Back in the narrative

Andy and I believed strongly that experiences of life were as important a part of our children's upbringing as their formal education.  Despite the limitations of respite and the need to manage Daisy's care we were still doggedly determined to make sure that our other three children were able to have a childhood rich with experiences and where possible the chance to visit new places and meet new people.

I promised Andy when he died that I would still do that, I would still ensure that our children saw the world and experienced life.

Last week Xanthe and I went to New York for a short break.  It occurred to me that this was the longest we had spent together on our own since Daisy had been born.  What a wonderful opportunity.  We were celebrating Xanthe's recent 18th birthday, fulfilling one of our plans, a mum and daughter, girls only holiday in NYC.

We had a wonderful time; cycling around Brooklyn, visiting the Flea Market in Hell's Kitchen, eating delicious food in Chelsea, walking the High Line.  We have always tried to see the authentic side of the cities we visit and steer clear of the tourist areas as much as possible, we sped through Times Square and our views of the Statue of Liberty came from the deck of the free Staten Island ferry.

We also had a very, very big treat lined up while in New York.  Last year, only a few months after Andy died, Xan and I began to plan our trip.  We found ourselves on a website advertising available tickets for the sold out Broadway show Hamilton.  There were two tickets on offer for good seats on the Saturday night of our stay.  I had a credit card and I could hear Andy's voice in my head saying "do it! life is too short", there may also have been a few glasses of wine involved .  Before I knew it I had paid more than I had ever paid in my life for two seats to see the show that Xanthe and I had only dreamt about seeing.

As we took our seats in the Richard Rogers Theatre on Broadway on the Saturday night of our trip we had to pinch ourselves.  We were here!  We were at Hamilton!

Sitting, waiting for the show to start I had so many mixed emotions.  Only a few weeks previously  I didn't even know if I was going to be able to make the trip at all.  I had booked and paid for everything without having Daisy's respite set up for while we were away.  I was trying to work out contingency plans for what I would do if Daisy was ill and I could not make the trip, what if Daisy was ill while we were in the US?

Daisy had deteriorated so quickly, what if that had all happened when we were away?  I would not have been able to get back in time.  Somehow it just all confirmed to me that she had almost chosen the right time, after all of Andy's anniversaries, after Christmas and her birthday so that we could have those final memories.  She did not linger and that was good.  It meant that I was free to go away with Xanthe, free to relax after all.

Now for the first time in 12 years I was away from home and able to switch off at long last.  Jules was staying with a friend, the only thing I had to worry about was the same thing any parent would worry about, would my older son take the dog out for a walk?  Would the kitchen be a bombsite on my return? Would he have a party in my absence?  (I had already briefed neighbours to keep an eye on things just in case).

Distance really does allow you to process things.  It's  incredible, in 13 months our family went from 6 to 4.  We had to go through 2 big funerals, 2 big memorials, we had to deal with everyone else's grief at our loss as well as processing our own feelings.  I had to hold my children through two significant bereavements.

In a short space of time I had become both a widow and a bereaved parent.

There's a song in Hamilton that really resonates, it comes after Alexander Hamilton's son, Phillip, dies, it's called It's Quiet Uptown and it describes the fallout of losing a child.....

There are moments that the words don't reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
Then push away the unimaginable

That's it.  It's unimaginable.  When I allow myself to really reflect I can understand other people's horror and shock when I tell them my story.  To lose my husband after nursing him through terminal cancer then just over a year later to switch off my youngest child's life support and stay strong for my other children.

It's unimaginable.

I have moments when I feel so low that getting out of bed and functioning is such an effort but I guess the difference between giving into it and getting on with it is that I accept and acknowledge what has happened but  try not to let it consume me totally.  Some days all I need is to spend a time binge watching Netflix (which I now think should be scientifically proven as a very therapeutic exercise) or over-indulging in too much chocolate/cake/gin/whatever the children have left hanging around. Most of the time I just have to get up and keep going, keep functioning.  The children need me, other people need me, but most of all I need to be productive.  I don't wallow, I'm a do-er. 

With the hugest effort I will pull on my running shoes or wheel out my bike or dive into a swimming pool.  It doesn't come easy but I know that once those exercise endorphins kick in I will feel better and I can keep moving forward.

There's another parallel with Hamilton that I only realised when we got home.  Alexander Hamilton dies in a duel, not long after his son has died.  His wife, Eliza,  is left a both a widow and a bereaved parent, she lives for many years afterwards and gets to work to tell his story, continue his work and protect his legacy.  The final song in the show is called "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story".  

Eliza sings a line in this song "I put myself back in the narrative", I guess that's what I am doing.....

Through writing and speaking and telling our story.  By choosing to remain involved I am staying in the narrative.  

I'm sure that must be how Eliza coped because that's certainly how I am coping, by writing, by doing, by sharing, by putting myself back in the narrative rather than fading away and sitting at home doing nothing.

It's not easy, the effort is huge, but it's my way of processing the unimaginable.

Oh, by the way, I even managed to pull my running shoes on while in New York.  I took part in a 10K race around Central Park - after all can there be a better way to see the sites?

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