Learning To Deal, Not Heal

Final Words And Flashbacks

My last words to my Mum were “Thank you.”

When I look back at the end of those five days at Papworth Hospital, past the complete darkness associated with it, I think I was lucky to have those last moments. Not happy to have them, but lucky. There are many people who don’t get the chance to have those final words and know that they are final words.

My Mum knew that I loved her, but I don’t know if she ever really knew how much I appreciated her. It felt important to say thank you to her. Thank you for the way she brought me up, brought my sister up, loved my Dad and looked after us all.

How many times do people really stop to say “Thanks Mum/Dad, you did a great job”? I don’t think it does really happen all that much. It’s almost far too easy, especially if you’re from a good home (which I was, fortunately), to take it all for granted.

Loss makes you think about what you had, what you have and what you’ll lack. Fear of loss also makes you think about what you have, and what you could lose.

This year, on January 27th, it will be four years since Mum passed away. It doesn’t feel like four years. Each year since, from the 22nd onwards, I find I suffer with flashbacks.

I remember, vividly, taking the call at work from my then partner saying I needed to call my Dad. I remember, vividly, calling Dad who was then racing home telling me Mum had fallen and my sister, Joy, had found her and paramedics were heading there. I remember speaking to my sister as she was at the house with paramedics. I remember giving first aid rationale when Dad explained the paramedics wouldn’t move her by saying “If she’s hurt her back they won’t move her because she may have broken something”. I remember being told she was going to hospital. I remember my sister knew one of the ambulance staff. I remember being at work. I remember I was doing performance reviews. I remember deciding to stay at work to do one last review. I remember I didn’t even do that review. I remember staying at home instead of driving straight across. I remember, and I know, everlasting regret.

“Regrets, I’ve Had A Few…”

The fact is, on that Thursday evening, I didn’t believe it would be anything serious. My initial thoughts were that Mum had had a fall, and my worst fear was that she’d suffered an injury to her spine. I even said so much to my duty managers at work when I left. The last thing on my mind was any thought of losing her.

So I stayed at home. The journey to Lowestoft is around 200 miles and takes around 3 and a half hours with no traffic. I’d decided that I’d wait and, if anything else happened, then I’d head over. I spent my night playing guitar sat by my phone. I remained set for work the next day. I prioritised my work, my daily life, over getting in the car and going over. I kick myself for it even now.

At around half 2, I woke up. I felt wide awake and saw a shadow moving across the room. I thought it was my then partner – we often worked different times so got up at different times – so I sat up to get up. Grabbed my phone, no calls, but saw it was half 2. Partner still in bed asleep. Confused, I lay back down. I know I saw a shadow. I know I saw something. Then the house phone rang.

I have never cried like it in my life. It was howling. It was uncontrollable. My Mum was being sent to Papworth Hospital, and all we really knew is that she may not come out of it alive. My brain was in overdrive. I felt true fear, true sadness and true helplessness.

In the car, that fear of loss grew and grew. I’ve always been a fan of night time driving because I like the time it gives you to think. This time, absolutely not. I started to think of what could happen. I cried more. I thought of my Dad and my sister. I cried more. I thought about all the phone calls I missed and never returned. The chances I could have gone back home to see her, even if only for one day. I sink in regret.

Going back to what I said earlier, regarding what loss makes you do, loss also gives. It gives perspective, it gives hindsight. It gives it, but it’s too late.

My biggest regrets in life all stem to missed time with my Mum. We both worked in retail, so weekends free became sparse. I was in a relationship whereby I felt that most free weekends were spent going anywhere but to Lowestoft (too far away), so I always felt I saw more of one side than the other – my own. I went with it. If we saw family it was a minimum of 7 hours travel to see mine, or 4 the other way. I wish I’d been more persistent and pushed to see my family more. I was too weak. I honestly regret it so much. I regret not using days off to drive down alone. Missed opportunities. Missed time.

I also regret phone calls. Mum would be off on a Thursday and Sunday most weeks and I would usually get a call on at least one of these days. It hit a stage in my relationship at the time that I would intentionally ignore calls in order to ‘spend less time on my phone’ or avoid the ‘been at work all day and now on the phone’ argument. I started making phone calls only when I was out alone walking somewhere. It meant I’d miss alot of calls, rarely managing to call back for days. It was easier at home that way. I was a complete tit and I should have been firmer. I’d have a million arguments for one more call with Mum. As it is, I can’t even remember the last phone call we had together.

Before Mum had even passed away I started to feel regret at my prioritisation and my, well, lack of strength at home. I know I could have seen Mum more had I tried. I could have spoke more with her had I tried. I could have maybe had a final more coherent conversation with her had I left work after the call. But I didn’t. And that all lies on me. Nobody else. And I find it unforgivable.

A Roller-coaster Of Emotion

On that morning of January 23rd, when the surgeon explained that Mum had suffered aortic dissection, I had no idea what it was. He gave some examples of famous people who had also had it. Gérard Houllier, the football manager, had survived. His other example, a member of the UN, died. He was preparing us for the worst. 50/50 were the best odds but, realistically, those odds weren’t ever on the table.

We had it explained that it had all happened because of high blood pressure. A spike in Mum’s blood pressure, that was it. He compared it to a burst pipe after a surge in pressure and water flow. The spike would have been quick, the damage everlasting. A clot had formed in the leg, meaning survival would also come with amputation.

News just got worse. The smallest pieces of positivity felt huge, but they made the subsequent bad news feel even more devastating.

During the five days of operations, and the endless hours of waiting, we all felt emotion like never before. Trying to remain positive was needed but, ultimately, felt like a near impossible task. Me and my then partner had headed home on the Saturday so she could stay there for work and I could get clothes. I was in and out. I remember this being the first time I was affected by an anger that the whole situation and eventual grief put on me. I argued, I grabbed my stuff, I went straight back to Papworth.

What did I argue about? I’d decided I didn’t want to stop and have food. I wanted to get back to Mum and to my family.

Over the following days I suffered with my first anxiety attacks. I’d never had any before, and I wasn’t sure what these were at the time. Somehow, I managed to keep a few to myself as I shared hotel rooms with Dad and wanted to be strong for him, but you can’t hide them forever.

It felt like my rib cage was closing in on itself. Imagine intertwining and locking your fingers together and that’s what it felt like my ribs were doing. It felt like my heart was being crushed. I found breathing difficult. In my head, all I could think was that this must be what a heart attack feels like. It’s terrifying. Yet, I still felt guilt.

My Dad was losing the love of his life, his wife. My sister was losing not only her Mum, but her best friend. In my head I’d be thinking “how can my loss even compare to that?” but here’s the thing; loss makes people react in different ways. We all react differently.

My advice to anybody going through grief, anybody who has recently lost a loved one, is to ignore those that say “I know what you’re going through.” They don’t. Nobody does. What you’re going through is completely personal to you. There’s no right way, there’s no wrong way. Don’t let someone else tell you how to grieve and don’t be ashamed if you feel like you’re grieving more than you should, because you won’t be.

The only thing I would encourage is to talk to those close to you. You’re all in it together.

“Are You Right There, Father Ted?”

Saying goodbye to Mum was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Aged 55, she wasn’t old, and it came from out of nowhere. There were only those days at Papworth where we could prepare for loss but, so good were the team at Papworth, we always had hope she may get through.

My final memories of Mum are my cousin, Mark, closing her eyes, the family stood around her in tears, a kiss on the forehead and hand, and then the curtains from around her bed after I slumped to the floor by a wall outside them after.

A nurse came to me and asked if I was alright. I choked and said, “That’s my Mum” and pointed at the curtain. And that was it.

But, then, the strangest thing happened. Laughter.

My Mum was a “get on with it” type of person. She just didn’t want the fuss…to the extent that when she saw me at the hospital before going to theatre she looked at me, huffed and said “What are you doing here?” She didn’t want me going out of my way to make that journey because she won’t have wanted the fuss.

Once we’d said our goodbyes, time seemed to sit still. There’s a moment where you don’t know what to do. You don’t know where to go. Limbo. But our hands were forced.

Fire alarm. We had to leave. Mum wouldn’t have wanted a fuss, and I still think, somehow, that was her telling us to “sod off” in only the way she could.

It made us laugh because we all thought the same. Even in death my Mum had found a way to tell us all to “get on with it”. What a woman. Not even the end could stop her.

I don’t remember much about the drive back to Lowestoft other than driving Dad home. I was dreading walking in the house but it was fine up until I saw the picture on the wall of my Mum and my late Uncle on Mum and Dad’s wedding day. The picture is taken from behind, with them both turning their heads looking at the camera. I viewed it as they were both back together, looking back at us.

The next thing we did was pivotal to us, and I think sums us up as a family. In that moment of sadness, sat at home, it was decided we needed to laugh. Dad put on Father Ted.

I think to some the idea of “You’ve just lost your Mum/wife and now you’re watching Father Ted?!” would be a bit bizarre, but it made sense. Mum would quote Father Jack sometimes (“Feck”, “Drink”) and Father Ted was one of those things we all loved. Mum would have encouraged us that life moves on, and by sitting down and having a laugh this was life going on. This was us “getting on with it” and not causing a fuss. This is what Mum would have wanted us to do.

A Father Ted marathon. Not essential to a grieving process but not a bad place to start.

A New Normal

The best bit of advice I have ever received regarding grief came from a Papworth Hospital nurse. I’ve talked about it on this blog before. She sat with us and said “Now it’s about you. People say time is a healer, but it’s not. You don’t heal in time, you learn to deal.”

Before then, I’d always thought of time as a healer. I’d never approached it as a “dealing” mechanism. But the nurse was spot on. You don’t heal. You never get over it, but in time you learn to live with it. You enter a new normality. Things will always be different but life must go on.

I struggled more than I probably let on in the first weeks. It took four weeks for the funeral to come, I stayed in Lowestoft for the first two. I’m always in two minds on that now. There’s a huge part of me that looks back and thinks I should have stayed in Lowestoft until the funeral. It would have helped Dad, and it would have helped my sister and her other half. There’s another part that thinks, selfishly, that being alone for a while could have helped me. But then I also think being stuck at home alone caused more issue. More time to think, more time with nobody to turn to. I turned angry, snapping at the smallest things. I couldn’t deal with it. Writing this down for the first time, I now think I should have stayed in Lowestoft.

The funeral added some closure. But not as much as I had imagined. The place was heaving. There were people stood up at the back, in the corridor and entrance. Walking down behind Mum I could feel the eyes looking. I had never wanted anything to be over so quick in my life. The service was lovely, there was even a laugh in the eulogy which, I think, Mum would have liked. But it couldn’t end quick enough.

Life moves on. Two weeks later, I was back at work. I remember going in before my first day back to get schedules and say hello. I sat in the car for half an hour before I could get the courage to walk in. Work were amazing. Incredibly supportive, from normal colleague to senior management. I will never forget how they were with me, and I’ll forever be grateful.

We started doing the charity events to raise money for Papworth Hospital. My sister and her other half really leading it, and it’s something I’m massively proud of us for.

We had a holiday planned before Mum passed away and decided that we should keep it as she’d have wanted us to. It turned in to a disaster. Emotions were too high still, and it wasn’t really good for us. An argument led to a fall out, a fall out led to a letter, a letter led to another argument, another fall out and, eventually, a wake up call.

Mum’s passing taught me that life is too short and that happiness is something that we need. If you’re not happy with how things are, you need to change it. You don’t know what’s around the corner.

A year and a few months later, I ended my relationship. I moved out, and I stayed with friends before moving in with Lori. My priorities and my life had changed. Since Mum passed, I have ended a relationship, started a new one, seen my best mate arrested for murder, got engaged, had a baby son and had a baby daughter.

It’s taken time, but I finally feel comfortable with the ‘new normal’. I’m happy. Largely, that’s because of my relationship. I have everything I’ve wanted – a happy relationship and two amazing children.

Of course, it hurts to know that the kids won’t ever get to meet their Nan. It made both pregnancies, especially the first, an almost bittersweet time. I can’t escape the feeling of how much my Mum would have loved the kids and it does break my heart knowing she never got to see them. It breaks my heart thinking about how she never met Lori, never got to see me now. She’d have been a great Nan, and her and Lori would have got on so well.

Life Goes On

I loved my Mum. I wasn’t the perfect son, I know I could have done more at times and made more of an effort. I know I shouldn’t have prioritised my relationship then and my job over family. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I can’t beat myself up any more over things that I can’t change.

I learnt to deal with the loss of Mum in my own way. Much of that was learning about myself. I was a grown child aged 28 when Mum passed, and that passing made me reconsider my own choices. Reflection. It’s a shame that it usually takes something so big to happen for people to look at themselves and say “something needs to change”.

When I look back at my childhood, my upbringing, I think I was probably more of a “Daddy’s boy”, but now I actually think I had more in common with Mum than I thought. Her temperament, her understanding, her attitude, how laid back she was. She is, and was (although it was probably unknowingly to me at the time), my inspiration.

Mum never had the easiest upbringing but she made sure that me and Joy got the best she could give. She worked to make sure our lives were better. And, as a parent, that’s always the goal. She was an amazing parent and I hope I’m half as good as she was.

I will always hold regret over the stuff I’ve talked about here but I will always try to imagine Mum sat there encouraging me to just get on, keep on going. Don’t dwell on the past, it’s already happened.

I’ve learnt to deal with my grief by changing, by loving what I have in life and using a lesson I learned from losing Mum. Don’t take anything for granted.

I will always miss my Mum. That pain will never go away. But I can deal with the pain by remembering her, remembering her love and care and by knowing that, at least in my mind, she’ll always be with me.

Brick By Brick

I have a growing addiction. It’s not one likely to kill me, not alcohol or drugs, and not one that is likely to see people avoiding me in public. It’s an addiction that only a few people will have known about, but one that I’ll happily talk about with anybody.

What is it? It’s Lego.

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As a child, I loved Lego. It’s a great method of exerting creativity and just having a bit of fun. In my teenage years I stopped playing with it altogether…and then I turned 30. My (then new) partner, Lori, had always loved building Lego and after a while she decided to buy me a Lego Darth Vader. My first new piece of Lego in probably 16-18 years.

I was a bit dubious to how much I’d actually enjoy building it as a grown man, but one Lego model turned in to two, then three, four, five, and so on. I was hooked. I’d become determined to build as many of the Star Wars characters as I could afford to – only the characters from the Dark Side, mind…they’re just ‘cooler’, I guess – and I loved it.

Lori had gone from being the Lego addict to suddenly being the person looking on at me saying, “Even more Lego?!” How times had changed.

So what is it about Lego that has made me spend a huge amount of money on it? What is it about those small plastic bricks that make me (and Lori) feel the need to travel to Sheffield every few weeks so we can visit the Lego store and, most likely, spend more money?

For myself, it’s a mixture of things. Firstly, I love building it. I love seeing what starts as a small plastic piece turn in to a fully sized model – be it a character, a car, a building or something different altogether. But then there’s a deeper reason.

I’ve discussed in previous blogs that I have a few coping mechanisms that I use to help me through my own issues; be it anxiety or low mood…or anything else, for that matter. I’ll play guitar, I’ll write, I’ll go for a walk. These are things I do, but each one has a blocker associated to it. If it’s late at night, I can’t start playing punk rock on the guitar because I’ll wake the house up. If the weather is bad, it’s not always feasible to go on a long walk. Sometimes, you can sit at a screen all night long with the thought of wanting to write and then nothing comes. Each blocker brings it’s own frustration…if you’re stressed and you can’t do the thing that unwinds you, you won’t calm.

And why do we do these things? Why do we go for a walk when we’re stressed? Why do I play guitar? Simply, it occupies the mind. It fills the mind with something completely different, helping to switch off and unwind and think about something unrelated.

If I can’t write, I can grab one of my Lego sets. If I can’t play guitar, I can get some Lego out. If the weather is bad it doesn’t matter…I can build Lego anywhere I like from the comfort of my own home. And, as with any of those other mechanisms, Lego unwinds me. I find it therapeutic. It switches me off. Any stress I’m feeling, it goes away when I start building. And the more complex the build the better. The sense of accomplishment from finishing an ‘Expert’ set is akin to the sense of accomplishment I get from learning a new song on guitar.

I’m not alone with this feeling, either. If you Google for “Lego Therapy” you’ll find endless links talking about the benefits of using Lego, links for therapy classes for disabled and autistic children, therapy classes for people suffering with anxiety. Yes, Lego is a toy…but it’s a toy that gives back. A toy that helps. A toy that isn’t necessarily just for kids.

When I look through my own collection, I love my Star Wars sets. My BB-8, a gift from Lori, was a build that took over 6 hours and the mechanism with it, the movement of the head and the internal ‘lighter’ is just so incredibly clever and was a joy to put together. My James Bond Aston Martin is wonderful – the detail to it is sensational. The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine looks as good in Lego, if not better, than it did in the film. These are builds that remain stood on display, builds that I look at and feel proud about. Builds that took time but were worth it. Worth every penny, worth every minute.

There will be many people that probably won’t get it; won’t get past the riding impression that Lego is a toy for children…and I get that. Less than three years ago, I was on that boat. But I would encourage people to try it. Buy a mini-kit, give it fifteen minutes, see if it takes your mind off things. You may enjoy it!

I’ve had several friends talk to me about buying Lego for their kids and as the kids get bored building it or following instruction, the adult continues and they get wrapped up in it. They have to finish it. Nobody likes leaving things half done, do they? And it’s in these moments I’ve had a fair few come to me and say, “I get it now.”

Finally, Lego gives me something to look forward to with my own children. My little boy is already playing around with Duplo. As he grows and maybe starts playing with Lego, it gives us something we can do together as father and son. Something that isn’t just football or music or, even further on, drinking…something that can be ours. Projects we can start and finish together. Our own little accomplishments.

But if not, and my boy or daughter don’t get in to Lego, that’s still okay. It’ll still be there for both Lori and myself. We can still keep having our frequent trips to the Lego store in Sheffield. We’ll still keep building. Piece by piece. Brick by brick.

Songs That Changed My Life Pt.3 – Keep Your Head Up

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“All I was searching for was me…”

A fact of life is that we all change. Whether it’s due to events that have happened, people you’ve met, relationships formed, decisions made…we all change. Sometimes that can be for the better, sometimes for the worse, but all these changes go in to creating the person that you become. It’s not very often you meet anybody who, aged 30, would say “I’m still exactly the same person I was when I was 15.”

My late teens to my late twenties was a period of huge change for me. As mentioned in previous blogs, I spent most of my teenage years as a very shy, very quiet boy. When I had finished at sixth form, my next step was to go to university. This was the message that had been almost forced on to me by the school I was in; to not want Uni as a next step was to want failure. Or, at least, that’s how it felt for me.

It was completely wrong. By the end of sixth form, aged 18, I felt lost. I’d had enough of education and I didn’t feel ready for University, but I didn’t feel that there was all that much to keep me at home in Lowestoft other than family. Job wise, there wasn’t much to go for and then there was the fact that several of my friends were heading to different Universities up and down the country. Feeling forced in to university gave a feeling of hopelessness when, deep down, I knew I didn’t want to go but was being told that other paths meant a poorer life.

I contacted the uni I’d been accepted in to and asked to take a gap year. I worked three jobs, at one point all at the same time, and began to build in confidence. I almost exploited the fact I had friends in uni by going out on several fresher events even though I wasn’t a student. I was enjoying the uni life but without the lectures or the student debt and it was great. The gap year was enough to make me decide to go to uni and embrace the next change to my character.

Going to uni was an experience I will never forget and one that I absolutely loved. By the end of the third year I felt I’d developed in to a different man, a more confident person and someone that had ‘a plan’. I knew what I wanted from life, whereas three years prior I had no idea. Uni allowed me to meet some great people; some of whom became some of my closest friends.

Before uni, I’d not really had any relationships. Two weeks in, just turning 20, I was in a relationship…a relationship I stayed in for nearly 10 years. Going back to what I said at the start of this post, people change and after several turbulent years full of personal struggles and tragedy on both sides it was enough. I certainly wasn’t feeling it any more and a culmination of those tragedies – Mum passing away, for example – and a change in my own emotions towards the relationship as well as other factors just made me feel it had to end, definitely before we were married. In all honesty, I’d fallen within myself for much of the last year or so of the relationship and as bad as it sounds stayed in it for perhaps longer than I should have. It was easier that way. I stayed at work longer than needed, went for drinks with fellow colleagues and just stayed out of the house. I was unhappy but afraid to really do anything or even really face in to it.

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“I spent my time watching the spaces that have grown between us…”

When I moved to a different work place I started talking to one of the team leaders and developed a great friendship. I found a person I could confide in, a person I felt comfortable talking to about my own personal ‘demons’ and unhappiness. It opened my eyes when we talked about issues in our relationships as I realised that many of the things I felt were wrong in hers were actually wrong in mine. It was easier talking to her purely because she had no relationship with anybody in my inner circle so honesty became really easy. Neither of us really had anything to lose by being honest to each other, but we gave each other a person to talk to about things that were deeply playing on us – something that I think neither of us had beforehand.

On the day that I ended the relationship I drove to Bakewell in the Peak District and, as ridiculous as this may sound, I took a notepad and pen and just wrote out all of my reasons for wanting out. Despite knowing I needed to leave, the fact was that I’d been in a relationship for a third of my life and I knew that by actually leaving I was taking a giant leap into the unknown. It was scary, daunting and I had no idea how things would go. I’d contacted my friend, Dan, and sorted out a place to stay after.

Even though I knew I was doing the right thing for me, there’s still a hardship to ending any relationship and this was no different. I felt fortunate because I was still able to confide to the team leader at work, as well as speak to some of my other closest friends. I decided to take a step back from many of my University relationships and in time deleted much of my social media presence. This was a time for me to look in to myself, rebuild myself and develop new relationships. This was what I needed.

In that time, music continued to be a massive life saver for me. I devoted a lot of my listening to Ben Howard and, in particular, the song ‘Keep Your Head Up’. The chorus of “Keep your head up, keep your heart strong” was, and remains, motivational to the point that I would listen to the song at the start of every day to lift me up. The team leader I confided in was going through her own issues at home and we would share this song with one another. It was our mutual anthem. Our uplifting chorus. The motivational message we both needed.

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.

How did the song change my life? It helped keep me above board during one of the most tumultuous periods of my life. Sofa hopping, staying in hotels – even contemplating quitting my job and moving back to Lowestoft with my Dad. Those eight words were what I needed.

Eventually the team leader ended her relationship, too. After a few months we decided to try as a couple. My life changed again, for the better, as it became clear that I’d met the person that would be the love of my life and, sooner than either of us would have thought, the mother of my children. The girl that was there for me when I needed to talk is now the girl I share my life with. Sometimes, life does work out.

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Swimming In Darkness

There is a lyric in “Keep Your Head Up” that goes, “I tried my best to embrace the darkness in which I swim”. It’s a lyric that I relate to on several levels.

I’ve always struggled against low mood. I find it far easier to see the negatives than I do the positives. Self doubt is always intensely high for me and I over think absolutely everything. A by product of my over thinking is anxiety. I get anxious over anything. For example, if somebody messages me with just an “OK”, I’ll think something is wrong and I’ve maybe, somehow, upset the other person. Things said to me, whether in jest or in seriousness, can stay on my mind not only for days but for months or years. It takes a lot to really fight against the emotions that come with these issues but, over time, I’ve been able to learn how to control it and be alright. The support I get from Lori, my fiancee, is a massive help, and music is another help for me – music is an energy that helps me and that is why I believe that these songs helped changed my life. It may sound OTT, maybe it is, but I don’t know who I would be without songs like ‘Keep Your Head Up’ or the music of bands and artists like Biffy Clyro, The Smiths, Jeff Buckley and Nirvana.

Once Lori and myself had settled in to a relationship (which was incredibly easy – I do believe we were made for one another), we were placed in to a situation that neither of us could have ever foreseen.

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My friend, Dan, who had put me up when I ended my previous relationship must have found himself swimming in darkness and, sadly, unable to control it. I detail the story of what happened in my post, ‘Tales Of The Unexpected‘.

From the moment the police came in to Lori’s flat, I sank deeper in to my own darkness. I always feel selfish saying that because the emotions I felt will have been nothing compared to the family of Dan’s murdered Dad, and there is no way that I would ever want to pretend my emotions would come close but I was distraught. I’d lost my best friend in one of the most horrific ways, realising I didn’t really know the guy at all, and due to that my self doubt, my insecurities…they all grew out of control. How could I not see it? How could I be so stupid, so gullible as to believe all the different stories? Why didn’t he tell me the truth? Why couldn’t I help him to get better? Could I have helped to prevent it? Will Lori leave me because, honestly, police raiding your flat because of your new boyfriend’s friend isn’t a great start…I was scared. I was confused. I was a mess.

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.

The police found Dan on the night Lori and I saw Biffy Clyro in Birmingham. Biffy are an incredibly important band for me and I saw them perform both songs that I associate with my Mum (‘Folding Stars’ and ‘Machines’) together for the first time. My emotions were going. Over the next week, after doing police statements, a development would come that would change my life completely and forever.

Lori was pregnant. It was a surprise but the elation I felt was insane. People often talk of feeling the weight lift off their shoulders…that evening, I felt like I could float. I felt, as Ben Howard sings in ‘Keep Your Head Up’, the “comfort invested in my soul” from Lori and, importantly, in myself.

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“Because I’ll always remember you the same…”

‘Keep Your Head Up’ has remained the anthem that I’ve needed. It has also remained the anthem that myself and Lori turn to in unhappier times. It reminds us that things may be bad now, we may be “embracing the darkness”, but things can get better. You have to try to keep the positivity, you have to try to “keep your head up”.

When Lori was faced with redundancy, she shared the song on her Facebook. Several others also facing in to redundancy reacted with love. They all got it. They all understood, and, I imagine, it’s the song that they will have all listened to at that point and have helped them to feel, even if only for those few minutes, a bit better. Music is really one of the only forms of media that can do that. It’s powerful. It does change lives because it gives you an emotion that can change your outlook on the way things are going. What else can really do that?

In loss, also, ‘Keep Your Head Up’ has been a song that has kept us going.

The simplest message can sometimes be the most important and the most life saving, the most life changing. That’s why, in those dark moments, I try my best to remember this song and follow what it says.

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.

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You can listen to ‘Keep Your Head Up’ by clicking HERE

Pee, Poo and Pride – Being A Parent

It took twelve days for my new baby daughter to wee all over me.

Sitting down to watch a film, my fiancée and I noticed a certain whiff in the air. Through sheer luck and good timing, I’d avoided the pooey nappies but this time it was my turn. Unfortunately, our little girl hadn’t finished so I had to sit and hold her legs up while she did her stuff.

A minute and a strong smell later, she was done. I start cleaning when I notice her start to wee. It’s an explosion. It’s everywhere. My little girl has turned in to a water feature. My arms are covered, my jeans are splattered, my shirt is decorated with polka dots of piss. I’m covered in my daughter’s urine.

It may sound like I’m having a moan but, actually, I’m not. To go twelve days without any accidents…I was happy with that. I know of people who have gone seconds before facing the baptism of piss. I’d gone nearly two weeks. I view it as a bit of an achievement.

For those without children reading this I can imagine you’re possibly confused and maybe even disgusted by this opening. But, I imagine, anybody with kids or young relatives will be thinking of similar experiences.

One of the first things I learnt when we had our first baby was that wee and poo went from being almost taboo topics of conversation to everyday topics of conversation. Speaking to other parents about the colour of your babies poo becomes the new opening to a conversation. Sharing stories of “My son pissed in my mouth” (sadly true for me…) replace stories of what happened at the pub last night.

And you know what? It’s amazing. These conversations are as funny as they are disgusting, but, most importantly, they’re always lovingly told. I think you see a different side to people when they have kids and when they’re around kids, and you see a love in people for others that you don’t see at any other time.

I’m lucky enough to now have two children. Both still babies, really, although our first is up and walking all over the place. They have absolutely changed my life. I feel more complete. I feel more focused. I feel very lucky to have such an amazing little family.

Both of our children came from quick labours. Our first was born 7 hours after arriving at hospital. Our most recent, 3 hours.

Child birth is incredible. I’ve been fortunate enough to be at the side of my fiancée for both labours and both times I’ve been almost in awe of how strong she is to go through delivery and actually give birth. However, before I’d sat in a delivery suite I’d always read people saying it was the most amazing time of their life. That labour time really isn’t. I found the labour hard to sit through in that I hated seeing Lori in such pain, knowing there was nothing I could do. As a man you have a sense of helplessness in that situation because there’s so little you actually can do. Women reading this would be well within their right to say they’d rather be sat where the man is but it’s true. I ended up turning to humour and positive words, perhaps fortunate that Lori was just incredibly loving and apologetic during labour rather than taking the “this is all your fault” approach I’d seen on “One Born Every Minute” or talked of so much by my Dad and others.

With our second we very nearly never made the hospital. Lori had been suffering with cramps for a few days and got an appointment at half 4. By half 3 the cramps had gone and we discussed cancelling the appointment. One sharp pain as Lori went to call kept us that appointment. At 5pm, a midwife measures Lori and she’s fully dilated. At 7.38, our little girl is with us.

The delivery of the baby itself…the end…is incredible; and every one different. Our first tried to cling on and not come out. Our second was born initially in the sack as Lori’s waters didn’t break until the final push.

Its hard to explain but when our babies were born, the first time I saw them, they looked exactly like I knew they would. I felt like I already knew them. It felt like they’d always been there.

There is no other feeling like holding your baby for the first time. I’ve written on here before how with my first born I’d had no prior experience with a new born so I was extremely anxious I’d drop him or not know what to do. That anxiety is still there with my second, even though I like to think I do alright as a Dad and keep hands on. But the sense of pride is unreal. It’s unmatched by anything.

Tonight, my first born started eating food with a spoon unaided for the first time. I’m exuberant with pride. I remember when he smiled for the first time I was beaming. When he walked I nearly cried. When he first rolled over, I cheered. They’re the smallest of things, the smallest of milestones in the grand scheme of things, but some of the proudest moments of my life. I can’t wait to go through them again with our little girl.

Songs That Changed My Life – Pt.1

Songs are powerful. They have an ability to change emotion, an ability to make people feel safe, an ability to make people move and even, sometimes, the ability to make people stop altogether. There’s nothing else really like it.

I think that for every person there is at least one song that they can go to that, regardless of how many times they hear it, they’ll always love. It can be for any reason, too; it may remind you of a loved one, it may remind you of a holiday…it may just have an amazing guitar riff. Whatever it is, you are emotionally tied to that song. Whatever meaning it has to you, it belongs to you. That song, written by somebody that you may never meet, is an important part of your life.

This will become the start to a run of features I’ll do on my blog regarding the songs that are important to me. “Songs That Changed My Life” is titled so because, in some way, each of these songs did just that.

The first song I will talk about is one I have mentioned on this blog before, and the one song that means more to me than any other. It helped me to deal with grief, and it gave me the belief that I could “come back”.

The song is ‘Machines’ by Biffy Clyro.

simon neil machines

The first time I heard ‘Machines’ was on hearing Biffy’s fourth album, ‘Puzzle’. I’d been blown away by the album – it may have lacked the quirkiness of the first three albums but the songs were so strong and it sounded so huge that I found myself in love with it pretty much from the off. I’d always loved Simon Neil’s lyrics but on ‘Puzzle’ it was different. These were honest lyrics, these were the strongest lyrics Neil had written.

I was part of the Biffy Clyro fan forum when ‘Puzzle’ was released. Everybody knew that the majority of the album was about Simon Neil’s Mum passing away and the immediate song that highlighted that was ‘Folding Stars’ in which Neil sings, “Eleanor, I would do anything for another minute with you ’cause it’s not getting easier.” It is such an emotional song and the message was abundantly clear. For many, it was the standout song but for me it wasn’t. Initially, the song I was hooked on was ‘Get Fucked Stud’…it just rocked. It still does.

As time went by and Biffy started to grow in popularity, I decided to introduce one of my new Uni mates to the band. I lent him ‘Puzzle’ and he later came back to me talking about how powerful it was – saying that ‘Machines’, the album closer, had him in tears as he thought about his Granddad, who had not long passed away. I’d always liked ‘Machines’, I loved playing it on guitar, but I wasn’t tied to it and didn’t appreciate it as much as some of the other songs on the album. I think, at the time, I just wanted loud music and ‘Machines’, a beautiful acoustic song, wasn’t top of my list.

As time went by, ‘Machines’ slowly became a favourite. Due to my Uni mate talking about the song and his emotions towards it, I’d focused a bit more time on it and grew to appreciate just how much of a truly powerful song it was. I also felt like I finally understood the hope it tried to present in the lyric, “Take the pieces and build them skyward.” I felt like I finally ‘got it’ but, in reality, it wasn’t until the passing of my own Mum that I honestly did ‘get it’.

Mum passed away very suddenly. None of us expected it, we couldn’t prepare for it – we had five days of hospital and that was it. She was 55, a really young age, and it was really tough to comprehend what had happened. There was no way to understand it. It was life being life, and it was life being incredibly cruel. Personally, I didn’t really know how to deal with it and unfortunately ended up suffering with anxiety/panic attacks and, essentially, sinking within myself. It’s a weird thing…I’m the first to say to people they need to talk to others but, in this instance, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to discuss my emotions with family because we were all feeling it; and I couldn’t face in to talking to friends. I was hiding.

I remember the first time I listened to ‘Machines’ after Mum passed away. I was in the shower and had my music on shuffle and the live version from Wembley started. The song had taken a whole new meaning to me. The opening lyrics, “I would dig a thousand holes to lay next to you, I would dig a thousand more if I needed to” just had me. And the chorus; “I’ve started falling apart, I’m not savouring life. I’ve forgotten how good it could be to feel alive” connected to me like never before. I related to them…I felt them. This was my life at this point.

In the five days spent at the hospital with Mum she was asleep the whole time. We knew the likelihood of her pulling through was incredibly slim, despite the amazing efforts of the doctors and nurses at Papworth Hospital, but we still held hope. I’d sit with Mum…we all would…and we’d talk to her. I just hoped that she could hear anything we were saying. More than anything I just wanted her to wake up and tell me to stop being so soft.

The second verse of ‘Machines’ always takes me back to those days.

“Crazy as it sounds, you won’t feel as low as you feel right now.
At least that’s what I’ve been told by everyone.
I whisper empty sounds in your ear and hope that you won’t let go…
Take the pieces and build them skyward.”

In that shower, listening to those words, I broke down. No song had ever made me cry before but ‘Machines’ did. I realised that I’d never understood the song properly until now…I’d wished, really, that I’d never had to understand it…but here I was, 28 years old, crying in the shower to a song by my favourite band.

The final lyric to that verse, also the final lyric to the whole song, have become the most important lyrics that I know. Everybody deals with grief differently; some people just carry on, some really struggle. As sung in the chorus, I felt like I had fallen apart, I wasn’t enjoying life…but those lyrics helped remind me that life isn’t always bad (“I’ve forgotten how good it could be to feel alive”). “Take the pieces and build them skyward” gave me a sense of hope that I could pick myself up. If I had fallen apart, fallen to pieces, that lyric was my motivation to pick those pieces back up and rebuild. They encouraged me to find myself again. There are no other lyrics that have ever done that to me.

‘Machines’ is more than a song to me. It’s a reminder of the worst time of my life, and a reminder that from the despair, the grief and the darkness you can build yourself back up.

(You can listen to the song – the Live From Wembley version – here)

A Fresh Start

It feels like an age has passed since I last posted any form of update on this blog. I remember when I started it up I had what were almost ideas of grandeur about it; I was going to update almost daily, I was going to use it to post articles, opinion pieces (well, blogs, duh…), links to published articles…

Somehow, somewhere, life kinda got in the way.

My last post was by far my most viewed on this page, regarding the walk up Snowdon me and a few others did in memory of my Mum, raising money for Papworth Hospital. It seems insane to think that was over a year ago. It also feels insane to think that since then we’ve also climbed up Sca Fell Pike raising more for Papworth. I think we’ve raised over £4500, which, when I look at it, is quite phenomenal. Definitely something I’m proud of. It still feels odd to think that January will mark 2 years since Mum passed. Time flies, memories don’t die, and I still think of that week and that day all the time.

I think that for some time now I’ve been stalling. After everything happened, we all dealt with things differently. I did what I tend to do and I withdrew in to myself and didn’t take the chance to really use the support I had around me. I became anxious, which in turn caused (and still does cause) issues with my stomach, I became a bit numb to other things that were happening and I fell. I’d picture myself in a dark room with no windows and just one door, which on certain days would feel a million miles away. I held all of this in, I can’t tell you why. Perhaps it was easier? Perhaps I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t right? Either way I’d spend most of my time ‘being me’ to anyone I saw in public, before entering that dark room again as soon as I was alone.

I don’t even know how I got on to this, but now I’m typing and it feels okay to get it out. Ironically, despite my best efforts to not let on about my own demons, I’m always the first to tell people they should “talk to someone”. But, you know what…it’s not easy. It’s not fucking easy. Anyone that says it is is lying to you. Facing in to your problems, and admitting that you’re feeling broken and struggling to fix it is really hard. Why would anyone want to openly say it? But, equally, it is the best thing you can do. It doesn’t need to be a doctor. It can be a friend.

Someone very special to me listened to me when I was having a, let’s call it a ‘dark day’, and said “Always keep one eye on that door.” I had someone that understood and would hear me out and would listen. And every time I think I’m dropping, I remember that simple “keep one eye on that door” – there’s always a way back.

I’m on my way. Life has changed, and you have to keep moving. You have to keep going. And, you have to smile. And always keep an eye on that door. Things will, and things do, get better.

I won’t promise to write on this blog every single day. Maybe not even every single week. But I will keep it regular. It won’t all be personal. It won’t all be football. It won’t all be garbage…but some of it may be. It’ll be whatever I choose it to be.

This is a fresh start.

Hi, my name is Adam Townsend.
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Climbing Mountains

snowdon group

I always used to think that when people would say “I think about them everyday” they were being almost too over sentimental, saying things that people are ‘expected’ and ‘ought’ to say. As it turns out, I was the one that was wrong.

Since Mum’s passing in January I can honestly say I have not had one day go by where I haven’t thought about her, and the thoughts can be about anything, brought on by the smallest things. In my own way, I don’t mind having these thoughts because I guess it almost makes it feel like she’s still there, still with me.

I vividly remember when Mum fell ill. I was at work, due to be working to 7pm, a shift I had intentionally put myself on in order to complete some colleague performance reviews. Around half 5/quarter to 6, a colleague came to me with the work phone saying he had Lexi, my fiancée, on the phone for me, which started alarm bells because, well, I don’t get personal calls at work. She told me I needed to contact my Dad. I called him and he explained my Mum had collapsed on the landing. My sister, Joy had found her on the floor, but Mum was awake and talking, just unable to move. Paramedics were on the way.

I remember leaving work and saying to my duty manager that I thought Mum may have just hurt her back, and that was why she couldn’t move or, later, be moved by the paramedic. At no point did I think that things would turn as they did.

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Mum was 55 years old when she passed away. She hadn’t suffered with any previous serious illness, the only thing that had affected her was high blood pressure which she was taking medication for. Ultimately, that high blood pressure played a major factor in Mum’s collapse and subsequent illness.

Five days after that fall, after I thought she may have damaged her back, Mum passed away with aortic dissection.

I struggled to come to terms with the shock of that. The whole family did. I can’t write about how my Dad, Joy, Aunt, Cousins felt, but personally I felt like I almost went through two stages of grief – an initial bout of shock that was followed by some large bouts of denial, followed by the realisation that, yes, this had happened, and, no, Mum wasn’t going to walk through the front door and tell us that it was all some sort of joke. Coming to five months on, I know we still all have those bad days, bad moments…but as time goes by we learn to deal and will get better at that.

Somebody, I think it was a nurse, said to me “You’ll always hear people saying that you need time to heal, time is the greatest healer. Ignore it. You never heal; you deal. You learn to deal with it in your way. It’s not about healing, it’s about dealing.” I think they were right.

The five days Mum fell ill and was in hospital getting treatment were five of the longest days of my life, and I can remember so much so clearly it still feels like it was only yesterday. I won’t go in to more details, but I will talk about where she was, and talk about the team that looked after her at the amazing Papworth Hospital.

On the Friday morning, at 7am, I left my Mum after talking to her for what would be the last time while she was awake. We had to leave as the operation was due to start. The surgeon looking after my Mum, a man named Mr Choo, took us in to his office to explain the operation he was about to carry out. I next saw my Mum at 2am on the Saturday morning, Mr Choo sat us in the office to explain how things had gone. 19 hours later, this man was still working, he hadn’t stopped. The next morning, we couldn’t sleep, we were back at the hospital early and so was Mr Choo, continuing to monitor Mum. He was always there, the dedication he put in to it was so incredible to watch and on that Tuesday when the end had come you could see how disappointed and upset he also was. He was with us all the way through it. You don’t forget things like that.

Mr Choo is just an example of the staff at Papworth. Everyday we saw the dedication from so many of the staff there, both working for my Mum and for other patients…it was truly inspirational. To see someone work the hours they do, but never drop the amount of effort they put in, just to try to help, try to save others, was phenomenal. I wonder whether some of them even sleep, to be honest!

The team at Papworth supported us all so much during those last days, and for some people they may struggle to understand why I feel so fondly for a place where my Mum didn’t make it. I feel so strongly for the hospital because of what I saw in every hour of every day; they don’t switch off, they never give up, they do everything they can and they go through it with you, supporting you all the way. They’re a credit to the NHS, these are people we should be proud of, and should support.

One thing that sits in my mind was when I was sat with Mum while she was sleeping post-op, and the nurse was talking to her, explaining what she was doing. It may sound odd, but just something like that alone gave you hope. Every member of that team did what they could to keep our spirits high through an ultimately devastating period of time.

For that reason, a team of us decided to raise some money for the Papworth Hospital Charity; a way to say thank you. A team of 8 of us chose to climb Mount Snowdon at the end of May. None of us particularly experienced walkers/climbers, we set the challenge of doing the climb to raise £2000. The weather was difficult, the walk was tough…both mentally (the Miners Track…constantly looking for the car park on every corner) and physically…but we made it. And, at the time of writing this, I am immensely proud to say we have so far raised £2,591.95.

snowdon climb group

Throughout everything that has happened, it has totally opened my eyes to just how kind and how brilliant people can be. Whether it was the support my work gave me, the team at Papworth, to the several people that have donated out of their own good will and sent messages to us all…I can’t say thank you enough. You have all helped to make positives out of an incredibly negative situation.

I know full well my Mum would have been watching us, calling us “crazy” for going up on what turned out to be a rather wet day, but I know she’d have also been proud of what we have achieved.

She’d also be proud of the work my cousin, Mark, has done in raising £535.34 through his own fund raising efforts.

My Mum was the life of the party, a wonderful woman, and I miss her dearly. I have so much to thank her for, and so much to love her for. I will never stop thinking about her. And if there is another place we go to after life, I hope she’s there having a party now, showing the others how to have a good time.

If you’d like to donate anything to our Just Giving page, please feel free to do so by clicking here. Thank you.