On birthdays and schedules

On birthdays and schedules

Grieving on a schedule is hard

And when you have your own blog on grief, bereavement, children, pregnancy, and all the things, it can sometimes feel like you need to hit targets, or anniversaries, or significant days, with profound content that makes people sniff and tell their significant other that they’re fine, they just have something in their eye.

Yesterday was Mark’s birthday. He would have been 39; staring down the barrel of the big 4-0, feeling old and wondering if he had acheived all of the things he was aiming for in life.

Instead he only made it to 32. Which, frankly, is ridiculous.

But I didn’t write a blog post.

Because when you’re the one left alive, you don’t get to opt out of child-related responsiblities like school pick-up, cooking tea, ensuring that there is clean uniform and games kit for the next day, helping with homework, changing nappies, picking up engine parts for lawnmowers (not child-related so much as family-business-related!), and then you know, your actual job.

I sat down at 8.30pm, when both children were (supposedly) settled in bed, and sipped on my Moscow Mule (Mark’s favourite drink when we went out anywhere that wasn’t intent on just serving “beer”), quietly thinking about how my life would have been completely different if the bastard cancer hadn’t decided to eat away at his insides.

But I didn’t write.

Because grief can’t be scheduled.

It is more likely to jump up and smother you while you’re standing in a tent listening to a band play a completly random song than it is to saunter along a few days after sending you a note to say it will be popping round.

Grief is weird, and perverse, and not performative.

I’ve written before about how, as a species (because I can’t put down my wannabee-librarian hat), we search for markers. We want rituals, anniversaries and days that help us mark the marching of the years, the changing of the seasons, and the development of our lives. And all of this is true. Significant days (such as Mark’s birthday, the day he died, Ethan’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, and the day we sat in the doctor’s office and were blindsided by the cancer diagnosis) give me checkpoints to think about how much my gorgeous Welshman has missed, how much he gave me in our time together, how far I’ve come, and how much Ethan is like him in a million different small ways.

But putting my thoughts, hopes, dreams, neuroses, and general craziness out into the world via this blog has it’s downsides. I’m a people pleaser (mostly, until my impatience kicks in!). So I feel like people expect me to hit these milestones with insightful words that will make them think, and help them with their own grief. And, I’m not going to lie, there is also a part of me that feels like I need to tick the boxes of the good little widow, and spend time on anniversaries wearing black and delicately wiping my eyes with a monogrammed handkerchief.

Well, Jane Austen may roll in her grave, but this isn’t me.

This is me:

I bought this plant and its white pot around 4 months after Mark died.

It was something of a “fuck you” statement. To life and cancer and all the things that I felt had been thrown at me.

It was a way of announcing to the world that this wasn’t going to break me. That it was shit, but I wouldn’t drown.

And it was also a way of convincing myself of this on a daily basis – a fake-it-till-you-make-it attempt.

This plant has been overwatered, underwatered, forgotten, knocked off of shelves by flying nerf gun bullets, and moved around the house constantly. But it has survived.

In fact, it’s more than survived. Last week I noticed that this unkempt piece of vegetation had managed to cope with all of it, and sprout two new baby plants. More than survival, there has been growth and thriving.

Which feels like a bit of a metaphor for my last 7 years really. There has been grief, confusion, depression, joy, confusion, sheer bloodymindedness, love, counselling, stupid decisions, but there has been growth. In a literal sense I have managed (with help) to keep a boy alive for 9 years, and I’ve grown another actual mini human being. I have my own two little baby plants.

But I have grown as a person too. I have done what I always promised myself I would do. Mark’s death changed me, but I have not let it make me smaller…less. I have learnt about myself (even the unflattering bits) and about what is important to me. I have become more selfish, not as accommodating, and more prone to snap decisions. But I have also become more spontaneous, more willing to find joy, and more aware that, no matter what you see from the outside, everyone has their own shit going on and we’re all just trying to make it through the day.

So I sit here with my two incredible children, my amazingly patient and kind husband, my little house that is all ours, and a new and exciting business that I have built from scratch. And I know that Mark would be proud.

Because I more than survived. I thrived.

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