How long do we live?

Clea1

Today, I start 16 weeks of long service leave. Last week, Clea’s brothers turned 12 years old. In 10 days’ time, we will leave for Chile, Bolivia and Peru. And in about five weeks time, I will be 50 years old (somewhere in Chile).

Today, a milestone has been reached which I was hoping never to reach. I have been dreading this time for a very long time.

I now know how long a life is or can be. I have been counting the weeks since Clea’s death. About now, possibly from today, Clea will start being dead longer than she was alive. She lived for six and three-quarter years, less a few days, and she has been dead for that same amount of time.

Six and three-quarter years is 351 weeks which is about 2,460 days (give or take a leap year).

It seems very unfair that once I get to 50 I will have lived for 2,600 weeks (more weeks than Clea’s days); it makes 351 weeks look short indeed.

Many things have happened in the past 351 weeks but I have missed my daughter every single day. Missing her is an indescribable ache, hole, pain, whatever deep in my psyche. It grabs my throat and wakes me in the night with a fear that I have done something so terrible that I can’t even bring my mind to contemplate what that may be.

I used to be so scared of losing my memories of Clea. I would wake each morning going over the details of her skin, her face, her body. I would try to remember the details of her short life. I have accepted that my memories have changed and that I will lose some of the detail but the pain remains vivid.

Many people we mix with and know now did not know Clea. They ask what she was like. She was a beautiful, happy, loving and intelligent child. She had a lot of potential. She is my daughter and she deserved a life longer than the one she had. And I have to live the remainder of my life without her.

I am not  brave. I am not amazing. I know exactly what I am. I am very pissed off and very sad. I have no choice.

As my husband wrote in one of his poems, ‘never is a fucking too long time’. It’s a long time to be sad but there is no other way of feeling. There are fleeting moments of happiness but there is always a profound sadness within. It is the way it is

The two photos illustrate how short one life can be. Maybe, just maybe, I will stop counting the weeks …

Cropped photo for plaque

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A secret life of fear

About six months ago, our neighbour’s house burned down. It happened late on a Thursday night when we were already in bed, around 11 or 11:30pm.

We were woken by load banging on the front door. Our neighbour had been woken by his smoke alarms and rushed around to our house, followed by the other neighbours’ houses. His house was well alight by this stage with flames shooting out through the garage roof, trees alight and even his car was alight. It took a while for the fire engines to arrive but once they had, it didn’t take long to douse the flames. His house could not be saved and has since been knocked down.

What sticks with me from that night is not so much that his house burned down but the unsafe feeling that had rekindled within me. The banging on the door and the sounds of the flames are what stay with me. It’s the feeling you have when you hide within your house behind the blinds hoping that no one can see you. It’s the feeling of not having any confidence in your own safety. It’s the feeling you get when your child has died or when you’ve been through a disaster.

I did not know what to do that night and, in hindsight, I didn’t do anything right. I didn’t know what to pack or take. I took my sons to an area in the back yard which would not have been safe. My husband started to panic and did not know what to do either. We felt exposed and uncertain.

I recently read some blogs by Rebecca Carney and she mentioned the fear that stays with you after your child has died. It is an overwhelming feeling of being unsafe within an environment which you had previously considered to be safe. She mentions worrying. I would never have considered myself as someone who worried but now I worry. I especially worry about making decisions.

Her blog also reminded me of how different we become from the people we were before our child died. As she says, you change in ways that people do not see or understand. A different you emerges and one that you don’t always recognise. I’ve said this before but one of the things that I was not prepared for after Clea’s death (not that I was in any way prepared for her death) was how much of me died with her. Sometimes I look for myself – as Rebecca said where art thou? I don’t think that I know where I am either.

Even after 348 weeks without her, I find myself unsure in certain social situations or unable to reach decisions about easy matters in my life. Earlier this year, I found my work and social situations very difficult. I couldn’t decide what to do. I couldn’t even decide whether I wanted to be on the school board or not. I am often unable to trust my own judgement and am reticent to make a decision without checking with my husband (not that he wants to make all the decisions).

One of my sons did question our lack of social interaction last week. I told him that I’m not prepared to put myself in situations where I may feel exposed and vulnerable. It takes sometime to feel ‘safe’ with people.

The unsafe, lacking confidence person remains with you. I’m not sure you ever feel completely safe again. It is not that I am overprotective of my sons or that I fear that something will happen to me. It is more a tightness in the chest at night or a stab of fear on the way home. It is a vulnerability that I never expected from myself. It is a different self.

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Good People

Every so often someone comes along to restore your faith in humanity.

About three weeks ago, my sons’ football coach approached my husband to say that he was very sorry that we had lost Clea and that he hadn’t known. He followed up this conversation with a very heartfelt email saying that he felt stupid not knowing and that he was sorry for being six years too late. He said a number of other kind and brave things about us and Clea.

I’m not sure how he had found out but he had done his homework. We had recently become friends on FaceBook so maybe he had wondered why there were three children in my profile photograph. Or maybe he had clicked on the bad video link of my husband and I reading my husband’s poetry at the National Multicultural Festival and wondered why we would read a poem about our dead daughter. However this man found out, he followed up his discovery by searching for more and more information. He had read my blog and he had read my husband’s poetry (and he’ll probably read this).

But he didn’t leave it there as most people would. He actually reached out to us to show that he cared. He didn’t have to do that and many people, I’m sure, do find out about Clea and leave it at that. Their excuse is that they do no want to upset us or bring back bad memories. Believe me, and I’ve said this before, no one could upset us more than we are and those memories live with us on a daily basis.

I don’t expect everyone to know about Clea and I don’t think anyone is stupid for not knowing. I did mention Clea to a man at work recently, assuming that he did know, and he was very shocked. One should never assume.

I am very grateful that this man was brave, that he did face up to the nightmare of our lives and that he didn’t shy away from his own fears – the fear of our pain and how he would cope with that pain. That is everyone’s fear when they confront us with our pain. No one likes to face that fear. I wouldn’t want to.

I have lived with this pain for 339 weeks. Sometimes I cope OK. Sometimes I really, really do not cope at all. At present, I wouldn’t say that I was coping at all. My ability to cope changes almost daily.

But I am grateful for people like this man. People like him help me to cope just a little bit better.

Thank you.

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We’re Skating

“We’re skating” Clea would say as she slipped around the new cork floor in her socks.

Today is my daughter’s 13th birthday.

She desperately wanted to go ice skating during the July school holidays in 2009.

We are 6 1/2 years late but we finally made it. This morning, we went ice skating for Clea’s birthday, without Clea.

Happy birthday Chickie.

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Another Christmas

Yesterday, a friend posted on FaceBook that she was not buying her children presents this year and there was a photo of a letter from her daughter which included the words ‘Worst Christmas Ever’.

None of their three children believe in Santa and they’re not that wealthy but the comments she received amazed me. I was quite taken aback by the amount of people who thought that Christmas was about the presents and that these children were missing out on something special.

So this post was going to be my usual rant about the waste that is Christmas but I may as well re-post last Christmas’ post. I rant every year and people just think I’m some sort of loony who makes her sons suffer for her principles.

My sons are just fine. I asked them what they wanted for Christmas and the response was that they would buy themselves new iPods because they had plenty of pocket money. I did point out that that was not the purpose of a commercial Christmas but they didn’t seem to care. They bought their iPods last week and have been playing them ever since. Their father bought them books which they have already read. I put money in their bank accounts and bought them some science sets and chocolate coins. So we do buy them presents.

This year, I’ve invited my family to my house for lunch. Everyone will bring something to share at the table. There will be 17 people at my house; only four will be missing (three in London and one in a nursing home). That’s not bad for a family which includes people who do not speak to each other unless they have to. We’ll see how it goes.

Tonight, we’ll eat fideua (a type of seafood paella but with pasta instead of rice).

In the morning, we’ll go to the cemetery with flowers and chocolate coins for Clea. We will wish her a merry Christmas because she loved Christmas. It will be our seventh Christmas without her. It doesn’t get any easier.

I miss her with all my heart.

Merry Christmas.

PS. I leave you with a song written by a woman I know in Singapore. She wrote the music after I told her the story of Clea. It’s called ‘Seis’ (six) because she couldn’t remember my daughter’s name but she remembered that Clea was six when she died. Thank you Yann Lih.

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Clea’s death day

Tulips

Today is Clea’s death day. I find the word ‘anniversary’ a bit distasteful as an anniversary is usually a celebration of sorts. My daughter has been dead for six years now and I’m beginning to understand how long a life may be. Before 12 months are out, she will have been dead longer than she had been alive – that is not a long or satisfactory life.

I don’t have much to say today. I miss her. I love her. I would do anything not to have had this day six years ago.

These are tulips from our garden. The Compassionate Friends gave everyone tulips last Christmas to plant in remembrance of our dead children. These are two of the beautiful ones growing in our front yard.

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300 Weeks

Tomorrow (Tuesday), my daughter will have been dead for 300 weeks.

Clea would be 12 ½ now. She would be in Year 7 at Amaroo School. She would be tall probably already taller than me. She would be Clea.

Each day, I tell Clea that I love her and that I miss her. I say good morning to her as I open the blinds of her window to let the sun shine into her room. Each evening, I say goodnight, sleep tight, I love you to her photographs. Each night, I sleep with her photograph inside my pillow case and with one of her pillows underneath mine. And as I am closing my eyes to go to sleep, I whisper goodnight to her wherever she may be.

I wish on stars as often as I can but my wishes never come true. She is never inside with Papa or tucked up warmly in her bed. She is never with her brothers. She is never anywhere. She will never be anywhere.

I count the weeks. I am still unsure how long I will count for but I will know when to stop. I write to Clea every week telling her what is happening in our lives and what she is missing. We visit the cemetery every Sunday with fresh flowers from the garden (and the neighbour’s garden) scattering the old petals on her grave. I rarely leave the house without her pink headband wrapped around my left wrist and a locket around my neck containing her photographs. I talk to her as I drive or as I’m walking along trying to catch a glimpse of her beside me out of the corner of my eye.

Clea - Aug 2009 (2)I do not flick through the photo albums or scan the images on my computer. I try very hard to visualise Clea alive; I get fleeting glimpses of her long legs and her smiling face but I also see her lifeless body in the morgue.

Every so often I have to explain to people that I have three children not only two boys. I have a daughter. I will always have a daughter.

I know that if I cycle too fast at the gym then I will want to cry; any sort of adrenaline rush makes me want to cry. My body remembers the stress and adrenaline from that day.

The pain is different 300 weeks later. It is not the stress and shock of the first few years without her. It is not the twisting of my fingers and the pounding of my hands against my skin. It is not the keening and rocking as I sat crying on her bed night after night. It is not my hair falling out or the loss of saliva in my mouth. It is still a constant aching and yearning for what will never be; for a future our family will never have.

I wake in the night with this deep fear in my stomach that I have done something wrong or that I haven’t done something or that I have forgotten to do something. I can’t quite pin down exactly what I fear but I can feel it in the pit of my stomach and sometimes it rises to my throat and I have to hold down the panic. I don’t trust my own judgement as I judged that day that we would be fine on the beach. Each day is a challenge for me.

I cry on and off. A word, a phrase, an image, a thought. All of them make me cry. I am lonely for Clea.

My heart broke 300 weeks again and it will not repair itself. I did not know that life could be so sad and lonely. I miss her so much. I don’t think it will ever matter how much time has passed. For the rest of my life, I will have to live without her. That thought makes me cry.

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