Sunday, 26 December 2010

Memories that just pop up

I just checked the TV listings. The Railway Children is on ITV. Years ago, we drove over to Haworth and did part of the 6-mile circular walk that takes you past some of the locations for that film. It was a lovely day.
We had no money – everything was done on a shoestring - so we were grateful when my in-laws treated us all to a pub lunch. That wasn’t something we often enjoyed. My eldest was interested in learning French but developed a strong case of shyness when her Granddad tried to persuade her to converse with some French tourists.
Later the children bounced along and were much impressed when I fed an apple to a horse in a field – the sight of those enormous teeth was pretty scary for me but my eldest wanted to feed it and to save her losing any fingers, I did it myself. My mother-in-law was with us and actually praised me for my bravery – I can’t recall very many occasions when she said anything positive to me (before my marriage breakdown and my ex husband met his current wife) so it really stood out in my mind. Al later told his dad, “Mummy was very brave – she fed a horse.” I think it’s now pretty obvious that we’re born and bred townies.
The children were extremely familiar with the film plot and the characters – it was one of their favourites - I'd saved it on video for cold wintery days. Many pretend games revolved around it, which was why we were there that day. It was a walk we’d done before and had all enjoyed. We took in the tunnel where Jim broke his leg, Oakworth station – location for the big scene near the end of the film, Perks’ house, the main street where the children persuaded shop-keepers to donate birthday presents for Perks, the Bronte Parsonage which became the Dr’s house in the film, and a piece of track where the landslide scene was staged.
However, the highlight of the day, as always, was the house with three chimneys. As we walked down the road towards the house, my eldest ran on ahead. Al was about three at the time and his legs were no match for his seven-year-old sister’s so he chased her down the sloping road shouting, “Wait for me – I’m coming Bobbie.” The incline was just a little too steep for him. He was running faster than he could manage and fell and grazed his knee. We had no first aid kit and it wasn’t a bad graze but the sight of the blood was distressing him so with us so the only alternative was to cuddle him, and then distract him. We walked slowly down the road with him holding my hand. I haven’t thought about that day in years but I can still feel his little hand in mine as he chattered on about meeting Bobbie, his favourite character.
He wouldn’t be persuaded that Bobbie didn’t still live in that house until we met the current owner who told him that Bobbie had grown up and moved away. He thought that was a shame as he was sure she’d want to meet him so he asked for her address so that he could write to her. He could neither read nor write at that point but, as far as he was concerned, that was irrelevant.
He correctly identified the gate where Perks struggled with a bundle of newspapers – we hadn’t even noticed this but the owner confirmed he was correct - and then we all walked down the field to see the train line at the bottom of the hill. The children pretended to be the characters shouting, “take our love to Father” to an imaginary train. Only he couldn’t pronounced the th in Father so he shouted, “take our love to Fahzer.” I can still picture them both looking so happy and excited.
It was a lovely day. I miss him. Odd that a TV listing can evoke so many happy, yet painful memories.

My Christmas Day

We’d arranged to pop over to visit my mother, and then my elder daughter to drop off presents so we got up early and my youngest opened her presents as I cooked breakfast. She brought each one into the kitchen so I could admire it. After breakfast, I opened mine. I wanted Al to be there. I wanted to feel slightly irritated that he had yet again made little/no effort to contribute to the festivities. He couldn’t of course. We followed the plan. Go to Mum’s, then daughter’s, then brother’s for lunch. Then home in time for doom and gloom on Eastenders followed by The Royle Family Christmas Special to lighten the mood. This programme juxtaposes laugh-out-loud gags with gentler, tender moments. Beautifully observed comedy. Only this year, much of the pathos focused on a recently bereaved man. Sod’s Law!
This was my second Christmas Day without Al. The last Christmas Day I spent with him was pretty traditional – for us at any rate. A few years earlier, I’d taken a leaf out of a friend’s book and had a Chinese delivered. I’d done no cooking so had spent the day in the living room with the kids as they opened their pressies. We’d played a game or two before they each took their goodies off to their respective rooms and I’d been treated to the ‘joyous’ sound of three different types of music all played at full blast as I thanked my lucky stars that the next door neighbours always spent the day at their parents’ house. Later, I’d dish up the food, feeling relaxed and slightly smug at the thought of so little washing up to do. It was a good habit to acquire. The one year I reverted back to turkey with all the trimmings, I was informed that it was better with the Chinese because I was there for them – and anyway it tasted better. Cheek!
As I’ve been a single Mum for several years, my Christmas presents were, to say the least, modest. My youngest would invariably create something made from cotton wool, and my eldest would give me chocolates, candles, or something for the bath. Al was not really into presents – well not into buying them. He usually added his name to the gift produced by his little sister and I learned to grit my teeth and smile as I thanked them both and whispered to my youngest that she had done a marvellous job.
The last year he was with us, he bought me two boxes of chocolate liqueurs. He made little effort to conceal the fact that he’d wolfed down the contents of one box as he wrapped the other on Christmas Eve. It was easy to see what had happened as the empty box wouldn’t fit in the bathroom bin so he just left it balanced on top. No shame! Typical Al!
The following day he informed me that he was making breakfast. This was a first for him and he set about it with gusto. I got the works – a full English including sausages that were still pink in the middle. I smiled, ate, and hoped I’d be lucky enough to avoid tapeworms and Salmonella – thankfully, I was. After breakfast, he presented me with my present and made noises about me being rather full after breakfast so not being able to fit many in. I suspect that was related to guilt re the snaffled box of chocs but I didn’t comment. Later he put on his newest clothes and paraded for me telling me that I was lucky to have a son as gorgeous as him. I teased him about his vanity and pretended to be indifferent but he knew he was a bit of a looker – and he knew I was proud to have such a beautiful boy. We joked with each other with me telling him that he would be better looking if his head weren’t so incredibly swollen and he weren’t so arrogant. - and anyway, he was due to get acne any day now. He thought that was hilarious – “Dream on Mum” - and assured me that he wasn’t planning it because he’d inherited my good skin and not his dad’s so he knew he was pretty safe. Typical Al – always a ready answer (with a compliment slipped in for good measure). I miss him so much.
Last year, my sister-in-law invited us to her place for Christmas lunch. The girls enjoyed the day spent with their cousins – but for me it was just an incredibly long day where no one said my boy’s name. They talked of others who were off doing other things but Al wasn’t mentioned once. It was sheer torture. I felt as if he were some dirty little secret we mustn’t mention. My Victim Impact Statement contained a paragraph relating to this issue
“I was unable to spend the day at home last Christmas and as I now contemplate another one without my son, I again dread the thought of feeling obliged to present a happy Christmassy persona. I know that I must do this for the sake of my daughters, but all I yearn for is someone/anyone to take the trouble, however briefly, to acknowledge that my boy existed.”
I made copies available to family and I know that it was read so I can only assume that this paragraph was forgotten because today I spent the whole day waiting for someone to say his name. It never happened.
Admittedly, I must be ‘improving’ as it was easier than last year to paint that smile on my face. My little great niece was a very welcome distraction and I busied myself with lending a hand with transporting food to the table, clearing it afterwards, and doing some washing up. It was easier to wash up with my back to others as I could cry and no one saw. I didn’t feel that I had the right to spoil their Christmas. It wasn’t their son who died so why introduce morbid musings to spoil their day. It’s just that I miss him so desperately and no one seems to even notice that he was ever here in the first place, let alone that he is no longer here.
After opening her gifts this morning, my youngest said, “This is a good Christmas Mum – I got everything I wanted.” She had. I’d made sure that I asked her dad which of the books he’d bought that were on her wish list. Then I got the ones he hadn’t so that she didn’t miss out. I produced the long coveted, designer label clutch bag – not exactly my choice of chavvy paraphernalia, but it was what she wanted. And the decent skin care products so that she wouldn’t be smothering her face with cheap crap, which was more likely to create skin problems. Her 14-year-old Christmas was good. On the drive to my Mum’s, Band Aid was playing on the radio. We discussed how other children suffer and go without and she talked of how fortunate she is to have the advantages she has. And again she talked about how lucky she was to get everything she wanted for Christmas.
Yet all I could think was that I couldn’t have the only thing I wanted more than anything else in the World. But next to the impossible, having him back, what I really needed was for someone to acknowledge his absence – but no one did. I waited all day but not one person did – not his sisters nor his grandmother, not his Uncle or Aunts nor his cousins, not anyone at all - and it hurts that it simply never occurred to any of them to just notice that he was missing.
I don’t want them to suffer as I do. I don’t want them to have the image of his body, slowly rotting in his coffin, just pop into their minds as it does into mine. I don’t want them to feel an agonising yearning to stroke his face, to take pride in his achievements, and to spend time with his children. I just want them to acknowledge my loss. I NEED them to acknowledge my loss. I don’t see why it should all be so mundane and normal for everyone - because he is gone. Don’t they get it at all? My boy – my beautiful, arrogant, funny, witty boy is gone and he is never coming back. And I hate the way the World hasn’t even noticed.
 I don’t see why the World should carry on turning. Actually I do see why it should be that way – I just don’t want it to be that way. I read Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’, I hear the lines reciting in my mind and every single one resonates so incredibly strongly. How can something so terrible, and so hackneyed - so bloody clichéd – be so apt?
Today is Christmas Day and I made it good for my daughter but it was shit for me. I don’t expect, or even hope for a good Christmas – I just wish I could have one that’s a bit easier. I just want a day when I can relax and not ache, inside and out, for my son.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Neugeboren (1976)

I keep coming across this quote - it seems so apt

A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. But...there is no word for a parent who loses a child, that's how awful the loss is! - Neugeboren (1976)

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Restorative Justice! I’d laugh if I weren’t already crying

After being let down by the Police – again! – I left a message on an answer machine requesting some information about the Restorative Justice project.
Today the Inspector dealing with it returned my call. Firstly, he ensured I fully understood just how profuse his apologies were for not getting back to me last Tuesday as promised. He told me how frustrated and angry he was when he realised that he would be unable to call me because he was being sent on a course. He also let me know that he had tried to get a message to me and that he was sorry it had not been passed on. When we had both pretended that I accepted this ‘sincere’ account of events he turned to the real issue – the Restorative Justice I had:
         specifically requested,

   had it offered by the CPS - via my FLO

         had it denied - but no one had bothered to inform me about that, 

   repeated the request for RJ

         been assured it would be looked into, but had been overlooked in favour of a

Isn’t the Criminal Justice System just marvellous! No? Well to be honest, it makes me so angry, I want to vomit.
The short version is that my request was denied. The fuller explanation is full of platitudes but still ends in the same way – request denied.
It seems that although the probation officers originally made the offer of RJ, they now consider the taxi driver’s mental state too delicate to go ahead. He is feeling low and therefore it would not be helpful for him. Never mind what would be helpful for me and mine – we need to respect the Human Rights of the man who saw my son crossing the road and chose to neither slow down, nor even attempt to avoid him until it was too late to avoid killing him. What about my son’s Human Rights? What about those of my girls’? What about mine?
Additionally, just in case I get any ideas about waiting until the poor lamb feels better, they say that he is unable to fully comprehend the purpose of RJ, that he cannot understand the rules, that he is unable to empathise, and that he cannot even make eye contact when speaking with others.
Odd that he managed to make eye contact with me when I briefly spoke with him immediately after he was released from court with a 3-year driving ban and a 6-month suspended sentence. Yes, his manner was odd but then it would be as it was clear to me that he has learning difficulties. I don’t understand why the powers that be have dressed this up as ‘social awkwardness’ and ‘poor social manner.’ It is screamingly obvious that this man has low intelligence. Everything about his manner strongly suggests that when he was at school, he would probably have been labelled, ‘slow’. Yet somehow, he managed to obtain a driving licence. Can you believe that? Some simpleton decreed him fit to take a lethal weapon on the roads. And, presumably following an interview, another employed him as a driver. What kind of fool employs someone with such low intelligence to drive a car? The kind who puts profits before safety, and who doesn’t give a damn I guess.
I have run RJ projects with adolescents and, as I explained to the Inspector three weeks ago, it takes time to lead them through the process so that they fully understand what it entails, and what is required of them BEFORE they actually meet with the other party. However, my impression is that, as this wouldn’t be a nice and easy box-ticking exercise, my request has been denied. They have dressed it up as impinging on his Human Rights but really, this is about making life easier for those employed within the Criminal Justice System. And to hell with those who have been left devastated by their actions.
I’m beyond angry right now. And I feel so impotent. The man who killed my son was never really brought to justice – not in the true sense of the word. Instead he, and my family, were forced to endure a sham of the trial that never was. He has never been made, or even offered the opportunity, to face up to what he did. He will never know just how my family has been decimated because those who think they know better have decreed it thus.
I don’t feel any anger towards this man. I feel a complete and overpowering fury at a system that has cultivated and nurtured the dismissal of Victims and their needs as irrelevant, and placed the wishes and (perceived) needs of the guilty as paramount.
It has also disregarded the need to protect future victims. I’m told that there is nothing I can do to prevent this man from reapplying for his driving licence in three years time. He has been prevented from having any real comprehension of what he has done so how can he be expected to understand that he should never, ever drive again? He can reapply for his licence and, provided he passes a test, will be certified capable of driving yet another potentially lethal weapon. All this after he has been cosseted and protected from understanding the full impact of what he has done. What kind of madness is this where a man can kill, and then be PROTECTED from acquiring the knowledge to help ensure he doesn’t kill again?
This system, which is allegedly in place for the protection of the society in which we live, has only worked FOR the offender and right now, I want to line up the people who have supported such a system in its attempted annihilation of my family:
-    the CPS lawyer who changed the charge at the last minute to make her job in court easier
-    her line manager who supported her actions by saying that lawyers were entitled to arrive at different conclusions after months of sticking to the same ones
-    the judge who refused to allow my Victim Impact Statement to be read in court - no need to bore the room with a Mother's grief
-    the FLO who thinks he’s such a nice bloke but who is so frighteningly unconsciously incompetent,
-    the Senior Investigating Officer who, months ago, blatantly told me that RJ would not go ahead and who is due to retire soon and, so I’m told, says that my ‘case’ and one other are the two which do not sit easily with him
-    the Probation Service staff who have decided that it’s just too much effort to do RJ with a man who has Special Ed Needs – and stuff what the Victim’s family wants or needs!
-    the Inspector who promised to look into this but instead merely placated, delayed and said no in the end anyway

I want to point a gun at each of their heads. I want to watch them sweat and plead for mercy. I want to tell them that they will be shown as much mercy, as much care, as much consideration as has been shown to me and mine.
And then I want to shoot at their knees – left one first – one person at a time for maximum effect. And then go back and shoot at each person’s right knee. And when they are all lying in agony, screaming in pain, I want to shoot at their genitals. After all, they have collectively subscribed to the ‘let’s kick a dog when it’s down’ approach so it seems only right and fair that they fully understand exactly what they have signed up to.
I want maximum devastation. I want complete and utter pain. I want them to know what it’s like to feel that someone else has the power to pulverise their lives into nothingness, and for them to know that they are powerless to stop it happening.
I want to say that I’m truly sorry and to ask each of them if they would like some crutches and then assure them that they will be obtained as soon as possible. Then I want them to wait and wait, all the while in abject agony, waiting for that person in a position of power to grant some relief. And then I want to walk in the door with the crutches and say, “Oops sorry – no can do – byeee.” And walk away, taking the crutches with me, just as they’ve done, and without a backwards glance.
Of course, I won’t do any of those things. I’m better than that because I’m somehow hanging on to the fact that I’m a human being - OK I have to keep reminding myself of that little fact but I am better than they are. I have to hang on to that because right now, just by wanting/needing that revenge, I’m only just better than they are. The death of my precious boy didn’t turn me into a vengeful woman - a vengeful woman fighting to hang onto her decency and integrity. The sheer, crass, indecent, inhumanity of the system allegedly designed to protect people like me, managed that.
 And now I have a new battle – to become the woman I was. The one who never wanted revenge. The one who accepted that grief was inevitable and to be expected yet was so insistent that her boy’s death must not be allowed to turn her or her daughters into bitter, vengeful beings. Now there’s an uphill climb. Wish me luck.


Yesterday I felt somewhat twitchy all day – so I stayed in the kitchen. I baked lots of biscuits in the shape of stars, bells, candles, reindeer, and snowmen. Then I iced them and popped them into transparent bags fastened with pretty ribbons. I hung some on my tiny tree and got the rest ready to give away. Not satisfied with that, I then iced a couple of Christmas cakes, cleaned the kitchen worktops and floor and finally crawled into bed, exhausted, at  around 1.30am today. I fell asleep straight away – this was a good thing as usually I toss and turn.
I was up 6 hours later as my eldest was popping over and I wanted to prepare for her visit. Since losing Al, our relationship has taken a nosedive and I have felt blamed for his death. I guess she needs someone on which to focus her anger – and unfortunately for me, that someone is me. I find myself torn between feeling resentment at the sheer, bloody unfairness of being the focus for her torment and anger, and compassion for the pain she must be in. And sad that I have lost my son ... and now my daughter.
Anyway, her visit was strained but, as I recently put my foot down and insisted she at least speak to me with a modicum of respect, it was polite. Her manner was guarded but decidedly warmer than previously.
She wasn’t here long – just an hour. Afterwards I drove her home on my way to my counselling appointment. It went well – but then I have a good counsellor. I’m able to dip into the painful stuff and drop it just as quickly when it all gets too much. I find revisiting it as often as I need, is much more effective than plunging straight to the depths all in one session.
Today we meandered through various issues –

last week’s session with the Police trainees,

the fact that, despite his assurances that he would see me last Tuesday, the bloody Police Inspector still hasn’t got back to me re the Restorative Justice,

my relationship with my daughter,

my fairly recent desire to take up some form of religious studies and what that means,

the death (five years ago) of Al’s friend’s mother after a long, and totally secret, battle with cancer,

and my fears re Christmas Day.

It felt like a whistle stop tour when we paused for breath at the end of the session yet we did quite a bit of deep work as well. As is usual when I’ve worked really hard during a counselling session, I felt completely knackered when I came out.
So I did a bit of shopping and picked up a rather fetching pale grey work suit – dress and jacket – for next to nothing, and some bits for Christmas for the girls. I’m glad that I can take pleasure in shopping for clothes now. It’s taken some time since Al died for me to take pleasure in anything.
Speaking of Christmas pressies for the girls, I seem to be spending far more nowadays. I’m a list maker and have records going back years, which include what I got for each child each Christmas, and what it cost – so that I could spend roughly the same amount on each child. I need to get more for my eldest to even things up a bit but when I do, I’ll have spent far in excess what I spent on all three of them two years ago. I did the same last year too. I wonder if I’m trying to compensate. Years ago, I made a deliberate decision to avoid spending pots and pots of money on the kids at Christmas but to make Christmas as fun and family oriented as possible. Maybe that’s why I feel the need to compensate by giving more presents – I don’t feel able to make it fun and family oriented because there’s a huge, gaping chasm in my family. It really hurts to acknowledge that hole which is ridiculous when you consider that I’m fully aware that Al is dead. But to see the massive gap his death has left, makes it all the harder to bear.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Not a great day

Well after the (relative) high of yesterday, today has been a bit of a downer. I don’t know why. It was the last day of term, so people kept saying, “Have a good Christmas,” and I smiled back and said the same back to them ... because that’s what you do. Saying ‘Have a good Christmas’ is the equivalent of ‘How are you?’ or ‘Hello’. It’s just something to say at a particular time. There’s no thought behind the words – they’re just thrown around – liberally - like confetti at a wedding.
I wanted to say, “I know you’ve forgotten but my son died so my Christmas will be pretty shit actually.” But of course I didn’t. Instead, I smiled and said, “Yes you too – have a good one.” Because, let’s be honest, if I’d said that, they’d have probably felt guilty and resentful towards me for ‘making’ them feel that way. After all, it isn’t their fault he died.
The thing is, I do know that - I’m not angry because I believe they are responsible for his death – I don’t blame anyone, not even the man who ran Al over, for his death. I’m angry because they lack the sensitivity to show a little compassion.
This year, the Christma cards are noticeable by their absence. We’ve received so very few. I guess some people don’t know what to say so they say nothing. Of the ones we have received, they seem to fall into two categories.
1.       Merry Christmas/Happy Christmas/Have a great time  (aka it simply hasn’t occurred to me to acknowledge the fact that your son is dead and your Christmas will be anything but merry – getting none is preferable to getting this type)
2.       Thinking of you – these cards are very rare indeed – but so incredibly precious. I save them as a reminder of those who take the time to care.
Of those who send cards in the first category ... Well they can’t be expected to consider my feelings when their heads are full of plans for Christmas. And so I vascillate between being understanding of their lack of awareness, and feeling pretty fed up about it.
I wonder if eventually, I will become a little more tolerant of their ignorance. To be honest, I don’t think it will ever be a matter of becoming more tolerant. I think eventually, I will be so ground down by it, that I’ll simply submit, give up allowing myself to feel hurt, and supress it. Not that that will make it go away but my guess is that it will manifest itself in other, even less helpful ways.
One good thing today was that my sis-in-law visited with my niece and her two children – both absolutely gorgeous. The elder is almost 1½ and completely adorable and entertaining. She lights up a room when she enters and I look forward to her visits. Tonight she didn’t disappoint as she chatted into my Wii remote using it as a phone.
The snow was falling thick and fast so they left a little earlier than they’d planned. Just prior to leaving, we were invited to have lunch with them on Christmas Day. It was a huge relief to get that invitation. I was dreading spending it at home in a house which screamed with Als absence. Although the day was spent with them last year, it was incredibly difficult as no one said his name or referred to him at all. But that’s still better than being at home. This year I may take some needlepoint to focus on if it becomes too difficult to manage conversation.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Blimey! All in all, not a bad day

Yesterday, we had a meeting with my boss to discuss work. The pressure I have felt to get back up to speed and operating as normal has been immense. I hadn’t realised just how much I was worrying about it but as we talked, it hit me that the pressure was permeating through everything I did at work. We eventually concluded that the situation is bigger than I, or my close colleague, had realised and so booked another meeting for early in the New Year. And already my boss talked about placing someone for a few hours per week to relieve some of the pressure. I’m feeling far more supported than previously.
On the way home, I got a call from R, the FLO trainer. She said that the trainees were all very positive and complimentary about the info I’d given. They said it had given them lots of food for thought about how NOT to manage things and she wanted me back for more trainings.
I’m so pleased about it. I really felt that I did some good. Just the thought of other families being spared what I was put through is enough to lighten my load. It won’t bring Al back – nothing will. But it means that other families won’t be treated in the same horrific way that I was.
Last night I went out to a Tapas bar with some work colleagues - past and present. It was planned several weeks ago and ostensibly, I’d agreed to go. But privately I’d decided to simply make up my mind on the night. In the end, I went because I’d foolishly agreed to give lifts to others who wanted a glass or two of wine and so felt unable to back out.
However, I’m glad I went. They’re all lovely people and it was good to enjoy their company in a relaxed atmosphere. With them, I feel able to talk about Al and I don’t feel that I am merely being tolerated or, even worse, watching people try to find ways to extricate themselves from the conversation. So we talked about all kinds of things and when the conversation drifted towards the silly things our kids have got up to, I contributed with a couple of Al’s as well as some about the girls.
As with almost everyone I know, none of those colleagues would directly ask me about him or introduce his name into a conversation but then, with these people, neither would they shy away if I were to mention him. I think that’s about as much as I can ask for really. It would be nice if people did feel able to do that but I understand that they might worry about it.
As I sit typing, it’s only just hit me that it all felt so natural and accepted. No awkward silences, no changing of the subject - just a swapping of mumsy anecdotes. I can’t even remember which anecdotes I shared as the conversation meandered over all kinds of topics. Fancy that – I was so relaxed when talking about my boy that I can’t even remember what I said. Normally, each word stings me and I play them over and over again in my mind but last night ... just felt right. And although I’m a little tearful just realising it, I feel calm.
I miss him – as always, I miss him - it never goes away but tonight, it all feels a bit easier to manage.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Police 2

Well today came and went. And I attended the training session for Family Liaison Officers (FLOs). As arranged, I arrived at 10.30am and was met by R, the woman who was organising it. I was told that there were eight trainees present. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. The trainings I usually give have at least twenty-five to thirty teachers – and I’ve presented to over a hundred before now so just eight seemed a little too intimate.
I was introduced and noticed that there was some trepidation. R pointed out that I wasn’t going to be focussing on what was bad at FLOs. Then she said that my input would be mainly positive and looked towards me for confirmation. I replied that I didn’t think she wanted me to gloss over things and that I thought she wanted a ‘warts and all’ picture. I could sense the defensiveness rising and knew I had to do something to stop them all zoning out and not listening to me at all so I explained that I was fully aware that nothing the Police, or anyone else for that matter, could stop Al from dying once the car had hit him. And that I held none of them responsible for his death but that mistakes were made both during the night that he died, and since, and I wanted something good to come out of his death. And if, by talking to them, just one family could be spared what I'd had to endure, it would be worth it for me.
I was careful to make eye contact with each of them in turn and felt them slowly warm to me. I had taken along a large (18”X24”) photo of Al and explained that I wanted them to see that he was a real boy. I talked a little about what he was like and gave them a sense of the person he was. I talked about my role in his life, and his in mine.
Then I systematically worked my way through the printed out version of my earlier blog, “Police”. As I went through each point, they were shocked – and sympathetic. Well they at least appeared to be sympathetic.
As they left for lunch, they were talking amongst themselves and wondering why my FLO was still allowed to operate. They were quite disgusted at his behaviour and surprised at my response to it, which is that he isn’t a bad man. He’s a nice bloke – if I met him in a pub, I’d think he was nice – he just needs to be educated and to update his training. His comments, half of which I recounted without realising just how awful they were until I registered the shocked and horrified expressions on the trainees’ faces, weren’t  malicious – just ignorant. I have every faith that, if he were to undergo further training, he would not make the same mistakes again.
Afterwards, R took me for lunch and we chatted about how it had gone. She said it was an excellent morning and they seemed to have taken on board many of the points I made. She said that they had been warned that my presentation was all about how things can go wrong so they had been bracing themselves. She also said that the previous day’s presentation was done by someone who felt his FLO had done a great job but that it had been less structured and therefore more difficult to follow.
I offered to do more for her and she seemed genuinely receptive to the idea. I asked her for feedback from the attendees which would probably be given more honestly after I was gone. She agreed to do this.
The low point was realising that the Inspector was not there so would not be updating with me news of the Restorative Justice as promised. Hmm. R offered to email him on her return to the office so I await contact from him. I’ll give it a week and then call. If nothing after that, I’ll submit a formal complaint – I’m good at that.
I got home and iced three Christmas cakes before popping out to collect my youngest from school. Just another four to do before bed tonight.
All in all, not a bad day's work. And I was able to offload in a clear and structured way that left me feeling a little lighter. It feels strange to say it but I can honestly say that I feel a little better today. Less loaded down by life and the aftermath of Al's death. Losing him still feels as bad - but the stupid antics of the Police Officers who behaved unprofessionally, feel a little less burdensome. Clearly for me, catharsis sure is good for the soul.


I can’t abide Christmas. Apart from my eldest's second Christmas, when I went ridiculously over the top, I was never one for masses of presents anyway. This year, considering I have one less child on which to spend, my total ‘splurge’ is only slightly lower than previous years. It's never really increased much anyway and will probably be less than £200 for everything. I guess that sums up my feelings about Christmas. Bah Humbug!
I used to enjoy the children’s excitement – and I hammed up the whole Father Christmas thing for their benefit. When my eldest realised he wasn’t real, she agreed with me that it was a lovely thing for children to believe and told me that she would carry on believing – just for that year. And she did. On Christmas Eve, she went to bed having left a mince pie and a glass of milk for Father Christmas (we never left sherry as he was driving - that was a message I wanted to get across from the start) and a carrot for Rudolph. She talked about what she and Al could expect and got Al all hyped-up – he was just five at the time and was a nightmare to get to sleep that night. On waking the following morning, she called out, “Has he been?” and she and Al dashed downstairs to find out.
Memories like that are good. I think that was the year he got his Buzz Lightyear. It was the must have toy that year. As a general rule, I made a point of avoiding those fads but Al was Toy Story mad. He could recite huge swathes of the film and I knew I wanted to get him that toy and no other. He hadn’t asked for it – he used to ask for chocolate everything, to go flying with The Snowman whilst singing, 'Walking in the air', for his big sister to stop bossing him about, for the ice cream van to come on Christmas Day, and all kinds of other odd things - but I knew Buzz would give him so much pleasure. It took some doing to get it. The shops had all sold out but my mother in law managed to get one at a Disney Store thirty miles from her place on the South Coast and then posted it up to me in the North-West. When he opened it, the look on his face was priceless. He was amazed. “Mum, Fahzer Chwistmas (the ‘th’ sound was pronounced as a z for a long time ... and he had a definite Jonathon Ross ‘r’ going on for a while too) is amazing. Look. LOOK! He gave me a Buzz Lightyear.” It was his pride and joy and gave him hours of fun.
I remember feeling quite sad when he threw it out a few years later. It was clear it had been played with a lot – I’d had to fix the visor and one arm more times than I could remember - but he’d outgrown it and his interests had moved onto some electronic hand held games console by then. I just saw his childhood going in the bin. He laughed at me and told me not to be so daft. I wish I’d kept it but then I’m not a hoarder either. I love a good spring clear out and am ruthless so it wouldn’t have been here even if I had rescued it then.
 Anyway ... Christmas. I’m crap at it – really I am. I can’t be messed with spending hours in the kitchen. For a few years, we’ve actually had a Chinese meal instead. I get a huge banquet delivered from a local Chinese take-away for far less than it costs to produce the traditional turkey and trimmings and I get to spend the day in the living room with the kids. No food preparation and very little washing up. I see them unwrap their pressies, get them to play at least one board game before they all disappear to store their goodies in their rooms, and generally enjoy the peace and goodwill of the day. Sorted!
Hmm I’m talking in the present tense – as if that’s what still happens. Of course it doesn’t. My son is dead and my eldest daughter lives elsewhere and, depending on her mood, may or may not, join us on the day.
Last year, my sister in law invited us to her place for Christmas lunch. I was grateful. The thought of spending the day at home was just too painful. My youngest and I swapped gifts in the morning, made the call to the grandparents living in the South, took a call from my ex-hubby, paid a visit to my mother, collected my eldest and took ourselves off to my brother’s for lunch. It was civilised. Lunch was traditional which was a nice change – I needed it to be different from our usual Chinese habit so that was good. Everyone was happy and full of Christmas spirit.
Of course no one, not a single soul, said Al’s name. Not one of them. Now I will never know whether they had simply forgotten he ever existed – it was a fun day – lots going on so that I guess that would be understandable. Or perhaps they were worried that by mentioning his name, they’d upset me in some way. Obviously, I wouldn’t be thinking of him unless they raised the subject. I mean, the fact that my boy had died just months earlier would have slipped my mind.  Obviously I'd have forgotten all about that nasty business by now.It would be cruel, wouldn’t it, to make any reference to him.
Except I spent the day yearning for someone/anyone to just say his name, or to ask me how I was coping. Just someone to acknowledge my grief. I couldn’t say anything. I had no right. I was in someone else’s house, it was their Christmas Day, and I had no right to spoil it by selfishly pointing out that someone was missing. So I kept my mouth shut.
Instead I ate a lot. Not at the table because, following some surgery a few months earlier which had left a few complications, I was still struggling to eat large amounts at one sitting. But I picked at food all day. It was as if I was forcing down all my feelings with food. The more I ate, the sicker I felt. The sicker I felt, the easier it was to cope with my unacknowledged grief. I vomited three times that day. I was actually overeating to the point of vomiting. I managed to slip to the upstairs loo so that no one could hear me and be concerned. My anger was affecting me in a most unhelpful way. “If they can’t be bothered to ask how I am, I don’t want any faux concern about me being ill.” It’s only just hit me that this was Bulimia. For one day, I had Bulimia! OK I wasn’t 'forcing' myself to purge what I’d eaten - I didn't need to - I was eating so much, my body simply couldn’t cope. This was self-harm. It was easier to cope with eating to the point of pain and nausea and then vomiting, than it was to cope with my anger and hurt at the absence of any reference to my boy.
As I’d been poorly for such a long time, a couple of people commented on my snacking and said it was nice to see I’d got my appetite back. I remember joking that I’d have to keep my eye on it or I’d be piling on the pounds whilst at the same time, gripping the chair tightly to help me cope with the pain, and breathing - breathing really deeply so that I wouldn’t throw up in front of eveyone.
 I wanted to scream, “His name was Al. Why can’t you just say his name?” but no one did. I don’t doubt that my sister-in-law and eldest niece were aware of how I was feeling and were trying to do things to distract me. They avoided the subject for all the right reasons. I don’t bear them any animosity for their line of reasoning. It wasn’t helpful for me but it was done with the best of intentions. However, I don’t believe my brother, or the other adults in the house that day, even considered my loss at all. Bearing in mind that it was highly unusual for us to be there on Christmas Day, it was surely obvious why we were there. Yet no one acknowledged it. A massive elephant in the room – some pretended not to see it but others appeared to be blissfully unaware. My brother carried my boy’s coffin but, it would appear, failed to notice his absence on Christmas Day – go figure. How could they be so cruel?
The girls had a nice day though – and for me, that made it worth it. What would have changed the whole tone of the day for me, and therefore made it almost pleasureable would have been for someone to propose a toast to my lad, or for someone to simply remember him. A small thing - yet so incredibly massive. But then, maybe that would have changed the whole tone of the day for them in a way which was just too negative.
This year, I’m not sure what the day will bring. No invitation has been extended so it looks as if it’ll be a very quiet day with just my youngest and me. Possibly with my eldest joining us - you never know. That will only happen if I drive over there on the day, and ask her to join us – and if she’s in the right frame of mind, she might.
The house will be quiet – depressingly so. Al was the noisy one; the one with the too loud music – Eminem for pity’s sake. He liked rapping. He thought he was good at it. I can’t stand rap so I’ve no idea whether he was. He liked dancing – now he was a good dancer. I once told him that if he could dance, he’d be able to charm any girl. That was all the incentive he needed. Only his dancing didn’t require a partner – it was more of a solo performance designed to impress. Christmas Day, as with many other days, would always bring a load of thumping from his bedroom – a combination of the (too loud) base beat and his feet thumping on the bedroom floor. It feels ironic that now, and only now, after years of telling him to “turn that bloody racket down”, I miss it so much. I'd give anything to be able to hear those size 10 feet stomping on the bedroom floor.
Anyway, Christmas Day this year... We have no plans. I feel that I’m waiting for something to happen. I don’t want to ask in case they’ve already decided to have just them and theirs for the day. It’s a funny thing really – I guess it’s to be expected that someone would tell you if you were invited for the day. However, I can hardly expect them to say, “By the way, we won’t be inviting you for Christmas Day this year.” You don't tell someone that you won't be inviting them. And so I wait.
Maybe I didn’t lay on a good enough performance last year. Maybe they think I’m sorted and the duty is done. After all, it’s been 18 months so I should be over it by now. I don’t want them to feel guilt-tripped into issuing an invitation but I hate the idea of being stuck at home for a too quiet, lonely Christmas which I spend trying to find, pretty unsuccessfully I imagine, ways of keeping my youngest jolly and happy.
Given the choice between spending the day at home in a too quiet house, and spending the day in a bustling house where, painful as it may be, my grief is ignored and unacknowledged, I’ll take the latter.
God that’s really shit isn’t it. I really hate Christmas.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

More guilt - and resentment - with some sadness for good measure

A friend tells me that she felt that people judged her for enjoying the odd evening out after her son died. So she stopped going out. I feel judged because I’m not as fun and outgoing as I once was. Go figure!

Intellectually, I know it's unreasonable to prevent myself from taking pleasure from things - I’m not sure that it’s guilt that I’m feeling or something else. When I experience pleasure, for whatever reason, if Al pops into my mind, I feel sad that he isn’t here. I feel sad that he’s missing out on life. I feel sad that I can’t tell him that I love him, that I can’t hug him, or tickle him, or ruffle his hair, or rib him for his draft choice in T-shirts - his favourite one was a white one splashed with red, which was slashed several times with the words, “Shark Attack” emblazoned across it. He’d complain it was cold outside and I’d tell him to put a jumper on or at least wear something other than the T-shirt with built-in air conditioning. He’d roll his eyes saying, “Can you see this six-pack? It’s a babe magnet.” Clearly, his intentions towards the girls far outweighed his need to be warm.

I can smile when I remember exchanges like that – but it's usually followed by tears pricking at me. That’s not guilt – it’s sadness. And I am entitled to feel sad because my son died. But I sometimes feel guilty for not being able to hide that sadness from others. They really don’t like it being inflicted on them.

I think that’s why I avoid others at this time of year. They want to be happy and although I can, and do feel happiness at times, I know that the sadness can creep up and engulf me at any time. I don’t have a problem with that when I’m alone. But when I’m with others who are having a good time, it’s hard to hide how I’m feeling because I feel that they will judge me for not being happy, or for ‘spoiling’ their happy time. I can’t say whether I feel some guilt for not being able to join in, or just resentment at the way I feel I am expected to when it’s just too hard sometimes. I think that’s why I avoid the parties at this time of year. I can’t guarantee what my mood will be.
Equally, I see how others feel guilty if I am unable to participate and how it can affect them. Some will feel obliged to spend time with me but not know what to say so will resent it. Yet others will willingly give up their time, without a hint of resentment, to spend it with me – but they are a rare breed indeed.
There’s a fine line between guilt and resentment. I once read that guilt is just resentment turned inwards and I think that’s a fair appraisal. Sometimes I feel guilty for not being the life and soul of the party, or at least, for not being able to pretend that all is well so that others can carry on regardless.
I think of that sequence from the Leonardo DiCaprio film, 'The Island'. The Islanders have a rule that no one can leave because others would then discover their idyllic home and visitors would spoil its charm. When there is a shark attack and a man is left slowly dying of gangrene in what is left of his severed leg, his agonised moans and groans spoil the party atmosphere. Their illusion of this perfect paradise is shattered and they resent it. So they move him away to where they can no longer hear him. And then carry on partying - as he lies dying.
It feels like that for me sometimes – I am spoiling the illusion that most people have of life. For the most part, they don’t even realise that it is an illusion – but I, and others like me, are a reminder. We can do our best to hide that severed, gangrenous leg but sometimes the effort is just too enormous. For a short time, others can cope with witnessing our pain but then they want the illusion back and turn their faces so that they don’t have to see any more. If they happen to accidentally notice, they salve their consciences by saying ‘How are you?” but without waiting to hear, or simply not listening to the answer - the metaphorical equivalent of popping a sticking plaster on the bedside table. That way, they don’t have to look at the leg and can carry on pretending that it was enough.

If we manage to dredge up the superhuman strength, we smile and say Thank You, nicely. This frees them to go on their way in the safe and sure knowledge that they are good, caring people who have done something nice and they can forget all about that nasty business of that gangrenous leg/child’s death.
If we aren’t feeling quite so strong, we can answer their question. They can then listen whilst desperately thinking up some important appointment they really must get to
“Terribly sorry (I asked) ... Must be awful for you (but even worse for me to hear it) ... I really can’t imagine (and I don’t want to so shut up) ... Must dash (that’s the last time I do her the favour of asking how she is. I was only being polite –stupid cow should have known that)"
Thank God (says the Agnostic) for the genuine few.

Friday, 10 December 2010


Tonight I should be eating dinner with my work colleagues. I like them and don’t get to see them very often as we’re spread over a number of venues. I should be laughing and joking with them. This year, details of the evening out were only passed to me on Tuesday after being finalised at a late stage and that was my excuse for not going.
I couldn’t say exactly what has prevented me from going though. I didn’t do any Christmas parties last year because it felt disrespectful to Al to be going out enjoying myself when he lay cold in the ground. And regardless of whether it was disrespectful, I just wasn’t in the mood for fun. I resented others having fun – and resented me for resenting them doing what they should be doing so I stayed out of the way.
This year, I’m tired. I don’t know whether it’s a matter of the constant grind of having to present a façade of normality, the fact that we’ve had some upheavals at work that have added to the workload enormously, or that my iron and calcium levels have dropped much lower than my GP would like. I suspect it’s a mish-mash of all three.
And of course, there's the little matter of the guilt connected to enjoying myself when my son is dead. It just seems plain wrong right now. Ironically, and intellectually, I know that guilt is neither necessary nor reasonable but I feel it nonetheless.
So instead I shall get changed into something suitable, put on an apron, and decorate some Christmas cakes for friends. At least I shall be doing something creative and useful. Doing things for others, as opposed to doing them for me, feels OK. Indulging myself feels wrong right now. As if pleasure is something I’m not allowed. I’ve had fun on several occasions since losing Al, but this week it seems wrong somehow.
Christmas is a time for family – and mine has been decimated. I can pretend to be OK for my daughter’s sake. I can produce all kinds of fun activities. But if it were just about me, I’d much rather lie on the settee, cover myself with a duvet, and sleep until it’s time to go back to work in January. In fact, I’d rather stay like that until I felt I could face the world again.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Wierd people

Even now, almost 18 months later, I’m never quite sure whether I will laugh or be outraged at his attitude when I remember the 90 mins spent in his company.
I wanted a Woodland burial. I can’t remember why – it was just something I’d decided on after reading some article when sitting in the dentist’s waiting room years earlier. I knew I couldn’t bear the thought of Al being set on fire. Every time someone said, “Are you having him cremated?” as if it were the default option, I imagined his flesh on fire and felt sick. I also hated the thought of him lying in some dark cemetery where the gravestones served mainly as a magnet to vandals with a grave that would slowly become abandoned and unkempt after I became unable to tend it.
A Woodland burial just felt right. I did a little Googling - as you do when your son has just died and you’re in shock and looking for something/anything to focus on which doesn’t involve picturing him at the very moment the car smashed into him.
Anyway, I found three Woodland burial grounds in the county. I dismissed one as too far away, and filed another under ‘exactly where is that?’ Eventually, that was the one I settled on. It’s a lovely place, which is just as I imagined a woodland burial ground should be. It’s set on the hillside overlooking a beautiful valley close to where I picnicked as a child, and just 10 minutes away from where I work. Although I don’t often visit, mainly because I feel so impotent when I do, it feels peaceful and tranquil and the right place for Al to be.
However, before deciding on this one, I decided to visit one around 10 miles away from home. My sister accompanied me – for once, I really needed her with me. She’d informed me that she was coming home with me the night that Al died and couldn’t be persuaded that I really needed to be alone so I’d held in the tears and hysteria because she was there and I didn’t know how to let myself just be if someone else was there. I’d lost count of the number of times she’d said, “It’s OK to cry” which was always followed by me saying, “Yes I know.” But not saying, “Well if you’d just go away, I’d be able to.” Yes, it was true to say that I’d been desperate for her to go but today - just for today - I was grateful for her company.
We arrived at the burial ground, having been on another errand en route and having forgotten the directions and address. I forgot lots of things that week. Fortunately, I had my trusty SatNav so we got there without any trouble. However, I’d also forgotten that I’d written down that I must park in a particular place and instead pulled into the driveway. A man in a dark suit exited the house and informed me I was parked in the wrong place. I apologised and said I was here to see a burial ground but must have come to the wrong place as I’d left the directions at home. He corrected me. “No you’ve come to the right place but I specifically told you to park over the road and not here.” I apologised, feeling like a naughty schoolgirl, and offered to move the car. The response, a deep sigh, was followed by the grudgingly delivered comment, “Never mind, I suppose it’ll do there - but if you can remember for next time...
We were instructed to follow him across a field. As we walked, he explained that this was the next burial ground, which would be used once the first was full. We then entered the next field. I’d been expected a Wood. I’d imagined it to be akin to Enid Blyton’s, ‘Enchanted Wood’. OK I wasn’t expecting to find a ‘Magic Faraway Tree’ at the centre of it but I was expecting a few trees that somehow resembled a wood. What we were presented with was a field containing around half a dozen saplings, which were dotted at regular intervals. Each tree was placed at the centre of several graves, which radiated out from the tree like the spokes on a bicycle wheel from the centre cog. There were no flowers and the grass surrounding each tree was neatly cut. This wasn’t what I’d pictured at all. Had I completely misunderstood what a Woodland Burial Ground was?
The conversation that followed was almost Pythonesque in flavour. Afterwards, as we laughed hysterically, I wondered if Peter Kaye might want a transcript.
"Now love - See that grave? This is a funny one – you’ll laugh when I tell you. He bought it for him and his wife, but he left her and set up with another woman. And then he died. Anyway, she’s had the last laugh – she bought the one next to him."
We were speechless.
"Now ... see this one? Hung himself! Only young he was. And I’ve one over there – a lad – another young un like yours - who come off a bike. Eeh they just won’t learn about speed will they?”
I couldn’t see how my Al could be buried here. I felt sure he would say to someone, “See that one there – a lad who got run over by a taxi.” And I couldn’t bear my precious boy to be gossiped about in such a cavalier and heartless manner.
"Can you see this grave? It belongs to a lady –her husband comes three times a week. He just stands at the side of the grave looking at it and rocking back and forwards on his heels. He’s there for a couple of hours each time at least – just rocking back and forwards, back and forwards. Can you see the dent in the grass where he rocks? (Rolls eyes) I’ll have to get the roller on it."
It was a beautiful sunny day. There were just a few cotton wool balls of cloud in a sky of cornflower blue. It was so quiet and peaceful. I was thinking, “If it weren’t for this idiot, I guess I could be OK with Al here.” The birds were chirping and tweeting, the sun shone and I felt strangely calm. My sister asked, “Do you get much wildlife round here?”
His response nearly floored us. We expected him to wax lyrical about rare breeds of birds or tell us that they were almost tame and would eat out of your hand. Instead we heard, “We had loads of rabbits – but we soon got shot of them when we got a cat.”
He then said, “I’ve known sorrow.” Thumbing his head towards the young woman dressed in black who had silently accompanied us as he said She’d cancer when she was a baby – that’s why she’s so short.”
We weren’t at all sure how to respond to this but both smiled politely and made noises about the wonders of modern medicine.
I said I wanted a cardboard or wicker coffin but was surprised to hear him give a sharp intake of breath and tell me he wouldn’t recommend that. I asked why not and said I wanted something that was eco friendly. He said that it wasn’t the right time of year for that. Now we do some nice ones right here on site which are very reasonable.” I asked how it could be the wrong time of year for an eco friendly coffin. He said Bodily fluids! Leakages! It’s warm right now and the smell – Well I wouldn’t like be next to a grave if the body were in that kind of coffin. It’s hard to keep them cool enough at the moment. I said that I thought they would be refrigerated but he said it would still be difficult as the weather was so warm, and do you really want to put your mourners through smelling a corpse?”
I asked about the possibility of a Humanist funeral. He wasn’t keen and said that Humanist funerals tended to be rather droll – as if this were a bad thing. My sister clearly had no idea what the word meant because she said, “Oh no - you don’t want that.” She was surprised when I countered with, “Yes I do – he was a young lad and I don’t want all doom and gloom. I want people to smile when they think of him.” He said, “Well it takes all sorts.”
He was keen for us to make use of the Methodist church right next to the burial ground. I said I really wanted a Humanist funeral. He said that if we made use of the church building, we’d have to include a religious element. I said that wasn’t a possibility. He tutted.
We’d heard enough and I said I wanted to think through my options. We walked back towards my car and into the house to get written info. I’d already decided that Al was not being buried there but politely waited to be given the info. He then gave me a price for a funeral and said, Now that’s bare minimum but I can cut it by a bit more if you keep things simple and don’t ask for anything complicated or awkward.”
After he gave us a blow by-blow account of his older daughter’s mental breakdown, we left. Oddly enough, we didn’t go back.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

What to do next

Ever since I got my Post Grad Diploma, I’ve been keen to learn new things but reluctant to produce any evidence to prove I’ve studied. I enjoy learning new things – just for the fun of it. But I find myself strangely averse to evidence that learning. I want the knowledge for me – not for anyone else.
I’ve spent the past five years avoiding producing a couple of essays just so that I can achieve accredited status in my work. Each essay needs contain around only 1000 words. I can dash that off in a couple of hours when writing my blog. But the thought of writing to prove something to someone else leaves me cold.
I should bite the bullet and get it done. Professionally, it will be useful for me. However, time and time again, I decide to do it ... and suddenly something else takes my fancy.
 It’s not always academia that draws my interest. Last year, every Monday evening from September was good for me as I attended a cake decorating class. It was one night each week when I didn’t sit in the house and bawl my eyes out. It gave me something other than grieving on which to focus. And I picked up a new skill too. So far this week, three Christmas cakes marzipanned, and three more to do at the weekend. I like to keep busy. Icing to be done next weekend. Am a little late this year. I enjoy it though. And I enjoy seeing the faces when I present these gifts.
I keep looking for a course in making Stained Glass – I’d love to be able to produce something pretty in stained glass. I also sew – pretty well as it happens. Anything that requires concentration and fills the gap looks like a good option to me.
However, what’s pulling me in lately is the possibility of a course in Theology or Religious Studies. I suspect it’s all part of my trying to make sense of a world in which Al no longer resides. As I drove home tonight, I found myself wondering whether he can see us, whether he knows how much he is missed and loved, whether he is happy, whether my Granddad is keeping him safe until I can be with him. All of those thoughts tumbled into my mind within a nano-second – followed just as quickly by the rationalisation that it was merely wishful thinking and then immediately by the yearning for it to be true.
I don’t quite know what I hope to gain from studying religion and faith – perhaps some amazing revelation would come to light and I would, quite literally, see *the* Light.
Perhaps, I’d just gain a greater insight into others’ beliefs – I love finding out about how others see the world and anyway, intellectual stimulation is good for me. Some days, I need a day off from grieving and finding something of interest helps to distract me when it all gets too much.
Perhaps, and this is what I most hope for, I’d just find a way of being. One that allows me a little peace. It’s not a lot to ask for ... is it?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Because I have lost a child, I am acutely aware of the possibility of any child dying. It affects so much of what I do, and  colours so many of my decisions.
 I constantly want to restrict my 14-year-old daughter’s independence. I worry about her crossing the road. I worry about her leaving the house. I even worry about leaving her alone in the house. Ironically, I know she is incredibly sensible and levelheaded. And although I have these paranoid fears of losing her too, I keep a tight grip on them and refuse to allow them to rein her in too much. She’d disagree of course but, as a 14 year old, it’s her job to push for independence and mine to give it, a little at a time, as I see she is ready for it.
Last year she needed some minor surgery – just an ingrown toenail removing. A Dr at our local GPs had already attempted this under a local anaesthetic but it hadn’t numbed properly and had grown back. This time, she was adamant that she wanted a general anaesthetic. Knowing that a local is safer that a general, I pleaded with her to trust the anaesthetist at the hospital but to no avail – she wasn’t about to risk that pain again.
On the day of the surgery, the surgeon popped up to the day care ward to see us and I told him I was worried as general anaesthetics carry a statistically greater risk than local ones. He said, “Don’t worry – she’s in good hands. It’s a routine, very minor op ... and anyway, if you like stats, what really is the risk of you losing one of your children?” His mouth fell open when I replied, “Well for me, as of exactly four months ago today, it’s one in three.”
She was the first child to go into theatre and was out within 25 minutes. During that time, I had vomited three times and sobbed down the phone to my sister.
As she awoke, she saw me smiling at her and telling her it was all OK. I don’t know quite how I do that but I’m glad I can. I’d hate her to know just how terrified I am of losing her. I want her life to be lived to the full. Al may not have lived for long, but he lived at 200mph – he packed a lot in. And he was happy when he died. I want her to live a life that isn’t coloured by fear, for her or for me. I don’t want her looking over her shoulder worrying about me.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Faith - I wish I had it

Tonight I was thinking about Death and faith. Some Christians believe that one day they will see the ones who have gone before them. 

Actually, I envy those who believe this. I wish I had that kind of blind faith. I think it must be wonderful to truly 'know' that you will see your loved one again and I guess that must be comforting. I can't believe. I've tried but time after time, I find myself saying that if there is no proof, how can I accept it as fact?

One of the best books I ever read was John Humphries, "In God we doubt" because it mirrored my own views so well. In it, he says that it's OK for those who have faith, and for those who are Atheist, as both 'know' that they hold the truth. It's the Agnostics who have the real trouble because they really aren't sure. Now I guess that means me because I can't be 100% sure that there is no Higher Power but I lean VERY much towards the Atheist end of the spectrum. In other words, I very much doubt that there is anything after death. In fact, I'm 99% certain of this.

I wish I could believe that I would see Al again one day but I can't. I wish I had some simplistic, childlike, intelligence that meant I could look forward to seeing him again, but I don't. I question things all the time - but I really, really wish I had blind faith. I think my views must be pretty offensive to those who believe. They aren’t meant to be. I’ve met many people who strike me as enormously intelligent yet simply accept that there is a God. I don’t get it. How can these people, who question so much, just blindly accept an idea?

I used to know a woman who was a JW. Occasionally we'd debate about the existence of God and one day she said to me, "You know Beverley, if I've got it wrong and there is nothing when I die, I've lost nothing and I won't know it anyway but I've been happy serving my God in my way. If you're wrong ... think about it.

I walked away from her trying not to sneer but those words have resonated a few times. I still think she's foolish for believing in the existence of some all-powerful deity without any proof - but she's happy and confident that she will see her loved ones again. I'm not - so which of us really has it right?

If I could take a pill that would let me wake up tomorrow with the absolute certainty that God exists, I’d take it. Regardless of whether God is real, I’d take it. If I could get just a few moments peace and assurance I would be with my boy one day, I’d take it.

What I struggle with is those who believe telling me that I just have to, 'open your heart to God', or 'just accept' or any other bollocks like that. As if I haven't tried. As if I'm 4 years old and am being told that Santa exists. As if it's that simple. I'm not a child and, to be honest, I believe in the likelihood of a God as much as I believe in Santa.

I still wish I could though.