Monday, 24 January 2011

Where's the empathy?

A couple of weeks ago, as I spoke with someone, I tried to weave into the conversation that Happy New year/Happy Christmas text messages weren't very appropriate for me because this Christmas was only my second one without my son. I mentioned that I had been sent several of them but carefully refrained from pointing out that she had sent one.
She argued, saying it was because people wanted others to know they were thinking of them. I explained that it didn’t feel like that for me because if they really were thinking of me they’d realise that it was a thoughtless thing to do. She said, “Oh it’s not thoughtless – they just feel happy and want you to as well - it’s just that they just don’t think.” I was gobsmacked. I don’t think she got the irony of what she had just said. "It's not thoughtless ... they just don't think."
As I tried to explain that ‘not thinking’ is just the same as ‘thoughtless’, she shook her head and shifted the focus of the conversation. She talked about how she missed her mother, who died several years ago. She said that she thought about her every day but no one knew that and neither did she expect them to. She genuinely seemed to think that her losing her parent was the same as me losing my child.
Again, I tried to explain by pointing out that, however sad it might be, we generally expect to lose our parents but we rarely expect to lose our children. I used the oft quoted, “When a parent dies, you lose your past, but when a child dies, you lose your future.”
However, she actually corrected me saying, “No - you didn’t lose your future - Al lost his.” She, a long-standing, fully qualified counsellor, was incapable of seeing what she had just said. I got half way through an explanation of how of course it was my future too – I was prevented from celebrating his 18th birthday, from handing him his present of a course of driving lessons, from seeing him settle down, from playing with my grandchildren ... but I gave up. It was pointless. Her eyes had glazed.
Several times I asked, “where is the empathy?” She didn’t answer – how could she? And anyway, the question was rhetorical. She was incapable of answering it because she couldn't even admit to herself, that the real answer is, “There is none.”

Monday, 17 January 2011

Moving forward

A friend who recently began to read this blog told me that I sound so angry here. The Beverley she sees on here is not the Beverley she knows. The Beverley she knows does not feel utterly wretched every second of every day.
It’s true I guess. This is my place to rant when I want. This is the place where I don’t feel I have to paint on a smile and pretend that all is OK. This is the place where I can tell it as it is. Where I can be angry, miserable, or even vengeful if I want. This is the place where I go to escape the world that refuses to acknowledge that my son ever lived.
However, this place isn’t representative of my entire life. It isn’t as if I feel I have to pretend all, or even most, of the time. For the bulk of my day, I’m usually fine. I can laugh with others. I can do my job and am even about to take the final step of getting right back into the swing of work as I slowly start seeing bereaved clients again.
I’ve recently taken on work with a Charity I’ve been passionate about for years. It will involve hard work. But work that I’ll enjoy and get so much satisfaction from.
I have a weekend of fun and frivolity booked when I’ll be spending my time with a group of people whose company I really enjoy. It’ll be an opportunity to listen to interesting speakers, meet old and new faces, dress to flatter my new figure – it’s the best it’s ever been - and dance the evening away. I could do with some fun. I deserve it.
This won’t be like Christmas when I just had constant reminders of how much I missed my lad. The difference is that this will be totally unrelated to Al so I’ll feel able to let go a little and enjoy myself.
Hmm. Just typing those words brought on the tears. I love him. I always will. I can’t forget him. And I don’t want to. He will always be the boy I love more than any other boy. But I don’t feel the need to opt out of the rest of life. I need to be able to mourn him - and have fun. I need to be able to remember him, laugh sometimes, and cry sometimes when I think of him. And I need to do things that don’t necessarily trigger memories of him.
Nineteen months ago, I became The Grieving Mother. I have slowly incorporated more than that role into my life. I will always mourn him. I will always grieve for him. It just won’t be every second of every day. And that’s as it should be.
And as with everything since Al died, I imagine this need to move forward a little will consist of a couple of steps forward followed by at least one back, but as long as I keep moving, it will be OK.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Text as a form of communication

Apart from here, with a counsellor (recently started and roughly weekly), and with my Clinical Supervisor (monthly), I rarely have the opportunity to talk about the trials, tribulations and knock-on effects of losing Al.
I’ve had to cope with mistakes made by the Coroner, the CPS, the hospital and the Police. Some have held their hands up and admitted those mistakes. Others have hedged and tried to avoid admitting any culpability, presumably because they are nervous of litigation. This is so wrong. I don’t want their money. All I want is to know that others won’t be treated in the same way. The errors and deliberate cover-ups have dragged on for months. It’s been almost 18 months since Al died and only just before Christmas, the Police dropped the bombshell that there would be no Restorative Justice and that this was non-negotiable. Of course, the officer stressed that it wasn’t their fault – he blamed the Probation Service.
I’ve slowly reduced the number of people I’ve told about these setbacks. This is mainly because I rarely, if ever, get a response. After the trial where the taxi driver was given a tiny slap on the wrist for killing my son, I texted around 20 people. Few replied. In fact just four texted back that they were so sorry to hear the verdict – that was all that was really needed – just an acknowledgement. One asked me how I was – that was nice. Another engaged in a short dialogue, checking out how I was, and whether any other steps could be taken. In other words, she took an interest. I was met with a wall of silence from the rest. This included some of the colleagues (all qualified counsellors) I had included on my list of people to text. It’s been tough knowing that people, who are trained in using empathy every single day, couldn’t find it in their hearts to even bother to reply. It's been disappointing to say the least.
That said, just how do I repair the damage to a previously good working relationship? This is with someone - a qualified, experienced counsellor - who explained his failure to reply to the texts as, “It was just content. It wasn’t important. I just read it as you were deeply, deeply in pain.” And yet, even though he saw someone suffering, he chose not to respond.
Is it that text is such a different mode of communication? If I had bumped into someone I knew well (i.e. they knew the history) and told them that the man who had run over and killed my son had just walked free from court with no more than a slap on the wrist, or that I had been denied Restorative Justice, would they really just walk on without even acknowledging that I’d spoken? Yet this was the equivalent and it was seen as perfectly acceptable.

I feel that I am floating in a surreal existence - the rules have changed. They are unwritten but everyone else seems to know them and are surprised that I don't. 

Actually, to be honest, it just feels like an excuse to me.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Faith . . . and the way we treat the bereaved (part 2)

Last November I blogged about an incident at a colleague’s church.
Although I still view her as a decent person, the incident has soured our relationship. Once I saw her as a friend as well as a colleague. Now, I’m far more guarded around her. It’s not that she isn’t sympathetic – she is. But I think her sympathy partly stems from her belief that I caused my lad’s death by not believing in God. Therefore, her compassion is tinged with pity BECAUSE of the guilt she assumes I carry and I resent this so, so much.
One day last week, she arrived at work looking devastated. One of her oldest and dearest friends had died a few hours earlier. He was middle-aged but fit and healthy and until he, and the rest of his family, had picked up a flu bug over the Christmas break, was rarely ill. He was a nice man. A devout Christian – I met him the day I visited her church. I know his wife – we used to work together. She’s a lovely person. My heart goes out to her – you don’t expect to be widowed when you haven’t even reached 50. And for a couple who were just as in love, just as devoted to each other as when they married around 30 years ago, it must be even more crushing.
He had been in hospital, slowly declining, for days as my colleague refused to give up on him and willed him to get better. I was touched by her faith. It was as if she genuinely believed that positive vibes and prayer could save him.
For the sake of our working relationship, I had put my resentment to one side – I knew it was there but, to keep the peace, I chose not to raise the subject. I’d already been fobbed off so felt it was pointless trying to resolve things. However, it came back with full force as she sat sobbing in front of me. I said all the right things, and offered as much comfort as was possible – and I genuinely meant it. She was bereft and it was heartbreaking to witness. But suddenly, a voice inside my head said, “Hmm seems like your God thought he wasn’t devout enough or he’d have lived a long life too wouldn’t he.” I was horrified by my reaction. In front of me was a bereaved woman - a good woman. I should have been focussed only on offering her comfort but instead, I was thinking, “Gee looks like your God’s not so great after all is He. How does it feel to have the tables turned?” It’s not that I wished this horror on this lovely family. It’s that there was a general air of those church members being immunised against early death by their belief in God – and a superiority that accompanied it. Where does that leave that widow and her children now?
I’ve read of other bereaved people who have felt completely abandoned by their church. I hope they don’t do that to her. Yet I struggle to see how they can reconcile a devout man dying when all he had to do, according to their beliefs, was to follow God’s path.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

There are some real bitches out there

Today I attended a meeting. This involved spending the day with some people I’ve known for many years. They are all aware of Al’s death. I once considered two of them to be my best friends but things got in the way and we disagreed. It was all very unpleasant just at a time when I most needed some support as I went through some ill health and the resurgence of a complaint against a GP who had indecently assaulted me but acquitted by a jury. This time, the General Medical Council’s investigation, which I’d requested immediately after his acquittal, was coming to a head and I’d been ordered to give yet more evidence. This meant I'd have to relive the whole sordid ordeal yet again but without the support of the two people who knew more about it than anyone else. One had sat in the courtroom when I was giving evidence so she was extremely well acquainted with it all and understood my distress The other had supported in her own way – with more than a little insensitivity but the practical help of minding the children as I gave evidence was invaluable.

Unfortunately, the contact from GMC and ill health happened just as my friends became extremely distant so I was on my own. It wasn't their fault. They didn't know my world was caving in as I didn't explicitly tell them - I just kind of folded in on myself and teetered on the edge of a breakdown for several months whilst the GMC messed me about. 

It was just too much to handle and until today, I'd forgotten how much of that I’d carried alone - I'd forgotten that:

I’d suddenly felt completely isolated
I'd suffered ill health for months and then, within the space of just five weeks,
I’d undergone surgery with long-lasting complications
been threatened with a subpoena if I refused to provide graphic details of a sexual assault to a room full of strangers
been forced to travel 200 miles and provide that evidence but was so ill that I passed out
my son died. 

After the funeral, I emailed one of them a copy of my tribute to Al. It contained a story about him and her daughters – one of his favourite memories of being allowed to stay up all night in a Youth Hostel. It was never even acknowledged. Today when I saw her for the first time since then, I asked about her daughters and she told me how well they are, spoke a little of what they are doing these days, and how much she enjoys being a Grandmother. It was good to hear that they are both doing well - they're both lovely girls and I liked them both immensely. However, she didn’t offer any condolences - maybe she thought I’d forgotten I ever had a son so she didn’t like to mention it. She didn’t ask me how I was coping. In fact, she didn’t refer to him at all. I deliberately mentioned him, (some people seem to need this before they can do it) but there was no response. I felt squashed. How could she not even acknowledge my son when she had known him so well for so many years?

The other, who is not known for her sensitivity and for reasons best known to her, decided to talk about her job interview for a Crematorium several years ago. She bragged about how two of the men interviewed didn’t return after being shown inside an oven but that she wasn’t at all fazed by it. At one point she said, “Well it’s only bodies . . . it’s only burning.” I was shocked.

Only bodies!

Only burning!

I’ve always known she can be insensitive but this really was a new low. I left the room, close to tears and shaking with anger. It isn’t often I’ve ever felt that I wanted to smash someone square in the face but she came close.

The thing is, and this is the really awful bit, I can’t be sure but I’m not convinced it wasn’t deliberate. Previously, she’s freely admitted that she enjoys being provocative just to get a reaction. And she seems unable to distinguish between a bit of gentle joshing and outright spite or rudeness. Once, in front of other people, after I forgot to fasten my seatbelt, she instructed me to, “Belt up you fat cow”. When I later told her how upset I was by this, she insisted it was just a joke – as if this somehow excused it.

"It's only bodies . . . it’s only burning", would be unbelievably crass at any time. But to make loud flippant remarks about death when in the same room as a mother who has lost a child – well it’s just sick. What a poisonous bitch!

As they left, she announced that they were heading back to her place for a party. The other at least had the grace to look embarrassed.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


A few weeks ago, I was telling someone that I hadn't yet been able to bring myself to buy the plaque for Al’s grave. This is because it's the last thing I can think of to do for him and I'm frightened that once I have nothing left to do for him, I will somehow become less of a mother to him. But I also feel guilty because his grave remains unmarked. I wonder if it gives the impression that he isn’t sufficiently cared about to make the effort – not because I’m bothered about being judged but because it might distress those who see it.

I didn’t say any of this to the friend. I just said that I found it difficult to put a plaque on his grave and was feeling guilty because of that. Her response was that I should buy the plaque as my Christmas present to him. She said that I should buy him a present as his sisters were getting theirs and he shouldn’t be left out because he deserved one just as much as they did. I know she meant well but it just seemed plain wrong. It’s not about whether he deserved it. It just seems so pointless. He’s dead so the present wouldn’t be for him. It would be for the few, if any, who visit his grave.
And how might that conversation go . . .
"Here son, I've bought a plaque for your grave."
"Jeez Mum - just what I always wanted for Christmas - not!"
Let's be honest, what kind of a mother buys her son a plaque, and nothing else, for Christmas?
It’s just so wrong.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year

I was dreading New Year’s Eve. I wanted to cocoon myself between my duvet and electric blanket and not come out until the middle of January - mainly because people have stopped talking about the Christmas break by then. Of course, my youngest was having none of that. She wanted to have fun on New Year’s Eve. She wanted to be around people. She didn’t want to be stuck in with a depressed mum. Naturally, she didn’t say any of this but it was patently obvious that she was dreading New Year’s Eve as much as I was – but for quite different reasons. I wanted to avoid people who saw partying as far more important than the loss of my son – she wanted to spend time with them. I’m under no illusion that she misses him desperately - it’s just that sometimes she needs a break from it.
I want – I need – people to remember him, and to share those memories with me. I need them to give me anecdotes of when he was alive. I need them to just bloody ask how I’m feeling. However, most can’t be bothered with all that at the best of times, let alone when they want to party, party, party. And Christmas and New Year is THE party season. Tis the season of goodwill after all.

Anyway, we got through Christmas. I know we went to my brother’s on Christmas Day. I think we watched TV on Boxing Day and went shopping the following day. I really can’t remember what we did after that. On the 30th, I called an old friend. We had a lot of catching up to do and chatted for quite some time. Then she invited my youngest and me to her place for the following evening. There was to be no party, thank goodness – the last thing I needed was to be surrounded by drunks – just us, her hubby, our daughters, and her granddaughter, who would be tucked up in bed anyway. I accepted gratefully. It was a compromise for us. I needed a quiet evening and my daughter needed to be with other people.

We took a couple of pizzas – just in case – and arrived early enough to be entertained by her gorgeous granddaughter before she was whisked off to bed. After that, the girls, having only just met,  went off together to watch a DVD, and her hubby disappeared into another part of the house leaving the two of us to gas away to our heart’s content. We talked about everything and anything – we hadn’t seen each other in almost two years so we had a lot to catch up on.

We all watched the fireworks on TV, ate pizza and we left around 1.30am I think. I was tired but pleasantly so. I was relaxed and felt OK. It was a good evening.

This was in such sharp contrast to last year, when I drove home after a horrific evening and tried to figure out who I could trust to take care of my daughter when I was dead. I tried to plan my death that night. It wasn't like earlier on, when I’d wanted to be with him but was aware that wasn’t possible. It was that I just wanted it all to stop. All that agony of my loss never being acknowledged or recognised. I still don’t know what stopped me. Maybe my will to live was stronger than I thought. I know I was too scared to abandon my daughter to the family who clearly didn’t give a toss about me so how could I trust them to take proper care of her. Anyway, I went to bed and plodded on – for a year.

And here I am. It’s now 2011 and I still exist, but am now in my second year without my son – and I miss him. I want to be asleep and dreaming of him. I’d like to have just one dream when I can listen to, and talk with, him, and hold him, and kiss him, and ruffle his hair, and scold him, and tell him to ‘tidy that bloody mess you call a bedroom’, and just be a normal mum with her boy. Because then, just for a few short minutes, he’d be alive and it would feel real. But it’s been months, over a year actually, since I last dreamed about him. And that was no dream - it was another nightmare entirely. Yet, as unbearable as it was to see him lying, decomposing in his coffin, and telling me how cold he was, and even though I sobbed helplessly because I couldn’t even keep my little boy warm and safe, that was better than never dreaming of him at all.

I don’t know whether the next year will be easier. I really, really want to hope it will – but always there, is the feeling that it won’t.