Category Archives: Experiences

Holding on

Today, I will be holding on. As I have done for the past year, with limited success. Ever since the worst day of my life: Thursday, the 28th of April, 2016.

This Friday was the anniversary of the day we lost our incredibly kind-hearted and loving mother.

I don’t like using the word ‘anniversary’. To me, it suggests something that should be celebrated, when this was anything but. I don’t like the word ‘lost’ either. We didn’t lose her – the hospital did. But we’re the ones who’re still trying to cope with her absence.

I can’t believe a year has passed. It still feels so raw. Certain days have been worse than others, when I had to hold on just that little bit tighter. Holding on is functioning – carrying on like everything is normal when there’s this vast hole inside. I’m told it gets less painful over time, but it hasn’t seemed that way today.

In the week after her death, there was so much to do, it was impossible to grieve. Organising the funeral, making the myriad of decisions that needed to be made, and contacting all those who needed to be contacted. It was exhausting. I held on, but all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sob. That’s still all I want to do at times. I have days when I can’t believe she’s gone.

We were swamped with condolences. I found that the most difficult to deal with. I’m not a fan of cards, or flowers. I can appreciate the sentiments behind them, but to me, they’re not much use. I let go, many times, just to get through those days.

I’ve received so many messages, but it’s been the small, practical things which really made a difference. A friend burning a couple of songs to a CD for the Crematorium, and dropping them off somewhere easy for me to collect (that act alone probably saved my sanity). An offer of a cooked meal. Someone turning up and taking the dogs for a walk at times when I couldn’t do it myself. A friend popping around, to ensure everything was OK. The lawn being mowed. Driving me to the supermarket for groceries, so I was able to eat.

The time has passed, but normality still seems far off.

Last month, on Mothering Sunday, we were supposed to be committing my mother’s ashes. Due to my unreliable body and hospital appointments, I let my sisters down and wasn’t able to get to Wales.

As staying in the house alone would have been more painful, I went for a ride instead. I’ve been oblivious to Mothering Sunday in the past, but everywhere I looked that day, there were reminders. I held on. I saw a man of around my age, dressed in a suit holding a bunch of flowers in one hand and pulling his suitcase with the other. Going home. He had somewhere to go, and someone to go to. I held on. Other riders disappeared off early to pre-arranged dinners, to call their families. I drank more than I should have.

The tears of letting go began to fall as I cycled home. To be ecstatically greeted by the boys. Her boys – Toby and Bouncer. I love them so much, and I really don’t know what I would have done without them. In spite of everything, they’ve made me laugh more in the last year than I can remember. Play-fighting, gambolling, even seeing them run and prance around cheers me and helps me hold on. At the worst of times, they never understand when I’m hugging them and sobbing (though I try not to). And despite looking after the boys for over a year now, I know if she were to return, it’s her lap that they would be fighting to get on.

That day, I took them for their second walk, my tenuous hold slackening as the tears fell faster. And I let go completely when the boys were ferociously racing along the Thames Path, when I sat on a bench and hid my face, and when I’d cried so hard I could hardly see them wade into the stinkiest mud of the Thames. Though, my nose was blocked so badly that I couldn’t smell a thing.

I had to let go. Some days you just have to.

I have learnt another valuable lesson, one that’s been hammered into me over and over again: those you can rely on when you are desperate are true friends.

This past year, I held on when people let me down. I try not to expect much of people as I’m used to being disappointed. If I ever ask for help, it’s never a lightly considered request. Many people have said they would be there for me, but sadly been absent in practice. I don’t blame them – they don’t owe me anything. Most of the time, I’m more disappointed in myself than in them – I should know better by now.

A few friends have been steadfast and reliable, and have helped me with those practical things I’ve mentioned above. Others have had their own demons to battle, and I haven’t always been capable of helping in return, only hoping that I haven’t hindered. Plus, I can’t ask others to put aside their own grief or problems.

To everyone who has helped me, I thank you dearly. Sometimes, you won’t have even realised you’ve helped. Others, you may have thought I was ungrateful. I can assure you that’s never been the case, but holding on has taken up a lot of my energy.

Some days, I feel totally lost, like I’m adrift at sea, battered by unrelenting waves. Others, I’m becalmed, in an indifferent twilight of inaction and indecision. Or bobbing along, a steady breeze pushing me somewhere I’m not sure I want to go. And sometimes, I feel like I’m being dragged down into the depths.

I don’t know what the future holds. Who does? I’d like to become the author my mother had faith I would become, although without her support and encouragement, I’m feeling rather lost. I’d like to get my recalcitrant body back under control, but that’s proving an even bigger battle. Returning to Wales is in my future, but to where is undecided.

It’s late. Or early – I can hear birds singing and my two boys snoring. The sky is lightening but I had to finish this before I sleep. I know the signs of letting go will be visible in the morning, but there’s no one here to see me. To be honest, I don’t really care anyway. What’s a swollen visage compared to what we’ve lost?

Time will pass and memories may fade, and maybe I’ll be holding on for longer before I next let go. Maybe the loss will fade, and the hole in my soul will gradually mend itself. I doubt it though.  There’s only so much time can do.

My heart is breaking.

Not over a man. Not over a silly relationship.

Over losing the best friendship in the world. The most steadfast person in my life. The one who truly believed in me.

My mum has gone, and I miss her so much.

I want to tell her so much. I want to ask her so much. I want to hug her again, I want to see her smile, and get excited about something so her eyes light up. I want to answer all the calls I missed. Those I couldn’t answer because I wasn’t able, or embarrassed that I wasn’t the success she deserved. I want to come home last Christmas, and visit more often.

She was so unlucky, but she still had hope. Hope that everything would be okay in the end – that my hips would somehow get better, that I would become a famous writer, that I would finally meet someone to settle down with.

Every time I find something she had excitedly planned, like flights booked to a relative’s naming ceremony, my heart breaks a little more.

It breaks when I see her dogs playing in the garden, or scampering around the house, she took such joy from them. And they miss her so much. They don’t understand where she is. They don’t understand why I want to hug them, or when I’m doubled over, sobbing with grief.

It breaks when I see her clothes, her make-up, her awkward smile in photographs – she never liked having her picture taken.

It breaks even more when I think of the pain that she was in. The confusion of her last minutes. Of being told to ‘calm down!’ by the selfsame doctors and nurses who had previously ignored her, ignored the warning signs, who relied on monitors instead of going to see her losing her last breaths.

Despite her spending a week being so patient with their abrupt manners, speaking so kindly of them. Trying her best not to be a bother.

She didn’t need more medications – they only made her feel more sick. She needed them to realise how ill she was, instead of her being at the bottom of the list to be transferred to another hospital for treatment. They needed to talk to her about her concerns, instead of just telling her off.

I know that they have a hard job, but I can’t forgive them for saying to my sisters it was ‘all in her head’. Half an hour later, she was gone.

My mother wouldn’t have harmed another soul. She had the softest, gentlest heart, which unfortunately wasn’t strong enough. We’ll never know now which part(s) finally let her down – it didn’t seem right to have a post-mortem after all she’d been through. She would have hated the thought too.

All the flowers in the world won’t bring her back. All the cards either. I know people mean well, but I find it difficult to even look at them. Especially the religious ones.

She’s not up there, looking down on me. On us.

She’s gone. Forever.

And my heart is broken.

Tx

10 Years Later – My memories of 7/7

On Thursday, the 7th of July, 2005, I was working in Central London, on Gray’s Inn Road and living seven miles to the north, in East Finchley. It was the day after London had been awarded the 2012 Olympics, and there was a feeling of excitement in the air, an optimism.

In those days, the Northern Line was regularly up shit creek – there had been delays from first thing.  So, I didn’t think much of the havoc at King’s Cross* that morning. It was a little busier than normal, but 8.30-9.30 was always a bit of a scramble – an exercise in toleration of getting out of the busy tunnels and to the bus stops above.

08:50 Tanweer detonates his bomb between Liverpool Street and Aldgate, killing seven people and injuring 171. Khan is seen fiddling with his backpack before it goes off near Edgware Road, killing six and injuring 163. Lindsay is on a particularly packed service between King’s Cross and Russell Square, and kills 26 passengers, with more than 340 more injured.

I arrived in work complaining loudly about the Tube (something about the ‘bloody Northern Line’ was probably close to what I said**). We were expecting some Merseyside police officers*** from our case team to arrive that morning for a case conference, but they called en route to say they were heading back to Liverpool, as the mainline trains were screwed up too.

09:47 Hussain has now found a seat on the upper deck of a number 30 bus, which is crowded and on diversion due to the tube chaos. His bomb explodes in Tavistock Square, killing 13 and injuring 110. It is thought that Hussain was either unable to board at King’s Cross, or that his original detonator had failed.

When reports of a terrorist attack started coming through, I couldn’t believe it. I remember the antsiness of wanting to do something; after previously working on a crisis management team, I was unused to carrying on as “normal”. I found it impossible to work, to concentrate on anything. Hearing the cacophony of sirens echoing outside, for hours on end, didn’t help. Our building, like so many others in Central London, was locked down.

Throughout that horrible morning, I relied on a Welsh rugby forum to find out what was going on – it was the only place with capacity as all the news websites kept falling over. Many of my London-based friends were there too, and it was a relief as one-by-one they checked in. Work colleagues too. I called my mother to let her know I was OK – she hadn’t even heard yet. This was before the days of Facebook and Twitter.

They told us to go home early that afternoon. There was no public transport – most roads were still closed – so I was pretty certain I would have to walk at least part of the seven-plus miles back to East Finchley. I had trainers under my desk which I donned. I got into a lift (elevator), only to find it going up instead of down. The people who got on were actually headed in the same direction – north towards Holloway, Archway and Finchley. I still can’t believe how lucky that was. Otherwise I would have had to walk by myself. Company was distraction.

So we walked.

There were thousands of people walking, and it was strangely silent. No one really knew what to say. I can’t remember anyone dawdling, the pace was brisk. It was a dull day, but really warm – close. One of those humid British summer days. There was very little motorised traffic. Just masses and masses of sombre pedestrians, mostly suited and booted, sweating heavily. The clomping of feet breaking the silence. The odd siren that we cringed at.

Some bus stops were overrun with people, mostly those unable to walk any further****. I wasn’t keen to get on a bus.

Our group dwindled until there was three or four. We paced it up Highgate Hill, and then stopped at a pub as a reward. And proceeded to get very, very drunk.

We weren’t the only ones with this idea. After all, heading to the pub for a “quick pint” is default mode for the British. Every place we had passed earlier was packed. Apparently, some didn’t even bother trying to get home, instead booking a hotel room and hitting the town.TV screens were tuned to rolling news, but I can remember trying not to watch, in fear of breaking down.

By the time we left the pub, it was dark, raining, and buses were running.Taxis too. Despite this, it seemed a good idea to walk the rest of the way to East Finchley, where the remaining two of us stopped for Thai.

I can clearly recall not wanting to go home for some reason. By the time I eventually did, I was slaughtered. I watched with horror the news coverage, and wished I hadn’t.

Getting on the tube the next morning was difficult, though I can’t explain why it was so hard. There were several people sitting in the waiting areas, obviously not keen either. Some tears. Many reading the free Metro paper in silence. Also an air of strength, of defiance.  We had to continue as normal. We knew what we were doing – defying the terrorists – and the chance of anything else happening was minuscule. However, I was relieved to be off and out of the station. And relieved that the weekend was starting soon.

I didn’t lose anyone I was close to. I carefully scanned the pictures of the victims, and was guilty with relief that I didn’t know any. I still shed tears for them. Such a mix of nationalities, of ethnicities, and of ages and backgrounds. This wasn’t brown versus white, or Muslim versus Christian. It was evil versus innocence.

I don’t understand what led the perpetrators to commit such a despicable and cowardly act – it’s totally beyond my comprehension.  How can you possibly justify taking away someone’s mother, father, son or daughter? Someone who’s just going to work, going to a hospital appointment, having a deserved day off, visiting family.

52 people killed, and hundreds of others scarred for life. Loved ones forever gone. Lives ruined. For what?

Mine is the story of thousands, of millions of Londoners on that day. We got to work, we were shocked, and we somehow got home, eventually. Safe and sound. Unlike others. It didn’t necessarily change anything, but for many, not changing was that defiance.

It’s strange. Thinking about that day ten years ago brings back the emotions. The memories and actions may have faded, but the feelings, the impressions still remain. 

 

We remember.

**********************************************

*King’s Cross was the location of a devastating underground fire in 1987, in which 31 people were killed and 100 injured. When I commuted through there, it was still possible to see traces of what had happened, where fierce heat had scarred and ceilings damaged. Unbeknownst to me at the time, every working day I passed through the ticket hall and used the main stairway shown in the news footage. It’s all been renovated since.

**IIRC, the ‘bloody Northern Line’ already being delayed that morning led to the fourth bomber getting on the bus, in an attempt to fulfull their plans of the bomb locations creating a cross shape. So the metaphorical bloodiness of the Northern Line could have stymied their plans, and moved the devastation above ground.
I can’t re-read the news reports to confirm that though, they tear me up too much as it is. And I mean ‘tear’ in both meanings of the word. (Timeline excerpts in italics from ITV.com)

***Another irony was the Merseyside police officers had to head down to London shortly after, as they were all seconded to the ‘picking up body parts’ teams. Months later, they were released back to the case team. We used to go for drinks and chat about old incidents and cases, but this was one they couldn’t talk about. A rather grim time for them, poor buggers.

****Ten years ago, my joint problems had already started, but with care I could still walk well enough, and uphill was always easier than down. I was sore the next morning, but home, hungover, and whole. Unlike those who never got home that day.