FOR THOSE WE MISS THE MOST AT CHRISTMAS
This week, you may have seen that I was featured in The Guardian (amongst some AWESOME company) pondering on the sentiment of ‘fulfilment’.
If not, then here’s the link, please do take a gander.
I was so chuffed to be featured and the response has been overwhelming. There seems to be quite a few of us in this state of flux, feeling unsettled about our hopes and our dreams as we try to discover what truly satisfies us and will make our souls truly soar.
And of course, it made me think about that one person who won’t be here again this Christmas…
It’s three years since Dad’s sudden death and my intention was to write something on here about where I am with this totally shitty situation, but as much as I would love to share something, the truth is, I just can’t.
Yes, I’ve touched on it with the blog post I wrote about how I took up road running in order to quieten the endless chatter in my head and release those feelings of grief, but I just can’t bring myself to put anything into words that I’m truly ready to share right now.
Part of me is still stuck in the shock of it all.
And I’m not sure that part will ever go away – whereas the grief bit manifests itself in many different ways over time. Sometimes it gives me real strength when I knowingly live by my Dad’s loving principles and feel I’m doing him proud. Other days, I see his car or hear someone cough in the exact same way and my eyes sting with tears. I don’t dare blink and I freeze. Any slight movement and I’m certain I shall shatter into tiny pieces. Like shards of broken glass. Instead, I just hold my breath until the crushing heaviness passes.
Christmas is tough. Really bittersweet. Someone put it so beautifully the other day…
The older you get, the smaller your gift list becomes as you begin to realise that the things you really want, cannot be bought…
So, here I decided to repost an edited version of something I originally wrote for the lovely crew at Up All Hours when I was being commissioned to write some style features for their parenting website.
And finally, if you’re in a similar situation, be kind to yourself, it’s a club we all know we’ll eventually have to join yet that doesn’t make it any easier…
Big love to you all
Originally, this post was meant to be about the perfect way to pack for your holidays. Offering practical advice for parents, it was to include savvy secrets only stylists like myself are apparently priveé to; space saving tips like rolling your clothes instead of folding them or how to tie your beach sarong in at least 25 different ways.
In particular, I’d planned to recount in detail a particularly disastrous long haul flight to the Philippines. The second born – who was two at the time – proceeded to projectile vomit and suffer from diarrhoea just 90 minutes into a 19 hour flight! Full body washing a two-year-old with a fever in an airplane toilet was a frickin’ nightmare which finally ended at Manila airport where I was covered in vomit and smelling of shit!
And, so with our half term trip to Spain booked, I was all set to share stories of what was packed, what worked, what we forgot; all in the hope it might provide sound advice for any anxious soon-to-travel parent.
However, all this advice I’d planned to post along with funny anecdotes of past experiences travelling with the little people never happened because just three days into our holiday, we found ourselves throwing, chucking, squashing and ramming everything back into our cases.
Minus any of the precision as to how it had been painstakingly packed just 72 hours previously, my husband, two children and I grabbed what we needed from the studio we were renting, locked up and left.
Just moments earlier, I had been stood in the same spot where my Dad made his speech at my wedding two years previously and it was there, in that exact same place, that I received the devastating news that he had suddenly died.
When I think back to that journey home, I really struggle to find the words. I remember feeling strangely calm and in control – a discipline I’d surely mastered from a career driven by deadlines and the need for results, regardless of the obstacles ahead. And even when the howling waves of grief would try and take me down, as we enquired at each airline desk for a flight to take us all home, having to explain why it was urgent, having to utter those heartbreaking words that felt so unreal for me to say out loud, I ploughed on, determined that we’d all fly back as a family.
I kept feeling a sense of something bringing me back to the business at hand and that I was some how, being protected. As the plane took off into the night sky, it felt as though we were sailing through the stars. In my head, I was humming Rod Stewart’s infamous track that my Dad would sing to me when I was little. He’d cuddle me in the darkness when I couldn’t go to sleep and instantly, I felt closer to him. It was as though the universe had heard my cry, sensed my pain and understood the urgency to get back home. Quick. We were on this moving walkway through the night sky and it was then, in the silence of the cabin, wide awake and counting down the hours to landing, that I began to build up this chatter in my head with my Dad, asking for his help, willing him to stay close by and guide me and my family safely back home to him.
CHILDREN AND GRIEF
Many assumed our youngest, being three years old, wouldn’t be that affected and probably wasn’t even aware of the situation – but she was because my Dad was her best friend. Hardly a day went by without her seeing her Granddad, or ‘Lolo’ as we all call him. From nursery pick-ups to feeding the ducks – they adored one another and loved to just hang out together. Watching them play was like rewinding my life back to when I was little and in hindsight, I’m so grateful of the special times they shared. But now that Lolo was gone, so too went our confident little girl. A classic case of second-child-syndrome, she’s the type of kid who happily toddles into nursery without even looking back, but now she was understandably frightened to let go, incredibly clingy and terribly insecure.
We were all struggling to understand how one minute we could be excitedly saying our goodbyes on the front porch. I remember kissing my Dad whilst reminding him to feed the cat and pick up milk and bread for our return in one weeks time. I cannot stress how everything was so incredibly normal. No one would have guessed that three days later I would be crying over my father’s 67 year old, lifeless body as he lay cold in a mortuary, taken so suddenly from a massive heart attack.
Perhaps in my daughter’s young mind, saying goodbye at the nursery gate prompted a real fear that the same thing might happen again. Her way of dealing with this sudden loss was to not chance saying goodbye and after several attempts at drop-off always ending in tearful struggles, we decided to give nursery a little break.
During this time out, if she ever overheard us talking about Dad, she’d proudly announce her understanding of the situation by blurting out “Lolo is dead”. Familiar with the word itself and feeling a sense of achievement that she now had the attention of the grown-ups and was involved in our conversation, she still struggled to comprehend what this all actually meant.
One day, after yet another, albeit unintentionally, but nonetheless abrupt “Lolo is dead” announcement, I looked softly at her chubby little face and wonky fringe – and with the heaviest of heart, agreed with her. Fighting back tears that I thought would never stop if I gave them a chance to escape, I gently explained to her that Lolo was now up in heaven and although we couldn’t see him like we used to, it didn’t mean that he’s not still here with us.
The day I caught her looking up at the sky, calling out to my Dad to proudly show him the new hair clips we’d put in, was the most incredibly bittersweet moment, but the smile on her face showed me that she had found her Lolo again and this had allowed her a way to move forward.
For my son who was 10 at the time, unlike his little sister, he could process more of what’d happened, but still visibly struggled with the shock.
At times, he’d try and be very grown-up, puff out his chest and bite his lip, then there were moments where he’d cuddle his teddy and revert to being half his age. Any loving parent would pick up on the fact that he too couldn’t comprehend what the hell had happened and was fearfully trying to deal with the sudden shock of loosing someone so special. This was to be his first real experience of death.
With steely determination (wonder where he gets that from?) he wanted to go straight back to school, in a desperate attempt to return to normality. However, halfway through the day, just as I was about to step into my local funeral directors to discuss the burial arrangements (death admin is a cruel blow to take when all you want to do is scream, shout and hide under the covers) his school called. The very moment that the reception door buzzed open, he collapsed into my embrace. All over his face was fear and heartache. I felt his hurt and as I squeezed his trembling body, whilst wishing I could take away his pain, I also understood that it was important for him to release his grief. Theres was a very, very special bond. If ones character is hugely defined by those who love us and influence us, then I feel blessed that the children have grown with their Lolo’s patience, love and positive influence and it’s this that I shall miss the most.
A TIME TO GRIEVE
The biggest struggle (as I’m sure most parents of young children will agree when life throws a curve-ball) was trying to keep their world from falling apart, when mine had been completely shattered. From the offset, when they place your child in your arms, you know that’s it. From now on, their needs are always going to be more important than yours. Grief is the same. I found myself stealing moments carefully, away from their little eyes, sometimes even just to catch my breath when I caught Dad’s picture in a reflection or found a handwritten note from him. Whether it’s brushing your teeth and crying, staying a minute longer in the shower to hide the sobs or hunched over the steering wheel at school pick up before you put on that smile and ask them how their day has been.
It’s not so much that I’m trying to paint a picture of normality for them – one thing’s certain – nothing will ever be the same again. The landscape of our lives has changed forever and they can feel that, it’s just finding ways for them to come to an understanding and move their young minds away from all the heartache. They’d already seen too much. When I got the phone call about Dad, we were all together, happy about to spend a day by the pool. They saw their Mummy break. That was enough.
We didn’t think it was appropriate for the children to attend the funeral, however, we wanted to give them a separate opportunity to say goodbye. So together with my Mum, husband, brother and his fiancé, we held our own little service at the graveside the day after the funeral. The kids brought a little toy each to lay down along with tubs of bubbles to blow – something they always did with Dad in his back garden. As the bubbles and giggles floated into the warm, blue sky, we lit candles and brightly coloured incense sticks. Even though emotions were still so raw for us big people, it was a beautiful day in June and as the sunshine beamed down on us, we leaned on each other and found the strength to smile and share the good memories we all had. They are now all that we have left.
And that is how we find ourselves moving forward. We take each day as it comes, giving into the crap ones and learning to smile on the ones that were actually OK. Loyal friends and family have rallied round in our darkest moments and offering sincere reassurances that this sadness and pain will eventually subside. Several clichés that were once empty and overused now carry some substance and real meaning, but at the same time, we are all on a personal journey and everyone’s grief is different. What works for some, doesn’t for others. For me, with a busy family life and working too, it’s not that I don’t have time to grieve, it’s just not always possible to drop everything and crawl back into bed because I just want to see my Dad and the crushing realisation that I can’t, breaks me. So I’ve just learnt to cope and carry on wanting to just see my Dad and the crushing realisation that I can’t, breaks me.
And like most things in life, as my Dad would always remind me, it’s about learning to appreciate the simple things. And so I’ve discovered that sometimes, it’s better to just not talk or even try and work things out, offer solutions or even attempt awkward words of self-encouragement. Silence can sometimes be the best thing and it’s often in those precious, quiet moments and in that stillness that I can hear my Dad’s voice.
I love you, Dad.