342 days

A friend messaged me yesterday asking how I was, what with it being May. This is what I wrote back.

I miss her so much. I miss chatting with her. I miss seeing her live her life and do the hundreds of small daily things. I miss seeing her interact with her daughter. I miss the person my niece was for her, and with her. I miss her support and her advice. I miss entertaining those hopeful thoughts of me and my two sisters hanging out until we are little old ladies. She is missing, and it hurts. And I miss her being the big sister at the helm. I feel like I’m steering a ship that is broken into four or five different pieces, they all want to float off in different directions and I’m hanging onto them together with just my toes and fingernails.

But all things considered, I’m pretty good. How are you?

A lot has happened in the last 282 days, but every time I thought about writing it was obvious that the one thing that hadn’t happened was me moving forward. We’ve had elections, festivities, riots, vaccinations, school, new homes, new pets, new family members, more death admin- always more of that, some eye surgeries, more deaths but this time my friends’ loved ones. I’m still where I was on day 59.

I’ve been busy, so I was putting off grieving until I had time to really get stuck into it. You might not think you can put off grief, but actually no, my powers of procrastination are strong. Tears come but you’ve got a phone call scheduled, it’s your turn at the post office, there’s an email that needs to be written, a form to be filled in, questions to be answered, a social outing organized to keep the people you love sane. Somebody or something needs you to hold it together and focus on them, so you do. Then you get used to doing it, et voila! The beginner’s guide to putting off grief.

Procrastinating grief though is a bit different from procrastinating writing that elusive novel, or sorting out the kitchen cupboards, or ignoring your taxes. Eventually you accept you’re never going to be a novelist, you lived comfortably with the knowledge that there are packets of custard mix on the top shelf that are older than your kids, and the IRS will send you a bill after a few years because they caved and did the calculations for you.

Procrastinating grief works the same as putting off trying to be physically healthy. You eat shit and you don’t exercise, and you muddle along for ages knowing that you’re not in tip top condition but still being able to get up every day. However there are warning signs, things ache, you never feel really good, let alone great, and there are slight twinges inside that make you wonder if something is seriously wrong but you keep procrastinating until boom! Hello heart attack/ stroke/ big scary disease.

My warning signs have been popping up for a while, cracks are definitely showing.

I get intrusive memories of the last two days of her life. For want of a better word I have called them flashbacks but that’s not accurate, I’m not a character in a film lost in the past unaware of what’s going on around them. Far from it, I am still acutely aware of the idiot in the BMW who didn’t check his blind spot before swerving in to my lane, harrumph. Instead these are replays of my sister’s death that have the bad manners to show up announced and demand my attention. They are dickhead memories. If all my memories were at a party together, these would be the gross drunk guy who smells of stale booze and sweat, and breathes over you while spouting self-pitying atrocities against his ex.

Sleeping has also been a problem. For 10 months I didn’t sleep more than 4 -6 hours and woke up throughout the night. Miscellaneous pains and twinges kept coming and going. The people who know me well can see I’m broken, and I notice in myself I’m either faintly hysterical or tired and flat in my speech. Words and sentences don’t come out right, and I’m grateful when people know what I’m talking about without me having to try and explain it a second, or third, time.

It was my sister’s birthday in March, the day itself didn’t upset me. We had quite a jolly trip to the cemetery if truth be known, lots of hugs and giggles. People keep saying that holidays and birthdays will be hard but they’re no harder than any other day. (Christmas also very delightful, for all the usual reasons: food, presents, games, TV.) What I find hard, is the month or two before the first anniversary of the death because what you remember then every day is the stuff that happened before they died, hospitals, sickness, precious moments that you wasted, missed opportunities. It is excruciating. It makes me brittle and fragile. I knew it was coming because I’ve been through it before, but there were other factors heaping on more stress this time so the cracks didn’t stay as cracks, and 6 weeks ago I ended up having a panic attack, a really big one. Hyperventilating; spots in my vision; tingling and numbness from upper arms to fingertips, felt like it lasted for a fucking long time. Oddly enough, it seems to have helped with some stuff, I was so wiped afterwards I started sleeping a bit better – not my full 8 hours just yet, but at least 6 most nights, a regular Sleeping Beauty.

I’m trying to do the right things, self-care etc.. I went to see a doctor, I have numbers for therapists (ok yes, I know that’s not the same as actually talking to therapists, but it’s a big step from “Good grief, I’m far too busy for therapy”), I make sure I see friends now we’re vaccinated, I even exercise a bit.

I don’t feel awful, I just don’t feel different.


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