This is a link to my friend and editor’s blog in which I wrote about working with him. Please read and if you write, do think seriously about using Johnny’s services. He is a very talented man.
During the early days of crippling mental disorder after Juliette died, my mind flitted about like a mad child, chucking up thoughts that were not born of reason or rational process. Juliette was elsewhere. I had to reach her and my messed up brain had me make lists of what I could offer that would reverse the shocking error of her absence.
I begged nameless powers to take my limbs, my eyes and my life. I longed for the chance to eat putrefied road kill, excrement, anything to buy her back. In those moments, it was convenient to forget how I had watched as doctors failed to resuscitate my daughter, that I had held her little body as it grew cold, and seen her buried. The madness of fantasy seduced me. It drew me from the brink and plunge of knowing I would never see her again.
When after weeks my Faustian pacts came to naught, I grasped at comfort by imagining ways in which my loss could have been worse. Juliette died, as far as I knew, without pain. Steph and I were with her and she did not have to bear her last minutes alone. No one took her life, or hurt her. It did not change the fact of her death, but I looked around at the losses of other parents and it made me feel mine was slightly less terrible.
It sounds a cruel way to draw comfort, but I had to survive. I thought of a mother who was robbed even of her daughter’s body to bury, and denied the knowledge of her final hours. I wondered how she could grieve in this tortuous state of suspense, while any hope remained that her child might still be alive.
When Juliette died, Madeleine McCann was still safe with her parents, but my mind kept returning to the family of Ben Needham, the little boy who vanished on a Greek Island. I wondered whether years on, his parents had been able to accept he was probably dead, and if that acceptance brought peace, or only guilt and more suffering. I looked at Juliette’s death in the grip of leukaemia and became the mother who was grateful to have held her child’s lifeless body.
Last week, when Amanda Berry broke out of her ten-year incarceration with two other women all believed to have been dead, my first thought was not jubilation. Instead, I thought about the hurt to my more recently bereaved friends who like I once did would have imagined for a brief but agonising instant that their children might also return, before remembering it was impossible.
It’s a good news story. These daughters and sisters have returned to their families after a decade of grief, but my thoughts are with parents whose children are gone forever. In my thoughts I’m afraid there’s also a little self pity. Amanda Berry disappeared nine months after we lost Juliette. Of course, I would not wish Juliette to have endured what these women have, but a ghost of my mad brain whispers new pacts, and wonders what I would not give even now to hold a sixteen-year-old Juliette in my arms.
So, I spent all day in a remote polling outpost for today’s local elections and I’m only just home from delivering my ballot box to the count. I love taking part, but now I’m a little wired so I’m trying to unwind with a large glass of Harveys and to knock the edge off the day by catching up on work emails. Meanwhile I can’t wait for the morning, because Steph has a big birthday next week and he has no idea we’re off to the Peaks tomorrow for the weekend as an early birthday present. We keep talking about going to the Peaks for the walking and the views, and we’re finally doing it. He never reads my blog, so shhhhhhh… all is pretty good with the world right now.
Easter at the parents, and our mother’s threat to empty drawers full of our old exerise books and letters, drove me and my sister Dani to spend an evening sorting. We found long-forgotten photographs too, and some of these were of Juliette.
Gorgeous, smiley girl.
I went to a funeral two days ago. It marked the life of a wonderful man who had reached the incredible age of 102.
It always shocks me that I still I still find funerals difficult. I really try. As snow fell outside the ancient Gloucestershire church, I tried to stay focussed on my friend. In a voice taut with grief she read The Good Indian’s Prayer, a favourite of her Dad’s. I only made it to the second hymn before I was fumbling for tissues. It doesn’t matter how much I tell myself that I’m not there for Juliette and to stop being so self-absorbed, at funerals my thoughts always travel back to Juliette’s life, and to Juliette’s death.
I listened harder as others spoke about the spiritually good, full, and interesting life this grand old man had lived, and about the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren he had seen into the world. I felt admiration for this special person, and incredibly sad for all the things Juliette never achieved. Then I listened closer to how much the man had been loved, how he made everyone feel special and the way he had touched the lives of everyone he met, and realised they could have been talking about Juliette.
Really, it’s only about the length of their lives. Juliette could not have lived more fully in the time she had, and could not have touched more deeply those who knew her. If Juliette had been a soldier in India, a farmer, trained as a healer and brought children into the world, would her life have been better? Would she have been happier than the little girl who giggled through chemo and baldness, who found every day ‘itciting’ and made everyone she met feel a better person for having known her?
I will never find out. I have to bring my focus back to what she did do, how much she loved and was loved, and to remember that her short life had intense beauty.
“We cannot, after all, judge a biography by its length, by the number of pages in it; we must judge by the richness of the contents…Sometimes the ‘unfinisheds’ are among the most beautiful symphonies.” Victor Frankl.
After I dropped Celeste at school yesterday, I took my usual route home round the fields with the dogs and met a heavily pregnant lady walking the other way. We chatted about overdue prenancies then parted, at which point I burst into tears. I couldn’t make sense of it until I realised that sixteen years ago, that was me. Juliette had been due the same day.
It still seems to happen to me, even after all this time. In the run up to birthdays and anniversaries something innocuous will trigger an uprush of emotion, and yet I’m not actually focussing on what time of year it is. It’s a funny thing, the subconscious.
There were tears again this morning. Steph’s been away in Germany for three days, and I was just so happy to wake up beside him. I know it’s soppy, and not the way I usually am, but I guess the self-protective layers are just a little thinner sometimes.
I have other reasons to be emotional at the moment. On Tuesday, Juliette’s birthday, I will be going to meet people connected with the new job I start properly after Easter. On the 26th March last year I spent the day cover teaching at our local prison for the first time. I had an exhilerating twelve months but sadly, the prison is now closing. This new job is the work I’ve dreamed of doing and I feel incredibly lucky, but a little scared too.
I’m trying to find it symbolic that these exciting first steps seem to happen on Juliette’s birthday. Juliette wasn’t afraid of anything. Lots of things frighten me, but I think of Juliette and her fearlessness, and have no more excuses.
I’ve been giving more thought than usual to how losing Juliette has changed the way I live. Writing Watching Petals Fall has made me examine the far-reaching effects her life and death have had on me , and I’ve started to wonder whether other bereaved parents feel like I do.
Juliette , more than any of my five children lived her life intensely. Every day she was well, she wanted to ‘do something exciting’ and sometimes, frankly, it was hard to keep up with her. Of course, I can say this with hindsight, but I think there was a part of her that knew she had to experience everything, and quickly. She went for it.
In our last week together, we took the children crabbing. Scary little beasts, crabs, and both Steph and I kept them at arm’s length – from line, to net, to bucket and then back into the sea. Juliette spotted some teenage boys handling their crabs and asked if we would help her do the same. We dismissed it as ‘a bad idea’ but the next thing we knew, Juliette had carefully picked up a nipping monster from her bucket and stood, grinning for a photograph.
That she picked up a crab when her parents were too scared, really sums Juliette up. She was brave, while we were afraid. Since she died, I often think of her crab as well as the other ways Juliette was fearless. She would hold out her hand for the big, fat needle to be inserted into her beautiful skin without ever flinching, even without anaesthetic – she did not like the sensation of the numbing cream. The first time she asked for it to be done this way, she was just three.
The reason I’m saying all this is that Juliette died. I’m her mother, and I’m alive. Every parent knows how I wish I could swap, but as no one gave me a choice I owe it to Juliette to be different, be more like she was, to live fully because she no longer can.
I think more about the golden times in each day. They are fleeting and easily missed. Without meaning to sound like a total buddhist, I try to remember to live in the moment, be aware and be grateful for sunshine, birds singing, hearing the children’s laughter, and for how close I feel to Steph as we chat and walk the dogs. These things aren’t ‘exciting’ by Juliette’s definition, but being aware of the pleasure small things bring and the value they add to my day is new, and thanks to the little daughter who is no longer phsyically with me, but who is more present in my life than ever.