New year, old grief

I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen.

For months now, my family has been marching to the drum of “just get through 2016”. And even though it threw up one more unexpected complication (in that my poor Mum developed shingles right after Christmas, which meant that we couldn’t go and see her since P. isn’t yet vaccinated), in the end we all sent each other relieved/celebratory messages when the clock finally clicked over (or the next morning in my case since the idea that I will stay up until midnight, even to see a festering, wretched year out, is laughable).

And then 2017 got started in a big way with the birth of labmonkey’s son (on New Year’s Day, no less). I’m excited to meet the little guy, and excited that P & E will have a close cousin (geographically speaking), and relieved that everything went relatively well (actual message to a good friend of mine: “My sister had her baby and no one died!”).

And yet.


My mother is still widowed.

I am still wrestling with what I discovered when I went to stay with my mother for a week in October. As her executor I helped her sort out a number of administrative issues still outstanding from my stepfather’s estate. Along the way I learned, to my abject shock and horror, that my stepfather had been steadily digging himself and my mother deeper and deeper into a financial hole, one that within a few years, if he had lived, they might not have been able to get themselves out of.

It has changed my memories of him.

It has forever altered our last few conversations, when he lay in his hospital bed and spent so much time telling me (telling all five of their children) that he could die at peace because he knew that my mother would be looked after financially.

It wasn’t true. My mother is not facing a lifelong sentence of poverty in her retirement solely because my stepfather died the day before his 65th birthday and not on the day itself (which would have invalidated the life insurance policy that has meant my mother could square their debts and start with no financial burdens, although no financial cushion either).

My mother should be able to be comfortable. She should be able to do some travelling. She should be able to spoil her grandchildren a little bit (because she will always spoil others and never herself), but she needs some luck in the next year or two for that to be true.

And it was so very nearly a disaster.

I don’t remember my dreams very much any more- too many nights of broken sleep thanks to P. But when I do dream about my stepfather, I’m usually fighting with him about his funeral.

I’m sorry that he’s dead.

I’m relieved that he died.

I’m carrying so much anger and there’s nowhere for it to go.


And then there’s my Dad.

Because of the shingles, we ended up staying with my stepmother for the entire visit. We saw as much of my Dad as we could, but juggling two kids in an ICU room is not exactly easy. It will be easier when they have bought a new house (or renovated their current house), but this visit really drove home that it will never be easy again.

I don’t dream very much about my Dad either, but there was one dream, the first dream, that I will never forget. I had it in September, when E. had started school and P. was still sleeping well and I finally had a bit of quiet space to myself. In the dream, we drove up to their house and Dad answered the door. He was old Dad, the Dad from before the accident, right down to what he was wearing (black jeans and a green pullover sweater that my youngest sister had bought for him). He invited us in, and then the dream jumped to the dinner table and Dad was pouring wine for everyone. In the dream, I said to him, “Wow, Dad, so the operation with the pacer gave you back the use of your arms!” And then, in the dream, everything went blurry and grey and Dad’s face became so sad and there was a long pause before I finally said, “But how are you walking?”

Even in my dreams, I knew what I was seeing was impossible.

It still hurts so much.

It is worse when I see him.

When I’m at home and getting his emails or Skyping, it’s easy to take the most positive view of the situation possible, to focus on the future and the next steps that need to happen, to plan and organize. It becomes possible for my mind to skirt around the realities of my father’s new life.

You can’t skirt around it when your son is helping your father eat his dinner and casually wanders off after putting a piece of naan bread in your father’s mouth and all your father can do, your great, tall, powerful father, this pillar of strength in your childhood, is open his eyes really wide and make some noises around the bread that is clogging up his mouth so that you notice and come over and take it out.

My father is a real-life superhero. He has chosen to embrace the life that he has been handed, a life unimaginable from the one he was living a year ago. He has defied the statistics and the likely outcomes and the risk factors time and time again. In the last eleven months he has relearned to eat and to talk, twice. He has mastered using an eye tracker to control a laptop and has moved on to voice-controlled software. He can drive a power wheelchair with his head. He is on the diaphragm pacer (and off the ventilator) fifteen hours a day, every day.

He wants to live at home.

He wants to travel.

I honestly believe they will be writing about him in medical journals.

I could not be prouder.

But every time I see him my heart breaks again.


I don’t cry very much these days.

This surprises me, as I used to weep at everything even before I had children.

When I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, back in December of 2015, when I was pregnant with P., I cried for pretty much the entire last third of the movie, plus the entire way back home (real ugly crying too).

I cried a lot in February, and March, and April.

But I don’t cry anymore.

I know I haven’t processed my grief, my anger, my loss.

I know it’s all sitting there under the surface.

I don’t know if I’m not crying because I’m just worn too thin to feel or if I’m afraid if I start crying and feeling I might never stop.


I’m so angry.

There are lots of healthy, happily retired couples in my neighbourhood. They like to go and have breakfast together and read the paper, or they have morning tea with scones, or they have lunch with wine and salad and paninis. I see them when I’m out walking (always with one or two children in tow).

I hate them.

It is an instinctive, visceral reaction when I see them.

My parents should be doing that too.


2017 happened.

2016 ended.

My mother used to like to say that “The calendar fixes everything.”

Time heals all wounds, and all that.

But the calendar didn’t make it better.

It didn’t make it go away.

There was no magic, no miracle.

No unexpected happy ending.

We’re still moving forward, one day at a time, in a reality that we could never have imagined a year ago.

Time heals all wounds.

I don’t know how much more time I’m going to need.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss

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