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.

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