Daily Life, Writer's Blog

Opening up old wounds…

I received a letter in the post this morning from the Child Support Agency. Nothing strange there you may think, but my children are now in their late twenties.

My ex-husband was an alcoholic bully, even tempered and ok when he was sober but nasty and aggressive when he had sunk a few pints. We eventually divorced after one too many bruises and discoveries of him urinating in our six year old daughter’s wardrobe (for example) as she slept.

He was given numerous chances to change. When he was sober I begged him to get help, to save our marriage for the sake of our three beautiful children. Of course, I never broached the subject if a beer had passed his lips. Oh no. I kept quiet and as far out of the way as possible at those times.

The divorce was a bit of a farce. He would not allow me a divorce unless I admitted to being the guilty one. I took another on the chin, and stated I wanted the divorce and he was not at fault. He was more concerned at what outsiders may think than trying to save what could have been a good marriage. He fought hard when it came down to it. Not for custody of his children, but for material items such as the new Dyson we had recently purchased. His priorities were all materialistic. His children didn’t matter.

He had always frightened me just a little as a violent drunk but, when I found rented accommodation for myself and my little ones, he took to sitting outside in his car and simply watching the house late at night. I was always on the alert for a knock at the door which often never came. He just watched, waiting for who knows what.

Eventually, he asked if he could see the children and, when he secured himself a flat around the corner, requested they stay the night with him. He promised he wouldn’t have a drink when they were with him and I was happy for them to see him. They needed their father and maybe the time had come for him to take responsibility.

After a few months of weekend visits, my daughter told me she wanted to stay at home with me. She was eight years old and clearly upset. She cried lots and I told her she didn’t have to visit that week. My sons both went happily on their way and my daughter stayed with me.

A few weeks passed and one of my sons also said he didn’t want to visit and my daughter was still adamant she wanted to stay home. So, he took one of our sons and the other two remained behind with me. Within two hours he was back at my door with a sobbing little boy who didn’t want to stay with him on his own. This went on for a few weeks until none of the children wanted to go with him and they didn’t even want to talk to him at the door.

I didn’t quiz them too hard as I didn’t want to upset them but eventually, one morning at breakfast my daughter asked me why Daddy slept so much. Probing further, she had woken up in the night to find him as good as comatose (she couldnt wake him up and she was scared) and there were lots of cans on the floor. He was drunk when she had woken up from a bad dream and he had not been lucid enough to comfort her. This prompted stories from my boys who told me their daddy wouldn’t play with them when they visited him. He sat in front of the TV while they were in their rooms with some toys. They all sounded so sad when they relayed this to me.

Time passed, and the CSA became involved. I was awarded a small sum of money each week to help with raising my three children. I had a part time job which fit around their school but it didn’t pay much.

The child support money never came. He never paid me one penny and eventually he lost his job for being drunk at the wheel the morning after. As a financial consultant he had no means of travelling for work when they took away his drivers license. The debt, his debt, built up and the years passed by. I supported my children with part time work and benefits until they were old enough for me to take a full time job.

I received a letter from the CSA every month and then every six months to say that, even though he owed me well over £6000, he was not working and they had awarded me £0.00 for each child. The £6000 would have been helpful, of course, but I managed as best I could.

My parents and sometimes his parents, helped with clothes and little food parcels and gave the children pocket money but it felt wrong that he didn’t want to help support his children at all. The children received a birthday card from him each year with a few pounds inside but the handwriting was his mother’s. By this stage the children had not seen him for a few years and, as they grew up, the situation never changed. I suggested supervised visits but he was not interested and, in the end, aware that he was still a drunk, I gave up trying.

At the age of fifty he died as a result of his excessive drinking and the children’s feelings were really put to the test. There had always been the chance that he would fight to see them and seek help for his alcoholism but now there was no chance and they had never even known him. It was sad for those reasons and I felt so badly for them as they didn’t really know what or how to feel.

In the meantime we later discovered that his brother had ‘helped’ him to rewrite his will leaving his life insurance and any monies to his own daughter, my niece, and nothing to my children. He had always promised me, even calling my parents drunkenly one Christmas day to reiterate the fact, that there were a few thousand pounds for them when he died to make up for not being there when he was alive. It was unbelievable that he had changed his will in this way and his own children, whom he had abandoned and not supported over the years, were left with nothing.

So, today, as I opened the letter from the child support agency, I held my breath as I read the words that they had reviewed my case. Certain that there would be a few thousand pounds to share between my children now they had recovered what was rightly theirs, I read on.

The CSA were informing me not that they had recovered the money owed but that they were, after all these years, writing off my unpaid child maintenance as my ex husband had passed away.

Letting go of my held breath, I sighed, resigned to the fact that, even after death, he had been able to deal one more kick in the teeth to his children and that hurts way more than any of his physical violence ever could.

Daily Life, Poem, Writer's Blog

Remember

Remember, now, the laughter,
As we ran down to the sea,
Remember how we rolled down hills,
How carefree, then, we used to be.
***
Remember, now, the children,
How much love we had to give,
Remember, they still need your love,
There’s so much life you’ve yet to live.
***
Remember when you told me,
Forever, we would be,
Remember how we promised, then,
It would just be you and me.
***
Remember, now that life has changed,
I’ve had to leave too soon,
Remember, when you’re searching,
I’m the twinkle just beyond the moon.
***

Daily Life, Poem, Writer's Blog

Life’s Worth?

When kindness is mistaken for weakness,

When faced with a choice at your door,

When sadness comes knocking, the ones you must face,

Are those you thought worth living for.

***

You’ve given your all, when you were so alone,

Faced up to the wolf before death,

Foresaken so much just to clothe them and feed,

You’d offer your very last breath.

***

But with cards on the table, however they fall,

And given the chance to make right,

They’ve risen above all that paved them their way,

Uncaring, they’ll bid you goodnight.

***

You’re no more than some words which are written,

Across greetings cards, now, when they come,

No meaning, not heartfelt, out of habit inscribed,

The feeling less deep than is numb.

***

So when all’s been and gone your job’s done now,

The choices they make are their own,

You’ve done but your best, yet it’s not good enough,

For in the end, you’re always alone.

***

Daily Life, Work, Writer's Blog

The IT Manager

I am the girl who you hope not to see,

Life can be dull when you work in IT,

If I’m at your door, there’s surely been strife,

Something’s not working, you can bet on your life.

Girl Working on a Computer

If I’m hovering nearby, then a system has crashed,

A workstation’s broken, your hopes will be dashed,

All thoughts of a good day, where your work gets ahead,

Will fly from the window, your desk you may dread.

***

If I am there now and the technician’s been by,

And still nothing’s working, my face may belie,

May give you a hint of the depth of the bad,

When I return with a smile, then you’re sure to be glad.

Girl Working on a Computer

For if all is well, all is good behind the scenes,

The servers are serving, most definitely means,

You have nothing to fear, your work will surely get done,

If I’ve walked away you can be sure problems are none.

***

For I am the girl, in her office resides,

Answering issues, and keeping an eye,

Certain that errors we can mostly contain,

If my presence is needed, of your life I’m a bane.

Girl Working on a Computer

For most everyday, the technician’s you’ll see,

Out and about fixing issues, you’ll not see me,

But don’t think I’m not working as I’m holding the reins,

Hoping to prevent you from suffering IT pains.

***

 

Daily Life, Poem, Writer's Blog

Will this be your last?

As the new day arrives make good use of your eyes, 

Notice the trees standing tall ‘gainst the skies, 

Take note of the sound of the spoon in your tea, 

Enjoy, now, your porridge, so smooth and creamy. 

*** 

Jump at the prickling hot water jet streams, 

As they make your skin tingle forgetting your dreams, 

Savour the roughness of fresh, laundered towels, 

Laugh at the drain as it gurgles and growls. 

 ***

Note how the pins click as the lock falls in place, 

Securing your world and protecting your space, 

Hear the grumble of pistons as your ride starts to purr, 

Creaking leather as you move, your handbag to transfer. 

***

Be sure to listen when a friend needs to moan, 

They’ve something to tell you, could be more than a drone, 

It could be by listening, you will improve their well-being, 

Five minutes of talking, from their problems they’re fleeing. 

*** 

Be sure to be kind, to even those who are not, 

It may not be much, but to some means a lot, 

Watch as moods change as sunlight bathes the room. 

Follow the shadows as they’re chased from the gloom. 

 ***

Laugh at the radio, lame jokes from work friends, 

Share in the joy and the fun never ends, 

Make others happy, just once in a while, 

Not always easy, but share often your smile. 

***

Remember, for many, life is far from easy, 

It’s a grind at its best, far from bright and breezy, 

Try hard not to dwell on the pains of your past, 

Make today count as this could be your last. 

***

Bronchiecstasis, Daily Life, Lung condition, Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Writer's Blog

Thankful for another year?

As we begin a day of low-level celebration for my mum’s 76th birthday, so begins a time of reflection.

A little over two years ago, and following a particularly traumatic hospital stay, mum was told, in no uncertain terms, there was little more that could be done to relieve her of the constant hemopsysis (coughing up large amounts of blood from her lungs) and persistent and painful coughing and breathlessness. A doctor came to the bedside and explained there would be no more Bronchial Arterial Embolisations (BAEs) and the best outcome she could hope for was for them to make her comfortable.

Two years, many antibiotics and approximately ten further BAEs later, the rest of the Respiratory Team have thankfully over-ruled the one who gave up on her and she is, today, celebrating (albeit very loosely speaking) her birthday on Earsham Ward of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

It has not been the best two years of her life and ‘life’ is not the best word to describe what has become an existence, but she is still with us and, at times, driving us mad to the point of walking away.

But that’s my mum. She is quite openly judgemental and easily irritated and expects the world to run in the same regimented fashion as her own life, with much displeasure and disappointment on display should, as is most often, that not be the case.

Mum has always expected one hundred percent punctuality and woe betide you should you be late. She will stare pointedly at the clock if you arrive a second later than arranged. Unless you are willing to acknowledge your tardiness, the conversation will not flow until the error of your timing has been pointed out. I know this is where my phobia (oh yes) of being late has stemmed from. I arrive unfashionably early for everything, my fear of beration for being late so deep-seated that I would rather not arrive at all than enter to find a room filled with people who have been willing to arrive at least on time. I can’t even be late for a Sunday morning breakfast date with my own daughter. I would rather, to the amusement of all concerned, arrive and sit in the car park for ten (ok, often more) minutes than suffer the anguish of making them wait for me. I know why I am like it, but I have no way of changing it. It’s simply not worth the panic.

So, as you can likely imagine, if the nurses are late bringing my mum her medication, or the doctors don’t see her right on time, her mood plummets and we have to bear the brunt of her gloom. Being in an NHS hospital, where staffing is tight and wards are full to overflowing, you can imagine it’s not easy to be punctual and if the nurses are chatting at their desk, which unfortunately for them is right outside my mum’s room, she will stare at them pointedly until she gets the attention- her voice clipped and irritated – and they will be blissfully unaware of their crime, if there even was one.

Mum’s condition, Bronchiecstasis, has left her permanently breathless, coughing violently at the slightest movement resulting in further breathlessness and, at the first sign of infection, which is more often than not, coughing up blood. Imagine waking up to a metallic taste in the morning, gingerly sitting forwards and, before you have even taken a step, you open your mouth and without even a cough, a large amount of blood spews forth. At times, there has been up to 400ml of blood which is more than the volume of a can of your favourite fizzy drink. According to the NHS guidelines, anything more than 100ml of blood in a 24-hour period is considered a massive hemoptysis and a medical emergency. Mum has the good sense to know that normal, for her, is anything over 250ml because if she didn’t change the criteria, she would be calling for an ambulance most days. It’s terrifying.

As she celebrates her 76th birthday on Earsham Ward and into her second week of this stay, the fifth in the past six weeks, she is waiting to find out if the radiologists are prepared to carry out one more BAE and attempt to reach the bleeding vessels they have, in the past, been unable to access. If they agree, she may spend many hours lying flat on her back with a tube in her groin through which the necessary equipment is passed and finds its way up into her severely damaged lungs, to cleverly seal the bleeding areas. At times, she has spent over six hours having the procedure, throughout which she must remain awake and cough as little as possible, which is ironic because of the condition being treated.

The rollercoaster of damaged lungs, built up mucous, swelling vessels, infected, splitting and, thus, bleeding vessels is ongoing and there is no cure as she is far too frail to undergo the removal of the most damaged part of the lung. Removing the damage would, at the very least, alleviate the bleeding, resulting in less coughing and breathlessness but her body won’t take it, so the team struggles on.

I don’t want her to spend her birthday, when we are close to it possibly being her last one on this earth, lying on a table undergoing an unpleasant procedure, but if it gives us a few more months with her, then so be it.

I wonder if I am selfish for hoping for more time with her, when her life has become a mere existence and every day is a constant struggle. But the alternative is one neither of us wishes to face right now and, selfish or not, we take one day at a time and hope she is with us for the next.

Daily Life, Writer's Blog

Rock Bottom

Her life had never been easy but, then, who’s was? Recently, though, it felt as though it was becoming increasingly difficult when, at fifty, it should have been starting to settle down a little.

Throughout her childhood she had been surrounded by school friends and much time was spent playing on the streets and at parks with the local kids. Sunday trips to visit older family  members entailed getting dressed up in pretty dresses and woolly tights and eating homemade lemon cake by a roaring fire while the adults put the world to rights. Christmases and birthdays had always been filled with treats, gifts piled high and she had enjoyed birthday parties and days out the same as any other child of the seventies. In short, she’d had a normal and fun childhood.

High school brought its own problems to the party with the beginning of four years of name-calling and what was considered back then to be minor bullying. Her confidence was knocked for six and she retreated into an invisible protective shell, with an externally visible loud and outspoken attitude among her close friends.

As a teenager she ran into the usual angst with boys and relationships, but it passed by normally with no more ups and downs than any other teenager. Her relationship with her parents was fraught with arguments and moods, the relationship with her mother a particularly contentious one. Often, minor disputes led to days of non-communication between the two of them after tempers had boiled over. The lock-down from the bullying had left her unable to put into words how she was feeling, and she struggled to communicate with her mum at times of high emotion. During one such episode, she took the first of many overdoses, resulting in being rushed into hospital to have her stomach pumped. An unpleasant experience indeed.

More ups and downs and failed relationships later, she met and married the man she thought was her soulmate. Children soon followed and, although he spent a lot of the time at the pub, life chugged along and was mostly ok. Until the drinking at the pub started to spill over into her husband’s home life. He had been a heavy drinker when they first met but, despite having a good job and a loving family, his drinking habits worsened over the years until he was coming home every evening with cans of strong lager, drinking them all and then acting bizarrely and often violently.

From finding him peeing in the kid’s wardrobes and discovering similar puddles on the kitchen floor in the morning to, worse still, punching her and locking her in the cupboard under the stairs, especially if she suggested he might have drunk too much, the drinking was fast becoming quite scary. She knew the problem was out of control when he punched her full in the stomach when she was  carrying their twin babies.

Life became unbelievably unbearable and with the children growing fast, she was fearful for their safety. Working at weekends she often returned to find them playing in the garden with the back gate unlocked and him sprawled comatose on the sofa surrounded by empty cans. She feared for their safety and, indeed, her own, the violence increasing week by week. She tried talking to his mother, herself a semi-recovered alcoholic but was pushed away and told she was fussing over nothing. He was so pleasant and friendly around others that even her closest friends would not believe her so, after a few failed attempts at cries for help, she gave up trying.

Eventually, after a particularly nasty argument, she knew she could take no more and she grabbed what she could, packed the car up and left with their young children.

The divorce became messy but for the wrong reasons. He wasn’t bothered about custody or arranging to see his children, he was more concerned about material things, insisting he get custody of the new Dyson vacuum cleaner, for example. If it wasn’t so sad it would have truly been laughable.

The split had left her with debts totaling over £15,000 because somehow, even though her husband had been in a good job as a Financial Adviser, he had not been meeting targets, resulting in debts to his company while, all the while, he had been spending on lavish items for his top of the range sound system, for example. Unbeknownst to her, and in her young naivety she had allowed him to control their finances, they had missed payments on their mortgage and had all kinds of money troubles, all of which had to be addressed when the house eventually sold, leaving a huge deficit. He never had time for the children and didn’t pay one penny towards their upkeep, wonderful as the newly-instated Child Support Agency were in the nineties.

Life moved on and with two more failed relationships, including one with a woman, she eventually met and married the man who turned out to be her true soulmate. They had to move into rented accommodation because money was tight and with five teenage children between them they knew the purse strings would need firm control. Debts from her former marriage were spiralling and she eventually had to declare herself bankrupt. A dreadfully worrying time, coming from a family who only borrowed on mortgages and saved hard for every other purchase they had ever made.

Slowly, over the years that followed, the children left school and started on the path to college and employment and life plodded along, with a semblance of normality on the horizon.

One of the children was starting to go off the rails, experimenting with drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Her husband and she spent hours trying to talk sense into him, refusing to drive him anywhere and helping him to find work when he suddenly quit college. However she and her husband tried, they could not get him to see sense and he continued to argue, take drugs and a spiral of messing up jobs had begun.

Eventually, she could take no more and, after a huge argument, her son packed his bags and left home. This closely followed the sad loss of her father, who died very soon after discovering he was riddled with cancer and her son made wild claims on social media, accusing her publicly of stealing his Grandad’s savings while he was on his deathbed. This was far from the truth when, in fact, the money had been a loan from her parents to again help with the debts from their former life which she had (and eventually did) fully intended to pay back, not knowing at the time her father was so ill.

Life took a very downward turn and much nastiness and accusation ensued, resulting in some dark years. Somehow, she and the rest of the family coped and managed to remain strong. The adage ‘life goes on’ took precedence but her heart was torn in two, not knowing where one of her sons was living and unable to help him, coupled with anger at the accusations publicly thrown her way and the discovery of more thefts from family members he was still in contact with. She feared her youngest son had truly hit rock bottom but worse was yet to come.

Two years passed, and her wandering son made contact.  He had been ‘sofa surfing’ – a term she unfamiliar with until that time – and the drug taking had spiralled but now he was in dreadful trouble. He had been sacked for stealing from an employer and the courts had ordered him to pay the money back to avoid a prison sentence. He had no money.  She and her husband helped him out, convinced he was ready to make a new start and, along with huge rent arrears which they paid too, they helped him to find alternative accommodation which, again, cost them even more.

This was just the beginning of a bail-help-recover-repeat cycle which continued over the next few years. Life carried on around them – her other son underwent surgery on his brain, three surgeries in fact – the second two being emergency to sort issues brought about by the first. Her mother’s health deteriorated due to a debilitating and horrendous lung condition, resulting in time in and out of hospital, life becoming more of an existence for her with each passing day.

Her youngest would go AWOL and then return with debt collectors on his tail and even the police at one stage.  She refused to believe he could not turn this around and continued to feel in her heart that the blame lay with her. Fearful he would end up on the streets or worse, she continued to ‘help’ and spent thousands of pounds on payment of the latest debts, never believing that she was, in fact, funding his drug habit in a roundabout way. Stories of thefts from friends and other family members filtered back to her and her hopes for his recovery began to fade. In her heart she knew there was little more she could do to help – he had sought counselling for his drug abuse, spending time at a group suggested by the courts and every time they met he appeared to be moving forwards, spurred on by hitting rock bottom and the fear of returning to the same. He would secure a job and, almost always started to work towards a promotion to supervisor or similar as he worked hard and his attitude was just right. Each time, he would either meet someone and get back into taking drugs or the money he was earning would draw him back towards the same and the next she would hear was he had walked out of yet another good job, never to return. He would go AWOL again and she would try not to worry herself stupid but, as a mother, her heart was heavy with the knowledge he was out there somewhere, slowly killing himself.

Her own mother, by this stage, was terminally ill and, it seemed, was living on borrowed time with more and more time spent in hospital and with much less of a life than ever. Visiting her poorly mother was difficult with work commitments, although work was more than flexible and understanding. She was, at this stage, a manager and she was proud of her role. Somehow, she managed to keep it together and balanced visits to the hospital with working out of hours to keep up, often accruing time off in lieu. That part of her life was not good, but she muddled through, keeping a semblance of normality with the rest of the family.

She next heard from her youngest son when he sent a message to ask how his grandmother was doing. A conversation was had where she tactfully had to tell him he could not visit, her mother’s fearful request, each of his sorrowful replies tearing at her heartstrings.  But worse was yet to come. As always, she asked him what he was doing – she had heard he had given up another decent job recently – and was devastated to discover he had been staying in a shelter but would be living, quite literally, on the streets for the next two nights as he had to prove himself homeless before he could secure a place at a hostel. This was, to her knowledge, the worst-case scenario he had endured thus far. She knew she couldn’t ask him to stay with her – she would awaken to find him gone, along with who knew what else from her home. His messages suggested he had to do this as he needed to turn his life around and stop hiding behind his lies and stealing and drug-taking. He spoke of appointments with the Job Centre, a doctor to help with depression and anxiety, and a housing officer to help with the latest crisis. With each message, her heart became heavier, and she lay in bed listening to the gusting wind and feeling the temperature dropping to below bearable and cried herself to sleep. She didn’t even link the timing of his latest demise with his message asking about her mother, thinking it a pure coincidence.

Still unable to cope with the realisation that her own son, now an adult, had thrown away his twenties for some badly-chosen friends and drugs, and he was out there, on the streets, sleeping rough with nothing to his name, she felt she couldn’t live with herself and something needed to be done. Her husband, seeing her pain, offered to help by meeting her son the following day to ensure he had warm clothes and a supermarket voucher to buy additional food. She gratefully agreed, unable to face her own son in this state, but knowing in that deepest of places in her heart they shouldn’t be doing it, they were once again, on a smaller scale, helping.  But what could she do? She must be the only mother walking this earth who had a good job, a wonderful family life, great friends and the most caring and kind husband, who was sitting by and allowing her youngest son to sleep rough on the cold, scary streets.

She didn’t think she could get through this, couldn’t live with herself knowing he was suffering through this, and despite her family and friends constantly telling her he was an adult and had made his choices, the pain was almost too much to bear. She still felt she had failed him and she could have done more in the past to change his path.

The pain deepened as she held the pills in her hand. Turning them over and over, she tried to imagine how her other children would feel, and her husband – would he cope without her? She knew then that she would only ruin more lives, would maybe send others down a path of self-destruction. She knew she couldn’t do it. Her own pain did not equal the pain she would leave behind. She alone had to bear this heartbreak, had to endure this debilitating crush to her heart. There was nobody else who would share in the blame, her children’s own father having drunk himself into oblivion and died many years before. She had a duty to her family to remain strong. Silently, she poured the pills back into their bottle, screwed on the cap and picked up the phone. Painting the usual smile on her face, she messaged her daughter and son-in-law to see whether they felt like a night out.