One Thing Changes; Everything Becomes Different.

When it happened, a year ago, I thought about today.  I pondered, ‘This time next year I’ll be wondering where that year went.’ Sure enough, I’m writing this now thinking, ‘Where on Earth did that year go?’

Going back home is an entirely different experience since Mum died.  She used to reinforce that wherever they lived, no matter what, I always had a home there; and although I wouldn’t hesitate if I ever needed to return, it isn’t home anymore.  With respect to my Dad, it was Mum’s presence that made it home; without her it is simply bricks and mortar.  In fact, for me, being there still feels like we’re waiting for her to come home from the hospital; it’s a place in limbo.  In the past I’d complain to her that the heat in their 3-bed-coastal-town-semi-up-North was practically non-existent.  Her internal heat meant having the radiators on was too much for her to bear; windows were opened to keep her cool while I froze in a myriad layers of clothing…under a blanket…with a hot water bottle and my Dad’s secret stash of Bell’s. (Shhhh.)  Now that she’s gone the heating goes on full, but the warmth has gone.  

Mum loved her life; she was the embodiment of happiness and simplicity; she took joy in baking and crafts; she didn’t strive for more than she had because all that she had was more than enough – despite the agonising years battling cancer.  This constantly astonished me.  She was the happy kind and I envy that.  She was also a true matriarch, she had it down to a fine art; cooking, freezing meals, baking, organising the home, I mean a proper domestic goddess.  I wish I was even half as accomplished as she was at juggling work and home, let alone simultaneously, overcoming her illness.  Even as a single, homely-type of woman I scarcely do her justice due to my lack of kitchen abilities and domestic prowess.  It’s what I love about a homely woman – the compassion, the warmth, the care, the provision; Mum had it all in abundance.  Arriving home was like being wrapped in warm mixed-spice-infused cotton wool with big fluffy unicorn slippers on your feet, a favourite black and white film on the tele, a brew and a wedge of homemade cake on the side – and plenty more where that came from.  I really bloody miss how she greeted me and looked after me when I was there, but I will never have that again.  Mind you, I can’t forget that there would always be a massive side order of guilt for not living closer shoved on my plate – you know, for balance.

I have read that the second year is often worse than the first – all the amassed sentiment, the profundity placed upon every first that has since passed (birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries) loses its initial significance; two will become three, three/four, four into five years, and so on for the rest of our lives. Yet for all those years left to pass I don’t see any time when the disbelief of her early passing is no longer present. This blurry, erratic, torrid, first year is over and it feels like the next level of closure – like that period of time between death and funeral – we’ve been in a bizarre healing bubble for twelve months; experiencing every high and low imaginable and now it’s time to settle down.

I guess I’m glad that this first year is done with.  Perhaps it was just me, or perhaps it is textbook grief, but I felt compelled to make every ‘first’ poignant, well remembered, acknowledged.  I bought (and wrote) her a card and flowers on the first Mother’s Day without her; I couldn’t stop myself, it felt so wrong to not get her something.  I bought her a cake on her birthday and asked my work colleagues to have a slice on her behalf and they all did….one by one they came to me with cake and whispered, “happy birthday Joey’s Mum,” in my ear.  That was pretty special and I love them for doing that.  This morning I will go to the cemetery with my Aunt (Mum’s Sister-in-law) to clean the gravestone and place fresh flowers; later I will spend the evening with some family (Mum’s youngest Brother and his wife) who were present the night she died.  We’ll all reminisce, laugh and probably cry too.  Mostly, I am sure, we’ll laugh as there are so many good memories to cherish.  

However can it be that we’ll not see that smile, hear that laugh, smell that baking, listen to the daft things she would utter before making herself cry with laughter?  How can I never buy her something she wanted or receive a note and parcel from her in the post?  How was the last thing she ever made me the last thing she’d ever make me?  How did we talk so much but now I can’t call the number that is still in my phone?  How did she leave us so soon?  How does our world still turn?  Oops…tangent alert!  That was the disbelief kicking in again.  Death is a part of life, we all know this, but when it happens to you, when your loved one is taken unjustifiably too soon, when they had so much left to enjoy….and when you have (potentially) so many years to live without them…well it’s the biggest cruelty of human existence.  You accept the practicalities of their departure, but the dull ache in your heart never subsides.  Yet for all the fist wagging at the Gods, it was an honour to have ever had that love, to have known that person…

It was an honour, Mum.

JG 28.09.17

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Why Didn’t I? How Haven’t I Still?

1994.  I’m 17 and I’m in my bedroom in a house in Dagenham, Essex, where I live with my folks and younger brother.  The room is black.  I think the only thing that isn’t black is the skirting board; Mum insisted that I could have whatever colour I wanted in the room, but those skirting boards had to be white.  I guess it was cool that I was given freedom of expression, despite the single, parental stipulation; but I accepted the terms and proceeded to choose black furniture, black curtains, black bed covers, a speckled mix of black and grey wallpaper.  Posters?  Kurt Cobain, Pearl Jam, Morrissey/The Smiths, Soundgarden. Yes, I was into that whole Seattle grunge thing.  I had previously discarded my divan and the mattress, now on the floor, was what I attempted sleep on every night.  The scruffy sheets of an unmade bed,  scrunched and bunched up from a fidgety night’s restlessness, are the untidiest parts of this room and will remain that way today.  Despite my sullen mentality, everything else is in order, just how I want it.

I’m cross-legged on the corner of the mattress at the foot of the bed.  I’m wearing blue jeans, black and white base-ball boots (a la KC), a white T-shirt and my absolute favourite oversized, grey, woolly, big buttoned cardy – super grunge!  It’s 9am and I have nowhere to be.  It’s the 6wks summer holiday, between completion of my first year of A-Levels and the return year at my Comprehensive, but I have no intention of going back.  I’ve already drunk one can of Diamond White and I’m halfway through my second.  The can is in my right hand, my left hand is full of paracetamol; I have been saving them in a small tin for a while.  All that needs to happen now is to put the pills in my mouth and wash them down with the rest of the booze.  My suicide note is written and is laying on the floor next to the pill tin.  The house is empty apart from my brother who is fast asleep in his room, my parents have gone to work.  I don’t know how long I sat staring at those pills in my hand, but eventually I put them back in the tin, hid the note and, somewhat catatonic, left the house.

I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to do when I got there; I just left.  And walked.  I understood very well what I wanted to do.  I wanted to not be alive anymore.  I wanted that feeling to go.  I wanted the emotional pain to go.  I wanted the sadness to go.  I wanted the inadequacy to go. I wanted the self-hatred to go.  I wanted the pointlessness of life to go.  I wanted to go back to wherever I came from; a place I felt I had been extracted from so that I could begin developing in Mum’s womb; like something that had been missing all my life and I wanted to find it again.  But it didn’t exist in this life.  So it must be somewhere else, somewhere ethereal, other dimensional, unearthly, heavenly….anywhere! Just somewhere that wasn’t here.

I walked to the end of the road and turned right onto Central Park Avenue.  My Nan lived round the corner to us.  As I approached the turning to her road, expecting just to carry on past (without looking down towards her house as I would normally have done) there she was.  At that exact moment!  We literally bumped into eachother on the corner.  We hadn’t seen eachother coming as the house on that corner had a 6ft brick wall for a fence.  I was stunned out of my reverie, happy to see her, and continued on with her.  We walked down the (Oxlow) Lane and she ran her errands with me in tow; then we walked back to her house and I spent the rest of the day with her, playing cards, eating goodies, watching videos – without mention of what had happened at home earlier that morning.  A surreal day if ever there was one.

Sometime later that summer I wrote my Mum a letter detailing my mood and wanting help for my suicidal ideologies.  The outcome of this letter wasn’t favourable.  Fortunately for her she had no comprehension of depression, she’d never experienced it – but that doesn’t help a teenage girl with manic depression and a desire to end her life, looking to her Mum for answers.  Ultimately I was alone to face it all head on, to deal with it with zero input from anyone else and I vowed (at that time) to never tell Mum anything so personal again.   My folks hadn’t been too impressed with me a few weeks/months earlier when I destroyed as many photos as I possibly could that had me in them; ones from early childhood up ’til that time.  In my disturbed mind I wanted to eradicate myself from existence, so that when I died there would be no trace left of me; like I had never happened.  Obviously this wasn’t logical; there were many others with photos of me, let alone memories of me, but I didn’t equate that at the time.  I was in a weird place, not of sound mind, and yet I knew I wanted to die.  The problem is, I didn’t go through with it.

2017.  I’m now 40.  I’m in a house that I rent alone and I’m writing about suicide.  (Is that worrying?!!)  Truth is, I just watched a film about Kurt Cobain and it took me right back.  He killed himself in 1994 and it hit me hard back then because I understood it.  That need to die, the ‘no choice’ of it all, the tragedy, the inevitability.  I felt the same way.  I felt like there was no other course, no other way forward that was gonna make any sense; to end it all made the most sense to me.  To this day, I don’t know how I am still alive.  I don’t know why I didn’t go through with it.  Actually, no, I do know why – I had too much of a conscience.  As much as I didn’t want to live, I felt I didn’t have the right to take a life that my parents had lovingly given to me.  I understood the devastation that a suicide can have on those left behind.  I hadn’t experienced it first hand, I’ve just always been an understanding and deeply compassionate person….how could I devastate my family like that?  So I suffered with a life I didn’t want, a life I resented, a life I wished away every night before I’d fall asleep.

I don’t suffer from depression anymore and haven’t for a number of years – but that is because I actively chose to not give it any power.  I do believe in experiencing a negative emotion, as it is character building, but not for any great length of time.  Acknowledge it, address it, resolve it – don’t ever hand it your control; but depression isn’t the only reason to commit suicide.  Genuinely, and I can say this because it comes easily to me and without deep negative emotion, I have thought most of my life that I will end my days by my own hand.  I guess it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me if I went down that road one day.  I know that most people won’t understand that way of thinking and immediately want me sectioned before I do myself harm, but it’s not like that!  You’re just gonna have to take my word for that.  It’s more to do with circumstance and a right to do with your life whatsoever you wish.  This isn’t about depression or sadness, this is about pure choice.

I live a good life these days.  I have taken many steps to rectify my own suffering over the years and I am far happier now than I have ever been, but that doesn’t mean to say I passionately love life in general.  I’ve never been able to say that.  Life, as amazing and beautiful as it can be, is still phenomenally exhausting at times.  Whether it’s confrontations you could do without, a plan not coming to fruition, the acceptance of disappointment that what you hoped from life isn’t coming your way, the incessant change of feelings, the unknown, the unfulfilled dreams, the fulfilled dreams and what may come next, and the constant sacrifices, there is the fundamental question at the base of it all….what is the bloody point??!!  Sometimes, for me, the sheer boredom from my relentless singledom is enough to make me question it all when life goes off kilter.  It can be all you need just to have that one person to come home to, to call when shite hits the fan, to be cuddled when tears fill your eyes, to be surprised by when everything else takes on a dullness.  When you don’t have that, year after year after year….man, that gets old real fast.  Although it is said that great things come from dark times, or bored times, to endure those times…well if you could see me I’m simply shaking my head, giving a sigh of incredulity and not finding enough words to put into perspective, for you, just how many times I’ve found myself in this insecure awkwardness of personal transition.  Looking into the future, what if I don’t find those things I yearn for?  What if I continue to find myself in this position where I am uncertain of what is coming and still alone with that uncertainty?  It’s not far from my imagination that I could just go, ‘ah fuck it, let’s clock out now….I’m done with this.’  As tragic and blah blah blah as it may be, sometimes it really does make so much sense to me.  I don’t think that suicide is a cop out.  I think it’s a legitimate life choice.  Well, death choice.  For the terminally ill, the suddenly incapacitated, the chronically depressed or the dispassionately bored, I get it.  And I have such empathy for it.

If I was to be told, right now, that this is all my life will ever be, with no great love to befall me; a life lived as alone as it ever was….I’d be punching that card, with love in my heart and an acknowledging smile on my face, and without any regret.  So I guess, curiosity and hope is what is keeping me alive now, despite the intermittent tedium.

JG 13.07.17

 

Photo of Doom!

There’s nothing quite like a photograph to make you see yourself through different eyes, and it never ceases to amaze me how vastly different the perception is from what you see in the mirror. The camera tells an unspeakable, unforgiving truth; one that you cannot argue with. Last night I faced my own mortality thanks to a certain photo taken that day.

I spent yesterday with two friends on a day trip to Southwold beach. It’s a place none of us had been before, and my bezzie and I do like to always try somewhere new. As the weather has been so gorgeous, we thought we’d capitalise on it and treat ourselves to a day out of the office. We had lunch on the pier and a Mr Whippy on the beach, paddled in the sea, soaked up the sun; the usual seaside itinerary. It was a lovely day, good fun in the car, singing, laughing, and much joviality; a very relaxing and joyful day; until I got home.

My good friend, of many years, sent me three photos from the day. Two of them were of me sitting on the beach, they were pleasant enough. I had given her strict instructions to only capture an image of me from the neck up (as I do with everyone.) The other one absolutely scared me to death. I was lying on my blanket, arms outstretched, relaxing, oblivious to all; and in this sleepy state, eyes closed……I look like I’m dead. Like a corpse. I don’t look like I’m relaxing happily; I genuinely look like I am dead. Perhaps it’s the unfortunate shadows cast across my face making my skin look grey, maybe it’s because there’s just so much of me that my face contorts when gravity takes hold. Either way, it made me sick. It made me feel like my spirit had just risen from my fleshy vessel and I was looking down at my dead self. That picture wouldn’t be out of place if it had been taken of me in my coffin. I have never felt such an intense sense of my own mortality until that point; and I have never wanted to stay alive more than in that moment.

As I sobbed, looking at my seemingly lifeless body, I suddenly thought about all those times, over bygone years, that I’ve spent in depressions, wishing my life away, wanting to die, and contemplating ending my days. In that image I had my wish and it petrified me. I no longer have any desire to end my days nor do I want my days to end; I certainly don’t want my days to end looking so oversized, or as a result of it. I’ve never had as big a kick up the arse as that single photo has given me. I’ve never seen anything so hideous in my life. If ever my motivation to change falters…..I just need to look at that picture.

It was quite a timely awakening as tonight, a friend and I are going to take part in a Bootcamp with one of my heroes, Jessie Pavelka. I love what that man does for people, the way he helps them transform their lives. In my fantasy, he takes me under his wing, his new project if you will; and keeps in touch until I am at my goal. In reality, just meeting him will give me the boost I need and I can take from it enough to reinforce my desire to lose this physical baggage whenever my resolve weakens; which it all too often does.

Apart from the weight issue, the picture wasn’t unlike Scrooge being visited by one of his ghosts; depicting what it would be like to see life after you’ve passed over. As distraught as it made me, it was also quite a gift. In that shockwave of emotions and thoughts that overwhelmed me, I was granted clairvoyance; a vision of my future that I want never to become a true eventuality. That person will not be my future. My path instantaneously altered it’s course as I opened the file on my mobile phone. When the time comes that I really do exit my body and peer down at myself it will be that of a thin, wrinkly, ancient old prune with an accomplished smile; happily at peace.

Saying Goodbye

A final goodbye is such a peculiar hour. Today I attended the funeral of a Great Aunt. She was 94yrs old, widow to her husband who had died over four years prior. He had reached over 100yrs old; they had been married for 71yrs. They had children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and even great great grandchildren. They were adorable people and a loving couple. My Great Uncle, was the sweetest, most gentile and kindest gentleman I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I remember them both very fondly. As with all goodbyes, it was a sad and sombre affair, reflecting on the loss of a loved one, but also turning the focus to your own life. The reality of death makes you ask yourself if you are living enough, if you are free, if you are doing it right.

Maybe it’s my advancing years and rapid approach to midlife, but at this service I found myself worrying about my own inevitable funeral. Should I live to a ripe(ish) age, the generations before me will likely be gone. As I have no children of my own and am never likely to, just who will be left to see me off? I won’t be remembered as that loving matriarch who had the longevity of a harmonious married life; a soulmate; a family. Okay so, by the time I die, if fate is in my favour, I may have my soulmate, I may even have that longevity of marriage, but I won’t have the family. I have never been that way inclined.

It struck me as odd today that I’m not pro motherhood, personally. I am missing the maternal gene, yet I have so much love to give, so much compassion; I think I’d make an awesome mum. All bar one of my cousins have ever growing families of their own. Despite being older than some of them I remain partnerless, marriageless and childless. It filled me with a desperate fear that I may truly end up alone; with merely a few blue rinses from the bingo at my funeral, mostly happy that with one less player there’ll be more money in the winnings pot for them.

There’s not a great deal I can do about that. Some of us are meant for certain things, others…not so much. One can only hope that at my final goodbye, no matter who is left behind, that if I am thought of half as much as those that have gone before me, I must be doing something right.

One can only hope.