We’re almost at the end of term and not just that, but also the end of the school year. As I said in my last blog post, it’s been a time of reflection about M’s health and his first year at secondary school as well as an opportunity to draw breath before we head into the chaos of a busy summer and swiftly followed by the start of G’s GCSE studies. Following the challenging start to 2018, when both Mike and M came down with a nasty bout of Aussie ‘flu, life continued to be incredibly difficult and the saddest of circumstances meant that my birthday, M’s birthday and the 5th anniversary of this blog passed quietly and with far less recognition than would normally be the case. I’ve sat down so many times to try and find the words that could even begin to explain my extended absence from my blog, but it felt for the longest time as if my creative well had run dry and only now am I beginning to emerge from the other side of a deep, dark hole.
Just a couple of days before my birthday, I received a message to say that my Uncle had been taken ill and rushed overnight to ITU. There was no question of my next move when I received that news and fortunately Mike was working from home that day, which allowed me to get home, pack a bag and drive to South Wales to stay with my Aunt for as long as I needed to be there. We were both extremely lucky to be working for understanding employers, which enabled us to adjust our working arrangements and commitments to accommodate the needs of all concerned, most especially G and M. Whilst this sudden downturn in health came as something of a shock, we had actually visited them both the previous weekend when my Uncle was first admitted to their local A&E with a stubborn chest infection that refused to go away. It wasn’t quite the visit we had had in mind, but now we are all so glad that we had the opportunity to spend a little time with him, laughing, sharing news from work and school and that the children could create memories that will stay with them for a lifetime. There are hopefully no regrets that they didn’t have time to come to say a final goodbye as they had that precious time with him before he was taken so ill.
Sadly, despite all our hopes and prayers, there was no coming back from the sepsis that had taken hold so unexpectedly and just a few days later I sat by his bedside with my Aunt, his sister and other niece as he passed away. He was just 63 and had been fighting MS, T2D and other health complications over the last 20 years, but this last battle was just too much for him to win. Mike continued to hold the fort at home, whilst I did all that I could to support my family in both places. The children have grieved in vastly different ways, just as we adults have experienced and dealt with our grief in our own ways and there have been no easy answers or quick-fix solutions in helping them cope with this, their first real experience of death.
My Uncle was, in many ways, a step-in Granddad for both G and M as my Dad passed away 14 years ago this year; and they both had a very close relationship with him. G has grieved quietly, keeping much to herself, whilst M has shed many more tears and been more open in showing his loss. Never was this so clear than on the day of the funeral itself, when G’s only wobble came as the hearse pulled up outside the house and we took our places in the cars. I was travelling with the women of the family, whilst G and M were both due to be travelling with Mike. It was at that point that G’s eyes filled with tears and we walked hand-in-hand to the car, allowing her some time to look at the flowers with the coffin before she travelled on to the crematorium.
In complete contrast, M was happy to travel with Mike and G, but as soon as we all arrived and it was time to go into the service, the tears started coursing down his cheeks and didn’t let up until long after the service had ended. The days since the funeral have had their ups and downs as you’d expect. In recent days, we’ve been able to talk openly about why their beloved Uncle was taken ill and died and they’ve had the confidence to ask us challenging questions, fully expecting us to be honest in our replies. I never really thought twice about whether they would attend the funeral or not, though we did give them the opportunity to say no if they really didn’t want to go, but they both wanted to have the chance to say their goodbyes and I’m glad that they did.
Devastatingly, this was the start of a tragic 6-week period for Mike and me. Just 2 days after my Uncle’s funeral, we found out that a close friend who we have known since Mike first met her over 20 years ago in Canada had passed away suddenly. She had emigrated to less than 20 miles away from us here in the UK with her family a few years ago and Mike and she regularly chatted on the phone. Jenn had turned 42 at the start of February, just 8 months older than Mike and a year older than me, and her 2 children are more or less the same age as G and M. Her sudden death hit us both hard and left us reflecting on just how fragile life can be.
Not long after we heard the devastating news about Jenn, Mike voiced out loud that one thought that had been playing in the background for us both – who would be the third? His throwaway comment was that he hoped a celebrity death would count and there have certainly been enough of those over recent months to more than count as our third. Unbelievably however, it seemed destined that we would be hit by a third death much closer to home and on Maundy Thursday one of my cousins got in touch to tell me that my 99 year-old Gran had passed away quietly at home that evening. Whilst we weren’t expecting this news then, she had lived a long and full life with 5 children including my Dad, 10 grandchildren, more great-grandchildren than I’m confident to count and even the odd great-great-grandchild. I spoke to my Uncle the day after, who was able to share with me that she passed quickly and peacefully at home in her chair.
It comes as no real surprise that death was a topic of conversation that peppered our Easter holidays as both G and M expressed their thoughts, questions and feelings about it and as we all dealt with our grief as best we could. The children were not as affected by their Great-Gran’s death as they were by that of their Great-Uncle as she hasn’t been more that a name at the bottom of a birthday or Christmas card for a few years. They understood that, whilst they didn’t feel particularly sad, I was and gave hugs and kisses whenever they thought I needed them. Helping our children to cope with death and grief both in the immediate, but also as it revisits at the least expected times has been an incredible parenting challenge. Death is sadly very much a part of life that has to be faced and I hope that we have given G and M the life skills to deal with their grief and to empathise with others struggling with it.