Monday, 7 April 2008

Part 3 - The Catastrophic Effect - A retrospective account

Want to catch up on this story?.............Part 1...............Part 2

The thud of my hand luggage landing on the hall floor brings the cat running to see who’s disturbed his slumber. “Hi little man, did you miss me?”, I say with a smile as I bend down to pick him up for a cuddle. It’s been two months since I waved my goodbyes to him before I headed off to Heathrow airport and onto Minneapolis to complete the final stages of my project. He nuzzles his head affectionately into my neck but I can hear much huffing and puffing and I move out of the way as my partner pushes a ridiculously large and overstuffed suitcase through the front door into the hall.

“Dear god Mob, maybe next time you should ship some of this old crap back instead of trying to take up half the hold in the plane”, he moans at me. He’s red faced and out of breath from the exertion of dragging this monster from the car to the house. I want to snap back at him that quite a bit of ‘that old crap’ as he calls it is several pairs of jeans and t-shirts and a leather jacket all bought for him at knock down prices and all courtesy of the pound being strong against the dollar for a change. I bite back my retort because I know he's tired and because I’m so very grateful that he’s risen really early on a Saturday morning to pick me up from the red eye flight that got me in to Gatwick at 0600am.

It’s been a fairly arduous fourteen hour round trip but I’m finally glad to be home; back in familiar surroundings but I’m immensely disoriented from the time difference and being away for so long. Everything’s the same and yet nothings the same. Northamptonshire couldn’t be more different to Minneapolis but each place holds a special affection for me. A fitful sleep in the car on the way home seems to have left me more exhausted and irritable and I would gladly kill for a deep sleep and some peace for a week. I turn to close the front door and for the first time am captivated by the garden and just how beautiful it is becoming. It’s mid April and the pink and yellow blossom on the trees look stunning and welcoming with their burst of colour. They were bleak and naked when I left in February. I momentarily forget the burden that weighs heavily on me but it returns as quickly as it went. It’s been two weeks since John called to tell me about dad and here I am home, finally home and dreading what is to come.

The cat’s long gone in search of some field mice so I close the door and pick up my hand luggage and head for the bedroom. The familiarity of my own bedroom and knowing that I’ll be curled up there sooner rather than later drops my stress level a notch.

“Stick the kettle on Mark”, I shout down to my partner. There’s no answer so I stroll down to find him looking murderously at the suitcase that needs dragging from the hall to the utility room as I need to unpack and launder my clothes. You’d think he was expected to singlehandedly lug it all the way up Mount Everest rather than to simply move it a few feet. Jeeze he could be a cantankerous git at times but at least he was my cantankerous git.

“C’mon, I’ll push and you pull”, I offer and together we manage to get as far as the sitting room where I unpack the gifts that have been packed at the top of the case. He’s thrilled at the jeans and tops and prances about in his new leather jacket then clears off to see what it looks like in the bedroom mirror.

In the moment’s silence just sitting on my hunkers next to the case, I feel extremely low and overwhelmed and in danger of buckling under. But there’s no time for self pity because I have to get myself together. I’m enormously cheesed off that I didn’t have enough time to launder my clothes before returning home but the project had demanded every waking moment right up until we went live two days ago. Being a week overdue just added to the pressure to deliver, to get the loose ends tied up and come home. But we did it and in relative terms a week was practically a legendary small amount of time to 'go over' as I’ve never seen an I.T. project come in on time, under budget and without problems. I left the USA with my boss’ and client’s blessings and felt that at least my professional world was under control even if my personal world was unstable. “One nil to me”, I told myself.

I knew that John was right and I should have come home two weeks ago but it hadn’t been possible, not at such a crucial stage in the project. There was simply no one else available to guide it to completion. If truth be told I was relieved that the decision had been taken out of my hands. I comforted myself with the knowledge that my father’s prognosis was in months so two more weeks didn’t mean much in the scheme of things. It made much more sense to me to complete the project so that I could spend some time with him without continuous interruptions from work. Much better that than the shoddy alternative of a fleeting visit to say goodbye, a hasty and callous exit from his life and a swift return to work. At least this solution means I can take over from John and give him the break he so desperately needs.

Lord knows I need a break after slogging through seventy hour weeks for the last few months and perhaps spending some time with my father is one way we can put the past behind us. But all of this may be academic; I still don’t know if I want to, or can, be with him. There’s so much to forgive and I’m irresolute that I can step up to the task. Guilt wields a heavy stick over my head as I wrestle with my conscience; guilt at not rushing home to Glasgow as soon as I heard the news; guilt that I feel no emotion about his impending death; guilt that I don’t even feel angry at him anymore. But hey, that’s the thing about us Catholics, we graduate with a first degree honours in guilt and it’s indoctrinated in you from the off and for me it has been nothing but a source of irritation throughout the years. All that bloody fire and brimstone approach to worship leaves me cold but maybe there’s a point to it after all. At least, besides indifference, I can feel something now, even if is just guilt.

Now that I am home my life is taking on a new reality. A six thousand mile gap between Glasgow and me held it all at bay but the nearer I am to Scotland the sharper the focus of the problems I now face. I am but a mere four hundred miles away and ever closer to confronting a dying man and the prospect of that troubles me greatly.

“What’s the plan for tomorrow then?”, Mark asks on his return as he helps me take the laundry I’ve been sorting through to the utility room. “The car’s been serviced and I’ve topped up the oil and water so we’re all set as far as that goes. Are you still sure you want to drive up rather than fly?”

“It’s such a waste of money to fly there and then hire a car Mark. I’ve got two weeks off and I don’t know how long we’ll be there. Best to have the car to get about in so I can see Mum and the others. We’ve got to get between three hospitals don’t forget”, I remind him.

“I know, I know”, he says with an air of resignation. How are your uncles? Have you spoken to your mother and your aunt lately?”

“Mum called me last Thursday. Uncle Iain’s no better and still under observation every ten minutes because he’s threatened to kill himself again". Mark shakes his head at the futility of it all.

Uncle Iain’s life has spiralled out of control since his wife died six months ago and his brother followed suit less than a month later. We’ve always known that he was completely dependent upon Aunt Libby and living without her would be a challenge but we’ve been shocked at his total self destruction and his determined refusal to live without her. It’s been heartbreaking to see his demise but he is hostile to any offer of help and our once mild mannered uncle has become a tortured angry man with only thoughts of suicide on his mind.

It’s hard for me to see my mother saddened at the loss of her older brother and now fretting about her younger brother and his state of mind. The news of my father’s impending death must surely affect her in some way, but when I ask her, all she is prone to say is that she is saddened to hear of his demise but that after twenty years apart, it’s no different to hearing of the loss of an old neighbour. I leave well alone because each of us has to deal with his dying in our own way; each of us has to respect the individuality of our unique relationship with him and what that means to us. I am heartened that at least with this news my mother is coping and not embittered for she doesn’t need more sadness and stress heaped upon her; her heart just isn’t strong enough. I sense that we are at one over his death; she is as indifferent to his passing as I am. On reflection perhaps that is the best we can offer him after years of misery meted out by his hand.

Mark hands me a steaming mug of coffee. “Here drink that, the caffeine should give you a second wind for a while”. I’m too exhausted to hold the mug to my mouth and I rest it on a side table and sink down onto the sofa. I haven’t dared to sit down until now for fear of nodding off and achieving nothing before we leave tomorrow. Mark slips neatly down beside me and wraps a big strong arm around my shoulder. I let out a deep sigh and for a moment I am content just to rest my head on his shoulder and let him carry some of the burden.

“And what about your uncle James too?”, he asks, knowing that this is my Sword of Damocles, causing me deep anguish. He knows the tears that I should have shed for my father are shed instead for the man who has been my mentor, guide and surrogate father figure all of my life. I start to weep as I imagine my aunt and cousin’s agonies as they hold vigil beside his bed; his deterioration from cancer now so evident that it is only a matter of time. But still no one utters a word about him dying; no one talks about it openly. It’s all hushed words and metaphors and we all read between the lines. My aunt and uncle are of a generation where it is sufficient to know what is happening and to get on and cope as best you can. “What’s to be gained from overly sentimental dialogue?”, they would ask, had you challenged them. It’s taken time for him to die, too much time to be in agony as this disease ravages every organ and cell in his body. We’ve come and gone in his life of late, wondering whether each visit was the last. I know in my heart that this time it will be.

It is a hideous situation that must be bourn and I’ve heard it said that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Well bugger me for I am certain he’s having a sabbatical and left his incompetent sidekick in charge because how the hell are we supposed to deal with this lot?

My day passes in a haze of domestic activity, making sure we have enough clothes to see us through for a while. Katie my friend and neighbour will feed the cat, water the plants and make sure there’s no stray post hanging from the letter box for opportunist burglars to happen upon. By eight o’clock what needs to be done has been done and I’m finally able to sink deeply into my armchair with a large glass of wine to hand. Mark rolls in with a takeaway pizza and hands me two slices and tops up my wine glass. I’m light headed from the wine and hungry but I don’t have an appetite.

“Eat it , c’mon MOB, no point you getting ill too. You’ve had nothing but two cups of coffee all day and you can’t drink on an empty stomach. You’ll have one hell of a hangover and it’s a long journey tomorrow”, he quite rightly admonishes me. I force myself to eat the pizza and it tastes good and comforting and washes down well with the robust red wine we are drinking. Thank God for Mark. He’s my anchor in stormy seas and I don’t know how I’d get through this if it wasn’t for his empathy and his strong practical approach to helping me.

Comforted by the relaxing effects of the wine and the pizza, coupled with the jet lag, my eyelids feel like lead and I start to drift off into a gentle slumber. The shrill ring tone of the phone wakes me abruptly an hour later.

“Mob? “ . It’s my brother John, calling to check the details for tomorrow I suspect.

“Hi John, how’s it going then?”, I ask him, as I rub sleep from my eye.

“Not so good Mob, not so good”. The line goes quiet as I wait for him to speak. Eventually he clears his throat and says shakily, “dad died ten minutes ago”.

The news leaves me cold, even further detached than before. My brother is crying softly on the other side of the call and I feel shock, confusion and emptiness. I say all the right words to try and comfort John but what use are words at a time like this? Platitudes are imposters, just empty words, masquerading as helpful little sound bites to make the narrator feel better and leave the bereaved no better off for their utterance. But nevertheless, it’s a ritual we must follow if we are to become practiced at grieving and going through the motions. We do our best for there is no handbook to guide us; no mentor to take us by the hand to lead us through the barren landscape of deep anguish, fear, anger, sadness and heartbreak. I know as I end the call with John he will need to find his own way through the maze of grief. Nature must take its course and only time will prove to be the balm needed to mend my brother’s broken heart.

Mark moves to engulf me in his arms and I move in towards the safety that his body promises me. He guides me to the sofa and when we sit he gently strokes my hair and says nothing for he knows it is pointless. I know that he will wait to see what my reaction is and take his lead from there. It seems like an eternity has gone past and we’ve been locked in this embrace for all of it. The shrill ringing of the phone breaks us apart and I run to answer it, wondering which of my siblings it might be; a sibling perhaps as detached as me or deeply upset like my brother.

A voice I didn’t expect to hear greets me in sombre tone. My cousin Joseph is sad to tell me that Uncle Iain has finally achieved his wish to leave this world and to end his mental torture. Exactly forty five minutes after the death of my father, Iain wrapped a wire coat hanger around his neck, attached it to a light fitting and hanged himself.

Overwhelmed by the news, I sink to my knees and start to weep. I wept for the futility of the loss of Iain’s life by his own hand whilst my uncle James battles desperately and heroically to cling to his; wept at the loss of opportunity to see my father one more time; wept at my stupidity and callousness in delaying my return. I simply wept and wept until I ran dry.

I tortured myself that night by listening to The Living Years over and over. Mike and the Mechanics certainly knew a thing or two about leaving it too late and, dear God, I’d just joined their club........


The Lehners in France said...

Oh no MOB I'm not reading this till the morning !

softinthehead said...

Oh MOB I know it is a while ago now so hopefully not so painful to put in words, but beautifully put anyway. Thanks for sharing it so eloquently with us.

Mopsa said...

Blimey MOB - I felt I was there!

It seems really mean to say this after such a gloriously well written post but white text on dark background? Hell to read.

The Lehners in France said...

Oh, MOB, so I lied. I've read it, and I have written the first part of mine. I know what you mean about fallout. I thank you for sharing this. Love Debs

ciara said...

mod-how sad and painful. i can't even imagine what you went through.

Dusty Spider said...

Feeling very sad for you. Flick xx

Suzy said...

What an incredible post.

From your fatigue in the States, the 70 hour work week, the 14 hour plane trip and the deep sorrow over lives lived and died in ways we will never understand. The gamet of emotions, hope, guilt and sadness are so eloquently written.

Do not weep or feel guilt about what you call "your stupidity or callousness". It is so not the case. I somehow think that in some ways, people do choose when they die.

You must choose your life to live to the fullest.

Catholic guilt will get you nowhere- I have traveled the same route.

Stunning writing.



aims said...

Oh MOB! You know I understand this completely.

Why are there no do-overs in life?

Why do these things happen?

Your line about the assistant trainee had me shouting Yes!! I know he does that!

Writing these things are like reliving it - and shatter us. Having to pull ourselves together afterwards is only slightly easier the second time around.

But - we do it.

Well written and moving dear MOB!

Lane said...

Heaven's that's intense. You really had it thrown at you.
You talk about guilt - that horrible indoctrinated guilt that's so hard to shed even with the most rational mind. By god, guilt's got a lot to answer for:-(
Great post!

auntiegwen said...

From one Glaswegian ex Catholic Guilt Survivor to another, I send you my love xxx

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

TLIF - debs okay I know you read it from what you said in your second comment! I am looking forward to reading yours when you post it. You coping okay with writing that? There's an ear here if you need one.

Softie - Thank you and you are always much too complimentary about my posts!

Mopsa - glad you liked it. re the screen I changed the white to green text - any better?

Ciara - it was spectaculrly painful at the time. It took a long time to get over but I did in the end! it's all but just memories now that don't hurt anymore.

Dusty spider/Flick - thanks, but all is well now but appreciate the comment.

Suzy - I think that episode in my life made me reevaluate guilt and I have to say that I have that well and truly managed these days. I rely upon my conscience rather than guilt these days. Thanks for being so complimentary.

Aims - ah dear girl I know that you and Suzy get what I write as I do your blogs because it's been a rough ride for each of us at some time or other but we're all survivors and better for it I think.

Lane - thank you dear inspirational one! If it weren't for your advice about writing it would still be languishing somewhere.

Auntigwen - I loved your blog so thanks for popping by. Nice to catch up with other Glaswegians.

the mother of this lot said...

Like Mopsa - I felt I was in the room with you.

Manic Mother Of Five said...

Blimey, MOB, I'm shattered and I only read the story - you lived it..... I cry hearing that song on the radio so goodness knows what it did to you listening to it that night....

As for your uncle, it was his decision and when someone has made their mind up to go along that path then they will always find a way.

Feels a bit weird complimenting you on the power of your writing when you are dealing with such sad matters but wow that was seriously good stuff.

Donnetta Lee said...

Hello, MOB: I wandered over here today. What a pleasant surprise! You certainly can write! I will come visit you again.

Tattie Weasle said...

They say you are only given what you can cope with - it just never seems that way at the time. You are an incredibly strong person - and an inspiration.

Mean Mom said...

I've noticed that problems and, even tragedies, often don't occur one at a time. It gets scary, sometimes, as you begin to wonder what could possibly happen next. I'm sorry that you had to go through all of that. It must have been devastating.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

TMOTL - I wish you has been in the room with me we could have had a drink together!

MMOF - compliment away dear girl! I am always up for having my head swelled a bit more! Seriously thank you your feedback is always welcome.

Donnetta - Hello and thanks for popping bye and leaving such nice feedback. Having read your blog I am seriously impressed with your writing to.

Tattie - I think I am more of a coper than a strong person. Or maybe I have become stronger than I was but I wouldn't tempt fate to test me out on that. Thanks for popping in.

Meanie Mommy! - Life has a strange way of dealing you a bum deck of cards from time to time and yes I have seen other people cope with one tragedy after another.

It seems bizarre but it can happen like that - I wish it just hadn't though. There will always be a bit of my heart that will be bruised forever because it was assaulted with one hit after another after another. Nice to hear from you en!

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thanks for visiting my blog today and for your very kind comments. I am so glad you did, for it brought me here and...
You are such a gifted writer. I was drawn in and hooked from the first sentence. What a talent you have!
As for the content of what you wrote about, I am so very sorry for what you went through. I felt your emotional and physical exhaustion, and then the news of the deaths, so very close together, how very sad and painful. The unresolved issues/pain with your much emotion within this post, so perfectly put into words. Thank you for sharing this with us, I felt very privileged to read it. I hope you keep writing, as it can be so healing and like I said, you have such a gift for it.

KAREN said...

What evocative writing. Intense and moving. I'm so glad the guilt is manageable these days - horrid, disempowering emotion at the best of times.

Anonymous said...

came back from Denmark just popped over to see if you were back in harness - yesssssss.
when is the book out ,is it out yet
Love the writing -wish I was that gifted

The Lehners in France said...

Hi Mob, theres a couple of awards for you over here. I've got Ice and Lemon, we can have a G&T. Debs

Dumdad said...


Thanks for visiting my blog and as you can see I'm reciprocating. But I didn't expect to stay so long! I started Part 3 and when I realised that I had to make a decision: "Do I go back to Part 1 and read the whole saga or run off and check how Leeds did today?" I'm glad to say I read the lot. Moving and honest and rawly emotional without being over-emotional, if that makes sense.

I'll be back.

P.S. Leeds won 3-2.

Milla said...

wow, I read this avidly, like a bit from a book. That's not meant to trivialise it, more to say how very well written it was. Phewee. From reading the comments, am glad the guilt thing has been sorted. A soul destroyer that one, with absolutely nothing going for it. Although I know it is a stage one has to go through. Self torture and all that.

Carolyn said...

I feel heavy. Your writing has such weight to it. What a difficult and stressful thing to go through. I hope these recent posts are more therapeutic than painful. What amazes me is that your writing is still so incredibly vivid this many years after the events. Thanks for sharing.

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Dear Mob, so sad for you, and so glad that you had someone to lean on at that terrible time. Love and thoughts, Margot xx

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Eileen - crikey praise indeed from someone who is a pretty impressive writer herself. Thank you so much for your visit and kind comments.

Karen - thank you so much. Yup all he guilt as been long sorted.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Valleys mam - hello I missed you and thought you must have been away. I popped over to your blog the other day but didn't get time to leave a comment. Thanks for your here - again you are too generous dear lady!

TLIF - Debs you will see that I dashed over to your place, down a G&T in one go and legged it back here to stick those awards up and to start claiming my bragging rights! Thank you so much as I am as chuffed as ever.

Dumdad - thanks for popping bye and I am indeed honoured that you should forgo hearing the results of your beloved Leeds to read some daft old trout's blog! My cousin supports Leeds - big heartbreak supporting them these days or so she tells me. Your comments reflect what I was trying to convey in that it was a desperately sad tie but I didn't want to be over emotinal. Thanks, your feedback is very useful.

Glad your team won!

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Milla - thanks you so much for some very heartwarming feedback and after reading your blog I am quite humbled because your writing is superb. I'll be back at yours for further reading this week.

Carolyn - It's not hard to remember what happened - it's ingrained in my memory and that's why it is so vivid to me to this day. Glad you found time to read it as being a mother of a youngster it must be hard to get a break so your feedback is even more important to me because I know you are strapped for time. Thanks.

AMPIITW - Thanks Margot. He was a godsend at the time and I will always be thankful that my partner was so caring and helpful.

Milla said...

that was incredibly nice, the comment you left me. My tooth cracked and a bit fell off yesterday, and I locked myself out of house (husband in France, grrrr) so a nice comment was just what I needed. Thankyou. Oops, have just been down the bottom of this, and you're at it again, being lovely! I'd seen your name on comments when bopping about other blogs and thought I had to come a-calling, and glad I did. xx

Jen McGrath said...

Thank you for commenting on my blog! And thank you for writing this post. So painful. So well-written. Sorry you went through this.

Carolyn said...

No problem. I enjoy reading your stuff. I just don't sleep, that's all. I've been thinking about that cocaine suggestion of yours because the wine makes me sleepy too.

She's like the wind said...

Just catching up, what powerful writing, I was along for the ride with you. much love xx

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Milla - bugger about the tooth and getting locked out. Some days you should just stay in bed! There is just something about your writing that is so familiar to me. The stories you have written are almost my life of late - it was eerie like your were my doppleganger!

Jen - hello there. I am chuffed that you popped by and left such a nice comment.

Caroln - now you're not to take me up on that suggestion of taking cocoaine to fit twenty eight hours into a day! It was a joke! Stick to the wine - much more fun but as I've not been a coke user then who am I to advise!

SLTW - hiya hen, glad you dropped by again.

Carolyn said...

LOL. Do I need to put sarcasm in italics or something?

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

What a horrible, horrible day that must have been. Thank God you had Mark by your side to comfort you.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Carolyn - now you always say you are being sarcastic. Never, you are wry, laconic and ironic in your fabulous wit. That's why you are such a great writer. Hope you are getting some done.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Coffee - given your situation I was surprised you got the time to pop by. Thanks hen!