Life after Bobby: the first 100 days
It’s 101 days since Dad died today, I’d been thinking about this (non)-anniversary all week and was fully aware of it yesterday but couldn’t bring myself to concentrate long enough to write this post then. I’m confident Dad would appreciate the quirk of it being 101 days anyhow. So I’m going to keep this short (I tried…it didn’t work, sorry) but share some of my reflections on life after Bobby. I did a few posts in the immediate weeks following Dad’s death, one after a month and another after two months, but I’m hoping the passage of time will make this one slightly more considered and reflective.
It seems that the normal timescales for grief and grieving suggest that we should all be a little raw still, given how soon it is since Dad died. I’m not claiming I’m out the woods, but mostly I feel like I’m doing ok. The grief is there but it’s almost like a washed pebble, it’s like a lump that’s present around and within me, but it’s by no means raw and jagged. I wonder if part of that is because we had so long to come to terms with Dad’s illness, I’m confident part was due to the amazing support from the Rowcroft Hospice team when he was dying – it was almost like our grieving started when they arrived in with us, and they were phenomenal in that regard.
Don’t get me wrong, I do miss Dad, there are loads of occasions where I’m stopped in my tracks at my sense of missing him. I’ve had an almost visceral response on a handful of occasions, the most recent was when I was strolling around the Vasa Museum and I was thinking how much Dad would like it, it hit me like a ten foot wave, Dad would *have* liked it; past tense. I thought I was alright with that until I turned to remark aloud Dad would have liked this and the words stuck in the back of my throat, hard to form without an extra gulp of air or two.
On the plus side I’ve learnt that it is possible for anyone, even me, to cry Cheryl Cole tears. You know what I mean, simple beautiful diamond tears cascading down a cheek and deftly caught in a tissue, as opposed to the full on, red bloated face, tear avalanche accompanied by full on shoulder shakes that was the hallmark of my grief in the very early days. It’s not so much a learnt behaviour, more a necessity. If you find yourself thinking of someone you’re missing on public transport (I’ve learnt I do a lot of my thinking on trains) the you can’t afford to make a spectacle of yourself!
When Dad died I changed my facebook profile pic to one of him holding me as a baby. It was in some way a marker and virtual acknowledgement of the role he’d played in my upbringing, but on a very factual level it also served as an alert. Most of my friends knew Dad had been ill for some time but I hadn’t actually told many he was dying so having a new avatar meant people looked and very soon found out that Dad had died – this cut back on my need to contact people and let them know individually. In addition Dad had an epic beard which was an awesome talking point. Here, take a look it was this photo:
The avatar was also a bit of a comfort for me over the past 100 days. Every time I looked at it I’d smile at Dad’s beard as a starter, but also at the memory of his chest! I spent hours looking at his chest the week that he died, he’d take every opportunity to get his chest out in the sun, famously stringing an extension line into the garden so he could iron in his shorts in the summer (once a matelot always a matelot). One of the advantages of him being at home was that he didn’t have to wear full on PJs as he would have felt obliged to do in hospital, so that chest is scorched in my memory, in a good way.
What has that got to do with moving on. Well this weekend, encouraged by a throw away comment on twitter and a new hair do, I changed my avatar back to a photo of me. I’d been wanting a reason to do it for a wee while, I didn’t want to change it too soon and I was worried that I’d feel like I was erasing Dad in some way or moving on to quickly, but hell it’s what he’d have wanted and my barnet won’t look this good for long, so it’s back to me!
One of the joys of Dad’s death and dying has been the excuse to reminisce and share stories. There have been lots of words about Dad over the past 100 days and I’ve caught myself occasionally glossing over the bad bits and just focusing on the good, turning Dad into an almost virtual saint! Anyone who knew my Dad would laugh at that, he was all manner of goodness and had a true heart of gold and would give anyone his last penny, but he wasn’t no saint. Catching up with Mum this weekend it felt good to acknowledge as much, to discuss the good but also some of the more irritating or less favourable bits.
The most striking bit for me is the sense of freedom I feel now Dad has died. It’s not that I actually think Dad would have judged me, all he ever asked was for us to be happy, and yet in some way we didn’t often see the world in the same way. We were quite different people and I maybe it’s completely natural for all children to want to please their parents, but it feels a relief to know there is only one left to have to please! I guess this is wrapped up with a growing realisation of how full-on and demanding Dad’s illness was at times over the past five or six years, not to mention how demanding my relationship with work had grown (I quit my job in September, just before Dad’s health seriously declined and was working my notice period when he died).
It certainly feels good to be free of some of those residual pressures, and it similarly feels good to speak freely of them.
Getting back on the social media donkey
When Dad was dying I received a lot of support via social media, it helped me no end to know that people hadn’t forgotten about me, despite my absence. I lurked occasionally, ignored it a lot and really questioned how futile a lot of the interactions were once I returned. It felt like everyone was moaning on and being negative, and the last thing I needed was negativity in my life. I worked hard to stay patient with it, to remember that it’s not all about me, to respond to the virtual invitations and connections offered, and to force myself back into a space that has provided me such support over the past few years.
I keep using the analogy of learning to swim with social media – you can’t really ever understand it, get it, or do it until you jump into the water. You can read, you can watch, you can study, you can question, but until you get in the water you won’t fully experience what it has to offer. When Dad was dying I spent a lot of time at the edge of the virtual pool and it took an immense effort to trust myself to dive back in and commit to it, it would have been easier to just stay close to the edge, or to give it a little time but then walk away, after all a lot of the interaction was so futile.
Yet it’s not, it might look like it is from the edge, but the very real and genuine connections and support I’ve received from a number of different people has reignited the value of social media for me, and I’m back there swimming lengths with the best of them….now if only that would translate to an actual swimming bath
Finally I wanted to reflect on the future. I’ve been really keen to raise awareness of the fantastic support we received from our local hospice, Rowcroft, and particularly their Hospice at Home service. To that end an extract from one of my blog posts features in their latest newsletter and on their website. I hope that by sharing our experience people will realise what is available to them, will find comfort and hope for what may lay ahead for them, and members of the local community may even dig into their pockets and provide some monetary support.
I’ve also been taking the time after Dad’s death to consider my own future and what it might look like. I’ve created a Pinterest board titled Work Less, Live More that includes my quasi bucket/to-do list. Take a look and let me know if you want to join me on any of the activities and please do feel free to suggest others.
101 days without Dad has sharpened my focus and enabled me to address issues of balance in my life. I’ve not felt as optimistic about life, or as creative or energised for a long time. Life will never be the same, but I have no intention of ‘getting over it’, rather living with his memory and tuning in occasionally to his voice in my ear, encouraging me to stretch myself, take risks and enjoy life to the full. I’m finally learning to Let it Go.
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