Pink & Blue Mummyland

Pink and blue parenting through pink and blue moods….

New Normal

A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine lost her mum very suddenly. She collapsed at home, and had died before they even reached the hospital.

We all knew Nanny. Every morning Nanny and Poppy would stand by the window waiting for us to walk by on our way to school so we could wave at them. Nanny used to give my advice on what bulbs to plant where, and how to protect my vegetable patch from bugs.

Some of you might remember School Run Mum from this post. As long as I have known her, she has had an air of strength about her that I’ve always been slightly envious of. She says things how they are, and is the kind of ‘what you see is what you get’ person that I always warm to.

She is having to keep going for her family – both her dad, who lives only a few doors away, and her children, who saw their Nanny every single day. She’s holding it together for the eight year old who is so angry at the unfairness of life and death, and the four year old who knows something is wrong and that Nanny isn’t there, but can’t quite figure out what’s real. She’s keeping strong for the man who has never lived alone, who’s been married to a woman who has looked after him for forty years. She’s putting a brave face on it for the school run, where people ask how she is, and she tells them how everyone else is doing because she hasn’t had a second to think about herself. She’s treading water.

Seeing people broken is never easy, but seeing this woman, who I always saw as so strong, on the verge of falling apart, reminds me of the way life can shock us. I hate cliche, but it reminds me of my own mortality, and that of my family – including the children, which is the hardest part. It has made me appreciate my family more, knowing that the time they aren’t there any more can come swiftly and unexpectedly. There is a reason cliches become cliches.

She and her family are headed into a new phase now. A few weeks on, after the funeral and all the planning that goes into such an event, life is starting to get back to the normal run of things. Back to school, back to work, back to washing uniform and cooking meals and reading bedtime stories. All normal, except for the massive Nanny shaped hole that no-one is ever going to be able to fill. From the difficulty of those first couple of weeks, waking up each morning knowing that every second is going to be hard, the family are moving into a new phase. The ‘hard’ carries on changing, and life is taking on a new kind of normal.

Most of the time I just wish I knew what to do. I want to make it better. But as much as there is a ‘time for every season under the sun; a time to heal and a time to mourn,’ there is also a time to talk and a time to stay quiet. All I know is this: when I don’t know what to say, that’s what I say. And when I am standing, just being there, saying nothing can be as valuable as saying something. Weeping with those who weep and mourning with those who mourn isn’t easy – I have left her house and wept on the pavement more than once. But the privilege of being able to do that, of being invited into someone’s life and grief, is astounding. I treasure this friendship and all it has brought me – delicately holding the pain as assuredly as we laugh and have fun as the good times roll. I guess that’s what friendship is all

If you are the praying type, please pray for this family. Jesus knows.

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News Of The Day

I got a text this morning. It was from a friend who had clicked on her Facebook icon before me, only to find that the legend, Robin Williams, had taken his own life. Like a true friend, she warned me that it might be a good idea to stay away from social media for a bit. She was right.

I’m someone who is consciously and decisively protective of my mental health – especially at the moment. I avoid any sites that might risk bringing me down, and despite following numerous bipolar, depression, and general mental health groups on Facebook, I am careful what I choose to click on and what I choose to avoid. I’ve given up Twitter altogether for the moment, because – as famously said by another of my favourite actors – “you never know what you’re going to get.” I am not willing to let my iPad dictate my emotions.

But today has got the better of me. I find myself clicking on every link and watching endless YouTube videos. I have heard again “O captain my captain,” “it’s not your fault” and “goooooood mooorniiiing Vietnaaaam!” I’ve even watched him singing with a gorilla. It’s hard to believe such a powerhouse is suddenly not there any more. It’s harder still to believe that someone who had such power over an audience, such an ability to draw out emotion, such humour as to draw people in, eventually lost the fight.

A poet who lived round the corner from where I grew up describes it perfectly: “I was much further out than you thought, and not waving but drowning.” Robin Williams always did a very good job of waving. He waved hard and fast, with innumerable affected voices, hilarious mannerisms, and what has now shown to be bittersweet slapstick. When life knocked him down he got back up again – and again and again and again it would now seem.

One of my best memories of seeing Robin Williams is probably different from everyone else’s. I saw him on a TV documentary, in a studio recording the Beatles song “Come Together.” Beatles producer George Martin, on retiring, chose his favourite songs, his favourite (not necessarily singing) celebrities, and gifted us with one of the best mash-up albums ever. Robin (I feel strangely comfortable referring to him by his first name now) was mesmerising, although I’m now unsure how universal a response that would have been. But I remember thinking, “how does he come up with so many voices, so many faces, so many ideas, so quickly? How does he keep up?” Of course, with my recently acquired, enforced knowledge of bipolar disorder, I can understand. I’ve felt that quickness of mind, rush of thought, challenge to get everything out. I don’t know whether his coherence in that slightly manic state was due to practise or plain giftedness. I’m fairly certain it was the latter, but thinking it was the former gives me at least a glimmer of hope that one day I might find an edge whereby I can harness what hypomania gives me rather than losing it all in a rush of words. (By the way, the documentary is here, and you can find Robin at 9.27)

I wonder how many more people will give up their fight to live today, after having had the news of Robin Williams’ suicide spread unexpectedly before their eyes as they opened their Twitter and Facebook apps this morning? I wonder just how many of us will have seen his face scrolling over and over and had the thought, “if he can’t carry on, how can I?”

I also wonder, how many people will make more effort to understand mental illness? How many people will take the step from believing that suicide is selfish and weak, toward finally seeing it as the final symptom of an invisible, life threatening disease?

I can only hope that the first number will shrink and the second will grow. That somewhere, from the fate of this funny, clever, troubled man will come a new understanding and a softness of heart towards those of us who struggle every day to keep going.

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

(Stevie Smith, 1972)

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