I used to love October. As a fan of all things gloomy and dark the real beginning of Autumn was something to look forward to. It was a time of not only things falling off trees and signalling the beginning of a process that would render lush trees from green to rust to skeletons but of the lead up to Halloween, the Christmas for goths where indulging in preoccupations with death, the occult and supernatural was not only welcomed it was positively encouraged.
It’s different now. Now October is a time to be dreaded with only the smallest of reprieves granted by my son and daughters’ birthdays at the beginning. October marks Baby Loss Awareness week. It is the month my sons were stillborn. It is the month where my father-in-law died and now it is the month where my father died.
It started with a series of missed messages. My father’s wife had left a message on my wife’s phone trying to get hold of me. She has never phoned my wife before so it started the alarm bells for my wife to arrange child care while I moved into denial. It will be nothing. They just want to see when they can drop the cubs’ presents round or join us at the restaurant for my son’s birthday. My phone was charging and I saw no great hurry to check my messages. My wife was insistent so I dutifully checked. Tried to ring, left a message with denial fully in place. My father’s wife, a person that rarely rings me, leaving a series of answerphone messages with a simple instruction to call her was clearly nothing to be concerned about.
I think the truth is that I knew why she was ringing. I didn’t want to have that fear confimed.
“You know why I’m ringing”
I did. My father had died. He had suffered his third and final heart attack and didn’t recover.
I have been writing and reading about grief and bereavement for nearly a year. I have versed myself in the psychology, the cultural practices and traditions of death and grief. I have picked apart each facet of the experience, the myths, the expectations, platitudes and consolations.
I have no idea what to do or how I feel.
My wife has put the support networks in place, ringing my friend and shooing me out of the house so I could have a chance to think without having to deal with the screaming and tugging of trouser legs by cubs too small to understand what was happening.
I’ve just sort of drifted along in a glazed daze, making a handful of phone calls to a scattered family and beginning the delicate negotiations around what the funeral arrangements may be. Only a handful of my friends know. I’ve spoken to a few and gone to visit some more to get our of the house, get some time to think and write and work out what happens next and how to manage it.
As before when my sons died my main recourse is to seek the kindness of strangers, cute names and pseudonyms rather than close family or friends. The social media etiquette seems to suggest that some form of Facebook status update is required to broadcast the news to a wider network of friends but I can’t see the point. I already loathe sympathy cards where any meaningful consolation and support is inevitably undermined by an insipid and unimaginative picture of flowers or bloody butterflies. I feel that I would have a similar antipathy to a succession of ‘thinking of you hun’, RIP or sad face emoticons or emojis in response. That sounds horribly ungrateful and it is. I hate cards and flowers and all the usual trappings that reduce someone’s life to cardboard and wilting petals
But that’s me. For others left behind these are welcomed displays of sympathy and tribute. This is the reason I did buy a beautiful, elegant bouquet of flowers from the local florist for his wife. I carried them home on my son’s birthday encountering people smiling at me and jokingly asking what I had done or that there must be a lucky lady. I smiled weakly in return and said that they were for condolence not celebration but they didn’t hear or chose not to.
What I do know is that I am angry. A prickly under the skin, permanently ready to erupt type angry. Looking for anyone to dare start something. I’m quick to offence and very aware that I have to be very careful. I have not reacted well to the boundary pushing of a tired newly three year old or the near constant demands. This is the first day I have had the uninterrupted space to just be. I have listened to the songs on my blog playlist. A soundtrack of rage, desolation and melancholy. I then walked to town to meet a friend listening to the first album Nick Cave released since the death of his son. I wanted to trigger something, some reaction other than vagueness and easily quashed tears.
The day after being told, I went shopping for birthday decorations in a party shop. Seeing some of the Halloween decorations triggered some old memories but as quickly as they came they went replaced by the exaggerated care required to escort two helium filled birthday balloons through the unexpected October sunshine.
It was walking in the sunshine past open mouthed crowds passing each other as if they’re drugged that I understood the sentiment of Paint it Black. In times like these when the world feels like it’s tilted on its axis and should grind to a stop that I can become irrationally angry that it has the temerity to keep spinning even knowing that of course it has to. If the world stopped every time someone died it would never move again.
I didn’t want sunshine I wanted rain. Hard pelting rain to send people scurrying for shelter so I could stomp down the streets in a squelch of self-pity. I thought of all the friends that had lost their dads and whether I had shown enough support to deserve their empathy and found myself wanting. My heart was heavier than the feather and a melodramatic misery would be my reward, a grief spiked and tempered with guilt and endless analysis. A ready made groove for me to fall into so the record can skip back to the start again.
I know that each person I passed harboured their own private pain and secrets. I knew this on an intellectual level but I still wanted to explode. I simultaneously wanted to tell everyine that I met and never tell anyone.
This is my rest day. Tomorrow will back to soft play and technicolour padded edges like a primary coloured asylum. The luxury of grief and reflection will need to wait for the weekend or my return to work.
I have a busy week ahead of another week off for the boys’ (still)birthday. I have the Speaker’s reception to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week as well as attempting to take part in the #captureyourgrief event and help develop the workplace parental support group for babyloss .
Sometimes I feel that all the grief I have for the boys has diminished my capacity for grieving anyone else. Everything is filtered through their prism. Each thought counter balanced by another memory or comparison. Inevitably thoughts of my father will bring to mind the way in which he dealt with the boys’ death and all that followed.
I know (I hope) that this will pass. I have had many mother figures but only one father. This is a complicated loss with so many mixed feelings. I’ve had the sage advice to just remember the good memories as the bad ones are gone now too. I wish it were that simple but the truth is that they are intermingled.
My hope is that by writing about it as I did with the boys I will unlock that part of me that is hidden behind my carefully crafted and now sadly automatic defence mechanisms. All I need is the right key.