Gone upstairs

a personal journey through grief and change


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Into unconsciousness

Monday 24th November – the day Sam began to leave us. These last 2 posts are going to be pretty hard to write… Over the last week the blogging process has done its work in me, uncovered buried anger and enabled those  suppressed tears to flow. Looking back at my lovely, infuriating son has been both a pleasure and a pain – but now I must say goodbye to him once more. The end of Sam’s story is unavoidable – none of us can escape death no matter how long we defy it.

I think that is partly why I want to write about it – to force other people to look it in the face, accept reality and their mortality. We live in the one part of the world and the one time in history where we do not have to face it regularly so we almost forget it is there – something to be considered and planned for – until someone close to us or perhaps someone famous dies. Death horrifies us and we fear it – even those with faith in life beyond seem to avoid it at all costs. Sam was not afraid, though part of him was still defiant and in denial – he was ready to go into Spirit, as he would have put it – or even just to go to sleep if that was all there was. Of course he wanted to live, to follow his dreams and fulfil his potential… isn’t the loss of all that the problem, isn’t that what dying is all about – letting go?

We had to let go as well. On Saturday we had committed his spirit into God’s hands and now we had to go through the process… It was the last night of the nurse watch-women – they only cover the first 5 out of hospital. I don’t think they reported anything different when I arrived, but I soon foundimg_2833 that Sam had a bad headache and felt sick again. He was really suffering and I knew it was time to call the emergency number for hospice at home…

The nurse arrived quickly and set up her station in the kitchen. She was kind and efficient: it was a relief. I was sent to a local chemist in a backstreet somewhere to collect a pile of controlled drugs while Martin sat with Sam. He wasn’t talking much, but that must have been when he said “I wanted to show you a man who defied death” They were, appropriately enough, his last words to his father.

Martin phoned to call his own father, brother and Becca back to Loughborough but it would take them 4 hours to arrive. When I got back with the medicines the hospice consultant had arrived as well – the little house felt very full. I sat down next to Sam and held his hand as he waited for relief. They were drawing up morphine and an antiemetic to give him when Dr Feathers called through: “We can give some steroids as well if Sam wants it” Sam heard that, looked at me and forcefully delivered his last words to me: “No Dex!”

img_2834I went into the kitchen as the syringe was administered, into his left arm. He could obviously still feel on that side because he complained loudly when the needle went in! The morphine quickly had an effect and he seemed to go to sleep. I sat down with him again. It wasn’t long before I thought I would check his pupils – I don’t really know why. He was peaceful, breathing, looked comfortable. But I found his right pupil fixed and dilated while the left one was small. Immediately we knew the tumour had bled once more and this time fatally: his brain had given up – he would not wake from this sleep again.

The saddest part was that Rebecca had not been able to say goodbye. He had called her on the previous evening but she had missed the call and Sam was already unconscious when the family finally arrived. Not that any of us actually said goodbye: Sam did not know what was happening and simply slipped into a sleep that took him all the way down into darkness… or light?

When is the moment of death? He was still breathing, his heart was strong. We had to wait for final breath and heartbeat: our vigil had begun. Of course it all seemed unreal. Dad and Richard were in the kitchen with the cats and newspapers. The nurse called a colleague to lift him and turn on his side. Becca called a friend to come and we called our lodgers. Young Ben came to join us and wouldn’t leave… So much love and support, texts and prayers, grace and peace. Scamp sat on Sam’s bed and went to sleep next to his master’s legs.

I can’t remember the hours of that afternoon and evening. We must have eaten, talked together, sat and drunk endless cups of tea around the prone shape of our son. We talked to him, not knowing whether he could hear. The nurses were endlessly comforting as they cared for him. Eventually Dad and Richard went off to stay in a B&B and the 3 of us were left – with Ben, who refused to go home to Burton St. He slept on one of the sofas and we 3 squeezed into Sam’s bed upstairs.  I prayed we wouldn’t be in limbo for too long.

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Sister to the rescue

The challenge with revisiting the days leading up to Sam’s death is to remember them as they were at the time when we had no recognition of what was coming or how long we had. We simply stumbled forward blindly, doing what needed to be done, going with the flow and responding to the needs in front of us.

To say we found amazing grace as we did that may sound trite, but for me it was true. I have an inbuilt response that numbs my feelings in a crisis. Martin with his medical instincts and general anxiety levels undoubtedly suffers more at first and then adjusts later. But I think we can both say that through those weeks… we coped, we felt held.  Of course when you are in the middle of something the body’s adrenaline kicks in and somehow you keep going, but we also had certain levels of peace and acceptance and knew what to do: we were carried.

None of that necessarily happens in the revisiting. Looking back from here, the shadow of inevitability lies heavy on the path, oozing sadness and regret. There is no grace for me in looking back on any part of our long journey, anymore than there is in looking ahead. I cringe when I read my old blog posts! I don’t know how we managed the months with Jessica or the media coverage. I realise that many of the things that made our story public knowledge would not have happened if I hadn’t been blogging about our journey! (And here I am doing it again – oy vey!)

But that is why I want to look back now, to prod and probe, to see through a clear lens, see it for what it was rather than shrouded in a haze of drama and activity. I want to get a better handle on what actually happened and where Sam was in the middle of it all – and how I felt and feel as his mother. I have been numb for so long, protected by anti-depressants, unable to access my feelings. That is of course a blessing and relief, but to be honest I also feel guilty that my response to the loss of my son is so cool, so measured. The ending of a 5-year anxious wait is undoubtedly something of a relief when it comes, but the loss, the LOSS, of who he was and should have been had been going on for years. That is what comes back to strike us to the heart. That is what we grieve over – all that promise lost.

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He was a lovely little boy but we know we lost that little boy a long time ago. No-one’s sweetly remembered childhood is ever coming back – there’s nothing we can do about that… other than have grand-children!  He grew into a withdrawn schoolboy and self-sufficient teenager with his own particular obsessions and amidst the busyness of family life it is hard to pinpoint when he began to slip away from us.

We don’t know, for instance, how long the tumour was growing before it was discovered: it must have been very, very slow to have reached such a size with no symptoms for years. He lost his joy and life, adolescence happened and we moved to the Midlands; he hated school in Loughborough and the internet took over… You don’t realise it is happening at the time and I heard his version of events much later. Surely this is a story I have told before… it feels like a damning summary of my failed motherhood. It was quite amazing how the years of illness made way for confrontation and reconciliation between us.

Of course this process happens in most parent/child relationships, but I don’t think Rebecca ever lost that very special sibling connection between a big sister and her little brother.  As someone said recently, there are no memories of her childhood in which Sam does not figure: he was her compatriot in the land of childhood, her closest playmate. Appropriate then, but all the more painful, that she was the one who discovered him in distress on Saturday 15th November 2 years ago. I was on a train back to the Midlands when I received a text from Martin: “Becca has called an ambulance for Sam. Ring her”

Sam’s sister had been staying with friends in Loughborough before meeting up with us. She hadn’t seen him for a while so that morning decided to surprise him. But when he eventually managed to answer the door, he was in some distress and disarray after stumbling downstairs. He simply said, “Help me, Becca” 😦 😦

The pathos of this moment is almost too much to bear. Sam, who had been so strong and determined to ‘beat this thing’ finding himself overwhelmed by his own body and his sister catching him in her arms, wrapping him up and sitting him down before calling 999 and then her father. I was miles away on a train while my 2 children faced this alone.

But if I had been there instead of her? Would he have asked me, been honest with me? Would he even have answered the door? I don’t know – he had done so much to protect us, his parents, from anxiety about him. He hated us ‘snuffling around’ his life! Perhaps his childhood friend was the best person to arrive at that moment. She could see straight away the change in him, whereas we had been living with a slow decline and may even have missed it. She could see he had left-sided weakness, that his arm hung limp and his leg wouldn’t move properly. There had obviously been some sort of growth or bleed in the tumour resulting in loss of function on the left side. But Sam himself didn’t seem to be aware of it: he apparently also had left-sided visual inattention so to him that side of his body didn’t exist!

Martin and Becca decided to cancel the ambulance. What good would a trip to hospital do? What could anyone do for him? He wanted to be in his own home. It wasn’t a life-threatening event yet: this was the progression we had both expected and dreaded. So I made my way to Loughborough as quickly as wheels would carry me. Martin who had so recently returned from France to a weekend on-call, left his patients and came too. We all convened at 8c Park St and soon the 4 of us were together in one place, hugging each other, assessing the damage and deciding what to do next. Being a mum I cooked a meal with the few things I found in his fridge. Being Sam he snuggled up on the sofa with his cats and family around him and asked us to stay. We made the usual jokes and decided to settle in for the evening and watch ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy again… What else would the Dyer family choose to do?!

As I write, 2 years ago at this time that is what we were doing – looking after our son and brother, supporting and comforting each other, with no real idea of what tomorrow would bring  – while watching the brave hobbits on their impossible journey to defeat evil.


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Advance warning

2 years ago tonight I was staying with my father and step-mother in Totnes, whiling away a dark Friday evening, watching TV or reading, with no idea at all of the life-changing events about to unfold. It had been my Dad’s 86th birthday the day before – I’d gone down to see him for the occasion. Now I was looking forward to getting home because Becca was coming up from Brighton for the weekend to see the flat we’d been renting in Leicester – particularly so that she could understand why we had decided to buy the house from our landlady!  It was a rather crazy decision as it would be our 4th property…  But we knew it was too good an opportunity to miss.  It was only later on we discovered quite how good.

I also needed to get back to check on Sam, who had been a bit off-colour for a while with what he described as a ‘bug’. I’d called the doctor in to see him while I was away, but apparently she had said to rest – and think about getting another brain scan. He hadn’t had one for about 3 years: he didn’t want one. As far as he was concerned the tumour was old news, dealt with, history. No this was just ‘a bug’ – maybe somethng wrong with his drainage shunt which relieved the pressure of fluid in his head – and he was waiting to get better. Meanwhile I knew he wasn’t eating much – a great bone of contention between us! – and was most probably lying around on the sofa in his dressing gown, maybe on-line,watching films or playing games. His friends would visit bringing weed for them to smoke as well.

There was not much I could do about any of this as we had installed him in his own house and couldn’t often get past the threshold! He’d been given a terminal diagnosis nearly 5 years before and was convinced he had beaten all the odds: he had a will of steel and was utterly determined to shape his own destiny. So… parents are fairly redundant in most 27 year old young men’s lives! I had gone to Devon and Martin had also gone away – to Nice for a work meeting. We had been getting on with our lives as much as possible and we assumed our son was OK because that’s what he wanted us to think. He was in charge. If he needed anything he could ring or call in the lodgers from our house round the corner.

image-1I had however, bought him a large fluffy toucan puppet from Totnes market to wear on his arm! He may have been 27 but he’d had a love affair with squeaky glove puppets since he was very little…This one made an appropriate rude noise when you pressed it and Iimg_2794 couldn’t resist buying it for the lad – both for old times sake and also because his father has a tattoo of a toucan on his derriere 😉 Little did I know that it would accompany Sam into and out of hospital and be on his bed at home when he died less than 2 weeks later.

So – no advance warning then, as I sat cocooned in the cosy lounge in Devon. Or maybe we’d already had the warning years before but it’s siren had dulled with time and all the camouflaging techniques Sam employed. The truth was we’d lived with anxiety for so long we were like elastic that has lost it’s stretch, so we coped the best we could and dulled it as necessary. Even his little ‘illness’ hadn’t really rung any alarm bells… he’d had episodes like this before. So no, there was no advance warning of what was about to start in 12 hours time.

Now I am giving you advance warning. 2 years on I am going to revisit those 10-11 days and write about what happened. I have told much of Sam’s story over the years, but even in the post I wrote about his death and burial one month later I didn’t go into detail in the way I intend to now.

Why? Why now? Well – I think I need to… I think it will help me go deeper in my grieving than I have been able to go this far. Painful it may be, but I must make room for the buried pain to come out if my heart is ever to be healed. Perhaps this therapy can help me and even some others.

Also as a tribute to Sam. We have never been able to face putting together a celebration of his life – not yet anyway. We had a small informal gathering for some friends and family when he was buried and promised more later – but it has not happened: I can’t face it. Perhaps I can use this time, now the initial 2 year phase of acute grief has been experienced, to pay my respects to a brave man, to remember his humour, his strength and the loving things he said in his last days.

Anyway, that’s the plan – a post every day remembering our roller-coaster journey of 2 years ago. Buckle up!


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Depression 101

I used to write – I blogged regularly and prolifically for several years. It was a necessary therapeutic outlet at a time of extreme need. In many ways it saved me. It was if I had been unzipped and all my innards exposed. Readers appreciated being included in our extraordinary journey and somehow I had the grace to remain that vulnerable. Words flowed from my heart then – I barely had to think about it. It stopped me exploding. The blog remains as an historical document of life with our unique son and his brain tumour.

Then he died.  The months go by and it is difficult to write. I feel as if I should – I have created expectations in myself and perhaps in others that this is the way to deal with the grief. I had even set myself up and diversified into a few differently themed blogs – but most of those branches have withered now. I had entertained dreams of being a writer. I was going to be a poet too, but my partner in crime against language has had to nag and cajole to get me to put pen to paper: I think he’s given up at last and our dual blog – though stuffed with good stuff from before – lies silent once more. It’s not that I don’t try to express myself sometimes in private, it’s just that there are no more words for the depth of feelings and it hurts too much. I turned to photographs when wordlessness proved easier but even that expression has begun to falter lately. I do still want to track with the narrative of our lives – this new phase we have now fully entered – but perhaps a storyline is a false creation employed to make sense of what has happened to us. I can’t see the big picture clearly anymore so maybe there is no story worth telling now? Or that could be the depression speaking…

Grief has stages – denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance (said Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) – but they are not necessarily consecutive. I had little time for denial after 5 years of living with Sam’s diagnosis and his extreme determination to beat the prognosis, along with all the crazy choices he made. We saw him die and in many ways it was a relief. I went straight into overdrive and was fired by adrenaline and deadlines for 15 months – until the 2 houses were emptied and sold and our new life established elsewhere. Goodbye to all that.

Maybe that was my bargaining stage… I thought that if I got everything tided up and dealt with our lives would be set fair for the next part. The truth is my grief has been about so much more than losing Sam. That of course was bad enough. Sam was Sam, unlike anyone else, hardly ‘normal’ even before his tumour took hold, but he was our son and there is a massive hole – not just Sam-shaped, but son-shaped. I’ll never be the proud mother at his wedding or grandmother to his children – a whole future died when he did and as we go on without him it looms like a ‘what if’ shadow alongside our path. Totally pointless to think like that of course, but there it is.

Someone said the other day that a loss alone is one thing, but a loss upon loss is worse. That hit home because for unexpected reasons Sam’s death lands squarely on top of that of my own mother when I was 12 years old. Perhaps I never resolved that one at the time: my tendency is always to bury it and get on with things. It seems this time I am not able to do that – which is a very good thing in the long run, but excruciating now with double grief to excavate: loss of mother, loss of son. Loss upon loss upon loss… and I am in a hole. I am fully aware that along with Sam we have also lost our lives in our home of 15 years: it all had to go. Firmly attached to that – my identity and who I had become, my purpose – all I had been involved with there, my role in caring for him – and writing about it.

That took me a while to realise but once I was no longer too busy to write and tried to pick up where I left off I quickly found myself blocked. Or as I prefer to put it, the grace was gone. Instead of being wide-open and vulnerable. pouring my feelings onto the page, I wanted to hide away. It was all too raw and I was too angry… Surely this is a more normal reaction than the way I had behaved before, living it all out in front of an international audience, being the catalyst that got Sam’s story into the Mail on Sunday and onto BBC and ITV?! I fought it, but eventually had to accept the death – step back and shut up, curl into a ball and wait for healing.

The anger continues. I am angry with everyone who has or is a son in their late 20’s who is doing well, anyone who has kids or is a kid getting happily engaged, married or pregnant, all those who are proud of progeny doing well at work or enjoying their grandchildren. Even writers in full flow! Facebook is hell. I know it’s not their fault and I wish no-one any harm: I deliberately bless them. God forbid others should have to go through what we did. My reactions make no sense – don’t ask me to make sense.  And at the same time I am also depressed, properly depressed and anxious: mentally unwell.

We are both inherently anxious, in that way you can do nothing to calm, because for so many years before Sam died – even before he was diagnosed – we lived with uncertainty. He was unpredictable and difficult – and then given a terminal diagnosis for ‘sometime’ in 3-4 years. Human minds can only take so much. I think we did quite well but what we have now is a form of post-traumatic stress.

Severe depression runs in my family anyway. This particular illness obviously has a specific trigger: I accept it as a necessary part of grief. The doctor is helping – “The prosac isn’t working so well, let’s try some new medication” That is a challenge in itself but she knows losing a son is a long-term/lifetime issue and is not going to go away. Ever. I am told I am still ‘doing well’, considering all this going on beneath the surface… but I do feel I have become a different person. I don’t want to do the things I used to do – I have no energy for them, no desire. Not wanting to write is one of those things – though I do seem to be doing that right now! What can I say – this came to me in the night.

It’s because an explanation is needed – for myself, to assuage my own guilt over false expectations!  I need to set the record straight.  How often do we extrapolate into the future, assuming things will stay on an even keel? How often do we set ourselves up, as I did? “I have stored up enough for many years, let’s enjoy it – eat, drink and be merry!” “You fool, tonight will your life be required of you”. We never know what is around the corner: a cancer diagnosis, an accident, a redundancy…  I have been humbled and that’s the truth. I am not in control of my life or of my own health: all I can do is choose wisely for now, for today – the next right thing.  Yes, actually, even having said that, long-term, I do still want to compile my book…I have something to say, something worth reading. But it has to be “maybe, one day, when strength rises again. If it does”. For now I am a fallow field.

Depression means I don’t care that much. I am not as sociable or extrovert. I am tired – I have insomnia. I don’t want to sing – what’s to sing about? I get tired of talking when I never used to. I drink too much. I rarely feel anything, let alone happy and I’ll suddenly feel the tears coming. The recurring retort is: What’s the point? Hope is a stranger, despair a blanket ready to smother me if I am careless. So don’t look too far ahead, don’t over-exert, practise being present and resting, always falling back into grace. It helps if you believe in grace.

Lately I have stumbled across watercolour painting: the impressionistic use of colour. I love nature and beauty but have never in my life tried any form of art – apart from photography. Now I am using photos as templates for painting – starting off with an attempt at a vase of flowers and ending up with every bright colour in the palette daubed onto the paper: primitive pieces of floral art. It’s art therapy I suppose, like mindfulness – it takes me out of myself. My new hobby is a relief like a breath of fresh air – simple and child-like, it carries no demands and doesn’t call for any judgement. Best of all it actually makes me feel happy!  What a gift…

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And no words are required.


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Being brave

It’s the 25th again. It  takes a date to make me write – as if I can measure the journey by these milestones. 17 months today since Sam died. I thought it would be getting easier but it’s getting harder… How can it get easier when he’s always gone, instead of living his life, coming up 29 next month, maybe working, getting married, being a father? It was not to be.

I do accept that – I really do. His tumour made a normal life impossible and what he was living was a torture day after day, a fight to keep his head above water, to keep hope alive. Now at least he can rest in peace. Nothing can take away what was and all the years we had with him. The memories don’t make me sad – the photographs always bring a smile. No, it’s the future that is lost that I grieve.

Not that it is that well-defined: it just feels like a heavy weight, a physical illness, a hopelessness – a hole in the space-time continuum. I am depressed. I can find no joy or purpose in life, no energy to engage with anything. I can’t really tell you why or even specifically relate it to losing our son, but others say it’s the weight of grief, the pain of the wound in my heart, throwing everything out of kilter.

I tried to be better. I reduced my Prosac as Spring approached – I thought I would feel positive about our new beginning and that I was ready to face the pain instead of retreating from it. I wanted to feel my grief – wanted to cut through the numbness. I thought it would help, but when it came to it I couldn’t cope. As the effect of the long-term anti-depressants wore off frightening feelings came to the fore: irritability, tearfulness, anger. It was hell. The doctor agreed we would go back to the original dose.

Now the old house is sold, we are relocated, we have a new home and it is my new project. Surely I am ready for what comes next? I am planting a garden – I want to look forward! Yet each day I wake with aches and pains in my limbs, have to steel myself to face the day, plan a way through. Don’t get me wrong – I am SO grateful: we are truly blessed in many ways. We have an amazing story of grace, love and faithfulness and everything we could possibly want or need. I know that all is well, all is well and all manner of things will be well. Part of me is fine… it’s just these feelings, or lack of feelings, draining my life force, painting everything pointless.

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So I continue to fulfil my supportive role for my busy husband – housewife superstar. I am so good at being responsible – or at least afraid of not being. I couldn’t let the house go to pot or the bills unpaid – I’m not that ill. Somehow keeping up with the ironing and hoovering up the cats’ hairs, organising his clothes and planning trips, helps me feel I am doing something useful. In fact it seems our lives are as busy as ever and to be honest it is exhausting – but neither of us know how to stop doing the next good thing to do. Surely seeing friends, going to concerts, fulfilling family obligations are positive, nourishing choices…? Shouldn’t these make us feel more alive, as if we are making a contribution to the world? If I do nothing I will die of boredom!

So I do it all… and when I stop to look inside I wonder why why why?  I am not sure how to enjoy life anymore. All I want to do is hide – stay in bed, read trashy books, sleep if I could. Which doesn’t help at all! Go swimming, go outside – at least get dressed! Keep going through the motions even though my heart and soul are numb. When will I feel like doing something again – when will I feel that life is worth living? I live because my husband and daughter need me.

“I remember when I used to lead the congregation in procession to the house of the Lord” Yes, David – Psalm 42. I do remember that and it feels like another person in another life. Who am I now? Can I have hope again? I cannot write, be creative, produce anything, contribute anything, without some supernatural energy rising within. I need reviving! And so I wait… I wait for the Lord. Despite all these negative feelings, my lack of joie de vivre, I do still believe. My faith has not altered: God will bring it all to good. “My splendour has gone and all that I hoped from the Lord…yet this will I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed” Lamentations 3 – the weeping prophet knew a thing or two.

This is real life – facing up to death and grief and loss. None of us are going to escape these things! This is how it makes you feel. Yet – I will hold on hope that there is always a way through with Jesus.

 

 


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Leap Day goodbye

It is here at last – 29th February 2016. I have been working towards it, waiting for it, for so very long. It is the end of the journey, the final step, the longed-for resolution. Hopefully the line we draw today will bring a measure of closure to a 15 year season and I will be able to finally let go and turn to face the future: I will lock the front door for the last time and post the keys back through the letter box for the new owners to pick up in the morning.

However as our daughter just commented on the phone, ‘…and Sam’s still dead’.  That doesn’t just go away. We may leave the house where he grew from a schoolboy to a young man, where he brought his American lover and where he so often returned to ‘vent’ or eat a bacon bagel with me from his little house over the road, but the memories, sharpened by many photographs, live on behind my eyes.

Apart from that there are so many other memories and photographs all dressed upof visitors,
gatherings, meals, parties – all the happenings of the years. We used the house well and encouraged others to do so. I once had 9 young people staying overnight at once and on my 55th birthday 3 couples had their own large double bedrooms to sleep in – so good to be able to do that. Kids roomOne of the other bedrooms was our kids’ teenage ‘TV room’ with MTV blaring most of the time – until Sam got his X-box. There were all those lovely Christmases with the 6 foot tree in the lounge and barbecue parties with tables laid out insummer garden party the flower-filled garden. I spent so many mornings sitting in the sunshine in the lounge and on cosy winter evenings we would huddle in front of the ‘coal effect’ gas fire, side by side on the sofa with our laptops. And all that’s without mentioning the large kitchen-diner, the coffee timebig table around which so many friends had memorable meals and collapsed in the feather sofa by the large wood-burner afterwards.

And on and on. The painter coming in to do one room at a time – it took him 18 months – the new kitchen we put in, that amazing bathroom we finally had done in 2012. Gradually over the past 4 yearsBathroom the rooms were turned over to other uses: our friends moved in – first a phD student in Sam’s room, then a couple in Becca’s room, using the TV room as a sitting room/nursery for their new baby, adding bath toys to the coloured lights and walk-in shower. In the last 3 months a young family took over the whole top floor so my sitting room that was the art studio that was the prayer room that was the sixth bedroom finally became a baby’s bedroom. It gave me a good reason to bring old beds and clothes and boxes of school work – Becca’s art and philosophy books – downstairs to be disposed of appropriately.

The gradual departure has all gone according to plan. I can’t find fault with any of it, from the time we stopped sleeping there in January last year, just after Sam had left his little house for good – through the season of the lovely lodgers with their adventurous toddler making it their own, to last summer when we brought our furniture to Leicester and began to make this new originally rented house our proper home. Then the unexpected family who needed somewhere to live on return from France filled the gap when all the others moved out and showed the prospective buyers round on our behalf.  We quickly got an acceptable offer from a cash buyer, a family with twin girls who had moved up from London and have been renting locally. They were willing to wait until 1st March to avoid us redeeming our fixed rate mortgage too early. They like the location near the schools and I guess they love the house: what’s not to love? They can afford to give it some necessary tlc.

While the family from France moved into their own place and after they’d gone, I worked really hard to empty and clear and prepare the house a room at a time, right down to the last book and shirt, board game and baby toy under the sofa, wardrobe and sofa, document and signature. Having cleared many of the bedrooms in advance, I was now left with hidden cupboards and our own rooms full of collected paper, books and the aggregate of years to tackle. Argh, Martin’s study! CD’s and books – and the vinyl! My study with all those documents and memorabilia stacked on shelves just because we had room for them! I pulled collections of unused lotions, potions and medicines out of the utility room cupboard along with clouds of dust: this house was so large we had just kept everything. The kitchen cupboards were like a charity shop, I had enough old clothes to fill one and the under-stairs cupboard smelt like one.  We had always imagined our biggest problem in moving would be what to do with the art collection Martin had assembled over the years – so many very large pieces by local young artists! What would we do with them all? But – amazing grace – everything we wanted to keep has fitted into our new home, which has similar proportions if not quite so many floors and rooms… and we took them with us a few at a time until all were moved across.

That has been our saving grace – the gradual process of withdrawing and rebuilding. Although hard on my patience muscle I have been able to tackle it in bite-sized pieces. It was hard during the months when neither of the houses really felt like home, but around Christmas and since New Year Leicester has become the place my heart belongs as we have found places for all our furniture, pictures, and the books and music that have been allowed to stay in this down-sized version of our lives.

Each time I went back to visit Loughborough, collect post, see friends in town, read the meters, collect some more pictures, car loads were taken to the charity shops and the tip and finally a van came to dispose of the old furniture no-one would ever want to use again. I stripped the garden of ornaments and pots: there are just a few more favourite perennials to divide and bring back to plant in my new garden, one of my last tasks today along with reading the meters and leaving a forwarding address. I always dreaded having to leave the garden into which I put so much love and hours of creative pleasure, but it is February so it’s not too bad in the end and we’ve started planting a garden here, a new creative project to look forward to. Spring is at the door…

Spring garden

The old house itself is now just a shell echoing with the laughter and music of ghosts. To be honest it looks dreadful in there – every room needs decorating, the back steps have been removed to get at the drains and still need rebuilding, you can see the stains on the kitchen walls and woodwork where a leak was repaired last year… I wouldn’t have to energy to tackle it now. I think it might even be too much and too large for the young family who have taken it on! But none of that is my responsibility anymore.

It will be hard to say good bye – but we have some friends coming to help, to send us off. Nothing can bring back those times anyway, any more than we could bring back our childrens’ childhood or our own youth. All our lives are like this, a journey where things die and we must move on: as someone has said it: “what once was fire is now ash”.  Despite being “the longest move in history” – as lodger Ben said – surely the timing is perfect and in view of that rare event of Leap Day I am making this my verse for the day:

“But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall” Malachi 4v2 

Let it be! Now I must drive to Burton St for the last time and make an end.


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A time for mourning

Wherever there is loss there is grief – and grief is exhausting.  It may be hidden grief – subconscious sadness, buried pain with little outward show – or a more obvious storm of weeping.  Either way the emotional bruising has a huge and probably largely unexpected physical cost. How can I get out of bed and drag myself through another day? There is nothing I want to do, nothing for which I have any energy… I have lost my bearings and purpose and all is grey and pointless. It sounds just like depression – because it is: it is sadness with a reason. In fact in my case there are 3 reasons – a triple whammy.

The first ‘death’ was the ending of a season of work, blogging and ministry – a good ending, a clear finishing point, but still the loss of role and direction. A line was drawn at the end of 2012 and more lines in 2013: looking back now I can see they were times of gradually letting go and stepping back, handing on a baton… This was the beginning of my ‘going upstairs’ and leaving others to take over. By 2014 finding a way to physically move on was clearly the right thing to do –  to forge a future for Martin’s work and more space for our marriage by making a home in Leicester . But still, however good and necessary and right change may be, it is still loss. I had given myself to that series of projects and people and church over 14 years and it defined who I was. Goodbye, Redhead in so many ways – and there is no going back. That is why I have never coloured my hair again since it re-grew.

We started renting the small upstairs flat in Leicester in May 2014 – it’s ages now! – and were living between our 2 homes over the summer, weekdays in the city and enjoying weekends with our cross-generational community in Loughborough. Hmmm – how our choices and decisions lead us on beyond what we ever imagined as those months unfolded. We had very effectively driven ourselves out of our long-standing family home into a new beginning… not knowing what else was just round the corner.

You can see the ‘About’ page for more details, but basically it’s now coming up to a year since our son died. Perhaps it’s the anniversary or just the autumn season reverberating with the sights and sounds of the dying year, but November is proving a difficult month to negotiate: I’m having to take it a day at a time. Anyone would understand this indelible grief, the continual search for the grace to carry the loss of a child, part of my own flesh and blood. Also we’d journeyed with Sam for 5 years as he’d fought for his life and he was so sure he’d won the battle right up to the end, bless him. Perhaps he had… but we are left behind with the legacy of those years and a hole nothing can fill.

Sunset over graves

But that is not all. Now there is the final cut: the sale of our old home. I really thought I had let go – the house is virtually unrecognisable from when we lived there. All the lodgers moved on to their own new places this summer and there is now another young family care-taking for us until it all goes through. We have a buyer who is willing to wait for our mortgage redemption penalties to expire in February – all should be well as long as the structural engineer can help us fix some nasty cracks…  Our 2 year transition should be completed in the New Year.

So why is it this is the hardest loss to bear? Why am I suffering as much as I did with losing Sam? Perhaps because I have to keep returning to continue the giant clear-out of stuff we have collected over the years that there is no longer room for, so I’m continually reminded of what is lost…  Yet it’s really good that I haven’t had to move everything out all at once, with so much less space in Leicester and so little energy for it. I am tackling it gradually and doing lots of tip and charity shop runs.  It’s good – and good to have friends there to look after the place too – but also not good. There are too many ghosts, too many memories :-/ Plus I haven’t yet made our nest in Leicester. We now have the downstairs of the house as well as our erstwhile flat and trying to work out how to make it one home is proving challenging. I am having to work at making a place to rest!

Amidst so much loss it feels as if everything has died. I am left empty and everything is ash. Of course there are shoots coming through, things to be grateful for, signs of hope and I know that one day Spring will come again, but for now – it is a time for mourning.