Friday, 25 March 2011

Unhelpful thoughts

I’ve been a bit out of sorts for several days now. I can’t put my finger on what it is. I just feel a bit ... er ... not right.
I keep thinking of Al and his last moments. I caught myself saying to someone, “At least he can’t have felt any pain as it was all so quick.” But the thing is that that’s just something I’ve been telling myself for almost two years. Yesterday, just as I said it, it hit me that I can’t know that he didn’t suffer. I’ve kept saying that I hoped he didn’t suffer but until yesterday, I’d never really acknowledged that actually, he might have.
Last night and today, I‘ve repeatedly wondered whether he knew, even for a split second, that he was dying. It tortures me to think that he knew, even briefly. I wonder whether he was frightened or in pain. The reality is that I will never know but it goes round and round my mind. Did he suffer? Was he scared? What were his last thoughts?
Today I visited his grave. This is only about the fourth or fifth visit I have ever made there since he died almost two years ago. I find it so difficult to look at that patch of grass knowing that his body is decomposing just a few feet below. When I got there, a few of the crocuses I planted 18 months ago were in bloom. It looked nicer than just a patch of grass. I laid some pretty Fairtrade roses knowing that Al would say it was daft to put them there and I’d be better off taking them home to enjoy them. I didn’t of course. I was there less than ten minutes before I walked back up to the car, sat and cried, and drove away. I think I dislike going so much because I hate leaving him there all alone.
Today I also read on a forum about a medium who had given some very accurate info. This was relayed by a cynic who was shocked at the accuracy. I almost leapt in to get the medium’s contact details. It’s coming to something when a cynic like me is desperate to believe a load of claptrap. I need to get a grip and lose the desperation.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Police want me to do more training

As I left work on Friday, I got a call from the person who is responsible for training Police Family Liaison Officers. It would seem that her appreciation of my efforts last time was genuine because she’s invited me back for a second training.
So I’ll be there in two weeks hopefully training more FLOs to behave like human beings rather than callous automatons.
Last time I took an excerpt from my blog as a prompt. This time I’ll take the same one again along with the piece I wrote on Restorative Justice.
It’s raw and angry but I think it conveys my fury and depths of despair very well. I hope they are able to handle it. Mind you, if they aren’t – tough! They get to go home to their nice ordered lives. I go home to a house where my son is conspicuous by his absence. It’s important to me that they understand what it is like to undergo the worst possible nightmare and then, as if it cannot possibly get any worse, be treated like crap by the very people whose job it is to protect us.
I need them to become human and have some empathy. Let’s see how this batch does.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Significant dates

It’s my nephew’s 18th birthday today. His mum was in town yesterday so she popped in to see us. She didn’t mention it and I forgot to give her his card. I wish she had because now I feel obliged to make the 30-mile round trip to their house to deliver his card. And that will be after making a 30-mile round trip in the opposite direction to take my mother shopping.
Maybe it’s just as well she didn’t mention it because I’d forgotten it was his 18th and so the card didn’t reflect this. I wonder if my ‘forgetting’ was a subconscious desire to avoid it. Al never made it to 18. He never got the course of driving lessons, or the big night out he was so looking forward to. It hurts to know that others get their celebration and he didn’t. I don’t begrudge my nephew his fun – he’s a lovely lad. The look on his face as he helped to carry Al’s coffin left me in no doubt that he cared about Al. That means a lot to me.
It’s just that Al never got his celebration and every time I think about it, it hurts. All he got was a tree planted in a park and a few balloons released. Big deal! It’s nothing in comparison with the rich, full life he should have lead. A tree and balloons instead of growing old, falling in love, having children, making mistakes (lots of them), living - just bloody living. He was robbed of all of it. And I was robbed of watching him do all those things.
Anyway, I’d better get ready, paint on a smile, take my mother shopping and then take his card and present.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Making my will

Yesterday I made my will. Well I changed it.
I'd already made one less than two years ago  - just a few days before I had surgery. Back then, I was terrified that it might go wrong - it did! - and that I wouldn’t wake up – OK I got that bit wrong. I’d been worried that the children would be left with an administrative mess if I died intestate. Thankfully, that was not the case. Well I say, “thankfully” – it hasn’t felt that like that much since losing Al.
I’ve been aware that I’ve needed to change my will as Al is no longer a beneficiary so when a salesperson approached me in town last week, I agreed to make another.
It was easier in some ways this time. I wasn’t doing it with the fear that my death could be imminent. However, I’m now far more aware of my own mortality – and that of my girls. I worry far more on a day-to-day basis about their safety. I’m not as terrified as I was back then but I now have this never ending nagging at the back of my mind. What if? What if? That wasn’t there before.
At least this time I knew the drill so I was prepared for the questions and had the answers ready. At my youngest’s request, she gets my watch and the ring that was supposed to be for Al’s 18th birthday. The one I always wear. My eldest will then get first choice up to the same monetary value. The rest will be split between the girls. Nice and easy. I included the fact that I want to be buried with Al – but then the girls know this already.
So much for being prepared and knowing the drill . . . Then he asked the question for which I was unprepared. I don’t know why. It isn’t as if it’s not my biggest fear. It isn’t as if it hasn’t occurred to me. "What if one of the girls dies before you?" A punch in the stomach would have hurt less. We agreed that the estate would be inherited by the remaining daughter.
“What if something happens and you all die?” It took only a few moments to think it through but the very fact that I had to consider it was agonising. I gave him the names of three more beneficiaries and our meeting ended.
Exhausted, I lay on the settee and cried before falling asleep. I woke about four hours later just in time to collect my daughter from school.
I mentioned it to her on the way home.
“Oh good Mum. At least it’s sorted now. Will I get your watch and Al’s ring? ... Good. Can we get the stuff for pancakes for tomorrow?”
I squashed the flash of irritation in favour of, "it’s good that she’s here. And OK, she’s 14 – it’s her job to be insensitive sometimes." For her it was a practical matter that was now in hand. For me it was a practical matter that was akin to torture.
We got the stuff for pancakes.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

It’s the loneliness that gets you/where's the support?

My last entry began with, ‘It’s been a tough old week.’ It has. I’m knackered.
I returned to work after half term just 6 days after my minor surgery. I was a little bruised and tender but otherwise pleased with my recovery. As I’ve already said, because of my employment insecurity, I feel the pressure to always perform but, to be honest, I tend to take a personal pride in being ‘Ms Reliable’ and not allowing anything to interfere with my work. It’s tough for me to perform at anything less than excellent.
Going back to work was more tiring than I expected and I crashed on the settee within an hour of getting home each evening. For me though, it was a small trade-off for my pride at being able to perform at work.
Anyway, I received a text some time after 11pm during the evening of the day after surgery. It was from a friend; her son died of cancer last November and she was struggling. I called her. We talked until 2am. Despite my tiredness, it was good to provide a listening ear. I know only too well that the pain can hit the hardest during the wee small hours when one can feel so desperate and so terribly alone. At one point, she repeatedly apologised for not being there for me when Al died. “I didn’t know how bad it gets. How could I let you down? How could I not know? How could I just leave you to cope with it all on your own?” I told her it was OK – she couldn’t have known. The truth was that I was both relieved that she now knows and that I do have someone close by who ‘gets it’, and guilt ridden because my relief stems from the fact that she had to lose her beautiful boy to be able to 'get it'. She now hurts and that’s horrific. The truth, we both agreed, is that unless others have lost a child, they are highly unlikely to have any sense of the anguish.
The worst thing about losing a child is the loss of that child; the loss of their future, and the one you had with them, and the loss of your hopes and dreams. The next worst thing is the realisation that really, no one gives a shit. They say they do – and OK, they do for the brief moment that you cross their minds. But then it’s gone and they get on with their lives without another thought. Not all are like this but even those who make more of an effort and have some empathy are able to escape it. They don’t have to live with the all-encompassing enormity of it. They can switch off and focus on the mundane. They can go back to their own lives. And that's as it should be.

However, the bereaved parent can’t because it IS their life. And that's NOT as it should be - for us, there is no escape.
My friend and I talked over that aspect – it was partly that realisation that had precipitated her text; the sheer loneliness of being a bereaved mother and the anger and hurt from being ‘dumped’ by others - professionals and others. Sorry your son’s dead ... Goodbye ... now, what's for tea?
Last year, I’d created a bit of a fuss when I realised that there was no support available for bereaved parents. Eventually, (accidentally) I discovered the existence of a Child Bereavement Support Nurse (CBSN). She visited me and listened to my story, visited again and introduced me to the Police trainer for Family Liaison officers, gave me a couple of numbers of charitable organisations that might be able to provide counselling and that was the last I heard from her.
I was horrified that no one from any of the statutory services had bothered to offer any support to my friend so I offered to try to get some phone numbers for her. After dropping my daughter at school, the first thing I did on Monday morning was to try to contact the CBSN. I called the hospital but they didn’t have such a post listed. The switchboard tried to put me through to the Bereavement and Organ Donation office but there was no one there. “Oh dear – it’s past 9am there should be someone there – would you like to ring back later?”
Oddly enough, No! I didn’t want to call back later. She tried someone else ... who passed me to someone else ... who passed me to the midwife who dealt with bereavement. It was a little closer so I explained my issue.
Frustratingly, it would seem that if your child dies during pregnancy or soon after being born, you can obtain all kinds of support but any longer than that, and you’re on your own. Shit! - now I'm actually jealous of mothers who have given birth to a stillborn child. I'm not a monster - so why do I feel like one for even thinking that? - I don’t begrudge the support that these mothers get but what about those like me. Anyway, she was unapologetic and seemed disinterested. I was angry. She said that at some point, we have to start doing things for ourselves and maybe I should let this mother sort it out for herself.
Blimey! All I was doing was trying to get a phone number to save a bereaved and distressed mother from exactly this kind of run around. She hinted that I was ‘rescuing’ as she talked about how it would be better for this mother to be ‘empowered’. I got the feeling she’d done her 6-week ‘Introduction to counselling skills’ and therefore saw herself as some sort of expert. Silly cow!
I could understand her comments if I’d offered to counsel my friend, or completely taken over but from past experience I knew that the person required would not be easy to locate. I also knew that my friend was at a very low ebb and did not need the further stress of being passed from pillar to post and going through numerous people, including this midwife, just to be patronised.
Eventually she offered to speak with the CBSN and to get back to me. Later that day she called to tell me that the CBSN was off sick and she wasn’t sure when she’d be back. I asked about her associate – I knew there were two of them. She seemed surprised. “Well I can ask her to give you a ring if you want.”
Duh! Heroically, I resisted the temptation to scream and instead managed to say, “Yes please that would be useful.”
Later still I got a call from the other CBSN who told me that they only deal with cases of SUDDEN child death. However, after I explained that this wasn’t such a case she rang round a few places and got back to me with a number. I then passed it to my friend who was touchingly appreciative.
I was just pissed off by the whole episode. Where is the compassion? Where is the humanity? And now all I can think of is just how alone we really are. The unnoticed group of bereaved parents. It’s the loneliness that gets you.

Everything comes back to losing Al

It’s been a tough old week. My first hurdle happened just over a week ago when I went into hospital as a day case; just as a reminder of my creeping towards old age, my varicose veins needed fixing. They’d appeared after I lost half of my body weight. “Not fair,” I’d said with a wry smile to my GP. “They’re supposed to be a complication of obesity so it’s a damned cheek that they’ve waited until now to appear – do you think they were hiding under all that fat?” “It’s possible,” she said. We laughed about it. There are worse things to go wrong and if this is the worst that can happen now – a few lumpy, unsightly, aching veins -  I’m doing OK.
Anyway, on Tuesday of half term, I got a call offering me a cancellation just two days later. I grabbed it. Using half term week meant less time off work – and as my contract is renewed annually, the last thing I want to do is to take time off work. If I’m going to draw attention to myself, I want to do it when I’m being amazing - not when things are anything less than perfect.
At the pre-op appointment, I said that I’d already asked about the possibility of a spinal block (as opposed to a general anaesthetic) when I’d had my initial consultation with the surgeon. He had told me I would be able to discuss that at my pre-op appointment. I was given an information leaflet on general and local anaesthetics and told to discuss it with the anaesthetist on the morning of the surgery but that I must starve from midnight before the surgery anyway. I felt a little uneasy but agreed.
On the morning of the op, I told the surgeon I wanted a spinal block. I was told to discuss it with the anaesthetist. He arrived and I repeated my request. He wasn’t happy and wanted to know why. I explained that apart from a few trips to the dentist as a child, my only general anaesthetic experience (just two years ago) had been particularly unpleasant and I’d been told that I’d reacted poorly to it and should be given a different type next time. I added that I was aware that a general anaesthetic carried a greater risk than a local did and I didn’t want to take the risk. He started to talk about the difference being negligible, how it would involve a longer hospital stay (perhaps overnight), listed several potential complications, and suggested I reconsider.
I knew that although I was referring to risk management, this was really more of an emotional choice so I explained that my son had died and I was terrified of not waking up and leaving my daughters without a mother as well as a brother. He was unmoved.
Until that point, I had politely requested a spinal. At his reaction, I dug in my heels and said that if a general anaesthetic was the only one available then, I was happy to leave it to another day. He left to discuss with others, returned 10 minutes later and said I’d be the first in theatre. Within another 10 mins, I was in theatre being prepared. An hour later, I was back on the ward – a textbook case. Everything ran like clockwork. On discharge, I was provided with a 2 week Fit for work certificate but, given my rapid recovery, my GP replaced it with one that allowed me to return to work after 6 days.
All in all, a good outcome. Except ... all that thinking about the possibility of leaving the girls has reminded me to change my will. It still lists Al as a beneficiary.
On discharge, I was told to neither sit nor stand for too long, and to take a gentle walk every hour or two. The day after, I thought about taking a short walk around the block – only I couldn’t do it. The last time I did that was after my last surgery when I leaned on my boy for support. I couldn’t bring myself to go alone and couldn’t ask my daughter to come with me as it felt as if I was merely replacing him. Instead, I paced up and down my living room.
It was just another insignificant day. I just had some minor surgery. And even that reminded me of losing my son. Everything comes back to losing Al. His loss permeates through everything – everything! It never stops. And yet I feel guilty - embarrassed even – that I might want to not think of losing him. Because if I don’t remember my loss, I might forget him – and I don’t want to forget him. I just want it to hurt a little less.