Saturday, 29 November 2014

Why and when you sometimes need to "run like hell"!

A grown-up friend of mine shared this thought with me this week – “People can be divided into two groups, those who divide people into two groups and those who don’t.” 

And his observation made me look at the world around me with a different perspective. On my teacher training course (a Post Graduate Certificate in Education or PGCE) his homily can be rewritten as, “Course members can be divided into two groups, those with one or more parents who were teachers and those that don’t have this advantage.” My Mum and Dad were both working as Head of Science (in different schools) when they were killed and this meant that I was brought up surrounded by the jargon and professional ethics of the teaching profession. I never considered any career other than teaching and in a strange sort of way that worked to my advantage when I was orphaned. 

When my happy and secure world was blown apart I still knew what I wanted to do and what I needed to do to reach my goal. Hiding away under the duvet and not bothering with school work was never really an option that I considered because doing that would have meant that I was letting myself and, more importantly, Mum and Dad down. 

Through all the trauma of emotional, financial and physical abuse that I received from the demon spawn know as my Granddad I had the image of becoming a teacher in my mind and that helped me survive. 

When I started on my PGCE I wasn’t surprised to find that some of the trainee teachers came from teaching families. What did surprise me was the size of this group – far greater than you would get by chance. In the first few weeks of teaching lots of teaching jargon is introduced and you could see the cohort sub-dividing into two groups, pretty much based on their family background. My boy-friend is fiendishly intelligent but he is a first generation teacher and he really struggled for most of the first teaching block because the lecturers used specialist terminology without explaining it properly. It seemed ironic that teacher trainers would do this because it is exactly the opposite of what “proper” teachers would do in their daily work. 

This subdivision into two groups is also something I have noticed in the assorted bereavement groups I have attended over the years. Attendees can be divided into two groups, “those who attend in order to get better and those who attend in order to get worse.” Even the students I meet at the monthly group organised by the university demonstrate this division. Some want to know about survival strategies and they look towards old-timers like me as examples of the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”. Other are content to share their sadness but nothing more – now this is understandable in the early days after a death of a parent but some don’t seem to have moved on in several years and I find that so sad. 

In the adult focussed group this division is even more marked. There will be people who seem to wear their sadness and their mourning almost as a badge of honour and loyalty to their dear departed. Getting better and being able to move on is almost regarded as being disloyal and I have met a few who have never recovered from a death that happened 30+ years ago. The most extreme example I can remember is a lady who was the dominant personality in a Worcestershire based support group. She acted as if she was newly bereaved and it was only later I found out that she had lost her Mother ten years previously when she was 40 and when her Mum was 76! 

If you find yourself in a group like this then in the words of the famous group Pink Floyd you should “Run like Hell”!


Sunday, 16 November 2014

You don't know how strong you are until the only choice you have is to be strong.

This weekend I collected another entry in my new experiences collection – I visited my Granddad in prison.

I did say, not so long ago, that as far as I was concerned he could rot there and that I would never visit the man who abused me emotionally, financially and physically after the death of my parents. So what made me change my mind? 

Money is the answer. Before I can sue him I have to be able to show that I tried to “settle out of court” and the quickest and easiest way of doing this is to come up with a number of proposals and then present them to him. Of course I didn’t go on my own, my “no win no fee” attorney (USA) / solicitor (UK) went with me and she did most of the talking. 

There is lots of paperwork involved in a prison visit to say nothing of all the waiting around and being searched once we arrived at the prison. But the prison staff were pleasant enough and I think they appreciate that the visitors haven’t done anything wrong and so they try to make the business as painless as possible. 

My solicitor gave me some advice before we spoke to Granddad, “You cannot change somebody else's behaviour; you can only change your response to it.” Granddad hates me but he hates being ignored even more and he hates “not being treated with respect” worst of all. So the advice I was given was not to respond to any provocation from him and to remain calm and focussed on getting him to sign at least one of the settlement documents. Granddad had been told in writing prior to the visit that if we could not agree on any of the possible settlement proposals then a court case would be the next stage “without any further communication between the parties.” 

I don’t Granddad has learned anything from his time in prison. He is just as bossy as ever and still in denial that he did anything wrong. He doesn’t deny what he did to me just that he thinks he was entitled to do it. He is a very strange man and I think he is very dangerous. 

Within the first 30 seconds he refused any proposal that involved paying me any money from his many bank accounts and I thought the whole visit had been a waste of time! But suddenly he did agree to pay me all his monthly work pension for the “entire time he is in prison”. I couldn’t believe he agreed to this because it will cost him far more than the other alternatives would have cost him. The solicitor gave me a gentle tap with her foot to warn me to keep quiet while he was ranting on – so she had also worked out that I was getting a good deal.  

Once it was all signed and witnessed we left and I will not be visiting him again. We think that he is planning an appeal against his conviction and so he thinks that he will not be paying the monthly payments to me for very long. He is so stupid if he believes this because he entered a guilty plea at the trial and so how is now going to claim he is innocent after all! That will teach him to sack his own solicitor and represent himself.  

You don't know how strong you are until the only choice you have is to be strong.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Some thoughts on getting married!

My boyfriend and I went to the wedding of mutual friends of ours last weekend. It was a wonderfully happy occasion and as far as we could tell everything went exactly according to plan. We had a good time, we met lots of friends and we both ate and drank rather too much!

Somehow though the whole event has left me feeling a bit sad. So much of what goes on a wedding is either done by or organised by the bride’s parents. Every key stage of the event involves them – from sending out the invitations, to escorting the bride down the aisle, to the speeches at the reception and to then paying the bill it is the bride’s parents who are very much “front and centre”.  But when you are an orphan none of these wedding traditions can be done. Dad’s brother has offered to take over my Dad’s role when it is my turn to get married but it just isn’t going to be the same. My Mum and Dad not being at my wedding is always going to be the “elephant in the corner” and I worry that it is going to spoil the day if I simply ignore their absence. If you have watched the film Gladiator you might remember the scene right at the end where Juba says goodbye to his dead friend.  At some point I might paraphrase what he says, perhaps as a part of the toast to “absent friends”, “Mum and Dad if you are looking down at us today remember what Juba says in Gladiator "I will see you again... but not yet... not yet!"
On a happier note I did learn a couple of useful things for when (if?) my turn comes.  Never check the suitability of a venue for the wedding reception when the room to be used is empty of furniture! The room will look much larger and what might seem OK could well turn out to be almost impossibly crowded once tables, chairs and guests have been included. It is perfectly possible to have a lovely wedding without spending a fortune. The happy couple should keep asking themselves, “Are my guests really going to care?” Each and every decision should come down to whether the guests like it, appreciate it, or will notice it at all.

There is still no progress with either set of Grand Parents. As everybody expected Mum's Dad is being mega difficult. He is pretending that he hasn’t got any money to pay me and that “… seeing him in prison should be more than enough compensation.”  I’ve been told that he expected to be sent to a Category D (open) prison and he is furious that this isn’t going to happen. He claims that I have “poisoned people” against him. He can rot where he is a far as I am concerned. Dad's parents are perfectly nice but are hopeless at making decisions - they still don't know where they want to live so they haven't even started "house-hunting"!