Back to school week

Young people have returned to school or prepared to start university amid a week of much turbulence and change for the UK.

back to school sign


It’s over [nearly]. Week one of autumn term is always a hard one and this one has been punctuated by major news and change throughout – from a new Prime Minister to the government’s energy plan and, now, the death of the Queen, perhaps the world’s most famous woman – and mum, grandmother and great-grandmother [even if she was not able to be as hands on as most], its most influential soft power figure and a symbol of constancy in British life for so long. The turmoil of the last years deepens.

“It’s all coming at us so fast,” said only son, trying to grapple with all the changes of this week, let alone the past years. Yet while young people have been badly affected by the turbulence of Covid and lack the resilience that comes from years of experience, in some respects they are better at ‘bouncing back’ than their parents and focusing on the day ahead – if only the day ahead looked less troubled.

So this week the young people in our house did what they always do after the summer: they persisted with the summer timetable despite all attempts and ended up slumped in the car on the way home from school. They critiqued their new teachers as if they were rock stars. They worried about looking cool enough, but not too cool… By around 11am on the first day back I had received my first homework email for only son. The holidays were well and truly done.

Daughter two is off to university this weekend. It’s been looming for some time. I’m not sure what I think of it. Of course, it is exciting – a new chapter, her first step on the road to the red carpet [she’s doing drama]. But I guess it’s to be expected that the rest of us – and even daughter two maybe – are slightly nervous. I’d say nervous is an understatement on my part, given what happened to daughter one. My mind is engulfed by all sorts of potential danger. People tell me it’s so unlikely to happen again. But once one of your children has been killed there is never any peace of mind. Statements about unlikeliness get turned on their head. It happened once, randomly. There’s absolutely no reason it can’t happen again. The veil of ‘normality’ has been ripped away and there is not one shred of security in the world. Everything is undone.

We went to IKEA the other week to get cutlery. The same trip we made in 2019 with daughter one. We bought more or less similar things. It’s like some sort of zombie sequel film: we shuffle through the aisles, repeating the same actions. It doesn’t help that the IKEA nearest our home is closing down. We spent much of the kids’ childhood there. The kids loved the play area. It feels like the past has been cut off and we can’t go back, even if we can’t really go forward either. We are stuck, pretending that things are moving, going through the motions of the days, the gettings up and keeping goings.

Someone the other day told me that after the first couple of years, grief is often still punctuated by moments of disbelief. I think I’m still back at the beginning where the moments of belief are far outweighed by the everydayness of disbelief. I think it’s the body trying to protect itself from the unbearable and maybe that’s okay. Grief affects you both physically and mentally – surely her grief for her husband must have affected the Queen’s health. And, after two years of such huge loss across the UK, national grief – for an individual who formed the backdrop of our lives, for a time and for a part of our collective story, can only serve to exacerbate personal grief for many.


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