Ok, this is going to be one of those that I hope my children don’t read.  It’s a bit of a confession.
The thing is I try too hard, with each of them. I overcompensate.  I do this because I feel guilty, because I haven’t been able to give them the childhood I planned for them.
Somewhere, someone wrote about the “bright canopy” that spreads over your family before your loss. I remember a golden, rainbow-shaded haven that promised protection, love and happiness – torn to shreds when Juliette died. We stood bewildered where the canopy once was, shocked at the vastness of what had happened to us.
The moments where my own pain lessens are always tempered with the feeling that I’ve failed our other children with their sister’s death.  How can I not feel responsible?  You’re supposed to protect all your children, aren’t you?
So I love them extra hard.  If one of them needs something from me – a cuddle, to sit on my lap, time with me, I can never deny them.  Juliette wanted always to sit on my lap, especially when she first woke up in the morning, but back then I had four children under the age of six.  Sometimes, as I rushed round trying to feed baby Raphi, find Elodie’s uniform before school, change Pierre’s nappy, check I’d measured Juliette’s chemo properly, I would say, “Darling, I just haven’t got a lap at the moment.” That haunts me.  I wish for an eternity of my beautiful Juliette cuddled close against my chest, my arms wrapped round her for always.
Meanwhile, I’m making a prom dress for Elodie.  It’s harder than anything I’ve ever made before and really, the stress of stretching my capabilities is bad for me. But it’s so pretty and it’s the one she wanted.  To make that dream happen for her is within my power, so I’ll get it for her, like the next thing she wishes for. It’s the least I can do.
I exercise this sense of guilt most powerfully with Elodie, because she’s the one who remembers Juliette the most, and must be the most hurt.  Pierre has humour and open-ness to get him by. We make each other laugh and think along the same lines.  Raphi is a little enigma, as much as his father is to me.  I never know whether his still waters are running deep or if he too has the uncomplicated soul I envy in Steph.
Celeste. She is my magic one – the one I have deluded myself is untouched by the loss of her sister.  It can’t be true.  It resonates for her equally, just differently.  With Celeste I try to give her what I could not give Juliette.  I’m guilty of doing things with her as way of making up the gap – all those moments I didn’t have with her sister.
Is this normal for a “longtime” bereaved mother?  I honestly have no idea.

The mind of the long distance runner

I’m going to London tomorrow to watch the marathon, in support of a friend who is running it for the first time.  She came for a cup of tea and a flapjack this week, and I tried very hard but probably failed to put into words what a marathon is like.

Possibly I’m not the best person to explain. I such have strong associations of London and other distance running with Juliette.  Before she died, living with her illness seemed like a marathon. “Just a little bit further,” we told ourselves. “Keep going, we’re nearly there, the pain won’t last forever.”  I didn’t know it was a race we’d all lose in the end.

Steph and I took up running at different times after Juliette died, both entering different half marathons a few months after we pulled on running shoes for the first time.  I don’t think we run for the same reasons, however.  Steph is naturally competitive and good at sport, although he never used to run.  He said once that if pain and tiredness creep up on him he makes himself think about what Juliette went through, and that makes him go on.  For me it’s more about running away from the pain, squeezing out out thoughts with training schedules. And I fear there’s a bit of self-flagellation for still being here, when my little girl can’t be.  Perhaps for both of us, long distance running is a way to test the endurance we must surely have to survive the death of one of our children. 

I haven’t been running much lately.  My psychiatrist spotted the glint in my eye when I talked about it and suggested I ease up for a while, but I will run another marathon.  Not this year.  It seems fair to let my brain recover and I want to be fully fit, mentally.  I’ll be entering the ballot for London 2012 just as soon as it opens, though.

I’m posting some pictures of my family, if only to show we aren’t always steeped in misery.

Happy holiday days for Elodie and Celeste

Steph, Pierre and a serious Raphi

Memory pike

I wonder whether it’s possible ever to escape the flashbacks? You’re there, coping with a “normal” situation when BANG.  I think there’s something about the way suppressed memories lurk like bottom-dwelling predators shooting to the surface when you’re unprepared, that makes them especially hard to deal with.

I spent a summer in Toronto with a boyfriend when I was 21.  It doesn’t begin to compare with more recent events but it was a miserable, soul-crushing period of my life that I’ve tried to forget.  Even now, 22 years later there are moments when unbidden a random image from those months will flash through my mind, with its attendant unhappiness.

I have exorcised more efficiently the terrible pictures of losing Juliette but they spring me too, with the right triggers.  Like the other night.  Raphi got hold of his brother’s Epipen and in the course of messing around managed to give himself a massive shot of adrenaline.  The sense of utter helplessness as I watched a frightened Raph being treated by the paramedic hurtled me right back to times with Juliette.  Steph followed the ambulance to the hospital, just as he had done the night we learned that Juliette had leukaemia.  It’s not rational, I “knew” Raphi was fine, but these triggers tap into a subconscious vein of feelings I can’t control and I’m terrified.

I don’t know what to learn from this. Perhaps it’s simply a case of accepting I will always be vulnerable, but that’s hard to live with.  For someone like me that has tried in many ways to intellectualise her grief, maybe I just need to admit that there are parts that can’t be.  They’re too deeply embedded within the primal part of my brain, and are immune to my well-meant meddling.