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?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

I lost control

I’m a control freak – especially since Al died. My mother had no concept of just how much control I exercised when I didn’t cry at his funeral. For me dignity was everything. And weeping and wailing would not serve him any useful purpose and would interfere with what needed to be done – so I refused to allow myself to do so.

Tonight I came close to losing it. I mean really losing it. I know it was understandable – almost excusable– but it scared me.
I’d booked to take my youngest to the cinema. We were seeing ‘Bridesmaids’ - a funny (rather more raucous than I was comfortable watching with my 15 year old daughter) chick flick on our usual Orange Wednesday two-for-one deal.

We stopped at the supermarket en route to pick up snacks rather than pay outrageous cinema prices. We had to be quick as I’d agreed to speak to a colleague about work at 6pm and knew I had just 20 minutes to get in and out of the supermarket before calling her and the film started at 6.15pm so the window of time was tight.
And suddenly, just as I opened my car door to get out, he was there.

I stared at him and said, “Oh no.”
My daughter followed my line of vision and said, “Oh Mum - is that him? Is that the man who killed Al?” She’d only ever seen him once – the day he was given a 6 month suspended jail sentence but clearly, his face is as ingrained on her mind as it is on mine.

I didn’t know what to do. Simultaneously I felt panicked and furious. I was rooted to the spot yet desperate to say something/anything to him. Common sense told me to stay in the car ... not follow him ... sit tight ... say nothing.
Something else – I don’t know what – made me get out. I know I excused it by saying that we had to be quick so we’d better just get on with things. But I knew I was making the wrong decision – I knew I was just finding an excuse to look him in the eye ... to make contact.

He was standing near the entrance to the shop, smoking a cigarette when we walked past him and I was suddenly hit by a blind fury. The words were out of my mouth and I don’t think I could have stopped them.
“Christopher Clamp?”

He nodded and looked quizzically at me.
“You killed my son. You ran my son over and you killed him. And you didn’t even express any regret.”

I was stunned by how my voice was loud but I wasn’t shouting. There was a small group of people nearby and I wanted/needed them to know that this man was a monster – that he had killed my son. I don’t know why I needed that but I did. I didn’t want to scream and shout but to state my case clearly. I guess there was at least a little control there then.
In a very childish tone of voice, he said, “Well I did say sorry -OK?”

I said, “No Mr Clamp – it is not OK. That was no apology because you grinned at me when you said sorry – do you remember that? Do you remember how you smiled at me when I suggested you might want to say sorry?”
He replied, “Well I’m sorry – alright now?”

“No Mr Clamp. It isn’t all right because my boy is dead because you murdered him. You saw my son in the road and you revved your engine and then your drove right at him. You murdered my son and he is dead and I hope you rot in hell.” My fist was clenched. I could feel my nails digging into my palm. I could feel the diamond ring (bought for Al’s 18th birthday but never given to him) I always wear had swivelled round and the diamond was also digging in. And I wanted to punch him. Right in the middle of his face. I wanted to smash his nose into the back of his head.
And then I realised that my daughter was holding my arm saying, “Come on Mum.”

We walked into the Supermarket. I was shaking so violently that she took hold of my hand to steady it. We bought chocs and headed for the individual tubs of ice cream. I knew I was going to shovel food in because I didn’t know what else to do. But I decided that this was most definitely a ‘what the hell’ moment so bought it anyway.
However, en route to the ice cream, he was there again. He had followed us into the shop and was perusing the soups. I know he is of little intelligence but even I was stunned by this. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that he might just want to avoid me?

Again, bless her, she just said quietly, “Come on Mum.” We got the ice cream, paid and left.
We arrived at the cinema and I made my call to my colleague. I poured out the events to her. She was lovely. She listened and wanted to come over but, as she was 45 miles away and in the middle of Eid celebrations, we both knew that was out of the question. And anyway, I had a film to see. My daughter had already spotted some friends and darted off to say hello – funny (but good) how kids can just switch their focus like that.

We watched the film. It was funny but contained a couple of scenes I’d rather my daughter hadn’t seen and a word that should not belong in a film rated as 15. I ate ice cream and Maltesers but had to stop because after just a few, my stomach rebelled and I was in agony. I guess stress, ice cream and Maltesers aren’t too great a combination after all. I remember a time when chocolate seemed to solve all of my problems. I guess coming face to face with the man who killed my child was just too big a problem even for chocolate.
I wish I hadn’t lost control. I hated her seeing me like that. Whatever happened to setting an example?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Moving on?

My youngest left for a school trip to Germany on Friday evening. I haven’t heard from her since the coach was about to board the ferry in the early hours of Saturday. My texts have’ failed’ so I presume that her mobile cannot be used on the continent. I’m not worried (well not too worried – I know the teachers who are with her and trust them to take care of her and to contact me immediately should something go awry). I just miss her desperately. The house is just too quiet. I hate it. Having said that, her big brother and sister each went on the same trip and had a fabulous time. And I want her to have that experience too.

Since she left I’ve spent a day in the Lake District with my mother – sitting in many, many cafes drinking endless cups of coffee and following my mum trying not to look bored as she reads aloud every single sign in every single shop window is not my idea of fun. Neither is trying to look as if I’m not with the old woman wandering round expensive gift shops loudly proclaiming that it’s all ridiculously overpriced tat that she wouldn’t give tuppence for. Given her opinion of the goods they sell, you’d think she’d want to avoid such shops but this is her choice of sport – go figure! OK so I had to put huge amounts of effort into hiding my frustration – but it distracted me from missing my daughter so it served a useful purpose.

On Sunday evening I had a date. It was pleasant enough. I had a nice time. He was witty and attentive. The fact that he is attractive and seems very keen to see me again is also a big plus! I’m a little wary. He does the same job as my ex-husband and previously held the same job that my ex-husband did when we met. He is also of a similar build. I had to keep reminding myself that the similarities end there!

I think I’ve forgotten the rules of dating though. To be fair, I was a self-conscious, extremely overweight teenager and had only one boyfriend followed by two brief romances before I married at 24. And apart from a mad phase about ten years ago when I went on a whirlwind of dates over an 18-month period, I’ve not really dated so I’m pretty clueless about societal expectations. It felt too revealing to say I am a grieving mother but he raised the subject of Road Traffic Collisions (he drives a lot) and, as the conversation progressed, it felt increasingly dishonest not to say anything. Anyway, he said all the right things, managed to avoid the usual platitudes/ stammering/blushing/changing the subject and the conversation flowed very easily.
I’m seeing him again next weekend and am quite looking forward to it. The one thing I have noticed is my lack of excitement. There are no flips of my stomach, no big buzz - just a sense of warm anticipation that is somewhat similar, if I’m honest, to the sense of anticipation for going out to dinner with mate. Hardly thrilling – but lovely all the same.

Yesterday, I spent the day covering for a friend who is off sick long term. It’s good that I can feel useful as there isn’t much to do over the summer when I’m not in school so one day a week will keep me busy enough with enough down time to recharge ready for September. And I am very grateful that I have a job to return to in September – at least I now know I can pay the mortgage for another year.
Anyway, after finishing work yesterday, I called in at a shop to price up tents – the one we have is far too big for just two of us and we have been talking in terms of downsizing ever since Al died. I found the perfect one and will go back to get it when she’s home so that we can make the choice together – just in case she has some objection to my choice. After that, I called in at my brother’s. I stayed for around an hour talking with the little ones and left when they settled down to their evening meal. As I left, I realised that my reason for the visit was that I was avoiding going home to an empty house so, against my better judgement, I then called at my sister’s.

She reminded me of her granddaughter’s baptism next Sunday and I said I’d be there. But it reminded me of the last family baptism when, just one day before Al’s anniversary, no-one bothered to consider how the day might impact on me so I raised the subject. Her response floored me. In a frustrated/impatient tone she said, “But they’ve moved on.” As if I am unreasonable to not know this. I do know it. I do understand that others cannot possibly be as devastated as I am – it’s my child not theirs. I just don’t understand how ‘moving on’ means that they are incapable of acknowledging, however briefly, someone in pain.
Apparently, I should keep quiet. It seems that her method of buying a cake and getting her children to sing Happy Birthday to her stillborn child who should have been 21 was the best thing to do and maybe I should do that too. Only I can’t see how that would work for me and so her exasperation and annoyance was all the more evident.

I seem to have done quite a bit this week yet it has felt empty enough to be filled with time to remember him and to dwell on how I’m not ‘moving on’ – whatever that is supposed to mean. Somehow I feel that moving on feels like abandoning him and I don’t know how, or even want to do that. I guess my attitude gives my sister full permission to wash her hands of it. And yet, when I look at my earlier blogs, I’d say that I am moving on in so many ways.
Still - it sure is a tough week this week.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Quite literally, he will always be with me

According to this newspaper article, I carry my boy’s stem cells deep within my bones. It seems that during pregnancy, some of his stem cells were absorbed by my body and stored in my marrow. A part of him lives in me. A part of him is still alive. And tonight I found myself breathing a little easier at that thought.

Nothing has changed. Nothing is different. Except that I now know that he isn’t completely gone. He lives – in me. What a responsibility I have for keeping this most precious boy safe. What an honour.

For me, it matters not that every mother carries this unique gift. For me, it matters that I carry Him. He can no longer live the life he wanted or planned. So I must live to the best of my ability for him. My legacy must be that I live life to the full, to the max – in his honour.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Redundancy looms

I’ve been mulling a lot over recently. I’ve had good reason to. Last Friday I was given 90 days notice of risk of redundancy. Since then, I’ve hit a low patch.

I know of jobs that are available and their deadlines but have done nothing about them. It’s as if I’m paralysed by it all.

And on top of that, I’ve slowly realised – well I knew this but I hadn’t articulated it quite so clearly to myself -  that my anger is not because my son is dead. My anger exists because I feel my grief is ignored.
I know he is gone. I hurt beyond belief because he is gone. But I am consumed with a fury at the indifference displayed by those who should care.

My anger is not a direct result of his death. It’s a direct result of others lack of concern, lack of compassion, lack of basic humanity.
I miss him more this week. I don’t know why that is. You’d think I’d have enough on my mind worrying about whether the house will be repossessed by Christmas and we’ll have nowhere to live. But instead thoughts of Al permeate through everything this week

He was the perfect baby. He slept well, breastfed well, ate anything and everything I gave him – except baked beans – if they were dished up, his bottom lip would tremble and huge tears would well up and spill down his cheeks as if I’d given him a large bottle marked POISON and told him to drink.
This week I find myself remembering his physical form. It’s as if my body can feel him in my arms – how he lay in my arms sleeping, how soft his skin was, how long his lashes were when he blinked and tickled my cheek with them. And again years later - when I bought him his first electric razor and he rubbed his chin against my cheek to demonstrate how smooth his skin was.

My arms ache for him.

The irony is that if he were still here,  I’d tell him of my awful news and he’d gaze into the air, sniff, and then ask, “What’s for tea?” It isn’t as if he was ever a shoulder to cry on. I just miss the normality of him being around. I want to tell him I’ve lost my job and then feel annoyed at him for his lack of empathy. I want my normality back. I want my son back. I miss my boy.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Al's friend

I rarely write anything on Facebook but on his anniversary this year, I had felt moved to write,
Thank you to those young people who took the trouble to place flowers on Al's bench today. So few people bother to say his name that I believed he had been forgotten. This has been extremely painful for me so it meant such a lot to me to discover that this is not the case.
I wanted his friends to know that their actions were appreciated.

Last week, I met a friend for our usual Tuesday morning breakfast date. It’s become a bit of a ritual for us. My only day off is Tuesday so we meet for breakfast or early lunch and then I see my counsellor.
My friend is one of the extremely rare few who understand. Although she has no children, she is truly empathic and really seems to understand how I feel.

Anyway, we’d finished eating and putting the world to rights and I’d complained about my bloody awful family and she’d listened and made appropriate noises at the right time – as opposed to making excuses for them which is what most seem to do if I dare mention how crap I feel when others ignore Al’s death.
As we left our seats, we were approached by a member of staff. She asked me if I was Mrs Cameron-Young and I said I was (thinking ‘how does she know my name?’). She looked very nervous as she told me that she knew Alex and she wanted me to know that people did remember him and they still thought about him and missed him. She’d read my Facebook comment and wanted me to know that people cared. She talked a little of her memories of him and said, “My mum loved him. She said he lit up a room when he walked in.” There we were - stood in the middle of a busy pub carvery with my eyes brimming with tears thanking her profusely for taking the time to say that. My friend was also quite emotional. If it hadn’t been such a public place, I’d have probably grabbed the girl and hugged her but I didn’t want to embarrass her or make her feel awkward.

Nevertheless, the sense of relief was enormous. I just couldn’t express my gratitude effectively because no words could convey how much it meant to me. All I could say was “Thank you so much. You have no idea how much it means to me to hear that.”
And then she was gone. And I went to my counselling appointment. And I noticed that my counsellor also became misty eyed when I recounted the incident. It still gets to me – that a young girl could take the time to talk to me about my son.

And I hesitate to even mention it as it feels like it detracts from that experience, but why can’t my family just occasionally make the effort to do the same. The contrast seems all the more stark now. But I’m so glad she plucked up the courage to speak to me. My boy had some lovely friends.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

I feel invisible

I feel invisible. Well, I feel my grief is invisible.

Two weeks ago, I attended a family baptism. It simply didn’t occur to anyone that I might find it difficult to welcome a new baby into the world just one day before the second anniversary of losing my child.
No one asked how I was coping. (I'm not). Not his grandfather or his aunts, not his uncle or his cousins. None of them. Not one. Why would they? They’ve moved on. He wasn’t their child. They have their lives to lead.

Perhaps they can sense my anger and so they avoid me. Maybe they sense that my anger is BECAUSE they ignore my pain and so they feel guilty and so avoid me even more. Or maybe they sense that I am angry with them but feel that this is misdirected and so feel justified in avoiding me. However, would they walk past a dog with a severed leg and ignore it? Because that how it feels to me. I wanted to scream at the sheer injustice of it all.
I was surrounded by other people's grandchildren. But my son will never have children. I don't begrudge any of those children - they're all so lovely - an absolute joy to see and spend time with. I do envy what I won't have. And it's not enough to say that my daughters may one day have children. Al won't - and he should have. I don't begrudge others their grandchildren - I just yearn for those that should have been. Would it have been so difficult to acknowledge my loss? It wouldn't have taken anything away from their day but it would have given me the most precious gift of all - recognition of my loss/acknowledgement of my grief.

Yesterday someone suggested that my anger is displaced - that, deep down, it’s directed at the man who ran Al over. However, according to this pop psychologist, I’m unable to admit that. How fucking dare they tell me what I’m thinking. I’m not angry with the taxi driver. Oh, I’ve had my moments when I’ve hated him, when I've wished him all kinds of torment - but they’ve been fleeting. This man should not have been allowed to drive. So I can't blame him. I do blame those who gave him the licence and the car – not him. They should have known better –he didn’t - he couldn’t.

Why are they so unable to see that my anger exists BECAUSE I feel unheard and unseen? Why is it that my feelings will only be accepted if I hate someone who wasn’t to blame? OK, that’s the way that others think they would feel but they haven’t been through it so how can they be so sure? And how dare they be so arrogant to impose their own fantasy about how it should be, onto me. How do they know how it should be? Have they had a child run over and killed by a man with learning disabilities?

Recently, I met a bereaved mother who said that she wasn’t angry with the man who ran her daughter over and killed her. To hear someone else say that gave me such an enormous sense of relief. She then said that what she finds the most difficult is others constantly implying that she should hate him, “I’d want him dead if he’d killed my child” because they are too lazy to take the time to listen to how she feels and it’s easier to make a snap judgement. When I heard her, it felt as if I’d finally met someone who really, really understood. But even if people find it hard to understand – and I can see why they might – why is it so hard for them to just try to understand. Why do they dismiss what I say as impossible? Why do they, who have no experience of it, think that they know better than me, who has the ultimate experience of it? Why does their opinion take precedence over my experience?
I feel that the sheer agony I go through every day is simply boring to others. But what they fail to understand, (or perhaps chose to dismiss/ignore) is that my pain is now caused by that nonchalant dismissal - that complete indifference.

I want to scream at the world that my son is dead and yet so few even notice that I am hurting.

If I say that he is dead, the response tends to be a nod and “yes, I know” – as if I just announced that it’s egg and chips for tea. There is no real acknowledgement of the enormity of any of it. It seems so banal and boring to them.

My son died. I am broken because of it but my pain is insignificant to the very people who should notice. I am broken but I know that the breaks will mend.  But every time I meet someone who damned well should ask how I am coping, but doesn’t, it’s like having sulphuric acid poured all over me. The broken-ness I feel from Al’s death is a dull, throbbing ache. But I am burned with a fire that sears my entire body when people who knew my son, who professed to love him, don’t acknowledge my loss. It’s this burning that keeps me from ‘moving on’.

It seems that I am expected to make allowances for others’ embarrassment at not knowing what to say but that is such an unreasonable expectation.

How can it be that the person in abject agony could possibly be expected to take care of others just because they feel a bit embarrassed? It’s the wrong way round. They expect me to take responsibility for their feelings when surely, no one with a scrap of humanity could possibly want to impose additional responsibilities on someone in so much pain. Am I going mad to think this is an unreasonable expectation?

I know that this is going to sound mad until I explain it but some days I hate my new figure. I know I look good. I know because people tell me all the time. “Ooh look at you skinny miss.” “Oh wow – you look amazing.” “Oh My God –how much have you lost?” There’s only one answer I want to give. And I want to scream it at them. “ONE SON! I LOST MY SON SO CAN WE PLEASE STOP PRETENDING THAT EVERYTHING IS GREAT.” If he were still alive, I’d be celebrating more loudly than anyone else. I’d be revelling in my new looks, in my size 12 jeans, in my curvaceous figure. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it – I do. I've dropped ten dress sizes - how could I not be pleased? I am.

But it pales into insignificance when you consider that my son died. That's what consumes me. I NEED that to be acknowledged, not ignored. Not treated as if it’s something that should never be mentioned – as if it’s a dirty little secret.  Sometimes I wish I was more than double my original weight because they wouldn't have that 'let's focus on the positive' to hide from the fact that my son is dead.

"Hey you look great." Thanks. I appreciate the compliment but my son died and I'm finding life pretty difficult." "Still ... you look great." "But for me the most important thing is that my son died." "Never mind - at least you look good."

He died. And it hurts. It hurts that people don’t even appear to notice that FIRST and FOREMOST, I am a grieving mother. Right now, above all else, this is who I am. I am a grieving mother who is doing her best to make a life in world where her son no longer exists. But please can we stop pretending that he never existed. He did. He existed for seventeen and a half years. And I need him, in all his gloriousness, AND the fact that he really did exist, AND my grief to be acknowledged.

Why is that so hard for others to understand? Or, if they do understand, why is it so hard for them to show a little compassion and just do it? Would it have been so difficult to pick up the phone on his anniversary? Did his death have to be so ignored? Is my grief and was his life, so unimportant/so unworthy of even a passing comment?

It’s the sheer indifference that causes me the most pain. I feel so invisible.

Maybe I should print out this blog entry and post it to people. But if I do that, and there is no response, I don't know how I will cope. How insane is that? In the early days after a child dies, people say, "I don't know how you cope." And the (often unspoken) answer is, "Do I look like I have a choice?" OK, there is a choice but although I have contemplated it on several occasions, I don’t think it's one I could take. But really, I genuinely don't know how I would cope if I got no response after someone read this so I guess it's best if I don't send it after all.