know people can ‘hide behind’ this as a shield and maybe thats the purpose it serves also, a protective barrier of ‘i’m fine’ but whatever, it aids me, always has, always will.
I never remember not wanting to be at work but I remember having zero patience for people’s petty dramas and unfortunately there seemed to be a lot of those around at that time.
Sometimes I think It was hard to feel ‘close’ to Dad because his home was, when he died back up in leeds and the house my mum has, wasn’t our family home so he never lived in it, but up until the may of 2015 which was the first of his birthdays not on this earth I felt like he was near me a lot. Like he knew my thoughts and was trying to make it known to me. A few of us had these feelings in our family after his death but for me they stopped suddenly after his birthday, oddly it had been the most difficult day and still remains hard I never quite understand why exactly I think its the stark reality that he will remain eternally 62 regardless of how many may the 11th’s come and go.
His death as I say was sudden, he passed away 2 weeks exactly after the diagnosis of cancer. I will never forget the day I found out and my sisters instinctive urgency to get up to Leeds the next morning. She had been worried that the suspected tropical flu was intact the dreaded C, after weeks of having vivid dreams of someone close to us having it. She also unlike the rest of the family who seemed naively optimistic seemed to be aware prior to prognosis that the clock was ticking deafeningly loud and so i followed her judgement and off we went on another northern jaunt, in the snow to see him.
We always stayed with my Nan whenever we returned to our native north, but this time was also particularly difficult because it was just after I had collected my Nan for her annual trip down south for christmas and realised that she was suffering now quite badly with dementia if not alziemers (recognising her behaviour from my late Grandads as he also suffered from alzeimers). That in itself is a different blog altogether but needless to say it wasn’t easy.
We were with Dad in hospital on new years eve and then I had what would be the last chat I would ever have with him on new years day 2015 before I came home again only to return a week later to hold his hand and kiss him goodbye as he passed away.
I never had any concept of ‘this is the last time’ or feeling like I would never get the chance to see or speak to dad again but I did a few things instinctively that comfort me. Dad and I had always had a fiery relationship, he liked to think I was similar to him, I see it that I called him out on some of his non desirable attributes shall we say as I saw them for what they were, no family is perfect and ours was no exception but so much was the way I had had a pretty big falling out with my dad in 2013 prior to my wedding. We actually didn’t have contact until the following may 2014 when my sister got married, I called him before the wedding and it was all ok and he left telling me to keep in touch, its not that I deliberately didn’t its just that my life was in that moment the busiest and most hectic it has ever been, I had a new baby that didn’t sleep or nap, a husband with a very serious demanding job and it just slipped my mind in those 6 months that passed up until his diagnosis. So i’m thankful and grateful of a few things within those 2 weeks, that i got chance to talk to him alone and turned back around as i left the room to tell him I loved him and then that a week later he waited for us to get to the hospital to say goodbye and know that he had us there as he left this earth.
I cant put enough emphasis on the comfort that being with him in those final minutes brings, its something that only people who have witnessed a loved one dying will understand because its as haunting and horrific as it is comforting.
They said the cancer my Dad had was so aggressive he’d probably only had it a couple of months… I had always assumed that because he died so suddenly he must have had it for months but no. Although it had spread so vast and fast I think it had begun in the lungs. My Dad was a smoker and smoking is something that anyone who knows me will be well aware I have always been so so anti. As a child my Nans friends would comment on the sheer balls I had to blow the smoke they had just puffed out right back into their own face… and I never eased up on this stance!!!
Now even more so after witnessing someone struggle for their last breaths I find it impossible to be around smokers and that can mean merely walking passed one in the street. I feel so strongly about this that I find it completely unacceptable to allow my girls to be around anyone who smokes, and I’m confident thats not a bad thing!!! but again i digress thats another blog post!
Right after Dads death I got fixated and worried about me not being here for Luna and comparing ages and timelines etc to dad and I. Parenting when you’ve lost a parent makes you suddenly feel like a child. Thats hard to explain because it sounds odd i realise, I mean I suddenly felt like I was too young to have lost a parent even though I don’t think 32 is crazy young (i know plenty who have been younger) to me it did feel so.
Then I also felt angry that he could leave us when his parents never left him (both my grandparents are here) which sounds selfish i also realise. This was all made all the more difficult by the fact that Dad had remarried and we weren’t close to his wife. We both reached out to her at this time out of empathy for the fact we both believed that my Dad was her world, but it wasn’t met with the same warmth shall we say.
We weren’t asked if we would like anything or to be a part of anything for the funeral arrangements and I was actually refused my offer of providing the order of service booklet when i requested…. in favour of someone who worked for him having apparently already offered. We ‘asked’ if we could have some ashes and that we would like to take prints of Dads fingers to which was met with a disgustingly insensitive response. FYI never judge and put an opinion on how someone else chooses to grieve and remember their loved one, what you choose to do is right for you but might be hideously wrong for someone else… but don’t dare ever assume that your way is the right way because there is no such thing.
The prints were deemed the only marginally acceptable thing we were granted permission for but not trusting that it would happen at the chapel of rest for us as promised we went and did our own instead. (another one of the things I am so so thankful we did)
The kit that we needed to take the print was quite literally dropped into my hand by a fellow army wife from another patch just up the road who so very kindly turned up at my door after a feeble Facebook message asking for advice very last minute and again remains one of the things I am eternally glad of. I was still in the haze and had she not have turned up with it and talked me through what to do we might not have the beautiful pendants we have today to always remember my Dad by.
The last things my Dad talked to me about were focused around money, one of the things he loved the most in his life! He was asking very direct and calculating questions about my work, our house and finances with no real obvious reason to me at the time but now I think I know why. Still it means nothing because despite his will reading as he had always said it would in terms of what was left to my sister and I, it sadly also allowed for his wife to over rule the instructions and thus leave us with nothing. No prizes for guessing what she did.
I have many feelings on this subject that aren’t limited to the fact she cost both my sister and I solicitors fees of over 5K each in investigating what she didn’t have the decency to be honest about in the first place. We have been cheated out of what is ours and what was my Dads wish all along because she too has an unhealthy obsession with money and that does hurt, it always will do but not as much as the fact that my Dads dying request to her was to make sure his parents were ok and she has done the exact opposite. The hatred and jealousy she must battle within herself to do all the things she’s done but most of all hurting two elderly people who lost their only child is something I will never forgive. To turn up to their house and start demanding items that she decided were my Dads, to leave to her family is just unthinkable but it actually happened.
We’ve not only had to grieve the physical loss of my Dad but also the loss of sane relationships within the ‘broken but functional’ family network. Its so hard wondering if she still has his ashes in the house… her new house after she sold the one that she had always lived in with him…..
She had written to us before the communication stopped telling us her plans to have Dads ashes in her parents grave that she would then one day also join, but my issue with this plan was the fact that she was 10 years younger than my Dad so could well live another 40 odd years and might want to remarry in that time frame. I didn’t say this to her obviously as she was grief stricken and I actually have a heart and didn’t really think at that time it would ever happen,but it is after all a reasonable and potential reality… so what then? our Dad is with your parents in a grave that you may or may not join in years to come with your new husband also …. Too much to deal with. Yet we were the irrational deranged pair asking for some of his ashes in order to turn them into jewellery that could be forever with us and then our children.
It seemed easier on the heart and mind to just let go of all the things causing us pain on top of the necessary. For me the legal battle was exhausting enough as it was and I just wanted to draw a line under it all. I never felt like it had surprised me, more that i was sad that it hadn’t if that makes sense?
At the start I was up for the fight because I felt like sometimes the underdog does win right.. not this time and very rarely in the legal system we have in this country, if you have pots of money you always stand the best chance. Very sad but i’ve had to let that go along with many other things over the last few years.
I don’t think we could properly just grieve the death of my Dad until the case was over and even then its so much more complex because my grandfather is caring for my Grandma who also has dementia and them living in leeds means we cant be physically there to really help with anything. Dad being an only child meant that we over night inherited this responsibility but having lived so far away for 30 years its not as if we can just move there or visa versa. Both my sister and I have spent our lives driving up north and back but since having our own children its not as easy or possible to keep doing this more than once a year.
I always wonder what things would be like if Dad were still here and I guess that will never go away, the what ifs are the biggest pang and 10 fold when I speak to my grandad who is now depressed to be living alone at 91 after grandma went into a home a couple of months ago. He’s just given up driving because he says his mind isn’t concentrating on the road he’s worrying about grandma 😦 I mean i’m happy he’s not driving but not for that reason!
My grandad is so sad that what Dad had always told us and him of his will was not executed as so and that his only two grandchildren were completely dissinherited especially when Dads wife is a very very wealthy woman in her own right.
I have since urged everyone I know to get their wills sorted and especially when there is a complex family structure, ours really wasn’t that complex on paper, Dad remarried but had never had any other children, he just sadly allowed a very controlling woman take over where he should have known better. The irony is he had always warned me off allowing her to be involved in anything I did (in my early 20’s i’d quite often pitch business ideas to him and a couple she seemed keen on). He used to tell me not to let her be involved because she would take over…. and yet here we are!! That was the crux of my fall out with him over my wedding also. The need and desire to control and take over.
I never intended this post to be a ‘this is your life’ just an account of my experience with grief… its just shameful for me that this does involve many other embarrassing factors. You might think thats an odd choice of words but my sister and I have felt embarrassed plenty by this eastenders style drama when losing a parent was all we should’ve been dealing with. The point of me telling you these things isn’t to wash my dirty laundry in public but more to raise awareness for the complications that can arise and to try and stop this being you!
I started writing this blog post a little over a week ago and so we’re closer now to the anniversary of Dads death. In the last week I’ve had the usual mr robin sitting on my fence outside the kitchen window which always makes me think of Dad but also some very very relevant songs have been randomly played by alexa again while in my kitchen, a song that my mum and mums cousin listened to over and over in the car on route to Dads funeral and one by the drifters that Dad, my mum, sister and I would sing in the car when we were little. Those things will always stop me in my tracks and make me wonder if he’s sending messages.
With every new baby born or one of our childrens achievements I will always have the edge of sadness with my joy and excitement because he is missing out on so much, he always will do now thats just the way it is. Although we spoke every week, we would only see each other around 4 times a year since my late teens so its not as if I miss his physical presence, its the fact that I know he’s missing out on life and things like having the luxury of retirement (which despite being a workaholic he was finally deciding he would do the very year he died). He has missed knowing all about how his first grandson is doing incredibly well with his football career at aged 10… something he would have absolutely relished. This in particular makes me very sad as my Dad and I went to watch football together a fair bit in my youth, placing bets on first goal scored, player and minute etc for shits and giggles… these are my best memories and its hard accepting they wont be added to.
Its also hard to answer a 3/4 year olds questions about ‘your Daddy’ who lives in the sky. Again i never had to understand this as a child I was lucky enough to never lose a grandparent until I was 23 and he’s still the only other close family member I’ve lost.
I’m sad everyday for my children that they will never have the memories I have of my Grandad picking me up from school… he’s in fact the only person I remember picking me up from school when I first started.
A charmed childhood to have such memories I know this now but it still makes me sad that they wont have it. Don’t get me wrong they are lucky in so so many ways and I count all my blessings and theirs twice but grief is always that elephant in the room staring you down when you least expect it is all i’m saying. It can make you feel so alone because no body else’ grief is yours, people say so many things that aren’t helpful or sensitive, it really makes being around certain people nigh on impossible until you get to grips with shutting it out as white noise. But in between the bollocks theres those friends who send cards, flowers, texts or pictures of us with Dad in a frame just because they’ve been thinking of us. These things keep your chin up when it might otherwise be drooping south.
My husband for one is very good at these symbolic ‘i’m thinking of you’ gestures… on the first anniversary of Dads death it was a watch engraved with one of Dad’s inappropriate but amusing one liners about me being ‘precious’ shall we say. I think that despite them being very different they would have got on well if they have had had more time together my Dad and Lee.. they only met a handful of times before his death.
So there it is, grief… loss….the haze/no mans land and time, time doesn’t heal jack shit it merely makes it a familiar concept as you grow to understand what it means that they really have gone.
I don’t have regrets about the time that I did have with my dad because it was authentic, not perfect but real. He is my Dad and always will be, he did by intent and default aid the shaping of the person I am and I am proud of me so I know he is somewhere.
I’ve had to learn to allow myself to be sad when I need to be which has never been a natural or easy thing, if this means staying away from social situations or engagements I previously would feel ‘expected’ to be at then so be it, in grief we have to be kind to ourselves. Theres so much other life stress going on that if you try and be everywhere and be everything still something will come unstuck and its us that inevitably have to pick up the pieces when it does.
Losing Dad taught me more than ever that life is for living, that you can have all the fucking money in the world but if you don’t have health, family and amazing friends then you’re up the shit creek without a paddle anyways so you’re spending it miserably!! It reinstalled the importance of making memories for my team, to look after ourselves and our bodies as best we can, have fun but be sensible and smart with our choices because its selfish and immature not to. Find a balance between living in the moment and planning for the future because both are important in equal measure and last but not least Love, love like its all you want people to remember you for.