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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Purple Rain, for sure.

‘I only wanted to see you…
Bathing in the purple rain’

It’s the refrain that gets me. The perpetual guitar refrain, the chord sequences, repeated over and over. I barely listen to the lyrics tbh.

I was well aware Beth would periodically plunder my CD collection.

It was either via a candid ‘Can I borrow this?’, usually when I was in the room at the same time, or more often when I’d find a disc missing, (as a former meticulous CD collector, I instinctively knew when one of my many was astray) or when I wanted to listen to something and she’d fess up and say  ‘ah, yes, think that’s in my room…’.

She was a squirreler of music, a hoarder of tunes. She’d hunt and gather from multiple sources, illegal download, dad’s CD collection, whatever. Decades didn’t define her collection, neither did musical genre. She liked what she liked, and she assembled and compiled it so.

For sure, I knew she listened to Prince and I knew she had a think for 80’s power ballads. But then, Before, it wasn’t like the tune was a thing for me and her (not like seeing Mr Hudson together many times or missing out on The XX in Leeds, because it was a Sunday night and I couldn’t be arsed). It didn’t resonate or resound. It wasn’t a thing, Before.

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But now, After, for sure it is.

Today, I’m in the gym, where I’ve not been for a while. In the middle of my ridiculous routine, over the communal speakers, the 80s playlist shifts to Purple Rain. It’s background music at first, and then, I dunno, a couple of minutes in, maybe more, an icy wave smacks my face. I have to stop what I’m doing, because I’m shuddering. I rest my hands on my knees and I close my eyes and well up. Refrain, refrain. It’s the refrain.

Maybe it’s the sadness and some kind of hope, combined. The Purple Rain of some adorable lost love. The bitter sweet nuance of something intimate, deeply human, that’s inexplicably gone awry and set adrift.

You know, the funniest thing is, when you’ve lost 2 kids, you have to do this all over again, for the other. There’s no ‘2 for the price of 1’.

But this one’s for you Bethy.  I miss you so much.

The Secret Life of a Zoo

From the single digit days well into the teens, there was a constant stream of people visiting the house.

During the day, it was anonymous, uniformed couriers arriving with signed-for or simply handed-over flowers. Our regular postie came twice a day, bearing envelopes of condolence. One day, as she delivered another bundle, she stopped and said, ‘I’m sorry’.

After work hours, it was friends, familiar or long lost, that would appear on the door step, shuffling awkwardly, bearing their flowers. Occasionally I’d be the one to open the door. They’d stand there, ashen-face, staring at me. Sometimes they’d remain in a state of fearful shock, or sometimes they’d burst into floods of tears.

And, in the first few days, in that first, news worthy weekend, it would be journalists who’d come knocking. ‘They understood, no really, they did really understand. They just wondered if we’d possibly like to talk. To make a statement’.

On Day 1, The Sun arrived home before I did.

The house began to well up with flowers. After the mantle and heath was filled, then the kitchen, even the hallway and stairs. Everywhere, in our Before tidy house, there were bundles of flowers. Every day, Trace’s closest friends would arrive with begged, stolen or borrowed vases and make careful arrangements of the old and add the new arrivals. We’d be handed the notes and cards that came attached to each.  Later, we put them all in a box. Saving them for? For later, I guess.

And as the flowers came into our lives, so our familiar family evening TV routine abruptly stopped.

We watched nothing. Nothing at all. In the days that turned to weeks (whilst I continued to count days) our TV sat, black and silent, in its corner.  Given it had been such the centre of attention, I’m sure it was sulking.

Over that first weekend we avoided the news completely, but not consciously. We just didn’t watch the news. Consequently, I have literally no idea of the media coverage that first weekend, Day 2 and 3, Saturday 27th February 2016 and Sunday 28th February 2016.

Then, one night, as the After days turned to double digits, someone picked up the dusty remote and put the TV on. Purely and simply to gain some glimmer, some semblance of normality.  After all, TV had been our family antiseptic to any day’s scrapes and scratches.

The problem was, as soon as the programme information faded, recalls and reminders flooded in. Every programme we watched was bathed in aching memories, each theme tune an incisive trigger for tears, for pangs of stomach-churning remembering. Of them both, sat on the sofa, with a TV supper or a takeaway. Of their yelps of laughter or grunts of dismay when they wanted to watch something else. Of their constant nattering and quips. Of their messaging whilst watching. ‘I AM watching! …What’d he say?’.

No one in our little extended cloud of a family of closest and newly found friends could stomach TV.  For me, it felt like I was, for a few precious, forgetful seconds, riding the crest of a wave that would then violently pull me under, making me grasp for air and gulp in salty sea water.

I suppose you’d call this ‘shock’. The immediate after effects of traumatic bereavement. One thing was for sure, I wasn’t ready for Saturday night primetime, for comedy quizzes or Sunday night costume dramas.

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Izzy’s photo of her last TV night in, 9th January 2016

Then one evening, whilst someone was casually flipping through channels of the never ending listings of agonising reminders, we happened upon ‘The Secret Life of the Zoo’.

It came with no memory recall. No heart aching triggers. It was new. It was about animals and people looking after animals. It was a quiet sort of programme, meandering gently between stories of zoo keepers and their care for their beloved creatures.

And so, we watched. We sat, we curled-up, a ragbag collection of numb bodies and fragile minds, stretched out on the living room floor or ensconced amongst sofa cushions. We watched in silence. We watched, glad that, for a few precious moments, we were somewhere else, somewhere that wasn’t here.

 

A Sleeping Dream

I found myself in a house, familiar yet strangely unfamiliar. Like a mash-up all of the houses I’ve ever lived in, rolled into one. The house was quiet. Seemingly unoccupied.

I wandered into the living room. I came across the abandoned debris of a TV dinner. I tidied up the dishes.

I walked upstairs into a study. A cross between my own house’s small study space and the larger attic room of my childhood – stretched out, combined, morphed into one.

Izzy came down the stairs from a room upstairs somewhere (I guess the attic rooms of Molly and Beth’s bedrooms) and joined me in the study. She was little, maybe 5 or 6. She was clutching an enlarged, elongated chocolate snack. Something like one of those chocolate assortments you get at Christmas.

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There, in the room, was the cream Habitat chair of my childhood. The same chair where, in a previous dream, Beth had sat, sowing and waiting.

‘Can I sleep here tonight?’ Izzy asked.

It seemed an odd request. Why would she want to sleep on a small chair that wasn’t even big enough to allow her to lie out. She’d have to sleep sat up.

Nevertheless I lifted her into the chair and sat her there. As I did so I asked her ‘Why?’

‘Because’ she replied ‘I’ll be closer to Beth.’

I pulled a duvet from somewhere and wrapped it around her, drowsy and snug.