Sunday, 25 November 2012

A little empathy goes a long way

Yesterday I was at the AGM for a charity with which I'm involved. We'd stayed overnight and I was pretty relaxed as I waited for the meeting to start. It was held in the middle of a social gathering and I was surrounded by people I've known for a long time - we've seen our children grow up so I know a lot of them quite well.

It was a tough time for me because tomorrow should have been Al's 21st birthday. The run up to this birthday has been easier than I anticipated but not without its difficulties. I've thought about him a lot more than usual. Of course he's always flitting in and out of my thoughts but recently the regrets of the sheer waste of his life and the yearning to see him have again become more frequent.

And yet I'm so much calmer than I was as his previous birthdays approached. He's dead and I will always miss him. But although I spend a lot of time thinking about him - and I suspect that others (non-bereaved parents) think I talk about him far too much - my memories are usually happy ones and I usually remember/talk about him with no trace of sorrow. I'm able to laugh at the things he got up to that drove me to the point of distraction. So I am OK. I'm happy. It's just that sometimes I'm sad too. It doesn't last long but sometimes, as bereaved mums are entitled to be, I'm sad.

Anyway, there I was at this gathering surrounded by people I know and like - and several little ones with blonde hair – it’s hard to see them as they remind me so much of Al when he was that age but after my stomach flips and my heart lurches as I catch my first glimpse of them, I’m OK and I can watch them – and even be entertained by them. I like small children. I love their innocence and curiosity.

I met another mum I hadn't seen for years. As my youngest and her eldest caught up and reminisced about previous gatherings, we had our own catch-up. It was lovely to spend some time with her. As soon as I mentioned it, she made it clear that she was already aware that Al had died. She offered her condolences and the conversation moved on quite naturally. Her little boy came bouncing through – a stunningly beautiful little blonde boy - called Alexander.

Later she approached me and asked if I would prefer it if they referred to him by another name during their stay. Of course I declined her offer – despite her reassurances, I felt it would be unreasonable and unfair to expect a little boy to answer to another name.

But the very fact that she even considered it meant so much. The fact that she could empathise enough to see that I might find it difficult to hear a child called by my son’s name gave me enormous comfort.

What a lovely woman.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The plaque is now on his grave

I haven't written anything here for some time. I've thought about it a lot but, given the way my life was, it seemed wrong somehow - but that's another story entirely.

Anyway, several months ago, after much cajoling from the solicitor, I finally got my act together and provided all the information necessary to enable them to complete the claim against Al’s killer’s insurers. The cheque arrived in late August and I wondered what on earth I was supposed to spend it on. Al’s dad didn’t have that dilemma. Within a few days of receiving his ‘compensation’, he announced on Facebook that he was off to collect his new car! Poetic justice reigns however – he’s now discovered it’s a dud and will cost a small fortune to repair. I sound bitter – I don’t care - some things are just unforgiveable.

Anyway, I couldn’t decide what to do with Al’s money. Al’s grandparents provided just under half of the cost of the funeral on his dad's behalf. I knew he wouldn’t have repaid any of it so I dispatched a cheque. It felt right to do that – cleansing somehow.
I’ve not yet managed to do anything with the garden and the weeds are almost waist height because I struggle to do a job that he was supposed to do. Nonetheless, it doesn’t stop me feeling completely embarrassed every time someone walks past the house and I catch the look of distaste on their face so I’ve decided to have the garden tidied. The weeds will be removed, and weed control fabric will be laid which will be covered in slate or gravel. The rotting fence will be replaced by a wall – that was what we discussed that he would do on the day that he died. He was just learning to build walls and was quite excited about his first project on our home so it seems fitting somehow.
I’ve also ordered two rather nice lockets – one for each of the girls. I’ll put photos of him in them then they’ll always have that reminder – that way of feeling close to him. I know they’ll love them and again, it seems like a fitting way to spend his money.

I finally sorted his plaque for his grave. It’s a little larger than the other plaques in the woodland but I wanted to include what the girls wanted so there was rather a lot.

26 NOV. 1991  ~  30 MAY 2009
I blanched when we arrived to see it prior to it being placed on his grave. The stonemason had shortened ‘NOVEMBER’ to ‘NOV.’ It took me a few seconds to recover and realise that it was a perfectly sensible thing to do as each month now contained three letters so it balanced nicely.

However, for a few seconds it transported me back to Al’s dad saying, “Well we’d better not have too many letters then” in response to the news that it would cost £2 per letter. I think that also influenced me agreeing to so much writing on the plaque. It felt wrong – tacky  and mean – to limit the number of letters to save a few quid.

Anyway, it’s now on his grave. We plan to return soon to plant more bulbs. Maybe I’ll find it easier to visit then.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Chicken Pox

I’ve struggled a bit recently. My youngest has Chicken Pox. Of course, it would be no big deal in the general run of things. OK it seemed a little unfair as it was her second bout – the last was ten years ago when she was just five years old – but it was just Chicken Pox. No big deal. All kids get it don’t they.

Except that I know it can kill. I know of a little girl whose mum grieves for her because of Chicken Pox. I have read of the pain that she lives with every day. And it really doesn’t matter how you lost your child – it hurts.
But it matters that I know that it is possible to die from Chicken Pox. Oh I know the statistical chance of my child dying from it is pretty slim. I know that she’s unlikely to develop any complications. Hmm, who am I kidding! I’ve spent the past few days trawling the web for info about what signs to look for. I now know that it seems to be worse the older you are – and she has suffered a lot more this time. She’s had flu like symptoms as well as the infernal itching. She’s fifteen so it’s timed beautifully for the middle of GCSE preparation – that’s her biggest worry. I’ve nursed her and nagged her about keeping cool enough and I’ve forced myself to work each day because I couldn’t allow her to see the gibbering wreck I was. I rang her a couple of times each day and she became increasingly frustrated with me. “Yes Mum I’m fine - I was watching telly until you interrupted.”  Losing her brother was bad enough; I don’t need to pass on my fears as well.

The spots are almost finished now and in a couple of days she’ll no longer be contagious and it will all be over. It pretty much is for her now. She’s had a few days to skive off school, watch daytime telly, read trashy teenage mags, and moan that it won’t be her fault if she doesn’t perform as well in exams as she could have done. It’s been a minor inconvenience for her. And that’s as it should be I guess.
I know the theory. I know the stats. I know it’s unlikely to happen. But then if someone had given me the odds on whether I’d lose one of my three children when he crossed the road, I would have dismissed that as highly unlikely too.

He is gone. And everything takes on a new meaning. Stats (once my refuge – my degree was in Psychology – a statistician’s dream) have become meaningless. What I would once have considered a blip became so hard to manage.
And now I look at her and am relieved she’s OK . And I think of Susan and Catherine - who weren’t. And I wish ...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Another anniversary looms

In two and a half months, it will be the third anniversary of Al’s death. Right now, I feel differently about it than I did as I approached the last two anniversaries. I guess I now know that so few will notice, and even fewer will acknowledge it. Maybe a part of me is starting to be able to accept that. I don’t think I’ll ever be OK with it or see it as reasonable – but I’m no longer shocked by it. Saddened and resentful, yes – shocked, no.

I feel calmer. Whether it will last as the day approaches has yet to be seen but I definitely don’t feel as panicked or have the same sense of trepidation. Maybe I’ll manage to get my act together and order the Birds of Paradise in time rather than burying my head in the sand and then dashing round at the last moment.

Yes I know it was a daft thing to do...

As a way of distracting myself from the discussions about to take place when we were sat waiting at the lawyers, I’d started to tell my friend about the incident with the stupid woman at the dance class but we were called in.

Afterwards, I began again and recounted the whole incident. At the end she didn’t say, “Blimey that must have been painful to hear.” Or, “What a shame she wasn’t able to consider what she said.” Instead, she said, “It sounds as if she was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say.” Why is it that people think they need to explain away someone’s crass insensitivity – as if crass insensitivity is acceptable. Why did that woman require MY sensitivity and understanding for HER lack of it? I know she was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say. But when in doubt, say nothing. And if you do find yourself saying such a stupid thing, surely the correct thing to do would be to apologise. Why did my friend think it’s less unacceptable for me, when I am grieving, to be more understanding? I’m fed up of being expected to be the bigger person when I feel so diminished.

And so it goes on

On Friday, I attended an appointment with a lawyer. For the last two years, the firm have been gently reminding me that I need to provide info about Al. And I’ve been procrastinating because it just seems plain wrong to talk of my son in terms of a monetary loss.

The Government has a set figure for situations like mine. It seems that my son was worth £11,800. Apparently, some think it should be much higher. But just how do you set a price on someone’s life? Conversely, others feel that it should be scrapped altogether as whatever price is set is an insult. In my detached moments, I see both arguments – well, they both amount to the same thing really. I understand, unfortunately all too well, just why it’s a difficult area. Anyway, I’m running out of time because the wheels have to be set in motion within three years of Al’s anniversary and that date is fast approaching. The thing is that given the choice, I’d rather it was scrapped altogether. The amount, whilst not entirely insignificant to me as a single mum, won’t make much of a difference to our lives and it is an insult to suggest that it in any way compensates for Al’s loss of life. I notice that it is never referred to as ‘compensation’ thank goodness – I think I’d explode if it were.

My friend offered to accompany me to the appointment and suggested we go for lunch afterwards. Until she offered, I hadn’t realised just how tense I was about it. I’d deliberately packed the morning full so that I didn’t have time to dwell too much on things so I dashed to get my youngest to school, flew over to get the car MOTd and went to collect my friend so that we could get into town on time.

We arrived and I met the legal executive I’ve already met once before. The lawyer arrived and while we waited for some paperwork, he floored me by saying, “So – tell me about Alexander. What was he like?” In an instant, I knew that this was clearly a technique to get me to talk about him so that I’d be more easily able to cope with the nitty-gritty discussions later on. But although I grasped that straight away, I froze. I’d been prepared for cold, clinical, detached descriptions of driver/victim liability but I simply hadn’t been prepared for a question about my boy. I didn’t want to discuss his likes and dislikes, his foibles, his personality. I wanted to keep my son out of that room. With hindsight, it seems mad that I could even think this possible but I’d wanted to keep him out of it and refer to everything almost in an academic sense. If I didn’t take him into that room, it was just a business discussion about something abstract.

Damn me for being the compliant, polite type - It simply isn’t courteous to ignore or refuse to answer a question. I replied with, “What do you want to know about him?” But the first half of the sentence was merely a croak as the words were stuck in my throat. He said he wanted to get a feel for the kind of lad he was.

‘A feel’? Damn! Damn! Damn! That was the last thing I wanted. I didn’t want to feel at all and anything that brought him to life (the irony of that phrase hit me like a sledgehammer as it popped into my head) was something I needed to avoid right then.

Anyway, as I said, I was raised to be polite so I complied and began to describe him and the kind of lad he was. As I talked, it got a little easier and I became increasingly animated and was able to smile at some of the things I recounted. I guess the lawyer knew his job well.

Anyway, the paperwork arrived and we got down to the business of the day. It seems that the driver’s insurance company had originally said that as there was some suggestion of him playing chicken, they should reduce the amount they paid out by 30%. The amount was irrelevant. It was the fact that they used the driver’s ‘excuse’ that he thought my son was playing chicken. He was the only person to say it. None of the other witnesses supported this. Not one! But the insurance company tried it on anyway. I know it’s a business. I know it’s their job to save money. I know that they view it in that cold, clinical way I’d wanted to use in order to preserve myself. They saw the amount of money they had to pay out as collateral damage. But this was my boy. He was my son – a human being. And yet he was reduced to a few figures on a bit of paper.

I wanted to scream, “You didn’t know him. You never delighted in the way he sang along to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and couldn’t pronounce the ‘th’ in ‘thing’ so, until he was six, it always sounded like ‘sing’. You never sat up at nights worried about whom he was with. You didn’t stand with your heart bursting with pride when he was all dressed up for his school prom night. So how can you decide how much he was worth? And how dare you try to suggest he deliberately taunted a driver by playing chicken!”

I knew it was a balance-sheet decision but it ripped into me. It was the percentages that did it. They were saying that my son was 30% to blame. They actually quantified it. Before entering that building, I knew that logically it was going to be that way, but to face the cold, stark reality of it was another matter entirely. My friend, who had sat quietly until now, interrupted with, “Beverley understands that these decisions need to be made but what she finds difficult is the percentage.” The lawyer asked if the 30% was at issue or the very fact that any percentage was used. We both chorused, “The fact that any percentage is used.” He then said that they could just get the company to make a total offer and thereby remove the percentage because this is a common issue. It felt easier that way so I agreed.

As I said earlier, I’d have found it easier to not have had to go through this but, in the very early days after Al died, his dad contacted the police to enquire about compensation. The very fact that he did this, and just how quickly he did it, still never fails to sicken me. I suppose I could have left him to deal with it but Al was my son and it feels important to me that I stick up for him in whatever way I can. I’m his mum (not, ‘I was his mum’). I will always be his mum and so it’s my job. His dad (and I use the term loosely) preferred to be more of a mate – and a fair-weather one at that. This effectively meant that Al only had the one parent. And in the same way that I wouldn’t have entrusted my son’s reputation to one of his mates, particularly one who seemed to be far too focussed on how much money was available, I wasn’t about to entrust it to that man. I don’t know why it matters so much to me that some faceless person in some insurance company clinically attaches a specific proportion of blame to my son but it does. It matters!

In the end, we left with a small list of info I need to supply and a deadline. Knowing my tendency to procrastinate around this issue, I’d specifically requested it and the Legal Executive had been a bit woolly in her reply. She clearly thought she was being kind. The lawyer interjected with, “By Easter at the very latest.” He’d understood that was what I needed.

We left and went for a quick coffee as my friend was on a diet and had her grandson to look after. Just as well really – I was in need of comfort and would have devoured all the cakes in the cafĂ© given half a chance.

According to the lawyer, this could drag on for another year.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Insensitive comment or what

I was at my usual Tuesday evening dance class with my youngest this evening. It’s a 12-week beginner’s course and we’re kind of enjoying it. It would be better if we hadn’t had new people start every single week, which meant the instructor taught the same dances week in, week out. Anyway, she’s offered us the opportunity to stay on each week for the improvers’ class free of charge. She said that it wasn’t her fault we’ve been fast learners. Hmm. Anyway, I won’t complain. I quite enjoyed staying on and observing, and joining in the more advanced class a little tonight.

The evening was tarnished somewhat by an exchange though. It all started when my 15-year-old got a text from her mate in the middle of the class. The instructor was going through something with the newbies. Some of us had done it all before and were chatting away until she finished. My daughter decided to reply to the text. I noticed and asked her to put the mobile away explaining that it was bad mannered to send or read texts in the middle of a class. The instructor noticed and asked her to put the mobile away telling her it was considered poor etiquette to use a mobile during class. I thought she handled it well and my daughter put it away.

Ten minutes later, during another lull, I noticed the mobile out again and in a somewhat irritated tone said, “Put it away – now!” Another woman smiled at me conspiratorially and said, “These kids and their mobiles.”
Then she turned to my daughter saying, “You know these phones are not good. They can cause all kinds of problems. You can even get kids crossing the road using them.”

I interrupted, “Thanks but actually ...”
“You never know what’s round the corner just using a mobile and suddenly...”

Again, I interrupted, “Please don’t. The thing is ...”
“They’re so focussed on these daft phones - they don’t see the car coming ...”

Again, I tried, “No really. Please stop. Please don’t. You see...”
“And then, before you know it, they’re dead. Just like that.”

It was too late. She was so focussed on the lesson she wanted to give, she just hadn’t been able to listen.
“Yes we know. That’s just how my son died.”

“Oh dear.” Her expression flickered for just a second. She looked unsure - just for a second. Then it was replaced by a look of, well the smile was almost triumphant, “And that just proves my point. Don’t use a mobile” (little nudge to my daughter’s ribs accompanied by a conspiratorial wink at me) “They’re bad for you.” With a laugh, she turned back to get in line for the next part of the lesson.
I guess my son’s death was at least useful then. It reinforced her point so I ought to be grateful that she was able to support me. The thing is that what I would have preferred was that as soon as I had said how my son died, she could have replied, “I’m so sorry. I can see how my example might be difficult for you to hear.” It was the smile on her face as she smugly announced, “And that just proves my point,” that made me want to slap her.

I won’t recount this incident when I’m at work tomorrow because I just know that I’ll be met with, “Oh she was probably embarrassed”, or, “She probably didn’t mean it like that/it came out wrong”, or the old chestnut, “Well people don’t know what to say do they.” As if that excuses it.
I accept that any of those might be an explanation – but never an excuse. Never!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Al's midwife

Both Al and his little sister were born at home. My community midwife was a lovely down- to-earth woman who, admittedly, got a little nervous when I went so massively overdue (25 days with Al and 20 days with my youngest – my eldest was 30 days overdue so I ‘improved’ each time I guess). However, apart from getting very twitchy with my habit of going overdue, she was kind and patient with me and always left me feeling that my views and wishes were respected.

She missed Al’s birth by 10 minutes as she had only just started her shift but came immediately and helped the other midwife with all the post birth tasks and she was keen to tell me that it was also her son’s birthday.

I bumped into her around town occasionally as the children grew. Six years ago, I saw her in my local supermarket – the one where I ran into the man who killed Al. She told me that one of her sons had died. He’d been run over by a taxi. I can’t remember how I responded – probably inappropriately. I remember feeling immensely sad for her but feeling powerless to do anything to make it better.
The day after Al died, I was telling my sister of my midwife and how Al had shared one of her son’s birthdays, and how her other son had died in such startlingly similar circumstances to Al when our Family Liaison Officer arrived to let us know, amongst other things, that if I didn’t provide a Press Release, the local Press would hound me until I did. He passed me a copy of the short newspaper announcement regarding this young man’s death and, as I read it, I realised that I knew who this was. The officer confirmed it. It was my midwife’s son.

Since then, I've often thought of her and wondered why I hadn’t seen her since – I bumped into her at least twice a year for years and then, after Al died, I never clapped eyes on her at all.
Last week, I saw her. I was queuing (in my local supermarket of course – where else!) I almost jumped over the guardrail to get to her.

She didn’t recognise me. It took me several minutes of explaining who I was when she suddenly said, “Didn’t you used to home school your children?” Bingo!
I then told her about Al and how we lost him, and how I thought about her so much. Well I would wouldn’t I – she and Al had so many coincidental connections. What got to me was the way she almost whispered, “You never get over it you know.” Her eyes filled with tears as she said it.

I already knew I'd never ‘get over’ losing my boy. But it helped me so much to see her that day.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Christmas 2011

Here we go again. I’d rather Christmas didn’t exist. If it were up to me, I’d stay in bed from Christmas Eve until lunchtime on Boxing Day. Actually, I’d rather be somewhere warm, sunny, and non-Christian so that I didn’t have to even notice that Christmas was even happening.

This year, as with the last two years since losing Al, I’ve felt pressured into doing something for my youngest’s sake. I’d already decided that I couldn’t cope with another Christmas Day at my brother’s place when no one would even acknowledge Al or my grief. Anyway, that decision has been taken already as we haven’t been invited. On the one hand, it’s a massive relief to not have to turn the invitation down – but a letdown that it seems that we are now considered to be sufficiently ‘over it’ that we can cope without any kind of support on the day.
Instead, we are eating out at a local Indian restaurant with the new man in my life. We seem to have developed a bond rather quickly. But then we share an experience that not many others have. Nineteen years ago, his eldest son died a week after being run over. He was just eleven years old.
We do talk about our boys but they don’t dominate our conversations. Instead, it seems to be enough that we both ‘get it’. Having that shared understanding makes it easier somehow.

He dances – rather well actually. I don’t – well I didn’t until a few weeks ago when I asked him to teach me – Ok I still don’t but I am progressing – albeit very slowly – and now only have two left feet instead of the two and a half I started out with. It’s fun – and as I’m lighter these days, far easier than I anticipated. We laugh a lot together. It’s a relief to be able to do that. I know I physically weigh less these days but I feel emotionally lighter too – less burdened/weighted down by my woes. They’re still there but they don’t feel as heavy as they did.
I still have my low days – I spent a couple of days close to tears last week. But then, when I think about it, a year ago, I couldn’t make it through a single day without sobbing at some point so I guess I’m making progress. What tends to prick my eyelids these days is feeling happy and knowing that Al would be glad for me – and feeling sad that he isn’t here to say as much. 

Anyway, Indian food on Christmas Day – we always ate at home on Christmas Day. And it was usually Chinese food or the traditional Christmas lunch. Eating out at an Indian restaurant is different enough to make it OK. I’m not ready (not sure I’ll ever be) to return to any of our old traditions and think I need to create some new ones. This is a start.
I’d give anything to be eating with Al on Christmas Day though.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Al's birthday - part 2

At 10pm on Al’s birthday, my youngest opened the back door for me to take out a couple of sky lanterns. At the same time, another bereaved Mum was releasing some in Yorkshire for her lad – our boys shared the same birthday.

The wind was pretty strong and kept blowing out the flame on the lighter so I brought the lantern indoors just until I could get the wick lit. Eventually, we managed to light it and get the lantern to start rising. At this point, we took it outside whereupon the wind ripped it from our hands and whisked it round the side, and then in front of the house. I could see the light flickering and shouted, “Oh bloody hell, I hope it’s not on the car.” We raced round and found it attached to the front door handle. I managed to release it, the wind again grabbed it, and it shot up above the house. Relieved, we stood and watched as it moved upwards. Finally, a poignant moment!
A poignant moment indeed - right up to around three seconds later when the wind made it swoop down towards the road causing two community Bobbies to stop suddenly in their tracks as it shot past narrowly missing them. They stood, rooted to the spot, transfixed by the sight of the lantern that was now heading over some rooftops.

In a tone reminiscent of Basil Fawlty’s “Don’t mention the war – I said it once but I think I got away with it,” I muttered to my daughter, “Back up – I don’t think they’ve noticed us.” We slowly backed out of sight and escaped back round the back of the house.

As we got back to the kitchen we fell about laughing as we both realised that Al would have been crying with laughter if he’d seen that.  

It seems strange that we can laugh about something connected to Al’s death – but I’m so glad we can.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Al's birthday

It’s Al’s birthday today. Am a bit down. Not as low as I feared I would be but feeling somehow flat ... and yet emotional.

So far today I haven’t received a single acknowledgement. I’m due to take my mother and daughter for lunch in an hour. I’ve been putting off getting ready because I’m not even sure whether my mother recognises the significance of the date and I’m dreading having to listen to her bang on about her cold or other trivial ailments for a few hours.

Update:  As I typed the last sentence, I received a text from another bereaved Mum. It was much needed and perfectly timed.
We then collected the Birds of Paradise from the florist – they seem so representative of Al so I try to get some on his significant days. Then we drove to my Mum’s place to collect her and take her for lunch. We called her 10 minutes before we arrived to let her know how long we would be. When we got there, we then spent 20 minutes calling her phone and ringing her bell only to have her announce (without the slightest trace of embarrassment) that that she had popped out to chat to someone.

We arrived at the restaurant and ordered food. She asked, “Is it the 27th today?”
“No mum it’s the 26th – it’s Al’s birthday.”

“Oh – I think I’ve got an appointment on the 27th – I’ve lost track of the days ha ha – is it Friday or Saturday today?”
“It’s Saturday Mum. It’s the 26th and it’s Al’s birthday.”

“Oh right. I wonder when that appointment is. Mind you that woman is always making mistakes – the one who books the appointments.”
“I don’t think you can have heard me Mum. It’s the 26th today and it’s Al’s birthday.”

“Is it? Ooh.” Eyebrows raised as it sinks in. “Eeh it goes fast [pause for 3 seconds as she thinks] I can’t think when that appointment is. I’ll have to check when I get home.”
I sat seething. Not only had she no awareness  of the significance of the date, but even when it was pointed out, it failed to make any real impact on this selfish woman who has spent the last two and a half years loudly proclaiming how much she loved him. My youngest caught my eye and squeezed my hand sympathetically.

I swallowed down the fury that was slowly building, managed to eat something, and asked if she needed any shopping whilst she had the car at her disposal. She did.
When we got to the supermarket, to give myself a breather from her, I wandered through the clothing section. I found a skirt and tried it on. Pleased with what I saw, and glad I had something positive, however trivial, to focus on, I said, “Oh my word - this is a 12 and it fits perfectly on the hips but I’ll have to reduce the waist by 3 inches – it looks like I’m officially an hour glass figure now.” Considering my massive weight loss over the past few years, (and the daily criticism as I grew up re my obesity) you might think she’d want to congratulate me but instead she said that all the sizes were wrong - "they're all big in here" - and then added that she could probably get into a size 6. To prove her point, she grabbed one and held it against her. Again my daughter shot me a sympathetic glance as I said, “It’s OK Mum – I won’t compete.” However, the irony was lost on her.

It was a relief to get her and her shopping back to her flat and to leave as quickly as possible.
I arrived home to some much-needed emails from people who had remembered and a lovely card that a friend had popped through my door. This was quickly followed by a couple of texts acknowledging the date. What a relief. I thought it had been completely forgotten by almost everyone.

I had a text from my sister in law – that’s the closest I got to any contact from my family. Ironically, she buried her grandfather last week and is very low but still managed to find time to lay some flowers for Al and get in touch with me – unlike either of my sisters, my brother or my father.
I nervously logged onto Facebook to find half a dozen messages for him from his friends. It tickles me to think that they speak to him via Facebook. It feels as if they imagine him sitting on a cloud with a couple of beautiful white wings fixed to his back and a halo (albeit, knowing my boy, somewhat skew-whiff) and logged into Facebook saying “Yo bro!” as he reads messages from old friends. Those messages, from young people who knew him, meant a lot – he hasn’t been forgotten.

And he lives on in their hearts as well as mine.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh ...

Whatever ‘moving on’ is, I think I might be doing it. Last weekend, I had a conversation with a man who wanted to date me. I was open to the idea. He seemed like a nice enough person, we shared some interests and he came highly recommended as a really lovely man.

Quite early in our first  phone call he mentioned that his mother had died almost a year ago. Later I told him about losing Al. The conversations flowed quite freely and it was all pretty relaxed. We covered all kinds of subjects and seemed to have similar values.

We met for coffee and at some point, we talked about coping strategies. I mentioned that I’m good to have around in a crisis as I tend not to panic but instead, to appear incredibly calm and focussed on everyone and everything else around me. I mentioned how I had acted the night that Al died. His response floored me.

There was no acknowledgement of the enormity of what I’d just said (OK I didn’t expect an in depth analysis of it) but instead,  “Yes I’m also good in a crisis – the weather was awful when I got married for the second time. My family were all late so I just took over as an usher.”

He actually thought it was perfectly acceptable to respond to my comment about the night my boy died, with an anecdote about his wedding – to compare the crisis of my son dying with the crisis of being an usher short at a wedding. And to casually include the info that he had already been married twice.

Later he asked if he could see me again and I declined and talked about him being a nice man but I felt there was a lack of chemistry etc. I spent the next half hour politely fending off his attempts to get me to change my mind.

Oddly enough, every time I think of this pillock’s response to my comment, I laugh. It’s funny because it’s so ridiculous. It doesn’t make me angry as it would if a family member had said it. Just a few months ago, I’d have seethed for days but now it just makes me laugh. Maybe this is ‘moving on’. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Say my son's name

What can you do for me, you say?
You can bring me a gift, a gift today.

Say my son's name, say it loud and clear,
Help others to remember that he once was here.

Speak of his antics, his joys, his pain,
Talk as if he were here again.

Remind me of the laughter he brought to you.
Sit down and tell a story or two.

I'll let you do the talking 'cause it's ever so rare
That you would even bring him up - some won't even dare.

What gift could you give, what words can you say,
That would make my heart lighter as I face the day?

The song of his words, the music of his name,
How wonderful if would be just to hear it again.

Rose Thompson

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Finally, I watched some videos of him

I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself. Not terribly so but last week I went into hospital for some surgery so have been in some pain since then. I got a hernia repair and, can you believe, courtesy of the good old NHS, a free tummy tuck thrown in for good measure. Three pregnancies and over thirty-five years of morbid obesity followed by the loss of over half of my body weight had left me feeling immensely grateful for that tummy tuck. Anyway, like I said, not terribly sorry for myself as I now have a smooth tum and no love handles. Oh and an hourglass figure. How amazing is that!

OK it was hurtful to realise that neither my mother nor my eldest daughter even thought to check whether I was OK. My mother is far too self-obsessed to even consider that she should ask. I called her the day after surgery to let her know I was OK but after I said, “Hi Mum. They did the op yesterday.” She replied with, “Oh right. Well I went out last night. We had a lovely meal. Ooh, but I think I’m getting a cold.” At that point, I said, “Sorry Mum but I’m really tired – I need to go.” I hung up without waiting for a response. The alternative would have been to give her a piece of my mind and I just didn’t have the energy. And if she’s so self-obsessed at the age of 73, I very much doubt that me pointing it out would change anything.
My eldest has been in touch recently and her spirits seemed to be lifting somewhat so it was pretty disappointing and hurtful that she made no effort to even ask how I was - let alone, pay me a visit. To be fair, I do think that it simply wouldn’t have occurred to her that might be an appropriate thing to do. Social niceties seem to simply slip right past her. And even when they are highlighted to her, she fails to grasp their significance. Still, regardless of the explanation/excuses, and my total lack of surprise, it still hurts.

Anyway, I was out of bed a full 24 hours earlier than my surgeon anticipated, and therefore discharged a whole day early. I’ve done an awful lot of lying around since then. If I have to leave the house (I’m not allowed to drive yet but have two mates who have given me a lift if I’ve needed one), I’ve spent almost all of the following day fast asleep on the settee. I’ve managed to finish two books I’d already started, and read another from cover to cover. I’ve been occasionally amused by Loose Women but have drawn the line at Jeremy Kyle. I caught his show a couple of years ago and was appalled. His arrogance and bullying made me seethe to the point that I flick the TV off as the theme tune strikes up.
Anyway, there’s only so much telly I can watch. There’s only so much reading I can do. And there’s only so much of the internet I can be bothered to surf. And so I’ve had lots of thinking time - so much thinking time.

Finally, after considering it for much of the past week, I plucked up the courage to look at some old webcam recordings of Al. I thought they were lost when my old laptop broke but they were retrieved and placed on my current laptop - and then I found that I’d made backups anyway. However, my new laptop would only play the audio versions of the files and I couldn’t see them at all. I just needed an extra program but it took over eighteen months to drop it into the repair shop to get it sorted out even though they had assured me that it was a five-minute job that could be done while I waited.
That was two months ago and tonight I finally looked at them. I was able to smile at Al doing his best to distract his little sister from the song she was recording for her grandparents in Brighton. And yes I cried, but only a bit – nothing like the torrential flood I’d anticipated. Just looking at his cheeky smile, and the slightly awkward way in which he spoke to his grandparents (he’d have been fine if he’d been talking in real time but making a recording made him just a little bit self-conscious) reminded me of how much I have lost – of how much is gone. It was bittersweet just seeing him and his sister compete over who could best bare their bottom for the camera - she won because she was younger and totally unaware and just pranced about totally naked whereas he felt the need to pretend to be a sumo wrestler to justify baring his bum but kept his underpants covering his frontal bits. He drew the line at that! He was 11 after all.

And yet, it was a good reminder of all that I had. No other Mum had the joy (OK and the despair at times) of raising Al. No other mother had the privilege of knowing this amazing, cheeky, lazy (yet energetic when it suited him) vain, beautiful young man. I know that I was unlucky to lose my son so soon. But I was incredibly lucky to have him at all. No other Mum can say that. He was my precious boy. My beautiful son. And although he is no longer here with me, I carry him with me always. I guess that sometimes, you just have to see the positives where you can. I have to look a lot harder for them but tonight, I was reminded that they are there. And it helped.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Why should we have to pretend to be so bloody positive

Last week, one of my colleagues invited me to a pamper day that she’s been involved in arranging. It’s being held to raise money for Derian House, a local children’s hospice. It sounds lovely – local businesses will be donating their services free of charge with 100% of the profit going to support the hospice. There will be people on hand to do hair, nails, hand massages, a fashion show, and all kinds of other ‘girlie’ activities.

It all sounded great and I was tempted – particularly as it was in support of such a worthy cause. I’d already decided that if my youngest didn’t fancy it, I’d still make some sort of donation.
Then she told me that a local mum whose child had died in the hospice was going to give a talk. I was impressed – at least it wasn’t just a load of do-gooders wanting to display their own worthiness but the very people who would benefit were also allowed to participate. But then she quickly added, “But it will be upbeat – because she’s that kind of a person – because they are at Derian house – very upbeat – it’s not a place for misery.”

“Interesting!” I thought. “Are you actually aware that kids go there to die?” The hospice might make their final days as fun as possible but you seem to be forgetting the reason why they are there in the first place.” It’s as if we have to pretend that, ‘OK there’s a bit of hurt out there but let’s not dwell on it - it’s all jolly, jolly, jolly and let’s just focus on the jolly now shall we dear – there’s a good girl.’
She often speaks of her close friend who lost her husband to Swine Flu last January and describes her in such glowing terms because, “She’s such a positive person.” It occasionally feels like a (VERY SLIGHTLY veiled) hint that I’m not positive enough.  

Yesterday, as she once again banged on (Yes that’s exactly how it feels) about a bereaved person being ‘positive’ it hit me that the reason I feel that I need to talk about the negative aspects is that I am rarely given permission to do so. In the same way that nearly everyone wanted me to hate, and rant and rave about the man who ran Al over, I never felt the need to do that. In fact, I naturally, without any prompting, adopted the opposite perspective and was genuinely shocked when others seemed surprised by my stance. How could they not feel horror for what he must be going through? I clearly recall sitting in the hospital feeling shocked at my sister’s antipathy towards this man and thinking, “He has to live with this for the rest of his life. Have a little pity for him.” As everyone around me wanted me to hate him, I felt nothing but pity. I worried about the pain he must be going through. I know this was partly a defence mechanism to stop me facing my own pain but, apart from that incident when I bumped into him, my perspective hasn’t changed. And, believe me, I’ve had plenty of time to become acutely aware of my own pain.  
I think that although his learning difficulties caused him to kill Al, they will probably also protect him from the full impact of what he has done. They might well be his saving grace – and why should anyone suffer more than they are already suffering. All the suffering in the world won’t bring my son back to life.

Much of my torment in the early days was caused by feeling unheard by those who wanted me to hate that man. And yet I know of other parents who have said that they felt so angry and unheard when others did nothing but remind them that the person who ran over their child must be suffering. They were in the depths of torment and were being told to focus on how awful the person who had caused that torment must be feeling.
I think I was placed on some kind of pedestal after Al died because I was able to be so magnanimous towards the man who ran him over. I was seen as good, and nice, and forgiving by some. OK I was seen as a deluded nutter by others but they put this down to my being insane with grief. Neither approach was really helpful.

I was still me. I am nice. And I can also be forgiving, and kind, and gentle, and caring, and loving and yes, I have so many other ‘positive’ traits. And OK yes, I can feel angry, and vengeful, and bitter and critical, and be whiney and have lots of other negative traits – probably more than I care to notice.
Hell’s Bells! I sound almost ... err... human. Fancy that - a bereaved mum who is also human.

However, because I was unable to be the exact person that people wanted me to be, they dismissed my coping strategies – and therefore me. This happened in the weeks straight after he died and, for those who had initially seen me as such a good and worthy person, right up to the present when I still find it difficult to hide the hurt I feel when I am so dismissed.
It seems to me that the most important thing to hear when you are a bereaved parent is that people understand your perspective. Damn it, all we want is a little empathy. It seems ironic that that is the one thing that so many are incapable or unwilling of providing.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

We did something a bit different today

Today I travelled to Manchester with my mum and daughters for a makeover shoot. I wasn’t looking forward to it but actually, it was a lot of fun. The girls and my mum enjoyed the pampering – and OK so did I. We viewed the pics after and brought some away on a CD.

I managed to look like a bit of a fool when I asked the photographer how she had managed to slim me down when everyone else looked just right. She looked slightly confused but the girls just laughed and said, “No mum – that’s just how you look now.” OK I admit it – I was impressed. Until I saw those photos, my mental image was at least two sizes larger and I was genuinely happy with that. But I was bowled over to discover how I really looked. And OK, I have a few lines on my face these days but who cares.!I deliberately asked them NOT to edit out the lines – “If you do that, in five years time, I’ll look ancient in comparison.”

Afterwards, we were all ravenous so ate in a nice restaurant to round off the day. The girls chatted excitedly and my mum joined in. I was still in a good mood following my realisation re my figure but I felt a bit flat. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was but eventually, slowly it dawned on me. Al was missing. He should have been with us. He was a very sociable boy and would have lapped up all the attention. Having been used to cameras from a young age when reporters would arrive to take pics for Home Education articles, he always smiled for a camera. He loved attention and would have revelled in it – especially as the photographer was a young attractive woman. Yes - he was also an incorrigible flirt.  I think he would have approved of what we did today though.
Here's a couple of my beautiful boy.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Ironically, I don't want to kill him

One of the readers of this blog said that she’d want to kill the man who ran my boy over. I started to type a reply but it got longer and longer.

The thing is, I did want to kill him. Three weeks ago when I first saw him outside the supermarket, I wanted to drive my fist into his face with such force that it came out the other side.

Last week, I wanted to intimidate him - and I succeeded. But it was a hollow victory. Although I got what I thought I wanted, I quickly realised that wasn't what I wanted at all. Maybe I had to get it in order to realise it wasn't the right thing for me at all. When I recall the look of terror on his face when he saw me, I just feel pity for him - and for me too. I don't hate him. I feel sorry for him. 

Anyway, what I really want (well apart from being able to turn the clock back and stop Al going out that night) is to sit down with this man and have a conversation with him.

I know this gives him power over me but I don't know how to change how I feel right now. Maybe that's why I enjoyed that feeling of power last week - for a short time it reversed the way I feel most of the time. I want him to have some understanding of what it is like for me, and for my girls.
I would be happy to take things slowly and patiently. I so wish that the probation service hadn't rejected my request for Restorative Justice.

You know if I ever bump into him again, I hope my daughter isn't with me, because I really want to talk to him. I would do my best to reassure him that I wasn't about to attack him in any way and would offer to buy him a coffee and invite him to sit and talk with me. If he agreed, I wouldn’t want to scare him off so I’d want to take the conversation slowly and at his pace.
Given my outburst three weeks ago, I know it’s mad and highly improbable that it would ever happen – but it’s what I would like to happen. It would allow me a little closure – at least on one aspect of losing my boy.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

I saw him again

We’d popped into town to look for school uniform - fifty-five quid (yes really!) for a pair of sensible black leather shoes. Oh the joys of having a daughter who has inherited my wide feet!

On the way back to the car, we took the short cut through W H Smiths. I was distracted as I grumbled about the cost of the shoes. As we perused the magazines, he appeared – the man who ran my boy over. It seems most unfair that this happened twice within a fortnight. I didn’t know what to do.
He was within a foot of me as he tried to get past when our eyes met and we instantly recognised each other. I continued staring, wanting to say something cutting but equally aware that my daughter should not be subject to any more.

He averted his eyes, pressed himself back against the shelves behind him as he tried to get past me without any body contact. He walked away quickly.
I looked at my daughter who simply said, “Are you OK mum?

“Yes I’m fine – err no I’m not - but I will be.”
“Don’t say anything Mum. Just leave it.”

“I’m not going to. I just want him to feel uncomfortable.” I stood and stared as he waited in the queue for the till. He twitched and looked around nervously as he waited for his turn. His eyes kept flicking in my direction. He didn’t look directly at me but it was clear that he was aware that I was there watching. I wanted him to know that I was there.
He knew! And I felt powerful. It was wrong – I knew that – but I didn’t care. I savoured it. I savoured that feeling of power. Then my daughter took hold of my hand and said, “Come on mum – let’s get that coffee now.”

We left and she again asked me if I was OK. What could I say? “I will be – let’s get that drink.”
Once sitting down I asked her what she thought of the expression on his face when he saw me. She said, “He looked absolutely terrified.” And I felt powerful again. “Good. Because if he was scared it means that something has penetrated. Something got through to him. Maybe now he is beginning to realise just what he has done. ” I felt strangely peaceful.

Because she was there, I hadn’t said anything of what I had wanted to – mainly because she doesn’t have access to the detail that I have.
I’ve rehearsed the speech so often in my mind as I’ve been drifting off to sleep.

“How did it feel, Mr Clamp, to see my child in the road and slip the clutch and rev your engine twice and then carry on regardless? How did it feel to drive that big car towards him? Did you feel powerful? Did you want to scare him? How did it feel to smash that car into my son and drag him under the wheels for all that distance? How did it feel to see his blood splattered on the road? How did it feel to see him naked from the waist down where the wheels of your car had ripped his clothes from his body? How did it feel to see his left eye socket bleeding and sightless? How did it feel to hear those youngsters screaming in terror at what they had just witnessed? Did you feel powerful then Mr Clamp? Do you feel powerful now? How does it feel to know that a young lad’s life has been ripped away, that he has been robbed of his future, that his family have been robbed of their future with him? Where are my grandchildren now Mr Clamp? Do you have anything to say Mr Clamp?”
When I play this scenario, I am aware that my questions get louder and more strident and I end up shouting at him. And he stands sobbing and pleading for me to stop. Until that evening exactly two weeks ago, I hadn't considered any conversation with him at all. Now it plays over and over in my mind. Back then his tone of voice and attitude changed everything for me. Until then, I’d wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt but that evening, my hopes were dashed and I wanted him to suffer. Oh I knew that his learning difficulties made it hard for him to comprehend the depth of agony he had inflicted on us, but I’d just wanted some glimmer of recognition of the enormity of what he’d done. Some small sign that he really regretted his actions. Instead I was treated to a sulky, grudgingly given apology. Today he seemed more frightened than contrite and although I felt very powerful (and I’ll freely admit that felt bloody good), I began to regain some of the pity I felt for him the night that Al died.

I know that others found it difficult to understand my stance but when Al died, all I could think was that I’d want to die if I were responsible for someone else’s death. I thought that the guilt would be all-consuming and he must be suffering so much - that alone deserved my pity. And, if I’m honest, I held onto that stance even though others (family and friends) dismissed it as the ravings of a woman so distraught with grief that she was bordering on lunacy. But actually, it’s easier to pity him than to hate him. The hatred is so all-consuming. It’s exhausting. It eats me up and burns me. And I’m glad that feeling of being able to empathise a little with him is returning.

I can’t ever envisage me buying him lunch and sitting down for a cosy chat. But I’m breathing a little more easily tonight. Maybe I needed to allow myself to experience that level of hatred in order to begin to let it go. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long journey with lots of stumbling - but at least I’m finally on my way.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

grieving anew

Yesterday I saw my counsellor. And again, something major came out of it.

For the past few days I have been yearning for a baby. I have no intention of getting pregnant – I’m 48 in less than a fortnight and spent the final four months of my last pregnancy (15 years ago) in a wheelchair– nuff said! However, the yearning to hold my own baby has been immense. It made no sense to me at all. I wondered if it was triggered by a comment from the man I recently dated a couple of times. “Would it be such a bad thing?” was asked in response to a news item about older mothers. I responded with, “Well for me it would be a bloody disaster.” And I meant every word.
However, things change don’t they. It would still be a disaster. But life is never simple. And despite the fact that I have absolutely no intention of having another child, this yearning to hold my own flesh and blood in my arms has been incredibly intense.

My last blog entry was written late at night after dinner in a gastro pub with my mother and daughters. It was to celebrate my eldest’s 23rd birthday. I’d had to leave the table at one point to vomit. Some food had got stuck in my oesophagus. It happens occasionally since I had some surgery to relieve a hiatus hernia a couple of years ago and I’m supposed to have the oesophagus stretched where the scar tissue is situated to ease things a bit. I don’t feel ill when it happens - just very uncomfortable and nauseous but as soon as the problem is rectified, I’m fine again. It happens like that sometimes and I’m used to it. No big deal. I can’t complain as everyone keeps telling me that I look amazing now but I’m now reaching the point of considering actually needing that surgery.
By the time I got back to the table, I was, as usual, just fine. I remember thinking that I should stop wimping out and putting off that minor corrective surgery and then this wouldn’t keep happening. Anyway, I pushed my food around my plate and waited to see if my body had recovered sufficiently to continue eating but after ten minutes, with stone cold food, I gave up.

It wasn’t until yesterday with my counsellor that it hit me that I had dashed to the loo that night soon after my youngest had dropped a bombshell. The evening was going well when she suddenly piped up that Al’s girlfriend had been pregnant with his child but had terminated it about three or four years ago. I sat – stunned and in shock – as she casually moved on to another topic. After what felt like an eternity I asked, “Did her parents know?”
She looked at me with such disdain. “Mum like someone would tell their parents something like that. It’s private - they’d go mad.”

I slipped partly into work mode. “Well lots of girls say that at first but in my experience, (and you know that’s a LOT of experience) parents might get upset initially, but most rally round and support - they’re usually pretty good about it. And I’d be devastated to think that either of you two couldn’t come to me for that kind of support because I’d want you to know that I’d support you whatever you decided.”
She nodded and said, “Well that’s you mum but not everyone else is like that.”

“Did Al know?”
She pondered for a second or two, then shrugged her shoulders, “I dunno.”

I was consumed – with both horror and anger. For her it was some kind of casual debate. But I had just been informed that my son could have lived on. There should have been a child – my grandchild. My mother, having removed her hearing aids earlier on the evening, was pretty much oblivious to what had just taken place. My eldest was sitting silently - studiously examining her plate and avoiding eye contact with anyone.
I snapped, “So you know for sure that Al’s girlfriend had my grandchild murdered and you just thought you’d drop it into the conversation?” She looked horrified as it sank in and stammered, "Sorry."

It wasn’t her fault. She’s 15 and, like any other 15-year-old, can be insensitive. And my choice of language horrified me. After just assuring my girls that I would support any decision they made in relation to an unplanned pregnancy, I’d then been completely judgemental about a decision that another (then) 15 year old had made. I very much doubted either of them would turn to me in such a crisis now. My head was whirling. My distress was around the fact that my son is dead and although he can never be replaced, one of my regrets has been that he had no children to live on after him and now I had just learned that it could have been so different.

But the irony is that I genuinely would support my girls regardless of whatever decision they arrived at. You can’t do my job and not know that each situation is unique to that individual and needs to be treated as such. It would have been a perfectly sensible and understandable decision. I had no right to judge. And if Al had not died, I would probably never have known about it. But it now takes on such enormous significance.
Anyway, at that point, my body took over and I had to dash for the loo. By the time I returned, I had pushed it to the very darkest recess of my mind. It was not the time for such a conversation - I couldn’t cope with my mother dramatising it and demanding support for her trauma at the news. So it wasn’t mentioned again. They ordered and ate desserts, my eldest was presented with gifts and cards, and I drove everyone home.

And, until yesterday, I forgot about it! How did I manage that? I sat talking through this odd and quite unexpected yearning for a child and wondering if it was related to my rapidly approaching birthday – body clock ticking etc – and suddenly it hit me like a sledgehammer. And there I was, in pieces, sobbing uncontrollably for the child that existed for such a short space of time.
I have no right to ask the girl about it. I have no idea whether she made that decision in a cold and dispassionate manner, whether she ever regretted it, or whether Al even knew. And if he did, was it a decision he supported? Did her parents know? If so, did they support her? Did she go through it alone? Did she feel she had a choice? Is that why she was so distressed when he died? Is that why she went to such great lengths to arrange a tree planting in his memory in our local park?

However, underpinning it all is that my grandchild isn’t here. And I am grieving – again – but this time for a child who was there – yet wasn’t. My flesh and blood. My son’s child. My grandchild.

As is usual after counselling, I met my friend for lunch –this time at the local carvery. Ordinarily, I'd have confided in her but my youngest joined us. We chatted about all kinds of things and I put on a good show – I don’t do public displays of emotion and knew that I was on a knife-edge so kept schtum.
After we got home, I sat quietly focussing on a game of Tetris on my laptop. I played it over and over again, fighting back the tears because I had so many questions and wanted to be calm so as to avoid unnerving her when I asked them. I was fighting a losing battle and I knew it.

Eventually, after reminding me for the umpteenth time that we really needed to deliver the giant cupcake that she had produced for my eldest’s birthday (the actual day was yesterday), she asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t deny it - my eyes were red-rimmed so, through my tears, we did a lot of clarifying.
She knew very little. She can’t remember exactly when she was told or who told her. It could have been the girl or one of her friends. “So many people told me so many things after Al died Mum – there was such a lot to take in.”

The bottom line is that I am left with so many unanswerable questions. They are unanswerable because they should never be asked. I have no right to dredge it up after all this time. I couldn’t possibly compromise her privacy by speaking with her parents – they might not have known. And what if it isn’t true at all? What if it was just an extra bit of melodrama added in the general excitement of Al’s death. Teens can do things like that. I should know – I work with them.
Anyway, bless her, she even apologised for telling me – as if she should have had to keep something from me in order to protect me. I’m *her* mum – it’s my job to be the protector. Not the other way around. As if a child of 15 should have to suddenly acquire the maturity to second-guess how her mother will react to something stressful. She should have been able to rely on me to react in a way that would enable her to open up – not clam up.

I’m not so self critical that I don’t see that my reaction was, given the circumstances, perfectly understandable. But FFS what a mess!

Saturday, 20 August 2011


My sister in law and neice were great to begin with. they visited every week and brought the baby, and then the babies, to see me. They rarely, if ever, referred to Al or my grief but they came BECAUSE  of it - and I knew that and although I really needed my loss to be acknowledged, I was still able to appreciate the effort they made for me.

Then other issues arose in their lives and I was quite suddenly forgotten. It was as if they'd got bored with me and had other, far more interesting things to focus on. My sis in law's granddad was ill and my neice got Post Natal Depression for a while so they were indeed extremely valid reasons. But the outcome was still the same - I was adandoned.

I can't force them to care. And, I suspect that they do care - it's just that they've forgotten that I *need* to be cared for and they can't be bothered with that aspect of it any more because *life goes on*. Ha - life goes on - not for my son it doesn't. And not for me - now I live a greyed out half life. It's as if it has lost its colour and it's sparkle. Nothing touches me deeply any more.

I am truly alone in my journey from now on. My daughter is here and I accompany her - but she doesn't accompany me. I have no right to inflict just how wounded I am onto her so I hide it. She knows I'm in pain but has no idea of the depth of that pain because I refuse to allow my pain to stop her from living to the best of her ability.

I have one or two friends who listen and take notice if I refer to my grief but in the last six months, apart from my counsellor, only ONE person has approached me to specifically asked me how I'm coping.

I wish I could do as someone on a bereavement forum suggested - just walk away from my family. To be honest, I've always been on the periphery. I've never, ever felt that I was truly part of them. Losing Al just sharpened up the focus on how separate I  really am. They were never that bothered about me to begin with.

I guess it must be worse for those who previously had good relationships with their families because they expected that they would be able to rely on them. Deep down, I've always known that my lot were never really that bothered about me. It still makes it hard to face that thought though. Losing Al has just brought it back to the forefront that I've always been alone - and the desperate realisation that perhaps I always will be.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

On a low

I’ve had a bit of a dip.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a family gathering – my great niece’s baptism. I dislike family gatherings at the best of times but given my experience at my great nephew's baptism only two months ago, I wasn’t looking forward to this one.
And of course, having already tried to explain to my sister how I had felt, whereupon she had trashed and stamped all over my feelings by declaring, in an irritated/frustrated tone of voice, “But they’ve moved on”, I was feeling even more apprehensive.

Nevertheless, I did my duty and arrived, card and gift in hand, at the church. To avoid having to make pointless chit chat, I’d deliberately arrived at the last moment. Unfortunately, several of the family also arrived at the same time. Note to self – next time arrive very early and hide away at the end of a pew in a small corner somewhere.
I saw my stepmother – not the nicest of women as it happens – well never particularly nice to me. There was no avoiding any of them as they congregated outside the church smoking. It wasn’t pleasant to stand in a smoky haze (how the hell did I not notice how awful it was when I smoked 20 a day!)

Anyway, I’d heard she was ill and felt that it would be impolite not to enquire about her health so I did. We spoke briefly and I empathised, sympathised a little, and wished her as speedy a recovery as possible. And then she said, “Anyway, here’s me talking all about me – how are you?” And I didn’t know what to say. I knew that I didn’t want to say, “Fine” because that would have been lying. So after what felt to me like a huge silence but in all reality, probably lasted for a nano-second, I said, “Not great actually. I still find it all very difficult to cope with. But thank you for asking – so few people do ask that it feels as though Al has been completely forgotten. So thanks again.” I knew if I said any more, that the words would be choked out of me so I turned to walk into the church. As I did, I caught sight of my sister smiling and saying something that started with “bet you ...” in my step mother’s ear – and my step mother grinning before they both looked at me and laughed – quietly of course.
I felt sick – I don’t care if it sounds selfish – how could my grief be their source of amusement? How sick is that.

After the service, we made our way to the ‘do’. After all, everyone knows that after dispensing with the preliminaries (making sacred vows to raise a child in the way of the Lord), the proper business needs to be executed - the baby’s head really needs to be wetted properly by the perfect mixture of loud music, alcohol, buffet, and gifts. Hell, I sound snobbish. I should say that I recall doing this for my eldest – it was traditional and what I thought was expected. I did it less so for Al – we still had a Christening but less of a celebration afterwards. But for my youngest, we had a naming ceremony – that really meant something to me.
Anyway, we entered a few minutes later than everyone else did, as I’d had to get petrol on the way. Most seats were taken but we plonked ourselves down and I wondered how soon we could leave without being perceived as rude. As it happened, we stayed for over an hour. I spent some time making a fuss of the baby – she’s just perfect. Then I chatted with a cousin I hadn’t seen for some time. Several people complimented me on my figure and I smiled politely and thanked them.

Then my father approached me to say that he was glad I am so well and happy. I wondered how he’d arrived at that assumption and said, “But I’m not. My son died.”
He said, “I know.”

I replied, “No you don’t – you say the words but you don’t know – not really. My ... son ... died.”
Again, he said, “I know.”

“Then how can you possibly think that I am well or happy? My son died. My child died and I am drowning in grief. How can I be well? How can I be happy?”
He then went on to say, “You don’t know it but I help you every single day.”

I knew what was coming so I saved him the effort of telling me. “You’re going to tell me you pray for me aren’t you.” It was a statement, not a question. He nodded. What could I say? “How do you think that helps me?”
He nodded sagely (condescendingly), “It does. I know you think it doesn’t but I know it does. I *know* it does.”

“What helps bereaved parents like me is actually taking the time to ask us how we feel. Asking us what we need. Just logging onto websites such as The Compassionate Friends or Care for the family would tell you that what we need is to be listened to and to be allowed to grieve and not to have our grief left unacknowledged, ignored, or ridiculed. Yes, this is how I feel but I know I’m not alone. Just a quick glance at either of those websites would inform anyone that I’m not unusual in this. So please feel free to pray if you feel that is helping me but let’s be clear, you are praying because it helps *you* to believe it helps me.” To his credit, he smiled politely, and told me that I’d given him fuel for thought.
Of course, he won’t look up either of those websites. He’ll carry on praying and thinking he’s helping. I guess uttering a few words each day is easier than actually doing anything practical. I sound angry and bitter. And it’s true. I so wanted to avoid feeling like this when Al died.

But my family didn’t know how to handle a woman who refused to hate the man who killed her son so they avoided me. I couldn’t grieve in a way that they approved of – I think they can’t see it as me being *unable* to do as they wish but as me being *unwilling* - so they abandoned me. It’s the abandonment that has left me feeling so bitter.
Today was my first counselling session after a three-week gap whilst the venue was redecorated. With less than 15 minutes of the session remaining, I suddenly remembered the awful incident with bumping into the man who ran Al over. I was gobsmacked. How could I have forgotten that? But apart from a 5-minute conversation with a colleague and blogging about it, I’ve had no real outlet. It happened just a few days after that baptism and, after the way my sister and step mother had reacted to what I’d said, I couldn’t bear to tell my family and suffer more ridicule or well meaning advice such as, “Well if you see him again, don’t talk to him/just avoid him/go to a different supermarket from now on/you’ll just have to learn to control your temper/just put it behind you and forget it/get over it.”

But how am I supposed to do that when I have so few outlets for it? When I am expected to bottle it up and not inflict it on others?