Gone upstairs

a personal journey through grief and change


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A thief in the night

“But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into” Jesus in Matthew 24:43

There are a lot of things in life we don’t expect, don’t even think about.  Surprises can be delightful of course, but I mean bad things happening, suddenly, out of the blue. In the past month we’ve had 2 terrorist attacks and a terrible fatal fire in the news in the UK: the country seems to go into corporate shock.  Then the questions, insatiable desire for information: how could this happen? what exactly happened? who is responsible…?  The process of grief begins to work through, denial, bargaining, anger… People want to pay their respects, support the bereaved, react, respond, see justice done. We all want to fix things.

But some things cannot be fixed. The end stages of grief are depression – the realisation that the sadness of loss is something that has to be lived with – and finally, eventually, hopefully, some sort of acceptance. The closer one is to the event, the more emotionally involved, the deeper the process and the longer it takes to ‘recover’. By now many British people will have forgotten the Manchester bombing, moving on to the next thing, just as the newspapers do. The people of Manchester will not have forgotten, but having done all they could – and the response was incredible – they will have gone back to normal life, Undoubtedly there’s a heightened awareness of the possibility of unthinkable things happening, people will be more nervous, more alert – but you know, life has to go on, of course it does. But the families of the dead, the injured and crippled will never recover.

All this is obvious – we all know it. Why am I writing it? Perhaps because it is easier to try to forget about things that make us sad and upset, much more comfortable to sweep all those emotions under the carpet. What a desperate suffering world we live in! Refugees, war, famine, cancer sufferers, injustice, corruption… how can any of us cope with all that? I am not the only one who is avoiding the news these days.

But I’m also writing again because we have been coping with our own personal ‘thief in the night’ disaster and all the emotions that has thrown up and I need to process it somehow. Sam’s illness and death was a long time coming – the man in black on the horizon of our lives and moving towards us for years. Yesterday was 9 years since he dropped out of university after one year, the beginning of realising there was something very wrong with our son… We lived with the uncertainty of what would happen, of course, but the grieving really started back then when the incremental losses started. Sudden death is another beast altogether… Sudden loss of any kind is more acute, like a sharp cut rather than a gradual sawing of the knife. Bewilderment is added to the mix, “We didn’t see that coming!” Guilt and recrimination, “If only I’d… ” The sudden gaping hole.

So, our thief in the night was literal. We had a burglary when we were away on holiday – no-one in the house to keep watch and they took advantage of that. No-one died. In fact it is so unimportant when compared to the recent nationwide events and their trail of death and destruction it is quite embarrassing. Yet my level of emotional investment in my own life compared to the fate of strangers has made it far more painful for me. I think that is the same for everyone: what you care about can make you happy or sad, however trivial it may seem to others looking on. In fact we have had a lot of sympathy, concern and anger from friends and strangers alike. Mainly because I was so mad I wrote to the local paper! It didn’t really help, but it was certainly part of the process.

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Yep, that’s what happened. Along with the obvious enormous computer, which will be of little use unless they have a super-whizz Mac person as Martin securely locked everyone out of it, they took my old MacBook with photos from 2010 to early 2015 AND THE BACK-UP DRIVES. Don’t we all leave our back-ups with the machine? Not imagining the existence of heartless, low-life thieves looking to make a few quid with anything tech they can find…

So – all those years of photographic memories, erased. Literally thousands, not just of Sam, but of all the things we did and places we visited from when I stopped printing in 2008 until I got my new Mac in 2015 because iPhoto was full! Come to think of it, the very last prints I have are from the day I brought Sam home on 16th June 2008! And all for nothing: a 2009 Mac with the bottom peeling off is not going to be very sellable.

And then there’s my guilt at not taking more care over backing up, simply because we were too complacent. And the anger at cleaning up some man’s footprints and finding broken glass on the far side of the bathroom. And the hopeless lack of response from the local police, even when the Big Mac gave a location when it was switched on – twice! Mine was too old to do that, not compatible with the Cloud… Should have done something… but you just don’t think it will happen, that there are people out there who will break and enter and take your stuff. And some other stuff too, my mum’s silver bracelet that I wore once a year, gifts of jewellery that are irreplaceable, sentimental value as they say.

My sentiments have been badly bruised I can tell you. Just when I was thinking the past was behind us, I have been dropped right back into the grief process for Sam – the exhaustion, tears, depression, anger and the rest. We were robbed of the end of our holiday and all the good it had done us. I keep noticing other things that are missing – this morning a chenille throw I liked, obviously used to cover up the Mac as they moved it. A week ago – my favourite coat: ditto.

A dispassionate eye has pointed out all our weaknesses in security and we’re now fortifying the bl**dy house for when we go away next.  The hardest part is feeling a kind of discomfort in my own home, just when it was really starting to make me happy. Don’t like the city anymore either and don’t want to talk to anyone, so there. Insurance agents are horrible, of course – though she couldn’t help that going through it all again made it feel worse again and was only doing her job checking what we’d reported was true… grrr: my precious possessions reduced to the bottom line. You can’t replace what I have lost!

So I have to get used to it – ‘suck it up, princess.’ To quote Jesus again, “do not store up treasure on earth where thieves break in and steal” Durr. Yes, the documentation of my life was too important to me: they were only photographs, not the actual events: I do still have some in various other places – blogs, facebook, prints – and I have a lot of them in my head. We were very fortunate our decorator discovered it to forewarn us before we arrived in the middle of the night: he fielded police and secured the windows. They didn’t find this current computer or Martin’s back-up drive. They missed cash, cards and security details. They didn’t ransack the place. I am grateful for small mercies…

Bear with me. It’s a process…