Running Before walking

Yesterday morning I did something that I knew rationally that I was not really ready to do and it backfired badly on me: I was thinking about my eulogy for Mum and I remembered that I had written a blog on International Woman’s Day as to what I admired about Mum. So I traced it and re-read it and figured that I could adapt it for her funeral. Then I thought that I would check how Mum had reacted to it at the time, so, and here is my mistake, at 4 am , I opened up my folder of emails from Mum in March. I found the one that I wanted easily by the date and in her modest, calm way she had simply said that it was lovely but it had made her cry. But instead of stopping there, I began to read more of her emails . They were full of love but full of progress reports on her appointments with doctors and a commentary on the swelling in her legs and ankles. Now with hindsight, I realise how ill she was, but at the time we took it in our stride, taking our lead from Mum who never liked a big fuss. I began to weep uncontrollably and 4 am is a lonely time of day, with no real distractions from your own thoughts.

It was probably part of the grieving process that I needed to go through, but it took me by surprise and I could not stem the tears or the sadness. My best friend woke at 5 and I invited myself around for a cup of tea and a chat. She advised that we both had a bit more sleep, which was good advice, and so I went back to bed for an hour and then set off to her house at 6.30 am. We drank tea in her garden and talked , which was a perfect antidote as I needed to focus on something and someone else to bring me out of my gloom. I left an hour later, in a much happier place, and both boys were still asleep when I arrived home, none the wiser.

Thereafter, I had a lazy Sunday : a morning bath, put some washing on and went to Tesco with Joshua, which was both fun and productive. I made us lunch and then really needed a nap afterwards, to re-charge my batteries. I nodded off on the settee but was rudely awoken, after not very long, by Joshua and then by Ruby, both trying to sit on me. So I abandoned that siesta plan, and started to make spaghetti bolognaise. Joshua was clearly stir crazy by this time as he was banging doors all over the house and creating mayhem generally. So we took him to Donalds, which he always loves, for his end of holiday treat. He ate his chicken and chips while waving to all of the other customers. On the way home, we went for a brief walk on the empty beach to blow the cobwebs away. We all ran to the shore and Joshua enjoyed the freedom of running whichever way he wanted and he lay down in the sand a couple of times. The long sandy beach had restorative properties for us all and as all the holidaymakers had gone home, we had it virtually to ourselves. It was a perfect end to the day, another emotional day .

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We are Underway

So, we survived our first busy day since Mum died and we achieved a great deal. We had three matters to attend to, to start the official ball rolling in acknowledging Mum’s death : to collect the medical certificate of death from the hospital, to register Mum’s death and to take the necessary paperwork to the Funeral Directors. They were all big , serious tasks and once again, we consider ourselves fortunate that we were able to do them together, as all of those venues would have felt more daunting alone.

We arrived at the hospital 30 minutes before the Bereavement Centre opened and we were both shocked by the physical reaction that we had to turning into the approach road to the hospital car park. At the same point precisely, our stomachs flipped and we felt sick : just knowing that we had arrived, only this time it was not to visit Mum on the ward. That nauseous feeling continued into the car park and when walking along the main corridor. We went into a cafe, one we had never used before, for a cup of tea and a toasted teacake to calm our nerves and to fill the time, and that did the trick. Collecting the paperwork was a fairly painless process in the end and the lady there helpfully advised us on the next stage of our journey to the Registrar.

As it was pouring with rain, we took a taxi to the Registry where we had been warned, without an appointment, we would be asked to simply wait our turn. So we settled down, in full view of reception, so that we would not be forgotten,  and we watched families come and go, some in pain to register a death and others delighting in registering the new life in their families. But it was only 20 minutes or so before we were called through and a very human, helpful registrar took our details and printed off the death certificates that we requested.

We were feeling as though we were on a roll then, so we walked 5 minutes, in the rain, to a branch of Mum’s bank to inform them.  There was a lot of information to take in at the bank and it took some time to untangle Mum’s varied accounts. We were reminded of Mum’s kindness as we saw a list of her standing orders and direct debits to cherished charities such as Wateraid, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Cerebra. We thanked the helpful lady but I felt rather woozy on leaving the bank, so we stopped for some lunch and a sit down, to recover ourselves as we had achieved all of that by lunchtime. Then we drove back to Mum’s hometown and confident in our resilience, we went straight to the funeral directors where some difficult decisions had to be made. The funeral date still has to be finalised, but we now know  that at least it will not be next week, so we have some time to pace ourselves.

On leaving there, I just wanted to go back to mum’s house, I did not want to see anyone else but I needed a cup of tea and a nap in Mum’s lounge. We needed time to assimilate all that we had been told and to congratulate each other on how brave and efficient we had been. We rested, took some phone calls, wandered in the garden and then did some chores :  I did some ironing and my sister hoovered up and did some dusting. We both knew, without saying it out loud, that Mum’s high standards had to be maintained, even in times of crisis.

We both drove back to our family homes last night, which felt very welcome but strange at the same time, after an intense 24 hours together. Joshua gave me three big bear hugs when I arrived home and dogs never fail to give me an enthusiastic welcome. It seemed that I had been away from home for ages, as I checked if the puppies had doubled in size, but then I reminded myself that it had only been 24 hours. It was reassuring in a way to find things at home, the same, when everything had shifted, irreversibly at Mum’s house. We are well on the journey now…..

We are Family

Yesterday was an important day in our grief journey and I made big strides, as it is the first time since Mum died that I thought that we will actually be okay without her. She has trained us well and we are stronger than we look , so we will survive and go on to make her proud of us.

Everyone and everyday will be different, but yesterday, I needed to keep busy, so cooking Sunday lunch for seven of us,  was just what I needed. I baked a cake in the early hours of the morning , then from breakfast onwards, I was busy clearing the dining room – which has not been used as anything other than a store room since Christmas! – and preparing a feast of roast chicken with all the trimmings. My sister and her family arrived around 12.30 and we shared tight, lingering hugs with each other, showing how much we cared, without words.

Joshua was delighted, if a little overwhelmed, when our guests peeped into his Den at him and he leapt off his settee, giving me a bear hug then sharing them around. we have a sociable shared kitchen/snug space and so I was able to join in with the chat while finishing off the cooking. We toasted Mum as we sat down to eat together and I felt her presence there, enjoying the family party and being pleased that we were carrying on without her. As we ate, we shared stories about previous family occasions and exchanged memories together, it was not a sad meal, it was all about sharing. While I sat talking to my sister, my husband cleared the table and began washing up, which is the helpful role that Mum and Dad always took, whenever they stayed and ate here – there was always a rule when growing up, that whoever cooked, did not have to wash up – , so I was happy to let him do that.

Then most of us retired to the snug – two of the party had a siesta in the lounge – where we shared more stories, played with Joshua and gently began to explore some ideas for Mum’s funeral – nothing specific, but just exploring what we each liked and disliked in funerals and more importantly, what Mum would have liked. We drank endless cups of tea and didn’t move very much, but it was just what I needed. Our guests did not leave until after 7pm, with more bear hugs and cheeky waves from Joshua. Joshua played his part in the day perfectly, he seemed to sense that something different was happening but he took it all in his stride and he offered his Aunt many bear hugs of comfort. Luckily she only cried briefly, so he did not need to smack her, although he did give her a warning glance when she started to weep at one point.

I did not want to let them go, I wanted to keep what immediate family I have , close to me. But when they did leave, I realised that we will survive this shock: we are made with Mum’s strong character, and we will pull through and come out the other side. It will take some adjusting and there will be some dark days ahead, but we will survive them and emerge even stronger.

Ignorance is Bliss

Joshua does not understand that his Granny has died, so in many ways he is fortunate to be saved the pain of loss and grieving. I have often said that Joshua thinks only about the here and now and whatever is in front of him, so he does not have the capacity to worry or be upset by what he cannot see. He senses that something is wrong I am sure, but he does not like to see me cry. He used to laugh, awkwardly when I cried in front of him, but yesterday he looked puzzled by my tears and then on one occasion, he smacked me. I am sure he is trying to process what is going on, but he will simply adapt to his Granny no longer being a physical presence in his life, the same as he did, without a backward glance, when his Grandpa died in 2014. We have been looking at photographs of Granny, but he will not understand my explanation that she is no longer around, as he did not see her here at our house all that often – the last time she visited will have been last Christmas.

Joshua is a great tonic for coping with upset, as whatever else is going on in my life, Joshua needs to be taken care of : I could not, even if I wanted to, stay in bed all day hiding under the duvet. Joshua requires feeding, dressing, changing, bathing and entertaining everyday and so those processes have to carry on. He gives the best bear hugs, which would make anyone feel better, and he tries to act like a clown too, he tries to make you smile, and it is pretty hard to resist. So actually Joshua is a great antidote to grief. I have invited my sister and her family over for Sunday lunch today, and hopefully Joshua can make them feel a bit better too – though they have been warned that he may smack them if they cry! I wanted us all to be together at this long weekend, as it is hard to know how to fill this gaping time before we are able to register Mum’s death and start to make plans.

Once they accepted my invitation to Sunday lunch, I had a purpose again and so Joshua and I went off to Tesco for our weekly outing. He was playing his usual tricks – kicking the trolley, kicking my ankles, pretending to run away or trying to sit down on the floor, but I jollied him along until he reached the pet food aisle, where he had a seizure so I lowered him down to the floor. He continued to have several seizures and for the first time in a supermarket,  we were supported by three kind customers and a member of staff – previously people have stepped over us without acknowledging us at all. So I went into autopilot with us both on the floor and I lay his head on my lap as we waited for them to subside, while timing the seizures. As they carried on, I realised that his emergency medication was in the car as I had just brought my purse and not my handbag into the store. So I asked the staff member to stay with him and count seizures , while I ran to the car and back. He was not on the floor when I returned, as he had got up when he saw me run away, and so he was seated on the chairs at the end of the tills, now surrounded by three concerned members of staff. The seizures gradually subsided so there was no need to medicate him, but I just paid for my shopping so far and brought him home to recover.

Once he was settled at home, I wanted to call mum to tell her what had happened at Tesco and how kind people had been, then I realised that I could no longer do that and of course then , the tears came. Both my sister and I shared everything with Mum and so we will miss her caring support over the phone as much as her physical presence. I usually rang Mum on Saturday mornings, before she headed out for the day, so I was at a loss at that time yesterday and I called my sister instead. I warned her that she will become my new Saturday morning routine. I know that we will get there, Mum trained us all our lives for coping in times of stress, but it is going to take time.

Moving on

Despite the loss in our family, I still want Joshua to have some fun during his half term school holiday if possible. We have missed out on our family holiday on the south coast but we are going to go away, just the two of us – plus four dogs and three cats! – today. I had packed yesterday but Joshua had a seizure and I was battling a headache all day, so we took it easy at home instead in the afternoon. So we will get off today just as soon as we are ready, before the week runs away with us.

But yesterday morning we had a visit from a very kind friend, who brought us a bag of goodies to cheer us up. Joshua was asleep throughout her visit, so we had a two hour uninterrupted natter, which was lovely. As she has suffered a major loss in her life, we talked a lot about death, the sensitivity of others to trauma and moving on. Even though our life experiences are very different, we agreed that because we have suffered  a family trauma, that we can empathise well with others, whatever their particular crisis. Therefore perhaps having Joshua as he is, has made me grow as a person? 4 day old diagnosis stays with you forever and those feelings on hearing the words ‘devastating brain damage’ will haunt me forever.

Empathy is a very useful human emotion as it helps us to connect to others, even strangers. My motto is always to put myself in someone elses shoe’s and to treat them as I would want to be treated in that situation myself.On taking this approach, it is simple to empathise with others and to be heartfelt in my response, rather than just saying the empty words. Crying for someone else’s crisis or disappointment, is not uncommon for me. And that helps to have ongoing concern for people, rather than just asking after someone’s wellbeing at the time of the trauma, as I am reminded of their crisis whenever I see them again, when others may well have forgotten and have moved on.

Neither of us has yet found professional counselling services, but are working through our own demons ourselves. Nothing will make Joshua’s disabilities go away, nor will bring her husband back, but over time we are both managing to adjust and make the best of our situations. As she left, I felt as though we had really aired our views and felt better for our ‘DIY therapy’, and I  hope that she felt the same. While our chat had not changed the world, we had certainly taken it to task and as a result, had connected.

So later this morning, we will drive into the countryside for a few days away, hoping that my husband will be able to join us by the weekend at least, if his family manage to get Grandad’s funeral organised and if he feels comfortable leaving his mother alone to grieve, which  I know will not be easy.