Saturday, 13 September 2008

Life's a bitch and then you die

Back in April I started to write a story called the Catastrophic Effect. I got as far as detailing my father’s death from lung cancer. I also wrote about how forty five minutes after hearing of his death my cousin called to tell me our uncle had committed suicide. Not only was it unusual to hear of such news so closely together, the second death was completely unrelated to the first for the uncle that took his life, was my mother’s brother and was incarcerated in a mental hospital in Glasgow so knew nothing of my father’s death. It was shocking news on top of my father’s death but only because it came so close on the heals of it.

My uncle had been desperate to kill himself for some months as he had great difficulty in coping with the loss of his brother and wife within weeks of each other. As a well healed and seemingly strong individual who held down a professional career for many years it was an immense shock for us to see his degradation into a babbling and angry wreck with suicidal intent at every turn. Nothing we did for him helped ease his anguish and he was like a wounded animal cornered in life with nowhere to go. He could not be reasoned with and was finally sectioned against his will in an attempt to save his life and see him through the worst of his fear and grief to a point where reason could once more be used to encourage him to want to live again. No one bargained for his utter determination to succeed and so on that evening he obtained a wire coat hanger, attached it to a light fitting and hanged himself. He didn’t actually die that night but was effectively brain dead from there on in until he finally got his wish and took his last breath two days later; Suicide – the long term solution to a short term problem.

In a complete contrast to this deeply distressing situation, another uncle was fighting the final stages of secondary bone cancer and desperately clinging to life for he wanted to live so very much, to carry on being here for him and us. The immense effort and pain he endured was deeply etched on his wonderfully kind and intelligent face making it enormously difficult to look at him and not want to sob your heart out just watching him lose the battle bit by painful and heartbreaking bit. But there were to be no tears, no remorse, no outward displays of emotion or recognition that he was dying for this would have distressed him and had us banished from the room until we could pull ourselves together. No matter how much pain he endured he fought the battle of his life with grace, bravery, courage and strength, with fortitude and a determination that had gotten him through life.

Here was a man who was born into poverty and hardship in the east end of Glasgow in the depression of the 30’s to a father who had been embittered and disabled fighting in the bloody battle fields of the first world war. He was a man of immense intellect and the first in his family to obtain a university degree. His heart was the biggest I have ever known and his compassion was endless for the poor and disadvantaged that he represented as a councillor for the poorest ward in Glasgow. He never forgot that education and a magnificent work ethic was his passport out of poverty and he worked tirelessly as a teacher and a councillor to help as many willing participants as possible achieve that same goal through the same opportunities that he had been given. He was my mentor, friend, inspiration, uncle and father substitute and shining light in a young life that had endured much violence and hardship at times. His and my aunt’s home was my refuge in times of fear. I studied science as my major because he was a scientist and I so wanted to be like him. He instilled in me a love of all things scientific and physics fascinated me. But mostly he infused in me an understanding that real strength in a man is the gentleness of spirit, the kindness and the ability to forgive that love brings and that bigotry, violence and hatred are enemies to be thwarted at all times. It was his utter belief that life was for living and living well that gave him his strength and deep need to survive.

So, here was a juxtaposition of incredible extremes; two men fighting their own personal battles; one to die and another to live.

I have no anger for the uncle who killed himself. I don’t know whether it is a brave or a cowardly decision to take your own life. I cannot enter his state of mind and find out what drove him; I can only try to understand that it was his wish, his right to do what he did with his life. Even with my psychological knowledge and understanding I cannot offer a plausible insight but I do hope fervently that he is at peace.

The week following my father’s death and uncle’s suicide was a flurry of detail, arrangements and communication with all who needed to know and be there to say goodbye. On the Wednesday we waved off my father, on the Thursday it was time to see off my uncle but on that morning, my other uncle died.

It was a bizarre netherworld kind of existence and everything seemed to enter a slow motion kind of reality. For a time I was angry that my other uncle lost his battle. Grief brought out the child in me and every fear I once buried, every injustice I felt bubbled to the surface. I raged at the world for taking my protector, mentor and friend but in time I came to realise life and death are bedfellows that must be lived and endured and that the natural cycle was indeed working as designed.

His funeral was a grand affair for my uncle was halfway through a four year tenure as Glasgow’s Lord Provost and Lord lieutenant to the queen. In the years before Scottish devolution, he was Glasgow’s leading politician and the Queen’s representative for all things royal in Glasgow. His death in office meant a funeral of almost state proportions was to be held. Police lined the streets, people turned out in their thousands to say goodbye to one of the most popular Lord Provosts ever to hold office and the press were there in their droves. It is my only experience of being photographed and filmed at every turn as we travelled with my aunt in the official car that lead the procession – a deeply intrusive moment in my life. My uncle was a practicing Catholic who was devout in his faith and the head of the Catholic church in Scotland, Cardinal Winning insisted on leading the service with a multitude of bishops in attendance. The Queen was represented by a minor royal and the service was magnificent in its dedication to my uncle and really quite beautiful. He would have been fair chuffed but equally humbled at the turnout and the depth of feeling that was emitted that day. It was a surreal experience seeing so many well known faces all in the same place.

I remained in Glasgow for a few more days for my mother was not entirely robust in her health and when you lose one parent, the surviving one becomes even more precious. The truly depressing news that her husband, my stepfather was in the terminal stages of cancer had been told to me by his son. My mother was unaware that he was dying and no one knew how to tell her for she had a weak heart - a legacy from a massive heart atack that she had suffered four years before. A few days later I returned home to England and immersed myself in work. I was full of confused emotions at the death of my father, the callous suicide of my uncle and the shocking loss of my dearly loved mentor. I had no idea how to work through such an extreme set of emotions and as usual, work was my salve. I carried on almost zombie like just going through the motions for it was all that I could do to get myself out of bed and showered in the morning. I carried on for a week and almost collapsed from exhaustion and grief on the Friday night, but glad that I had made it through the week with no major catastrophes happen in front of colleagues.

At 7.45am the next morning the phone rang, dragging me from an exhausted slumber. It was my step-father’s son. I felt my blood run cold as I waited for him to tell me he had died. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, I kept asking him to repeat what he had just said for what he did say just did not compute. My brain refused to take it in such was the god awful shock at what I was hearing. I could hear him speak and it sounded like he was a million miles away in a parallel universe with his voice just seeping through.

I collapsed onto the floor, dropping the phone as I did so. My life felt like it was ending before me and I didn’t care, welcomed it, prayed for it, was ready to make sure it happened. I ran to the toilet and threw up over and over again as I sobbed and wailed and cursed God for taking her. My mother had died exactly one month after my father.


Mopsa said...

I hardly know how you manage to write this. Life can be a bitter trial at times and always seems to be able to add a vicious twist when it is almost impossible to take any more. How people believe in any kind of god is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

MOB how my heart went out to you, my mother died on mothers day two months after my husband died in a car crash, life is strange thinkg, and really bowls us googlies eh .

ciara said...

*in tears over here* i'm sure it's hard to lose one parent then another in so short of a time from each other. the having to deal with your uncles passing as well. i'm not even sure how i would handle the situation. would/could i be strong enough?

i'm sorry that this happened to you. evidently you are very strong as you are still here and sharing your story with us. thank you.

Eve said...

Some-times life gets you down, and some-times life gets you down and then stomps on your head to make sure you stay there , mortally wounded.

Lehners in France said...

MOB, I'm doing a quickie and will come back later. I have an award for you. Debs x

Daydreamer said...

My God, I'm so sorry you're going through this. Just when you think it can't get worse, it does. My thoughts are with you.

Lehners in France said...

MOB, that is such a terrible end. I am not surprised you went into shock. I am glad however you have come through it and are now able to cope. We never recover from experiences like this, but just learn to deal with them. Love and hugs. Debs x

Tina said...

MOB, I really don't know what to say. You're a brave woman for sharing this with us.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Mopsa - it has taken several months to finally get this down but as I had started the story, I thought I should continue it. It was a challenge to believe in any kind of benign being such as God but I worked my way through it all eventually. It was one sucker punch after another and I was reeling from the shock of it all. I just wanted to die as the pain was so extreme so I had some insight into the state of mind my uncle was in when he committed suicide.

Valleys Mam – oh my God, how completely terrible for you. What a sad sad situation for you. Your heartbreak must have been extreme. Hugs.

Ciara – I guess I am strong enough to have survived it but it was touch and go many times over. I will never forget that time in my life for as long as I live. I got through it with sheer determination not to cause any more pain to the surviving members of my family as I knew they could not face another death. In reality I didn’t want to die but neither did I want to be alive to go through the pain.

Eve – welcome. As I say to people who wonder at how my family survived all this, it’s not what life throws at you but how you handle it that matters. I had the support of a wonderful doctor and although at the time my relationship with my then partner was breaking down he was a magnificent support to me.

Debs – I’ll pop over and have a look. Bless you, you are such a generous person. Re your second comment – yes you learn to live with it but never really get over it. There is a bit of my heart that forever aches at the loss of them all in such a rapid timeframe. I know that you totally understand this because of the loss of your mum and brother too.

Daydreamer – welcome. I’m not going through this now, it was a few years ago now. It’s all done and dusted and over with and I am fine now. But thank you for the lovely message.

Thanks for the terrifically supportive comments guys – I am fine though, really. I found it hard to write but I guess it’s cathartic in some ways.

aims said...

Oh Sweetie *reaches out and takes MOB's hands in hers* I am so sorry.

Suzysoo said...

Dear MOB, I am so sorry, you must still dread the phone ringing to this day. Your inner strength must be awesome, I admire you immensely for getting thhrough it at all.*huge, massive hugs*

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Aims - Oh if only you had been there at the time! But then nothing could console me for a very long time. It was a bloody nightmare and I almost went mad from the grief.

Suzysoo - I lived every painful minute by minute and my life slowed to a crawl as every second felt like an hour. I was devastated and felt like someone had kicked the living daylights out of me. Grief of such magnitude is a real physical ache - my whole body was in agony, physically and emotionally. I wasn’t brave, nor did I have any inner strength - it was simply that a survival instinct kicked in. It’s important for anyone going through something of this magnitude to know that you can get through it. It is not easy but the will to survive is a very strong one, even when you can’t bear to be alive because you see no hope or future or a way out of your predicament.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

There are times in a person's life when you wonder how to carry on breathing or if you remember how. MOB, that is a heartbreaking story. It must have been very difficult for you to write, to relive those emotions. Thank you for finding the strength to write this post and to share with us.

Anonymous said...

It's difficult to know what to comment in response to this extremely sad post. My heart goes out to you and I send you as many hugs as you can muster.

Your story started off somewhat similar to my own in so far as my own father passed in July 2001 and my Uncle (mother's brother) passed January 1st 2002. He was suffering from depression and, although no note was found, it was agreed that he had killed himself.

CJ xx

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Coffee - how well you summed it up. Remembering to breathe - I was incapable of the smallest thing. I prayed that I would die in my sleep and just get it all over with. I was in such terrible turmoil and completely lost. The associated depression was very black indeed and I felt a great weight upon my head and chest. Breathing was undeniably hard as intense panic took over when the enormity of the situation hit me in waves. I am not sure I was wise to write about the experience as I feel there is some emotional fallout by revisiting it but so far it’s manageable – I am reminding myself not to feel sorry for myself – what’s done is done. I just hope that if someone out there is grieving deeply then they might find it encouraging that there is light at the end of the tunnel and not to give up no matter how much you feel you want to.

CJ – thanks for the hugs – seems you need a few back too! You must have been so deeply upset too. I have read some real horror stories on the blogs about deaths and it’s not uncommon for parents to die close together. I think because my mother was only 64 it was even more of a shock. My father was 14 years older so his time was right in the natural order of things.

Crazed Mom said...

Oh my gosh! You poor thing. I lost my Grandmother and my youngest son on Feb 2, 1996 and my mother(who was only 64) on Feb 11, 1997. Hub was unemployed from when I was pregnant with youngest until a month after his death(15 months).I felt like God had it in for me.

I can sort of relate to how you felt. I am very sorry you had to go through all that grief piled upon grief.


menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Crazed Mom - Jesus fucking Christ. How the hell did you survive that? I am amazed that you got through this. Your story is astonishing and deeply sad. How on earth did you survive this?

My God almighty, I hope you are ok even though some time has passed. Hugs, hugs, hugs. My story is so minor to yours but I can empathise with the pain. x

Robin said...

mob, I don't know why some times life just gives people one sucker punch after another until I am not sure how they can stand. I am glad you made it to this place so that I could "meet" you.

auntiegwen said...

As always, sending you the love.

Sometime's you wonder how you can stand the pain for a second longer don't you ? xxx

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Robin - what a very nice message to leave me and thank you. I think I have seen from many other bloggers that life seems to be extraordinarily cruel at times as some of the accounts I read leave me breathless.

Auntiegwen - aw thanks hen! Oh yes, extreme grief drives you to the edge and you'd happily jump over if you could. Somehow we survive though.

Stinking Billy said...

MOB, I can only hope that you will feel more at peace for having just shed such a load.

And, may I say that you did it beautifully. x

softinthehead said...

MOB - how terrible for you then and my heart goes out to you now re-living it all by sharing it with us, Beautifully written as always, my mum is staying with me at the moment and this is a reminder to me to be more patient and kind, Thank you (hugs)

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Billy - I was rather upset for a day at the weekend after I wrote this but not it is not too bad so the fallout has been minimal. I grieved so deeply at the time that I think I wore myself out. I spent a few years emotionaly wading through treacle and finally came out the other side. Thank you for such a nice comment, You are always such a gentleman.

Softinthehead - ah yes, make the most of your mother whilst you have her. I wish I had done with my wee mammy but I was far away, too busy with a career and quite selfish really. Life taught me a cruel lesson or two about taking care of those close to me instead of taking them for granted.

blogthatmama said...

MOB that's so much for you to bear, you must have been in deep, deep shock. I don't know how anybody ever gets over it.

rebeckajane said...

I read this and wept, I related so much to your grief and frustration.

My 15 year old son and his friend were horrifically killed by a excessively drugged up, speeding driver who drove onto the footpath they were on, 7 months ago.

I often wonder how I will get through, I read stories like this and hear people talk about losing someone years ago and wonder how they got through and will I be able to do the same.

Hugs from one stranger to another.


Tattie Weasle said...

MOB how incredibly brave you are to share this. I do not know how you survived in one peice - I'm sure it did not feel like it at the time.
They say what does not break you makes you stronger - you are one of the strongest people I have had the priviledge to meet if only in the blogosphere.
Big Hug.

Suzysoo said...

Happy posts or sad posts - I love your blog to bits!! there's an award for you at mine xx

femail doc said...

Oh my, what a tale of loss. I wonder how your human spirit can absorb all this loss. Thank you for sharing the most painful month of your life. My deepest sympathies.

GoneBackSouth said...

Oh gosh MOB, that gave me a chill. What an incredible story.

Suzy said...

Enough loss for a hundred life times.

Prayers and peace for you.



Maggie May said...

This was almost more than you could bear. What a terrible time you had, like a horror story, some kind of nightmare that you might wake up from, sweating with fear & being so relieved it wasn't true. But it WAS true. I am so sorry that all this had to happen to you at the same time.
You must be a very strong lady to cope! Well you have to really, don't you.
Hugs and love to you X