Papow Ponders #10: Self- Preservation

Note: This post will go into issues such as morbidity, loss, global crisis and generally heavy stuff.

Since I was quite young, I’ve had a massive fear of losing loved ones. This fear has often left me thinking ‘what’s the point?’. Much of my teens was spent angry and despondent or very sensitive and emotional. I would picture members of my family dying; think about what I’d say at their funerals; and imagine my life in the aftermath of their deaths. This happened on a near-daily basis. I was never comfortable talking about it because I imagined everyone would think I was crazy. There wasn’t a great deal of change until at the age of seventeen I started seeing a counsellor when my dad left. Originally, it was so I could find ways of coping with our dysfunctional relationship. My counsellor was lovely though and in our final two sessions I was able to open up to her about my morbid feelings. She proceeded to tell me that I needed to focus on my family in the moment rather than thinking about the future – if I continued being a morbid soul, I would only make them miserable and drive them away. It was a revelation; that conversation changed my life and my outlook on my relationships. It worked…for a while.

In my first year of teaching, a very good friend died. I knew people who had died before but I never knew them well and I didn’t really have any connection with them. This was very different. For the first time in my life, I understood that death meant no coming back – there is space left behind, an emptiness. I saw the impact it had on loved ones. I also learned that I had absolutely no power to make it better. No amount of words, meals, days out, nothing can take that pain from the person who is feeling it. Not only did it make me feel powerless to help, I also started to panic about everyone around me.

Not long  after, I started to double check if I’d kissed my husband before I went to work. I thought (and sometimes still think) that if I didn’t, he’d die feeling unloved – that would make me feel horrifically guilty. Increasingly, I worried about my mum on her commutes or having an accident at work – I had to make sure I said ‘I love you’ on the phone every time I spoke to her (I still do). I began to obsess over people’s diets, thinking that what they were eating would put them in a early grave. I was quite horrible to be around.

Pressures at work made things even worse. Now instead of just thinking that everyone I loved would die, I thought that somehow I could cause their death. I’d leave a floor wet and they’d slip; I’d get them to meet me in a horrible place and they’d get attacked; I’d leave a knife in the dishwasher and they’d slip and impale themselves on it. I thought about these things all the time – sometimes they were quiet thoughts but sometimes they screamed in my head.

I was very pleased though as all of my rituals were working because nothing bad had happened to anyone else and if I kept this up, no-one else would be lost. That didn’t happen sadly.

On my wedding day, a few of my family members and I noticed my grandma looking a little bit lost and out of it. I assumed it was the hubbub of the event and lots of new people around her. As the months went by, she started repeating herself and asking questions that had already been answered. I really desperately wanted to ignore it – all of us did. We couldn’t and she was diagnosed with dementia.

My grandma is very very special to me. I swear she has magical powers. She’s always made me feel like I could do anything. She never laughed at my ideas, she never shouted me down. My grandma was always there with a knowing smile and, of course, a delicious plate of food. She was the kind of person to wake up at six in the morning and wash windows on the tallest ladder, to nurse a poorly pigeon back to health and cry when it died, to welcome anyone into her home and feed them. She swore and gave as good as she got to anyone who crossed her. She left her country with her one year old child to build a better life – and she did.

What happened? We started losing her and we continue to lose her. I don’t want to go into detail but she is still her – just not who she used to be. I’ve lost part of my mum with her too. That emptiness eats away and as much as you try, you can’t make things as they were before. My obsessions and rituals are pointless because the worst is happening – I am losing part of my family, part of my heart.

I currently flit between bursts of all-encompassing sadness, anger, numbness and blissful ignorance. I wish I were in her place so I wouldn’t have to witness what’s happening. I wish I had seen the signs sooner so i could have done something to stop it. I am angry that it’s happened to her – honestly, the loveliest, most selfless person I have ever met. Losing her has strengthened my belief that there can’t possibly be a god – if there were, why would they let something so so terrible happened to someone so wonderful. It’s not right.

This is where self-preservation comes in – I’m trying not to drown. I feel guilty when I don’t see my grandma but each time I see her, my head falls into a hole that I struggle to crawl out of. I don’t want it to be like this. I want to go back to making rotis with her. I want to go back to sitting on the kitchen top licking a spoon while she tells me how to bake syrup sponge for the fiftieth time. I want to go back to lying on her legs while she took an afternoon nap. I want to go back to when we lived together at uni and she’d always welcome me home with open arms. I can’t go back now – no matter how hard I want it, I can’t.

Now, my focus is going on my family, my job and my friendships. I can’t live in memories and hopes. It is what it is. The world is in some strange and horrible place currently and it can all take its toll. If I want to stay away from my darkest thoughts, I need to keep busy and try not to dwell. I’ll have moments like now when I sit sobbing a hot stream of tears but I can’t let it take over. On the outside, I may seem superficial, care-free and unburdened – it’s just one of the ways I find to cope. Painting a face on, talking about something light and eating cake – pure escapism. If I spend too much time with my thoughts, they won’t let me go.

I’m not sure if any of this makes sense but I felt the need to get it off my chest.


3 thoughts on “Papow Ponders #10: Self- Preservation

  1. Aw love, I’m very sorry to hear about your grandma, I wish I could help somehow. I get you with the fatal consequences thing. I have to tell Michael to be careful on his bike every day when he goes to work. I think that if I don’t tell him, he won’t be careful and he’ll get squashed by a lorry. It drives him nuts! Another example, I have to wash my hands every time I touch my nose/mouth because I fear otherwise I’ve got some virus which isn’t affecting me but might spread to some sick child and kill them off! I worry abut my dad a lot, as well (especially as he lives like Keith Richards). You’re not alone. I thought I was the only one.


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