Monday, 21 February 2011

We are sorry for your loss

I find this phrase quite curious. I haven't lost Kevin, in fact i know exactly where he is. I regularly lose things, my keys, my phone, the remote control, but not Kevin! Adults tend to find "nice" ways to talk about death. In my efforts to make sure that i help our little menace through this ordeal i have been very direct in the words that i use. From Christmas onwards i told him that his Daddy was not going to get better. It was only the day before Kevin died that i even talked about death, and i used the word "die". I didn't want there to be any confusion about it. Interestingly, these adult phrases that we use have caused some confusion. My neighbour told me that when she told her son that Kevin had "passed away" he thought he had feinted, we also had a card from a child saying "sorry your dad passed out!"

Another thing i took great effort to talk Dennis through, was what the funeral was about and what would happen. Here, I made two mistakes. I told him in the run up to it, that there would be alot of people round as we would have to "bury daddy." In fact we cremated him, but he had used these words with me in a conversation the week before. When i talked about this, he said "Why do i have to do it?" and when i reflected on this i think he thought i meant that he and i would have to physically dig the grave and put him in it. Children take things very literally. I then explained to him the whole process, i would go to a funeral director, tell them what was to be done, and they would do everything for us, we just had to turn up to a service, like when we go to church with Grandma.

I also did a very bad job of explaining cremation. This was mainly because i had an audience, as we were in the car, so i tried to make it sound nice and that "daddy would come back in a smaller pot than the box he went in", later that evening he asked me "Why do they have to shrink daddy? i don't want them to". So again, i found explaining the whole thing lead to peace of mind for him.

Another thing that struck me was his unquestioning/ questioning sense of what happens when you die. To Dennis, there were no question about the spirit, this was a statement, "he has gone to heaven", his preoccupation was much more to do with the body. The week before the funeral he asked if he could see him. I have to say, i didn't really have any wish to see the body (i had said my goodbyes in the hospice), but again, this is not one you can delegate, so i took him. I asked him if he wanted me to pick him up so he could see, he was very definite in his response, "no, can we go now." The questions came later ... "So is that all of daddy? Have they left him all in there?" "Why was he holding a flower?"

All the children i have spoken to, take a very pragmatic view on death. I haven't spoken to many, but some of his class have asked me. They are matter of fact about it, it is sad, its not nice, but what time does it happen? How do you feel? Why are you telling people something sad? They don't understand the ritual and "niceness" that adults create.

I find their responses very refreshing, they don't offer condolences, sympathy or feel sorry for my loss, they just ask questions, and offer the occasional strange solution (one offered to build Dennis a lego dad).

I also understand the ritual around it too, it is a necessary rite of passage for the family to help them to adjust to life without someone. Organising the funeral was purposeful for me, now that we are getting back to "ordinary life" it is more difficult. One day i did say to Dennis that things would return to normal now and he said "but its not normal, daddy is dead!" How right he is, this is not normal, but it is as normal as it is going to get.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Funeral

Sorting out the funeral was easy, Kevin had accepted his iminent death and he talked to me about it. He also knew what the potential hotspots were, he acknowledged his catholic roots and also knew he didn't want his mother's priest to oversee it. He spoke to her about it before his death. I was grateful, i knew how much he didn't like him and i didn't want to have the discussion myself. He told her the church where he wanted his funeral, she did some homework, paved the way, so to speak, and came back to ask him if he minded that there was "some" building work going on. He didn't mind. However when i went to look round it was more than "some" building work. I could see why he chose the church, the shape of the building was lovely, very cosy, much more his type of thing than the other more formal catholic building in the area. My initial reaction was one of panic, when i looked at the rubble and builder's screens, but then it occured to me that this was a chance to make it "Kevin". Kevin's catholic roots were such a small part of his life, that i was concerned that the funeral wouldn't reflect him, as most people would know him, including myself.

Looking at the ruined altar, an idea formed, which i voiced to his brother, who isn't into any "catholic mumbo jumbo" as he calls it. Kevin was best known for his drinking, running and upholstery, not for catholicism (not sure if that is the right order!) So i decided to make is "kevin-esque". The builder's screens could be swathed with fabric, and items could be placed there that reflected who Kevin was. The priest was happy with this, and so the funeral arrangements started.

I got alot out of organising the funeral. That may sound weird, but it was really important to me, to do his memory justice. He told me he wanted to go out with a bang, and i wanted to ensure that he did. I let his mum and sister do the readings, hymns and psalms, i don't know much about catholicism, having been brought up a protestant, but his brother and i set about personalising the bidding prayers and writing up our eulogies.

The other issue was the flowers. The funeral directors offered me a catalogue of flowers, but that really wasn't Kevin. He was very particular about flowers. I asked a good friend of ours, who also worked with Kevin over the years to help me with the fabric and flowers, both being something that would be personal to him. We chose ginger flowers, his favourites, and fabric that co-ordinated. He was a man best known for his flair for design and co-ordination, catalogues weren't the way forward.

With all the arrangements in place, we waited for the day. I was really nervous the night before, what if people didn't come? What if he didn't go out with a bang? I needn't have worried, the church was standing room only and the pub where the wake was held, did very well for a Friday afternoon! I don't know how many people came, but i think somewhere in the region of 200.

I felt we did him justice. The songs at the crematorium were "Grace Kelly" by Mica - our son chose this, they both used to listen to it. Fittingly ( i felt) it played three times, while everyone came in, as there were alot of people (Kevin always used to complain about how many times Dennis insisted on playing Mica in the car!) I felt this was a little private joke. There were some prayers and eulogies, then the last track was "Don't stop me now!" by Queen. Kevin used to joke that he wanted "Another one bites the dust!", this seemed a bit too distasteful, some would have got it, others would not, but the other track was a reflection of his spirit, he had said he was having too good a time to die. Close family blew him bubbles, as Dennis and I blow him a bubble message every night, before bed.

Later that evening, some of the Bolam's ended up in Karaoke singing "Don't stop me now!" and other tracks from the seventies and eighties that Kevin would have enjoyed. Some of us tried to send up Chinese lanterns, as he had walked the great wall of China only 4 months ago, we did this badly and with many giggles but no success. Either way, i think he would have been impressed by our ineptitude and drunken singing. He did go out with a bang, and indeed, would have been gutted to miss it, as he had told me he would.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Its my party, and i'll cry if i want to....

Kevin died on the Sunday, it was my birthday on the Thursday. Not quite Soloman Grundy, but it does spring to mind!

Kevin had organised drinks out with the Mums from school on the Wednesday night. The plan had been to meet in a pub and enjoy the evening. Kevin was always an honourary mum, he got on so well with them and took Dennis to school much more than i ever did. The Mum's apporached me and said they still wanted to get together and instead someone was hosting it, so it would be easier, did i want to go? Actually i was relieved to go, it was nice to see people and break the ice after the event, it was nice to see that i was still accepted within the pack. Death of a loved one can be very isolating.

It was really nice, it was the mum of Dennis' best friend who hosted it, so he came too, with his pyjamas. I am sure Kevin would have loved the evening, we all talked about him and laughed and cried. I can't think of anything he would have enjoyed more! He used to joke, "its all about me!"

On my actual birthday it was hard to think about what to do, so i decided to have some key friends round, just the ones who were there helping me the most at the end. Again we all laughed and cried and talked about Kevin. I had saved all the post and cards and opened them all in the evening. It is strange opening a birthday card, then an "in sympathy" card. They are all up in the sitting room, a strange mix of sadness and life all together.

Kevin's sister loved to tell me the story, about as a child he played a trick on the family, one of those obvious children's ones, where all the adults feign surprise, to please the child. He had looked at her with glee and said "i like tricking person's". It seemed that he did so to me, there was me telling him that it was my birthday on the Sunday, i had told him i had got the necklace. I hadn't known that he had also bought me a bracelet, and his sister told me after the event. So he would have known my little fib, and possibly been giggling at me. We found the bracelet on my birthday, he was determined to make an impact. He sure did!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Kevin's death

Kevin died on Sunday evening. He had been fighting so hard right to the end, but that last day he was confused and struggling. In the end they had to sedate him. I know that the last thing to go is your hearing. I also knew that Kevin wanted to finish the house and see my birthday through. He went into a hospice on the Thursday. When they placed the oxygen mask over his face he smiled and said "I will be home for your birthday." My good friend the driver (as she has called herself in the comments) told me all about the birthday plans he had for me, she knew where he had put the present, and all the other plans he had! Kevin liked to make his mark on birthdays etc, he always put great effort into such things.

Having been in the hospice all night with him on the Saturday, my second night vigil, I went off to see Dennis on the Sunday morning, who was playing and staying at a friends. I had tried to prepare him for what was to come, he said "Mummy, why did you tell me that, I don't want to know." "I just want to play with my friends."

Apparently his play had been quite busy, he was trying to distract himself. He had also insisted on making me a birthday cake, but he also wanted a slice. It was covered in pink icing and purple glitter sugar and flake, an odd combination, but what he thought should be on his mum's cake. My friend laughed and said "It will be a bit stale by Thursday", so we all decided that as Dennis had earmarked the slice he wanted (the one with the most glitter sugar and a huge bit of flake", we would have an early birthday celebration. So they all sang happy birthday and we had coffee and cake. Then an idea came to me, and started to grow, with the help of the driver. If he was waiting for my birthday, we would bring my birthday to him.

I went home, dressed up, got my present out of the hiding place. It is a necklace, we had both seen it about two weeks before, but it seemed a bit pricey to me, of course Kevin had gone back to get it, or got someone else to get it. I put the necklace on, and got ready to go back. I told him, it was my birthday and showed him a picture of my cake (he wasn't looking, he was completely out of it, by then). I told him I had the necklace. I also told him the house was finished and it looks lovely (its not, but it nearly is) I told him lots of other things too, about how I felt and how good we had been together. I promised him I would always see him as my Will-o-the Wisp, he would be the wind in the trees when out running and would always run faster than me (Kevin was very competitive). About two weeks before I had told him I would do the London Marathon for him in 2012, for Beating Bowel Cancer. He had just raised over £5000 for them, walking the Great Wall of China (in September). I promised him I would not beat his marathon time, but I told him his neice definitely would! (She is competitive, like him).

I told him, that this was the bit I couldn't do with him, we had always dealt with his treatments etc as a team, but this was not something I could not help him with. I said I would be there, all the time, if not in the room, I was getting a drink or something, I would be close by. I told him I wasn't afraid (I was). I was relying on this information I had that the hearing is the last thing to go.

I stepped out of the room, to call his niece, I thought I would put the phone to his ear, he could hear her say goodbye, they have always been close, and she lives in Tokyo. I was just finding the number and working out the time. Just as I was out of the room, he died. The nurses came to me, they stood there, and by the look on their faces I knew.

It was all so quick, but so perfectly timed! Other than I was not in the room! That was typical of Kevin! I had been waiting for some awful changing to his breathing, or a long last struggle, but no, he waited till I wasn't there, and quickly slipped away! He couldn't have faced an embarrassing moment, unless he could laugh it off! Perhaps he sensed my lie and knew how scared I was.