On Loneliness and Grieving.

Seven summers ago I sat shiva. It changes you. People say I have a strange relationship with death; they’re usually people who thankfully haven’t had any relationship with it at all. But I don’t think that comes from losing a parent. I think I was always aware of the idea that people might not be there the next day. That trust was a hard gift to give when you considered the likelihood of being left alone at any minute without warning.

So when, indeed without warning, a matter of hours after happily hanging up the phone on one of several daily calls to my father, I was summoned almost wordlessly to his already dead body, no chance to say goodbye, I can’t remember feeling shocked. The often quoted feeling of  ‘this cant be happening to me’  never even crossed my mind. It almost made sense, somehow.

Back then, for whatever reason, I chose to focus on the positive in the situation for the most part. I felt grief, I tore my clothes, I cried what must have been buckets of real tears, don’t get me wrong. It was probably the saddest and most difficult period in my life. But I’m not sure I ever complained. I’m not sure I ever shouted and raved about how unfair it was. Anger didn’t come into the equation for me.

Not then anyway.

I’m angry today. With a lot of people. I’m angry that you didn’t phone me, even though I told you in advance what day it is. I’m angry that I had to tell you what day it is in the first place, and that I have to explain (even though you’ll never understand) why it’s important to me. I’m angry that you are allowed the immense privilege of not understanding, and I have to go through this, distancing me from everyone un-scarred and whole in my life.

I’m angry with you too. I can’t understand how you can let this slip your mind. How you can marry someone and have a child together, and never think she might end up in this position. And I’m so frustrated that now I’m here dealing with it, you can’t remember something as important as today and phone me up and see how I am. How can you tell me that this is all harder for you than me, if this day hasn’t even crossed your mind, in a fraction of the way it’s taken camp in my own these last few weeks?

I’m even annoyed at my family. For reaching milestones that he never will, for taking for granted relationships he will never experience, simply for not being his sons, his wife, his nephews, nieces, parents, siblings. Mostly for leaving me the only one who feels this, and giving me no outlet to satisfactorily share it, and in most cases for hardly trying. I can’t pick up the phone and ask for a memory that’s slipped just out of reach, because no one else shares it, or worse still, because the risk of blank faces is just too frighteningly painful. I just have to wait while it fades further out of mind, losing the very puzzle pieces that made up a man’s life. I can’t pop round anywhere to reminisce, because no one shared our relationship.
Ironically, this was the very fact I so eagerly clung to while I sat shiva at 19.

It was only me. I was so proud to alone walk my Dad out of this world with dignity, to do the customs and laws that a family member does according to Jewish law, all on my own. I felt I was really making a difference, really proving that our relationship had always been him and me, and that was no different in his death, no intrusions. It was almost sacred- just the two of us.

But now it’s the one of me.

So I’m angry with You most of all. Not for taking him away from me, that’s too easy, although as I grow up I realise just how cut short his years were, taken at 63. But it’s the way of the world after all, a child losing a parent. But mainly for the way You left me here.
My mother wasn’t his wife, my brothers weren’t his sons. My husband and my son never knew him, I have no uncles or aunts, no grandparents. To make things slightly crueller, there could have been a lifetime companion to share this grief with, miscarried at seven weeks. At one year old, I was destined to be entirely alone in this, and I didn’t even know it.

So I sit here, writing mainly to myself, the only person who has been feeling this day approach with a heavy heart, and the only one who woke up this morning remembering, and wondering what might have been.

Today would have been my Daddy’s 70th birthday. Not old, not really, but seven long years gone. My life is truly so changed since he knew it, that I wonder if he would recognise me at all. And yet the people in my life now, have moved on from even the memory of ‘him and me’ to the point where they can’t remember the importance of today even when I’ve told them directly, let alone out of care of me. It’s not their fault, why should they? It’s only me who is stuck in both times. Missing and living simultaneously. Both getting on with life, and coping with death.

Still, I cant help but wonder whether the burden would be lighter to bear if there were anyone else to share the load.

Advertisements

Big Kids Don’t Cry

All children cry. Obviously some more than others, and for varied reasons, but crying is a natural and normal part of a kids life. For babies and often toddlers who are pre-speech, it is the only way they can express how they are feeling, or tell you that something is wrong. For older kids, who have not yet learned to control their emotions, even ‘small’ events can push them to tears, especially if helped along by over-tiredness or unusual circumstances. Crying in older children can also be seen as useful as it leads to helping behaviour from adults and peers.

Apparently, until adolescence, no difference in crying behaviour is found between men and women, which suggests that it is at that point that people start discouraging tears. “Come on, don’t cry” “Cheer up” “Be a man” etc. With that in mind, as a definite adult, I feel a slight twinge of embarassment to admit the following.

I cry all the time. I’m not saying this to elicit any particular sympathy, and let me assure you that my life is pretty awesome most of the time. To make this clearer, I can remember at least three crying episodes induced by potatoes of varied kinds. There’s not much empathy to be had there is there? [Unless of course, you are an Irish farmer.] I cry like a toddler does, simply because I am sad about something, and generally over-tired most of the time.

With this in mind, when I read the somehow scientifically agreed fact that “women cry on average between 30 and 64 times a year” I have to tell you the following substantiated fact about myself. “If I didn’t cry yesterday I will probably do so tomorrow.” That makes my magic number about 182.5.

Shocking!

No need to call me up tomorrow friends to make sure I’m okay, because I most definitely cried yesterday. At soft play of all places.

I was playing with R in the under 5’s area, and was pleased as punch because he was showing some independence climbing up the steps, through the tunnel, over the bridge, (dont forget to hit the dangly foam bits) and up to the slide. At that point he would look with trepidation at the slide, shake his head and follow his previous route back the way he came, over the bridge, (hit the dangly foam bits) through the tunnel, down the steps (dont worry about other kids climbing up-just power through) and starting the whole process again.

Up until now at this particular soft play, I have done the course along with him, putting him on my lap for the slide part, and helping him ‘man up’ to become more and more able to go it alone. This was the first day where he ran ahead to climb up without a backwards glance. [nope, I didn’t well up from the emotion of it all. Stop guessing.]

Right by the tunnel, are a few larger than average steps, with harder than average mats on them, supposedly for older kids who are braver than necessary for the regular connected log steps. When standing, a toddler cannot fall, as the gap is too small, but when sitting …

R was sitting facing away from the gap by the tunnel, too cowardly to push past the other kids, and waiting for his own turn to go through the tunnel, much like a tentative early driver might let masses of cars into his lane, too scared to push forward. As I watched from below, in slow motion he shuffled himself backwards, and I knew what would happen before it did. He fell backwards in one movement, landing on his back on the next step, glasses askew and screaming with all his might at the shock. As I took the log steps two at a time, I watched him struggle upwards, causing him to fall again onto the next one! I grabbed at his hand, desperate for it to not happen for a third time, trying to squeeze myself into the toddler sized gap to get to my baby boy. (Imagine if this had happened a year ago, I would still be wedged in this evening. ;)) The look on my face must have been pretty freaked out.

And then it happened. All the mums started doing the worst possible thing they could do. Laughing? Shouting at me? Throwing ball pond balls at me? No such luck. They began to be…Nice.

“Oh don’t worry, he’s fine!”
“He just got a shock, he’s okay darling!”
“Oh poor you, here are his glasses, should I get him some juice?”

And here come the waterworks. I really think I could have held it together without all the kind words and sympathetic glances. But my own shock, mixed with his tears and fear, and off I went like Niagra falls.

And I can’t help it. It was all over with a packet of Florida Naturals and a kiss and a cuddle, (R calmed down pretty quickly too..) certainly forgotten about by the time we got to the car. But  when something upsets me, I cry!

I’m not sure what event in adolescence I missed out on that was supposed to teach me how to save my tears for the bi-monthly saddest situations in my year, but I pretty much meet my quota from watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Men on the other hand open the floodgates between 6 and 17 times a year. Given that R can pretty much reach that target by lunchtime, I guess he has some work to do to be considered a ‘real man’ by adolescence.