Friday, 9 December 2016

Life goes on


My mother, Susan Ward, doing what she did best. Sorely missed.

I didn't really rate Auden's funeral poem until this year. Aside from the fact that it's hard to take anything seriously once Hugh Grant has been associated with it, it always seemed a tad melodramatic. All of those pleas to cut off the telephone and silence the dogs annoyed me. Why should the rest of us be denied access to all the wonders of the earth and the cosmos just because one tiny speck of a human being has gone? People have died before and will die again. What makes your grief so special, Winston? That's what I used to think. That's what I thought when we looked through funeral verses when my dad died. That's what I thought when my mum died. But when you died, those words weren't strong enough. 'Stop all the clocks'. I get it now. I really do.

But the clock went on ticking and life continued regardless.

When you died I wanted everything to stop. Time lost all meaning and all of life seemed pointless. I know it was hard for the people around me to witness. I have two beautiful children who are the epitome of goodness and hope and yet, for me, for a long time it did seem that 'nothing now can come to any good.' For the first time in my life, I really and truly just wanted to die, not as a momentary thought but as a pervasive day to day reality. The agony I was feeling (that I still feel sometimes), seemed impossible to bear. I wanted it to stop. I wanted time to stop. I wanted to be where you were.

But the clock went on ticking and life continued regardless.

Even so, my sense of time has gone AWOL. It is nine months since you died now but I can conjure you so vividly in a heartbeat, that I can almost believe that you just walked out of the door and will be back at any moment. And yet, at the same time, each of those two hundred and seventy-five days has felt like a metaphorical trudge across a barren desert, feet sinking into sand, dust in my eyes. Or like crawling up a mountain on my hands and knees in a gale, slipping across frozen wastes, with frost biting at my skin. So many cliches. All so true. These nine months have been both the longest and the shortest of my life.

The clock went on ticking but time was a concertina, stretching and contracting.

I went to see the osteopath the other day. I'd been once before since your death and I thought I'd better go back for another check-up; writing non-stop for months on end has had repercussions on my neck and my spine.
           'It's been a while,' he said, when I walked into the room.
           'Not really,' I said. 'About three weeks, I think.'
           'No, five months,' he said, checking his notes.

The clock had been ticking and had left me behind.

Although it is only nine months since you died, I have been grieving for a year now. My mother died at this time last year, from a cancer that had always been terminal, even though it seemed, at times, that she might out-run it. Eventually, unexpectedly, the clock stopped for her at 6pm on 10th December 2015.

But for me, the clock went on ticking and life went on regardless.

I got the call when I was bathing my children. She'd gone peacefully in the arms of her sons. I'd seen her earlier, known that it was possible that she wouldn't have long. But the consultant had said that she might have forty-eight hours or maybe a few weeks depending how she responded to the medication that they'd given her in the hospice. I'd sat with her and held her hand while he'd tried to tell her that there was nothing more he could do, while she pretended not to hear.
         'I'm here,' I said.
         'I know,' she said, though she wouldn't or couldn't open her eyes. As far as I know, they were the last words she spoke. She was asleep when I left, but I told her anyway, that I had to fetch the children, that I loved her, that I would be back. The children needed picking up from school and the Christmas Fair was on. You can't miss the Christmas Fair just because your mum is dying.

The clock went on ticking and life went on regardless.

I hadn't told the children that Grandma might be dying. How could I? The first I'd heard of it was on that afternoon in the hospice. And she might still have three weeks. No need to worry them just before bedtime. And when the phone rang and my brother told me the news, I just put the phone down, scooped my boy out of the bath and texted a neighbour while I read stories and sang lullabies as normal, even though my limbs were shaking and my mind was racing. When you're a single parent what else can you do? I went in to see my daughter, told her I had to go out.
           'Where are you going?' she asked.
           'I'm going to see Grandma in hospital,' I said, not wanting to lie, unable to tell the truth.
           'Tell her I love her,' she said. 'And take her my card.'
           'I will,' I said.
I took the Get Well card that my daughter had made and went up to see Grandma, my mum, lying pale and calm on the hospice bed. I kissed her goodbye, went to the pub with family, texted you to meet me and found refuge in your arms for a while on the sofa. But you couldn't stay the night, not with the children there. So I said goodbye to you in the hall again and went to bed.

The clock went on ticking and life went on regardless.

Though it is the anniversary of my mum's death tomorrow, I feel like I already lived it this Thursday as I watched my little boy narrating the Christmas play (last year, on the day she died, he was a shepherd) and as we heaved our way through the school Christmas Fair. By the time the children were in bed, I was in tears again and there was no you to text for a hug this time. I longed for you, as I always do, but more so in this time of extra grief and remembrance. My mum's death was sad but it didn't destroy me because I had you by my side. And because, though she went too soon, she still went along with the order of things. Parents should die before children. We will all be orphaned eventually. I was just orphaned a little sooner than my peers and my children lost their lovely Grandma way younger than they should.

But the clock went on ticking and life went on regardless.

Until you died. At the wrong time, at who knows what time and who knows why. Your heart just stopped, like a clock whose battery had run out, just like that with no warning. It was out of order. There was no goodbye. There was nothing calm or peaceful about the way I found you. There has been little calm or peace since. And I wanted everything to stop.

But the clock goes on ticking. Twelve months since she died. Nine months since you died. I have been grieving for a year, different kinds of grief, cumulative losses. I miss you both. But life goes on regardless.