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.