Radio 4, on Only Just Day 2

In the early hours of only just Day 2, I’d risen, pretty much sleepless, fretful and utterly, unashamedly afraid, around 7am, give or take.

I lifted my feet out of our bed into a still, utterly quiet ghost town, a new, uncertain swaying land, wavering and wobbly, like I was still drunk in the aftermath from the night before.

The familiar bedroom carpet had been stricken as uncertain sea, opening out ahead of me, torturous, frightening. The first steps from our bed weren’t the usual, grounded, reassuring waking from my floating subconscious to my day’s tangibly real terra firma. Instead, they felt like gravity was fooling me into a lulling, floating, ambient reality that was completely and wholeheartedly unreal, with no gravity at all.

I’d not slept much. I had stoically declined the sedative drugs prescribed by our GP, on her maiden visit, around 10pm,     to our wailing, at times screaming, traumatised household, on Friday 26th February, 2016. I suppose I felt like I should be the one to be there in the morning. Hold things together.

So, sat on the edge of the bed, unknowingly, at a purely cerebral level, I counted out my first few steps to the partially ajar bedroom door. 3? Maybe 4, max. I rose and stood, my bare feet pressing softly into the eminently practical woven thread of our bedroom carpet. I walked the handful of steps and then ventured out into the widening sea of our hallway, taking my first few baby steps into the real world and into my now new world of ‘After’.

I guess my left hand must have brushed the bannister as I descended the stairs, stairs felt underneath by my bare feet, the same familiar carpet thread as our bedroom. But I don’t really remember.

All I really remember about the start of Day 2, was that, as usual, I swept the grey black slate floor of our family kitchen.

This was my early morning ritual. Whilst I set the coffee beans to grind in the noisy coffee grinder (too noisy, Izzy complained, almost everyday) and as the kettle boiled, I swept away the previous day’s kitchen debris.

And listened to Radio 4.

On Saturday February 27th, 2016, Radio 4 news announced the deaths of three Britains, who had died at a waterfall in Vietnam. They said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were: “providing support to the families of three British nationals following their deaths”. It was a brief news report, no more than a few seconds of valuable BBC airtime.

Beth Anderson and Izzy Squire 

I swept the grey slate of our kitchen floor – always a bugger to get it to look like it had been properly swept, with its nooks and crevices, it required some considerable focus and concentration on the task at hand. Also, the usually crystal clear digital audio had become muffled and distant, like it had been intercepted by interference, taken over by some rogue frequency, muting its digitally reliable quality.

Momentarily, I leant more heavily than usual on the broom handle.

This was Day 2.


Gasping for Beth

OK, ok, I attempt it, I was trying to ‘normalise’. What’s that development cycle I learnt in teacher training? – ‘storming, norming, performing’. I was ‘norming’ or trying my damnedest to. TBH, I thought I was doing pretty well, keeping it all hidden. Success of some kind.

Today, you see, should have been Beth’s 28th birthday. Four years forever 24.

My brother and I got to our seats for the first home game of the season. About 2.50pm it was, minutes counting to the inaugural kick-off.  Whilst he chatted with our regular next seat occupants, I casually scanned the fading blue plastic of our season ticket seats. Inadvertently, I brushed my fingers against the number inscribed on my seat. I looked up to the north stand, then to the cop, to weigh up my predictions for the game’s attendance, a home-game ritual of some 18 years.

Then I chanced upon the sky above.

I don’t remember its colour or hue, nor whether I fancied rain or clear. I just suddenly felt a gap opening, a gulf of a gap, a space, opening up right in front of me. An almost three-dimensional space, a suddenly very tangible, very real void, a space, right there in front of me. Or maybe it was somewhere inside of me – in my chest, in my lungs.

It felt like a vacuum of molecules, a buzzing collection of micro particles that should, by rights, have been there, in tangible form. I felt like I could actually touch it, put my hand out now and touch it. It was an irregular shaped thing with soft, rounded edges, beautiful and random, made up of intricate intertwining patterns of pure space. It hovered just in front of me (or was it inside me?). It was there just as soon as I had noticed it was there, as soon as I clocked it.


Beth, from Izzy’s phone, 25 February 2016.

It took my breath away. Gasping. Just for a moment. A split second, a molecule of a second, in amongst the sea of fellow football fans and a derby home-game opener.

2 minutes in and we were 1-0 up. We won 2-0.

Later, in the pub, as Molly went to get scratch cards (in honour of Beth’s not so secret pleasure) we stuttered through how we’d been today, and I gave Trace a scant description of what happened at the football. It seemed to me that we were all in the same boat, all of the same mind, all trying to normalise the 10th August. But maybe that was just me justifying myself.

The next day I took the dogs for a mid-morning walk behind our house. As we emerged from a cluster of trees onto an open grassy bank, the wind picked up strength and rushed through branches and leaves, gently pushing an aftermath breeze against my face.

And I felt Beth’s gap again.

The Story I didn’t tell Hawley: My Attempts to Make Sense (Part 1)

I stand at the bar, scanning the line of locally brewed beers, squinting without my glasses, trying to check their names as well as their alcohol percentage before the barman comes my way.

The pub clock said 25 past, or thereabouts. I‘m due to meet my friends at half past.

Tugging at my wrist, their leads now stretched taut, Minnie and Lottie pull me away from my scrutiny of ales to their own intimate inspection of potential scraps by a nearby barstool.

As their leads remain taut, a tripwire for passersby, a gentlemen arrives, clearly intent on the bar. I jerk their leads to reign them both in, so as to let him by. He thanks me as he passes and then stands next to me, also waiting to be served. I order myself a pint, around 4.5%, and he orders a round.  As I wave my phone at the contactless terminus and I feel their leads tighten again, I realise the gent is Mr Richard Hawley.

We stand at the bar and he enquires about my dogs – their names – ‘this is Lottie, this is Minnie’, and their breed – ‘both miniature schnauzers’. He tells me he has two of his own – a cocker spaniel and a sheep dog, and how his kids are growing up now. Then, as if wielding a sharpened knife to the thin veneer of a casual pub conversation, Hawley asks me if I think a dog’s personality changes over time.

I start to tell him how Lottie has gotten more and more anxious over… then I stutter here…’the years’, whilst Minnie has gotten more and more chilled. I want to say it’s as if Minnie knows that we need her to be loving, adorable and needy, to fill an aching, cavernous gap, but I don’t. He says how chilled he thinks they both are, compared to most dogs out in a pub. But, that said, how, even if there was a fight going on in the pub, his two dogs would lie asleep, under his seat.

Then my friends arrive and greet me with Friday night hugs. And as Hawley bids me goodbye, he gently touches my arm, as though he knows more than he’s letting on.

We find a quiet corner and the mid summer Friday evening sets as we laugh and catch-up. After a couple, we head home via the sinking twilight of Bingham park, so Minnie and Lottie can stretch their salt and pepper legs.

A little later, as my home-alone supper warms itself in the oven, I water the sun drenched garden and listen to  Hawley’s ‘As the Dawn Breaks’ through open kitchen doors, Minnie mooching around the garden, Lottie decamped to the sofa.

You see, the story I really wanted to tell Hawley (and that I only thought of after, as so oft is the case)  was how I’m convinced that Lottie has gotten more anxious because, even after 3 and a half years, she’s still waiting for Beth and Izzy to come home. She’s anxious because she senses their absense in our house and she doesn’t know why. She smells them, but they’re not here. She misses them. Misses their adoration, their snuggles, their bear hugs, the treats and the titbits – like when Iz famously fed Lottie a whole slice of pizza just to herself. She misses the game where I’d call her and Izzy would call her back – the sweet stupid competition of who loved her the most.

The story I really wanted to tell Hawley is that I think Lottie is still waiting for them and doesn’t understand why they’ve not come back home. That she doesn’t understand where they’ve gone or why they’ve not come back. That she’s increasingly anxious because she’s still waiting, still holding on, for that moment when they finally do come home. That moment when she runs to the door to greet them, to paw them and leap on them, squealing with doggy delight.


I stand in the midst of our thirsty Friday night garden and spray it much-needed water. I listen to Hawley’s ‘As the dawn breaks’ and I cry.

I cry, not knowing that, about the same time the following night, I would be watching the life ebb away from Minnie’s glistening black eyes and start to question why I even try to attempt to make sense of Before and After.

Formal Identification and ‘Manning up’.

It’s Friday, Day 8, one week After. They’ve come home.

Beth and Iz are, right now, housed safe and sound at the Medico Legal Centre. A rather unobtrusive red brick building, nestled between a tower block council estate, a growing portion of the city’s student accommodation and a dual carriageway. A rather dull dual carriageway, if it has to be said. I doubt anyone’s ever been bothered to muster up the speed to be caught out on the inconsequential uphill between Neepends and the University roundabout. (On a more personal note, the Medico Legal Centre happens to be just a few blocks away from our first family home in Upperthorpe. Back then, I’d no idea whatsoever it was there. Until I had to, now).

Earlier that Friday morning, Day 8, after I’d been (just about ‘been’) taken in the backseat of the Police escort that tailed the anonymous red coffin carrying van, from the soul-less Manchester Airport freight terminus, over the snowy, wind swept Pennine hills, I’d left Beth and Iz at the Medico-legal Centre.

There, in the corporate furnished reception, I’d fumbled out of an unimaginably painfully packed shoulder bag, their two most cherished childhood teddies – Teddy and Toby. To leave for them. To look after them. So they knew they were home. Maxine, the beating heart of this awful place told me she would make sure they got them. And that they would always stay together.

Then I’d gone home.

I guess Cagney and Lacey must have drove me back in the same marked BMW Police car that had just drove me, fragile as millimetre thin glass, listening to Daft Punk in my headphones and weeping, weeping, all the way over the Winter Pennines. I got home somehow, but I don’t really remember how.

What I do remember is that, later that evening, after an evening that was, to be frank, a complete blur, I got a call from Cagney.

It turned out, she said, that we still needed to ‘formally identify’ them.

We’d talked about this before. She’d said we probably wouldn’t need to. That there was enough evidence. I guess, then, amidst the horrors of the first hours that turned into the first few indelible days of ‘After’, Cagney was softening the blow.  Seeing, knowing, that we simply weren’t ready for this.

‘I know, it’s…well…’, she now explained softly, so, so carefully, ‘…someone needs to… formally identify them’.

I guess, deep down, I knew this was going to happen.  I’ve seen enough TV cop series to  know that formal family identification is part and parcel of the process of ‘unforeseen’ death.  And I guess she knew all too well that we’d have to face up to this, at some point – but that, in the first few Days, we just weren’t ready for it. Cagney explained it with heartfelt compassion and the tact and timing gleaned from years of FLO experience.

Meantime, in my world reality, I’d been thinking, well, come on, after all, we’re not actually in some TV cop drama, for real. This is now, this is real and my life, happening now. This ain’t some story arcing moment, dreamt up by a TV script writer, when the obligatory white-sheeted body gets wheeled out on a steel-plated platform in a clinically clean, florescent lit morgue. It doesn’t really happen like that. This is real and happening now. This ain’t the moment when a ‘loved one’ stands over a shrouded shape of a body, and a white coated Morgue assistant pulls back the whiter than white sheet.

No. I mean, ffs, they had their passports.

And we’d already told the Police about their identifying features – about Izzy’s scars – the one on her arm, after her Geography school field trip ‘argument’ with a barbed wire fence. About the scar on her knee after a ‘gardening incident’ with me and a spade (that I’d denied) when she was a kid. And we’d painstakingly described the eternity tattoo on Beth’s torso, inked to mirror her childhood friend. And we told the story of her missing front tooth, lost in a toddler chase with her sister Molly, when she’d crashed into a toilet seat.

And more to the point ffs, Christian’s friend James had already identified them in Vietnam. He’d had to reenact that TV cop morgue scene – and with his childhood friend.

And, after all, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had, on Day 1, minutes after I got home, asked to check their credentials and to ratify that they had travel insurance – the FCO’s dull diligent ‘repatriation’ – their pressing, assertively stated, first priority.

And their bodies had been flown home from Ho Chi Minh City to Manchester International Airport. They had been ‘repatriated’.

And doubly, surely, I‘d seen their passport photos pinned to the purple plastic wrapped around their in-flight coffins. I’d seen their backpacks laid out on wooden pallets at the vast, yet strangely airless, Manchester International Airport freight terminal.

That was enough. Surely. We all knew it was Beth and Izzy.

‘We still have to do this,’ Cagney gently explained, and, moreover, ‘It had to be now’, she said. ‘They died a week ago. They’ve been flown from the other side of the world.’

‘Every day will make it worse… make it harder to see them.’ she said.

‘And’, she said more softly, ‘you have to know, Beth’s injuries…have left half of her face purple… You need to know’.

I stood in our back garden, where I’d gone to take the call. And I wept.


Cagney and I talked a while longer, my phone pressed tightly to my ear, as I stood starring at the suddenly stark distance between the firmly rooted trees behind our house and the ever shifting, endless evening stars above.

Then I manned-up.

And I came up with a cunning plan.

Cagney and Lacey would come round tomorrow, Saturday morning, Day 9. Cagney would explain to us, that, unfortunately, they needed ‘formal identification’ and that this needed to be done immediately, straight away. Then, like a shot, I would volunteer. Minutes later, I would be in the back of a Police car on the way to the Medico Legal Centre.

It was such a simple, straightforward plan. Devised to cause the least hurt, the least pain. A plan designed to get the necessary job done and as quickly and painlessly as possible.

2016-02-26 10.06.25 (1)

Flowers – from Izzy’s camera phone, 26 February, 2016.

On Saturday morning, 5th March 2016, uncharacteristically punctual, Cagney and Lacey knocked on our door – now so familiar visitors that even our dogs didn’t bark – and came in with their congenial Police platitudes, before perching themselves on the edge of our sofa.

We sat and talked for a while.

Then Cagney explained ‘I’m really, really sorry, but I have to tell you, we do need someone to formally identify them. Could one of you… come now? It’s all been arranged at the Medico Legal for 11am. We could go…we need to go…Now.’

I waited, 1 second, maybe 2, before blurting out, ‘I’ll do it. Let’s go’. I was getting out of my seat to go….

‘No, No. NO. ‘No fucking way. NO fucking way.’

No way,’ Trace repeated over and over, ‘No fucking way. No way are you doing this.’

She was wanting to spare me the abject horror, the unbridled, life numbing memory of doing this thing. This thing, that I felt instinctively was my duty, and mine alone, but that I knew would literally tear my soul apart.

As part of the cunning plan, I should have known this would be her instinctive, heartfelt reaction. After all, I’d had the whole of the previous evening to come to terms with the stark realisation of what I saw as my parental duty. A whole restless, sleeping tablet-infused night to try to come to terms with it. Whereas Trace’s reaction was instantaneous, immediate, from the gut. And absolutely adamant.

I sank back into our sofa, not sure if I was relieved or quietly frustrated that my ‘manning up’ had been so decisively thwarted.

We talked it over with Cagney and Lacey. ‘Is there anyone else?’

It was Cagney, I think, who said ‘If your family doctor can’t do it, what about Dave?’

Dave was a family friend, his kids had grown up with ours. But he also happened to be a Police Officer. I called him ‘Copper Dave’, not to his face, of course. Dave was a senior investigating officer (an ‘SIO’, if you’ve ever watched Line of Duty and googled Police abbreviations) and an SIO Cagney and Lacey knew well.

The next day, Cagney called Dave. I didn’t call him. I couldn’t man up enough.

It was the Sunday, maybe Monday, when Dave called me. He wasn’t his usual self.

‘Squizz, I’m so sorry. I’m, so…so, sorry.’ A stuttering, semi incoherent, trying to be professional, but also a friend’s phone call.

‘They both looked peaceful. Really peaceful.’

Later, I found out that Cagney had gone to meet Dave with Maxine, the surgically scrubbed matriarch of Sheffield Medico-Legal Centre. Maxine, the loving receiver of Teddy and Toby, Izzy and Beth’s childhood teddies. Maxine, who’d promised me, when I brought them home from Manchester Airport, that she’d look after them and always keep them together.

Apparently, Cagney and Maxine had sat down with Dave and told him, firmly, ‘You’re not a copper now’. ‘This is different’.


The Ghost of Gary Barlow

We get a cab from our hotel to the nearby venue for Fi’s wedding in serene rural Cheshire. Fi is one of Izzy’s horse riding compadres, a crew of girls a good 5-10 years older than Izzy. Despite her age, they saw her as their equal. I think they were part of the reason she grew up so early and how she came by her gentle swagger.

It’s an unseasonably hot day. The taxi driver sure is chatty. ‘Typical isn’t it’, she’s saying, ‘after a week of torrential rain, we’re all moaning about a few days of sunshine’. Then she asks, ‘do we know the wedding venue is Gary Barlow’s old house’? No, we didn’t. She recalls the local rumours and no doubt half truths about the house, the fenced in acres and private lake, about Gary’s state of mind whilst he lived there and the infamous Take That re-forming meeting in the living room (I begin to wonder if she’s just recounting his autobiography) and the recording studio he built, that’s now the wedding reception dance floor.

So there you go, Gary Barlow. Who’d have thought it.

On the sun-drenched terrace of Gary’s former home, we sit on cream ‘event’ chairs that have been neatly arranged to face a floral alter. As we take our places at the back, the banter with the girls begins to warm up with the afternoon sun…Weather report says it’s destined to Shine all day… must be one of Fi’s Greatest Days…gotta show some Patience for the bride… this’ll be a day we’ll Never Forget…can’t wait for the reception and…A Million Love Songs. Titter.

Over afternoon champagne and petit canapés, we chat and catch-up and later sat at a table all together, we giggle and snort with laughter through the immaculately presented wedding dinner. After, we take ourselves to a circle of outdoor sofas and lounge about, a bunch of friends who’ve not seen each other for a while. The banter flows with the after dinner drinks and the sun fades over Gary’s acres of land and shimmers on the surface of his own personal lake.

It’s a good day. No. It’s a great day.

And I only cried once, at the dinner toast to family and friends who are no longer with us.


It’s late evening now and we’re back at our nearby hotel. I’m sat up in bed with my Macbook, Trace is asleep. Outside, the trees are silhouetted by still pale blue skies, surprising for this late hour. Despite the open window, it’s hot, sticky hot.

I sit up in bed and, and at this eleventh hour, I think about you.

And I think about you not being here today.

You’d have driven here in your beloved Mario Mini One and met us at the hotel, not wanting to stay the night before, as we’d decided to do. On the morning of the wedding, you’d have helped your mum with her hair, no doubt bickering throughout, but getting a much better result than I did. Then, as we arrive at the wedding, you’d have stuck close to us at first, before you spotted your riding buddies and their fresh-faced partners and you’d have been off, a glass of prosecco in hand, banter a-ready.

You’d have been allocated a seat next to me at the reception dinner. You’d have whispered comments and jibes throughout, and I’d have lent in to your delicate, soft ear and whispered, ‘Who’s that again?’ And you’d have groaned and exclaimed ‘Dad!’, as only you could.

After dinner, you’d have revelled in the half cut wisecracks, as we all lounged abut on the outdoor sofas, telling embarrassing stories and laughing at each other. Then you’d have said, ‘Let’s go for a walk’. And the two of us would have gone off together, bumping shoulders as we walked down the grassy bank to the edge of Gary Barlow’s lake, to dip our hands in the still chill of the water.

We’d have walked back up the hill to the house and gone inside to explore the pop star palace. ‘Come on’, you’d have said, as you opened another door, ‘What’s in here?’ And we’d have wandered round the house, doing shit Manchester accents and name dropping the celebs who we thought would have perched in his grand and glassy kitchen/dining area.

But all this is pointless, completely pointless.  I know it is.

It’s utterly pointless for me to project the ‘what could have been’ onto the ‘what is now’. It’s like smacking a recent bruise. Like shuffling an imaginary deck of cards.

Maybe, this ‘grief’ thing is simply about dealing with time and the passing of time. Maybe it’s simply about learning to accept that time is actually moving on, like the light of the Summer’s day fading over Cheshire hills, off into the distance, rolling away and beyond, forever.

But we’re here, your parents, here, right here, right now, in this hot and sticky hotel room, drunk, after this lovely, lovely day with your friends. We’re here right now, but we’re here without you. We’re here where you should have been too, where you would have been. We’re here now, in the stupid, bemused, all over the place state we’re both in, simply because you’re not here. You’re not here.

Friday, February 26th 2016 has left me with a line in the sands of time, that, instead of being washed away by the natural moon cycle of waves, remains indelibility etched into the grains of wet sand beneath my feet. No matter how many waves rush in and cover it, then slowly ebb away, the line in the sand still remains, over and over again.

So there’s absolutely no point, no point whatever, in me imaging a world where my line of sand simply gets washed away, like it so should have, by a single sea wave, washing over it, taking away its jagged, scored ident and returning it to perfectly, sweetly smooth sand.

No. I have to accept that time is marching unstoppably on and all the people I know and all the people you knew are moving on. I have to accept that there is a definitive ‘Before’ and an absolute ‘After’ and that the two can never come together. I have to accept that you are forever frozen, fixed in the ‘Before’ and that you’re not, categorically not, here now, in the ‘After’, at Fi’s wedding in Cheshire, with me.

(Even if I feel you are.)

Stepping backwards, walking forwards

Stepping backwards

So much of this grieving thing is about stepping backwards. Retracing your steps and revisiting old, familiar ground. Recalling your previously, well-trodden paths. Its focus is ‘what was’, what had been, your shared past, your memories. Whether triggered knowingly or spontaneously, either way, they spark a light that hurtingly illuminates the past.

In the olden days, before smart phones camera uploads and grieve blogs, someone like me would have sat down with shoe boxes filled with brightly coloured envelopes, each containing a set of 24 or 36 glossy 4×6 inch photos, bundled together like little memory banks, clinging to each other’s glossy front, in a block of about half a centimetre deep. This little wad would always be accompanied by a set of print negatives, machine cut into rows of 4 or 5 and gathered together in a little sub-envelope flap, in case you ever wanted reprints. And inside these little envelopes would be the bombshells of ‘what was’.

Back Before, I came home one day to find Beth had taken it upon herself to rummage through our unordered shoe box of family photos. She’d selected her preference of 4×6 prints from its randomised archive and carefully placed a timeline of her shared childhood into 2 large red photo albums. It must have taken her all day, pulling out the photos memories, selecting the ones that resonated and carefully sliding them into the little see-through plastic sleeves of the photo albums.

Instead of being pleased with her, I was annoyed with her. This was something I was planning to do myself, eventually, when I had time. And I felt like she’d picked the pictures of our family story that she wanted to tell. Despite the fact I would have done exactly the same, but from my point of view. Eventually, when I’d gotten around to it.

(I didn’t get around to it, and still haven’t. Her choices of photos sit neatly bound in the 2 red folders on our cellar head bookshelf, with the remainder of the prints still laying where they were first put, in shoe boxes, to sort out later.)

Another time, a few months After, a friend offered to send a video he had of Izzy when she was little. She was playing with his daughter in their back garden, I think he said. I instantly, hopefully politely, declined. The thought of her back then was not what I wanted to know right now. I’d only spoken to her last week, on another Facetime catch-up. I wanted to hold onto this so recent past-  her blurry face on my phone, the sound of her energetic voice, her 19-year-old self. I wasn’t ready to look back at her distant childhood past.

This is looking back. This is normal grieving. This is par for the course.


Walking forwards

What’s harder, much harder, is when you walk forwards, knowing that they would have, should have been there, walking with you.

Today we’re at a wedding reception in a local golf club pavilion, for local people. Each chair is covered in white elasticated cloth and adorned with a blue satin sash tied in a bow around its back. A dodgy looking covers band are setting up their instruments and sound checking for the later evening’s dancing.  A handful of little kids, overly dressed, spin unsteadily and jiggle in silly circles to the background music. The room begins to fill as evening invite guests start to arrive and form a lengthy queue at the bar.

File 17-03-2016, 12 10 26

The problem is, Izzy should have, would have been here. After all, it’s her friend Marie who’s getting married today. It’s Izzy’s equestrian life that’s made this happen. She’s the reason we know the people sat around us, cracking jokes and fooling around in our scrubbed-up finery, drinking Gin and Tonics in the afternoon.

These are her steps that she would have made. She is her future I’m standing on.

Earlier, she’d have been hogging the bathroom and taking ages to do her hair. She’d have been in the cab with us to the registry office, checking the time. She’d have been mingling with the glammed-up guests and been clapping overly loudly and whooping in the ceremony. She’d have clinked a glass of bubbly at the golf club pavilion and got embarrassed again about me talking to her friends. She’d have dragged me and her mum to the photo booth for silly pictures. She’d have written something touching and funny in the wedding book. She’d have suggested it was time we got a cab home.

It’s times like this I find it really hard to live in the moment and be in the present and to not keep thinking ‘she should be here’, ‘she would have been here’, but that she isn’t. By my rights, she should be here, looking glamorous, laughing out loud, circling the room to talk to as many people as possible. She should be 22 now, not forever 19.

And it’s times like this I realise I’m walking her steps for her, filling the space in this world she should have filled. I’m living and breathing her future, but without her.


I feel Guilty when I feel Happiness

With the finger and thumb of my right hand, I unwind the white nylon thread, twisting and releasing it from the brass hook that holds the tension. After 3 or 4 turns, the string unleashes itself and sizzles up, letting the cloth window blind come tumbling down.

It’s just got dark outside.

Autumn daylight’s style is being held back by Winter’s coming nights. And the just descended blinds shield a little of the chill from the old wooden window frames, making our living room just a little bit warmer and cosier than moments before.

It’s an everyday, early evening Autumnal ritual, diligently carried out along the entirety of our bay-windowed street. Families battering down the hatches against the impending evening chill, feeling the warmth inside

As the blind descends, and I help it unfurl itself to the bottom, I stop. As I feel the warmth in the room already rising, I feel peaceful, restful. I stand, statue still for a moment. For just a moment.


A Huskie Sledging Moment with Beth, Finland, January 2007

And I begin to sob.

I have to hold onto the window frame to steady myself, both arms outstretched. And I sob. It’s been brewing all day, it’s about time it came out. Brought on by this gentle, insignificant moment of warmth and security.

It’s about happiness, you see, and about my momentary glimpses of it. Happiness, like slits of light coming from an old, stubbornly shut window when it’s finally been pushed ajar to let in fresh air.

And so, this is my situation.

As soon as I get even a glimmer of a recognition of that feeling welling up inside me, that buzzy, weird sensation that starts somewhere in my lower abdomen or my intestines  (I was never good at biology, I barely scrapped a CSE pass) or wherever it is inside you that you feel ‘happiness’, as soon as I remember what that sensation is, I start to cry.

And right now, rendered motionless in front of our living window, stood behind the newly dropped blinds, a shadowy silhouette to passers-by, I feel… guilty.

I feel guilty.

As soon as I feel happy, as soon as I get even a glimpse of any kind of well-being washing over me, I immediately feel guilty. Like I shouldn’t. Like I’m not allowed.

It’s then I start to cry.

I’ve no idea if this is normal. Is this normal? I mean, come on, what actually IS normal? Maybe this is just a phase, a single thread in a wider, finely woven pattern? A phase, like in one of those lauded and well-circulated phases of grief, that I still wholeheartedly fail to relate to.

When did this start? Was it always there, from Day 1? Was it just that I didn’t ever feel happiness in the early days, After, to ever know what it was? Is it a step in some well known physiological process I’m not aware of? And if it is, what’s next? Is there a next?

All I know is, right now, when happiness happens upon me…when I find myself looking forward to something, when I laugh and lose myself in a joke, when I feel love, when I feel loved, when I smell dewy morning grass, when I see a crescent moon, when I’m aware of my step on soft ground, when I look in my loved ones’s eyes, when I happen to wake to see the sunrise in the window, when I glance up to see the daylight fading sky… I feel guilty.

It’s a feeling that jars, edges and pushes against this natural rush of happiness. It’s a sinking, aching, hurting sense, that I have no right, no right whatsoever, to be happy. No reason at all, none given, to be taken back to happiness.

As I write all this down, to try to explain, as I look at the words and revise them and reorder them, I know this is all stupid. Predictable. I’m obviously building up to a time when I’ll finally ‘let go’.

When I move to that scene in TV and films where grieving relatives release their loved one’s ashes over rivers and lakes, when a funeral pier burns and drifts into the ocean sunset. I’m supposed to be building up to the time when I get the courage to write my imagined ‘last conversation’ with them both. To when I can finally let them go and move on.

To some readers, it’s an achingly obvious realisation I’m sure.

You can’t grief forever.

You can’t. You’ll move on. Time heals.  It’s the same reaction, heartfelt I’m sure, from anyone who’s ever said to me ‘What would Izzy want?’, ‘What would Beth want?’.

‘Feelings welling up inside, making my soul come alive
And just a memory feels so heavenly, waking up inside of me.
We’ll get on the right track. We’ll get on the right track.

Take me back to happiness.
Take me back to happiness.’

Happiness by Crooked Man (2016)