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Going on a family holiday after the death of someone close is hard. They are there everywhere, but also very much missing.
It has been strange going on holiday in the midst of Covid-19, watching the figures going up and worrying about quarantine changes. We went to France last week to see old friends. We needed to get away after the sentencing of the driver who killed our daughter, although I felt that somehow I was abandoning my daughter by leaving the house. Just a change of scene and something to look forward to in some sense was important for everyone, though.
But it was also our first summer holiday without our oldest daughter. She was missing, but also very much present. I took to going for walks ‘with her’ in the evenings, talking to her about what we were doing and the aspects of it she would have liked [the beauty] and hated [being in the countryside]. It still barely seems real that she is not here. Because she was at university, it is sometimes as if she is just in another place. Maybe she is. I tell myself that once someone has existed they never cease to exist. I wonder where we begin and if we ever truly end.
On the walks, I talked to her about different types of reality – she was studying Philosophy so I knew it would appeal to her. Every day I still wake up and think is this real and wonder why I can’t wake up in another reality. Sleep too is another reality, after all, although a less stable one.
Nevertheless, we have to go on. Our lives – particularly our other children’s lives – cannot be over. Much as I would like to stay in bed and never get up and face the day, I have to. Not all days are the same, of course, and some days you just feel numb because your body can’t take being overcome every day with grief. You revert to ‘normal’ holiday activities because you have to. You get through the days and hope that some time this will get easier, as everyone says, that you will find a way to absorb the shock and loss of someone so central to your being, although, of course, it’s my daughter who has lost the most.
We watched Saving Mr Banks the other day. I find almost all films and programmes sad these days. So many touch on loss – it is an essential part of being human, after all. But Saving Mr Banks was both sad and happy. P L Travers had written Mary Poppins for her father and the film saved him from a job he hated and brought him back to what was important – spending time with his children. The mind can be a wonderful, creative, restorative thing. It can also be a creator or reflector of intense pain. I’ve woken up with nightmares about everyone dying over the holidays. I replay over and over the image of my daughter flying through the air, “like a rag doll” as we have been told, in her final moments – all that vibrant, radiant life shocked out of her in seconds by that car. I cannot imagine what it was like for her boyfriend and friend, who were there. I’m reading books about grief though and it is helpful hearing other parents’ experiences.
We came back last weekend and that was also strange. We did all the things we normally do, unloading, putting the clothes in the washing machine, checking phone calls, but my daughter was not in her room when we got back. Her suitcase full of clothes is still there – the clothes we picked up from her university room so many months ago and which I have not been able to unpack yet.
The sentencing in a way gave us a focus, although it was intensely distressing. Now there is just endless time to get through. I know things could get worse before they get better because I still sometimes have to remind myself that I will never see my daughter’s beautiful face again or have her lean her head on my shoulder while we watch a film together or listen to her witty asides or get a text asking me to pick her up from the station. There are so many things that I want to talk to her about – and I will keep talking to her. Always. Relationships based on deep love, once begun, never end.