Saturday, 31 August 2013

Why I stopped trying to change the unchangeable.

I came across something I wrote in December 2012 that I would like to share with readers.

I have made a big decision. I think that it is time that I stopped mourning for my Mum and Dad and moved on with my life. That isn't to say that I will ever stop loving them, missing them or wishing that we could have had lots more years together. That isn’t it at all. It is just that it will soon be three years since they were killed and I think that is long enough for my full-on sadness to last.

I had been thinking about this for a little while and last night I had a long dream about them that helped me to make up my mind. I have had this dream a couple of times. In it Mum and Dad are sitting with me in an enormous sunny park full of benches. It was such a calm, loving and peaceful place – no feeling of sadness at all. On every bench there are just three people and somehow I just knew that this was the special place that God had created where all the teenagers who had been left behind come to see their dead parents.

In the dream I would talk to them both and they would promise me that we could meet in the park again and again until I was ready to let go. Well last night in my dream I told them that I thought that I was ready.

They seemed really pleased and reminded me that they would always be inside my head if I needed them. I know that I will have a few wobbles along the way - times like my graduation or my wedding day but I think I will be able to cope.

The most important influence of all was that my Mum and Dad loved me far too much to want me to keep on being sad. I absolutely know that they would want me to have a long, happy and fulfilled life making the best of every opportunity that comes along. They would be so cross if the accident that killed them both also ruined my life.

So how do I feel about how the last 8 months has gone?

Overwhelmingly I am glad that I made the conscious decision to change. When a bad day comes, as they still do sometimes, I reach out for emotional or practical help from people around me or I go for a long run. What I don’t do is to sit at home crying or feeling sad wishing that I could change the unchangeable.  I still visit their grave but I know that isn’t where they are. They are inside me and I carry them around every minute of every day.

By doing this I think I’ve honoured my Mum and Dad’s memory far more effectively than perhaps I would have done otherwise. I would not want to have been thought of as “that girl who never really got over the death of her parents.”

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Escaping from Nan and Granddad - Part 2

Mum and Dad used to make running the home look simple. Trust me when I say that it isn’t. 

My first job once Nan and Granddad had driven off without seeing me was to find some clean bedclothes so that I had somewhere to sleep. But of course since the heating had been turned off the clothes cupboard wasn’t warm and so all the bed clothes were cold and slightly damp feeling.  So I put them on the drying rack in front of the fire to air and warm through while I wrote down the list of jobs that I needed to do. And so it went on for several hours; every routine job seemed to take an age and before I realised it was tea-time.

Ah, no food in the house. Food shopping had been Mum’s area so off I drove the superstore. I never realised that food was so expensive! Who needs meat anyway? Cooking I could manage so I had a decent tea before looking again at the massive list of chores that needed doing.

The garden was a mess. It had been designed to be low maintenance because neither Mum nor Dad liked gardening but low maintenance doesn’t mean zero maintenance. I never did master this part of running a house and I think the neighbours used to fret a bit at how untidy it was.

I went to bed fairly early and it was such a pleasure not to have to worry about Granddad coming into my room without knocking. I remember walking around with nothing on feeling very adventurous.

And then I started to cry. Almost my first real, let it all come out, cry since the accident. When people talk about floods of tears they must have been thinking about me.  I just lay on my bed bashing the pillow as hard as I could saying again and again to Mum and Dad, “Why did you have to leave me to face all this crap on my own?”  This wasn’t some silly game, this wasn’t some horrid phase with a clear end point, this was how it was going to be for as far into the future as I could see!

Eventually I calmed down. And as I lay there thinking I realised that I had a simple choice. Force myself to be a grown-up long enough to finish all my exams and go off to university or give up on all my dreams by being weak and feeble.  I knew I didn’t want to go through life wishing, if only I had done this, that or the other so that first night really was the first day of the rest of my life.

It was what they call a steep learning curve for the first few weeks. My aunt came over to help me with some paperwork jobs that I had no idea how to start and she brokered a “peace treaty” between Nan and Granddad and me. Basically we ignored each other and agreed never to discuss what had happened when I was living with them. This was an agreement they broke later on and this will be part of a later blog entry.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Escaping from Nan and Granddad

It was just after school had closed for the summer that I decided that I was going to have to move out of Nan and Granddad’s house and back into my family home. By now all the paperwork had been sorted and all the tax had been paid so the house was mine.

I had to move out because I simply didn’t feel safe living with Nan and Granddad. I was tired of being battered, both emotionally and physically, by him. The number and severity of the hits I was getting was going up and up and it was just a matter of time before something really serious happened. So I decided to leave and once the decision was made I felt much calmer in myself. Of course I didn’t give either Nan or Granddad any hint at all that I was leaving. I chose a morning when he was at the Bowls Club and she was having her hair done. I just packed everything I had into my little car, drove the short distance to my house, unpacked the car and started the rest of my life.

I left a short note on their kitchen table to say where I was but I didn’t bother explaining why I had left. They never agreed with anything I said so it wasn’t worth the effort. I knew that as soon as they read the note they would come round and sure enough at 12:30 their car arrived. I was hiding upstairs where they couldn’t see me and I stayed there until after lots of door bell ringing and banging and shouting they finally left.

It was so strange being in the house on my own. It felt as if Mum and Dad were just away for a while and that if I was patient I would eventually hear them arrive back. I knew in my head that they were dead but a part of me was still struggling to accept the truth. Strangest of all was going into their bedroom. One of Dad’s astronomy magazines was on the bedside table just as he had left it the morning of the day he was killed.

The phone was still working so I phoned my Aunt – Mum’s sister and my Uncle – Dad’s brother – to tell them what had happened. Well part of what had happened because I didn’t know whose side they were going to be on. It was a little while before I realised that they were 100% on my side – basically once they found out about the lies Granddad had told them and about all the hitting.

I didn’t know very much about running a home and the first few months were very difficult but they were a lot, lot better than feeling scared all the time. And that is how it felt when I was near Granddad. I did know enough to cancel the standing order that paid the rent that Nan and Granddad had been charging me and that was one of the very first jobs I did. I can remember feeling quite grown-up sorting that out on my own.   

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The isolation created by parental bereavement.

There was a time when I worried that I might be overwhelmed with people trying to help me “get over” Mum and Dad’s death. That certainly didn’t happen; it was a lack of support and normal social contact that was so horrible. Neither Nan nor Granddad was in favour of expressing emotions. Their way of mourning for their daughter was to never mention her name and if I mentioned Mum, or, far worse, mentioned Dad, is wasn’t long before I got a warning or a slap or both from Granddad. Even the weekly phone chat with my Mum’s sister was very heavily monitored by Nan.

I had never had a proper boyfriend but I used to get quite a lot of invitations to birthday parties or social trips to the cinema or the pub and if it was an event that needed a partner there was never a shortage of lads from my year at school willing to take on the job. After the accident the invitations pretty much stopped coming. I suppose people thought that I wouldn’t want to come or that I would suddenly burst into tears and spoil things for everybody else. Of course what I really wanted was the chance to feel normal, if just for a few hours, but knowing that a party was happening but that I hadn’t been invited made me feel like a total freak. I almost stopped going on Facebook for this reason. All the pictures of people having a good time just made me feel even more isolated.

Mum and Dad’s friends were the same. I saw lots of them at the funeral but then most of them just vanished and I have had no further contact with them. Mum’s best friend – a good enough friend to be an “auntie” to me – hasn’t had a conversation with me since a week after the funeral!  I see her in town sometimes and although she might say “Oh, hello Sally” it is never anything more than this.

Once I moved out of Nan and Granddad’s house and back into the family home I had inherited things improved a bit. The neighbours knew I was living there on my own and although if I ever needed to ask them for help they were fine they absolutely never initiated contact with me.

In year 13 at school when we were doing small group projects we sometimes used to meet up at somebody’s house to do extra work. It wasn’t long before I realised that one or two of the Mothers were unhappy about their sons being unsupervised in my house. I never dared ask if they worried about what their son might do to me or what I might do to their son!

It wasn’t until I started at university, 18+ months after the accident, that I felt that the social side of my life was starting to get more normal.

Monday, 12 August 2013

How much I loved my Mum and Dad

I came across something I wrote about my Mum and Dad in June 2012 to a friend of mine. What I wrote then is still what I feel now so I’m happy to share it.

I loved my mum and dad. Not all teenagers would say that but I really did love them so much. It was like some utter nightmare when they had to leave me. They were both science teachers but they never worked in the same school. They were both Head of Science so we were fairly well off. They met when they were on their PGCE course and got they got married when the course finished. They always encouraged me with my athletics and it we were running late I used to get changed in the back of the car as were drove along with dad under strict instructions not to look in the mirror! They were always interested in me and me in them and so we had lots of happy shared times together.

Mum was tall and slim (5ft 10 in her 20's) and dad taller still at 6ft 2 which explains the way I look. I know now that they loved each other very much and it would have been so horrible for one to have died and the other survived

Mum had me quite late in life (35) and had such a terrible time while she was pregnant that she said "never again". That is why I am their only child.  Me being so late was a bit strange because Nan had my mum and aunt very young (she was still in her teens). Given what happened I don't know if it was a good thing or not I was an only child. I think we would have been separated - Nan and Granddad moaned at having just me stay so having two of us wouldn't have happened. But I would have had somebody to share the pain.

Mum and dad didn't have many friends (they were a bit nerdy) but the ones they did have were very close. I have always been cross and hurt that apart from coming to the funeral almost none of these friends have ever been in touch with me. Not even a card at Christmas.

We used to go on holiday every summer. I can remember Florida, Cyprus and Malta best of all. We used to do a mixture of cultural and fun things and they were good times. I can remember going topless in Cyprus - because mum was brave enough to I did to. Neither of us had very much to show!

Mum and dad were very progressive and sensible about things like periods. When I started, I was 11, it was all very low key and non-stressful. I was quite OK about telling them both that I had needed to use the supplies kept in the bathroom cabinet. She, a bit later (14?), talked my through how to explore my own body. It was just taken for granted it was something daughters should be taught. When I was 16 all three of us talked a lot about relationships. How sex was for both parties and all sorts like that. I'm so very proud of my mum and dad for teaching me these things!

I don't dream about mum and dad that much which is quite sad. The only one I can remember, I think I have had it 3 times now, happens in a brilliantly lit room, rather like a hospital waiting room, with nothing in the room except 3 chairs around an oval table. Mum and dad are standing on one side of the table and I am on the other but no matter how fast I ran they are on always on the other side to me. Although they know I was at university they still ask me all sorts of questions about what had happened to me since they had died. In the middle of the conversation they just walk over to one of the doors, wave goodbye and leave me behind. It isn't a happy dream.

Mum and Dad wouldn't be pleased at how Nan and Granddad treated me. Mum and Dad never spanked me but I wasn't a naughty girl either so it was easy all round. I didn't have the terrible teens. But Mum and Dad wouldn't be pleased with me that I sometimes seemed happy and cheerful to outsiders when I was actually being beaten, slapped and deprived of food. "You should have spoken up" is what they would have said.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Sally the Life Model – Mum and Dad would have approved!

21st June 2013

Part 1

I expect this will make you sigh and think, "Oh Sally!"

There are lots of Summer Schools on at the university and at the local college at the moment and on Thursday on all the tables in the refectory there was an advert asking for people to act as models for the life-drawing class next Monday. I know my Mum did this several times, I think Dad didn't approve but he was far too sensible to say anything.

My mouth engaged before my brain and I heard myself saying to the other Sally, "I will do it if you will". She agreed and almost before we realised it we were in the Art Department and had signed up to do the 2PM to 5PM session. They were so grateful because they had been let down by booked people at short notice and so were in a real mess. Of course them being so grateful made it feel impossible for us to back out, even if we had wanted to. There are going to be four models, all ladies, the oldest is over 60 and one who was 7 months pregnant.

And yes life-drawing does mean that both of us will be naked, nude and bare and with strangers staring at us. I knew you would sigh! :)

We were given the instruction book so we know what is expected of us. Some of the poses are just for a couple of minutes, some might be a long as 15 minutes and we do one long pose that is broken up into shorter blocks. Standing, sitting and lying down poses so lots to keep the artists busy. We were told that we get changed in a different room and come in to the studio wearing a dressing gown and we don't take that off until the session is ready to start. Some of the typical poses are surprisingly modest given that we are bare, one or two are not modest at all but they do these at the end of the session and the models can opt out if they want.

When we got home Stewart (my boyfriend) and Mark (the other Sally’s boyfriend) laughed a lot but obviously though we were mad. We decided to have a trial run just with them to get some idea what it felt like to do the posing. They sat in the lounge and we got undressed in the hall.  It felt rather strange walking in but not nasty. One thing gave me the giggles, for the first couple of minutes Stewart hardly looked at me and all his attention was on the other Sally but with Mark it was the other way round. Novelty value I suppose?  I think I could have been wearing flippers on my feet and Mark wouldn't have noticed since his eyes certainly didn't go down that far. To be fair Mark has been a wonderful friend to me and if he enjoyed the show so what! 

We tried out some of the poses as illustrated in the book and we decided that it is harder to stand still for long periods than we imagined. Once or twice I could feel my heart thumping at the pose I was in. It is the sitting poses that are scariest and the standing poses that are easiest.

24th June 2013

The event room - It was warm without being hot but it wasn't particularly clean and I don't think it could have been cleaned between the morning class and our arrival for the afternoon group. The changing room for the models was spotless as were the attached toilets. Score 18/20

The pre-course briefing and audition - We arrived just before 1PM to find there were only three models including us. We felt a bit sorry for the very pregnant lady at first but she remained cheerful right through the afternoon. We got undressed and put on the gown we had been given. We went through to the studio and promptly took the gown off again. There were 4 teaching staff there, two men and two ladies and we went through the main features of posing. As two of us were total newcomers I think that perhaps the staff should have been a bit more supportive and encouraging and perhaps explained things a bit more to us?  We very quickly realised that it was our lady bits we were thinking about during each pose and that our breasts and bums just had to look after themselves. Also being clean shaven down there isn't exactly an advantage for us in the "lets stay modest" competition.

I had been taken on as a model to demonstrate all the moves that athletes use so I went through all the different poses. The standing poses are easy enough to do and not too revealing or stressful to do. The various sitting poses were the problem partly because if you need to hold a pose for quite a long time without moving then things like crossing your legs cannot be done however much you want to do it!!  Everything went OK until the last two poses I did for the 4 staff. The first groin stretching exercise was OK but was the first time that my heart was really thumping away because of the male spectators. Then I did second stretching exercise which the boss banned as rather too extreme. He did this REALLY sensitively and well so that I didn't feel too stupid about doing it. You might sigh though!

Another kind thing they did was when the two men left the two ladies gave us some survival tips. Face the ladies and ignore the men is the golden rule for a first-timer. Concentrate on what you are doing and not what other people are seeing or thinking was the other key tip. Score 16/20

The students – There were 13 of them, 5 men and 8 women. 12 of them had easels that they set up - one just used a pad that he held in his hand. At the end of each section we put our gowns back on and had a chat with them. 12 of the 13 were very kind and genuinely appreciative of what we were doing and forgiving of any mistakes caused by our inexperience. They scored 20/20. Most of the time it was almost fun doing the posing. Go through the poses in order, just decide which way to face and think peaceful thoughts.

But the bloke with the artists pad was creepy and made me and Sally quite uneasy. One time for example I glanced down towards the artists (moving eyes but not head!) about half way through a 10 minute pose expecting to see the 2 ladies and the man with the green paint on his sleeve who had been in front of me at the start only to find the creepy man sitting on the floor in front of them. I could see his head seemingly between my knees (he was about 2 metres away really) and it didn't feel very nice at all. He scored 0/20.

Any problems? - Apart from Mr Creepy the only real problem I had was entirely and 100% my fault. I let my concentration wonder and turned what would have been a fairly stressful pose for a first-timer into one that was far worse. I then made matters worse again by not being sensible enough to say that I didn't feel comfortable doing the pose and just not doing it. What makes me even crosser was that it was the last pose of a session so if I had just focussed for just 6 more minutes I could have had a short break and so got my brain in order.

It was so silly because I had done the gluteal stretch OK and was feeling quite proud of myself. Two of the three students with the best view of my ladies bits were ladies themselves which had helped and I wasn't too near the edge of the platform so I wasn't in glorious close-up. But for some mad reason when I got up to move to a new position I didn't check who would have the best view of me and because I had said to myself "oh, the stage is a bit dirty there I better go here instead" not only did I end up closer to the students than for any other pose but I ended up with three male artists including Mr Creepy straight in front of me. But the final part of my stupidity was the worse. I sat down and did the groin stretch and was fully in position before I looked up and realised what I had done wrong. It seemed a very long 6 minutes! One of the lady members of staff I think must have realised my mistake and she stood behind the men and I imagine that if she thought I was getting distressed she would said something to them. But it was my own silly fault. But I'm proud now that I did the whole 6 minutes and I will keep one little fear about that pose to myself. (How cryptic!)

If you have any words like "There, there Sally I'm sure it wasn't as bad as you imagine" now might be good time to say it!

When the students had all left we got our informal feedback and our grades. The other Sally got 18/20, I got 16 and the pregnant lady 16. The pass mark to be offered work in future was 12 so we are now officially on the university approved list. I then lost extra one mark because of my silly mistake right at the end which was fair enough.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Anger chews you up then spits you out again.

I’m not usually an angry person so when I’m asked to describe the emotions I felt in the weeks and months after Mum and Dad were killed I always find myself feeling quite surprised when I have to put anger right up near the top of the list.

Some minor thing would go wrong at school or Granddad would do or say something particularly nasty and the anger would just rise up inside me. I used to feel so cross with Mum and Dad for leaving me behind to face all the crap on my own! As the anger died away it would be replaced by guilt. Guilt that I was feeling such negative feelings about the two people I had loved best in the world. Guilt that they had died for such a trivial reason when I had survived almost without a scratch. Guilt at feeling that I should have been strong enough to cope with what had happened but knowing deep down that I wasn’t.

There were two quite different types of anger in my life. The first was directed towards Mum and Dad. I knew it was irrational and unfair to be cross with them and it was only the fact that these spells of anger were short-lived that made them both bearable and forgivable.

The anger I felt towards Granddad was there most of the time I was in his house. Each time he hit me, each time he said something negative about my Dad, each time he marched into my room without knocking, each time a meal I had paid for didn’t appear because of some alleged “crime” I had committed the anger grew a bit more.

Just occasionally Nan would sense that I was reaching boiling point and she would have a little talk at me. Not with me, at me. She found it very difficult to see things from my perspective after so many years of living under his control and any criticism of him by either of us was totally forbidden. When Granddad was out of the house I used to try to talk to this educated and articulate person about how I was feeling but it was like trying to describe colour to a blind person. Nan recognised the words but my message never got through.

Clearly I had to make some alternative provision for anger management!