I smile and offer some semblance of a “Fine! Thanks for asking” each time somebody enquires after my well-being. It’s what I have always done, and likely what I will always do. What else should I say? If I tell the truth, the enquirer’s eyes will glaze over; they will nod in certain knowledge that they know exactly how I am feeling right now; they will likely offer condolence or even a general guide to how long this will last.
Our emotions don’t come from the heart even though there is most definitely a link between our state of mind and this powerful organ. Its not called a broken heart for nothing. While women of a ‘certain age’ can apparently suffer most often from the aptly named ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ almost anybody can be affected and it is often caused by a massive elevation of stress hormone.
Grief has been labelled as ‘post-traumatic stress’ and while this might seem extreme, when you are experiencing it for yourself, it is a very real and very powerful feeling. The strongest of emotions can leave their mark on a healthy heart and the vacuous, constricting, powerfully desolate feeling of loss is among the deepest of traumatic stresses one can imagine, while far removed from war and terror.
Seven years is a long time. You would imagine it to be long enough to come to terms with the fact that a close loved one is going to leave you. You would imagine it would be easier; having experienced the absolute pain that comes from consultant after consultant sitting you down to tell you that your loved one is unlikely to make it through the night or beyond. You could imagine that after being told this on several occasions, the likelihood of being prepared for the end would be high. You could imagine this; but you would be wrong. Each time that loved one is brought back to us, lives to experience another morning’s air, is able to return back to their home until the next ‘episode’; each time is another time that we are filled with the false hope that they will be here forever. The hope that the consultants are wrong, because they were ‘wrong’ every time before.
So, when the call finally arrives, the call you have dreaded but also the call you thought would never come; when that call comes and a stricken voice at the end of the phone tells you, “I think she is dead.” When that call arrives, you go through the motions of arranging what has to come next. Auto-pilot kicks in but you still don’t accept that the unexpected has happened as it turned out so differently every time before.
There is so much to arrange. As next-of-kin and executor to the deceased’s Will there is everything to do and nothing but sadness to be gained. Our loved one will not return, the death certificate will be delivered, copies obtained, the Will executed, the house and contents to be dealt with and finally sold, personal effects to be distributed. Auto-pilot continues on – day after day – doing what is necessary, making sure everyone else is ok, keeping everyone sane and comforted.
But she is surely still not gone. The unsettling feeling that she has not passed away, she is still there waiting for that catch up phone call; waiting for that visit with food carefully prepared and frozen for her, waiting for those visits where we could only speak through a closed kitchen/conservatory window, those visits where we could not hug our loved one who was desperate for just a little touch, some human contact after those lonely pandemic-ridden months.
My heart. That swollen, constricted but empty feeling in my chest. It, too, is still there. My chest rises and falls, unaided; my lungs feel unable to empty and involuntary huffs escape my mouth at times unexpected. I speak to a professional. No apparent reason for those huffs can be explained.
I stop asking the professionals – they think I am clamoring for attention. They should read my file. I rarely contact them. Don’t they know that I am screaming out for help, for advice, to know that I now feel so much more mortal than I have ever felt in my life? My blood pressure is raised, my ears regaling me with a monotonous, non-stop, high-pitched ringing that is with me day and night, offering me the assurance that I am still living and breathing. My head relives every moment of our last encounter, my head relives every time I spoke an angry word, my head relives every negative moment we shared. My head is driving me mad. I want to make things right; to apologise for being a brat as a teenager, to apologise for not understanding the dreadful loneliness of those final years, to apologise for not being ‘there’ more.
My heart responds with the happier memories; the memories of a happy childhood, memories of hospital visiting where we put the world to rights as she lay there for days on end, bled dry by her debilitating illness, memories of far more happy times than sad times, of a mother who cared so deeply yet reigned back her emotions to allow us to find our own path. A mother who is no longer here. Yes, I said it, but my head is overcome by my heart and I still reach out to pick up the phone every lunchtime to have a quick catch-up call, to arrange when we will bring the next batch of home-cooked food, to try to persuade her to come out with us for a drive and get some fresh air, to simply make sure she is still as ok as she ever will be.
Every time I reach for the phone or allow my thoughts to take centre-stage is another time to swallow back the rivers of tears I still have left to cry. I have to block out thoughts of my own mum for fear of losing control. I need and want to cry but fear the tears will never stop. But when you ask me if I am ok, I will continue to answer, “Fine!” because its what we do.
The house, her house, the house where I was born, the house where my brother and I enjoyed a normal, happy childhood. ‘The house’ as it has become, will be sold soon. The house where our whole lives were shaped and where both of our parents lived until the end will no longer be ours to frequent. We will no longer tend the garden because the young couple who are just starting out on their journey together will move in. They will change it; modernise it; make it their own and no trace of our former lives will remain.
I wish I had been given the chance for a final chat, a final hug, a final anything, before she passed away so suddenly and, in my mind, so unexpectedly. Yes, I knew she was ill, very ill, and yes, I knew the time would come one day, but I still didn’t expect it to happen the way it did; alone save for her poor little dog and, I am certain, frightened. I would have been there had I known, but we don’t know. We don’t know when the unexpected is going to happen, we can’t plan for those final moments. We never know when a broken heart will strike and how long it will remain broken.
Hug your loved ones often. Call your loved ones often. Tell your loved ones that they are loved and cherished – often. Pay attention to what they are saying – listening is different to hearing. Those unanswered questions will remain unanswered when they are gone and their chair will be forever empty. Be there for your loved ones because, believe me, a broken heart takes forever to mend.
I haven’t posted for some time but I am back! You know how sometimes life takes over and then you get all out of rhythm, with seemingly no way back in? Well, yes or no, that’s kind of been me for the past few months.
My new line manager at work thought it would be a good idea if I took a course. I think she was trying to steer me towards a better future rather than telling me my management skills were severely lacking, but she suggested I did a Level 5 Diploma in Leadership and Management. Granted, she started her adult education route on the same course but there is still a nagging doubt that she questions my abilities. Enough of the self-doubt, I have sometimes motored and sometimes meandered through the various assignments and all have now been submitted. I have had a couple if referrals back and a couple of passes so there is still a way to go, but I am on the home straight. One thing is certain, I feel too old for it!
Now, how have you all been coping with the crisis? The buzzwords ‘Coronavirus’, and ‘Covid-19’, along with ‘social distancing’ and ‘furlough’ are at the forefront of the majority. All words and phrases which we had either never heard of, or put into context in quite the way they have been used in recent months.
If nothing else, we all now have a shared conversational subject. A shared understanding, on some level, of the pain and suffering of our fellow man.
Which leads me onto today’s question. How do you all feel about crowded places, right now? Do you sidestep into busy traffic to avoid oncoming pedestrians who are seemingly intent on breaking through the suggested 1- or 2- metre barrier you have invisibly formed around yourself?
I, for one, get nervous when I see groups of more than a handful of people together. I quietly tut and shake my head in the assumption that they are breaking all the social distancing rules. I roll my eyes at their close proximity to one another, certain they are not a part of a wider social bubble, knowing that, even if they are, they should still be practising safe distancing. I have become judge and jury over what constitutes one hundred or two hundred centimetres.
I am wide-eyed with disbelief when I hear tales of families getting together, knowing their kids are all a hair’s breadth away from the next child’s head – and don’t get me started on headlice! That’s a whole other story!
Working in a school, I can’t quite believe that we will soon be subjected to the masses returning. I fully understand that they need to return. The children need each other and they need to learn. I fear their complacence. While much emphasis is being put on pupil and teacher safety, I wonder if anyone considers those of us who support them all? Those who may not be considered at risk but who have worked throughout lockdown, keeping systems running smoothly, feeling safe and secure in our little bubbles of office spaces, safe in the knowledge that those spaces will not be encroached upon, thus widening the risks. I hope they have thought of us.
Let me know how you are feeling? Do you feel safe? Scared? Complacent? Unconcerned?
As I said, I have been otherwise engaged for a while but I am back.
Please, if you can, share my blog as I will be updating it with my musings…but you might be surprised to learn there will be no dancing tales for a while yet.
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.