Have you ever wanted to be someone else, someone specific or simply someone other than the person you actually were? I know I did.
My childhood, up to the age of eleven, was idyllic. I was an only child. Both of my parents worked. We were reasonably well off, had annual holidays, a nice house and car. I enjoyed a very close relationship with my maternal grandmother – Gran. She read me stories, taught me my nursery rhymes, knitted me dolls clothes, took me on picnics and, most of all, gave me time. And animals; a menagerie of budgies, dogs, cats, a tortoise or two to play with.
Things changed when my brother was born. Not all at once but gradually throughout my teenage years. Money became tighter, the arguments became more frequent and I lost my confidence. To avoid the worst of what was happening at home, I would flee to Liverpool at every opportunity, to stay with an aunt and my cousin. Life seemed easier in Liverpool, less complicated and more fun. My cousin was seven or eight years older than me. She was married and had the sweetest baby girl. I really just wanted to be her, to have the happy marriage, the little girl, card games on a Sunday evening and buying baby clothes at Ethel Austin.
As well as being Gene, I also wanted to be my English teacher – Mrs Smith. She was sophisticated and enigmatic. She spoke with a Georgie accent and simply had a way of making literature come alive, Shakespeare meaningful and Chaucer seem relevant. Pride and Prejudice became full colour and Keat’s poetry almost musical. I fell in love with English and I think a little bit with Mrs Smith. It was around that time I decided I wanted to be an English teacher just like her. I wanted to inspire young minds and motivate future readers and writers like she did. I created scenarios along those lines until I left school, left Mrs Smith and went to Teacher Training college.
During the time when Paul and I were trying to conceive, I would find myself daydreaming of being the mother I longed to be. A little girl all blond curls, dimpled hands and pretty outfits. I poured over the Mothercare catalogue picking out pushchairs, cots, high chairs and bedding for the child yet to be conceived. Such dreams in my head of how life should, or could, be.
And that’s what they were. Redefining fantasies that played in my head from time to time. I didn’t become my cousin, or Mrs Smith but I did become an English teacher and I did become a Mum, not of the little girl I dreamt of, but of two wonderful and amazing boys, who made all my dreams come true. Then the worst happened and Grief gatecrashed my life, redefining everything brutally and all I had spent years carefully constructing.
The redefining starts immediately your child takes their last breath and you become a bereaved parent. You are plunged into a world of making impossible decisions as your child’s next of kin, parent. You speak to medical people, the police, the coroner, the bank, phone company, friends or school. One minute you are a Mum, the next you are a bereaved parent and nothing is the same ever again. You behave differently, think differently, feel totally different. Things you used to find easy become impossible, decisions defy us, simple tasks defeat us, and motivation disappears. There is so little of who we once were left. When our child died, so much of us died too. We are hardly recognisable, even to our family and friends. We cry more than smile, we are exhausted most of the time, we barely eat, bathe, or care about the things we once did. We exist in a fog, in a place where they can’t reach us and eventually most stop trying. They were friends with one person and they simply can’t fix us and make us into that person again.
And we can’t either. We can never be that person we once were. We have been redefined by our catastrophic loss. Things we once cared passionately about hold no meaning anymore. Films or programs we once enjoyed become impossible to watch. When Mark died, I stopped reading – Mrs Smith would horrified! With Matt, I read at least twenty books about the Camino de Santiago. I carried on working after Mark and hardly move off the sofa with Matt. All we can do is get to know this new version of ourselves, a person not of our choosing or making. We have to relearn how to walk, think, behave and slowly emerge as someone we might like or not, or maybe grow to love one day. Hopefully, our friends and family, the ones we have left at least, might learn to like and love this reinvention too. Because we have been redefined as a bereaved parent and it’s all we have.