Love lost, read and found
Now that the ground has settled under my feet, I wonder if I am where I once thought I would be. November has been a month where the soil crumbled under my feet on two occasions, taking from me first my second daughter Jessica, and eleven years later; her mother Katherine.
I am sure when I was caught up in the turmoil of losing my wife and stood by her freshly dug grave surrounded by just about everybody, that I remember saying to myself that I would never think of erecting a headstone for at least five years, waiting to make sure the ground had truly settled. This was true in more than one way, not only did I want to make sure all the new graves that would eventually come and be dug around Katherine’s plot, had all been filled, but that I would hopefully feel much more grounded once again having recovered from the earth disappearing under my feet. This way I could feel certain I had considered and chosen her grave marker good and properly, and that there would be less localised digging, disturbance and settling to destabilise whatever was erected, and in this way the last five years just passed me by.
Here now after all this time, I don’t feel like the earth is sinking beneath me anymore and when I stand I always feel like both of my feet are truly planted, and I wonder if that has any bearing on what I have left to say, and if I can offer anything new, any insight that someone might consider still worth hearing. After all it’s been five years and how much more can one write without repeating himself over and over?
Well in fact, the ground being firmer under my feet means I feel like I can try to be a little more open than I might have otherwise have been over the years, without the fear that others would worry. You can’t always really say all that you feel or maybe been thinking knowing you might unnecessarily burden the living. The years passing mean I no longer have to worry, that what I might say, might have people worrying about me, and now I can open up things I have not in writing felt able to examine. Losing Kath happened five years ago already and losing Jessica happened way back more so surely by now I found and sorted out my resolve. Surely by now I have got my ducks in a row, my house in order, my loose ends all neatly tied up, and my soft deep earth all properly entombed? What more could I really say hoping someone might still want to listen? What more could I write hoping I could still make people think? In truth I don’t have all the answers, but five years on I still believe there is merit in asking such questions, I don’t want my experiences buried with me!
I thought I would know and be ready to deal with the headstone question, but in fact I am still as far off finding resolve in knowing what to do, and in the meantime I keep dutifully tending to the resting place of my loved ones like a diligent gardener tidies his plot, and the thought of cement coming anywhere near it is not even something I’m able to really consider, and yet this little dilemma is trivial to so many things that someone bereaved is quietly thinking, somewhere deep in the back of their mind, or lock inside a galvanised soul, there are so many things that no one helps you think or know how to question. So maybe from time to time, I am going to write and explore a little bit more!
Being the anniversary of my daughter’s passing, I have found myself wondering which loss did I find the hardest to mourn? That of my daughter or that of my wife? Sounds an easy enough question but they are so very different and I think in Jessica’s case I was not really able to mourn properly, while in Katherine’s case, those of you who read any of my writings will know I have grieved honest and openly.
Jessica was not yet one year old when she died and so we had not even ever had an exchange in conversation. Our bond was as with all parent-baby relationships, instinctive and daily skin to skin contact, whispering all the silly things that doting fathers do, and bursting with pride at what he and his wife had somehow created. In Jessica, I had created another living piece of Katherine and our second child, but things were not to turn out quite like what we expected. I’ll write about that too sooner or later, but here I just want to compare the difference in how I had to go about my grieving.
As a man, or a man’s man, or whatever man we are supposed to man up to, it isn’t easy to see your wife potentially falling to pieces. The woman you love and whose joint dreams you live in raising your family. I was devastated of course when Jessica died, but I was almost just as devastated through each of the days that she lived, she had so many problems, and Kath and I had so many shattered dreams, but all we could do was muddle through each one of them, dealing with whatever the Jessi-case was and they were always so many, and over the years I’ve shut most of them out, preferring to remember instead, each of the million times I held her pressed with my lips on her head, and how very warm she always was, like the cosiest blanket. I remember the way she would hold my finger tightly and she would stick out her the tip of her tongue and hold it constantly on my cheek while I was kissing her.
She hardly got to spend much time at home, just a few months totally three but the hospital stays in between were many, and a hospital room on a ward became for a year, our home away from home and the life that for years we had been complacently living. Kath and I would start each morning at the hospital together, and around midday I would go reluctantly to work leaving Kath and Jessica and often Hannah too, at the hospital to do their day to day dwelling. Then later in the evening I would come back to my home from home hospital room and get all the doctors and nurses daily progress reports then just sit with Jessica on my lap for a couple of hours each night starring out of the hospital window the two of us alone, watching the world go hurriedly by and people getting in home from work and shutting their front doors behind them, wondering what Kath and Hannah at home might be doing, and if we would all be united soon, in our real home away from hospital. I used to sing to her almost whispering; ‘Jessica Jessica where are you, here I am, here I am, how do you do, and it became our little melancholic pattern. Sometimes if she was asleep and looked too peaceful to disturb, I would sit beside her contemplating why life had served us like that, why it was that Kath and I had to spend long evenings apart, or how unfair it was on young three year old Hannah to get caught up in the middle of all that was constantly happening. I would kiss her ever so gently not to wake her and then look over and read any new get well cards that she might have got and notice how many things like gifts or medical equipment had changed since earlier in the day when I had left. As she slept I would miss her the way her eyes would follow me and Kath around the room as we fussed all over her, and be tempted sometimes to say her name just to wake her, but other times just as torn, I would take the opportunity of a quick escape so that I could get home and have an evening with Katherine, maybe even catch Hannah if she was still up or maybe awake. On these occasions I would say a quick hello to Kath and then race upstairs hoping to still catch a goodnight kiss from Hannah and if I was lucky, we would end up giggling and tickling and talking about all her new young day to day discoveries, which would always end with Kath calling upstairs, “why are you making her laugh so much, she should be sleeping!”, or something similar like that was another regular pattern. Then Kath would fill me in with all that had happened that day from Midday when I had left, the doctors, visitors, Jessica progress and so on, and then I would tell her all about my evening slot, and after a short while together and maybe a joint cup of tea, we would go to bed and start the whole routine all over again on the next day.
Katherine was always there, that was the difference, and so what happened to our daughter Jessica happened to the two of us and we had each other to cope but there was something more. Somehow the earth beneath you is always moving! It was just as hard seeing Katherine coping with all each new Jessi-case and watching her coping, doing things I was not as able to do, and later when we lost Jessica completely, seeing Katherine grieving was the hardest thing for me, and my new burden was being set free from the day to day caring commitments, to somehow having to manage how to hold my grieving wife and keep her complete. My expression of open grieving was put on hold while I did what I could to protect my young Hannah and her mother from overwhelming grief. Whatever else I had to feel, I did like a man when no one was watching.
When Katherine died, everything was different and I found myself mourning everything. All the had beens and the had lost, and all that had been locked hard down deep and inside started to bubble up and overwhelm me, knowing this time I had no responsibility to protect Katherine no more, but endlessly pine once again for our permanent parting, and my racing upstairs to wish my daughters goodnight, became a little more trudging, and a little less upbeat and kissing them goodnight felt very heavy, because I knew there was no one waiting to rush back down to.
It is well document how few marriages survive the loss of a child, but we were one of them. It wasn’t easy and the year or two that came after losing Jessica were just as hard as the year that she was living, but we made it, and we shone through and for years we were really happy, and then as you know, another sinkhole opened up.
Jessica’s ashes were buried with Katherine, as too were her father’s ashes, and I have still not come to a conclusion as to how I plan to mark their resting place, it’s another deep hole but that is life and they are many, and you can silently pretend you’re walking firm on two feet, but sooner or later when you feel like the ground has truly settled, people should hear the things we call life instead of let them peacefully sleep.