I know everyone has a story. Everyone has some challenges they have had to face, some worse than others. But everyone has a story. This is mine.
Before 2003 I didn’t really understand grief or loss. Aside from my aged grandfather, I didn’t know what it felt like to lose someone close. Then I lost a dear friend in a tragic way. My friend was my sister-in-law, the partner to my only brother and the mother of my beautiful niece and nephew who were three and six respectively at the time of her passing. Her death was sudden and surprising, although looking back I can’t see how I didn’t see it coming. She had been struggling for some time with mental health issues and although I was often on the receiving end of distressing phone calls, whilst in the midst of it I truly didn’t see it coming. Now when I look back I see an image of this big cloudy, dark bubble that contained six or so months of anguish. In the midst of that anguish was her. That saddens me. I wish I had cuddled her more, told her she would be okay more, I wish I did more. Needless to say if I ever saw the same signs again I would do more.
I still remember the night of her death so vividly. I remember waking up to a phone ringing and a tap dripping and how anxious it made me feel (I still don’t like the sound of a tap dripping). I remember driving in the dark to her house, getting lost in my panic even though I had been there a million times. I remember the sound of emptiness in the middle of the night, it was like there was no-one else in the world but us. Us, surrounded by darkness. It was a dark time. I don’t want to get into more detail as it is difficult to write. I feel if I don’t write it then it will go away. If I do write it is there forever as a constant reminder. Even writing this much I feel like I am reliving that dark night, it’s oh so vivid. This would be my darkest moment yet. And then the nine months that followed.
The following months I surrounded her children and my brother with my love. I was anxious, I was scared, I was remorseful. I was tragically sad. Every breathing moment was consumed with sadness and questions. God why can’t we turn back time? I floated around from moment to moment in disbelief. I worried about my niece and nephew, I worried about my brother. I was always worrying. I was always wishing I could turn back time.
Nine months later further tragedy struck. My brother had a serious motorcycle accident. I remember Mum and I driving to ED at the hospital that morning, seriously concerned he had broken his arms and legs. I was thinking in my optimistic way that a lot of support and he’d be okay, a few broken bones won’t keep him down. At least he is alive! When we arrived at the hospital we discovered he had a spinal injury. The rest is a bit of a blur, I don’t think I can recall the events in ED as I would be making it up. I just can’t remember. Next thing I do recall he was in a rehab centre, learning to deal with the loss of the use of his legs, and arms, and was rendered a quadriplegic. The dark cloud I was shuffling around in just got darker. My heart broke for him. I cried and cried and cried. When a doctor came in to tell our family he would never move his legs again, I cried. My heart broke daily. Not my active, hard-working brother! How, why? Fortunately (yes there is an upside) he didn’t receive head injuries and he did not die. But why this? Hadn’t he and the kids been through enough? More grief. More sadness. More guilt. Why hadn’t I been at his house that night to stop him getting on his motorbike? I spent as much time as I possibly could at his house in the months after my sister-in-law passed away, why wasn’t I there THAT night? I grieved.
Over the next four or so months I went to the rehab hospital daily. Sometimes twice a day. I finished work and I went to visit him. I got up on the weekends and went straight to see him. My son was only a toddler and I carted him back and forth with me. If my brother was smiling and joking I felt ‘okay’, but in my mind I was constantly asking how could I make this less painful for him. I was distraught. When he started wriggling his toes and started moving his feet I said a silent thank you to whatever is out there, thank you for making this easier for him. After he was discharged from rehab he returned to my Mum’s house where his kids had been during his rehab stint. Without a parent at home my Mum had scooped them up and moved them into her house, got them into a school near her and surrounded them with love and family.
The next period of a year or so is not my story to tell. My brother has fought some long and hard battles and this was one of them. He faced a difficult and challenging time which I know many of us will never know. But the moment I saw him move past the grief of losing the use of his legs was a happy day for me. My brother is also an eternal optimist, like me. We get that from our Mum. He wasn’t going to pine for long and after some long, dark months he started to live life again. He was alive, he had his kids, he was going to make the most of that. And he still does. Nothing has changed for him, he is the same man only in a wheelchair. One of his friends once jokingly said ‘He was an asshole before his accident, and he is still an asshole!’ I see him as the same cheeky, caring brother I always have. During his difficult times though I struggled watching him wheel away from me. I would gaze at the back of his head and my heart would break. Again. But now I see him for the same person he was, maybe even better. He is more alive, he loves life to the utmost and I learn a lot from his positivity. I complain less now about minor ailments and I take nothing for granted.
So years after this troubled period the sun eventually started shining again, I could see smiles on the faces of my niece and nephew, my brother, my mother, surely I too would be happy right? Right? Once the shock of what had taken place settled and I was no longer running around trying to make sure everyone else was okay, it hit me. Severe sadness. Anger at my sister-in-law. Sadness for my sister-in-law. Grief.
I could be plodding along being mum and wife, working and helping others, when all of a sudden when everything seemed to be fine I’d fall apart. I remember a day when it hit me. I was standing in the kitchen of our newly purchased abode and I felt this wave of anxiety take over me. I should have been feeling happy but instead was in a state of panic. I felt helpless. I didn’t understand it at all, I was supposed to be excited over our new abode, life was good, we were all safe and happy. I promptly called my therapist in a state of manic anxiety and we later discussed this: our bodies have a memory and on this particular day in mid December, there was a summer smell in the air and we were approaching the festive season. My brother’s accident was four days into the new year. My body was reminding me without me even thinking about it, ‘Look out, trouble ahead!’ Just when life is going along smoothly my body feels the need to remind me, to be alert and on the lookout for tragedy.
After months of fortnightly sessions my therapist got me back on track, subdued anxiety in check and slowly dissipating. Every year though, around this time, my anxiety does rear its little head. I know the signs now though and I know how to somewhat control it and keep it at a level I can still function and think rationally. Most times.
So when you read my blog and you (hopefully) see positivity and a genuine love of life, you know why. I have spent the better part of seven years trying to remind myself that the tragedy is over, we are all okay. The anxiety is something I live with and I feel if that is the worst I have to deal with I am doing fine. I have to work on it, it doesn’t go away on its own and never will. In fact it only gets worse if I leave it. I know that now. I am however grateful I took the initiative to sought help, the many, many hours I have spent in therapy have worked wonders for me. I work hard towards living a fulfilled life, appreciating the very simplest but most valuable thing – my family. I don’t ever take them for granted and I surround them with my love and happiness at every moment. I may be the eternal optimist, I may see the good in people before the bad, I may see the good in situations rather than the bad, but I work damn hard at it. I work hard at not feeling negative about things I can change, knowing when situations that you cannot control strike that feeling of helplessness is debilitating. I find hearing people complain about small things very painful, I can’t relay my experience onto them but I only wish they never have to deal with something traumatic to make them realise how wonderful life truly is, and to not let the insignificant details ruin their day. Often I have to feign compassion over small concerns expressed by others, as I know to them it is a big deal. However I barely batter an eyelid over their ‘dilemma’ knowing if they had something worse to compare it to they would not be wasting their energy worrying about it. But to some people the small insignificant issues they are dealing with are a big deal to them. It is not my place to put others’ lives into perspective.
My brother says he hates when people complain over minor ailments. I have heard him say he hates it when people complain over an ingrown toenail, and it always makes me laugh. He is always one for putting things into perspective and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Moments when I feel sad over something insignificant I quickly snap myself out of it. I have nothing to be sad about. I choose my own path, I choose how to wake up and live my day. And I choose to do it with love and positivity. If I don’t like something, I change it. If I can’t change it I change how I deal with it.
Life’s good, I’m sure not going to spend any time bitching about it.