Oh Damn You Immeasurable Grief

Yesterday was quite awful. I felt like I had been smashed into smithereens and hurled back to square one, day one with grief. The result? The uncontrollable sobbing is back, the beating of the fist against my chest is back but that’s because the black hole where I physically hurt on the inside somewhere near my heart has opened up again. I have hurt someone. I have done it unintenionally but all the same I hate when someone thinks I have been a cow. It is no excuse but I blame this truly, awful madness the world calls grief. A poor blanket term for a sick kaleidescope of feeling.
grief//  (grf)

n.

1. Deep mental anguish, as that arising from bereavement. See Synonyms at regret.
2. A source of deep mental anguish.
3. Annoyance or frustration: Trying to follow their directions was nothing but grief.
4. Trouble or difficulty: the griefs of trying to meet a deadline.
5. Archaic A grievance.
[Middle English, from Old French, from grever, to harm, aggrieve; see grieve.]Nope. The dictionary definition doesn’t really cut the mustard as far as I am concerned. I was told by my GP in the days immediately following Colin’s death that grief went through three main stages – Disbelief, Anger and then, finally, Acceptance. Sounds quite simple. A journey through quite differing emotions in a straight forward, straight line. But it is so not. The line, certainly in my case, is not straight. It is all wiggly and goes back on itself, loops over and over and then some. Frankly, I find it is more like typical ‘four season’s in one day’ British weather  as I can go through all three of these stages in an hour let alone a day.
The other massive problem with grief, aside from being afflicted with it in the first place, is that it is ultimately selfish. The grief you are suffering disallows you from understanding the pain of others. You can try but quite simply those who have not lost a husband, wife or partner, cannot beging to imagine what it is like to lose the person you woke up with everyday, whose very being defined you, who you made you happy in the way no other person could, the one who simply got you at your best and your worst, the one who made you laugh, the one who phoned you for no reason throughout the day and wouldn’t allow you to say goodbye by saying ‘I’m not finished with you yet’, which made you smile even though you needed him off the phone because life was calling for you, the person who gave you your children and who shared the infinite love for those children so would indulge you at every turn with the ‘ah look what she’s doing now…she’s picking her own nose…she’s a genius’. However, despite being in the depths of its clutches I cannot say to Colin’s mother I understand what you are going through. I do not. I cannot imagine losing my child. I can only try to think what that would be like. I also cannot imagine losing my father, brother or  my best friend because I have not. I seflishly imagine that mine is the worst sort of grief but how do I know as my experience is intense but it is subjective.
I do know that no one should try to measure grief and say mine is worse than yours. There is no ruler in the land that can quanitify the pain we are all feeling individually at a loss. So please don’t ever try to tell me that you can compare your grief to mine and I will never do the same back. That said, yesterday the selfish edge to my grief, the side of it that does think I am worse off than anyone else, has led me to upset someone and for that I am so sorry. The selfish  part of grief has made me a bad friend, a needy family member and in general quite thoughtless. Hopefully as my path through grief gets straighter I will become nearer to the person I once was. In the meantime please forgive me.

Somewhere To Remember Him

With thanks to all at Payne Hicks Beach for your continued support

Colin’s bench appeared in London’s prestigious Lincoln’s Inn Fields today. What an honour. It proves to me that he was a very worthy man, in so many ways. It arrived on the same day that one of his colleagues and best friends Ciao Vicky received an email from a former client of his that enthused about his dedication and said basically that his efforts helped to change her life. She is not the first to say that. Some have said it in person and others have sent it letters or emails. The gist is that while myself and his friends ridiculed him a little for being a fool he was actually calling our bluff. Colin was no fool and when it came to helping people through a very tricky time in their lives – divorce – he was actually rather brilliant and passionate. Yes his career meant it put him off marriage for a while and I had to campaign to get him down the aisle but really he was quite fantastic with people, loyal and fierce with it. It was the perfect combination for what has become a phrase I am now familiar with as it appears in many of the notes I have received – ‘he fought tooth and nail for [me/my children]’. Quite a man and this bench will be a place colleagues, clients, friends and family can go to remember him and remember just why we all feel so sad he is not here.
I haven’t been to the bench but I will soon, on my own the first time so I can simply sit and weep and feel him around me. Then I shall go with friends. And then most importantly I will go on a little London pilgrimage with Evie and Isla. We can visit the wonderful Temple Church where Colin’s beautiful Memorial Service was held (thank you Fiona), we can sit on this bench holding hands while I tell them tales about their intelligent, funny dad and we can hopefully take Colin’s most generous boss Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia up on her offer of taking the girls to the House of Lords for lunch. She simply said to me, several times, they just have to be old enough to keep bums on seats and hold a conversation with her while she tells them all about what Colin meant to the team at Payne Hicks Beach and the clients that he served. It may be some time yet for his daughters to share such an honour but how impressed they will be? Astounded I reckon because I am.

Keeping Him Alive For The Girls

I came back downstairs this evening after putting Isla to bed to be greeted by the longest, most lovely, freshly laundered post-bath hug from Evie. It was minutes long. Amazing. She eventually pulled away, keeping her arms around my neck and her face close to mine, and said: ‘I lub you Mummy. I really lub you.’ It isn’t the first time she’s said the L word to me but it is the first time she has done it so intensely and so unprompted. It was utterly lovely.
I feel such a responsibility to these two girls of Colin’s to keep them feeling loved that everyday I make sure I shower them with hugs, kisses and affection. However, there are times when I scream at them and shout at them in frustration of being the only parent. So with her big brown eyes in front of me, full of adoration, I thought this is it, these are the rewards I have to lap up to keep going. I also know that I have to make a very abnormal situation completely normal for them so that when they reach school age and beyond they have the armour they need to protect them when the questions come their way about why they have no daddy.
A friend gifted me two beautiful memory boxes yesterday (thank you Sara) and it has spurred me on to work out the things I need to put in each of them so both Evie and her baby sister Isla feel connected to Colin. It has been in my head since day one but I haven’t done much about it. There is a huge bag of letters from friends, family and colleagues that need to be organised to go in. Letters that capture him in his life outside of our little family. Letters that tell me that he wasn’t just wonderful to us but quite an amazing colleague, lawyer, friend etc etc.  There are the memory cards that friends sorted to put out at his funeral which had a photo of Colin beaming out at people on one side and a statement asking those attending the service to put down their favourite memory of Col on the other. These have had me weeping and laughing as they have turned up on my doormat so thank you all. Such a great idea, EJ. All these things will go in. However, it’s the other stuff I need to think about. I want to go and buy his aftershave so they can smell him. I want to put in other records like his passports, his watch maybe and cufflinks if I can find a matching pair.
The problem with Colin was that he wasn’t that materialistic and anything of real importance he tended to lose in his kafuffly way. When clearing out our lives to move to Scotland I found endless potions for hairloss, loads of discarded used razors with bristles still on stuck to old washbags and inside his infamous striped dressing gown from 20 years ago, if not longer, (yes I have kept that too), fungal creams and what felt like thousands of squash balls everywhere but there was nothing of note to put in a memory box of any sort.
One friend asked me if I had gone through his clothes yet. Well, if I hadn’t moved to Edinburgh I would probably still be living with all his clothes, shrine-like, in our cupboards so no I hadn’t, which was good because she gave me a massive tip. She’d lost her father young and her favourite thing was to wear a slouchy shirt of his when she felt she wanted to be closer to him. When I eventually did get around to packing up our bedroom and getting rid of stuff I kept so many of his shirts, the T-shirts that remind me of him and that he wore most in any photos I have of the girls with him and randomly his ties. My mum is going to make a patchwork quilt for each of the girls from his shirts and maybe his ties, I will donate several of the softest ones to them both, intact, so they can feel engulfed in a virtual cuddle from their dad as they get older and meanwhile I will wear his T-shirts to bed. Sorted. The rest of his clothes went to a charity shop in Earlsfield the week before I moved to Edinburgh. I think I had left it that long so I wouldn’t be greeted by his stuff appearing in the window of said shop everytime I walked along Garratt Lane. Sod’s Law does exist though because when I was down recently and I stayed with our close friend and neighbour, wouldn’t you know, there, as I walked back from Earlsfield station, was a pair of Colin’s shoes hanging in the window. Great. Anyway, that aside I feel I have kept all that I can for the girls so that as the years go by Evie and Isla will feel that they know enough of their daddy to say, just like Evie said with such conviction to me this evening, that they truly love their wonderful father.

The £100 Sleep

In my bid to get through this hideous time I have opened my mind to all sorts of stuff that pre-February 25th I would have laughed in the face of. One of these has been my £100 sleep. When I told my grief councillor (yes another thing I didn’t think one would need but actually it has been invaluable in coping and moving forward) I had a permanantly aching jaw because I kept my teeth clenched together all day and all night and couldn’t seem to unclench them, she recommended I did a relaxation and meditation session. I had to stop myself from saying the kind of thing Colin would have at the suggestion.
He was always such a cynic of anything alternative. It still makes me laugh when I think about our first NCT (National Childbirth Trust) class pre-Evie’s arrival. Our teacher had asked all the expectant parents at the end of that first evening what preconceptions they had about the sessions before they had arrived. I don’t think she quite expected him to tell that he was expecting the whole thing to be all sandal-wearing weirdos or something or other along those lines. And that was his polite version of what he had been calling the organisation. Other words he’d used at home had been hairy, beardy weirdos to name but a few.
Back to the point though. I knew what Colin would have said but I felt I needed to try absolutely anything to help me. So I signed up, made the appointment and didn’t really think about it again until I was being led downstairs from my councilling appointment in London’s Recovery Centre (an aptly named and quite wonderful place) to a basement room rich with scented oils, with low lighting and soft music playing. ‘Here we go’ I thought.
I am the kind of person that doesn’t fully relax through a massage because I am worrying about the masseuse touching my feet or I find myself thinking damn I should have gone to the toilet before I got on this stupid table. So when I saw what was basically a very cosy massage table all laden with soft furry blankets I was sure this was so not going to work. But the woman who had led me in here and was obviously my relaxation expert Jeeta K’inan just had something about her that I trusted. So she invited me up onto this table to get comfortable so that I did. Then to cut a long story short she held me feet through the blankets and talked to me in a weirdly soothing tone. I soon forgot about my bladder, my worries that I wasn’t doing the breathing correctly and she led me into the most wonderful place in my head. I keep saying the word weird but it was and it wasn’t. To me it was a very strange thing for me to be doing but it felt completely natural to have a stranger hold my feet while I wandered off in my head to the most peaceful places my mind’s eye could conjure. I lost sense of time, found myself snoring but aware I was doing so and for the first time since Colin died I felt incredibly close to where he was. Bizarre. It felt like moments later she was coaxing me back from the sun-speckled jungle treetop perch I had found myself at (it was so like being at Tikal at dawn in Guatamala where we honeymooned). I came to to this song http://bit.ly/RcI1SK and I was so so happy and rested. My one hour sleep felt like it had soothed some part of me that hadn’t been at rest since Colin died. It really was the most out of the ordinary experience I have had but I will be repeating it as soon as I can arrange to be in London again and I recommend the treatment fully. Colin would have said to me: ‘You fool you have just paid someone for an hour’s worth of sleep you could have had at home.’ But he isn’t here to do that and you know what? You have to just do whatever you can to feel better again.

Widow Tourette’s

I have developed a sort of Widow Tourette’s. This is where, in the most inappropriate places, I feel the need to drop into casual conversations with complete strangers little bombs like ‘My husband has just died’ or ‘Her daddy is dead’. These widow bombs fall out of my mouth before I realise it and the poor sales assistants, bank tellers, Post Office clerks etc have to try to deal with it. I watch them floundering to remember any staff training they have had on customer service that might help them attempt to make polite conversation with the mad woman before them. Sometimes I think I throw these little bombs out there to make these people realise that life is brief so treat everyone well whatever type of day you are having. Here are a few examples:

Buying a hoover in Comet
At the desk with a boxed up Henry Hoover and two-year-old Evie beside me. I am in a hurry  (bad mother – have left Isla in the car as decided carrying baby and hoover would be too precarious). Salesman is taking his time and being perfectly pleasant by asking about Evie and telling me he is a new father and that his baby was born on December 20th. I reply with a smile: ‘Oh my baby was born on Christmas Eve. She’s in the car. Their Daddy died in February.’  The fellow didn’t know where to put himself but he did insist on carrying Henry to the car for  me.

Buying two glasses of wine in a bar in South London
I escaped the house for a meet with a friend in the very early weeks after Colin died. I felt almost normal being out with normal people all around. So why when the barman said, ‘are you having a good day?’, did I reply to his bartender banter with a jaw-dropping, ‘No not really my husband just died.’?

Getting a baby passport in various Post Offices in South London
I nearly cancelled the holiday we were due to go on in July due to the stress of dealing with Post Office staff doing the Check And Send service for passport forms. Each time I went to the desk determined not to reveal myself as a mad widow but each time their ‘Computer Says No’ customer service had me weeping at the desk, pleading with them either for a new form or at least not to pay nearly £9 yet again for someone to tell me I had got something ridiculously mundane wrong with the application – one of the signatures had gone over the line of the box, the photo was not in line with regulations, the ink was the incorrect colour. It took five visits to a post office, the help of Colin’s Best Friend and a trainee at Colin’s work to sort us out eventually.  No amount of Widow’s Tourette’s penetrated the soulless staff of Royal Mail. 

Banking a cheque at a bank in South London
It was a significant amount so the teller told me I had to go into an office to put the cheque through. So me and Isla in her buggy squeezed our way into an office with a bored-with-my-job kind of woman: ‘Hello Mrs Campbell. Due to the amount of this cheque we need to know where the money came from.’ Me: ‘Well it does say on the cheque where it is from but it has been given to me because my husband just died.’ Bored woman kind of gets more interested as my widow bomb goes off: ‘Oh right. How did he die? What age was he? How old is your baby?’. This woman had a form of Tourette’s all of her own and it is called Complete and Utter Insensitivity Tourette’s. She followed my answers of ‘It was his heart. He was 38.  She is 14 weeks old, I think.’, with a further heart stabbingly awful, ‘Oh was it sudden?’ and then proceeded to try to sell me some financial package or other to make the most of my new-found wealth. Idiot.

Contraction Master

In an attempt to get a little more shut-eye after Isla woke up at 5.16am this morning I fed her my iPhone. I decided with only two teeth the most harm she could do would be a severe suck. Every so often I would open one eye to see her scrolling through apps – isn’t it frightening that babies are already better at technology than your average grandparent? Anyway, I digress. In her scrolling Isla managed to open the Contraction Master app we used when I was in labour with her. I didn’t want her to delete the record I had of those intense hours with Col so I grabbed the phone back to have a look. It is one of those Apps that ‘does what it says on the tin’. It records the times and intensities of your contractions and creates graphs of the trends so you can see how you are progressing through. After Evie’s birth I was aware I have quick labours so it wasn’t long before I handed my phone over to Col to be master of the Contraction Master as I was no longer capable of anything other than getting on through the waves of pain. So he was recording my squeals as they came and went. As I read through the charts this morning I thought ‘what a bloody cheek?’. I noted that at 23.11 on 23/12/11 Colin noted my contraction as mild. Mild. I gave birth about 40 minutes later. I was mock livid with him this morning as I read through the rest of it. Mild, Mild, Medium….he had no idea. He always thought me a drama queen but I would love to have seen him deliver a child. That aside though my memory of Colin at the births of our babies was that he was emotional, ecstatic, overwhelmed and instantly in love at both of them. It makes me sad that aside from two random midwives in St Georges in Tooting, London, I am the only living being with those memories and stories from those two Very Important Days in our little Campbell clan’s story.

Family Gatherings Minus One

Yesterday we had a Sunday lunch at mine for my sister’s birthday. It wasn’t until I started to set the table that I felt sick with sadness that Colin wouldn’t be joining us. The weird thing was that I only had enough plates and glasses for the seven adults that were attending not the eight that Colin would have made it and we only just fitted around the table anyway. It was a lovely afternoon but it was always Col who did the Sunday roasts in our house. He usually managed to use every pot in the kitchen to do so (and make each of them dirty enough that I had to soak them for days afterwards) but he was pretty damn proud of his efforts everytime. He would have been appalled that we didn’t roast the potatoes or make yorkshire puddings (whatever the meat these were an essential) and I am sure he would have forced me to make my creamy leeks speciality, which I certainly didn’t have the energy to do. I enjoyed the whole event but it felt like that big Colin-shaped hole loomed over every part of it. I couldn’t settle that well at the table because I kept wishing for his booming voice to make some joke at or with us all about our curious family ways. I missed him profoundly and wonder what Christmas will be like without him.