Friday, 20 April 2012

Is this normal?

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Quite a lot of the time, I want to ask: is this normal? I do this, or feel that, and I wonder if it is just what other people do or feel too. There is a great deal of back and forth, in my mind. Sometimes I could not think of a worse thing than being normal. One must be singular, surely, follow one’s own drummer. At other times, when I want to teach the world to sing, I think: I just want to be like everyone else. (Also, I suspect there are things which seem perfectly normal to me which other people would consider quite peculiar.)

Sometimes I like to imagine myself a creature of mysterious quirks. Look at me, defying convention. I eat soup for breakfast. I sing to my horse. (Last night, it was The Rhythm of Life, which she seemed to enjoy very much.) At other times, I think myself unexceptional, prey to the exact same hopes and fears and sorrows that all flesh is heir to.

I’m not sure if there even is a normal. Normal is just a random construct; a set of mores invented by the culture. Not that long ago, it was considered not normal for women to be educated. It was thought that our poor delicate little brains would be sent mad by philosophy. Now, ladies fly fighter jets and go into space and lead entire countries.

All of which is a very long way of saying: I really miss my dad.

Tomorrow will be the day he died. All week, a shadow has been hanging over me. The weather does not help. It has been brown and low and bleak and cold for days. There is rain and smudge and cloud everywhere I look. Very occasionally, in the evening, a shaft of sun breaks through, but it is the kind of sun that may not be trusted. It arrives, for a moment, to tantalise; to remind me what light feels like; and then it buggers off again, laughing heartlessly.

I have gone back into a bit of a fugue state. I have become afraid of sleep again. This happened in the first weeks after he died. Grief is tiring, and the one thing I would say to everyone, apart from make soup and plant trees, is: get enough rest. But I resisted sleep, in a horrible, self-destructive way.

There were two reasons. The first was because it felt too much like death itself. The second was that, in those minutes when you are in bed, before oblivion comes, the mind has no defences. In the day, there is action and purpose; there may be sadness, but it is accompanied by work and food and walking the dog and doing the garden. In those still moments at night, waiting for sleep to come, any thoughts may arrive, untrammelled and uncontained. That can feel quite frightening. Sometimes, I would sleep with the radio on, just to hear the reassuring voices of the BBC World Service, reporters telling stories of a distant place, enough to divert me.

Funnily enough, today I thought: after tomorrow, it will be fine. It’s just the approach to the dread day itself. It should not mean so much, but it does. It has become freighted with far too much significance. Once I get past the significant day, and out the other side, then I may go back to regularity.

So, I wonder, in my battered old brain: is this normal? Is this what happens to everyone? A lovely woman I know, who makes beautiful gardens, and is one of those people whose hands are always mapped with earth, in the way that I admire (my thing for dirty hands is growing into a small obsession) lost her mother not long after I lost my dad. I saw her on the last trip to the south. She is struggling with it all, battling to keep her head above water.

We talked of our departed, in that relieved way that you do when you find someone in the same boat as you, paddling hard. She suddenly leaned forward, looked at me urgently. ‘But,’ she said, ‘I don’t understand. I mean, everyone loses their parents.’

I knew exactly what she meant. It is one of the conversations I have with myself. It is so very, very ordinary. It is one of the most expected things in life. And yet, even though one knows that rationally, there is a part of the heart which is astonished, affronted, shocked and startled. As time moves on, and this odd shock subsides, usual life reasserts itself. The new knowledge settles. And then, every so often, out of the blue, I am assailed again by the strangeness, the gap where this person used to be, the rip in the fabric of the universe. It is so very ordinary, and so very extraordinary, all at the same time.

My old friend The Expat emails, from her faraway coast. She lost both her parents, the year before mine. I have been more than a little deranged, she writes. But, she adds, it does get better. This is what we do; two steps forward one step back. Compare notes. Send the love across entire oceans (six thousand miles from her front door to mine, but the love gets there anyway). Make the soup, plant the trees, love the dog, sing to the horse. Normal, schmormal. Keep buggering on.


Despite the weather, I did actually take some pictures today. Here they are:

19 April 1 20-04-2012 09-54-10 3024x4032

19 April 2 20-04-2012 09-54-20 4032x3024

19 April 3 20-04-2012 09-54-26 4032x3024

19 April 4 20-04-2012 09-54-32 4032x3024

19 April 5 20-04-2012 09-55-00 4032x3024

19 April 6 20-04-2012 09-55-09 4032x3024

19 April 6 20-04-2012 09-55-21 3024x4032

19 April 7 20-04-2012 09-55-57 4032x3024

19 April 10 20-04-2012 10-01-04 3024x4032

My two girls, in elegant black and white:

19 April 14 17-04-2012 17-40-43 3239x2645

19 April 15 17-04-2012 18-04-40 4032x3024

You can see here the true nature of the dreich; just smoky cloud where the hill should be:

19 April 19 20-04-2012 09-57-51 4032x2526


  1. I'm so sorry, Tania. It must be such an immense hole, and I do hope you get through not just tomorrow, but the rest of the days with the hurt easing.

    I sometimes have fleeting thoughts about what I'll do when I lose Pa Blonde, and the notion is so terrifying I chase it immediately from my brain. As you say: it's an inevitability, but one so full of immense sadness that I just can't comprehend it.

    I think however we deal with grief is normal. It's so outwith our normal emotional sphere that we do what we need to get through. xx

    1. Blonde - what a lovely comment; and I love the idea of Pa Blonde. Excellent name for a fellow. :)

  2. Just wanted to send love and light x

  3. According to an online dictionary, normal is: "approximately average in any psychological trait". I don't much fancy being 'approximately average' in any sense, and I don't imagine you do.

    There is a phrase they use in this county: "normal for Norfolk", which implies "abnormal for anywhere else".

    It happens to you; you process it as best you can; and the only normal that counts is the one that enables you, personally, in your life and nobody else's, to 'keep buggering on' (I love that immortal phrase of yours).

    I love the two tulips, by the way. What perfect symmetry.

    1. Cassie - you always say the best things. The two tulips are quite by chance, just fell off when I was arranging the main ones. so I put them in a tiny glass together. They are rather lovely, aren't they?

  4. I lost my Mother 16 years ago now, and my Father eight years ago. Yes everyone loses parents but not everyone has the same relationship with their parents that you have, not everyone will experience the same sense of loss. We are constantly beaten down from all sides these days about being 'normal' in our uncertain times some try to cope by dragging everyone down to the same level. We are individuals, you sound like you are quite definitely level headed, with a little anxious introspection as a side order. I slid of the tram lines when my beloved Mother died, you sound as if you re coping very well indeed. I hope it continues

    1. Susan T - very wise and lovely comment; thank you.

  5. Just as I saw your two red tulips today, with those smiling heads over their gently entwined stalkes, so very close and at one with each other, I thought I was seeing you and your Father.

    In that glass filled to the rim, you made room for just the two of you.

    Look at it again and rejoice.

    1. Cristina - incredibly lovely thing to say; thank you.

  6. Am on the approach to the one year anniversary of my Mum's passing and would definitely confess to feeling derailed. The presence of absence, as they say.

    I would be lost without the World Service in the wee small hours; so often I hear something completely fascinating, which I have sadly then totally forgotten by morning.

    This weather is most definitely not helping. After the warmth and sense of renewal a few weeks ago it is particularly ghastly.

    As someone slightly in awe of horses it has been very educational to read about Red and to see how much happiness she has brought you. One thing though, this whole hog/mane thing. What does it mean? Perhaps it could be a reader's Sunday question! I remember she looked quite the Punk in the early pictures.

    Keep buggering on. There are a lot of us out here empathising.


    1. Elaine - ah, so there you are, in the same leaky boat. The weather really is an absolute bastard and does not help at all. So very glad you like Red. The hogging question, just in case I don't do it on Sunday: she was a polo pony, and they have their manes completely cut off because they wear so much tack, and the rider is swinging his whip and his stick, and if anything should get caught it would be a disaster. Still not quite grown out, but she is looking much more lady-like now.

  7. Nothing matters, really, except that you live through it. If someone says, 'no, what you are doing is not normal,' would that change anything? Not to mention, what in the world does 'normal' mean? If all your friends were Tea Baggers, then it would be normal if you were too. Perish that thought!

    You are yourself (if you weren't, there would be half a dozen BIHH blogs on the net, and if you'll notice, there is only one). The important thing about grief, as you have said, is simply that you do it; you don't dodge it. And there is no law against your feeling better when the anniversary is past.

    How about feeling happy that your relationship with your father was so strong that grief like this is appropriate?


  8. Sending love. Thank god for the world service. Like Bird said how about feeling happy that your father meant so much to you.


    Will work out how to comment properly one day x

    1. Helen - I love your comments; keep trying.

  9. P.S. Your green hawthorne with rain drops is stunning! :)

  10. So normal and yet such unique pain. Please keep buggering on for all our sakes - and this too shall pass. Amanda xxxxxx

    1. Amanda - how incredibly kind you are; thank you.

  11. Tania, it's a beautiful day where I am and I am sending you a huge clean, crisp, autumnal-hued hug. :)
    I lost my darling Dad when I was 18 and the hard fact of him really, really not being here still has the ability to make me double over in pain. Like you said, we all do lose our parents at some stage but, BUT, that does not make it any easier. It just makes our normal somewhat skewed.
    I will be thinking of you today and hope you are able to belt out a good number for Red and take a long walk with the Beautiful Pigeon. Take care xxx

    1. Em - you always leave the most lovely comments and this is no exception. Even though it is sad, I'm almost relieved you have the same thing about your dad. Perhaps we never really stop missing them, but just fold it into the steady, usual parts of our lives.

  12. Positive thoughts being sent your way from the desert!

    My mom died in 2000, and it's still unbelievable that she's gone. For me, as time progressed, those intense feelings of missing her slowly became the memories that kept her close to me.

    Squeeze those 2 beautiful girls when it gets rough -


    1. Robyn - what a really lovely thing to say; thank you.

  13. The leaves are beautiful.

    Can I suggest taking Pigeon to bed with you? I always find that comforting (the best of our dogs to take to bed is Molly - MUCH more laid back than Winston, who is inclined to leap up at the slightest hint of activity outside, or Fearghus, who is just too big to be allowed on at all)

    1. Erika - I love this comment. Now trying to picture the absolutely vast Fearghus, with his brilliant name. Quite tempted to take RED to bed with me, the weather is so ghastly.

  14. "Normal" is the mean line, the average between incredible and crap. It's a word like "fine" (which, evidently, according to Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith, is an acronym for f*cked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional). For me, it's rapidly becoming one of the "blah" (or "blech") words like "nice" or even "interesting".
    Do whatever you need to do to honor yourself and your father.
    Two quotes:
    David Gresham, C.S. Lewis' stepson, on his mother Joy Gresham's death, "The greater the love, the greater the grief..." and
    Sarah Ban Breathnach: "Great grief is only borne out of great joy."


  15. Keep buggering on indeed, it really is all you can do. I lost my partner eighteen months ago, very suddenly and completely unexpectedly. The love of my life dropped me off at work, kissed me goodbye and said 'see you later', then drove away and an hour later suffered a massive and instantly fatal heart attack. I still find it hard to believe he's gone, (where did all the jokes go?) Every day there's something that reminds me of him, something I want to tell him or share, and there he isn't.
    Oddly though, I found that the first anniversary did make a difference to the 'moving on'(horrible phrase) process. I'm normally quite sneery about dates and anniversaries, they're artificial and meaningless. But a year is a real period of time, the earth has gone right around the sun once, and it is a time when you can draw a line and get on with the next bit, whatever and however that turns out.
    Feel duty bound though to let you know that in some ways the second year is almost as bad - people think you're OK now, and you're really not (will you ever be?). So don't think it's all skipping downhill from here on....
    I'm sorry for this long and self-indulgent comment, but I've been reading your posts about your Dad (and the Duchess), and I do feel for you. You're absolutely right though, when you say that the only way to deal with it is to let it happen (grief), and roll with it rather than fighting it.
    Take care of yourself, cherish your lovely dog and your horse, and all your family and friends. Like you, I was lucky in that I had (have) wonderful friends who have 'been there' for me (another horrible phrase) all the way.
    Can't deny though, that they could all go to hell if it meant I could have him back.......

    1. Anon - this is one of those things that makes me humble. My dad makes me sad, but it is in the order of things, and that does make it better, even despite the initial odd shock. But the love of your life just disappearing like that is all wrong; no rhyme, reason, sense, order, Plan, anything. Just stupid and pointless and wrong. AND when it is so hard to find a love of your life at all. And yet here you are, leaving incredibly kind and lovely comments on the blog of a stranger. That is so big and humane and kind and bloody brilliant. I salute you. And I am so glad that you come here, to read.

    2. Anon: I am in awe of what you have been through and what you have shared. I am so fortunate to have both found, and still have (18 years on) the love of my life, but can hardly begin to imagine what you must have gone through. As Tania said, Stupid and Pointless and Wrong. And most definitely bloody brilliant of you today: thank you.

  16. I hesitate to write anything, as others have left such lovely comments. I lost my Mum in March last year and, like you, dreaded the first anniversary of her death. Surprisingly, once it had passed, I found myself feeling lighter somehow. It was not as awful as I had expected. It seemed like just another day, but once it was past, I felt a huge sense of relief and as if I was able to move forward in a way I hadn't felt for quite some time. Not that I have been paralysed by grief, but as I said, I felt "lighter" inside. Strange. And I didn't really care if it was "normal" or not!

    I hope that you, too, will feel lighter in spirit after tomorrow.


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