Rinse then repeat

‘It will be alright,’ are the words I most want to hear. I’m an adult, independent, self-reliant, autonomous. I know stuff. I’ve done this life thing for long enough to know that very little is insurmountable. And yet.

I still want to hear my mum, or my dad, I don’t mind which, since they’re both equally gone, say those words, unpick the knot that sits at my centre, draw me back from the edge I seem to be living on.

I feel like a child who’s afraid of the dark, of going to sleep without knowing what waits for me on the other side.

I think I have things under control, but the mind plays tricks. I function, turn up to things, laugh in all the right places, absolve people of the need to worry about me. I tell myself I’m doing okay, but the sleepless nights say otherwise, and the adrenaline in my body says otherwise, and the panic at not knowing what will happen next says otherwise.

All of the words that I want to say are balled up in my throat. Where do I begin and how will I finish? Who will give me permission to speak?

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Morning found me

This is part truth, part lie. It doesn’t bother me that you are right. It bothers me that I think I did something wrong. It seems so shallow to need reassurance.

Insomnia, my once familiar torment, took a stranger turn the night after I scattered her ashes. Insomnia, those long minutes of sleeplessness ridden out until I could sink back into what was left of the night, changed to panic, an hourly waking from dreams of amnesia and failure.

Morning found me staring down the all consuming nothing. Because she, finally and forever, is no longer in the world, and there was nobody to hear my grief.

(This isn’t true.)

I took a week and spent it idly. I took too much to drink. I drowned myself in absence. I surrounded myself with friends.

It didn’t work, so I took a walk to the doctor. I took some pills and another week ticking over. I drowned myself in abstinence.

Grief is like moving in a still frame. Everything paused but still in motion. Numb and silent, I’m waiting, unable to articulate what I need. I don’t know what I need. I don’t know how to ask.

It seems so shallow.

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Written in response to Low from the R.E.M. album Out of Time

Long enough

I have put it off for long enough. Longer than the last time. Although the last time wasn’t my choice. It was hers, the one whose earthly remains I have put off collecting for long enough.

Today the drive will be through the drizzle of mid-May. The last time I turned my wheels in this direction it was the drizzle of late February.

Long enough ago, but still I need more distance. I need the sharp cleft chasm to become a valley, incapable of being crossed by sorrow. I need sorrow’s echo to die before it can even think of reaching me, so that I can stop pretending that I don’t still hear it.

Perhaps after we have scattered her to the winds that will carry her over the mountains. Perhaps then I can manufacture the seismic shift I need to break contact with the continent where I began. Perhaps I can find a way to flood the valley with tears I no longer want to shed and bury in that sea the memories of her last days.

It has been long enough and I would like to remember her in happiness, full of the life that gave me life.

Yesterday

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.

And I’m telling you this because who gives a fuck.

Yesterday was the first time I felt normal since my mum died. Today I feel shit & guilty for feeling normal. What a fucked up species we are.

Yesterday I felt glad because I thought the mourning was over. Turns out it isn’t, and so today I have whisky remorse.

I’m telling you this because once you told me something about your mum and I felt jealous. Because it strikes me that your mum is a force of nature like my mum was.

Some types of pain can’t be alleviated. Not by alcohol or drugs, by fucking or anything. Some types of pain resist even love. This type of pain rises up in the throat and threatens to suffocate. This is the pain that repeats the mantra I’m okay I’m not okay.

Who gives a fuck? Who really, truly gives a fuck about the pain felt individually by people up and down the country? The pain that any of us feel is the tiniest drop in an ocean where we gather to wallow in isolation.

I’m telling you this because it doesn’t matter.

Coffins

I don’t like funerals. They have a disturbing habit of weakening my resolve. It’s the coffins. I look at a coffin and my inner core of steel oxidises in the rain of tears and gasps of oxygen brought together in my sobbing.

Her coffin was small. I looked at it by accident as we filed out, a family of crows. It was too small. Not large enough to hold the force she’d once been. She wasn’t a tall woman. Five foot four. She would try in life to claim an extra half inch, but in death the truth was laid bare, laid out for all to see, anyone who chose to look. I didn’t choose to look, not after the weirdness of seeing Dad-Not-Dad at rest in his coffin. His scrunched up face bore the pain of the heart attack that killed him. So this time around, I didn’t look. I didn’t want to see Mum-Not-Mum bearing in death the confusion of dementia on her once lovely face. Undertakers can only do so much with the canvas of the dead.

A small wooden coffin, its surface covered with flowers, witnessed by me by accident. My undoing, as it turned out.

Hum

She sits and hums. It isn’t a recognisable tune. A hymn to her inner workings, perhaps. The movement of her mind sent out into the world through vocal vibrations. She sits and hums and fills the bus with the sound of herself, low level, barely audible, just loud enough to be noticed when she stops.

When she stops, it’s to breathe. Slight inhalation to refresh the humming exhalation. The gasp that opens her mouth lets out the smell of decaying teeth. A particular smell, sweet and musty, not unpleasant until it suddenly is.

The volume of her hum alters with the movement of her head. It deadens when she turns to look through the window, as though the tempered glass has sound absorbing properties. But that breaks the laws of physics, and something else must be muting the sound. Perhaps the fake fur collar of her leopard print coat, so inappropriate on this warm summer day. Or the twist in her neck restricting her vocal chords.

Whatever it is, it stops when she turns back to face forward, and her humming becomes momentarily louder again. The passengers’ ears adjust. The humming seems softer. It is almost soothing, and yet unsettling.

Keep Your Pecker Up

And how are you doing?

Head cocked to one side, feigning concern. No eye contact and a pursed little moue of a mouth, pursed with the distaste of someone else’s grief. Or maybe tears welling up, oh so willing to cry along with you. Showing what they think is compassion.

If there’s anything I can do, if you ever need to talk, you know where I am.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

You think about needing to talk, and how you would choose someone you love over a sanctimonious rubber-necker. Or how you would seek comfort in a stranger. If you ever needed to talk about this paralysis of giving a fuck, or this loss of recognition of what makes you function, or this howling anguish that comes and goes like the squally showers they talk about on the weather sometimes.

You think about how you wouldn’t choose a grief tourist to bore with the details of your desert-like state, now hot and arid, now dead to the very horizon of existence.

You smile and say you’re fine, say thank you, and you know.

But you’re thinking, Fuck you, grief tourist. Come any closer and I’ll peck your fucking eyes out.

Sundays are the hardest

Swipe at the alarm. Silence the beep. There was a reason for it once. It’s a hard habit to break, this rising at a certain time, in time to do duty. This numb march through hours and minutes of getting up, getting ready, setting off, sitting and smiling and achingly making conversation that goes nowhere. There was a reason for it and a point to it once.

Find a new routine. Replace one fake brightness with another. Continue convincing that everything is fine. So British, so stiff, so ramrod straight and unkind. Let the brakes corrode, let the tyres crack from under-use. Let the day drift while filling it with distraction. A film, a meal, a visit to a gallery. Culture as a means of faking a life.

Take a pill or a drink. Take two. Button up tight. Bind your emotions, because now is the time to move on. To get back to normal. To pull yourself together.

And who says so? Who writes that rule repeatedly? Who drums it into our heads like a profanity?

Profane, the thought of letting it go. Profane, the stopping of a tongue, the cauterising of a wound, the prevention of a sorrow.

Good Grief

Because I am a conditioned creature, subconsciously and occasionally consciously paying attention to what is said in media soundbites and HR management techniques, I have this notion of grief. I know that it’s bullshit, because every grief is different.

Here’s what the received wisdom says I should be feeling:

denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance

Nope, nope, nope, nope, yes.

I longed for my mum’s death, because of the nature of her illness. Dementia robbed us of her person, leaving behind the physical shell. I’ve had six years of dealing with the loss of her. Maybe I’ve been through what the received wisdom says I should go through already.

This is what I feel, cycling through from moment to moment:

relief, sorrow, guilt, pride, joy

Relief that it’s over.

Sorrow that she’s gone.

Guilt that I couldn’t do more to help her.

Pride that she was such a remarkable woman.

Joy that she was in the world and made a difference in her own small way.

It’s not a cycle, really. It’s a scribble. A tangle of string that doesn’t want to be linear, or cyclical, or focused on progress.

I don’t know why I’m telling you this. It doesn’t matter.

Superstar

2017-02-08_09-56-58

My mum died yesterday. This is a way of remembering how glorious she was.

Most of the people who will read this in an idle moment didn’t know her. She was an ordinary woman from an ordinary family. And yet, she was a superstar.

My mum had a great life. She was an inspiration to many people, from those who borrowed books from the library where she worked, to the school kids she helped with their reading at the local primary school, to those she led on fundraising adventures for Dr Kershaw’s Hospice, to the writers in her writing group, to her friends and her family.

She made everybody welcome. She was the giddy extrovert in a family of introverts. We hung on the coat tails of her love for life.

My mum wasn’t very well for the last 6 years. She had dementia. She struggled with her loss of independence. We struggled with the loss of her.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a relief. To see a person change from the joy of the world to a shell imitating the person we once knew has been the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with.

R.I.P. Mum.