7 Dick Moves When Your Friend is Grieving 

I’m going to preface this with something: there is empathy, which is fricking marvellous, but grief, leave it to the grieving. The ones mourning death, ultimate loss.

If your sentence says “it’s like grieving…” or “it’s like grief…” or, actually least offensive “it’s a form of grief” I can resolutely, absolutely tell you it’s not. Give the real grievers their grief and back off. 

I’m also going to say I genuinely don’t judge our friendship around dick moves, because where’s the fun in that? And also, I’m not perfect and I have probably pulled off a gazillion dick moves myself. Like writing this list.

I’ve dealt with plenty of shitty, sad things. Feelings of loss. Despair. Fear. Let’s just be smart with the English language and its intricacies. Let’s allow feelings to be valid and not in some weird shit scale of oneupmanship.

I’m not being vague, there’s an article that’s doing the rounds. Has been for a while and I’ve tried to avoid it as I knew the ‘clickiness’ of the title was going to get me going. Grieving For A Child I Haven’t Lost

I don’t want to show off here, but being in the esteemed position of having both a profoundly disabled child, who then died, This. Is. Wrong. I’m not invalidating sadness, or loss, or how hard it is coming to terms with and raising a disabled child. 5 stars on my McDonalds badge in on this, I know. So, here goes, here’s how not to be a dick.

1) Let’s start with the most obvious. “It’s like a form of grief.” Nope. “It’s like grieving.” Yeah… no. I’ve pretty much covered it off above.

Would you say to someone with no legs; “I totally feel your pain. God, I get the worst restless legs a lot of the time. It’s so painful, and annoying.” No, because it’s a dick move right? Two, similar but dissimilar problems. Incomparable.

The article, the ‘grief’ is talking about the loss of experience, an expected future. All actually a false construct based on comparison. My son wouldn’t have walked, most likely, and now he DEFINITELY won’t. See? It’s no fucking construct. He’s dead.

I had a family member, at the party we held for RD to celebrate his life with him whilst he was still actually alive, find another, related only by marriage family member and have a conversation that went “every time my husband left me I was left to grieve again. It was like grieving every time.” The person she was talking to partner had died of cancer less than 2 years before. And she knew this.

Give her her grief, her daily grief.

Otherwise where does death leave you? GriefPlus?

2) Another thing that has me chewing bricks is when people lump together all the deaths of the people they know- and I’m talking indirectly here, not for people who have lost people very close to them in succession- because I know that’s a clusterf*ck right?!- and they make it a collective sadness for them.

Sadly, last year, RD wasn’t the only disabled child to die. But I don’t want him, or the other children, to be memorialised collectively. That that somehow could make it somehow sadder for those a bit more removed. ‘All these children’. One is enough, each and every time.

3) Assumptions. This is a hard one because part of empathy involves trying to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Which you know, is a good thing. Analysing what that might feel like before judgement of actions, this is good.

However, assuming how you might feel in that situation, and applying that framework to what the other person is doing, needs to hear, wants to see? Dick move man. Whilst going through this may give me some insight into what someone else may feel like if confronted by grief, I wouldn’t try to assume our experiences are the same, or our reactions should be the same. 

People in life are different, and the same applies to death. 

Best thing to do is ask. It’s not comfortable, and it probably feels stupid, but as long as you can accept that a) it might not make you feel any more comfortable and b) probably isn’t the whole truth, then we’re golden.

4) Silence. Sometimes a bedfellow to assumptions: “I can’t ask them that?!”. “I don’t know what to say”

Give it a go. It’s totally better than not mentioning it at all. Own your future balls up: chances are you’re going to get it wrong, but that’s okay. I’m pretty much irrational with all this sh*t anyway, so whether or not you’ve got it wrong may or may not be grounded in objective reality. 

Did you watch The Replacement or last week’s Inside No 9? Child loss even drove Will Smith crazy in that crap looking film, writing sodding letters to Helen Mirren or some shit. 

5) Trying to win an argument or ‘explain’ how they feel. That victory is f*cked up and entirely unnecessary. I’ll probably apologise anyway.

I’ve basically been looking for a reason to get everyone to agree to letting me win since I was 18 months old. I know this because I see the same struggle in DD. So I’m calling this one. For now…

6) Not letting them be angry. Pretty much the same as above. But it’s getting aggrieved at anger, taking it personally.

Essentially I’d like a free license to write a frigging list about being furious at stuff, and you can’t stop me. Because really some of it’s about you, but it’s really because I’ve got nowhere to funnel this fury. So I ask you to not get snowflakey about this or over analyse. 

7) Which leads to being unkind or unforgiving.

Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t beat them up. Accept that a crap thing has happened. Move forward without a grudge.

Give a hug- real or virtual. But, like feeding a gremlin after midnight, please don’t ever, ever, call me Hon.

Spring in my Step

I wake up tired. I try and forge through the day heavy lidded and achy. A tiredness routed in my very bone marrow until I eventually fall into bed at the first moment it seems socially acceptable for a fitful, need to get up to wee every hour semi-sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

You’d think the start of Spring would bring the feeling of fresh renewal, but in our world it’s the start of anniversaries of difficult memories. Well, more difficult anyway. When the scales tipped and kept on tipping, the runaway train of despair, hope, loss of hope. Facing decisions that felt like all roads would lead somewhere worse. Holding on, just trying to hold on.

And somehow we’re still gripping onto the sides now. The reassurance of a scan getting us through for a bit longer before the clawing worry starts to bite again. Trying to find space in my mind to let in the feeling like this might be okay, whilst not wanting to believe it in case that moves me too far from my grief, and therefore my love, for RD.

See, there’s the headf*ck. There’s a sense of knowing in my grief. I talked about it last time, this weight inside that is real and hard, but a connection to my son and the massive shape he has knocked out of me by leaving. And I don’t feel any need to fill it with anything, because there is nothing that can or will. And I get annoyed at the bits gnawing at the edges. I guess in time I will just make more space, and that’s what I’m trying to work on right now. But it’s exhausting.

The longer days do bring a sense of renewal, the glorious yellows and oranges of daffodils reminding at every turn of his bright light and colour but they’re also taunting. Their grayscale has been turned up. I squeeze my eyes shut and remember that getting through the next few weeks and memories of failed dialysis and life threatening episodes, of searing realisations and pain, get me to the start of summer when although making an unenviable decision lead to the most glorious love filled, long, intervention free days. 

That this coincides with reaching the point of our pregnancy on the cusp of joy and excitement but simultaneous huge, huge fear, well, I need to give myself a break on the tiredness front. And squeeze my eyes a little bit tighter to see the speck of hope returning.

Probably the best illustration for how life is for us right now. The above is DD’s latest entry in her memory book for RD. He is one of the shapes around the rainbow- also featured are a car door, chocolate coins and a kite. Obviously.

Today I Fell

Yesterday I got that call, the one from school, the one that makes your pulse woosh in your ears. DD had used her forehead as a braking system, unfortunately she chose a large, heavy bookcase to assist with that. She’d been unable to cry for a full minute as the pain was so immense, as the teacher watched the cartoon like egg bulge from her head, minus the blue birds. I needed to go and get her, then take her to get checked over.

The dog had also not had a good day. He’d done a lot of whimpering and retching but not really producing anything. We’d been trying to see if something actually came up whilst also ushering him off the soft furnishings in case it did.

On Sunday I’d had to call my mum. The only person I knew who would be able to help with the screaming agony of my haemorrhoids. It’s not the done thing to mention them in polite society, but I thought I was going to go blind with the pain. And whilst I have the ability to go from zero to overly dramatic in less than sixty seconds, I do think I have an okay pain threshold. I won’t go in details, but the pain did lessen, and so DD and the dog and I spent the afternoon lounging in bed, recovering.

Essentially, I could feel my seams unravelling. That distinguishable ping of fabric and muscle as my physical state, and that of those around me muddying my mental state. Letting in the grief too much after being wearied from pain and unable to keep pushing forward and through. And with it a lack of control and fear. 

Today, in the car to the train station, bound for the South Coast for work, I fell to my knees whilst sat in my seatbelt. Big heavy tears brimmed at my eyes. Throughout the early hours of the morning my usual busy tummy, all kicks and jabs and rolls had felt to still. Too fluttery. I just couldn’t go, I couldn’t leave. Not if something was going to go wrong with this baby too. By leaving I was going to lose something. DD, the dog, the baby, even Wolf despite nothing being obviously wrong with him. I was mainly going to lose my mind.

We turned around, I phoned the hospital, deposited everyone back at home and headed straight to the labour unit. Calm enough to make the necessary phone calls whilst feeling like every nerve fizzled. Taken into a room, a pink strap, a blue strap, lie back.

Badoom. Badoom. Badoom. Like a cool wave over me, the strong and steady waves of the heartbeat. The kicks and swipes at the monitors pressed against my stretched, taught belly. Left alone with a button to press for every movement, I barely stopped pressing it, the bout of hiccups made for a particularly frantic picture: the horizontal lines on the CTG trace practically on top of each other. 

I fell again. I let go. Let the tears fall quietly, slowly turning the pillow and hair behind my ears sodden. I told the cold blue walls that I missed RD. That without him I was so, so scared. I knew what I’d lost, him.

It’s been two years since I’d last fallen this way, in the freezer aisle in Sainsbury’s, when the smacking of the door in the back of my head whilst trying to wrangle some fish fingers from the furthest space in the freezer had me walk zombie like back to the car. Suddenly, whilst sat behind the wheel, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t drive. For everything was going to go wrong. Given the amount we’ve dealt with in those two years, I think the innings are okay.

Afterwards, slightly Bambi legged and confused by what happened, and having apologised to all and sundry for my invisible grazed knees, I feel exhausted but free. A little dizzy, but glad the door has opened and spilled. Because then I can shove it all back in a bit and carry on, and I may just have found a bit of what I lost when I was there.

An Open Letter to Samantha Cameron

“But we both know now that terrible things can happen in your life and you will come through them and survive”*

*Times Magazine, 18th February 2017

Dear Sam,

I honestly don’t know if that’s what you prefer to go by, and apologise if it seems either a) condescending or b) over familiar, for that is not my intent. I’ve just sat and read your article for The Times Magazine, and I suppose this is fan mail of sorts. I just wanted to find a space to let you know that I’ve admired you for a long time, and whilst I can predict and see on social media a surge of criticism and scorn for your words, I for one want to stand by you. Offer you my thanks for all you have represented and continue to represent. And I think going by Sam suits you- you refer to your husband as Dave, and surely you two have had a giggle about being Sam and Dave, the non soul singing power couple.

I think you and I would strike up an easy friendship in real life, we’d certainly have plenty in common: an art degree, a career in retail head office, a love of good clothes and fashion, a husband that we love fiercely but understands none of those things and drives us crazy at times and, our children. We may have differing political leanings and religious standpoints, and levels of middle classedness, but you look like you laugh easily. I hear in your words the overarching belief in good humanity. And you seem like you can kick arses all whilst being thought of in really high esteem. In short, I think I’d like you to be my mate. As long as you let me take the piss out of Dave a fair bit.

Perhaps this letter should be private, a fist bump, a little note of solidarity. But well, I don’t know your address apart from Notting Hill, and actually this is a bigger message about our children. This is me saying to you, that I know you’re bracing yourself for impact. You see the criticism arising, you’ve seen it waged time and again against your husband. That speaking of Ivan, the life you had together, will be criticised as being used as a vehicle of promotion for your new fashion line.

It’s not fair is it? That this, our joined experience of parenting, could be held against us. Nothing like disability and death to make people feel uncomfortable. For every move that you make during or after feels defined by that whether you speak of it or not. Never before has the line ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ felt more prurient. But I want to tell you that every word that was quoted, the raw honesty embedded, has touched me really deeply in my heart, in that discernible bit of chest cavity that feels ever wounded by this experience.

Truth is, I sort of meanly want to dislike you because you’re so elegant, and your hair always seems so wondrously glossy, but I can’t. Because you admit to being sweaty with the Obamas, that you’d look like you’d wet yourself because of the sweat. Maybe after too many glasses of wine we’d be laughing raucously about how you managed to keep fancying Barack in check too. And whether you’d given Michelle’s arms a little squeeze because they’re impossibly gorgeous.

Then after glass three, we’d maybe have that ‘isn’t it just fucking shit that our glorious, innocent boys had to suffer so much and come through so much. Be such beacons of light in our life, show us that they’d always try to overcome. And then they die. And that is gone, and we’re left to be the strong ones, the ones that keep going. But the truth is, that’s what they taught us. And now, it’s in honour of their lives that we still push forward, get out from under the duvet and drive that seasick like energy forward’. And we’d then laugh again as it became too much.

And we’d only need to exchange a look then. One that says, I’m sorry for you but I’m glad that I can talk like this with you. And laugh about Florence and DD and their dictatorship that we live under with them, but just how fiercely we think they’re the best things ever. And you’d tell me more about Nancy and Arthur, and how they make memories of your time with Ivan so much more alive, the glorious way they remember him or talk about him.

Perhaps we’d go for a run together, and talk about work (not currently obviously, I’d seriously impede your pace). About the importance of taking time away from it, but also finding space for it again. About how difficult it can feel to be a working mother, but the crystallisation of that guilt when your child has such specific care needs and also the flip side of that, the irony being that you seek out that connection to your existing identity even more.

You give me hope Sam. I think you’re ace. I want to read and hear more of your experience. And I know how much the launch of Cefinn will mean to you, and the epic amounts of bravery it has taken to get this far. The next bit of time will be the most challenging, but I know you’ve got this. Continue to speak Ivan’s name, for I know it’s not a vehicle for promotion, he’s the very reason you’ve got this far. Plus the clothes look awesome.

Love, Mrs D.

PS: if you ever expand the brand into homewares…

“From the moment he is born you are living in a situation that is quite surreal and difficult to deal with. It is intense every day, in and out of hospitals. So you become used to dealing with situations week after week that are totally different from [those experienced by] anyone else”*

Yes, this.

Reality and The Fear of Reality

I think the fear of death and dying is something we all silently shoulder. It’s part of growing up; experience and maturity teaching us that we are not immortal. And when we become parents, the weight of responsibility of keeping someone else alive, right from the get go of finding out you’re pregnant, suddenly becomes so real and overwhelming.

We stop drinking. Eating runny cheese. Stress about prawns and pate.

But we are not in control.

We slice grapes vertically, check straps and seat belts, await texts and messages of arrival at destinations.

But we are not in control.

With medically complex children, that checking, that fear, that raw grating breezeblock of fear sits in the pit of our stomachs even more so. An simple illness can escalate out of control. Normal response markers are abnormal. More is unexplainable than explainable. RD died because the abnormal things his body did in response to his degenerative kidney disease, didn’t respond normally to treatment. And yet, those responses had kept him alive and well far far longer than ever predicted.

We are not, ever, in control. 

I have friends whose children have regular, and yet unpredictable seizures. That stop breaths. That change development. That fear rises into their throats weekly, fortnightly, monthly. And they just are expected to swallow it back down. Live alongside the fear.

Accept the lack of control.

In some ways, the tangibility of death feels easier to grasp than the intangible fear of death. There is an absolute, a finite. Something to try and cope with, take some control of. Even if most of the time that control is a construct. That a lot of the time, I feel that I am reminded more that RD is dead than I actually truly think of it. But I’m also aware that I’m so very early in my grief. Shock still feels overriding. That and a heartache that just sits, changes my taste of the world, my ability to commit to conversations in the same way as before. A little foggy distance because I’m aware of a change.

I know that it feels crass for those friends to talk to me about the fear of death now we’re living the actuality. But I know from experience how that fear feels, remember I wanted to run up a hill and punch a fucking cloud? It was stiflingly hard. So hard that when he died, when we entered a real phase, when so much of caring for him suddenly evaporated, dare I say it, it felt easier. Easier knowing how he felt and not second guessing. With only our own feelings to contend with, but understanding that we’re all now dealing with A Thing. Death. We are now permitted to grieve.

I’m living through this intangibility now. This fear that the minute I can’t feel kicks and jabs, that this might be it. This baby has died. On top of my reflux, my throats constricts with fear probably twenty times a day. Not ever for long, as they soon return, but in that moment I feel internally stilled. I may be looking or talking to you perfectly normally outwardly but inside I’m clawing the walls with fear.

So I tell myself, I take a minute to understand, I’m not in control.

Find the present. Don’t Kate Bush it up that hill. Not yet.

And there it is, another kick of reality.

This Way Madness Lies

I don’t normally choose moments like this to write. When the mist comes in and I’m angry, bitter and sad. When I feel like I’m facing the edge of madness. Because somewhere deep down I find a place to justify the heartache, to work it through. To realise that these moments in grief are fleeting. A battle between brain and heart. I wait it out until the victor is my rational brain and the pain subsides a bit.

This will hurt some people. It will make them question if I mean them. And maybe I do, and maybe I don’t. Unkind thoughts aren’t sane, and are mean. They’re mean to me and you. They tell me that you may think my grief has an expiration date. That you are fed up of my crap. That my life is too much, and you’ve got your own sh*t to deal with. That you want the guilt of worrying about me to go away. We are only in control, or out of control, of our own lives anyway.

I think that just because a lot of the time I seem okay, that you judge my grieving. That it’s not enough, and I am heartless. I think you are scared to ask me too deeply because you worry that you can’t deal with the fall out. The thing is though, that won’t happen, because I don’t choose when the mist comes. It comes when I’m sat through the squillionth viewing of The Lion King and the thought that Mufasa is brave, until he’s frightened for Simba’s life hits me like an arrow right in the target. But not when I’ve sat through the squillionth minus one viewings. It comes when maybe you haven’t sent a text. But how can you help that?

It comes when inadvertently I feel like my life should now be judged just as others. That my sh*t is equal to other people’s sh*t. And I will have spent time telling you to think like that, just suddenly, when the mist comes, I don’t feel like that. I feel like actually this pain, this grief of my much loved child, is harder than anything anyone can understand. That actually I need more from you, despite my protestations that I don’t previously, and I expect you to see that. To know that. That at that very time, the time you don’t know has come, the time I wasn’t expecting, I need you to hold me so very tight and tell me that yes, this is the most awful thing anyone should have to endure and it won’t get better, even if we both know it will.

The mist comes and I am majorly f*cked off by you taking everything you have for granted. By you having the audacity to moan about anything at all, worry about anything. That you need to check your privilege. That you need to put your sh*t on a sliding scale and deal with it. 

It’s cruel because it’s invisible to you.

The mist is grey, cold. It’s minus three degrees. It makes you come back in damp and in need of warmth and comfort. But it goes. It goes.

When it’s gone I know you’re trying your best. Motives unmotivated. And know that I’m trying my best. 

Bad Fit

The underwire from my bra is in crisis talks with the space that is decreasing between the top of my burgeoning tummy and the fecund heavy boobs above it. I try and shove my waistbands in that gap now too as ‘under bump’ clothing for me succumbs to gravity far too easily and there’s only so much pull up and wiggle you can manage.

I have quite a forward, neat bump this time. It sits like a sliced new potato on my frame. The skin on top is taut and feels feather fine, so already those jabs and twists can be seen and felt from the outside. It’s almost as if I’m not allowed to distance myself from this pregnancy despite my heart trying to build a force field around itself. Don’t feel too deeply, not yet. Just always keep a cushion of concern to hand. 

I inject it daily on either side as if I’m performing a scientific experiment on a boiled egg. DD watches to see if I wince, asks if it hurts. I reassure her it doesn’t. Which isn’t the whole truth. It’s just this little jab reminds me I’m alive, this baby is alive, and I’m doing all I can to keep everything there. So I like that little pinch, that morning ritual. Plus I use it as a reason to avoid taking the dog out for his morning ablutions and needing a cup of tea in bed.

I returned to work this week. And of course, it was absolutely fine. I feel like me and I don’t. It quantified the loss of RD and it didn’t. I yearn routine and regularity and yet the otherworldly nature of the last eight months fit unexpectedly. I had to learn to let go of control, and be responsive more than proactive. And in return I felt RD showed me more love and light than he’d ever shared before.

It doesn’t signal a change in my grief. I don’t feel anymore on top of the pain or surprise that he’s died. I haven’t made space for it, I just try, and try being the operative word, to accept I don’t know what I’ll feel from one moment to the next but to allow that in. It does mean I have a focus and a reason to put on makeup. To lessen my slipper wearing percentage of the day to sub 50%. To give my brain a task it’s fit to cope with.

It also makes the time waiting, and watching, for this new baby more easy to strategise. I plan my itinerary and it slices and dices weeks and goals. So that now, as I approach 24 weeks, I can see what I’ll be doing and when until 28 weeks, the next time I have a scan. A little bit of light cracks in that I’ve reached the point of viability. 

I remember with DD, whilst not a pregnancy after loss, but a pregnancy after a very traumatic experience, reaching a point where the worry drifted. And that was all related to getting through critical points on the timeline of my pregnancy and birth with RD. But this time, it just won’t come as I feel like I’ve lost any innocence. 

I’m making real in roads into trying to normalise my pregnancy- through treating myself to pregnancy massage, and going to a weekly pregnancy yoga class. And I’m really enjoying both, but I still feel quite outside myself. Like I’m just wearing this sliced new potato. Like I’m just wearing this cloak of grief.

I think I’ll channel DD on this one, and give zero f*cks.