What a decade it has been…

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all

Oscar Wilde

Well what a decade it has been. I’m very sure I had some wonderful experiences pre-2015 but that year was when my most meaningful adventure began. My beautiful daughter was born and I was consumed by a love than I could not have imagined.

Myself and Joe were happy with our little bundle of perfect and I thought I was set. Unfulfilled in love it seems but with the arrival of Eliza, I was quite happy to coast and enjoy her.

2016 and the proverbial ‘rug’ was well and truly pulled out from under me. An 11 year relationship and 7 year marriage were done following the introduction of a Danish girl with Daddy issues and a husband dissatisfied with his new mundane life as a father. Sad times. Angry times.

2017 began in a bit of a blur and I started to rebuild our life. New job, new home, new identity. Nothing as exciting as an actual new identity though. I was back ‘home’, had moved counties not countries and I was surrounded by family and friends so hardly a tale of starting out on my own but it felt like it. I thought at that time that as shitty as I felt, I had my parents, my siblings and friends, a roof over my head and a wage coming in and so could have done a lot worse. Of course I was lucky and totally took for granted how I had fallen so wonderfully on my feet. I felt terribly sorry for myself.

Until she got sick. Mum that is. My absolute constant and safety net. My first love and my best friend. She died and four days after her funeral the divorce I had been doggedly pursuing at the cost of thousands came through. I was 33 and divorced and I’m not quite sure how I got through those weeks, months after she died but I didn’t have a choice because I had Eliza and she needed me and anything that had gone before paled in comparison to that.

I spent 2018 building myself and our life back up again. Lisbon and Vienna with best friends and Australia with MyEliza, meeting family and building lifelong connections with the most special of people. Watching my Dad flounder then swim against what must be the most terrible of tides. He’s made us so proud. And seeing in the new year alone on the sofa with a Eliza tucked safely in bed, knowing I’d really grown that year and was no longer feeling sorry for myself.

It all sounds so very cliche but I really did rest and repair and spend time with those that mattered and fed myself only good relationships that year. 2018 I salute you!

It meant that in 2019 I was ready. Or so I thought, to put myself out there and meet someone. A few months of procrastination later and with a gentle nudge from our mutual friend, I went on my first date with James. The rest is history. Three months short of a year with the most generous, kind and loving man I can imagine. I know I’m just gushing now but it’s true. They do exist! We have already experienced so much it’s like we were never apart and I’m making a bold prediction here but we won’t be apart again. When you know you know.

As I look to the next year I can only hope I will be loved and love as I have done this year. I am healthy, I have the career I love, my friends and family are here, I have a man I adore and MyEliza is happy and healthy.

Cheers to 2020 🥂

Already I can’t wait to see what you have in store. Whatever it is the good, the wonderful or the bad, I know I will get through it. Scrap that, I know I’ll take all those moments the year will bring to see me through to the next. Just as I have done before.

And I miss you. No less it seems than the day you died but all you wanted was for us all to be happy. So here you go x

Grief

Here’s a funny one… sometimes I think about how my Mum died and get an urge to tell her. “Guess what happened to you… can you believe it?” It happens more often than you would think and I know it sounds odd but when you tell a person everything it is understandable you would want to tell them something shocking like that.

On the 30th of September 2017 our Mum died. At around 9.20 after we’d all watched strictly at her bedside, she took her last breath. We’d been with her all day and my Dad and I were preparing to stay the night. There was no need. I was laid with my head next to hers and then I sat up and without even having to look at her I felt her go. I can’t explain it and the two science degrees I have (apologies for the shameless brag) should have put paid to any notion of ‘feeling her go’ but I did. Seriously, the only way I can describe it was like a physical pull on my whole body.

As we drove home in convoy, my sister and Freddie in one car and myself, Dad and Brad all in our separate cars there were fireworks going off near to Castle Hill Hospital. How devastatingly mistimed. Our lives had changed forever.

I know it may seem strange for some this opening up and sharing of our experience but I thinks it’s part of the process. My Dad came round yesterday to ask me to proof read his tribute for the Goole times. I was furious at first, “why would you put something in there?” I asked. Then I realised that this was his version of a ‘status’. It’s like we have a need to tell other people because we can’t tell the person we actually want to tell! And also in some way to remind people of what we are going through because they seem to have forgotten or to remind people that even though we are going about our lives we are still heartbroken.

According to the Kübler-Ross model of grief the five stages of grief are not linear, you may experience one, two or all five in any order. Everyone’s experience is different and impacted by the nature of the persons death and your relationship to them. I feel like I have bounced back and forth between all in the last two years and the writing down of my experience firmly places me today in the bargaining stage.

I have changed as a person inextricably in these two years. I now view death very practically. I have my affairs in order and a handy list for my family to make the process easier for them when my time comes. I’m also anxious everyday of how life as we know it could change but it hasn’t sent me off with a back pack and my life savings in my pocket. I do however take more chances and take that extra time to enjoy a moment. I take the time to savour a lovely exchange with someone or a hug or a kiss much much more. I also take more photos, something which probably drives people mad. If I ask to take your photo though, please just indulge me, it doesn’t mean I’m not living in the moment it means I want to be able to look back on that moment as I know what it’s like when you can’t.

It certainly doesn’t feel like two years has passed since that day, I feel it like it was yesterday. So much has changed for us all as a family, so much I would love to tell her or even better, for her to have seen for herself.

I’m so sad she won’t get to watch Eliza, Blake and Angelica grow up. I’m so sad she hasn’t been able to meet James and his family who she would have loved getting to know. I’m sad she hasn’t met Ross, Bradley’s new partner or seen how Carly and Freddie have finished the house she made sure they would have. I’m sad that my Dad didn’t get to go first and be spared this pain, she was the stronger one. LI’m also sad for myself that whatever choices I make in the future she won’t be able to see them, congratulate or console me on them.

As we approach the two year anniversary of her death I mostly just want to say to her

I love you and miss you everyday. You were my first love and you’re never more than a minute out of my thoughts

And on that sombre note I will end with a picture. One of my favourites of her.

On my birthday eve…

I am consumed with thoughts of her. I’m reminded of the story of my birth and it’s one I will cherish. The reason being that it constantly reminds me of how much of a total superhero she was.

Labour started in the afternoon and she telephoned my grandparents to come and collect my sister Carly. However my Dad was yet to return from work and so she continued to make his tea. For clarification tea refers to our evening meals up here in Yorkshire. Anyway, she proceeded through the contractions to make his tea. Something elaborate no doubt and then she waited. When my Dad returned home she made him sit down and eat. Her reasoning being he’d been at work all day and would be ready for it and so she walked around the kitchen contracting and waiting and watching him and no doubt hating him a little bit but also loving him enough to put his needs first. Once he had finished, my Dad drove her to Pontefract hospital and without any pain relief, I arrived at 11.27. Having experienced a contraction or two myself I know the pain she was in and what she went through to bring me here but all the while she was what I would come to learn to be her stoic and selfless self. She was amazing and brave (to the very end) and strong and all the things I can only hope to be.

I miss her. I miss her terribly. So much so I’ve been ugly crying on and off for most of this week. Having now had Eliza I understand fully why she was the first call I got on my birthday. Wherever I was in the world she would be the first and it was because I (and my siblings) were the centre of her world. And she really was the centre of mine. Of ours. And you know that when someone dies they often become elevated in peoples perceptions, no one ever says “well they were a bit of a dick” well this is not the case for my Mum. No exaggeration or pedestal here. This is a true story. She really was that much of a hero. She really was that much of a big deal and I am devastated every day still that she has left us.

I find writing cathartic and I have found since losing my Mum that I find reading other peoples experiences helpful so I do hope that anyone reading this can take something from it. Even if it’s just to pick up the phone and ring their Mum. Or take a minute to reflect that whatever else is challenging them in their lives that they have their Mum and that is something to be grateful for. For those who have lost their Mum’s too then I hope my rambling about missing her on my birthday makes them feel a little less alone when they themselves feel like this when it should be a happy occasion.

Last year I chose to celebrate my birthday at the Spa and later at home with my friend Debbie accompanied by too much wine because I couldn’t bear to be around people. This year I verged on choosing to isolate myself again because it is easier than planning something when you’re missing someone so integral to your being but my sister has stepped in and instead I am going to be surrounded by many of my favourite people. The ones who can be here that is, by this I mean those in the country/in existence. It hurts to even write that.

So goodbye 34 and hello 35. Thank you age for the grey hair I found last week and the struggle I had getting out of the car on Tuesday after a long drive… getting old is rubbish but you’re only as old as you feel or the man you feel as the saying goes… and he’s 28 (29 in July) so I’m reckoning I’m really only 29 tomorrow too.

Here are some pictures of me and my Mum when I was a baby. As an aside to all the dad’s out there, take more pictures!! I have very few from when I was little with her as she was always the one taking them. Also I wish I could pan right or left or up as her face is left out of most of them.

I’m guessing from the way she is moving out of shot that she didn’t have her mascara on that day. Shame.

There are very few pictures of me generally as a child because I was the poor neglected middle one and this therefore prompted years of being told by my loving sister I was adopted. Given the lack of pictures pre age 4 I believed it but now the resemblance is so uncanny there is no doubt I was and am hers and she was and is very much mine.

Happy birthday

The week before her birthday it seems is another tricky time. I use the word ‘tricky’ to play it down I think. In the absence of a more fitting word for the muddled, indescribable feelings you experience approximately one whole week before a significant date. People who have not experienced such loss will not know of this feeling. They are forgiven for thinking that the actual day will be the challenge but it’s not. Birthdays, which includes all of them, Hers, mine, Eliza’s, my sister and brothers, nieces and nephew, Dad, my deceased grandparents, all of them. Christmas and new year and my wedding anniversary even. Every significant date including the anniversary of her death gives way to this week, (yes a full week) of a nagging, unsettling feeling. A general feeling of being short tempered and distracted and painfully sad. Thank goodness it’s nearly over.

Tomorrow is her birthday and it’s the second we have had without her. The picture was taken the night before her 61st birthday when I’d snook out of the house and round to my sisters to collect the flowers we had hidden there. She loved flowers. Lilies were her favourites. Tulips second. She loved reading and so in the bag there were two books I’d chosen for her.

Looking back at this I’m comforted to know that we showed her and told her she was loved. She had to have died knowing this. It may not have cost much but all of her favourite things so surely she knew what we felt. On that day at least.

There is no knowing this for certain of course but I tell myself it in some attempt to make myself feel better. To take away the guilt of those days when I maybe didn’t let her know how loved she was. The days we all have when we take for granted what we have. I’m still not ready for platitudes like “at least you had her for the time you had” or “at least she got to meet Eliza” I’m not ready for that shit yet. I’m so angry. Furious that I will never see or speak to her again. I’m still so so sad that I cry until I can’t breathe. On a random morning driving to work or night as I try and sleep or when Eliza says “my Nanna’s in the Sky” Yes it’s less but it happens and when you least expect it and it is crushing.

For tomorrow at least I know a calm will come over me and I’ll feel ok. Isn’t grief strange? Only those reading this who truly know will understand what I’m talking about and for this I am sorry. I so wish you didn’t.

How Eliza gave up the bottle

So it was always the plan once we returned from Australia to get Eliza off the bottle and out of her pull ups at night. I thought what I needed after the three week trip to the other side of the world, jet lag and a stomach bug was another challenge.

I decided against a weaning programme and went for cold turkey. Again, because I wanted the challenge. Or maybe I’m a little unhinged.

The first night was met with the expected protests. I was woken twice in the night with screams for her bottle. That said, she went back to sleep relatively easily. Second night… nothing. Third night… still nothing. Done. Seriously, I’m not even going to follow this with a story of how four days in Eliza was looking through peoples bins or stealing bottles from unsuspecting babies in Tesco. Absolutely nothing. So basically my laziness and possibly some subliminal need to keep her as a baby was the sole reason she had remained hooked on having a bottle before bed until the age of three. And three months.

As for being dry at night. Exactly the same. No wet bed. I’m not a total idiot though, I do expect some accidents in the coming weeks, months even years but I must say I’m a little pissed off I’ve been spending £15 a month on pull ups for no reason!

The truth is she’s been ready for a while. I just haven’t had the capacity to address it. It was the same with potty training. I didn’t have to download any apps or songs. She just did it. I kept her hanging on though for longer than needed because I was preoccupied with my Mum dying. She had prepared us though, my Mum that is. She’d bought the potty and the knickers and the toilet seat. It was all ready in place.

If you are wondering why I am writing about this then maybe therein lies the reason. I haven’t had anyone to tell. To send a daily update on the dry mornings. Or sending pictures of my bottle free ‘big girl’.

To avoid any further musings on how utterly devastating it is that I can’t tell my Mum about these milestones I will close with an admission.

Eliza fell off the wagon tonight. Her cousin Angelica is sleeping over and brought her bottle. I’d clocked Eliza eyeing up the bottle throughout the night and wondered if this would be her time to relapse and had prepared myself. As we all cuddled in bed to read a story, Angelica let go of the bottle temporarily and Eliza took her chance. There was eye contact for the duration and as I gently prised it out of her hands she said “it was just one sip Mummy” before throwing herself onto her pillow face down, letting out a cry and then in true Eliza style it seems, moving swiftly on.

Never a truer word said than that of a toddler

The actual saying is ‘many a true word said in jest’ of course toddlers don’t have that level of higher thinking to dress it up as a joke. They really do say what they think and don’t give a shit. Like pointing to your belly and declaring “you’ve got a wobbly belly” or “small boobies” while laughing. Yes, I know they don’t understand what they’re saying all of the time or that their brutal honesty can hurt but it doesn’t stop their words from stopping you in your tracks and making you reflect. Not just on whether you should have avoided that pack of biscuits at work. Even bigger than that.

Eliza and I arrived in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains today and ended up having dinner in a nearby restaurant. Dinner consisted of chips with a side of broccoli for her, nothing else on the menu was of interest apparently. She was waxing lyrical about being lucky because she had a jar of ketchup and I didn’t. I went on to say that I felt I was the luckiest because I had her and that she was my best friend. No response. So I asked if I was her best friend and this is the response I got

“No Mummy, Daddy is my best friend and I’m yours”

I then pulled my sad face and realising she didn’t quite get the two way friendship thing I said well who’s best friend am I then? To which she replied,

“Nanna”

And there you have it. The sledge hammer to your stomach. Yes, I was Nanna’s best friend and she was certainly mine. My eyes welled up and she looked at me long and hard as she often does when this happens and then changed the subject. I’ve got very good at the art of not letting the tears spill over now. Just the welling and hoping no one sees. Sunglasses have been helpful this holiday. On the beach at Whitehaven when a moment washed over me of longing to tell her how beautiful it was. Another time on the ferry from Manly. Hearing her voice saying “Oh Al, was it choppy?” and wanting to tell her it was actually more like a mill pond. Something she used to say. Only my siblings will hear her voice when they read that. Those are just two examples of the almost daily welling up but like I say, I’ve perfected the art of not letting it progress to full on tears so much so that you could be forgiven for forgetting it ever happened.

This it seems is the case when something has not directly affected you. We all resume our daily lives once the shock has passed.

We are fast approaching the one year anniversary of Mum’s death. I deliberately booked to be travelling back from Australia that day so that I will be distracted from how awful and raw it still is even a year on.

Not quite sure how we got here but we did.

In other news… I’m apparently now Joy, Topsy and Tim’s Mum. This is an improvement on being Tim and even Topsy so I’ll take it but I do question Eliza’s judgment because that women seriously has her shit together. Every lunch they seem to have a virtuous meal and when the little brats dropped the cup cakes she bought for their birthday party she just told them in a soothing tone to go upstairs and take a deep breath. I really wish I was Joy.

Oh and Eliza may come out with some profound observations sometimes but I’d like to add that tonight she sang “once I caught a fish alive” 29 times. Not the whole song, just that line. Normally I would stop her but I wanted to see just how many times she’d say it. 29. Yes, 29 times. I won’t be writing to Mensa just yet.