Today is the birthday of Ian Malcolm Henderson.
He existed. He was here. Just as much as I am. Just as much as you are.
He once had his own hopes and dreams and fears. His own internal universe. A whole universe that I can never know.
And then he died.
Ian Malcolm Henderson should be 72 today. Instead, he's forever 56. I see his face and I see it as he was then. On bad days I picture it in his coffin. Him yet not him. Almost looking like he was asleep but the colour. The colour was wrong.
Either way, I can't picture him as 72.
I've aged 15 years and he hasn't changed a day.
And I can't let it go. I've struggled hugely with his death. I've felt sorry for me. Sorry for my mum. Sorry for him. Sorry for the shell of a family we were left with afterwards. And the hurt. The pain of grief is like nothing else. Truly. Like nothing else.
It's been here with me every single day of every single week of every single year since he died.
I apparently have failed to operate within the parameters of the 'classic stages of grief'. Therapists have told me a lot about the cycle of grief. The stages of grief. That I'm stuck. That I need to let go. That I need to reach the next stage.
Well, 15 years on, I think I've had to find my own way. I carry the sadness with me, but that also means I carry my dad within me. And that is the price of grief. You don't get to leave it behind, or move away from it. You have to absorb it and learn to accept the way it has changed you.
Next year, should we avoid political Armageddon and assuming that the world hasn't been obliterated in a Trump-induced nightmare, I will be marrying the best person I know. I'm delighted about this. Delighted to have found someone that makes me understand why people want to get married. It's an awesome thing. But I have a sadness that drags at the back of me as I choose a dress, and shoes and all the rest of the things that I had no idea you had to give a crap about when you get married.
My dad won't be there. I'll walk down the aisle alone. Much worse than that, he will never meet the man I marry. He'll never see that finally I got my shit together and chose someone worth it. Got past my addiction to feckless losers and found a man with integrity, kindness and intelligence.
I miss his voice. I miss his advice. I miss his approval and I miss him making me howl with laughter. I miss so much.
For someone who has no problem splicing words together to make whatever I need, I struggle over and over to find the right ones to describe quite how this feels. To suffer a loss that marks you for life is part of what it is to be human. The ability to adjust and grow through it is the hardest lesson I've ever had to learn.
One day I'll get there.
Happy birthday to my wonderful dad.
Tuesday, 28 June 2016
I tried not to write this. I really did. Who needs one more angry voice howling into the post-Brexit universe?
But I’m just so sad.
I’ve never been particularly ‘proud’ to be British or English. I don’t really understand that. We’re born randomly. We could have been born anywhere at any time. But we weren’t. We were born here, in a country of freedom that people couldn’t even imagine a few decades ago. We were born into a time of relative prosperity. Note the word RELATIVE.
Being poor in 2016 is shit. It’s not as shit as being poor in 1816. Or 1916.
When I was nine and we got our first dog I instinctively wanted a mixed breed. It’s better I reasoned. It has lots of bits of lots of other dogs in it. It makes it individual but with the traits of lots of other dogs. How can that not be a metric tonne better than a ‘pure’ bred dog that walks into walls because it’s from such a small gene pool it’s dumb as a rock?
I’ve always been vaguely glad I’m a quarter Scottish. I wouldn’t want to be all English. I wouldn’t want to be ALL anything.
So, what I guess I’m saying is that I’ve never really understood the nationalistic fervour that has cropped up at various points throughout my life. The odd football competition. When the Queen does something amazing like, er, gets a year older. Stuff like that. I’ve never felt part of it. I don’t understand how by an accident of birth people feel superior to others. I just don’t get it. I’ve always found it vaguely menacing.
I’ve never felt particularly proud, no. But I’ve also never felt ashamed. Until now.
Studying history taught me that people who really really wanted other people to get out of their country generally weren’t very nice people. But it’s OK. It’s history. Back then. Not now. It wouldn’t happen now. It couldn’t happen now.
When I was much younger and learning about the rise of the Third Reich, I remember when it dawned on me that the German people wanted Hitler. He didn’t win the Presidential election of 1932 but it was enough for him to be appointed Chancellor because lots and lots of people kept voting for his party, paving the way for the atrocities to come.
They chose it. They CHOSE it. How? And then I realised they were ordinary people. Ordinary people who felt desperate enough or believed in authority enough or just wanted a change from the struggles post WW1. They were sick of struggling for cash. They were sick of politicians. They were sick of the measures in place after the Great War. So they took a chance. They gambled and just look how much they lost.
But it’s OK. It wouldn’t happen again. It’s 2016, not 1933. We’ve learned so much.
But we haven’t have we? We HAVEN’T. Brexit has allowed the nationalistic racist minority a valid, sanctioned, VOTED FOR voice. Brexit has made it OK to start FB groups about ‘sending immigrants home’. It’s made it OK to tell a Polish kid he’ll ‘have to get out now’.
I get that not all Brexit voters are racist. Of course I do. I’m not an idiot. I know that out of the 17 million people who voted out, the nasty racist element is a minority. But voting for Brexit gave this nasty racist element so much more of a voice than ever before.
I understand that somehow people thought that the question: “Do you want to leave the EU?” meant “Are you really pissed off about not being able to get a seat at the doctors? Are you scared for your financial future? Do you think that outsiders are taking your resources away from you? Do you feel that you’re losing out to help people who don’t deserve it? Are you struggling to get by? Do you not have much money? Do you wish things were different? Do you hate the government? Do you think Cameron is a pie face moron who should go?”
I GET THAT. I UNDERSTAND that people are feeling marginalised. Disenchanted with government. Fed up with false promises. Well guess what? Leaving the EU has less than fuck all to do with ANY of that. Brexiters answered questions that weren’t even asked.
And still others fell for what was quite obvious utter bullshit peddled by a fucking moron who isn’t even an MP. And yet others saw a chance to vent their spleen. Their aggressive, small minded spleen on anyone who isn’t them.
When I voted Remain, I knew our country was already fucked. I knew that our government were corrupt lying assholes who have been systematically destroying anything I was proud of. The NHS, for example. I knew all that. I also knew that voting for anything Cameron wanted made me feel a bit sick.
But I answered the question.
Did I want to leave the EU? Did I want to leave something that was bigger and stronger and had more voices and therefore more chance of hope than our pitiful government? Did I want to leave something that upholds environmental measures that I don’t know our government will choose should we leave? Did I want to leave something that allows free movement of people from country to country? Did I want to leave something that has kept peace in Europe for a longer period of time than ever before?
In my lifetime I have watched wars safely removed from me. Iraq. Afghanistan. Europe was safe. We were, at least, together in Europe. Whatever happens with the Middle East, Europe is one. There is safety in numbers and safety in legally binding ‘red tape’ that stops countries going to war with each other.
Did I want to leave that? For a future that was clearly built on total bullshit? For financial insecurity the like of which we’ve never seen? For a future where the Far Right in Russia and France would be delighted with this choice? For a future ratified by fucking DONALD TRUMP?
No. HELL NO.
When you’re heartbroken there’s always the small flicker inside you. Even if it’s deep inside you. You’ll meet someone else. There’s a chance you’ll find someone else and fall in love again. Plenty more fish in the sea, right?
Not this time.
I am so sad for the country that I grew up in. I am so sad for those who believed they were doing the right thing. I am just so sad.
I hope very much that history won’t look back at this vote, at this time, at this decision and ask: “Why didn’t they stop it? How could they just watch this happen?”
I really hope I’m being over emotional and dramatic and am misunderstanding what could happen now. I hope I’m wrong. And I hope that I can wake up one day soon and feel less emotional and more pragmatic. I hope that writing this will help me do this. I hope all of our futures are not as bleak as they seem right now.
Monday, 21 March 2016
Opening my mouth
I start to speak
But no words come out
They ask why
And I say, I
I miss you
I miss you
I miss you
They ask why
And I say, I
I love you
I love you
The way it feels sometimes
I will never again speak.
I will never ever say your name
Not to your face
I will never say “Dad, look at this,”
“Dad, I’m getting married.”
“Dad, I’m loved. I’m here. I’m happy.”
So many times I said: “See you later.”
I could’ve looked you in the eye
“Dad, whatever and whenever we have together
Know this.I love you and I always will.”
Tuesday, 15 March 2016
Fifteen years ago this very night I went to bed for the very last time as a person with an unbroken heart.
I didn't know I was born, I tell you. All those years wasted mithering about nonsense, when I should have been fully enjoying not being grief-stricken.
I would give anything to go back to then. To have my dad back. I'd like to just talk to him. Just for five minutes. But, on a more selfish level, I'd like to be able to just breathe properly. To sleep properly. To not be carrying around this sludgy mass of grief everywhere I go.
I can't actually remember what it was like to not see the world through the gauze of grief.
This is all I know now. It's my life now. And it has been since 16 March 2001 at 5am.
The positives in this are that I didn't think I would survive without my dad. I genuinely didn't think I could live without him. And yet, here I am. Definitely existing. Lately, even living a bit. So I guess yay me, for realising that there is nothing that will actually break me completely. That's good. I guess.
Other than that, I see nothing good or noble in grief.
I saw a ridiculous meme somewhere or other talking about grief 'warming you in its rays'.
And I thought to myself, 'grief rays'. What the ever-living buggery is that about.
Anyone who tries to extract something positive from grief is an idiot. Grief is black and it's sticky. It's painful and it's exhausting. It doesn't make you a better person for suffering. It doesn't make you a worse person. It doesn't mean anything at all. It just is.
When someone you love dies, then you can never do anything major in your life again, without a stab of pain.
I am somewhere I never thought I'd be. I've met someone who I adore. And who adores me. We've bought a home. We're getting married. We're adopting another dog (YES WE ARE).
Every bit of this I do without my dad.
I want him to see my new house. I want him to come round for dinner. I want him to walk me down the aisle. I want him to see that I did get my shit together eventually. I want him to know how much he was loved.
But grief is more about the person suffering it. I want to hear that he still loves me. That I have become someone he would, at least, be vaguely proud of.
Even after 15 years it takes very little for me to be right back there, early morning on 16 March 2001 taking the call from my mum.
"Your dad's dead."
I fancy now I could hear my heart shattering into a million tiny pieces. Right then and there.
Shortly afterwards, I remember saying to my Cruse Bereavement Counsellor that I couldn't imagine getting to the 10 year anniversary. It was inconceivable to me then that I would be able to survive 10 years without him.
And here I am at 15.
So I guess I was wrong again.
I've read a lot of books about grieving. I've read a lot of quotes about grieving. I have no pithy, comforting bon mot to share.
Grief is unlike any other emotion or feeling. It is a realm all of its own and if you've been there you know it. If you haven't, you should fear it. Because it's very likely to be worse than you can imagine.
Best I can do is heartily recommend being open, honest and fulsome with your love for your loved ones. Whether they're your dad, your mum, your mate, your sister or your pet canary. Because it just takes one day for it to all change and you don't get to say it again.
Thursday, 10 March 2016
I wrote this in June 2013.
It's got better than this.
Three months ago I stopped taking SSRIs. For the first time in 23 years I am not taking anti-depressants.
But it's still a truth snapping at my heels
And it probably always will be.
“You just need to think positively, like I do.”/“You always dwell on the negative. You’re just making it worse for yourself.”/“Pretend you’re happy and then people will want to be around you again.”/“There’s nothing wrong with your life. Just snap out of it.”
Yeah, it’s true. You’re right. You who live in a world where depression is something to be sneered at or pitied. You who lives in a world free of this. There is nothing wrong with my life. I shouldn’t wake up feeling like I’m caught in a vice. I shouldn’t stumble through each day a second away from tears, with a knot of tension in my stomach that never eases, afraid of everything and everyone.
I am alive, not destitute, not in severe pain every day, I can move my limbs, I am cognisant, I am smart. I’m a middle class, white, privileged English woman. What the hell do I have to be depressed about?
But on a semi-regular basis my world fades to black. And it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you say to me. It doesn’t matter that you think I’m pathetic, or self-pitying or hysterical or overly dramatic or selfish or self-pitying or wanting attention or boring or needy or any of those things I’ve been called and told over the years. My world remains black, whatever you think of me.
I’m good at hiding it, for the most part. Some people only see me as short tempered and moody and all the rest of that hilarious stuff. What they don’t know is that I spend days at a time choking back tears, that my amusingly low tolerance for teasing and banter makes me cry till I choke when I’m in private, that the simplest noise, like someone talking loudly or the phone ringing, can make me jump out of my skin because I am so tense, that I wake up in the morning with my heart racing and my limbs aching from clenching muscles, even in my sleep, that I wake up and cry, that I cry myself to sleep, that I can only see, hear, think and feel black and dark and despair and blank terror at the pointlessness of existence. That during the bad times I feel rudderless, so that I am floating, untethered through uncertainty and fear and every face I see is blank and every person I meet wants to hurt me and every path I choose is blocked.
My depression traps me, it smothers me, it makes it hard to breathe, it makes it hard to think, it makes it hard for me to look at my own face in the mirror, to talk to my own mother, to set foot outside my door. I want to crawl away from the world. And not stop. Just keep going until I die or the world ends. Whichever comes first.
Depression is insidious, it is without logic, it is without charm and it is without romance. It twists everything you see, you feel and you do. Depression has robbed me of relationships, friends, jobs and opportunities. As the years go by, the web of despair may flex and change - sometimes it’s way in the horizon and I can breathe and live, and sometimes it is clinging to my very skin, a damp, stultifying gauze between me and the world - but it never leaves me. And it most likely never will.
Monday, 11 January 2016
When Freddie Mercury died, I listened to Queen on my Walkman under my duvet and I cried. He was the first death I'd ever cried for.
He was the first person who was there one day being alive and the next he just... wasn't.
My 13 year old brain struggled to process it.
Creeping death was skirting around my consciousness because of my dad's illness. Mortality had been thrust upon me at the tender age of nine and I grew up under the spectre of a very real chance my dad could die at any time. I knew this. Doctors and parents had told me. I still didn't actually believe it.
Under this cloud, Freddie actually dying made it seem like I had to start to believe it.
It does happen to people you like, people you love and people you admire. It's not just nameless, faceless children in Africa or someone or other's mum at school.
Early teenage mind blown apart.
When Douglas Adams died in 2001, social media wasn't a thing. He was the next famous person who actually hurt me by daring to die.
The difference was that in between Mercury and Adams, my dad had also died.
Everything hurt. And when my favourite writer died just six months after my dad it hurt more.
I would have liked to share that online. I think it would have helped.
I did look online, I remember. But there were only slightly odd forums and chat rooms and whatever else was around in 2001. It was before Friends Reunited sparked the idea of actually talking to people and collecting like minded folk to whine to online. But even from those few forums I found a bit of solace. An infinitesimal amount of solace. That here were other people who were also sad. Sharing grief can knock off - however briefly - the edges of abject horror and the utter aloneness of it.
I had my grief for my dad. It was raw then and it is here now. The pain doesn't leave, it isn't silenced and it will never go away completely.
Loving someone means suffering when they die. I see no way around this.
And of course famous people who I've never met don't compare to my dad and the howling pain his loss caused me, but when people provide either a soundtrack or a literary light in your life it feels like shades of grief when they die.
I know that I didn't know Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Rik Mayall and David Bowie but I did know what they as writers and artists chose to convey to me. And that is a direct communication. So I wanted to say something this morning when I read about Bowie at 7am it hurt. It has hurt all day, in varying degrees. And I have cried actual tears for a man I never met.
I find comfort in social media and joining the wave of grief marked for a life that mattered to millions.
So fuck the Spectator and the snipey piece they ran today about how Bowie's fans are pathetic for crying on social media. And the people who don't care about Bowie in particular, I get it. I do. I didn't give a shit when Princess Di carked it. I was only marginally sad about Lemmy just the other day. That's the thing about grief and death and love and sadness. It's all very, very subjective.
But I don't think it cheapens grief to talk about it, share pictures, memes and songs. I think it helps us all on our quest to get through our own lives knowing that death of all we love is inevitable and that all things pass - good and bad.
I think it's OK to say if you feel sad when someone removed from you but who impacted on your life has died. It's a sad thing. Of course it is. But it's also a reminder. Death is the great leveller. Even the rich, famous, glamorous and spectacularly awesome die. Money can't save you, fame can't save you, talent can't save you and being loved can't save you.
And it is, at least partly, that that generates such outpourings of emotion when famous people die. It's a reminder always. With Bowie and my generation, it's a reminder that those of our parents' generation are dying now. It's their time. As it will be ours in less than half the time we'd like.
I still feel the stickiness of public gushings of grief. It bewilders me when it's someone I don't care about or I don't consider important. I was stunned at the reaction to Princess Diana. Weirded out. Confused. But it had made sense to me to cry for Freddie Mercury just six years earlier.
The public bandwagon that was inevitable today is one I join willingly but hesitantly. I find it comforting but also somehow voyeuristic and, weirdly, narcissistic. But that also pretty much sums up social media as a whole for me. Am I jumping on the back of someone else's sadness? Someone else's grief?
Am I indulging my sadness for my dad by talking about David Bowie? I can't say I'll miss him. I didn't know him. All I know is that him dying makes me sad. I want everything to remain the same and I want to know that death is controllable and manageable.
Every reminder that it is the opposite makes me scared and sad.
Either way, social media outpourings are gone quickly enough. We indelibly mark our opinion - it's always there somewhere. But tomorrow the news will be something else. Someone else maybe. And, in not much time at all, my sadness will fade. It won't sting and hurt and make me want to cry if I hear a Bowie song.
And, of course, my feelings of grief for Bowie and Mercury and Adams and Mayall and Pratchett are more about other things. My dad. My loss. My youth. My life.
In my chest I have a stone lodged right under my heart. I can feel it all the time and when a grief hits me for someone it grinds against my insides and I feel the rush of tears behind my eyes. This is a pretty common occurrence since 2001. I generally don't shed them because, honestly, if a grieving person cried every time they wanted to, they'd never get anything done.
Today I can't separate the death of Bowie and my dad in the part of my brain where I keep my feelings. Not my logic obviously. I'm not mental. But it's the illogical nature of being human and missing someone so much for 15 long years. Sadness becomes bound up in him. To me, thinking of my dad means pain and a deep, deep sadness and it's always there underneath the surface. Take a Bowie or a Mayall and prick the surface and the dam of hurt bursts. Only for a day or so. Only for a while.
So Bowie. I wasn’t your biggest fan. I know that. I don’t know that much about you outside of the songs I love. But you were a soundtrack to my life, along with Freddie and Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and myriad others. And maybe some of our sadness is just about the passing of time and the inevitability that our heroes are mortal too.
I would have had immense comfort from people all over the world expressing their sadness at my dad's death.
Because all of us have our heroes and not all our heroes are famous.