I’ve known Harry since 1995 when my ex-husband and I moved into our first house together (we got married in August 1996). Harry lived next door to us with his wife Bridget*, and from the moment we first met we got on like a house on fire. I learnt a lot about Harry and Bridget, and what struck me about this lovely couple was how much tragedy they had in their lives. They had 2 sons, but both of them were in the same car accident when they were teenagers where one died and the other only just made it, and is still alive today. Then in the early 90’s Harry was driving home from work where he suddenly blacked out and crashed his car into the wall of a house. He was rushed to hospital where it turned out he had a massive brain tumour, and he also nearly died. He pulled through after many operations, but he has no short term memory at all, so he can tell you things several times over whenever you see him. But to him, it is the first time he has ever told you those things.
Then worse was to come, when in 2001 he lost Bridget in some incredibly tragic circumstances when she decided that she could not cope with being in this life any more, and through her own actions she went on to the next life. Along with Harry, my ex-husband and I found her, and I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered from that experience all those years ago. She must have suffered unspeakably, and left us all behind wondering why. But in order to accept it, we all had to accept it was what she wanted and that she was, hopefully, at peace.
After he lost his wife Harry’s Mum who was in her late 80’s moved in with him, as she needed looking after and it gave him something to focus on. She was a lovely lady, very wise and kind, but she too passed away in 2008 after a long illness. She had lived a long and full life though, and I still miss her now.
My ex-husband and I moved not far from Harry in 2009, where I still am today, and I made sure that I still saw him. Even now I have him round for dinner and family parties, and he feels like one of my family. In fact the other day I saw his neighbour in town who I hadn’t seen since I moved, and I said I see Harry quite a bit and she said, “You probably see him more than me, I haven’t seen him at all this year”, and she lives next door to him!
You would think that with all the tragedy he’s had in his life that Harry would be depressed and miserable all the time. But he isn’t, or at least, he doesn’t seem to be. Whenever I see him he always cracks a joke, laughs and smiles and regales us with stories about his days in the Merchant Navy, where he always says, “I’ve been all over the world, and yet all I’ve seen are the dirtiest ports you can imagine.” I never get fed up of listening to him.
I’m sure that when’s on his own in the four walls of his house, he’s a different person. But whenever I see him, he does his best to be happy and jolly. I think everyone who has been through bereavement does that to some extent. I know my husband and I do.
The year from when we got together until we got married on April 6th 2013 was the happiest year of my life, and I know it was the same for my husband. We didn’t have a care in the world, we had days out, we went on holiday, we relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company. We started trying for a baby just before we got married, and I’m sure that being as relaxed as we were was instrumental to me getting the positive pregnancy test that I got with Frankie literally the following month after we got married. I wasn’t expecting it at all as based on my previous history and age, I thought it would take me months to get pregnant, which is why we started trying when we did. At that time, and right up to the scan I had when I was 23 weeks pregnant in September 2013, we didn’t have to work at being happy, we were happy.
Now it is different.
We have to work hard every day to try and be happy, more so with the amount of death and loss we have endured since Frankie.
My husband and I were talking to our friend Sarah over dinner, who sadly lost her Mum a few months ago. She had been her Mum’s carer for many years since she lost her Dad at a young age, as her Mum was very poorly. We connected on Facebook through being “kindred spirits” as we both know what it is like to lose loved ones and to have to struggle on every day because we know they wouldn’t want us to mope. Just six short months after we lost Frankie my husband lost his Dad to cancer, something I could NOT imagine because if it had been my Dad, I honestly don’t think I would have survived it. Not only did he lose his son but he lost his Dad too, and that’s something that no-one should ever have to bear. He said while we were talking last night that when you lose someone you love you put on a brave face and don’t let people know how you feel.
So this got me thinking to the masks that we wear on a daily basis to the outside world. I think that anyone who has suffered a bereavement of any kind of a close family member does this, because it is the only way to get through each day. Every day is a constant struggle, every day is tough, but you smile, laugh and carry on regardless, wearing a mask to protect how you really feel inside. I look at Harry and Sarah and I am SO proud of them both. I know how very hard it must be for them to go out and face the world, but they are doing it and doing a great job of it too. Sarah was ill last week and she posted on Facebook this morning that all she wanted while she felt so poorly was a hug from her Mum, something she can never have again, but that she has her memories and she is very lucky to have had her Mum in her life for 42 years. That made me cry so much, and Sarah if you are reading this, your Mum would be very, very proud of you – I know I am, and I am honoured to have you as a friend – you are SUCH an inspiration. The universe definitely sorted itself out with me, and helped me to see who my real friends are while at the same time showing me those who were betraying me and using me. Good riddance to all of them, I say!
Everyone has their own personal stories and nine times out of ten they have lost someone close and dear to them, and that loss has changed them forever. Stop for a minute to think about how they are feeling, stop for a minute to think about who they may have lost. All we want sometimes is for someone to just listen, to be there, to give us a hug and hold our hand. We just want to feel for a split second that everything will be okay, even if we know it won’t be. A Facebook message, text or note will go a long way to letting us know you are thinking of us, especially on milestone days.
I’m just happy that despite all the betrayals and users that I had in my life who I thought were my friends, that I still have genuine and lovely people in my life who I am proud to say are my friends, and that I have had the foresight to see it, not shut them out, and take off the mask, if only for a while. I’m glad that I didn’t keep the mask on permanently and refuse to let anyone else in. I could have so easily done that and I could have become bitter and aloof. But I didn’t.
Without the kindness of people like Sarah and Harry, among many others online and offline, I don’t think I would be where I am now. So thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You know who you all are.
Much love always,
* – not their real names.