Saturday, 31 May 2014

It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I wonder?.

In those early days after the accident I used to feel restless and sad almost all the time and when Granddad’s grumbling got unendurable I would jump into my car and seek solace by sitting on a conveniently placed wooden bench just a few yards from where Mum and Dad were buried. I would just sit there – not crying - but feeling totally overwhelmed by all that had happened. It is probably a good thing that the cemetery wasn’t on a road that I would normally use because I would have found it too difficult to just drive past without stopping. It wasn’t on the direct route between Granddad’s house and my school or the shops so unless I chose to make a special trip I wouldn’t usually get within 400 yards of the cemetery gates.

For the first few months after the accident I used to visit their grave several times a week. It was about a year before the permanent granite headstone was put into position so in those early days all there was to mark the spot was a small wooden cross with an engraved brass tablet. The cemetery has a small car park at the entrance that rarely had more than a couple of council trucks in it. I would park my car there and I would then walk down the “Official Vehicles Only” path that ran the length of the site. The older graves were all near the entrance and it was rather creepy to walk past the rows of badly maintained stones inscribed “Gone but not forgotten”.

Just being near Mum and Dad was quite therapeutic. Sometimes it would only take a few minutes for me to calm down but my record time was well over an hour. The worst part of the visit was always walking away from the grave to go back to my car – it felt as if I was leaving them behind when all I really wanted to do was to be with them.

It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I'm not sure I agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never quite gone. As the months and years went by the frequency of my visits to the cemetery declined and it was quite a shock the first time I realised that I hadn’t visited the grave for a month!

Now – some 4 years after the accident – I am finally comfortable driving past the cemetery gates without pulling into the car park. As I pass by, providing I am on my own, I will always say something like, “Hello you two. I’m just off to Laura’s house to do some coursework.” or “I’ve got an athletics event today and I’m running a bit late.” If somebody else is with me in the car I have to make do with thinking the same message.

Perhaps one day I will need to move away from my current home town and my visits to their grave will become even less frequent. I am calm enough about that because I’m sure my Mum and Dad wouldn’t expect me to base my career plans on the proximity of my chosen place of work to the municipal cemetery where they “rest in peace”.

I like to think that a more sensible Sally has taken over. Mum and Dad are not in any cemetery: they are in every cell in my body and memories of them live on inside my head. They loved me far too much to want me to fill my life with sadness or regrets or thoughts of what might have been. They would have wanted me to live my life to the full spending time on my studies, my athletics and my modelling not sitting in a graveyard feeling sad.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Time for a change - from undergraduate to post graduate

I didn't like the first version of this blog entry but because I was so busy with revising for my final exams at university that I posted it anyway. I was rather cross with myself at the time so now exams are over - rah! - I am reposting the entry.

All the changes and all the new material is in red so people can find it more easily. Some other material has been deleted.

Now that I am coming to the end of my time at university my mind is occupied with positive and forward looking thoughts. I think I am now starting on the third stage of mourning for Mum and Dad. The first stage was the nightmare stage where every day was a struggle, the second stage, at least for me, was the stage where the pain had diminished enough for normal life to resume and the third stage is where you feel you can "move on with your life" almost, but not quite, as if the bereavement hadn't happened.

My university exams started on the 19th May and the torture went on for five days. I had been revising pretty well flat out for the previous six weeks and I went into the exams thinking that I knew about as much as I ever would know! I had done lots of old papers, gone to all the revision seminars and spent hours and hours in the university library so I felt that if I didn’t get the result I wanted at least I knew that I have done my best. If things go to plan from September 2014 onwards I am going to be studying for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education with the intention of becoming a science teacher in an 11 to 18 school.

It was rather sad having the final lecture on the course because I suspected that it might never happen again that all the familiar faces would be in one place at the same time. I knew a couple of the overseas students were going back home and that they will not be coming to the graduation ceremony in November. I don’t suppose I will see either of them again.

On the last day we each nominated a member of the group who we felt we didn’t know to talk to for at least 30 minutes. It was good fun talking to Lucy. I don’t think I had ever had a meaningful conversation with her before and I think she and I could have been good friends if things had just worked out a bit differently. Her surname was at the opposite end of the alphabet to mine so when “practical partners” were allocated she was never in the same group as me. Such are the blind workings of fate. We hope to keep in touch via social media.

Graduating from university is an important “rite of passage” and for most of my friends it marks the point where they (finally!) leave their family home to live a more autonomous life than they have done previously. They will be treading the same path that I was forced down when Mum and Dad were killed – except that they will be doing the journey without so much of the ghastly trauma that fate imposed on me. I am pleased to be moving on - I enjoyed university but real life was still intruding rather a lot so perhaps I didn't get quite as much out of the student experience as I could have done.

Do I have any regrets about my time at university? On the positive side I think I did a degree course that I really enjoyed at a university that felt right for me given my fragile emotional state when these key decisions had to be made. I also think I got the work/play balance about right: I enjoyed all the athletics (and I will be keeping that up) and the regular life-modelling helped pay the bills.

Four of us shared a house for the last two years and that worked spectacularly well. I am pleased and relieved in equally measure that all four of us will have at least one more year together. My long-term boyfriend and I will be doing a PGCE and the other two will be studying for their Doctorate. So no major regrets then except perhaps the feeling that there were other course members who might have turned into good friends if I had been able to live in Halls.

The four of us are going to have to sort out what we are going to do between the end of the exams and results day and also what we do between results day and starting the next stage of our lives in September. I think we all need a holiday.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Will I ever see my parents again?

Bereavement Support Groups are a good example of something that most people hope they never have to join and it is certainly true that before the accident in which Mum and Dad were killed I was like most teenagers in knowing virtually nothing about them.

Looking back I shouldn’t have allowed myself to be pressurised into attending the local group before I felt ready. I was still in the totally frantic and stressed stage of mourning and the last thing I wanted to hear was other peoples’ problems! Perhaps it would have been better if I hadn’t been the youngest person there by over 20 years or if the most talkative person in the group hadn’t still been in deep mourning for her Mother who had died nearly 30 years before. I was still in the middle of the “battling through one day at a time” phase and the thought of years more of the same was just too horrible to contemplate.

Each week I used to be practically kidnapped by my Nan and Granddad who would drive me into town and deliver me to the meeting room door. They would then be lurking around outside at the advertised time for the end of the meeting. After a couple of weeks I decided my best tactic was to march in, wait for Nan and Granddad to drive off and then walk along to the local pub.

It was at my first or second meeting that the organiser asked me if I expected to see my Mum and Dad again and this it is a question that still pops into my brain from time to time even after 4 years.

My Mum and Dad were scientists and were not religious. But they were kind, hard-working, honest, and truthful - all things that Christians aspire to demonstrate in their daily lives. I would like to think that my parents deserved something better than being killed by a speeding driver who was on the wrong side of the road!

There is one thing about which I have no doubt whatsoever. Several times – usually at some crisis point in my life – Mum and Dad have been “with me” in my house. I will never believe that it was just coincidence that there was a thunder storm on the anniversary of the accident or that when I had a life-changing decision to make that a feather flow against the window. They had always said that was the ways they would let me know that they were still watching over me.

Mum and Dad are inside me. Parts of them are inside every cell in my body and surprisingly often I find myself saying or doing something in just the way that they would have done it. So although they are dead they also live on in me.

This leads me neatly to the final point I would like to make.  My Mum and Dad loved me far too much to want me to keep on being sad about them dying. I absolutely know that above all 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.

By battling on I think I honour my Mum and Dad’s memory far more effectively than wallowing in misery as some bereaved people I meet seem to do. I will not allow myself to be labelled as “that girl who never really got over the death of her parents.”!