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.

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Shelter

Sitting at home listening to the rain quite literally pounding against my window-pane, like tiny fists desperately begging for entrance. Angry sounds of rain against glass, of the wind whistling through the swaying trees, the silence and darkness of cars parked in driveways, not a night to be out and about.

But some people are.

This time of year is not only one for repentance and forgiveness, but also for being grateful. Talking to God has never been something I struggle with, but recently it feels almost overwhelming to imagine asking God to let me keep the people I’ve learned to build my life around. Horrible things happen every day, people I know lose seemingly everything in a split second. I cant let myself think about the possibility of that happening, or I wouldn’t be able to let those I love out of the door every morning. But what I can do, is be grateful that they are mine, and tell God that, as honestly and meaningfully as possible.

But tonight, during the ten days of penitence, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and sadness in equal measure, but not over any person in my life or missed from it. Simply having a roof over my head, something we all take for granted, isn’t an obvious truth for everyone. I’ve always had what you could call a soft spot for the homeless, giving where I can, signing up to Shelter and other charities similar to it. But still, no matter how involved I try and become, I cant fathom the idea of someone not having anywhere to lie their head at night.

Maybe it’s about being part of a community. Even if you discount family and friends, I cant imagine a situation where there would be absolutely no one I could turn to to ask to stay for a few days, a week or two. And if there was? All I would need is courage to go and ask the local Rabbi for some hospitality from somewhere in the community.

So to me, who could list off the top of my head, fifty people who would open up their spare rooms for the night before I was turned onto the streets, and thank God, could afford to be in a bed-sit, a hotel, or a studio for quite a while even if there was no-one to call, I shudder to imagine the bodies wrapped in soggy newspapers lying rough tonight.

The small taster we are about to receive, no doubt sitting in the rain in our ‘temporary dwellings’ this Succot, should be enough to remind us all how much we have. As we go into Yom Kippur, for me at least it helps to go back to the very basics, and remember how lucky we are to be able to complain about the cold and the rain from the inside looking out.

The Night-time Tango

My ‘baby’ is almost two. Although he has always been a great sleeper, the last month or so has been really tough. Not tough in comparison to you reading this, whose child hasn’t slept since 2009, and whose kid is regularly up for 30 hours at a time, and dropped their nap at 5 and a half weeks, and spends the hours of 2-6 am playing the steel drum through your bedroom wall…. but tough for us, who are used to a baby who goes down at 7ish and wakes up at 7.30ish.

The facts are as following. We put him into bed as usual at 7-7.30. He has had his bath, milk, story/ies and we have sung him his night-time songs. We put him in the cot, turn his mobile on, and say goodnight. Before the last month, that would have been it, and the next we would hear is lively chattering at about 7 in the morning, followed by annoyed moaning at about 7.45. But now, the very second the door closes we are met with pitifully angry and upset screaming, which escalates in decibel level and seriousness of tantrum the longer it’s left.

I believe in controlled crying, to a point. Sometimes a toddler just has to be allowed to scream it out, and nothing that you do will make a difference, they just don’t want to go to bed. But I also believe in checking all the other boxes first before you leave them to basically cry themselves to sleep.

So that’s what we’ve been doing. But the resulting checklist is confusing and inconsistent.

I always leave him to ‘cry it out’ for fifteen/twenty minutes first. Then, a number of possibilities cross my mind.

Maybe he’s hungry…
Whether he didn’t eat a proper supper, or didn’t finish his milk, or it’s just been three hours since supper so why shouldn’t he be hungry, I often find myself going in with a snack, like a cracker or raisins. He always takes it hungrily, (but that proves nothing because he always takes ANY food hungrily) and mostly falls asleep after eating it.
Problems: Firstly, that i am “making a rod for my own back” as he will come to expect the snack, and get hungrier b/c he is used to eating then. Secondly that there is a niggle in my mind as to whether he is actually hungry at all, in which case I’m just feeding him to ‘shut him up’ so to speak. I’ve tried giving bigger suppers or a yoghurt/fruit pot after dinner. No change.

Maybe he’s scared…
I have read that this age is a common one for developing fears of being alone/ the dark/ nightmares etc. If this is the problem, I’m not sure what the answer is. If I stay with him, how does that help the underlying problem when I leave again? I could buy him a nightlight, or glow in the dark stars or a projector, but I’m not overly keen on making him reliant on something to sleep with, especially as up to this point he has been fabulous at falling asleep in travel cots and other peoples homes and the like, with nothing more familiar than his baby bear.

Maybe he’s over-tired…
In my experience, an over-tired baby can scream for hours. And hours. And I’m just not that strong to listen to the tears and chokes. 😦 I’ve tried making his nap longer during the day, sometimes it works, other times, not being tired yet- he plays in his cot for so long that he never ends up sleeping at all. In addition, being at a childminder some of the week means I’m not always in charge of how long he sleeps in the day. Just to confuse matters, on Friday night he stays up with us until about 9pm, and always always drops off instantly afterwards.

Maybe something is wrong…
One of the reasons I find extended controlled crying hard is that you dont know whats going on in there. Twice I have gone in to shrieking noises, only to find my son’s leg trapped in the cot bars red and sore looking, and sometimes (less dramatically) it is as simple as giving back his baby bear who has escaped from the bed. If the problem can be solved easily, why not give yourself that chance? Short of buying a baby monitor for my 2 year old… I have to poke my head in ocassionally, dont I?

Maybe he’s lonely…
When I go in after the 15 minutes, he never tries to get up out of the cot, rather lying down and staring at me forlornly. I bend down and shh shh quietly, stroking his hair and making calming sounds. And he lies there, watching me. He is perfectly happy as long as me or C are there with him, but he doesnt close his eyes. If I pick him up, he nestles into my shoulder and lies still on me, giving the best cuddles ever, eyes open, and stays there as long as I’ll let him. Generally as soon as I put him down again and leave the room, the crying starts up again. Eventually after two or three of these cycles, the crying stops and he falls asleep until morning. The whole thing generally lasts no longer than 1.5/2 hours, on a bad night. and I wont pretend I dont love the cuddles.

The longest I have left him to cry is about an hour, and by that point he was so worked up that he could hardly breathe, and it took two hours to get him to settle.  It’s been a month, so i don’t think the answer is as simple as “he’s probably getting ill” or “his teeth are bothering him.”

Is this just a rite of passage in having a 2 year old?

I miss my evenings, so all advice and sympathy gratefully recieved.

Loneliness

He stood in the centre of the world, and watched the people passing by. An old couple hand in hand walked silently across his path, and he smiled at the idea that they had been holding hands for a lifetime, even though for all he knew they were newly-weds. He didn’t think so though. Something about the way they had no need for speech, and the uncanny way they almost looked the same as one another, gave the impression they had spent decades not just falling, but growing in love.

A child skipped past his feet, lost in his own world of thought. He looked instinctively for the parents watching, and found a young mother across the way, never letting her eyes move from his tiny figure as the child enjoyed his imagined independence. The boy’s innocence was palpable, and as he watched his limbs dance to silent music, he tried to suppress the white envy from spreading across his chest. He moved his gaze from the child and shook his head in self directed frustration. Children should be innocent, and the boy didn’t deserve to be looked at that way.

A young couple arguing caught his attention through the crowd of faces. They moved their arms in passionate gestures, talking over one another, each clearly desperate to win, rather than be heard. He clucked his tongue gently, knowing that the lesson couldn’t be taught until they were ready to learn it. The intensity of their argument moved him somewhat. You don’t argue unless you care. He hoped one day they would learn to talk as emotively as they fought.

Faces and figures passed by, some he knew, some he didn’t. He saw wives, and thought of his own, who knew him better than he knew himself most days. He saw siblings arm in arm, and thought of friends who were closer than brothers to him, and family members who almost filled that gap, in fact-so closely that an outsider wouldn’t see the hairline fracture which kept them from slotting in as neatly as they would in a perfect world. He watched parents lamenting the crises their children weathered alone, and wondered if his own parents were looking down on him and if they were proud.

As he watched the population of the world move seamlessly in unison, like a dance too impossibly complex to choreograph yet still somehow working perfectly, he knew that all those people were here somewhere, hidden by time and space and sometimes mere fate. He wondered what he would say to any of these people if they were standing close enough to ask with genuine concern why there were tears on his face.

He might try to respond with the truth, and let the crushing weight of sympathy take his breath away from the pain for that single moment. He might laugh it off and give the questioner the relief of not having to find some words to fill the empty silence. He might pretend he hadn’t heard them, and start a new conversation, drawing attention to all the things they had to talk about rather than the one thing they didn’t.
In all honesty, he’d probably just turn away and get lost in the crowd once again. They wouldn’t understand the answer anyway. And there was nothing more lonely than that.