Well fancy seeing you here...

Hello and welcome to the rambling rollercoaster of useless ponderings, strung together in what the internet calls a "blog," and the voices call a waste of everyone elses time.

Please check your sanity at the door (along with your dignity, logic, principles, good taste and prejudices against daftness.)

"I am here to seduce you into a love of life; to help you to become a little more poetic; to help you die to the mundane and to the ordinary so that the extraordinary explodes in your life." -Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Sunday, 9 August 2009

A Matter of Life and Death

Well it finally happened, yes it finally happened. My sister's elephantine gestation came to an eventful end mid-morning on August 1st 2009, when she gave birth to a little girl called Chloe. I use the term "little" rather loosely, as when the child took her first breaths she was already of a size not dissimilar to that of most domestic cats. (Not our cat though. Even I struggle to match the size and weight of Tuppence.)

It was a particularly laboured labour, or at least felt like it, as my sister had convinced us all that the baby would be early, and by the time she actually arrived none of us were quite sure whether or not to believe it. "Well how much of the baby can you actually see? Because unless the feet are out there's still a chance she might climb back up again!" It is that attitude which saw me accused of not treating the arrival of my niece with due seriousness – but the honour of most-inappropriately-humorous approach goes to my stepmother-to-be, Sam. When Dad asked my sister's fiancĂ©e how things were progressing, he was told that the head was visible, and the baby appeared to have black hair. Now, did Sam respond with a saccharine comparison to Snow White's ebony tresses? No, she suggested that whilst it may be true that the crowning bonce may be furnished with dark locks, it was also equally possible that Sara just hadn't waxed in a while... (Suffice to say this alone gives me cause to have unwavering confidence in their impending nuptials. Anyone who feels comfortable enough to make that joke with their betrothed about his daughter – and in the process tickle him enough that he repeats it to his other daughter – has found their perfect match. ...Or will at least be doing mankind a favour by taking themselves off the streets.)

The day she was born I visited my niece in the hospital, and for once may not have been the most tired person in the room! Contrary to popularly exaggerated belief, I am adjusting to being an auntie. I still find it an appalling injustice that the universe is allowing my generation to breed, and think it is merely adding insult to injury that the baby is also ginger, but despite that I seem to be adapting. That is to say, adapting to the newfound knowledge that it is not actually necessary to take antihistamines before I go near baby Chloe, (though I am growing ever more convinced that there's no cure for the allergy I have to her mother.)

It was Chloe's irrepressible mother who last week announced that she was "absolutely certain" that I would not only marry but have a child of my own soon. The extent to which this has made everyone roar with laughter should be enough to tell you how unexpected a statement hers was. She was saying that when she marries it will be the end of the Lawrence line, as my father only had daughters and there is no one to carry the name into the next generation. I hastily reminded her that actually I've always said that I would double-barrel my surname (and that of any prospective progeny) for the very reason that being a Lawrence is far too important for me to discard. She replied "Oh, you know what I mean. Soon I'll be a Pollard, and you'll be whatever you're going to be in the near future." I nearly choked on my tea at that point, and she elaborated "Oh yes, I'm sure you'll get married soon. And me having Chloe will make you broody too. If I can do it so can you." Her manner was so offhand yet sure of itself that I was at a loss how to argue – save point out that irrespective of my many unfavourable thoughts on the subject, there are several practical steps missing before her prediction could be realised. My independence and lack of overt maternal instinct have meant that, generally, people do not ask me "when it's going to be [my] turn?" ...And if they do, they tend not to live very long.

A few people (all so blindly misguided that they need to sack their specially-trained Labrador,) have suggested that nursing Chloe should be making me broody. It isn't. Rightly or wrongly, she has as yet had no affect on my hormones, and I really don’t expect her to. That’s not to say that I’m without feeling when presented with a newborn; when next-door's cat had her kittens I wanted one so desperately that I explored every possible avenue via which I may at least retain contact with them. As my cat isn't very friendly, had the house been even a tiny bit bigger I would have considered sectioning my home into two halves; thereby keeping the kitten as my upstairs cat and allowing Tuppence to stay downstairs. (Any of you from the North, for whom "tuppence" shares a closser affinity with the word 'pussy' than it does with the word 'cat', may be sniggering right now. Stop it.)

When it comes to the human infant in my life, however, I feel very differently. I am not uncomfortable with her presence, and may even grow to like/love her as she develops a personality of her own – providing it differs greatly from that of her mother – but she does not ignite the desire to raise offspring of my own with any immediacy. The only life-event to have ever really focused my attention on reproducing, via anything other than cloning, was the death of my Grandfather: three years ago this week.

As I have oft mentioned, he was the centre of my world in a way no one else can ever be – because he shaped so much of who I am, and how I interact with the world. My Dad has been a big influence on my life in a similar, but less innate, fashion. I have always admired my father, and wanted to grow up to be like him (which I think was bound to happen whether anyone wanted it or not!) Grandad shaped my person in a less conscious, but just as solidly enduring manner. Despite working long hours, and missing out on a lot of what would now be considered "quality time" with his family, we remained his first priority. My grandmother (slightly bitterly) relates the tale of how he missed his daughter's christening because he had to work, but he only ever did so on occasions when he considered that things would trundle along fine without him. As he saw it, my Auntie Sue would be christened whether he was there or not – whereas if he didn't go to work then there would be more tangible consequences. Of course the emotional impact on the family was a consideration, but he always felt that setting a good example, doing a job that benefitted the community, and providing us with everything we needed was of greater import. He was an impressive and awe-inspiring patriarch, who raised himself up from very deprived, and often unpleasant, roots to make a life which – whilst never blessed with riches – was as happy and secure as he could make it for the people close to him. He always maintained a high personal standard – not just of dress but of conduct. He came from a community that was considered to be of a very low class when he was born into it, and whilst never adopting false airs and graces, he was keen to be respectable. In running the community centre he held a position of authority, and always aimed to live up to the responsibility he felt to the legacy of the MP who he helped set it all up. Grandad always had a well developed sense of duty to those who depended on him, which led to him being taken advantage of a little at work, and also caused his deep determination that his family be safe and well cared for. Of course he was also stubborn, hot headed and recalcitrant, but there was no denying that in his position at the head of the family he stabilised it like no one else.

As someone who had always battled with poor health, but seldom seemed weak or 'ill', his death from small-cell lung cancer was not a surprise but somehow managed to be even an unimaginable shock. All my life – from visiting him in hospital aged 5 when he had his heart-attacks and double-bypass surgery, to hearing tales of when he fell off a roof breaking both legs – I had thought of him as a survivor. A nocturnal epileptic after beatings by his father left him with a scar on his brain, he fought and won over and over again – so when it came to it, I don't think any of us possessed the appropriate capacity to accept the fact that he was going to lose. We'd been raised on the knowledge that with medical help he would be fine, and that had proven to be the case so many times that the strength of the belief had become ingrained within us all. Science is marvellous, how could it fail him? He wasn't frail, didn't look his age, and had worked right up until the night before he was given his terminal diagnosis. He did not live like an old man, and so it was as offensive as it was unbelievable that he eventually died like one.

When I lost this stability, my emotions spiralled in all directions – back into the past, but also out into the future. Previously I had deliberately avoided thinking too much about whether or not I wanted children. First because my then-newly-divorced Auntie (who I spent a lot of time with) was pro-feminist and anti-babies, and later because my own ill health as a teenager meant I always considered that it would be unethical to have a child unless I was in a better position to provide for it. When Grandad died, I was left with a swirling cacophony of vibrant memories that I wanted to share, and suddenly couldn’t imagine not sharing those memories; not continuing the family he had worked so diligently for all of his life. He left me with so many stories and values – and sharing them with Chloe will only be of so much use, as her sense of Grandad will be coloured by my sister's less intense relationship with him.

This particular moment might be especially tough to explain to baby Chloe...

I appreciate how lucky I was to even know him – as his brothers died at far younger ages and had he followed suit then I may have been little older than Chloe when we lost him. I was instead granted a precious opportunity to share two decades with that magnificent man – as his granddaughter, but also as a surrogate daughter (I lived with him from age 5) and friend, as in the latter years of his life I'd made the conscious decision to spend more time talking to him, and more importantly, listening. I used to stay up late until he came in from work and let him unwind by telling me all about his day: which invariably meant bemoaning the customers in the bar, or the committee who controlled aspects of the Centre! I like to think that I had a very well-rounded sense of the man he was, as well as loving him just because he was my Grandad. It would be impossible for me to underestimate the influence he has had on me, and in turn the impact felt by the loss of a person so very integral.

It is, of course, easy to get sentimental at this time of year, particularly because there has already been a birth and is due to be a marriage, (my father's wedding to Sam, in case any of you are still clinging to the same wrong end of that very shitty stick my sister presented.) New additions to the family who will never know the former members of the clan will always be an emotional issue – especially as the echoes of who he was and what he taught us still so keenly reverberate through the lives of those he touched.

This blog post is, admittedly, a very indulgent one which many will not have bothered to read; but an understanding of loss is something we all discover eventually, and will all be changed by to a greater or lesser degree. Whilst I am in a position to articulate my experience and to publish it for a handful of tolerant souls to wade through, many suffer silently, and with little clarity amidst the seemingly-insurmountable emotion. There are aspects of the event I am not so eager to vocalise, and skirt around even within my own mind, because they are still too painful to address. For me, the day before that of his actual death (at a little past midnight on the 10th) is the one I find hardest to deal with, and is the reason for this seemingly pre-emptive post. It was the last day I saw him, and was the last day I went home to lay on the bed next to the phone doing what little I could to soothe the icy terror that it might ring at some odd hour, with news I neither wanted nor could think of a way to answer. After months of not being able to sleep until I had heard him breathe heavily or snore, knowing that he was in hospital and the phone was next to my bed brought with it a constant nagging fear that still raises my pulse when the home phone rings unexpectedly now.

It is with particular poignancy now, that I recall it being just such a circumstance which started me on the path to becoming a writer. My first piece was a short story titled "The Call," which when I read it back now I think was shamefully poor. For a fifteen year old with no prior experience though, it was an acceptable first-attempt. It was about a girl waiting for a heart-transplant, and explored how both hers and her family's lives revolved around their anticipation of "the call" to say that a heart had become available. It is a phone call which prospective transplant recipients can get at any time of the day or night, and which causes a low-level of panic every time the phone shrills, because of the sheer enormity possibly hidden beneath each ring. The piece was published on John Fisher's website www.heart-transplant.co.uk which I would urge you all to take a moment to visit, as he helped me greatly with both my confidence and my research all those years ago. He's a lovely man who was given a second chance by his donor Steven Tibbey, and is one of the reasons I (controversially) believe that organ donation should be an opt-out service rather than one for which people must sign up. Many are put off signing up for an organ donor card because they find it difficult to contemplate their own mortality, or because they think there will be time to explore such options in the future. So few people do register, but so many would readily join the list of those awaiting a transplant if their situation required it. Any of you who would accept an organ, I would ask to also think about signing up to be a donor. It's a very personal decision, but one which is far too easy to avoid.

So there we have it - my meandering, stream-of-consciousness discussion of "life, the universe, and everything," as I presently comprehend it. It only gets more complicated from here, but wouldn't the future be bleak without the colour that comes from complexity…

1 comment:

Maureen said...

Just had time to read this with the attention it deserves, and I haev the following comments to make:

1. I can fully understand hw you felt about your grandad - I was also lucky enough to have a grandad I adored to the point of worship, but sadly lost him when I was only 5 - I still remember him vivdly and I'm sure I transferred my affection to my Dad, who was also a huge influence on my life.

2. The family stories you can tell Chloe are so valuable, especially as they come from someone other than her mother, in giving her a wider view of who she is in terms of her heritage and family backgrounds - and I'm sure she'll be fascinated by what you have to say when she's old enough.

3. Despite what everyone says, I maintain other people's children (even relatives) do not make one broody - I have been quite able to hold and admire children of friends, cousins and siblings without the slightest desire to reproduce myself. I felt no maternal stirrings at all until after I was married, when it suddenly (and frighteningly!) seemed absolutely right to want my husband's children.

4. But as you so rightly say, for you to reach that point, you need to pass through a few other life-changing experiences first - like that equally terrifying feeling that actually, yes, you can imagine being with this man for the rest of your life....

Thanks for an insightful and interesting blog - and enjoy baby Chloe, along with the knowledge that you hold no responsibility for her!