The start of 2017 training

A realisation struck recently; I still had a live blog that hadn’t been updated in a while. On inspection while turned out to be 11 months. I remember writing the last one, on the train back to Edinburgh to meet the hospital staff whilst A slept on my chest in the baby carrier. I wasn’t great then, the blog was supposed to be a release be in reality it wasn’t. However by the time I wrote that I was taking literal steps to help me cope, I just hadn’t noticed yet.

When I wrote my last blog post in March 2016 I was running again. I’d run before, never seriously or with any great ability, but I’d done a handful of races and Parkruns. In 2013 I ran the very first Yorkshire Marathon, enjoying the atmosphere of my first marathon for the first 18 miles or so, then finding the lure of St John and his fine fleet of ambulances increasingly difficult to resist as my legs set firm and every part of my body begged me to stop. In the following two years you could count on one hand the number of times I went out for a run. Running was no longer for me.

However, in the grief fuelled haze I was trying desperately to ignore I needed to do something positive. My wife had already taken the initiative and signed herself up for some runs to kick start her sponsorship drive for charity, with friends across the country following her lead and forming their own army of fundraisers. It didn’t take much persuasion to get me involved, I was signed up for three half marathons before long and these would be my contribution to E’s army, raising money for charity and running three lots of 13.1 miles with E’s smiling face emblazoned across my chest by way of the customised running tops.

Over the course of 2016 three half marathons eventually became six, with a supporting role in the Yorkshire Marathon to boot (my wife ran her first marathon and a place became available for me to run with her). By the time I’d finished the first half marathon of the year I was a runner again. Hooked on the thrill of race day yes, but this time there was more. I was running these for E. I wanted to do well for E. Her face was carrying me round the route and we were connected again.

I’m not sure when it clicked but during my training I noticed a significant change in my mood. Yes I was still low, and yes it was still shit, but I was lifted. The exercise was making me fitter in my body, and also in my mind. I was less prone to breaking down when I was on my own and the distractions keeping the sadness at bay were absent (usually on the dark walk back home from the rail station, or when sat feeding A in her dark, quiet room before bed). Any gaps in training would bring about predictable lapses in my resolve, those bedtime tears creeping back out (thankfully A was only 4 or 5 months old when these were at their worst and never seemed to cotton on), so training took on greater importance. I was training to run quicker, feel better, and be stronger for those around me.

Skip forward to 2017 and I run more than ever, having joined a local running club towards the end of last year to make sure I kept active over winter. Even when I was running for pleasure pre-2013 I never ran over winter, the cold is not for running in. It worked. I’ve kept up my physical fitness and I haven’t had a serious lapse in some time (not counting Christmas and E’s birthday which no amount of endorphins could get me through smoothly).

So far there are two races in the diary for this year, both marathons, significantly one being the Edinburgh marathon. That’s where we lost E, in the Edinburgh children’s hospital, and where we try to do the most good to help those experiencing the worst of times imaginable for a parent. It will be emotional to be back there, and in my energy depleted post marathon state there will undoubtedly be tears at the finish line, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to pushing myself again. I’m looking forward to meeting members of the Sick Kids Foundation and being part of their team for the day. And I’m looking forward to running 26.2 miles with E on my chest again. She’s going to get me round and make sure St John and his ambulances don’t start to tempt me in again.

Today marks the official start of my marathon training plan for Edinburgh. A gentle 3 miles to start off the programme will follow A’s bedtime tonight. Touch wood, neither of us have shed a tear at bedtime in some time. Alongside the latest running goal I’m also going to aim to make better use of this blog. When I set it up I thought it would help me deal with everything that was whirling through my head. It didn’t, but running did. However I wish I’d kept the blog going this last year, purely as a log of how I was doing. I enjoy the running geek nature of tracking and analysing every step I take through Strava. I love seeing how I’m progressing ahead of each race and scoff at how long it took me to run up ‘that’ hill this time last year. Perhaps this is where the blog can fill the gap and make sure I keep it up to date. This blog will be my Strava for grief. Looking back at the brief history of this blog I can already see how much progress has been made since last year. Let’s hope 2017 sees that trend continue.

Back to where it all went wrong

Today we travel back to the hospital where E passed away to meet her doctors and discuss what happened. This is a daunting prospect. We start with a long train journey to get us there that quite frankly can’t take long enough.

I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to see those faces that fought so hard for E, and were clearly saddened by her passing. I have nothing but thanks for everything they did for E, they threw everything at her illness. It was just too strong. They were our heroes for that week. But I don’t want to see them again, I don’t want to be reminded of what happened in that room. I have to work to make sure my memories of E run no further than that morning when it all started. The memories after that are too painful. Of all the memories I have of E, it’s the ones from that room that snap in to the clearest focus. Everything is preserved. The long, lingering ache of not having E is enough to battle with. I struggle to hang on when my mind, my blasted wandering mind, takes me back. My best efforts to block those memories out will be fruitless for now. We are actually going back.

But we must. We need to know what happened as simply put, it’s still not clear. We need to know why E ended up in that room, and why she never made it out. We need to know our youngest isn’t at risk and we need closure. I don’t think we’ll get all the answers today, some will do for now.

It’s the Shoulds that’ll do it.

I’ve come to realise that for me, the word that will cause the most upset is should. Should reminds me of what’s missing from life, what was taken away so quickly, and what will never return. Should takes away all perspective on the good times in the past and reaffirms their place there; they are in the past and that’s where they’ll stay.

Our first should came fairly swiftly after our daughter’s funeral. We were due to move house the day she fell ill and given the distance involved, this move was halted until she was laid to rest. We eventually moved in to our newly rented three bedroom house to be greeted by a shattering should. That should be E’s room. We should be putting up the sign that marks this as E’s room. We should be bringing out her drum to bang on (only when her baby sister naps of course). We should be worrying where we’re going to store everything. Instead E’s room is the store room, and her things are in storage there. Her favourite shoes, packed away instead of laid by the front door, summoned the most significant tears as they were gently set down in a box marked E and sealed away.

Christmas was the next, obvious should.  At almost three this should have been the first Christmas she really got. We’d been telling her about Father Christmas since September, such was our own excitement. Instead we found ourselves working hard to avoid Christmas as much as possible, whilst not completely writing off our youngest’s first Christmas. Thankfully at 6 months old she was too young to see the sadness behind her first Christmas.

E’s third birthday swiftly followed in January. Another day we should have celebrated. We tried, our friends and family joined us in an attempt to celebrate E and for some of the time it worked. However E should have been there. E should have been wowed by her amazing Frozen birthday cake. She should have been opening birthday presents and blowing out candles. Instead we were left to tearfully release balloons for her and miss her dearly. That day the shoulds were unavoidable and unshakeable.

It seems there’ll be little let up in the near future. Mother’s Day next, then family holidays, Father’s Day, more birthdays, day trips. Even silly little thoughts like “I should update the wallpaper on my phone” are now potential breakers as the prospect of a new wallpaper without a new picture of E is devestating. The big ones, such as starting school, are suitably far off for now, but the little ones remain.

That said, in clearer moments it is possible to look past the shoulds and focus on what we have, and have had. We wouldn’t change anything from our time with E, save those last seven days. She brought so much joy and happiness that it’s impossible to imagine a life where she never existed. We should remember this. We have our youngest to care for and give us the drive to go on. Whilst she should have a big sister to help her grow up, she’ll always have a big sister who loved her, who shared her toys with her, who kissed her head, loved a baby cuddle, and always said “night night” to her. We should tell our youngest this everyday. These are the things we should focus on, the things we can use to keep E with us and make sure her sister knows E was the best big sister ever.

An opening post…

I’ll open with the context. In 2015 I became a daddy for a second time and our family grew to four members. Three months after the birth of our second daughter, our eldest became very ill, very quickly and sadly passed away after seven draining, dreadful days in intensive care.

My hope for this blog is that, first and foremost, it allows me to talk about how I am coping (or not) with our loss. I’ve found it difficult to open up when talking face to face with anyone, be it family, friends, or colleagues. I’m overcome with emotion before my words even come close to forming. Inevitably any response to “are you ok?” is dealt with by a firm nod of the head, avoiding all eye contact, and resolutely chewing on my bottom lip to try and hide the trembles. I know there are things I need to talk about, I’ve even been to see a counsellor in an attempt to overcome my reserve, however the result was much the same. All the things I had mentally prepared to say before the session were swiftly locked away behind chewed lip with the first “Tell me about what happened”.

Although this blog will be an outpouring from me, I don’t want it to serve as a blog to generate support for me from readers. I want it to reach those who are going through, or have gone through similar experiences, so we can share our thoughts and support one another. And as much as I would like to think otherwise, I’m not expecting that it will act as a comfort to others in a similar situation. Grief is a very personal thing, and no two people will respond to it in the same way. At best this may serve as a “what not to do” guide -it won’t take long to spot that my tendency towards taciturnity, and a head-in-the-sand approach to dealing with loss (which has served me poorly since 2007 with the death of my mum) is no good. However if it can generate conversations here, I hope they will help those of us who need anonymity to open up, to share what we’re going through and move forward.

I’ll close with a request for understanding of the anonymity of this blog. As may well be evident already from this brief opening, I am not one to deal with things publically. If friends or family knew of this blog, and who was writing it, my immediate thoughts would be towards an urge to delete all evidence of it, and do my very best to avoid all talk of it with those people. Furthermore, if I knew friends and family were reading I would undoubtedly dampen my writing, tailoring it to suit a familiar audience. It is with this in mind that I choose not to attach my name to what I write. My hope is that the lack of identity doesn’t detract from the writing. The underlying message remains the same, presented far more openly without my name attached.