If I could wish for one thing this Christmas it would be to be able to have one last conversation with Colin. Oh I could ask for more. A whole 24 hours with him would be amazing. Just a visit so he could see how well we’ve been doing since he has been gone. So he could hold me one last time. So he could laugh with his girls, tickle them, talk to them, see how they’ve grown and just breath them in, one more time, like when he used to sneak little kisses on their scalps as he fed them their milk at the late night feed. But I know he can’t visit us so one last conversation with him would do. For him just to appear to me in a dream and tell me that he’s proud of us, that he thinks the girls are astounding, that he is glad I’ve found my feet again, that he likes Cameron and wants him to know that I can be hard work but that I have my good points too. I want him to laugh with me about how Cameron is getting to know the silliness as well as the high maintenance side of me. I want to see his face not through the glimpses I see in our children but his face. If only I could see one more time his wicked grin and his twinkly eyes.
It will be three years in February since he died and I have only dreamt of him a handful of times. The first time I don’t think I was even asleep because it was only the first night or so after he died and I didn’t sleep back then in those first horrid living nightmare days and nights. But I must have dosed and somewhere between sleep and wake I saw him in our room at the end of our bed just standing watching me and tiny baby Isla. Then there was the dream where I needed to speak to him and our house was filled with everyone from our lives together but no one knew where I could find a phone to call him on. I frantically searched everywhere but to no avail. When I did find the phone it was useless. It had no keypad. No way to dial the number I needed. Almost a year later I spoke to him on a bench in a room stripped bare. He was older but still him. He’d not have liked this version of him as he had more wrinkles and his hair was white and thinner but I still loved him. I told him I missed him – where had he been. He hugged me and said, “Nic, I’ve been here all the time”. I woke up just he was imparting some knowledge to me. He was telling me that there are only three important cards in life – the Swan, the death card and the…….I woke up before he could finish. I’ve never been into tarot but a quick google search the next day did make me wonder about dreams and dead people and can they chat to you. Still not sure but I like to think Col threw me the Swan card as a wee message to say ‘everlasting love to you my sweet’. He must have googled it his end because he used to think of himself as fairly spiritually defunct so without some spiritual search engine he’d have had no clue that the Swan was such the symbol of forever love that it is.
Anyway since then the dreams have been scant. He has appeared on the periphery of dreams here and there. So if I could have my one wish for Christmas I wish for one last proper conversation, particularly at this time of year when I feel his loss so keenly, I wish, I wish, I wish for it every night when I go to bed. I wish for it every day that gets closer to the day our second child was born on Christmas Eve three years ago because every day of December brings with it bittersweet memories of prepping for her arrival and for a Christmas that was to be our first and last as a new wee family. So bring it on dream people/Santa/spiritual beings/Col. Grant me this one wish and I will be good, or try to be good, for the whole rest of the year. I promise.
When Col spoke of his dad he always spoke with such admiration and pride. He described him as ‘nails’ or ‘afraid of nothing’. He told me one story many times of when, growing up in Nairobi, he and his sister nicola had been petrified by the appearance of a huge spider the size of a fully grown man’s hand (col was always one for exaggeration but he insisted this wasn’t one) near the house or in the garage (I wish I could ask him which, but I can’t). Col described his dad as calmly coming to the rescue and scooping up the giant arachnid on a postcard, Continue reading In Memory of Poppa
Last year, when I decided to run the Edinburgh Half Marathon for the British Heart Foundation in Colin’s memory, on what would have been his 40th birthday, it all seemed like a good plan. Even more so when about 20 others, friends and family, signed up with me. It also seemed a long way off. Now it’s next month. Argh. I am so not prepared. I have silly unequal legs and a flat foot and have been banned from running for two weeks now. I never thought I would say this but I have really been missing my running training. My stupid body has been terribly inconsiderate in getting an injury. Running, music on, clears my head and sets me free. Yesterday I picked up my new magic trainer insoles from my foot doctor and so I am hoping to get back on track over the next six weeks and break through the finish line in about two hours. Hmmmm.
Several conversations with Evie over the past few days are spurring me on. The first took place in the car. Out of the blue, she said to me, ‘Daddy’s heart was broken. But why don’t we send a boy to fix it.’ I was totally taken unawares but replied, ‘Sweetheart, we can’t send a boy to fix Daddy’s heart. His heart stopped working and he died, I am so sorry.’ Determined, Evie continued: ‘But if a boy can’t fix it, can’t we send a grown up.’ Of course, I am now weeping in the front of the car and have no real idea what to say but reiterate that Daddy’s heart stopped working and there is no one in the world that can fix it because Daddy died and his body is now gone and he is not coming back.
Then last night I came home from training and the wee toad was still awake when I snuck in. She saw my gym stuff on and said have you been practicing running for Daddy’s race in the sky. After a bit of questioning it turns out that she thinks all this running training is me practicing for a big sky race with Daddy. She believes he is in a physical place. She thinks that when we go on holiday we can wave at him from the plane and ultimately one day he will come back. My whole thing about saying Daddy’s in the sky has messed her head. She’s so not in a place yet to understand this whole death thing. My friend says her son is only getting his father’s death now he is four so I think I just have to be a little less foggy about what I believe and put it more plainly. Daddy’s spirit lives on but his body has gone because his heart stopped. I am running not because I want to see Daddy in the sky for some big old cloud race (although Col would have loved that – he always liked us to pitch ourselves against each other in silly competitions) but because hopefully raising money for the British Heart Foundation will help stop others losing wonderful people like Colin.
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Today Evie scootered her little heart out on one of her most prized Christmas presents. I was so proud as she tootled off into the distance. What makes me sad though is that moments like those are sometimes the ones I miss Col most. He would have been so enthusiastic and overjoyed yet absolutely fearful for her head, her limbs and her beautiful little face. I miss him most when the girls do something that is probably run of the mill to the rest of the world but to two loving parents it marks an amazing achievement. There is something quite indulgent between two parents when their baby a. finds its hands b. says a word c. claps d. scooters her little heart out that others can smile and nod and indulge you a little but there is nothing quite like sharing that moment in time with the person you made that little person with. I can only think I will keep having these moments for the rest of my life with Evie and Isla. There will be school nativities, school reports, exam results, weddings and so on and I will always feel that I don’t have that person to nod and smile with quietly knowing that we two brought that person up and helped make them who they are. That is something that breaks my heart again, again and again. Oh and again once more.
I used to say to Colin I had a whole host of ‘future memories’ that would make our life – Evie in her nightie on holiday sitting on our knees on the veranda of the villa we got engaged at, knowing she should be in bed but laughing at mummy and daddy arguing over scrabble (it was a holiday tradition), Evie and Isla playing together on the beach as the sun went down or the four of us cycling for bread on a French break (ridiculous I know but we did always think we would have those idyllic holidays in the French countryside because that was one of his most memorable childhood trips…to some sort of piggery in the middle of nowhere). Now I know I will have those future memories (perhaps not the pig farm bit but the school things and hopefully the rest too) but they will be mine alone and not his and that makes me weep as I am now.
The pain I felt when Colin died was so intense it was an actual, physical hurt deep inside my chest. I loved him so intensely that I couldn’t imagine life beyond him. Life without him seemed to be so bleak that I remember crying out, howling, to my family that I just didn’t want to go on if he wasn’t here to share it all. All those years I searched for love because I thought that it was the answer to a happy and fulfilled existence and now it had been ripped away. I thought what idiots we all are. Imagine looking for love when all love means is that some day you will be without it and all you will be left with is a deep, dark hole in your chest and nothing much else. I started to panic about all the other people I loved. If the love of my life could be taken so suddenly, well, couldn’t the rest of them be stolen from me too. I wondered if perhaps a life where you loved no one and you simply looked out for yourself was actually preferable to living in fear that loving others was opening yourself up to a whole world of misery.
But you simply can’t help it. A safe and sterile life without the potential for hurt and worry is not for many and it is not for me. I prefer to fill my days with the love of my family and friends and know that one day they or I will no longer be here. More simply, how could I not love Evie and Isla? They are Colin and they are me. What’s not to love about that? Yes it strikes the fear of God into me that something could happen to them too. A few weeks ago the clock struck 7am with no word from Isla and I lay there, stricken, convinced that she had died in her sleep. Obviously she hadn’t she was just being good for once but everyday I see accidents in my mind’s eye that could take either Evie or Isla from me. I see Evie running out into the path of a car nearly everytime I take them out. I see cars coming at us from junctions and think if that hit us it would wipe out Isla. I see head bumps, falls, choking hazards and potential illnesses and I think ‘Oh dear God how will I get us through?’.
I have had to start the process to get both girls’ hearts checked out for the same defect Colin had as it may be genetic. I have put it off until now because I almost don’t want to know. However, Colin’s friends who managed to attend the inquest were advised by the doctor in attendance that the girls should be screened for Cardiac Dysrhythmias as soon as possible. Colin knew there was something wrong with his heart because he had seen a cardiologist but I don’t think he knew it really was a proper life threatening condition. If he had hopefully he wouldn’t have joked about it like he did. He had come home after his appointment and scan results and stood in the doorway of our kitchen and we had the following conversation, roughly speaking (and please bear in mind that I had just had Evie at the time):
Col: “You don’t love me.”
Col: “You’ve not asked me about my scan.”
Me: “Oh God I am so sorry. It’s been hectic. How did it go?”
Col: “Well, I might drop dead tomorrow but I am more than likely to live a full and healthy life.”
The fact that he joked about it made me think he was exaggerating and certainly it never changed the way he lived his life so I am not sure he really had been fully briefed on his condition. If only he had. But then perhaps his happy-go-lucky way about his diagnosis is something I could learn from with the girls. Fat chance. If either one of them, or even worse both, have some genetic heart defect I may have to reassess how I bring up my children. Instead of normality I will box them up, wrapped in a huge wad of cotton wool, until I am gone. Isn’t that a perfectly normal way to deal with this whole love, life and loss equation? Hmmmm.
Over the last two weeks nighttimes Chez Campbell have been a pain. Teething, colds, general ‘mummy’ clinginess have all meant that I have been up and down like a yoyo to one child or the other. I have tried earlier nights to combat the sleep deprivation but it makes no difference. It really is a form of torture. It is as if both Evie and Isla Baby know when I have stopped clearing up toys, doing washings, attempting paperwork etc and have finally signed off for the night because inevitably as soon as I switch off for standby every day they start their nighttime shenanigans. I almost feel like someone is playing a joke on me and there are night-vision cameras overhead watching the to-ing and fro-ing, moving one baby from one bed to my bed, out of my bed to another bed, then doing the same with the other baby, administering Calpol as I go, and all the while a soundtrack is playing Benny Hill-style music. It’s a disaster.
Colin wasn’t a natural at being involved in the nighttime fiasco times with Evie but he took it on. We did discuss that as he was the main earner it was my duty to get him to work able to function so Mondays to Thursdays it was my fiasco. It changed a bit when I returned to work but I actually didn’t mind because I knew come the weekend there would be a let up and it was MY TIME. This is the one of the biggest drawbacks I have encountered since he died. There is no let up. There is no one to elbow in the back and say ‘it’s your turn’ when the familiar sound of a child cranking up for a squawk happens over the monitor. I am shattered.
I know I am not the first single parent and won’t be the last. I also know that splitting up is no joy either as Colin often reported how nasty it got when during a divorce couples used children as leverage or ammunition against the other. I don’t have the issue of someone taking my time away from my babies or making it difficult for me to see them. Some could argue widowhood is better because there are no arguements with anyone about childrens’ futures but really that’s a whole other discussion. Single parenthood, however it comes, is quite rubbish.
In some ways it hasn’t changed too much for me. Col did let me make most of the day to day decisions for our girls. But what he brought to the table was support when I needed it, love and attention for the girls every single day, time for me to shower of a morning without an audience, fun, future financial planning and, quite a massive part, a person to bounce off the major decision-making with. Last week Isla was ill. Colin would have kept me sane or sent me ballistic, I can’t make my mind up over which it would have been, but at least he would have been part of a discussion over whether she was in need of urgent attention or whether we were being stupid. He was also the one that was doing all the forward planning for their financial security. This now keeps me awake at night when the girls aren’t. When I am lying in bed not sleeping between the ups and downs of child soothing duties I lie there thinking of all the things I now have to do that I didn’t realise he did when I sat with other mothers at work, cafes, toddler classes or NCT meets moaning about stupid husbands. I wish I could take back all the times we argued because I didn’t think he was pulling his weight. He was and I didn’t realise how lucky I was until he was gone. Bring back the huge showdown we had over why had I not supplied what he called ‘a bottom drying cloth’ at Isla’s changing station. I was incensed. He was critcising my mothering skills (bear in mind Isla was six weeks old at the time so probably hormones were still raging). I walked out threatening to take both girls with me to Edinburgh but ended up standing in a freezing cold Earlsfield play park, three minutes around the corner, with my double buggy filled with astonished children and weeping for half an hour while sending him evil text messages until I calmed down. That day I wished I could bring up my children without their idiot father. I was the idiot. Careful what you wish for world.