Life is not a Rehearsal.
Well. I don’t know. I’m beginning to think it possibly is. But not so much for the next life, perhaps more for whatever is coming along next in this one.
I was definitely a child who ‘over-felt’ things; i have a clear memory of weeping disconsolately, aged 7, on the edge of an olive green bath for two babies i had just heard of, had never met and never seen, who i discovered had died in a way that was entirely outside anything i needed to worry about. But i felt their loss rather keenly, mostly i think because i could only imagine that them being lost had rent a hole in the life of a person i loved.
When i was 18 a beautiful, full of life young man who i liked enormously, died in grim and dreadful circumstances; 17 years of life just smashed away and lost in a moment. I was utterly taken apart by that, well out of proportion, in the eyes of plenty of people. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was just a strong reaction to the reality that sometimes bad things do happen, perhaps it was just that it occurred at a moment when i was ripe for a change from child to adult and that particular event happened to gatecrash that particularÂ time, sending it spinning off into an orbit i was not yet equipped to live in.
I don’t know. When i think back, i remember mostly just being raging about it, really, really angry that someone i liked, that all my friends liked, that was loved by people i cared about, who was full of life and fun and naughtiness and who i had grown up with, could be snatched away without any sort of due process. It seemed incomprehensible to me that fate could be so indiscriminate – that someone nice might died while someone nasty might not. I was dreadfully sad and i lost too much time thinking it was wrong to move on. It was April and the trees and flowers were bursting into life and no one, not even control freak me, could force the world to go back on its decision to remove N from life.
None of that is to say i wasn’t genuinely sad about him. He had been quite a force in our village, we moved in many of the same circles of Scouts and pubs and friends, had lived in the same village, knew the same people, been on holidays together, i was just as good friends with 2 of his brothers as i was with him. He was part of a loose network of people i was comfortable with, much outside the world of my school which i was quite uncomfortable with, but still part of that. I’d seen him in a pub for a drink a couple of weeks before, i’d congratulated him on passing his driving test and told him, dammit, to be careful in his new car.
One of the most wrenching images in my mind is something someone told me, not something i saw, of his parents walking hand in hand through the village early the day after. I remember thinking “i don’t know how they can bear it” and then later, becoming part of their family for a year after i went out with his brother, realising that actually, there wasn’t much bearing it at all. Or much choice about bearing it, whether they liked it or not. I remember going to that most wretched of funerals and holding hands with the boy from across the road, my eyes locked with the those of another lad opposite, who had shared a holiday with me and N. I remember thinking that almost as bad as feeling sad was witnessing seeing other people so sad and having absolutely nothing meaningful or useful to do for them or say to them.
Death, then, made me feel so powerless. I felt powerless all year long, locked inside that family – until me and the brother worked out that the only way forward was to move on and apart. And we all blew apart, all those friends who shared a hot and heady summer in the afterglow of school and N’s death, before going on to new lives. I don’t think it is any co-incidence that we’ve not really stayed in touch. Much too painful to remember a beautiful hot summer of late nights, love and laughter all framed with the bitterness of having lost something we barely even noticed we had until he was gone.
I remembered them all a few years later when i met my Gran-in-law. Within a few minutes she had mentioned her daughter, 15 years after her death. I wasn’t very old, only 21 or so but i think of that moment often. I remember thinking “Oh my god. Poor N’s mum. That pain never goes away.” It was a horrible thought that grief for a lost child never goes away, only gets so that you can talk about it.
No funeral or death has ever been quite so staggeringly bad as that first real brush with unfairness. Deaths from old age seem fair and kind by comparison and even ones which should have hurt – 2 mums i liked from my village who were connected to that hot summer, 2 school friends who chose to kill themselves, even the college friend who died just as N had done. I fled from all those really, particularly the college friend, not really able to face seeing people in pain. I think, for whatever reason, i feel grief too much, too fully and i can’t find any rationality in it. I think it comes down to the control freak in me – it makes me angry not to be able to stop that for the people who die or the people who hurt. For whatever reason, i’m unable to face it as my husband does, who until now had most certainly had the greater reason to hate death and fate, having lost his mother as a child. He seems to have an ability to face death as part of life, accept it, grieve in his own way and then move on, taking something peaceful with him, instead of carrying blistering coals. I don’t know how he does it, but i do admire it. And i’m trying to learn.
Four years ago today was the worst day of my life; death again and combined with rage and guilt and regret and despair – loss without the right to grieve, hurt without hope of repair. I sank as low, morally and spiritually, as i could ever go. I do not think it will ever be possible to cry as much as i did then, or for so long. I do not think i can ever crumble so hard, into such unfixable pieces, as i did then. I thought of those mothers and envied them their right to grieve and show and feel their loss. April again. Life bursting everywhere but not in me and the only thing that seemed possible was to somehow exist until life went away. It seemed as if, in one fleeting moment where i thought “hmm.. have i counted wrong… could i be…?” and then dismissed it, i brought my world to a crashing halt through no one’s fault but my own. I found myselfÂ on this day, the very worst of mothers for the very best of reasons. The worst of mothers because i tried to do the best for what i already had.
And now this. Freddie. A darling, wanted beautiful boy, a son, one i wanted and needed and begged for and grew and loved and adored. One we all wanted. Life and death again – and i can’t stop the hurt for any of the people i love.
I can’t help thinking that the day when i dismissed my counting inaccuracies wasn’t leading me to 23/4/06 at all. It was leading me here. Without that day, those other days would not have happened. Without that, Freddie would not have come into being because it would, or would not, have happened some other month and been some other child. So that error has led me here, ready if unwilling to face this, knowing that truthfully i know only too well that ‘this too shall pass’ and that i will recover. That we all will and all must. Because i have already been here – and i know that one day i will be able to look back and see it all for what it was. And will have moved on enough not to weep. That i have to teach my children that the dead do not admire people who stop living when they do, or thank them for it.
A beautiful boy. Freddie. Freddie who i would not choose to forget, would not choose to erase, would not choose to never have met. Freddie who showed me yet again that sometimes you have to do what is best for your children, even if it unbearably painful to yourself. Freddie who gave me, among his other gifts to me, permanent rightful entry to the unenviable club of women who have lost children. Freddie who has shown me, with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, that one event always seems to turn out to be simply part of another, another lesson waiting to be learned.
Freddie who gave me back April, the month in which he lived.