The nature of grief

These are the things I have learned about grief.

My grief is not necessarily like other people’s grief. My grief may be like your grief.

My grief is a thing which sits in the corner of my vision. I am always aware of it.

If I choose to I can turn and look it straight in the eye. I can cry for hours if I do this. I can scream at it or shout.

None of this will make it grow or shrink, but I could lose days or weeks to doing this if I chose to and it would still be there at the end of it.

I could turn away from it, ignore it completely, but it would still be there whenever I turned back.

Mostly it talks to me. It tells me how much my mum would like this chill in the air, the colour of the changing leaves. It tells me (as I dig my allotment) she never wore gardening gloves, that’s probably why her nails broke so often, she always wanted good nails.

It tells me it’s been two years since we last spoke.

Most of the time I nod and agree. I don’t have to look at it.

Sometimes I smile.

She loved autumn, which is when the plants die away, but the colours shine out. Does that mean she was more of a painter than a gardener? I smile at that.

Occasionally though it says something shocking.

My son will never miss her like I miss her, because he never got to meet her. She didn’t even know he was going to exist. Every time I look at him, that’s how long she will have been gone.

These things shock me so much that I have to turn and look, I have to cry.

I hear it speak daily, but these days it only shocks me a couple of times a week.

I hope it will think of fewer shocking things to say as time goes on, but I like it talking to me.

For me grief is love. Grief is my love for her.

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Making hay (because everything else is too hard work)

In November of 2011 I was starting work on a new patchwork quilt. I know, because I wrote about it on this blog.

It was designed around the idea of looking down on fields from above, where they begin to look like a patchwork quilt of their own.

So I found a patch of Google Earth that was sufficiently fieldy, and several bags full of green fabric, and I got started.

Only life never seems to work out that way for me, and journalism exams, exciting theatrical writing opportunities, a house move, familial earthquakes and a new baby (not to mention my own inbuilt inability to finish things) all crept in one after another to stop me from getting too far along in it’s progress.

Skip forward six years…it’s so hard to say that without feeling ashamed, but…I’m back.

I can’t seem to write. My brain does not have the required space at the moment. I haven’t slept properly in a long time. But I can piece things together. I can trace shapes, and cut out baking parchment and find fabric, and I can sew. Huzzah!

So instead of feeling rubbish about my unfinished novel (there’s always time to feel rubbish about something) I am very very slowly, putting together the rest of my fields quilt, field by field. It is happening. It will be finished. And if it isn’t, it will be because I’m writing again. I’m calling that a win either way.

Pictures may follow, but knowing my new scheduling abilities, expect them around 2019.

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Teapots

I sang my son a nursery rhyme today and it made me cry.

Just as I’d reached the word ‘spout’ I had a sudden memory of my mum and my gran sitting around the dining table in Mum and Dad’s house on a Sunday morning, wittering away about nothing in particular in their own witty, and wonderful way, and pointing out different plants in the garden as they came into flower.

And as quickly as the memory arrived I realised how gone all of that is now. How then, which feels like last week, belongs to another time, another version of me who had a mum and a gran, and lived at home with my parents, and drank endless cups of tea out of teapots to a background hum of familiar voices naming flowers as they bloomed.

Now I am a different person. A wife, and a mother, who hardly uses her teapot, because no-one really drinks tea in that same deliciously lazy way with me, and who doesn’t know the names of half the flowers in her garden, and struggles to think who to ask about them.

Those two people, those two versions of me, should have had a chance to overlap. My life shouldn’t have separated itself into a before and after with quite such a severe and deep cut.

I love my life, I love Lovely Husband, and Lovely Son, who is such a smiley boy, and who has just learned to crawl, and who is obsessed with wanting to play Daddy’s piano, and with a book about a badger, and who laughs so very well, but I want my son to know those wonderful women so much it makes my heart hurt, and I want him to know that version of me too, that tea drinking Sunday morning version, and without them I don’t know how to be her anymore, so I cried for a lost life, and for stupid timing, and for teapots.

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A new world

It’s possible I’m having a midlife crisis. I turned 40 a few weeks ago, and frankly if this is my middle I’m doing pretty well, all things considered, so I’m about ready for one.

Life has changed inconceivably over the last 18 months. If I were the kind of person to feel defined by the roles I fill in life (and lets face it, who isn’t at least a little?) I am things I was not, (a wife and a mother), and no longer things I was, the most recent of which is a journalist. I’ve taken voluntary redundancy with no plans to start a new job until we qualify for free childcare, which will be when the boy child is two or three (not sure on current legislation).

It still feels odd, insecure, a little dangerous. Possibly because I’ve been unemployed before, always in a desperate flurry of panic. But this is deliberate. I’m jumping off a cliff and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I’ve had to talk myself into it. And part of that conversation centred around the idea of following your dreams, because I want my son to be able to look at his parents and see that that is a possibility. And my dream isn’t local journalism, or at least my dream was not the job I just left, so I feel determined to step away from it and try and head toward something new.

This new world though is a peculiar place. At home trapped under a sleeping infant and unable to nap (damn you ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ advocates) I’ve been trying to watch good things. Nothing too sweary, or dumb. Lovely husband joked with me the other day that I’d spent my day watching ‘Loose Women’, which made me realise I am not that person. I’d listened to the Today programme and The Life Scientific, and later I’d watched a documentary about Shakespeare’s mother

I’ve watched a lot of Netflix documentaries. I don’t know if this is good or bad, because I don’t have any time right now. None at all. I don’t have time to write this blog post. My baby is going to wake up in less than an hour and I’m going to regret not having been asleep right now. I’m sleep deprived, and isolated, and possibly far too open to suggestion

And I’ll tell you in short so that you don’t have to watch hours of documentaries yourself, but we should all be cutting refined sugar out of our diets, and eating more plants, ideally going vegan.

We also have too much stuff. Too many nick nacks, too many items of clothing. My son is eight months old and he already has too much stuff. His stuff is taking over my lounge.

And we throw too much stuff away. We shouldn’t have bought it in the first place, and then we throw it into landfill. Food containers and toiletry containers, and endless reams of kitchen roll.

I’m a big believer in the Gandhi philosophy of being the change you want to see made in the world, but at the moment it has made me give away¬†half my wardrobe, and watch YouTube videos on how to make my own deoderant (equal parts coconut oil, bicarbonate of soda and cornflour melted together with the essential oil of your choosing).

So really I guess my question is this.

When do you know if it’s a mid-life crisis?

 

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A moment

As I type, Lovely Husband is upstairs with a crying five-month-old.

It’s evening and we have a bed time routine, which we have diligently followed, but sometimes within half an hour and never more than two hours after being put to bed, he’s awake again, so this I suspect, from my sheltered position in the lounge, is an attempt at controlled crying or whatever more friendly term you want to apply to letting your child cry until they stop.

Moments ago I climbed the darkened stairs, taking care to avoid any creaky floorboards and leaned into the bedroom doorway, listened in to the calming voice of Lovely Husband, as he reassured our baby that he was there, everything was okay, and he could go back to sleep.

In the end, feeling redundant, I retraced my steps back across the landing and down the stairs.

I’d left the lounge door open (it’s open now, I want to feel complicit in this move, lessen any guilt created, we have no idea if controlled crying is for us – so many decisions to make), and as I walked toward the light, I had a moment.

There have been a lot of them so far in parenthood. Moments which I still remember living from the other side. Not that I remember being five months old, but I remember that light, parents still up and chatting downstairs and standing at the top of the darkened stairs, knowing I wasn’t really allowed to go back down.

I walked through the lounge door just now and felt myself move from childhood memory to adult reality, from one side to the other.

Speaking to friends and family, not everyone seems to walk that line in the same way, but its been making me think recently, if it isn’t one of the things which makes me want to write for young people, that constant swinging back to the other side of adulthood.

A footnote: apparently it wasn’t controlled crying, it was just crying that wouldn’t stop, and tired arms. It did stop, but after a bad night he turned out to have an ear infection, so now I have mum guilt.

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Deep in the thick of it

I miss this blog. And I’m not done with it, I’m definitely not, but right this moment it is so hard to come anywhere near a computer, let alone a coherent sentence and just writing this entry is a mammoth achievement.

At the moment I am deep into the first months of parenthood. We have a son, who we obviously believe is beautiful and amazing, and who we are absorbed by entirely.

I could write a post about pregnancy or childbirth, or the worries of both combined with age or weight, for I am aged and overweight, although not quite aged enough or overweight enough for the NHS to be worried about.

I could write about my child, who spent 10 minutes today giggling at me every time I looked at him in his carrier, and then cried for a good 20 minute car journey, before being entertained at home by a wooden spoon.

But really I want to write about writing, or the space required for writing, which is a mental space more than a physical space.

At the moment, our son is four and a half months old, and has had a cold for essentially all of January, which means I haven’t slept for more than two hours in a row in 2017 so far. I have reached a point where I feel vaguely empowered by my lack of sleep. It’s possible I just feel vague, but I think I’m beginning to see how I can carve out space to create, as soon as I get any more time than I have right now.

So please do keep watching this space.

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Absence

I’ve been away for a while, finishing things, moving things around, starting things.
I think that probably applies equally to the physical and mental stuff going on. So I apologise for my absence.

Physically I’ve decided that I have a first draft of the novel, and set it to one side, which feels uncomfortable. Already I can see so many things that need to be done to it, and even a couple of scenes that still need to be written or made longer, or developed, but I’ve set it to one side for a month (a luxury with so little time left to play with) and I’m coming back to it as soon as I leave work (which is next Friday – eek).

I’ve also completed a mural in the nursery, which now looks a lot more like a nursery, so there is a giant painting of a scene from Green Eggs and Ham up on one of the walls, waiting for a small person’s approval. I mentioned on Facebook how as I started I could almost hear Mum telling me how I could make life easier for myself, and started a maelstrom of opinion on how Mum would have reacted. It’s strange, because I think I already know how she would react, (most of them were wrong – I think), and my sister and my dad were more vocal than me in saying something, I just let it go to be honest, but the truth is, I wish I heard her voice. I would do anything to get a hint of her talking in my ear about what I might be making more tricky than necessary. The mural ended up making me happy, because I’d always wanted to do it, and sad, because I called her out and she didn’t come.

Missing Mum has changed over the last few months. It’s still raw. I can’t talk about her without crying, even though it feels faintly ridiculous, when I might be recalling the most banal things.

I don’t talk about her all that often, which isn’t a conscious decision, in fact I try and mention her as often as I can, but still, it takes me by surprise, the crying.

I also get these moments of sadness, mainly when I’m on my own, and driving, thinking of how much she would have loved to be a Grandma again, how excited she would be by my pregnancy.

The other day I drove past an advert for afternoon teas on my way to work, and had the thought that it would have been fun to do that together once I’m on maternity leave, and the next thing I knew I was in floods of tears, so that I could hardly focus on the road.

It would have been her birthday yesterday, and I actually cancelled things in case it hit me like a tonne of bricks, but it didn’t, not really. It hit me like something, little needles of absence maybe.

What I thought of today, was the difference between losing people quickly and losing people slowly. We had three months to say goodbye to Mum, and even though we thought we had six, and even though I’m missing her horribly, we did get to say goodbye properly, we got to say everything we felt and she got the chance to say everything she felt, and there was closure and love and all the things you’d hope for.

At the same time as that my Gran, her mum, was falling deeper into dementia, which is a slow loss. Because she’s still there sometimes. She’s disappearing more and more, but the Gran we know still comes back from time to time, and when eventually she dies (she’s 93, it’s sad, but not awful) I worry I’ll have never said goodbye, because there was no one moment of leaving. And worse than that (and she’s happy still, so I don’t know if it is worse really, not for her) my memory of her is being shaped by this slow absence, so that the things I remember about Gran are the things that still show up from time to time. Her surreal sense of humour which now makes her indecipherable to anyone outside the family, but still completely logical to us, the pictures she has always made out of the world, which again, have become abstract now, but still make sense once you put yourself in Gran’s shoes. She’s cut out the explanations for what she’s talking about, but it’s just a shortcut to the same end, and if you know her well enough it all still makes sense.

Her absence hasn’t hit me yet, and I can’t decide if it’s sadder that it might never do that, because the hurt has to mean something. This pain of loss over my mum isn’t something I’d give up to have her gone and not missed.

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