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?