I have had a very sociable few days, and it has been an important shift back into ‘normal’ life. These were the first few social visits, away from those immediately mourning Tessa, post the accident (‘the accident’ is how I find myself referring to it when I’m trying to not get emotional; at other times it’s simply ‘Tessa’s death’) and while I was nervous about them, I knew I had to force myself (gently) back into some social interaction. Like most things in life, I find, my worries were mostly unfounded, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with all the friends and family I saw. I think what is most important for me now is to be spending time with people with whom I feel comfortable talking about Tessa when I want to, without feeling pressurised to do so; but to also be able to talk and laugh about other things. This is the balance I am seeking in my life generally: to keep a space for sadness, tears, happy memories and reflections on my mother, while slowly easing back into a functional life.
I also managed a short run yesterday morning, and a cycle on my new bike in the afternoon, and I can feel that after 6 weeks off I am finally ready to return to regular exercise. In fact, being 6 weeks behind on my training schedule for the Amsterdam Marathon in October, I quite urgently need to get back on the road! The main shift here, I think, is that I am now getting a reasonable amount of sleep – until now I was quite simply too exhausted to contemplate it. While of course I know the exhaustion of emotion is enormous, I find that when I am going through difficult emotional times exercise is quite a balm; a soothing and reflective space, and a helpful boost of endorphins in the midst of depression or confusion. When I am not getting enough sleep, however, I simply cannot force my drained body out of the door.
What I haven’t found much time for is writing, though there is a huge amount I would like to capture. I hope to try and prioritise this somehow in my life – an important space for my own creativity and reflection, which I have neglected far too often, and at great cost to my internal balance. There is a quote from Seneca I have always liked:
“We all sorely complain of the shortness of time, and yet have much more than we know what to do with. Our lives are either spent in doing nothing at all, or in doing nothing to the purpose, or in doing nothing that we ought to do. We are always complaining that our days are few, and acting as though there would be no end of them.”
I have kept that quote since I was a teenager, and tried very hard not to live up to it. The challenge, of course, is in defining what is the most important way to spend time, which is to my purpose. To know that, I need to be clear on what I believe my purpose to be. This has, predictably, shifted at different times, and it has become easier to lose my own purpose within the needs (real or perceived) of those around me as I have grown less self-involved. How does one weigh up the peace of mind that a tidy house brings (to myself and my family), and the peace of mind of replying to an email from a friend, or spending an extra half an hour playing with my children, or getting one module further in my studies? All are important – yes, even the tidy house, as I find that living in mess makes me miserable – yet not all can be achieved in the time I have available in an evening. So I juggle, and shift my priorities around, and cut corners where I can. Sometimes I need to simply step back and reflect, and remember what my wise mother told me: that looking after myself means looking after those dependent on me, as if I am feeling happy and strong I will bring positive energy into their lives. And looking after myself means giving my creative and reflective self space for expression.
For the past three nights, I have been finding myself spiralling upwards out of sleep, from a dark nothingness where I have no idea who or where I am, when woken by Rhys’ crying during the night. It is not something I have ever experienced before, and I am finding it incredibly disturbing. I have no way of gauging if the process takes seconds or minutes, though it feels like interminably long minutes. From the point at which I am conscious enough to retain a memory of what has been happening, I can hear a baby crying, but I have no idea whose baby, or who I am, or where I could possibly be. The first thing that comes back to me is a sense of who I am, which is quite simply not something that I can ever before remember having forgotten. This is followed by the knowledge that I am at home, then where home is (I have strange flashes of all the houses I have ever lived it, like a fast-forward through my life, before my mind catches up to the present), and only right at the end do I realise that I have children and it is my baby crying. For the past three and a half years I have woken at the slightest squeak from my boys, jumping out of bed before I am even really awake, sometimes at their bedsides while they are still fast asleep, having never properly woken but only cried out during a dream; but these past nights Rhys seems to have been sobbing for some time before I have reached him, as his cheeks have been wet with tears. I have nothing to gauge this awful experience against, and I am hoping it disappears quickly.
Since I got back from South Africa, I have had a spate of anxiety dreams about the memorials, and Tessa’s death. It is as if I held all fears at bay until after the events. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism, and since I managed to hold everything together when I really needed to, I can now afford to face my fears. Perhaps it is because I am less able to express my mourning in my days, so I express it at night. Perhaps it is simply because, for the first time since Tessa’s death, I am able to get to bed early and have more than a few exhausted hours of deep sleep. It is probably some of all of these reasons.
Last night I dreamt that my sisters and I were burying my mother in the river in Nethy Bridge, where we stayed in Scotland the week following her death. Her body was already in the water, looking serene and beautiful, just as she had in her coffin. She was very pale, and was somehow held about an inch below the water, in the midst of some small rapids. Elin was out in the rapid, standing next to her, crying. We were deciding if burying her here was the right course of action, and Tabby and I had deferred the final decision to Elin because we both felt that we had found meaningful ways to say goodbye to Tessa, but Elin had yet to do so. The decision was made that this was indeed the right place to bury her, and we began to carefully select beautiful rocks to cover her with, and then lay them over her. It was surreal seeing her slowly disappear beneath the rocks…
Dirk sent me a long, beautiful and thoughtful email on Friday night. One thing he said has really staying with me, and is something that I can sense I will need to reflect back on in future, and to hold on to: “I also thought a bit about the “what if” / “if only” stuff today and realised how futile it is. Truth is, if maybe we had done x, y, or z, five minutes earlier of later at any time in our lives, we might never have lived this far.” That is something that is not to be forgotten. All of our lives hang by such tender threads, which could have been severed many millions of times already. Let us simply be grateful for what we have had.