Day One – Learning to Breathe

It wasn’t a usual Sunday by any standards, but we’d made a pact to ‘do things’ whilst Beth and Izzy were away.

What with the house empty, no commitments, no ties, no set Sunday routines for a while at least; we were set free to rediscover old things, to discover new hobbies, to find things to laugh about and tell them about when they came home – our tiny new life experiences to show we’d not just sat at home waiting for them to return.

Thus, we found ourselves at our inaugural Hot Yoga class. It’s what you do (please don’t judge).

Kited out in our black and grey fitness gear (nothing too tight mind) we found ourselves sat in a somewhat lukewarm room facing a wall length mirror – like a dance studio, but without the slender and the agile, instead, sat on mats with a handful of similarly attired hot yoga virgins.  We sat, with no under certain trepidation, in muted uncomfortable, shuffling stiff jointed silence as we collectively waiting for proceedings to begin.

The Hot Yoga tutor arrived – with a breezy ease, but with that edgy unease of a tutor with new students. She elegantly sat cross legged with her yoga shaped back to the wall mirror to start the class. My first thought: Why’s it not Hot? This is Hot Yoga, isn’t it? She started the class with an enthusiastic ‘hello!’ and an ice breaker (pardon the heating pun) exercise asking each one of us who we were and why we’d come.

So it began, in lukewarm lycra, and so it remained.  The temperature never rose beyond tepid for the next hour or so. It transpires your first Hot Yoga class is less about sweating and stretching, more about thinking and attuning yourself. The thermoset stays where it is, and you have think about your posture and positioning, think about your purpose in doing this and think about and practice your breathing. Lots of breathing.

Lots of talking about breathing, breathing in, breathing out. What’s happening to your chest as you breathe? Can you slow your breathes out? Can you extend your breathes in? Can you feel your lungs, your diaphragm, your posture changing?

And so it ended, with us rolling our mats away, swigging water, despite not being in the least bit thirsty, and leaving the Hot Yoga studio without a sweat mark to write home about. I, for one, I said in the car home, was not going back.

 

Roll forward 2 weeks.

The Phone Call. The phone call that marked Before and After.

(If you’re new to this laugh-a-minute grief blog please read  ‘An Accidental Soundtrack to Grief (Part 1)

A jolting shot in my chest.

Did my heart actually stop? The air was tangible, it always is in any confined space, more so in this stale Virgin train carriage, but now, it was closing in. Thinning, then thickening air. Rapid, shorter than usual breathes through my nose.

I shut down my Macbook.

Think. Think. THINK. Do, must do. Do. No, no, no no. Not true. Not true. No. Need to think, Now. Think. I close the foldaway beige plastic table. Do. Do. What? Call Maiya? Text? Shit, I don’t have her number. Ask Trace. Got her number. Blurred now. What? Some guy claims. ..it’s a mistake, obviously. No. No. Need air. Can’t sit. James? I need to text him.

And breathe.

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Izzy’s phone, Friday 26 February 2016, 03:25

And there it was. I needed to breathe. I needed to learn how to breathe again. I HAD to breathe. So I breathed in and gulped in air and I stood up. I packed my rucksack and managed to get myself out of the carriage. Somehow the vestibule seemed a more sensible place to be. Here at least I couldn’t be seen by commuters or fellow train travellers.

I breathed and I stood and I paced. I breathed in fresher, but not fresh air – Virgin train windows don’t open. I paced. I made a conscious effort to breathe, in, out, in, out. Deep as I could.

I needed to think. No. No. NO. No. Ripping, surging panic welling up inside my chest. I paced up and down the tiny space between the toilet door and the carriage door. I waited. I was waiting. I was trying to think. THINK. Breathe.

Plan, do. Cancel meetings. Text: I’m sorry I can’t make it, something’s come up, be in touch, DS.

No. No. NO. Move, shift from one foot to other. Breathe. Breathe.

At some point I remember standing on Platform 11C at Leeds train station waiting for the first train back. I still remember every time I’m there.

Think, THINK. No, no, NO. Need to speak to Maiya. I call Maiya. I speak. I have a blurred conversation. ‘No, I’ll deal with this Maiya. There’s been a mistake. Send me his number. There’s been a mistake.’

Text. ‘James, I’m David Squire the father of Beth and Izzy. It sounds like we need to talk! Can I call u on this number in half an hour plz? Best David.’ Send.

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Izzy’s phone, Friday 26 February 2016, 03:21

I don’t recall a single minute of the 40-50 minutes of the train back from Leeds to Sheffield. Yorkshire passed me by.

But at least I’d breathed. I must have breathed, because I got a call from Trace when I was walking across the concourse at Sheffield station. ‘The Police are here. They’ll pick you up. They don’t think you should drive.’

I got into Mario and I called James. I left a message on his phone. His UK phone. No good.

I ignored the Police’s advice. I drove Mario home.

And that was how After began.

 

An evening capital walk

I was walking. Walking along an average English capital street. A street that, over the years of business trips and overnight stays in boutique, then budget hotels had become surprising familiar to me. Me, a Northern boy, born and bred, familiar with the capital’s zones. Who’d have thought.

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It was late. Late-ish, but not that late. I’d had some decent wine. Hungarian, I think the waiter had said. I’d parted, with a heart-felt hug and a kiss, from my friend and supper companion. I was on my way back to my budget hotel.

I made an automated turn from the main vein, with its new red buses, its gliding Bentleys turning into side streets and its myriad of minimalist fixers, shabby commuter and wobbling Boris bikes navigating zoned-out office workers and post-shopping hipsters.

I crossed to a quieter street running parallel to the main vein. Quieter. Nicer. A couple sat on a pedestrianised, architect conceived marble feature bench. Actually, maybe they were late night workers, office cleaners, taking a break. I passed them, and then a frantic office worker brushed past me, late for the tube or a last train or a date.

Quieter now, quieter and still. A barrier divided the corporate sponsored paving stones from the old and now resurfaced, rediscovered cobbles of an ancient East End side street, once, no doubt a major thoroughfare.

Then I stopped and I stood still. And I looked at my feet.

And the cobbles softened, and I felt an unease, a loss of balance, as the cobbles started to melt like hot butter, leaving me standing but sinking into something soft and unstable. I felt noticeable layers through my trainers, like tree-rings denoting centuries of time, as my feet sank, lower, inch by inch, melting into the night-lit street.

There was no heat or smell, like molten iron being worked in a fire, no perceptible change in temperature in the late evening air. No physiological hint that the world was melting right under my feet.

I stood and swayed gently, trying to balance myself,  now ankle deep in the cobble stones.

I didn’t think to try to escape, to shift one foot and put my weight on the other, to pull that foot up and out, to plant it on firmer ground and to pull the other foot out.

No. There was something in my head and in the cool evening London air that said, no, let go. This is my fate. I’m sinking. Let me sink. I want to sink.

So I stood, my weight balanced evenly over both feet, as I slid lower, at an steady pace and with a steady heartbeat, into the layers of historical earth that lay under the cobblestones.

I closed my eyes.

Sleeping Dream

I woke around 2am, an early ‘witching hour’ for me, and played the aptly named and much tapped Solitaire on my iPhone. Sometime after an hour I think, sleep crept over me again.

I turned onto my side facing into the bed to Trace asleep beside me and I felt an arm wrap around my shoulder and neck. The warmth of someone climbing into bed next to me, helping me, willing me to sleep.

I reached up and held Beth’s hand, soft and white, laid gently between my neck and chin. I recognised her hand and her sleepy self.

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I wasn’t asleep yet was I? I was in the big bed under the soft white duvet of a friend’s chalet in the Alps. I was awake and Beth had climbed into our bed to help me sleep or perhaps to help herself to sleep.

I rolled over. We looked at each other. Nothing had changed. We didn’t speak, we didn’t need to. I brushed away a few stray hairs from her face as we looked at each other. She still had her make-up on.

Then I thought I had to ask her ‘How are you? You ok?’.

She looked at me but didn’t say anything.

‘I miss you. Lots of people miss you.’

She looked at me then turned her eyes away from me as if she was looking out for someone behind her who’ll called out to her.

I woke.

The precious seconds when I think this wasn’t a dream. The precious seconds I try to make the feeling linger.

Holiday Prep II

The warm of her next to me in bed, as we’d done when she was a child and from time to time as an adult, when she’d climb into our drowsy bed. Trying to turn seconds into minutes, replaying the dream in my mind over and over. The exact words, the touch of her hand.

Kitchen Kazoo Dream

4.20am or thereabouts and I curl up, wrapping the duvet round my neck and shoulder. I get a feeling I’ll be able to go back to sleep.

I’m in the kitchen, trying to fix two small pieces of plastic together to make a kazoo, like some cheap Christmas cracker toy.

And you walk in, and head straight to the bread-bin, like nothing is unusual.

And mum and Molly and Beth do the same, but I know they’re pretending and they know they’re pretending too.  So I pretend too, but while I try to fix the kazoo, I cry, because I know it’s not you.

But I take advantage of the pretence and I kiss your head and smell your hair, like it’s real and like you’re here.

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Then I’m woken by my 7am alarm. And I remember, I’m here.

But I don’t cry. Instead I try to hold onto the feeling inside me I had in the dream. The feeling of being there with you. Before, when everything was normal and I was playing with a kazoo.

Then Minnie – the puppy I let you have and that you choose and collected Before you went –  jumps on the bed and I stroke her as she stretches and scratches as the morning begins.

And it starts to summer rain. Big droplets of summer rain. And cars begin their commute, like everyday.

And with the house still and quiet and Trace still asleep, I lie in bed and write this on my phone.

And then, as I get up and make coffee, a pesky Coldplay song starts to play in my head:

Come on in
I’ve gotta tell you what a state I’m in
I’ve gotta tell you in my loudest tones
That I started looking for a warning sign.

When the truth is
I miss you
Yeah the truth is
That I miss you so.
– Warning Sign, Coldplay (2002)

kitchen

Because I miss you Izzy.

Everglow – hold on or let go?

I guess loss is a double edged sword – to hold on or to let go.

Holding on sometimes feels like clinging to the past, the fading past, the Before. The once was, that’s stopped. Yet sometimes holding on feels like fanning the flames of memory, keeping them nurtured, cherished and alive (like when I dream of them alive and well); a gut-wrenching recall that actually triggers and affirms life, oddly enough.

Where as letting go sometimes feels like abandoning them, moving on without them and forgetting them. I know I don’t, I know I won’t, and I know I never will, but it feels like, if I let them go, they will fade away, as time ticks on from when they were 19 and 24. It feels like if I focus too hard on the After, I’ll neglect the Before.

Mark Latimer, the father in Broadchurch is the best dramatisation/personification of grieving for your child that I’ve seen, thus far, a year and half after losing them (how many weeks is that? I’ve lost count). He’s holding onto Danny. He wants to know why. He wishes he could have helped. He wishes he could stop and rewind time and retract all and everyone and everything that led to his son’s death.

And then, out of the blue, in July 2017, in a rainy Cardiff stadium, along come Coldplay, with a song called ‘Everglow’.

Please forgive me, all those readers who think Chris Martin is a smug git, who pens crass, crowd pleasing songs and milks ballads like a parody of a musical milkmaid and dances like a buffoon to self-indulgent soft rock. For those people, best look away til the next post.

Sure, Google it, find out what its about. But I didn’t when I heard it first. I think I’d heard it before, but most pertinently, I saw them perform it live, in Cardiff, of all places.

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July 2017, Cardiff (After)

And here again is music and lyrics, turning, in my mind, to my situation, my kids, my loss, my pain, my grief (yip, still grieving, sorry ‘time heals’ fans).

And here’s the lyrics to ‘Everglow‘. Read them, skip them, whatever, I just hope you get my point – the double edged sword of holding on, or letting go.

Oh they say people come
They say people go
This particular diamond was extra special
And though you might be gone
And the world may not know
Still I see you celestial

Like a lion you ran
A goddess you rolled
Like an eagle you circled
In perfect purple
So how come things move on
How come cars don’t slow
When it feels like the end of my world?
When I should but I can’t let you go?

But when I’m cold, cold
When I’m cold, cold
There’s a light that you give me
When I’m in shadow
There’s a feeling within me, an everglow

Like brothers in blood
Sisters who ride
Yeah, we swore on that night
We’d be friends ’til we died
But the changing of winds
And the way waters flow
Life as short as the falling of snow
And now I’m gonna miss you, I know

But when I’m cold, cold
In water rolled, salt
And I know that you’re with me
And the way you will show
And you’re with me wherever I go
‘Cause you give me this feeling, this everglow

What I wouldn’t give for just a moment to hold
Yeah, I live for this feeling, this everglow

So if you love someone, you should let them know
Oh, the light that you left me will everglow

Sparkle girls

December, 2015, John Lewis, Sheffield (Before)

PS Izzy had ‘Adventure Of A Lifetime’ on her Spotify travel playlist – I like to think I introduced her to it after I banged on about it on TFI Friday.

And finally, to Trace, my wife, my best friend and the profound mother of our three girls, please forgive me for being self-absorbed in Cardiff, that Coldplay night. I got a lost in loss, and neglected you and us and the moment.

Everglow, Izzy and Beth.

Zest, Longing.

Zest for Life. Lust for life. Vitality, vibrancy. Lifeblood. Essence, sense of self, self of self, My destiny. The future.

Longing, yearning, not belonging. Past-Present-Future, but the future only imagined. Sinking, but clinging on.

And elephants. For Rhiannon Burkinshaw.  She’s with you. x

Forgetting is easier than reflecting

Hands down, without a shadow of a doubt, it’s easier to coast on, to re-join the merry-go-round. Easier by far, to look the other way, to try to forget, to try to ignore the core of me that’s screaming away in its tightening vacuum. Easier, much easier to distract myself, to ‘get on with it’, to ‘solider on’, to ‘cheer up’, to ‘chin up’.

“Lets ave the beer another beer it’s a fine idea my man.”

Busy, do, do busy. Do, busy, do.

Silence, stillness and being alone in empty houses don’t help.

But moments of reflection come, whether sourced or forced, sought out or stumbled into haplessly. Whether it’s for a split second – a sudden jolt, whilst running in the morning rain to catch a London Euston train – or for 10 minutes or more – listening to someone talk about ‘purpose’ in life and work in a wind soaked marque in wet Windermere.

Refections render me useless – as a person, a shell of a man, a car crash of who I used to be Before. It’s because I’ve paused.  I’ve stopped for a moment or for a handful of minutes.

Because I have no idea how I’m going to get over this. It feels like, in those moments, I never, ever will.

And later, I watch this video that Iz filmed on the 18th January 2016. They were in Chiang Mat, Northern Thailand, their first stop after a week in Bangkok (I checked the details in Iz’s diligently recorded travel notes, with her accompanying drawings to illustrate events).

It’s the one video on her camera phone that doesn’t seem like her. Izzy was boundless, relentless, ceaseless. She had a restless energy to explore and live life. She never sat still, she always turned the music up. She never shut up. For 19 precious years.

So, in this moment (44 seconds) in Northern Thailand, did she actually stop for a second?

Why did she film this? Was she looking for something? Was she struck by the silence and the ceremony of the ritual she and Beth were watching? Did she actually, for once in her precious, short life, take a moment to reflect?

Just to throw it in there, and for the record, thanks to Spotify, ‘Love Yourself’ by Justin Bieber was the last piece of music Izzy listened to.