Monday, 22 September 2008

Stop the world, I want to get off......

There is a dreadful loneliness in grieving. Even though my whole family were grieving for the loss of a brother, sister, mother, father, uncle, aunt, brother-in-law, sister-in-law it became a strange solitary process where we were united in our tragedy but it all seemed so abstract, so detached and we were unable to console each other, such was the magnitude of our loss. My head kept replaying the awful truth - two deaths in one night, three deaths in a week and four deaths in a month. It was as though my brain needed to constantly replay the whole catastrophe in order for it to make some kind of sense before I could start to come to terms with my loss. I clearly was still suffering immense shock and I reeled from the intensity of it.

On the day that my mother died, the journey home to Scotland was arduous and protracted. I wept over and over as my partner patiently drove the four hundred miles or so in one long journey so that we could get there as soon as possible. I felt bad that my step-brother and his wife had to deal with undertakers and such like on my behalf and I needed to get there to relieve them of such a dreadful burden. It was particularly hard for them as my step-father lay dying whilst his wife had passed away in the next room. I couldn’t imagine the torture this must have created for them all.

It was with a very heavy heart that I knocked on the door of my mother’s home. Knowing that it wouldn’t be her opening the door to me as she had done a hundred times before made me weep at the finality of it all and I leaned heavily against the door frame to steady myself. My partner seeing my distress came swiftly and engulfed me as he held me tightly because he knew I was dreading so much and this was a first of many things to dread. The door opened and the ashen faces of my step-brother and his wife said it all – they’d no doubt had better days in their lives and what we were now experiencing was staring them in the face too. They ushered us in and I quickly went to see my step-father for I was concerned as to how he was coping.

Oh this gentle man who had loved my mother so late in her life was but a shadow of himself and in little more than a week since I had last seen him. The events of the day had taken their toll and the sparkling light in his eyes that was his love for my mother had faded with her passing. I saw my own deep grief in his eyes and it was the most painful reflection that I have ever seen. It was like shards of glass lacerating my heart, death by a thousand cuts, all over again. I hugged his frail, cancer ridden and emaciated body, careful not to break him, and we were silent in our grief but tears rolled down my face as the damn burst yet again.

Where my father had been a violent controlling man, H was as gentle and fun loving a creature you could ever meet. My mother blossomed in his love and care and he in hers. He was a true gentleman to whom people turned for advice and help and he never failed in his duty to be a good husband, brother, parent, friend and neighbour. He was a dapper old soul with exceptional manners and I was so grateful that he was in my mother’s life. He gave my mother a future full of love, hope and laughter where all she had known with my father was fear, pain, physical and mental torture. Her premature death at the age of 64 meant a cruel twist of fate that robbed her of perhaps the best years of her life. But in time I came to be grateful that if she was to die at that time then it was better she went first rather than her witnessing the painful and deeply sad passing of her husband.

It was a long night fielding calls from brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. My head felt like it would burst having to repeat the details of her death, plans for funeral arrangements over and over again. It was like planning a military operation simply because my mother had 9 surviving children, two sisters and one brother and a smattering of other relatives and they all needed to be at her funeral. Finally the phone went silent for the night and myself, my partner, H’s son and daughter in law got down to the business of drinking ourselves to a standstill as all good Glaswegians do in times of sadness, happiness or indeed just because the sun rose again that day. We don’t need much excuse to get ‘tired and emotional’ as it is called back home - the opening of a crisp packet would probably make it onto the list of things to pop a can or two about. I badly needed a drink as all day emotions were running high and simply because I was the one there, answering the phone to my grieving family, I became by default the counsellor, mentor, parental figure for my siblings who were so deeply lost in their grief too and looking for any kind of reassurance that the world wasn’t imploding in on itself. When I replay this day in my mind, I am incredulous that I survived it, as to take on the grief of your siblings as well as your own seems almost too bizarre to comprehend. I clearly remember almost standing outside of myself as autopilot kicked in and I took call after call after call. I can only think that my years of being a senior manager in a professional environment and with all the training that went with that privilege had kicked in and I treated the whole scenario as a project, problem solving exercise that needed to be addressed. It was clearly a coping mechanism that got me through those few distressing hours.

The funeral took place some seven days later; an inordinately long time for my mother’s body to remain unburied but as she had died on a bank Holiday weekend, as coincidentally had my father the previous month, then everything ground to a halt as arrangements could not begin to be made until the following Tuesday. I felt such immense frustration and there were times I got cabin fever from being holed up whilst giving my step family some respite by helping to take care of my step-father as he fought his battle. The funeral arrangements were not without problems and as with all families there were misunderstandings, petty grievances from years before aired once more, alliances rebuilt only to be broken down the next day because grief is a hard task master that demands maturity at a time when all that surfaces is a lost, bewildered and angry child needing the safe haven of a parent to run to. It is almost ridiculous to feel like an orphan when you are in your mid 30’s but simply put that is how every one of us felt at the loss of both parents in such close proximity.

Shortly before the funeral my step-father’s family took him back to his old family home where they provided round the clock care and to allow us to grieve with some privacy. It is with great respect and with some discomfort that you dispose of your parent’s worldly goods. Rooting through drawers and cupboards throws up a mixture of old bric-a-brac, old photographs of happier times you forgot or sad fearful times you can’t forget. It took a few days of constant graft, giving possessions to charities, throwing out things that you hope they would approve of as rubbish and not something that harboured a dear memory for them, allowing family to choose a treasured piece of jewellery to remember her by. But none of it really matters in the scheme of things for possessions are meaningless clutter and it is your memories that keeps them alive; their names uttered on your lips as you talk about them with others who share your loss and share your history and share your deep personal grief.

Finally I left her house and turned to close the door behind me. The home that was once full of love and warmth now echoed a barren and empty sound as the door closed heavily. She was gone from this place and the realisation filled me with dread for the future because I knew that she was no longer going to be part of it. I had closed that door knowing it would be the last time I would hear the peculiar noise it made as the dodgy latch kicked into place; I had closed it knowing that I would never see that door again; knowing that I couldn’t ever come home again for a wee cup of tea with my wee Glasgow mammy; knowing that I would have to find my own sense of ‘well done’ because she was no longer there to tell me that; this was going to be a mammoth task because no one told me ‘well done’ quite as good as my wee mammy ever did - I wasn't up to the task.

Several hours later, several drinks later and sobbing uncontrollably in my home in England, I picked up my phone and dialled her home phone over and over but no one answered. I knew her home was dark, empty and completely abandoned but grief made me hope against hope and with complete irrationality I wished to God that she would pick up the phone and tell me that she lived to fight another day. I understood just how helpless my brothers and sisters had felt when I’d fielded their calls but this time there was no one to answer the phone to me. Oblivion called.


softinthehead said...

Ah MOB- I don't know what say, but I am weeping along with you.

Anonymous said...

That was a very beautiful post. The atmosphere of death is one we wish to avoid yet you had to deal with it in so many ways. The world should be stopped. Just for a moment.

CJ xx

auntiegwen said...


Knowing that the person you love will never answer the door or phone to you again leaves you bereft.

From this wee Glasgow mammy, I send you my love, your writing is a beautiful tribute to her, and I'm sure your love meant the world to her.

Again, with love , hen xxx

Housewifeinthehighlands said...

MOB I am sorry for your loss, indeed your losses. This was a beautifully written post. I'm having a wee greet with you. What a trying time. All those deaths and then your Mammy. Be kind to yourself as you adjust to life without her and without them.

aims said...

Oh Sweetie -

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Softinthehead - ah well, it's a while now since it happened. But I do remember almost every minute of those early days. Hope you weren’t really weeping. Didn’t want to upset you.

Crystal – oh thank you for your comment. From someone who writes so eloquently I am honoured that you should say this. Yes, stop the world, definitely, just let people off when they need to go and pick them up later when a semblance of normality returns.

Auntiegwen - she knew that I loved her and vice versa. My deep sadness was in being so involved with my career that I didn’t make as much time for her as I should have. It took her death to make me how selfish I had become – I was a bit too impressed with myself and my success at work. I took her for granted but then I guess that is life – we all want to think that our mammy and daddy will be around forever. But God, I loved sending her postcards from every business trip – even if I only got to send it from an airport during connecting flights. If I saw a gift that I thought she might like, I would have it sent to her. To see those in her little display unit broke my heart as she clearly treasured them. It was a trip down memory lane looking at them all. I kept them all as I cleared out the house.

Housewifeinthehighlands – aw hen, huvin a wee greet! It is so great that I can speak with so many Scots lads and lassies online as it takes me right back home. You and that Auntiegwen use great Scottish terms that I love to hear again. Mum’s been gone some time now and in time I learned to cope. I wish I knew then what I know now though. I would have played things so differently.

Aims – oh sweetie yerself! Ta hen!

Suzysoo said...

Your mam will always be with you in your heart. Love and peace xx

Maggie May said...

Mob....... so glad you came onto my blog as I might have missed this post otherwise and I have been shedding tears with you over all of this. I can so feel for you and can relate so well to your post. The bit that really got me going was when you kept ringing home, afterwards.
I was devastated when my mum died. I think no matter what your age, you always miss a good mum!
I will read the older posts now.
This damned cancer has wrecked many a life, mine too.!
Hugs and love to you X

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Susysoo - oh yes she's right here with me and it is bittersweet in so many ways. I would give my right arm to see her one last time just to tell her how much I loved her and still do. Oh feck - I need an elephant sized HRT pill because I've started crying over this post and will probably electrocute myself if I don't stop soaking the keyboard. All of you guys that are commenting have connected in so many ways. Great inventions mums - aren't they?!

Maggie May - I suppose this is such a sad subject because most of us love our wee mammy's. You sound so sad too about yours. Sorry to have upset you. Your post about the grand children was so deeply sad too. Oh feck - I'm off again. I'm away to sort myself out before himself comes back home from walking the dogs and see's me all 'face like a smacked arse' kind of look. Thanks for such a kind and empathetic comment.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

I can picture you on the phone waiting for someone to pick it up. Such a sad, desolate image. I can see myself doing the same thing when my mother goes. I'm sorry if I don't make sense because the raw emotion of your post has deeply affected me.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Wakeupsnadsmellthecoffee - desolate is such a descriptive word. I could picture her house in the dark, empty, devoid of her whole presence, cold, and just desolate. I had left the curtains open and just knew that the street lights shone in alluminating bits of the rooms and casting strange lonely shadows. I hoped to God that I hadn't left her presence there moving from room to room looking for the treasures she owned but I had disposed of or looking for H as she waited fot him to join her. I just wanted to die at the thought of abandoning her and going four hundred miles away back to England. I know what you mean about your mun which is why I so completely empathise with your story too. Thanks for leaving such an empathetic comment.

Robin said...

mob, my father died over thirteen years ago, but I can also remember every moment of that day.

i beati said...

Do we get more than we can handle or is it all for us to think and treasure what we have, while going through chemo theraphy and radiation , I lost my husband and 2 best friends.. Did that happen so that my survival would kick in or could I not have stood it had I been well??I don't get it . really . This is so full of pathos. I feel it every

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Robin - yes they are pivotal moments aren't they? You never forget them but it all becomes manageable in time. It has to; otherwise we would never carry on and experience such a wonderful life again. Besides it is the natural order of things but the loss of a child? I cannot think what depth of pain that must bring. At least with an elder going first it is the natural order of things and you come to accept that in time no matter how much it hurts.

I beati - welcome. What you say is very wise and you must have been in enormous pain at your loss whilst fighting a survival battle too. This is the thing about the net - you find stories that are truly more heartbreaking than your own and it puts things in perspective. You must have amazing inner strength to have got through what you have experienced. I wish you continued success and you are clearly a wise person who is philosophical about what life threw at you and how you got on and handled it.

Crazed Mom said...

My mom died at the age of 64 as well. I, too, felt like an orphan even tho my dad was(is) still alive.

Hugs and empathy,

blogthatmama said...

MOB how sad, there is something so special about your mother, I'm having a blubbing blogging night tonight blogthatmamax

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Crazed Mon - oh yes 64 is much too young and I totally empathise with your loss too. Hugs back.

Blogthatmama - some nights are just blub nights I guess. Thankfully they are few and far between eh? You couold drive yourself nuts trawling around blogs just bawling your eyes out. Hope you are blub free now!

Carrie Wilson Link said...

"Oblivion called." Wow. This is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Anonymous said...

It is so difficult sometimes to put into words what you feel in your heart, you did it in spades.
Made me think of my mam and dad, sad but good to do

femail doc said...

"...knowing that I would have to find my own sense of ‘well done’ because she was no longer there to tell me that." You sure can turn a phrase--my own sense of well-done.

I've done that since my mom died--dialed her phone. How can a ringing phone give me that sense of well-done. What helped was that her life was well-done. Someone gave me another good phrase--'a life completed, not interrupted.' However, for your mother, age 64 is interrupted. She certainly lives on, complete, in your heart.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Carrie Wilson Link - thank you so much for your lovely comment.

Valleys Mam - ta hen! maybe I can immortalise my wee mammy in words even if she isn't here.

Femail Doc - yes she certainly does live on in my heart and of course one day I am certain that I will see her again and give her the biggest hug of her existence! Even though your mother was older it still hurts no doubt no matter how much you rationalise it as it being a life completed.

Around My Kitchen Table said...

What a touching post, beautifully written. My mother is 87 and I'm just dreading the inevitable day.

rebeckajane said...

First of all I wanted to thank you for the kind words you left in my blog, I may have already done so but I cannot remember. My memory is so jagged since this nightmare began.

I read this last entry of yours, or rather, to be perfectly honest, I skimmed through it. I find it difficult at times to read about sadness because I am so sad myself. In "reading" this though, I found myself relating to many things, 2 things in particular stuck out. The funeral, my sons funeral was 6 days after his "official date of death" and 7 days after he passed away. I remember sitting at home 2 days later when my mum gently said something to me about the funeral. I was in shock, I thought the funeral director would come to our home. I have never had to organise a funeral before and I just assumed that the hospital and the Funeral home worked together in organising someone to come and see me. My mum called the funeral home and organised for me to go in, they did say they could come out but I chose for that not to happen. Organising my sons funeral felt so surreal, there is so much of it I do not remember.

The other thing that I related to in your entry was calling, I have lost count of the number of times I have called my sons cell phone, although I know he won't answer it, something inside me just begs for him to do so. His phone has been disconnected now because it has not been used, and that is the message I get if I call it.

I find his death so hard to deal with, so hard to believe, so hard to understand.

It just seems too crazy.

Hugs to you x

KAREN said...

I still miss my grandma - we were very close all my life - and can't comprehend that she's not in the world any more. She lives on in my heart, but you're right - grief is a lonely thing.

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Dear MOB,
You've made me cry, I am so so sorry for your loss and I can relate totally to your feelings, there's nothing more painful than losing a very, very dear and very, very treasured Mum.
The days will be so empty for a long, long time and life has totally changed, feeling pointless, but you have all the wonderful memories - these are what keep us going and remembering how lucky we were to be blessed with having truly loving, wonderful, beautiful Mothers.
Smile with your memories and God bless you! x

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Around my kitchen table – welcome and thank you for a very nice comment. How marvellous that your mother is 87, oh how I envy you all that time with her. No matter the age, we all dread losing them. Enjoy her while you can.

Rebeckajane – we simply aren’t taught life skills such as organising a funeral and how sad for your mother to sit and watch her child grieving at the loss of hers whilst she too grieved for your loss and hers. Shock is the brain trying to protect you because the loss of your son was such a deeply distressing thing. I cannot begin to comprehend what you are going through right now as it is all so recent and raw for you and the loss of a child must be the hardest grief of all. In time you will stop calling that cell phone because you may just realise that whilst you know he will not answer, you are also causing yourself so much pain by knowing this but inflicting that pain on yourself because you feel that you should hurt as much as your son did when he was hit by that car. It’s your way of being with him, of hurting like he did and saying in your own way that you cannot forget or leave him and that his pain is yours. You are in purdah for your son. This is perfectly natural and all part of the grieving process. You are at such an early stage in this process so please don’t be hard on yourself. It will take a long time to come to terms with this but I promise that you will. Your life will be a different one to the one that you planned but it will be a good life, a life well lived in memory of your son and a tribute to him. You will learn to live again and you will laugh and cry. You will never leave him behind but you will learn to bring him with you in your heart and mind.

I wish you peace of mind and heart and wish I could take your pain for a while to give you a break for your heart must surely be breaking.

Karen – I can understand how some people find it scary to love because they know the pain of loss is equal to the love but what a miserable life we would have if we never took the chance. Grannies – I was quite distant from mine but it was because of my father this happened. But I saw friends who had such a great relationship with grandparents. I hope one day someone will miss me as much as you miss your granny – she must have been very special.

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

When my Mum passed away I was already living here in Brazil.
I received the terrible shocking news from a morning telegram from my Dad, news that my Mum never wanted me to know while she was sick, and got the next flight home feeling helpless, lost, orphaned, empty... that was the loneliest trip of my life.
Upon arriving home I ran up the stairs to my Mum's bedroom, the place where we all used to laugh and laugh for hours until our stomachs ached, never dreaming that those laughs would one day be heartache.
I was actually expecting her to be there in her room to welcome me, to hold her and cry together in each other's arms as we told each other how much we miss one another, as I thought that everything was all just a sick joke that people were playing on me and that she wasn't really gone.
I know now that that was clearly shock.
Memories and my Mum's possessions were all around and I sank into a very big black hole for a very, very long time and I never thought that I could get back from that dark place.
I arrived back home to Brazil and soothed myself with writing poetry and getting all my feelings out onto the page... I wrote one called "Mum" the very week that she passed away, which you can find as one of the posts on my Blog, and the last verse of that poem still means so much to me today as it did then:
"You left the house full of everything, but Mum it's mostly love"
Keep well MOB, my thoughts are with you and for sure your Mum is all around you x

Anonymous said...

This is so beautifully written and so heartbreakingly sad. It brings up memories, exactly the way I felt when I lost my parents, a year apart. My dad died at 54 and a year later my mom died at 53. Even though it was back in 1994 and 1995, it seems like yesterday. When you talk about going through your mom's things, you describe it so perfect.....exactly the way I felt. I also felt like I had to be the battery for my younger siblings.

Love to you. Thanks for sharing this, your words were perfect. Grief is so hard for me to write about, this was comforting.


Casdok said...

Am so sorry, such a heartfelt beautiful post. Hugs

Mean Mom said...

Beautiful post, but so much sadness to cope with in such a short time. My parents are both in their 80s and finding life more and more of a struggle. I don't live close and I am an only child, so I know that I have a lot of sadness in front of me. I'm afraid of it, to be honest.

It's hard, isn't it, to lose a person, or people who loved you unconditionally. A lot of parents love their children and support them, no matter what mistakes they make. Such qualities are hard to find in others.

I can well understand why you kept ringing your mother's house.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

The Brit - you clearly loved your mumn with all of your heart. I can see that my post touched you but I hope you are okay as you sound deeply sad. Weren't we lucky that we were so loved?

Eileen - oh my God, just how deeply sad for you to lose both parents so young. As I keep saying, the net is such an eye opener when you realise that life is such a cruel thing at times when you see how some people have it much worse than you. Hugs and love darling girl - you must have been so brokenhearted for so long.

Casdok - thanks, hugs back.

Mean Mom - I know what you mean about being afraid of them dying. You revert to being a child again for a while but they are always with you. You will no doubt feel so many things as an only child but hold onto your kids and they'll be with you through it all.

French Fancy said...

My mum's been dead for 12 years and my dad for two and yet I found myself sobbing uncontrollably for them both whilst I read your post. You have a real way with words and I hope that life regains some sort of equilibrium for you soon.

I suppose I will find in your other entries the reason that you got a 'funny blog award', but for the moment I feel too emotional to search them out.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

French Fancy - welcome. I'm sorry you have been upset after reading the post. I hope you don't feel sad for long. the loss of your parents clearly hurts you very much as does mine so I empathise so very much with you. I hope you find my funny stuff - maybe it will cheer you up. Here's a cyber hug.