The Annual Father’s Day Conundrum

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.”


Time Out

I took the summer off. Literally. I haven’t posted because I have been on so many wee holidays with my girls. It was my treat to me and to us. The summers are always a bit tough anyway with so many milestone dates, Father’s Day, wedding anniversary and birthday all coming in a steady flow of blows. This year it was a significantly important birthday though and it was the catalyst really for ‘getting away from it’. I felt odd because I was leaving the decade Col knew me most in but it also hurt that he never got to his four zero’s at all. He will be forever 38 and I am very much no longer his 36-year-old widow.

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The Two Faces of Evie

I thought it was just me that had a face for the world and then one with the cracks that I tend to keep for behind the closed doors of our home. I am discovering this week that although Evie may look the spit of Colin she is most definitely like me in this ability to create a happy exterior when inside you have a chasm of sadness that dissipates but never will go away completely.

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Judgement Days

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.


Happy Father’s Day

For the last two Junes I have wanted to scream very loudly, ‘hello world, not everyone has a bloody daddy anymore’, at every Father’s Day display I saw in shops. I wanted to shout at the tv ads, ‘don’t forget him this Father’s Day…ha fat chance’. More extreme though I wanted to go mad on Facebook with nasty ‘poor me’ comments on everyone’s lovely posts about days spent doing special things and pics of daddies and daughters and even daddies and sons. I was being a bereaved cow. I couldn’t really see beyond my own loss. I wanted the world to feel the same miserable way I was – a widow weeping over my babies’ efforts of Father’s Day cards made at nursery which were never going to go the real recipient but were made for me or grandad instead.
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Where exactly is Daddy?

Poor Daddy. In Evie's pic he's a wispy Casper the Ghost
Poor Daddy. In Evie’s pic he’s a wispy Casper the Ghost

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?

First Words

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.Image

The Date Game

As the 12 month mark has been passed of course I have now ticked off all the landmark dates that loom in your average griever’s diary. But I have now found myself playing a new game, which is less about calendar dates but more about the passing of time and how messed up it is that it keeps on ticking without Col. So it was Evie’s birthday last week. A day which of course had its own mix of happiness, anger and sadness. But the thing that kept whizzing around in my head throughout the celebrations was that Colin only ever saw one of his daughter’s birthdays. Evie’s first. Wham. Human punchbag that I am, big, bad grief got me on that several times. Then I worked out that at three Evie is only nine months away from being alive longer without Colin than with. Bam. The punches keep on rolling. And so you allow your brain to conjure up more painful facts, at 16 months Isla is only six months away from being the age Evie was when he last saw her. Slam. On my birthday I will be the age Col was when he died. And down. Round two will of course be when I have been a widow longer than I was married. Only about 18 months until that….not that I am counting…haha

Our birthday girl, Col xx
Our birthday girl, Col xx

Nature Vs Nurture

Recently, Evie has started this habit of standing in front of me, relaxed and conversational, with her hand down the back of her pants. This is not learned behaviour I can assure you. But I know someone who used to do the very same when he was around. Isn’t genetics a funny old thing? Aside from hanging out with his hand in his boxers while holding a nonchalent conversation, Colin was also a terrible tease. He teased everyone about everything. Isla is developing the same trait. Her latest trick when you ask her for a kiss is to walk towards you all puckered up. Just when you commit yourself to her snotty pout she turns on her heel and walks away, laughing as she goes. It’s hilarious. Well, I think so. And when I said at Col’s funeral that the only way to get through was to see him through his girls, well I didn’t know it would be so literal. Everyday there is another little Colinism coming through in each of them. But perhaps I will train Evie to take her hands out of her pants. It never worked on her father but you never know.

Winging It

Evie asked me last night for some new wings. When I asked her why she said it was because she wanted to fly to Daddy In The Sky and her current wings (four pairs) weren’t good enough because they were pretendy wings.
The last week has been all about me in my head and I have forgotten two other major players in this drama called “Our Lives After Colin”. I’ve made a couple of major decisions and not really thought about the two girls. On D Day I want to be with the support network of friends in London that was so important to me in those first weeks after the trauma of Col’s sudden death. I didn’t really think about how it is for Evie. She now connects her memories of London life directly to Colin. It’s as if she thinks we just left him there and when I told her that we fly down on Sunday to stay with his friends for a special day she asked me if Daddy would be there. When I said not in person but in a sense we might feel close to him by all being together and remembering how funny he was she said, ‘but he’s very far away, isn’t he?’.
It’s so hard to know what to say. I feel I have been remiss with Evie this week as the blog stuff went mental. I was all over the place, taking calls, talking about Col in front of her to strangers, considering mad dashes to London and having reporters in our house ask questions about Daddy and his death and its aftermath with her on my knee. What an idiot? I don’t think my brain was fully engaged. My gut reaction was to ask them here when she wasn’t around but I didn’t stick with it. She’s coped so well considering but I am going to keep the girls out of it from now in. It’s simply not fair. The journalists were very nice and very lovely to her and myself but still…idiot, idiot, idiot.
I know myself that she’s continually working things out. She’s obsessed with daddies. Ask her if she wants a Peppa Pig yoghurt and it’s usually the one with dumb, old Daddy Pig on it. When we go to soft play places and there is a rare daddy there (I never go at weekends and whatever you say it is usually a female dominant domain from Monday to Friday) , she kind of hangs on the edge of the poor man playing with his kids until he has to involve her. Just as when couple friends come to visit she ends up being quite cuddly and loving to the male partner. And she is simply besotted by my brother-in-laws.
She will love this weekend because all those close friends of Col’s who promised to be in my children’s lives after he died are popping by during our visit. But there will be an element of why are all these people here for My Daddy, why is he not here when there are all these daddies here for the other kids. But that’s no different to her other days really. It will just feel sadder because when all of us do gather, these amazing friends, I simply keep remembering the man that brought us altogether in life and death and Evie and Isla will only have our memories to get to know him through. No amount of wing flapping, real or pretendy, will ever bring them close to him physically in this world of ours.