Saturday 3 September 2016

Goodbye to this blog...

In 5 days we'll be on a plane to Paris, the most beautiful city in the world. This will be our first proper family holiday since before Diarmuid died. It's a trip I've been promising since 2012 and it means a lot to me. As a family we adored the Disney theme parks and were fortunate enough to visit them four times, Orlando twice and Disneyland Paris twice (well three times actually if you include the time Diarmuid and I went to Paris when the boys were very small and snuck off to the Disney parks without telling them. It was a wonderful mixture of guilt and pure fun. Mostly fun!). 

We're not just Disney fans. We also love Paris city itself and it holds many wonderful memories, except for Aisling who doesn't actually remember being there so this holiday is especially exciting for her. And it's something I promised her I'd do when we were in the throes of grief back in 2012. Finally we're doing it.

This holiday seems significant somehow. I feel it marks the end of those dark days when we could barely function in the first couple of years, and even the troubles of the last two years, a crazy haphazard confusing time of mental illness, adolescent angst, confusion, financial woes and fears. Hopefully our family trip marks the beginning of brighter days.

When we return it'll be to a family schedule where all three 'kids' will be occupied, doing what they love. Aisling loves school and she has just started her last year in primary school. She was in first class in a different school when her Dad died. The people who ran that school simply couldn't fathom why she was frequently absent in those early months. Their agenda (to be the school with the least amount of absences) was far more important to them than my 7 year old's need for hugs and love from me. Her heartbreak and tears for her Dad were a nuisance to them. But since 2012 she has thrived in her 'new' school, a school full of professionalism, compassion and love. As she embarks on her last year there, I can see how grown up she has become. And I feel she'll thrive in secondary school. Sadly, a huge chunk of her childhood was lost to grief, not just her grief but her witnessing mine and her brothers' grief. But that experience has also made her an incredibly compassionate and empathetic child. 

Daniel is soon starting second year in music college, a course that he loves. He's in three bands and is constantly writing music charts, practicing keyboard and basically doing what he's passionate about.

Emmet has struggled to find his feet the last few years. When you lose a parent at the age of 17, when you're just on the cusp of adulthood, it knocks your whole world on its head. But shortly after we come back he'll be doing a year-long music course which will hopefully lead to a degree course. He's still glued to his guitar, plays in a band and is looking to the future :)

I know there are people who just can't fathom why Diarmuid's death had such a huge impact on us. I hear it all the time. Surely, after all this time you're not still affected? Surely you could have just picked up the phone and asked for help? Surely.....? See, here's the thing, if you haven't experienced the trauma of raising three heartbroken grieving kids, the fear that you'll lose your home to the mortgage company and the utter heartache of watching your son change personality and swing from deep depression to frantic mania, the guilt and terror of having to watch this wonderful, clever, creative boy be sedated for days on end, well, it's very hard for you to comprehend that all those things were so difficult to live through and to survive. Lots of people were able to empathise with our initial grief but found it almost impossible to comprehend the long-term fall out. 

But, and this is a big BUT, it's true what they say. You really know who your friends are when a crisis occurs. And I am blessed to have some wonderful people in my life. I'm not going to name them. You know who you are. If we're still in regular contact, then you're one of them :) I don't know if I ever actually said thank you to those people - the ones who walked this horrible lonely journey with us, from that terminal diagnosis to financial chaos to sleepless nights and tears but let me say it now. From the bottom of my heart, thank you thank you THANK YOU to those who hung in there with us through our tears, our anger, our bewilderment. And to those wonderful new friends I made in the widows group. You're now a part of my life and always will be. I will never ever forget the kindness of those friends (old and new) and family members who stood by us.

We survived!

Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned from those dark days (my brother's death, my husband's death) is that just because you go through huge pain it doesn't mean you're in any way immune to future pain. I had this daft notion that if I survived those deaths then surely nothing could ever hurt as much again? I was wrong. Perhaps because our hearts are vulnerable and damaged, we feel even greater pain when new losses occur. It cuts just a little bit deeper. And it sucks. :(

This is the last time I'll post in this blog. Those dark days of grief are well and truly behind me although the repercussions of his death will probably be felt, in many different ways, for the rest of our lives. 

I hope this blog brought some comfort to those who read it. I know that writing it saved me in those early days. To anyone reading this who is newly bereaved, please know that this too shall pass. You cannot fathom it now, you cannot see a future without pain and fear, but please hang in there. You're going to be okay.

Sunday 17 January 2016

Dear Diarmuid

It's been four years since you took your last breath. Four years since we spoke.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

Life, for me, is divided into two - the 'before' you died and the 'after'. It couldn't be any other way. You were inextricably linked to every single thing I did and felt and thought before 17th January 2012 - every meal, every bedtime story to the children, every holiday, every laugh, every car trip together, every decision about our children's education/hobbies/play dates/doctor's visits. *Everything*. Even when we weren't physically together, we were living this life together. And then you were gone. I had lost you and every aspect of my world changed forever and I had to become a different person.

I'd like to think you'd be proud now. Our boys are men. Our little girl is almost 12. All three are funny, mature, interesting human beings. You should hear the boys play guitar/drums/keyboards. You'd be blown away by them. You should hear Aisling talk about science, books, life. She's incredible. I wonder if you met us now how would you feel? Proud? Surprised?  Shocked? Disappointed? Annoyed? Happy? Sad? Would we feel shy together because it's been so long since we saw you? Would you recognise our personalities? What would you have done differently?

I've tried my best to keep things going. Some days I attack life and I fight hard to help the kids through a myriad of challenges. Other times, I just get too tired and all I can do is muddle through. Then there are days when I just give up. Parenting alone is the hardest thing I've ever had to do and there have been so many rough days since you went, so many unseen challenges. I wish I could say, four years on, that everything is perfect. It's not. There have been too many obstacles to overcome. But I will keep on muddling through. I'll keep on going and I'll keep on trying.

You would be so happy and relieved to know that some of our friends and family have been amazing and have stuck by us through all the rough times. You'd be upset and shocked to know that some have left and the kids and I no longer see or hear from them. They didn't have the patience to wait for us to "get over you" and they didn't have the warmth of heart to want to support us. But I forgive them. I pity them for their weakness. And also I hope they get big puss-filled painful boils on their asses. (I haven't changed THAT much I suppose.)

Diarmuid, my husband, the father of my children, but mostly my best friend, I want to assure you that you will always be remembered and always loved.

"The fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive, but doesn't mean that they do not exist." [Julian Barnes​]

Friday 5 September 2014

Bread and Dreams...

Here I am buying bread and eggs, trying to be normal. Trying, in fact, to be happy to be normal but struggling to get those dreams out of my head - those thoughts and yearnings for a different life - not an alternative life but a supplementary one, where I achieve satisfaction. Conversations that make me excited; writing and the thrill of expressing my thoughts; socialising with like-minded people and feeling a buzz from it; passion; affection, living essentially beyond the mundane, beyond the task of carer, grief counsellor, emotional battering ram, nurturer.

It was easier when those dreams weren't there. But they arrived this summer after 30 months of darkness. I'll hide them away again soon so I can simply be happy to give yet another lift, cook yet another dinner, clean yet another room, pay yet another overdue bill, read yet another arrears letter, listen to yet another problem, counsel yet another teenage trauma. That's my role in life isn't it? Those dreams offer nothing but pain. Better not to know a life beyond this, better not to even taste it. The dreams are fading now. Hopefully soon I'll be happy again with my lot.

Friday 10 January 2014

The Good The Bad & The Sucky

Two years today (10th January 2012) we 'celebrated' the news (from D's oncologist) that D was back on track (after a nasty infection in the stent site in the liver) and that he would be starting chemo in a couple of weeks but would, most likely, be going home "tomorrow". Of course, we still knew he was terminal but he was back on track to have a comfortable 12 to 18 months before a decline. Later that day, having broken the news to the kids, A. made a beautiful 'Welcome Home Dad' card. On the front she drew a picture of an empty tidy hospital bed with a nurse standing alongside it smiling. I asked what it meant and she said "the bed is empty now because Dad was sent home and the nurse is happy that he's better". Well the next day D's hospital bed was indeed empty but only because he was sent to the hospice to die. I don't think I will ever comprehend the 24 hour period between a senior oncologist saying "you'll be going home tomorrow" and then a senior hospice manager saying "we think you'd be more comfortable in the hospice" and then, 24 hours after that being told he would die soon.

What have I achieved in the two years since he died? And, on that note, why is life all about what we achieve? Why is it never enough to just 'be' or just 'get by' or just 'exist'? But it's not. Getting by is never enough.

Well, I'm glad nobody's critiquing my life (not officially anyway though no doubt people do judge). What can I do now that I couldn't do two years ago? I can drive. I can cook dinner for three kids (two adolescents and one kid really) alone and do it almost every single day. I can (mostly) get two kids to school and back all by myself. Woohoo. But I still can't keep the house tidy; still can't pay all my bills; still can't get on top of the mortgage (designed for two but being paid by one); still can't keep up with the laundry; still can't make my children happy or make their grief go away; still can't get rid of my anger; still can't cope with my exhaustion. What's changed for the worse? My eldest boy has given up school and, in turn, will not be going to college like he wanted. My second son is not coping. My 9 year old is doing okay but, of course, missing her Dad like crazy.

I feel ashamed that I haven't done a better job with the kids. I did set out with the best intentions i.e. put my grief on hold and look out for the kids. Sadly, while they're still here and they're fed and clothed (just about) their education has taken a battering and their lives aren't healthy and two out of three of them are unhappy.

I'm trying very very hard to act normal. It's exhausting. But I 'get' it. It's either be alone and turn into a hermit or pretend to be normal. I tried the hermit thing. It didn't pan out. So I try the acting thing now. We had visitors over Christmas. To everyone else that was nothing unusual. For me it was huge. It was our second Christmas without him and I made the effort to have people here visiting, food, drinks etc. three different evenings. I'm proud of that. It was lovely but exhausting. So much work.

I'm visiting my two older friends later. I love them but I also dread seeing them. I'm filled with anxiety. They don't get my grief. It's been two years. They expect me to be my "old self". That person is gone. They cannot adjust to my "new self" so I smile, make small talk, try very hard to listen to their issues and then pat myself on the back that I didn't cry, I didn't mention him, I didn't go on again and again about my problems, my kids depression, my loneliness, mortgage default etc. Like a good girl I sat there and listened to their problems. Heaven forbid I should mention by dead husband.

Perhaps in two years I'll have moved on. Even a little bit?

Saturday 31 August 2013

Grief, you shall not pass.... well okay so, just for today...

It's a slow and tiring day and another one that has caught me by surprise. I regularly decide to knock grief on the head - it's been 19 months after all. Yeah, I know grief has no timeline, it's different for everyone, it can't be rushed yada yada yada......

But on a regular basis I say "I'm done. Grief, listen up, you do *not* define me, you will *not* hold me back, I am better now, I am healed, I will *not* be a martyr to you." I mean it when I say it. Who wants to be in a permanent state of sadness and bewilderment? There has to be some light after 19 months. So I shake myself and say "to hell with it". What if I just accept that I am single and this is my life? Yes it's sad that he's gone and I'll never forget him. But what if I start here? Right now. Start fresh.

So I try. I briefly get excited by the notion that I can fix my financial problems by starting my own business again, working my ass off, taking the kids on holiday. The excitement lasts a while, I feel good, I feel Diarmuid would smile his approval. And then BANG. Out of the blue, no warning, no build up, grief comes back uninvited and throws me back down again, spinning me around violently not too unlike Gandalf doing 360s in Saruman's gaff. Grief is a sneaky bastard.

I'm tired. Tired of being tired, tired of being knocked back down, tired of being positive and having it fail fast, tired of constantly trying to re-invent myself. Tired of wading through molasses. I'll just have a quick lie down in it.

Grief won't win. I know that. But for now I'm just a bit too tired to tackle that monster again. The score for this particular battle, here and now, today: Me 0, Grief 1. Grief won this battle but I intend to win the war.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Great Expectations...

I don't really understand the co-relation between grief and social problems, but it's there and it's bothering me. A lot. I'm going to write it out and figure it out if I can.

There are people who I've known for many years who now fill me with anxiety and dread. When they text or ring me my whole body goes rigid with stress and I get a knot in my stomach. Most days I don't even bother answering the phone. I just want them to go away. The anxiety has different levels - low level for some people and through the roof for others.

My discomfort with those friends doesn't feel logical. It's not something I consciously choose. In some instances it's because they simply weren't there for me when I needed them last year. So am I bitter? Angry? I don't know. I try not to be. Anyway, there's more to it than that and not all of them were distant last year.

I'm starting to think it all comes down to the fact that these people were part of my former life - the life where I was married and we were a 'complete' family of 2 adults and 3 children. Most of them were friends of Diarmuid's too. Is there room for them in this life? I don't think so. Not yet. It's too hard. Too painful. Does the friend they had back then still exist? My life was shattered into a million pieces. Those friends were there, on the parameter. They were affected too but to a limited degree. Their day to day lives remained the same. Can I bear talking to them in the same way, about the same things we always talked about before he died? That's part of it. When I try to slip back into those old ways it hurts because I've slipped back to the old me and then it's like a fresh bolt of pain because he's not there. Yet I cannot constantly say to them "stop, this hurts too much".

Part of it too is simply tiredness - long chats, extended phone calls, meeting up... it's all exhausting.

Mostly though, I *think* it's all about their expectations. They expect me to be the same person I was before... but I'm not. I can't be. Not their fault. Not mine either.

Funnily enough, there are others from my old life who I really do want to stay in contact with. I think it's because they have adjusted their expectations of me. They aren't surprised when I'm tired or struggling; when I'm confused or stressed. They might not have lost a loved one but they have enough empathy to imagine that it has changed me without asking "hey, what's wrong?". With the others, every time I see them we revert back to those old days, *they* revert back to the old jokes, the old anecdotes, the old habits, with no allowance made for how much I've been forced to change; no time given to my new feelings and my new status as a single parent. It stabs me in the heart. I simply don't have it in me to force myself to 'fit' that old structure any more.

Should they change their expectations? Should I tell them to do that? Or should I suck it up and just 'be' that person I used to be? I don't think that's possible actually.