Thursday, 30 August 2012

Footprints in the Sand

'Time will heal' is one of the phrases I have heard most often as a bereaved child. It is also the most inaccurate. People frequently say it to me when I tell them about the accident, or if I am upset. I wish I knew how to explain to them that grief doesn't work like that, it is endless. Time doesn't heal grief, nothing can ever fill the void left by the death of a loved one. It never gets easier, the hole never shrinks but you learn to grow around it. You become strong enough to carry it with you. Not through bravery, but because there is nothing else.

Whilst grief is endless, it is not stationary. Slowly you pick your way through each memory, each lost dream and unfulfilled ambition. Taking each one in your hands, turn it over. Cry for it and scream for it. Grieve for it. And then you move on.

Forever is just an endlessness of 'nows', all strung together. What people who have never been bereaved don't realise is that you only move on in the 'now' that you currently occupy, that with each new stage of life there comes a new beginning to your loss.

And so you move on. And you grieve again, and search through your memories, and if onlys, and regrets. You build yourself up, and grow around the hole which consumes you. Gradually you learn to be strong enough to carry it with you. But then life moves on. It is strange because, despite the relentless pain it results in, I don't resent the cycle of grief. Each time I go through it, I find new glimmers of hope, new futures and horizons. I come back stronger, with more treasures and fragments of myself than I had before. Learning from the cycle teaches me the most powerful lessons I have learned in my life, and it gives me an insight into beautiful things. 

Grief is like the seashore. The tide comes back in and washes away your footprints, but it cannot wash away the knowledge that you were there. Each time new treasures wash up on the shore, and they are yours so long as you create the capacity to receive them. Some people find seashells or driftwood. But when I look in the manes of white horses, I am searching for pebbles.

Currently I am at the beginning of the cycle. Looking backwards I see nothing but my own awareness of the places that I have been. Before me lies a beach of the broken dreams of my sister. I no longer try to fix them, they are no less beautiful with the sunlight dancing across the sea water on their surface than they were in Louise's mind. Eventually I will reach the end of this one particular journey, and I know that the sunset at the other end will be breath taking. Beyond that there is a new beginning again, but I no longer fight it. There is no reason to be afraid of the blackness after the sun has gone down. Though the night may seem so very dark, we never doubt that the sun will rise again in the morning.

Wind, Rain and Blow Away Gazebos

The Pebble Garden's stall at Winchcombe Country Show was a success! I sold 216 pebbles and raised £196.30 for Winston's Wish in memory of Louise. For those of you who are interested, the best selling pebble was a Picture Pebble with a rabbit on it. I sold nine of them and will post a photograph soon.

We arrived at Winchcombe at nine am to find Nanny and Pops putting up the gazebo in strong winds. I am very lucky to have grandparents so willing to brave the elements and help, as I would never have got the gazebo up without them. Pops, if you are reading this (probably sitting on the sofa with your ipod!), massive thank you! Due to the weather we also successfully managed to break Uncle Joe's gazebo! One of the legs buckled when the gazebo blew over whilst the guy ropes were being attached. Pops managed to get it to stand up all day, but had to remove one of the legs to get it down again!

Windy weather proved to be a challenge.  It was difficult to concentrate on selling pebbles when I had to keep stopping to chase the posters and organza bags across the field. Despite the miserable weather nearly everyone I met was in good spirits, and so although there were gray skies overhead there was sunshine on the ground. Mr. Weather Man held the rain off until it was time to pack up, at which point everyone and everything got soaked. We all went home sodden, cold, exhausted and happy.

I was looking forward to a couple of days quiet before taking The Pebble Garden to Tesco in Skipton on 31st August. However, we got home on Tuesday evening and began frantically cleaning ready for a house viewing yesterday. So in the past week I have been beaten up on the rides at Thorpe Park, spent eight hours stood outside in the wind and rain and dropped a hoover on my foot (don't ask!). Tomorrow I'm going into the next round: a pebble sale at a supermarket. Bring it on!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Fingers Crossed

At the moment it is half past six in the morning and I am sat in The Amberley Inn. Today is the day of the Winchcombe Country Show, and I am extremely nervous!

I am very used to having a stall in Skipton Craft Fair, but somehow this is different. More things could go wrong, for a start. I have to take my own gazebo, tables, lighting and everything else; it is a good job that my family are so happy to help. Massive thank you in particular to Nanny and Pops who are getting up early to errect the gazebo! Also, it is a completely different market. Whilst I have never been to Winchcombe Country Show before, I am anticipating more children. I'm taking lots of picture pebbles with animals on, as they always seem to be popular!

The main person that I need to like my pebbles, though, is Mr. Weather Man. Apparently the forecast is for heavy wind and rain. I desperately need that to be wrong!

Now it is time to go and get ready, but my biggest challenge of the day will be using the shower with my fingers crossed!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Waiting for Daddy to Come Home

As I have mentioned before, I didn't start to miss my Dad until over a year after the accident. For a long time, I didn't realise that it was okay not to miss both of them at once. Whenever I was upset about the death of my sister I said, "I miss Louise and Daddy." Professionals always lumped them together, which just made me feel like I was bad because I didn't miss Daddy.
Daddy with Louise

The reality is that I never miss them both at the same time. There are periods of my life when I miss Daddy most, and periods when I miss Louise. Times spent grieving for Daddy will be interspersed with days of desperately missing Louise, and vice-versa, but I never cry for them both at once. They are separate, and that is okay. Who I miss most depends upon what is happening in my life at the time, who's absence is asserting itself most overpoweringly.

In the first year or so after the accident, I spent most of the time trying to find a way to stitch my world back together after the section containing Louise had been so violently ripped away. As my identical twin sister, her death was all-encompassing- it swallowed me whole. I couldn't contemplate existing without her,  so I got through each moment by refusing to look at the bigger picture of what I has lost.

Daddy used to work long hours, and often got home after we had gone to bed. Sometimes he would get back in time, and we would run to him as he came through the door. One of my happiest memories is of him crouched down in the hall hugging me. I loved the smell of his aftershave. It smelt of safety and love and home.

After the accident I felt like he was still at work. I used to sit in Louise's bedroom (it became mine after she died, but I always thought of it as her's) and wait for him to come home. I wasn't sad, I didn't miss him. I used to feel upset about Louise, but not him. When he didn't come I just though, 'Never mind, maybe he'll be home in time tomorrow." It wasn't until we moved in with my step dad in our new house in Yorkshire that it really hit me: Daddy was never coming home.
Daddy with Louise (right) and me

I think partly I didn't miss him for so long because he was such a constant part of my life, parents are the solid foundations that hold up the world. When he was gone everything came crashing down on top of me, I felt like I was suffocating under the rubble which crushed me. I had needed time to deal with the immediate, instant loss of Louise before I started to process the removal of Daddy. He was at work a lot, but we saw him in the mornings before he went, and every second at weekends was magical. In my eyes he was perfect, and as my father he offered a steady source of protection and comfort. Without him, my safe little world was gone.

In some senses I find life without Daddy even harder to comprehend than life without Louise. There are so many times when I need him to help me, when I desperately need his advice or for him to come and save me. I still feel like I'm waiting for him to come back for me, to protect me from the things in the world that I don't want to see. Maybe that is the hardest thing about him dying: learning to survive in a world where I need him with the knowledge that he will never come. The smell of his aftershave is gone.

On the other hand, there are times when I am glad that he died. As you have probably noticed, I refer to him either as my dad or Daddy. Never Dad. He died when I was five, I will always remember him from the viewpoint of a little girl. He is perfect, the most amazing man I have ever met. He died before I went through the 'stroppy teenage' phase, so I never said anything to him that I regret or that wasn't true. He died when I was young enough that I only have happy memories of him.
Daddy, Mum and Dan on his christening day

Knowing that I have to live the rest of my life and that he won't see it is hard. On my wedding day there will be nobody to give me away. If I have children he will never meet them. My GCSE results come out next week, and I want so badly to tell him about them. I want him to hug me and tell me he is proud of me. I don't know what will be inside my envelope, but I can tell you that Daddy won't come.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Beauty of Life Lives on

On Monday The Pebble Garden raised £136.81 for Winston's Wish in memory of Louise. This takes the total to £594, which smashes the target of £100 for each of the five years of Louise's life! However, I plan to continue fundraising until the end of the summer, including at Winchcombe Country Show in Gloucestershire.

Nana with Dan
The Pebble Garden had a special visitor on Monday- Nana May! Nana is my paternal grandmother, and her visits have always been eagerly anticipated. When we were little and lived in London she used to come and stay, and in the mornings we climbed into bed with her and she told us stories. All three of us loved books, but our favorites were Billy Bluebell stories, which Nana created herself. They featured a little elf called Billy Bluebell who lived at the bottom of our garden and went on adventures with his friends Mr. Wolf, Mr. Squirrel, and the fairy queen.

It was really lovely having Nana at the stall, so wonderful to share it with someone who features so prominently in happy memories of Louise. Nana bought pebbles for her siblings and her garden, as well as pebbles with 'Michael' and 'Louise' on in memory of them.
Nana at the stall with Sas, me and a slightly bigger Dan!
 The Pebble Garden isn't over yet, just like Louise's life shouldn't be, either. Please never forget that she will always be mine and Dan's sister. I will always be an identical twin. No matter how much time passes, always remember that even though her life was tragically short, it is no less beautiful because of it.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Getting Ready for Winchcombe

As I have mentioned previously, The Pebble Garden is going to be at Winchcombe Country Show in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire on 27th August. This is probably the biggest event of the summer for The Pebble Garden, and so we have ordered Pebble Garden T shirts!

Sas models back of shirt!

Having the T shirts makes it feel like we are doing something more significant in Louise's memory, and we can all take part in it as a family. I worry that Dan, my younger brother (who is now taller than me!), has been feeling left out. I hope that having a Pebble Garden T shirt makes him feel more included in The Pebble Garden and remembering Louise. She is his big sister, and he is an essential part of everything I am doing to remember her.

Saskia is very excited because we got her a special, smaller T shirt so that she can wear one, too. I think Sas is sometimes slightly confused by Louise, and how they are related. Louise is Saskia's half sister and died before Sassy was born. I hope The Pebble Garden makes Louise feel more real to Saskia, rather than just being a part of our lives that ended before her's began.

Because I will be stood still all day and Winchcombe Show is outside, I have a Pebble Garden hoody to wear as well so that I don't get cold! It has the same design on as the T shirts.

Winston's Wish have very kindly sent me some literature, posters, balloons and stickers to use at The Pebble Garden stall. These will be brilliant for decorating the stall and Uncle Joe's gazebo, which I am borrowing for the afternoon! 

Massive thank you to Mum for allowing me to order T shirts, my family for agreeing to wear them and Winston's Wish for sending me the literature so promptly!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Holding on to Emptiness

A few days ago I posted about the emptiness left by Louise's death, however I didn't explain the full effects that this has had on me. I have recently read the blog of, and spoken to, an extremely courageous lady, Laura, who has inspired me to share another aspect of my story.

The emptiness left by the death of Louise leaves a hole inside me that I have always tried to fill. I remember at primary school sucking in my stomach to try and reduce the size of the void inside of me, it was such a physical pain. The loss I felt for Louise was also a major contributing factor to my development of anorexia nervosa at the age of fourteen, a condition from which I still suffer.

Before I talk more about this, it is important that I explain what anorexia actually is. Despite common misconceptions, it is not vanity, or a desire to be thin. Neither is it a choice. I try my hardest and am slowly working myself free. Anorexia is a mental illness, and results in anxiety and strong feelings of fear when you deviate from your normal regime. Anorexia is strange, nefarious thoughts that are not my own but infiltrate my mind in a way that is beyond my control. It is like having a tiny demon permanently stationed on your shoulder, constantly whispering to you about how pathetic, useless and unwanted you are. Anorexia has a profound impact on both the sufferer and their family and close friends, which results in a huge amount of guilt on the sufferer's part. Worst of all, very few people can see how hard they are fighting, trying to make the anorexia change. I watch the world from the other side of a waterfall. I see it, but the light is distorted and blurry, and I cannot reach the other side. I shout, cry out, but nobody can hear me. I am not loud enough to drown out the roar of the tumbling water which threatens to pull me down.

I feel that the death of Louise greatly contributed to my eating disorder because being an identical twin is such a deep connection and encompassing relationship that you feel lost when it is gone. Being a lone twin is like falling through space and time and life, with no solid foundations to hold onto. I reach out, but grab hold of nothing but the emptiness which consumes me. Anorexia offered a way out. It cannot remove the emptiness, only numb it ever so slightly. Basically, I fall more slowly but I am still tumbling downwards. It also gives me a way to punish myself for the guilt I often feel at being The Twin Who Survived. As is common with twins, I have always felt like Louise was better at everything, that she got all the nicest things and that my parents loved her the most (not true- just to clarify, they loved us equally). When Louise died, this was intensified. 'Mum loves me less than her' became 'Mum wishes I was dead instead of her'. Although I'm not sure that I have ever admitted it before, I feel incredibly guilty for not having died. Sometimes because she should have lived instead of me, other times because I should have gone with her. At least Daddy didn't let her go alone.
Daddy, Mum and Louise, six hours old
Anorexia was a way of trying to fill the void. My relationship with Louise came from the inside, and the anorexia resides temporarily inside me, too. They are separate, and yet they are very much connected. It is exhausting trying to separate them out, to deal with Louise's absence and the anorexia at the same time. Mainly, anorexia intensifies the feelings of isolation and being alone that I experience as a lone twin, as well as being the one thing that helps me to cope with it. I live in a terrifyingly paradoxical world.

Laura's blog is about her journey with anorexia. She gives a much more insightful and articulate explanation of anorexia and what it is like to live with the constant shadow hanging over you than I can. The shadow makes me feel so cold, and somehow puts up barriers between me and words. Laura is so brave for breaking those barriers down.

Inspired by Laura's courage and determination I decided to share a little of my anorexia story with you. I hope I have explained it well enough to not sound crazy (or at least not like an utter raving lunatic!). Laura is going to America for treatment, which I think is an amazing thing for her to do. It is people like Laura who make other sufferers feel as thought they are not quite so alone, and I cannot put into words how valuable that is. Thank you, Laura, and I wish you all the hugs and hope and love in the world.

Louise cannot be replaced, and her absence is too encompassing to avoid it, even for a second. The emptiness is relentless, but slowly I am learning to find my footing. Hopefully one day, the battle will be over and anorexia will be gone. It will take time and a strength which I sometimes believe that I don't have, but one day I will be free.   

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

When Half the World Went Away

Yesterday, The Pebble Garden raised £71.64 for Winston's Wish in Louise's memory, despite it being a very quiet day in Skipton! I am always touched by the number of people who care enough to buy pebbles, it is what inspires me to keep going when it is raining outside. Thank you to everyone.

I also have some very exciting news: I have arranged to run a Pebble Garden stall from Wynchcombe Country Show! This is a family friendly event in Gloucestershire, featuring a procession and many craft stalls amongst other wonderful things. If you know anyone who is in the Gloucester area on 27th August, please let them know!

A few days ago I shared with you what it is like to be an identical twin. Today I hope to share my experience of losing Louise. I remember at the time it felt like half of the world had fallen away, like there was a physical emptiness which threatened to engulf me. That has never gone away, even ten years later. There is a strange, bright white area which I cannot quite see but which occupies about half of the world in which I live. It never leaves me, and is an intrinsic part of the person I am, yet it has never really been mine. I guess it is the empty space that should be filled by Louise.
Our first day of school (Louise left)

This feeling of a physical absence is often consuming. Sometimes, I feel like it is going to devour me. I could drown in the absence of my sister, I want to wrap myself up in the places that should have been hers. But I can't. As I have said before, those dimensions are Louise's, and though grief is my own I cannot fill her world.

After the accident, I started to try to be more like Louise. My favorite colour became yellow, where previously it had been pink. Louise had always done better than me at school, but I pushed myself to excel. I started to grow my hair long like hers. Not only was I aware that I was becoming more like her, it was a conscious decision. I missed her so much, I hoped that by being like her I could somehow bring her back. I knew that my mum missed Louise, she was sad. Me and Louise were twins, people got us confused. Maybe if I was like Louise it would make Mummy happy. I thought I had to be like her to keep her alive.

Now I realise that I don't need to be like Louise to keep her alive: she lives on in my heart. Instead, I remember her through The Pebble Garden. I want to build something beautiful in this world so that her beautiful life continues to have an impact on others, because she was such a caring girl.

My individuality from Louise is another issue which I have to deal with, and is amplified by my existence as a lone twin. However, it is a factor which has only come into play in recent years, so I will discuss it in more detail later. For several years I buried myself in trying to be like Louise, my sister, the little girl with a big heart.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Beauty of Dreaming

I have organised another Pebble Garden stall in Skipton Town Hall on Monday 6th August 10am-4pm! If anyone is local to North Yorkshire, it would be lovely if you popped along to the stall and said hello!

I also want to share some information I have put together about what it is like to be an identical twin, as this will make it easier for me to explain what it is like to be a lone twin. It is in what I call a 'Letter to Louise' format, which I have been using to write about stories from The Pebble Garden stalls. I will share more of them in later blog posts.

Friday, 3 August 2012

.... And Then They Were Gone

This is my first post in which I share my experiences of bereavement, and it is such a complex thing that I'm not really sure how to begin. I guess I should start at the beginning, but I don't really know where that is. Probably the moment they died, but in a sense I didn't really start to grieve until later. In particular, it was over a year before I even really began to contemplate the possibility that my daddy was gone.
Daddy with Louise, 5 months old

It was 5th April 2002 and we were going on holiday. Louise and I were five, and our little brother Dan was three. Our Mum was driving, Daddy was in the passenger seat and Louise was sat behind him. Dan was in the middle. A van changing lanes clipped our wheels, knocking the balances in them. This meant we lost control of the car and swerved onto the other side of the motorway. We got through two lanes of traffic without hitting anything, but there was a lorry in the third lane. There was nothing that anyone could do. We collided with the lorry side on, so there was only the car door between Daddy, Louise and it. They died pretty much instantly, and I'm grateful for that.

Louise on the right
One of the things that adds another layer to my experiences of bereavement is that, although everyone else in the car was either killed or knocked out by the impact, I remained conscious throughout both the accident and the aftermath. Whilst my memories are slightly jumbled, I can recall certain things that I know will stay with me forever. These include feeling the car swerve, the car in a ditch after the collision (some other motorists broke my window and got me out of the car), talking to a police officer in the ambulance but being so quiet that he couldn't hear my answers when he asked my name and what school I went to.

I remember feeling like I was in some kind of strange dream. I wasn't afraid, and I don't remember asking about my family, although I may well have done. I don't think I realised what had happened. The most upset I felt was when they were cutting my clothes off me, and I realised I was wearing my special pick knickers. They promised they would get me some new special pink ones, but they never did.

Nanny with Louise (right) and me
The first person I saw who I knew was my maternal grandmother, Nanny Jacqui, who lived in Gloucestershire. She was given the task of trying to explain to me what had happened, and telling me that Daddy and Louise had died. I have always felt sorry for Nanny that day, and admired the strength it must have taken: she arrived at the hospital knowing that the dad was dead, and one of the little girls was dead. She didn't know which one of us she was going to find. They told her that, no matter how hard it was, she had to use the word 'died' when she told me what happened. Euphemisms like 'fell asleep' and 'gone away' are confusing to children, especially as they suggest that death is temporary. I remember Nanny said, 'Daddy had so many hurties that he died, and Louise had so many hurties that she died too.' I cried because I could tell that I was supposed to, but I didn't really feel upset. 'Dead' was the people in the graveyard that we walked past on the way to school. Not my Daddy, and not my Louise.

Louise (right) holding Lenny
I think the first thing that I got properly upset about was my pen. I don't remember it, but I am told that a few days later I was inconsolable over a pen that hadn't been recovered from the accident. The various grandparents, aunties and uncles who were looking after me at the hospital were perplexed as to why I was so devastated about something replaceable when my dad and sister had died. The doctors told them that it was because the loss of my family was so great that I couldn't cope with what happened. When I was sobbing, "It was my special pen and I only want that pen and I need it and I miss it so much!", I was actually expressing how I felt about Louise. I think it was made even harder by the traumatic nature of the way that they had died: one second it was a sunny day and we were going on holiday, the next I was all alone in a strange hospital. I later projected my feelings of loss onto Lenny, a soft toy that I had lost in the accident. I remember I used to cry over him. I think that Lenny was a representation of everything I had lost. I missed Lenny because I couldn't cope with missing Louise.

A Letter from Winston's Wish

Yesterday I received an official thank you letter from Winston's Wish for the money raised by The Pebble Garden at the first three stalls.

I have also decided to post on this blog about my own experiences of bereavement in the hope that it might provide information to enable others to understand or support people going through a similar thing. Also, after Daddy and Louise died I used to feel very alone, despite taking part in projects with other bereaved children. This was because I felt that nobody knew what it felt like to lose their dad and identical twin in the same car accident, as most people there had only lost one close family member. I guess losing two at the same time in traumatic circumstances must be fairly unusual, so I hope that by sharing my experiences it will help others in a similar position to feel as though they are not so alone, even though everyone's situation and the way they experience grief is different.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Darkness Means the Stars Shine Brighter

Yesterday I phoned Winston's Wish, the charity that The Pebble Garden is fundraising for, about whether they have any connections in Gloucestershire where I could run a stall. I would like to run a pebble stall in that area because my grandparents live in Stroud and I hope to take The Pebble Garden to as many places as possible. This is to signify the way that Louise has lost the freedom to experience every aspect of life, and to make decisions about the places she wants to go and the things she wants to see. I contacted Winston's Wish about it because they are based in Cheltenham, so may well have connections in the area. They have kindly agreed to help me find a venue to fundraise from, which is extremely exciting! I will let you know as soon as I get an update!

Lanzarote, one of the places Louise (left) did get to go

Winston's Wish being so helpful made me realise that I haven't explained yet why I chose to donated money raised by The Pebble Garden to Winston's Wish. Mine and my brother's memory boxes for Daddy and Louise came from Winston's Wish and formed a significant part of learning to live without Daddy and Louise because it provided a special place to keep special things. Also, one of Winston's Wish's main aims is to 'enable young people to live with their grief and build positive futures'. I am running The Pebble Garden because I want to show that whilst I find Louise's death devastating, that doesn't mean that I cannot build something beautiful out of her memory. This belief that my future can still be bright even though Louise cannot be there in person to share it with me is partly inspired by the work of Winston's Wish. I hope that the money raised by The Pebble Garden can help give hope to other young people, in the same way that it gives me hope that Louise will never be forgotten and will always have a positive impact on the lives of others.

Winston's Wish also has a 'Skyscape' on their website where children can name a star in memory of their loved one and place memories around it. I have stars for both Daddy and Louise, which means a lot to me because when we were little Daddy used to show us the constellation Orion's Belt whenever it was visible in the sky. Knowing how alone you feel when someone dies, especially when it is someone as close to you as your twin sister, makes me appreciate how critical all of Winston's Wish's work is. Having experienced something as destructive as bereavement means that I really appreciate the helpful, kind way in which Winston's Wish is supporting The Pebble Garden by looking into potential venues for me. It is made all the more valuable in the light of my own experiences. If anyone from Winston's Wish ever reads this, thank you.