At the end of August, Steph’s lovely father died. I tell people his death was ‘out of the blue’ because it was. Yet he was 86 and I hear how absurd our shock sounds.
My father-in-law was a vibrant, vital force, a man of quirks and favourite anecdotes with a hearty laugh that positively brimmed with love for his family. I’ve felt selfish in grieving for him – he wasn’t my father – but I loved him and expected him to be in all of our lives for many more years. I feel we’ve been robbed.
That all close deaths resonate and evoke memories of hers seems to be part of the legacy of losing Juliette. I hate it. I reason with myself, but it’s as though that chasm of grief spies a chink of weakness at the surface and exploits the chance to pour forth the pain I’ve taught myself not to feel. I miss my father-in-law. Knowing him enriched my life. I can’t bear to think of Steph motherless, and now fatherless, but the way I have felt is not in proportion. I’m frustrated to feel so in the grip of emotions that aren’t entirely logical.
Listen to me. When, exactly, are emotions logical? Is it logical to love with an intensity that almost hurts, a tiny, screaming dictator, who vetoes sleep and causes you physical pain? Actually, Juliette was a fabulous baby, an amazing little girl. She didn’t scream, probably because she got what she wanted. Juliette twinkled with a wisdom that made everyone who met her want her to be happy. No fool, my daughter.
Losing her changed other aspects of me. In the early years of disordered grief, this knowledge of how fragile life can be, made me feel reckless at times. A sort of ‘what’s the point? Everything could be over tomorrow,’ never filled me, but lurked at the edge of decisions I made, still make. We have only one life to live and no guaranteed tariff. Juliette lived for each day. She seized every opportunity for love, for fun and to try something new. I can’t bear how this sentiment sounds clichéd but as I have learned, so many clichés around death appear true. I feel an obligation to live because Juliette could not.
Had she not died, I would never have started to write or rather, I would not have had the courage to share what I wrote. Telling my daughter’s story was imperative and in this context, what others thought of my writing was meaningless. Nor would I have had the self-belief and determination to run a marathon – I’m no athlete but I’ve just signed up for my third London next year. And it’s certain I would never have taken myself into a men’s prison to do creative writing classes. I am not, or at least never used to be that woman who believed she had something to offer. Rather the reverse. Now I have work in a school that rewards me in ways I could never have imagined. I thank Juliette for all this. It took me years to stop feeling angry but now, living intensely is a way for me to express my gratitude that she chose me to be her Mummy. I was blessed. I am blessed.