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.