This time of year is always so rubbish in terms of trying not to feel the countdown between the day Isla was born (Christmas Eve 2011) and the day Col died (25th February 2012). Just nine short weeks and every year I feel them ticking. So this year I am sorting so many positive and proactive things to try to avoid the spiral. First up, Evie’s grand plan for walking up Daddy’s hill to raise money for a bench in Edinburgh. And we are nearly done! The girls are ecstatic and so chuffed that so many of the friends and family are helping them get there with the fundraising. Thank you everyone. Just less than £200 to go so any last donations are welcome – we are already thinking how we will word our plaque to thank you all.
This time of year does tend to smart and this year more than ever. My email inbox is clogged up with chipper Father’s Day gift ideas and my phone keeps pinging me clever ways to treat the men that are no longer in our lives. Popping to the supermarket to top up on essentials is like running a gauntlet of reminders of all the cheap tat we don’t need to buy this year, next year or indeed ever.
Evie’s loving practising her new reading skills everywhere we go – road signs, sides of trucks and everything you pass in shops. This week I’ve seen her walk that first aisle in Tesco and take in the cards and the messages so I wasn’t really surprised to have a big old chat with her yesterday morning. At nursery the girls have always either made me a card or made a wee picture for Grandad and they’ve never seemed particularly sad about that. However, this year this year there is no Grandad, no Poppa and, of course, no Daddy. So Evie was deliberating over what she wanted to do if her class did a Father’s Day activity: “I could make Grandad a card and laminate it so it could go on his grave but then how would we stick there? Miss Taylor has special Sellotape that might stick but what do we stick it to?”
I suggested punching a hole in it and tying it on with ribbon but was met with disgust so she pondered some different ideas: “I’ll maybe just make a card for Daddy and we can put next to his photograph or perhaps I just make Nana a card because she’s lonely all on her own.” Everything I said to these options was wrong even though I was only saying ‘you can pretty much choose any of the above my love because they are all fine plans and make total sense in a situation that will never really make sense to any of us’.
I decided to call in outside reinforcements because it was clear that Evie and I were clashing as only her and I can particularly when she is feeling a little at sea about something usually grief related. So I wrote a note to Evie’s teacher explaining that she was obviously uptight about any activities that might be done at school. Help.
I love Evie’s teacher. Due to some strange and awful fate Evie is one of three children in her class grieving a daddy. in response to my scrappy note Evie’s teacher wrote the most beautiful little note back to me and also took the time to speak to me and Evie about the planned activity. So instead of a straight Father’s Day card Evie’s class will be doing an activity where they are asked to think of someone special to them and draw and write about them. It’s a lovely solution and Evie bounced down to school this morning full of beans about today’s Creative Hub. And hopefully those dad’s of the class who are all still here won’t mind too much…perhaps their partners will need to run to Tesco because there’s certainly some wonderful Daddy tat to be picked up at a reasonable price tag. Evie and I can totally vouch for that.
As for Isla? Simple: “Mummy for Father’s Day I am going to make a toy for daddy to play with in the clouds. We will need to put it on an aeroplane so it can fly up to him.”
Col would have turned 43 today. He died at 38. Evie was 22 months old and Isla was nine weeks. I was 36. Colin and I met when he was 28 and I was 25 so we had just under 11 years together. I spent 10 birthdays with him. I bought him 10 presents and probably went for 10 birthday dinners. He has missed five birthdays. That’s five years that the girls have not been able to run in and jump on his sleepy bed head and shout happy birthday daddy on the 26th May. However you crunch those numbers he was too young to die. The girls were too little to lose their daddy. And I had too little time with one of life’s gems.
People probably think come on love…that’s nearly five years now. You’ll be getting over it. But you never get over it. I have learnt to live with our loss. I have learnt to ‘move on’ like so many bereaved people get told to do. Time has healed to some extent but the chasms of grief are too great to ever not feel the sadness waves when you see other children laughing with daddy, playing with daddy or simply just having a daddy. Nope that is not something you ever get over. If you are a dad or you’re married to a great one…just try and imagine for a few moments how deeply you and your children would feel your/his absence and you will see how col’s death at 38 and the fact he is not here to bemoan getting older (and maybe balder and fatter) at 43 just simply does not add up to something I will ever understand or get over.
I remember a week or so before Evie was born, standing in the empty but newly decorated nursery looking at the softly washed baby clothes and imagining what parenthood would be like. How would we do it? I imagined the wee thing that would come home from hospital and fill those clothes, sleep in the empty cot and be clipped into that carefully selected carseat. How would we cope?
How could I imagine that five years down the line I would be in the car, about 400 miles from the home I was nesting in, discussing with that wee thing, the one that came home and became the thing that wore those clothes, took hours to settle in that cot and who only seemed sleep soundly in that carseat, and her little sister Isla what it would be like if daddy weren’t dead.
Isla: “Why is daddy in the sky?”
Evie turns five tomorrow. Can you believe it? As she went to bed tonight she whispered to you to say: “Daddy, I’m five tomorrow. Send me a kiss from heaven.” I hope you manage some way to do so. I simply can’t believe we’ve managed four of our first baby’s birthdays without you. She’s grown so much. She looks so like you and after several years of worrying that your loss was creating a sad little girl she has changed so much recently. She still carries a sadness but she is so caring and has such lovely friends and happy times. She has her moments, of course, but she is becoming very much a little person you would be proud of. Clever, thoughtful and a little bit feisty. You only ever spent the big One birthday with her. I simply can’t get over that fact. But at least we had that. We all miss you at these times but I hope that we can feel your love tomorrow. I had a discussion with the girls as I was rushing them to nursery the other morning. As I was going half crazy about footwear or lack of I can’t remember how it started but Isla said something about where is daddy or why is daddy not here. I told them both that you surrounded them with your love everyday it is just sometimes we can’t see it. That’s how I understand it. Simple. You can’t give us the hugs and kisses we would love to have but you caress us with your love everyday we just simply know it but can’t physically feel it. Love you always darling. Lamb-a x
PS I found this pic tonight when looking for another one…I love this more. Evie looks more like you than ever now. Mini me or what
Recently, someone I have never met before, and certainly who has never met me with my children or indeed ever set eyes upon my children at all, sat earnestly before me at a dinner party and told me she felt I was projecting my grief onto my offspring. Yes it was like a punch in the stomach to learn once again that someone has an opinion on how I am dealing with Col’s death but it’s not a new thing, at all. We all do it, we all judge the way others are living their lives. It’s just some of us have learned through experience that sometimes you need to keep that thought inside and perhaps not verbalise it until we are in a position to know what we are talking about. And I wouldn’t wish the knowledge I have lived and learned through on anyone.
From the moment your husband, wife, partner dies it does feel like everyone feels they have a right to an opinion on stuff you are doing or not doing – the little and the big stuff. I am sure most who have gone through this have had moments where they’ve wanted to scream at people ‘how on earth do you know what is right or wrong here, you’re not where I am right now and although you’ve just made me mad I wouldn’t want you to know how this feels but just, just, arghhhh leave me alone to do this my way.’ People’s concern means that they care but there are often judgements within the worry – she’s not coping/ she’s coping too well/ she’s drinking too much/ she’s eating too little/ she’s not accepted it/ she’s not looking after herself/ she’s made the wrong big scary financial decision/ she’s being a cow (for too long)/ she’s moved on too quickly/ she’s not moved on enough/ she needs to find someone new to complete her once again/ she needs to be careful who she’s met because he might take advantage of her/ she is not being the best parent she can be/ she’s OK now/ she’s not OK enough to deal with this so we won’t tell her. Argggghhhhhh. The list is endless.
I still make the mistake of judging others’ choices in life. I should know better. I catch myself when I can and try to put myself in other people’s shoes before thinking they are doing the wrong thing. I try not to speak it out loud when I do have that opinion because what can my opinion add if I am not living their life.
I was particularly sensitive in the early days and many who crossed me with their well-intentioned tuppence-worth suffered my wrath directly or indirectly. I am sorry for that. I really am and I have learnt from that mistake but it still happens a wee bit here and there so apologies friends and family. Now I am less sensitive but I am still terribly thin-skinned when it comes to how I am helping my children through a loss that is lifelong and not fixable. Having read a significant amount on the subject I feel I have chosen the path that works for me and the girls. Below is a poem by Henry Scott Holland that was read at Colin’s memorial service almost three years ago. Many will know it. I believe its words and all in this house and those around me kind of live by them.
Death is Nothing at All
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.
It is the line “Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,” that resonates. Since Col’s death I have never allowed his name to be said in hushed tones or not spoken at all. I speak about him as if he were still here beside us all. I don’t change this for new friends that never knew him or me with him or Cameron’s friends who have only met me since I met him. It’s a 100 per cent of the time kind of a mindset. Col is my past, my present and my future and most importantly he is completely part of the girls’ lives. Perhaps this makes people uncomfortable but it is my way and from the research I have done on my children’s behalf I believe it is the best way to answer their, sometimes, barrage of daddy questions, ease their worries about death and keep his memory alive. To make his death, or any death in fact, a taboo subject will just make them feel death is a dark secret, his death is and his life are not part of them. Making it difficult to talk about him will make them feel different to others and down the line I believe it will make them anxious about a rather large subject that they need to talk through to understand.
When something so huge as the death of a partner, and the father or mother of your child or children, happens to you the perspective it gives you can feel like a gift if you can make yourself see the rather inadequate silver lining to the death cloud over your life. With my new perspecitve I am learning to face the world and its judgements and remember there is only one person I would take real criticism on on how I am bringing up my children and every decision I make for those girls I make with my knowledge of his opinions at the forefront of my mind. I believe I knew Col’s way and how he felt about the world better than most so I am making our lives as in tune with the way he lived his as possible. And I talk about him and his life and his way with my girls so they will hopefully understand where I am coming from when they are old enough. I may be right or wrong but this is my way. Others who will follow me in this journey may choose to do things differently, they will find their own way through, and others ahead of me in their loss are likely doing it their way. We all make mistakes but they are our mistakes to make. If I can sleep at night because I believe Col wouldn’t be judging me on how I am bringing up his children then I am happy. It is his judgement I try to put into my decision-making processes and so others can think what they like but I follow my heart on this. I don’t judge this person who made their sweeping statement of me. As one widow friend said when I told her of the whole upset I should be happy that she is so clueless as to how all this feels because why would I want anyone to suffer all this heartache. If she had come close to it she may not have said her piece so bluntly. Perhaps my reaction will make her think more before she speaks next time but I hold no malice. I think she meant well. Perhaps next time I am held up in judgement for my life and my actions I should learn to smile, remember the words of the Henry Scott Holland poem copied into this post and move on because in my heart I feel I am doing the right things the right way most of the time. And I will learn by my mistakes. Judge me if you will but keep it to yourself until you are walking in similar shoes to mine.
Three years this Wednesday and still learning.
Sometimes I wish life were like a school biology experiment. Instead of ten woodlice in one ‘control’ petri dish residing on a soggy bit of kitchen roll in their little world all constant and unchanged compared to their 10 friends on very similar petri dish who’d have had all sorts of changeables thrown at them, there would be two sets of me, Evie and Isla going through two similar but two very different lives. In one petri dish of a life the three of us would be all constant and unchanged and living in London and Colin would be there. On the other petri dish we’d have had all the spanners life has thrown at us since the death of Col. Hopefully on this second petri dish we’d be surviving and rebuilding as we are here and now but it would make it easier to pinpoint how we’ve been altered because we could look at the other Evie, Isla and Nicola and see what might have been and compare and contrast. The conclusion would be so simple. Any differences between those two petri dishes could be put down to his loss and the whole fallout from that terrible fact.
I have been counting dates again. Isla is the same age Evie was when Col died. She is 22 months. And she’s still just a baby. Yes she talks and she understands stuff but how, at this same age did Evie cope with loss and understand that daddy just disappeared from her life? How did I think she understood? She didn’t but she did. She stopped asking for him, she refused her much-loved milks and she point blank refused baths. His death did seem to have an affect on her. So she did suffer the loss but it’s only now at three and a half that she is beginning to grasp it. When will 22-month-old Isla get it? Will she feel jealous that she had such a short time feeling his love all around her? Arghhhh.
Seeing Isla at this same stage also makes me think, once again, about how short a time Col had with both his girls. At the time I thought at 22 months Evie was almost a fully fledged child. But she was a baby. Then I start thinking about the fact that if she was a baby then Isla at nine weeks was practically an embryo. Tiny. They shared such a tiny amount of time in this world with their wonderful daddy. It’s heartbreaking (well of course it is, the whole bloody thing is).
Those who know and follow this blog will also know that I have come under fire from certain Dail Mail idiots. I have moved on and met someone so that of course means I am callous and unfeeling. Well if those people could walk in these grief boots for just one moment they would, they would, well, they’d eat their sanctimonious hats. I am moving on. But every step forward is also filled with sadness. My children have lost their daddy and I lost the future I thought I had ahead of me. I am only now able to start emptying some of the boxes I packed up in the weeks following Col’s death for our big move north. My new house is not so new anymore, after over a year in it, but with the piles of random objects and boxes sitting in the shadowy corners of most rooms it looks undone and very unhomely. Meeting Cameron has spurred me on to make the house look happy and lived in and so yesterday I started to tackle the last few boxes. Almost immediately I was in pieces. First the cufflinks I bought Col for our wedding day had me in silent tears and then…well I peeled the bubble wrap off our wedding photos and found myself wracked by those animalistic sobs that those who have suffered this type of loss will know. The ones where your mouth freezes open, like in Munch’s Scream, and you get that awful pain in your chest. The one that feels like a deep, dark, unfillable hole.
It’s been a long time since I felt that pain. As well as the despair that the life I had was gone in amongst this latest bout of weepage I was thinking…God, will this ever, ever, ever get any easier? Of course it will, it is (this time I had Cameron holding me up and hugging me while I collapsed inwards and that definitely felt better than being alone and falling apart) but I think I would be a fool to think that grief will ever leave my life completely. One day when these girls of ours get bigger this pain will hit them too and I so wish I could keep it from them but they can’t stay three and a bit and 22 months forever. Soon I will be counting the date that Evie has been alive longer without her dad than with…great
Evie’s having a tough time right now. Night terrors and lots of questions about where exactly is daddy. It started a few weeks ago when I told her I was going away for a few days for a wee holiday and she would be staying with her Grandma Pat. Her immediate reaction was to cry and tell me that she didn’t want me to go because I might not come back. When you hear things like that your heart breaks into a million tiny pieces all over again. In her experience of the world people that you love, and love with all your heart because they are your whole actual world, can simply vanish in the blink of an eye, or indeed an afternoon snooze. So of course she doesn’t want mummy to go away for a few days because she might not come back, that happens.
While I was away she had some night terrors and my sister and my mum had to cope with it as Evie screamed and then just sat not awake and not asleep in the corner of the room, staring. Now since my return she’s been having more nightmares and she’s been calling out for daddy in these dreams. Aside from a finger trapping accident in the back of the car a couple of months ago, Evie has not called out for her daddy since the day he died. And that’s the case despite the fact that up until that D day he was her number one go to in the night due to an arrangement between me and Col while I was in late pregnancy and subsequently had Isla Baby. I’d happily been substituted for Col as her favourite person to see through the bars of her cot.
I wonder what she dreams of that leads her to shout out for her him in such fear. Is she losing him all over again in her unconscious imagination? Is she scared of him if or when he visits her in her sleep? Does he appear to her as he is in the photos I show her? Or does she have real memories that recurr? I dont know any of these answers and the tears are bouncing off my keyboard here. Arghhh. Just when you think life is back on a copeable, even keel, and perhaps even showing promise at being good again…well, things like this knock you for six because you realise this is a life sentence. My girls, and so many others like them, will always be going through a stage in their grief. Currently for Evie it’s working out what death means (and thank you Winston’s Wish for the kind woman who reassured me that I am saying and doing the right things in my hour-long phone ramble last week). Isla, well at nine weeks she didn’t really notice Col’s disappearance because her nappies still got changed, she got her milk every few hours and she got looked after with love, I think, but soon she’ll be faced with the realisation that her wonderful little status quo is not quite the norm and will start her wee journey of grief that may or may not take a different path to the one that her big sister is now on. And it’s hard for me because I like to fix and move on but in this situation you simply can’t. I can’t sweep their grief or mine under the carpet and start again. That would mean forgetting what we’ve lost and it’s my mission in life that none of us ever forget Colin. But we do jog along into our future without him and that future holds so many significant dates that he won’t see. This week all the Facebook pics proud daddies took of kids going to school…well my stomach lurches knowing Evie and Isla will have a different kind of experience of that moment and there will be one huge big hole in that morning. That’s just the start of it. Graduations and weddings, 18ths and 21sts…the list is endless. But actually I know it’s the normal days, it’s the growing up around what’s supposedly normal and seeing difference, that will have Evie, and Isla too down the line no doubt, asking the big ‘death’ questions and screaming out for daddy in the dark of night.
Yesterday at nursery pick up Evie was anxious to find a picture she had done because she wanted to take it home for me, not put it in her nursery work folder. It is the one attached to this post. It’s her version of a normal family portrait and it had me weeping in the car home. Evie, Isla and I take defined forms while daddy seems to be floating off with his scribbly no face body heading skyward. She talked me through the picture in the classroom and when I smiled and said, ‘Is that daddy in the sky?’, she was quite adament. ‘ no. That’s him here with us.’ What do you say to that?
When Evie was a baby Col and I had a competition about who’s name she would call out first. He would sit there just repeating Dada Dada Dada at her at every opportunity with a glint in his eye. I didn’t realise until some time later that I was fighting a losing battle anyway as almost every child says Dada first. And Colin knew it. He’d googled it and it’s something to do with ‘d’ being an easier consonant to say but could also be nature’s way of making the parent who did not pop the baby out in the first place feel even more attached. Anyway, much to our amusement Evie’s first word was neither Mama or Dada and really wasn’t a word. ‘Abu’ was applied indiscriminitly to both of us and became our name for her.
What’s gutting now he’s gone though is that Colin’s second daughter is very much a Daddy fan. Her first words have been bubble, ball and bot bot but her new favourite this week is Daddy. Not Dada but Daddy. It’s so clear and heart wrenching every single time. And everything and everyone is Daddy. Pictures on the wall and people who come and go all get the same thing – a finger point and a, clear as a bell, ‘Daddy’. It’s not like we have that many daddies in our lives but I suppose she does hear it. From me to Evie and her about their daddy, from me to my dad, from her cousin’s to their dads, from the TV and from books. Maybe I shouldn’t think about it too much. Embrace it. I have been trying. So when she pointed at the black jazz trumpeter on the strange mural in my kitchen and said, ‘daddy’ I snorted with laughter and got up and got a pic of Col to show her who her actual Daddy is. I will keep on going with this process. Because after two hours listening to a perpetual ‘Daddy’ from the back of the car yesterday I am a little over it. I can almost hear Col laughing at the absurdity of it. When the two of us competed over Evie and her first Dada and Mama he used to tell me that he wouldn’t have to do much to earn it and that no matter how many nappies I changed or how many baths or feeds he missed out on it would still be ‘Dada’ that came first….well now he’s got that a little too right. He didn’t get too many nappy changes or feeds in in those nine weeks with Isla and yet his mini me is a massive fan. Oh Col you’d adore her right back.