I think it is time I spent some time documenting the process by which one transitions through this important life phase. I’ve developed certain mild phobias over the last few months, not serious but certainly debilitating at times. One of them is the telephone. The other is contact to people.
About four years ago, at 11pm just after reading a story to my kids the phone went and it was my brother. He told me very deadpan that my Mum had been 2 weeks in hospital. Now my Mum was the Powerhouse of the family who held it all together. My Dad was relying on her for care as he was getting more and more frail. The double whammy of fear chilled me to the core.
The worst thing was I had no idea of how to cope as all round me were people who had no idea of the hell I was about to go through. First German culture is different, the attitudes to death, illness and this kind of thing seem different. When someone is grieving here you’d hardly ever know as appearances are everything here. As long as your house looks spotless then how you feel is immaterial. You never even see a coffin or hearse here as the burials are performed inside the grounds of the church. In Britain when we see a coffin in a hearse, no matter who it is, we all stop and if we have a hat on we take it off and bow.
No, the trip to Britain to bury my Dad this spring marked the ending of a four year hell. Until you’ve been in this boat, it is very hard to explain to the uninitiated in death just how unbearably painful the whole process of losing your parents is. It is like there is a rotten gaping hole in your heart.
The hardest part is that once that hole appears there seems never ever any way to heal it. You can adjust to it and attempt to somehow embrace the pain. It’s like every sinew in your body is suffused with sadness.
My attempts to deal with the heartpain involved doing everything they say you ought to do in the circumstances, talking to people – I did but noone out there wanted to know. I went to my doctor and clearly said I help help – tablets or a psychiatrist but none was found. I really believed i was going mad and sometimes I still do. I behave in ways even now which cause stress.and I can’t figure out the logic behind my actions, it is like someone or something else is driving me and I am fighting it.
Can anyone else relate to these insane feelings?
As I wrote earlier today was the first day of feeling human, i.e., not absolute shit. I’ve been physically ill with breathing difficulties and chest pains the last few days, unbelievably irritable and snappy. They are now gone and a slight weariness remains. It may be possible the worst of my trauma is over which began in June last year. I am sure there still lies some shit ahead, notably the funeral, when the unreal reality may hit me.
During my readings on grief I’ve read somewhere that the dead live on, and this now seems to be my experience. Not in any slight supernatural way (though some surreal things did happen afterwards) but in the loved one’s influence on your life. I was at a scrapyard this morning when I smelt oil. It immediately vividly transported me back to the 1970s where next door to our house in Wales was a garage which we rented out to mechanics. The smell which of course I know was so more intense than before this happened that the memories just flooded to the surface. Somehow this systematic shock has triggered old memories of the past. I think that’s a wonderful thing as I read people are afraid of forgetting their loved ones. It seems it is quite the opposite. They become an even deeper part of one’s awareness by their influence.
Today was the first where I woke up after what may be described as a “normal” night’s sleep in inverted commas. The first day since the event where I felt what I would describe as “not shit”. I’ve had weird stomach pains the last few days, particularly all down my chest muscles which felt like I had been doing a load of sit ups. I start to think about getting back to some exercise but not quite yet as my whole system feels depleted.
We must take it one day at a time. Today is okay but there are nasty potholes ahead which one might fall into. it is going to be rough. Having had harrowing experiences before i am fairly well “harrowed”, so I feel I have the coping strategies to get through the dark days to come.
I think there will be living reminders coming back like flashbacks. This morning my son cried as he has a hurting tooth. i clearly remember when I’d go to my Mum with loose milk teeth she’d ask to look and touch it with her finger. Before I knew it she’d push it out! Such as we were.
Then came the phenomenon of the 5p piece under the pillow by next morning. As things are surging into my memory which I am blessed is a good long term one (pity i can’t say the same about my short term grey matter) this was in the 1970s when there were still slightly tarnished old shillings about. If you got a post decimal coin it would have those bits of holly or whatever they were on, but if lucky the words “One Shilling” plus some Roman stuff were etched into the coin.
At the foot of the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus lies the old village of Kakopetria, a wonderful old medieval Mediterranean hamlet which we visited when my late uncle was stationed in Larnaca in 1981. Walking down its streets were old ladies dressed in black wearing black hoods which wiki- research has revealed they are widows and stay that way once their menfolk “move on”. Now its plain to see they are different, they wear this “uniform” which tells the outside world of their membership of the “club”.
Now I’d like some form of universally recognised sign of my status. In the marketplace this morning I visited my friendly market stall. At the moment I am conflicted between wanting people and solitude. Half of me wants to explode while half of me wants to be alone. Out of the blue one of the sweet ladies asked me in German about my Mum (I must have mentioned she was in hospital last week I cannot remember – we have a nice rapport and gossip in the shop often). Upon telling them my Mum had died they all stared at me and I wished the earth would just come and swallow me up at that point, as I feel i am being stared at now as a strange one. It is a living hell being foreign and grieving at the same time.
All I can muster to announce my status is to feel like yelling “Fuck off I’m grieving” to all and sundry.
Three things have happened here which is very odd. Lots of otherwise reliable electrical equipment is failing. The other day my computer just crashed, when it’s normally pretty stable. This morning the kettle although switched on simply refused to work, yet water boiled. The latest is my new Nokia mobile, these I am sure are usually bombproof and simply stopped working at 19:40 am, thus buggering up my timekeeping this morning.
She is still here, cracking small jokes to reassure me, I am certain of it.
I just had a minor panic with my daughter who’s been to see a theatre production with school in Munich. As a foreigner here sometimes I get lost with simple pick-up time instructions – its happened often in the past with all parents aware of the new times just not me and no-one telling me. This time I believed I had it wrong again and asked about. Upon hearing they were back at 1pm instead of 12.30 I fetched my son. Came back for daughter and looked everywhere. The bus was back but no daughter.In a mild panic I drove fast home to seek her.
My relief at seeing her on the pavement was deadened by a flashback to the 1970s when I remember being in a car with my older brother, hunting for my other slightly younger brother. ´After a big row which was usual in those days, he’d left. My brother was driving to fetch him back. I am just realising that pain I have now is the vary same hole in the heart I had back then.
How often these words appear on packets of pills such as cold remedies! And yet having sat and absorbed that amazing article:
and going theorugh this rite of passage as I am I now take on board this advice. Driving my son to kindergarden I am making driving decisions which I might not otherwise make, The same applies to going to the gym. What more dangerous heavy machinery is a weight bench!
Nope I shall busy myself with other tasks, like food shopping and reactivating my library membership, tasks which may not involve such intense mental faculties which presently are impaired.
The German word for a song which haunts, in my case it is a song with the lyrics “Just call my name and I’ll be there”.