Saturday, 14 May 2016

The Grief and Soggy Flapjack society

Today I looked at a house to buy. Unlike the other houses that I looked at with you, this one, I know for sure you will never live in. When I've looked at other houses, I've taken you with me. I've pictured you building bonfires in the garden or tinkering in a workshop in a basement. We joked about you living in a shed at the bottom of the garden or sleeping on a camp bed in the cellar. You had a thing for unusual dwellings. It was a bit of leap for either of us to imagine you living full-time with me but we hadn't ruled it out. It is ruled out now.

Instead of spending my afternoon with you, today I spent it in a community centre in Pitsmoor at a Grief Writing Workshop. It's not unusual for me to be in a writing workshop but, as I packed my pen and notebook in a bag on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the absurdity of it struck me. How, one minute, grief is a distant cousin mentioned in anecdotes every now and then, and the next it has moved in, not just into the basement but into the house. How suddenly grief is part of my persona and now I'm talking to Off the Shelf about grief literary events and discussing with the bereaved the etiquette of grief TED talks and blogging publicly about pain. Whose story is this anyway? Do I have the right to tell it? Does anyone want to hear it? The questions we ponder in grief writing land. It's like the Jane Austen book club. But really sad.

One thing we have learned is that there is no rule book for grief, although there are many books about grief on display and I take most of them. Knowledge is power, or something, or something to do. The man sitting opposite me says he doesn't get angry. He doesn't see the point. But others rage against death like they are Dylan Thomas and it is the only thing to do. Some people, I know, sob their way through every day. Others remain dry-eyed, unable to squeeze out even a single dignified tear. Usually, I'm not one of them but today everyone but me cries as they read. I remain cool and detached. Maybe they think this is just a writing exercise for me. I don't look sufficiently grief-stricken, I feel.

The man in the grief writing workshop tells me that it is five years, four months, one week and three days since his daughter died of an unexplained cause. (I think about the blood and your brain and wonder again if they will ever tell us for sure what happened.) I apologise for not being able to remember how many weeks and days it has been since you died. It hasn't seemed important. I know that you're not here and that time is passing. I thought it was enough to know.

When I come home,  I make flapjack for the first time in ages. For some reason, now I am compelled to count the days. It is imperative that I know when I last made flapjack. I check the calendar. It is two months, one week and three days. I made my flapjack every Friday ready for your arrival. I haven't been able to make it since. But today, I do. Today I am sufficiently together to mix ingredients in a bowl and put them in the oven. When it comes out, it looks strange. It hasn't set. It is a congealed mess, singed round the edges. Something is missing. It takes me a while and then I realise, I forgot the oats. It is not the same, without the oats.