On Dealing with Tragedy

The first time I had to deal with death I was 8 years old. I don’t remember a huge amount about it, but a favourite Aunt of mine died suddenly and tragically young with no warning. I remember being truly devastated, in the way that only a child can be, and I believe it has shaped how I feel about tragedy and death in general.

When I was 12, both my grandmothers died within a month of each other. The first, I found so painful that for years I couldnt think about it without crying, and the other, passed me by in the shadow of the former. From that point, without any conscious choice, I began to believe that anyone more than one generation above, was not safe. Even though 70’s and 80’s is young by some peoples standards, to me, if someone had reached their 70’s, it really was only a matter of time.

What a horrible way to look at life and death. And unfortunately, once again, I have to look at how mortality was viewed in my house growing up. I remember a conversation I had with my own mum when I was about 13.
“What will I do when [insert favoured family member of the older generation] dies?”
“… I know.”

As a child, wondering about death, having lost two grandmas in such a short space of time, I was thinking about older people and death and I suppose needed some reassurance that old isnt the same as ill, and that I didnt have to worry. Instead, the two word reply I got, (followed by the instructions that I had to be brave) not only confirmed that they were in fact, old enough to worry about (At the time this person was about 66) but also meant that pretty much the last decade or so since then has been spent waiting for them to get ill and die. If R asked me the same question, I have no doubt that my response would be along the lines of “Well that’s not something to worry about! X is perfectly healthy and not even very old yet!”

And so I spent my teenage years not really being affected by the loss of Great Aunts and Uncles, however much time I had spent with them, or by hearing of people young and old who had been lost. For me, it became a harsh reality, that still stung once in a while, but was just part of life.

And then I lost my Dad, the week I turned 19, and suddenly everyone elses tragedy was mocking me. I saw adults crying at their parents funerals, and became angry. How ungrateful they were to all the extra time they were given with their parent? When my own Grandfathers died soon after, I couldnt relate to my mums grief, because hers seemed fair, to lose a man in his 90’s, and mine so unjust in comparison. I was and still am shocked at people my own age with all 4 grandparents, much the same way as I would gawk at a two-headed creature on display at a fairground.

Before this, I had always found it difficult to relate to death around me. But at age 19, I became cold to it. Don’t get me wrong, I feel grief and sadness, for me and for others, and it’s horrible to watch anyone suffer, but I also know that my mind quickly switches to ruthless thoughts and drifts to other topics, and the tears dry up far quicker than they once did.

Maybe that’s just adulthood, and as we grow up, we find it so much easier to face death and illness and not fall apart. Or maybe losing a parent, at whatever age, gives us such a real glimpse into grief and mourning, that we are just better at handling it from that point on.

It’s hard to know what I would want for my own son. He already has just 3 out of 4 grandparents, and I feel a loss for him in that he will never know his Zeida. While obviously as a parent I pray that he is protected from grief for as long as possible, I also want to be able to meet that grief together with him head on when it comes, giving him a realistic yet optimistic view of life and death, and helping him through it, in a way that I never really feel I was.

The main thing is, that I don’t want him to have the same hang ups and mixed up feelings on the topic as I do. After all, here we are, he’s 1 year old, and all his grandparents are in their 60’s. And yet I’m kind of preparing myself for it already. What a huge effect the way we grow up has on every aspect of our lives. And how to stop history repeating itself?

Yet another work in progess.

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Repetitive Behaviour. (Did I already say that?)

My baby boy is starting to understand things.

He understands that if he brings me his snack pot, I will give him a snack. He knows that if he is thirsty, finding an empty cup on the shelf and pretending to drink will get me to fetch him some water. He knows that if he is tired and bored of playing, he can go stand by the bath to let us know he is ready for the bedtime routine to begin. He even knows how to choose a toy or a game for us to enjoy with him, dragging it across the room in a half crawl, and then throwing it at us from a unsafe distance.

But the main thing he understands, and the activity which has simply taken over my life, is Peekaboo.

How I miss picking up a book or a magazine without first having to hide behind it and poke my head out 7 or 8 times. I remember fondly the days where I could just leave a room, no jumping back round the corner or peeking round the door, or through the window. Imagine getting either him or myself dressed without making the well practiced exclamation of “Wherrrrre’s R? … THERE he is!”

I get it, it’s a bit fun. You cant see, and then you suddenly can. (Something he should be used to by now.) And truthfully, my heart skips a little every time he engages me in a game that inviolves vision. I could probably sit there playing Peekaboo with him from wake up to lights out without getting genuinely frustrated with the lack of variety. After all, it’s a much more preferable game to “Do you think he saw that?” which was mine and C’s favourite game of his first 6 months.

But it is weird how he never gets bored of the same activity over and over again. The same songs, the same snippets of baby einstein, the same games and puzzles. And actually, it’s quite charming. So once again, my son is teaching me something special. There are few things in life that adults really enjoy, no matter how much of it we get. Too many chinese take-outs, and however delicious the duck pancakes are, we need a few weeks of home cooked meals before reaching for the menu, where were often heard saying “Maybe I’ll try something new today.”. A favourite movie or book is usually best revisited after a break, and often without the same joy it’s first viewing gave us.

Even spending time with those we love. Our best friends can get on our nerves, we ask for some ‘me-time’ away from our spouses or family. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, but it’s so different from how we acted as a baby. I would venture a guarantee that my 1yo never thinks about having ‘me-time.’ I bet he doesnt even understand the concept. Why wouldnt I want to be around him and entertaining him all 12 hours of the day that he is awake? After all, he wants me there all the time, surely I must feel the same way?I must LOVE Peekaboo! In terms of trying new things, that’s up to me to introduce, and more a case of him incidentely learning that he enjoys something, rather than going out of his way to discover new activities.

It’s an interesting distinction between us as kids and adults. At some point between childhood and adulthood, we decide that things are most pleasurable if we indulge in them more rarely and on special occasions. We stop wanting constant gratification and enjoyment and the same things over and over again. This is clearly a normal part of growing up.

But sometimes, even as an adult, you cant help wanting your best friend round for a whole day to watch back to back Friends episodes and order that same old chinese food.

Communication

What to do when the fight isnt worth having?

Most of you know that my relationship with my mum is strained to say the least. Less of you know that lately we have for the first time attempted to do something to improve the way we communicate with each other.

As a longtime fan of counselling, I truly believe that talking things through with an impartial third party can not only help to open lines of communication, but can show you things in weeks that you wouldnt have been able to see by yourself in years. I wont pretend it was easy to convince my mother of this, she is against counselling as much as I am for it. But finally, we started seeing someone, and for the last month, things have been truly the best I can remember them being.

But what to do when a problem arises? We are firmly at the point where we are able to spend time together under normal circumstances and not argue. It doesnt sound like much, but trust me-it’s a huge breakthrough. Yet to work out however, is how to fight maturely and without the drama. You know, discuss things. Like we all have been doing with everyone in our lives since we were about 19. The way I do with everyone else in my life apart from her.

Today I encountered my first real issue of the last month. And instead of confront it and do what we’re being taught, to calmly and maturely say “This isnt working for me,” I chose a slightly different route. I walked away. And when she shouted down the road after me “Are you cross?” I didnt even turn around, just shouted back “No.” no doubt crossly.

It isnt awful. I didnt yell. I didnt get moody. It didnt end in tears. But I’m disappointed. I feel like I have a whole bunch of things left unsaid, I feel like I’m annoyed and missed the opportunity to say so. And most of all I’m frustrated that I didnt trust myself to discuss something that upset me without getting into a fight, so chose to ignore it instead.

It isnt even a big deal. If I tell you it was about a shepherds pie, you’ll see the kind of level we’re talking about here. No doubt this time next week I wont even be thinking about it. But surely relationships are made up of the kind of small things that you forget about each week. In a difficult one, they leave a residue of hurt feelings and clashing personalities and painful memories, whilst in a good one, fun reminiscing and warm feelings and compatibility.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Like I said, we didnt fight. But on this new journey of acceptance, and discussion, and openess with one another, I suppose I’d just hoped for more.