It’s 2018 and new adventures begin.
2017 has been a significant time to heal.
It’s been a year of healing as a result of grief.
I actually don’t think the grief will ever heal but it’s not so painful. Dad had a good life. It was a life well lived and a life well loved. He was 91. I talk to him everyday and tell him what I’m doing.
Mum and I necked fizz in Christmas Day and New Year’s Day round the back of our church where his ashes are interred. We shall be looking for signs of Spring as the snowdrops and tulips begin to sprout that were planted among his ashes.
My Mum tells me every day how proud he would be of the changes I have made. I know he knows all of this and would have been the first to tell me to do it.
The pace is just right at the moment. I don’t think. I could work any faster at the moment.
I had the ORRsome privileged of meeting Terry Waite recently. What an incredible man. He spoke wisely about how a traumatic event in your life can affect you. He also commented upon the fact that you can’t compare your own traumatic event to those of anyone else. Everyone is different and how they are affected is equally different. These are all post traumatic stress disorders. I had the opportunity to write to him:-
My journey home from Cumbria Primary Head Teacher Conference to Chester-le-Street in County Durham was reflective, tearful, silent, dark and uplifting at different points during my 2+ hour drive.
Thank you for signing my copy of ‘out of the silence’ as well as posing for a selfie with me. It is greatly appreciated.
However, it is not the book or the photo that matter as it’s the invisible scars on my person that rose to the surface this afternoon opening my heart and eyes and enabling me to focus on rebuilding a new life and looking forward and up.
You talked about how traumatic events change your life and more importantly you have to live ‘now’, one day at a time, with those here in the present. It’s important to move slowly if you are to survive and recover.
My life has changed and I am still healing and I’d just like to share with you, perhaps in a long-winded way, but it’s what I know. It’s my journey which does not have a final destination and I get off at a few stops every now and again and then I have to resume the journey.
I am a Daddy’s girl. I am sure there are many Daddy’s girls world wide. I was my Dad’s third child. He was a widower with twins when he met my Mum and they gave me life along with my younger brother. Dad was 42 when I was born. At the beginning of last year at the wonderful age of 90 he began to show signs of slowing down. He was a retired head teacher and had over 33 years of retirement. His father and grandmother were also head teachers and at that time I too was a head teacher of over 8 years. It made me smile when you mentioned the number of teachers in your family. There are 14 past and present in mine.
Dad and I were extremely close. I always knew, if nature took its course, he would die and I knew it would affect me. I didn’t appreciate how much until that day happened.
I do have a faith and that has helped me as I know he is happy and pain free.
2016 began with a slow decline, several spells in hospital, which always seemed to occur whenever there was a school holiday. He was still driving at the age of 90 and stopped December 2015. I took on the role of doing all my parent’s shopping, phone calls and dealing with doctors and other agencies involved with him. I moved several years ago to live below my parents as we get on so well. God was instrumental in making this happen and it enabled us to have over 4 years of quality time. We were inseparable. We never missed a day talking whether it be face to face or on the phone. I had the downstairs flat and they lived above and enjoyed glasses of wine and BBQs in my garden. Mum said he would watch for me coming home from school and he would settle and his face would light up when I came upstairs. Dad and I never parted company without having a hug. When I was a little girl he called them ‘an arms round, squeeze’ which I loved.
Mum and I soldiered on for 7 months caring for him. He’d find it hard to sleep and wander and I’d worry that he’d fall and not be able to get up. I’d sit for several nights in a row in a chair beside him in the lounge to make sure he was safe. It also enabled Mum to sleep without as much worry. When it was a school week she would try not to ring me late at night or early hours when he wandered as she knew I’d be going to school. Little did she know was that I could hear him wander upstairs so I didn’t settle. This went on for months and we just kept on going thinking and hoping things would improve and change.
I’d been invited to write a book for primary teachers by Bloomsbury and was burning the candle at both ends to meet the deadline. I remember writing for almost 3 days solid and through the night. I don’t drink caffeine, so it is a miracle I managed it. It was July 20th and I still had 15 ideas left to write. Mum rang and suggested I had a break and when I arrived upstairs she had a glass of Prosecco for me. I said I must continue and she said if I did manage to get another 5 written before night-time, to pop up again for another fizz. In fact, this happened twice more before then end of the night and when I appeared for the final time with all the ideas written and ready for submission, Dad popped a champagne cork and we celebrated. He never got to see or hold the published book but he knew it was being published. I emailed my script on July 28th. Funnily enough, none of the last 15 ideas required any editing. Of the others that did, it was simply a word change or a change of the order in which they appeared. On July 30th Dad went into hospital and never returned home. He didn’t die until October 5th 2016. Dad suffered from delirium in hospital and staff would tell us he’d be dressed and sitting in the corridor waiting for us to arrive and asking when was he going home. Mum and I had many a frank discussion about what we could and couldn’t do. We opted for some respite care and I chose to be the one to tell him he couldn’t come home right then. It was the hardest thing I have had to do and I cried the whole time. It was a painful experience to do this and it still haunts me to this very day.
On September 23rd 2016 was a major turning point. I received a phone call from respite care to tell me they’d phone an ambulance.
12 hours later Dad was admitted and on the ward. He was safe and in good hands. Mum and I arrived the next morning to be greeted by the consultant who made an excuse to talk to us privately. This was the first realisation that Dad was dying. We were told he was gravely ill and the next 24-48 were critical. Sepsis had set in. I made emotional phone calls to family members as they all lived a minimum of 100 miles away. They headed north.
Dad was 91 at this time and had taken a cocktail of medication for many years for heart failure, kidney failure and prostate cancer.
The NHS were amazing. The cocktail of antibiotics they gave him cleared the sepsis but the heart and kidneys were fighting with each other. The kidneys wanted fluids but the heart couldn’t cope. Hospital staff gave us opening visiting. My brother came up and stayed for several nights. I went into the hospital just before 7am each morning and came home after 10pm each night. I managed this for a week. Dad grew weaker and we prayed for God to give him peace and slip away. He had had a good life. It was a life well lived and a life well loved. On Sunday 2nd October he drew me towards him and said he was dying slowly. I told him I wasn’t frightened and he replied that he wasn’t either. These were the last words Dad spoke. Hospital staff fixed him up with a syringe driver to keep him comfortable and he slept. For three nights I curled up in a chair beside him and held his hand. Nurses brought me water, pillows and blankets. My brother and sister stayed with me and then went to pick up Mum as it was too much for her to sit in the hospital chairs all night. On Wednesday 5th October 2016 at 11.40am I felt Dad give my hand a gentle squeeze. I knew it wasn’t a spasm. I talked to him constantly and I do believe he heard me. He always worried about Mum and I after he died. It bothered him. I promised him I’d look after Mum and that he needn’t worry. I reassured him and said it’s time for you to be pain free and at peace Dad.
At 11.55am he took his last breath. He looked so peaceful. I was holding his hand and cradling his face. My first words to him were, ‘Enjoy the champagne with the angels.’
I miss him every day. God was good to Mum and I in preparing us for this. The hospital bed, residential care and back into hospital prepared us for not having to care for Dad at home with worry.
We had a lovely funeral service in our church followed by lots of Prosecco at mine with family. It was a real celebration of his life.
My GP rang me several times which was simply amazing.
Grief is a strange thing.
I needed to reassess the direction I wanted my life to take. I made a decision to leave headship. April 30th 2017 was my last day as a head teacher. I said to Mum ‘May the first be the start of my new life.’ She has been amazing.
When I got home from Cumbria I opened your book because I wanted to find the poem you read ‘Do not forget me’. I struggled during your talk with us at Cumbria to hold back tears. You said so many things that resonated with me. As I looked at the contents page I spotted the section called ‘Death’ and read your words about your Father. I cried. I was very privileged to have been there when Dad died. I can say hand on heart that I can’t think of a single thing I never got to say to Dad or do with him. We had so much time together. I still talk to him every day and cry. I am sad but not miserable. His death was sad but not tragic. 91 is a terrific age.
I turned 50 on October 30th this year. We had Dad’s ashes interred on my birthday at my request. It makes it very special. My church is a two minute walk from my home. This birthday Mum and I sipped champagne on the bench in our church grounds and toasted Dad.
My life is very different and better for a new direction.
No-one can put a time limit on grief. It’s been just over a year now and it’s a clear as though it were today that I held his hand. Mum and I attended a special remembrance service in our church on November 5th this year and that marked the end of our ‘firsts’.
I teach two half days a week in a local school – music and singing. I am a freelance opera singer. I am an associate consultant for two education organisations as well as delivering some of my own training based on my book. This is moving slowly but Mum says this is a good thing because it allows breathing space. It gives us quality time together too. I have some home tuition and Bloomsbury have invited me to write another book.
I know my Dad would be proud of what I am doing and he would have been the first to say it’s OK. I have over 26 years as a teacher and have much to share with others of my skills, knowledge and experiences over those years.
People have asked if I have kept some of the ashes to keep Dad close. I replied that I don’t need a physical piece such as ashes. Dad gave me life 50 years ago and his heart beats in mine.
Thank you, Terry. You gave me a gift today. You let me know I will survive and I will be fine.”
If you ever get the chance to hear him talk you can’t fail to be amazed at such a humble and inspirational person who survived by being creative and using his imagination whilst in captivity. It bothered him that he would lose his mind being in such isolation for such a long time. Many a story, poem and book were written in his head. Thank you, Terry Waite.
It’s rather ‘interesting’ for want of a better word, that once leaving headship you notice a small handful of people whose behaviour ‘appears’ to change towards you. Perhaps this is my perception. It’s almost as though you are no longer ‘relevant, valued, noticed’ because to don’t have the title of headship. This disappoints and saddens me. That is simply a job title and does not make me the person I am today. I am far more than a job title as are other friends who have also chosen to change their ‘job title’. I have a ‘life title’ which is simply my name.
So, as 2018 starts my dining table is covered with resources and reading materials as I embark on preparing 4 courses to be delivered by the end of February. It is an exciting chapter as I enter my 50s. I know I can’t work at the pace I have for over 26 years. Many told me the pace was wrong and could not be sustained. Is the pace ever right for a head teacher? Is the pace ever right for all teachers? I know I have a lot to offer and have already enjoyed a term of sharing my knowledge, skills and experiences with staff and children from several schools both locally and nationally. I am also looking forward to qualifying as a mental health first aider and sharing this with schools to support children and staff.
10 feel good moments of 2017:- not in any particular order at all
- Being published by Bloomsbury – 100 ideas for primary teachers: Differentiation.
- Filming for Bloomsbury about my book.
- Filming a webinar for Third Space Learning.
- Spending quality time with my Mum and family members. I promised Dad I would look after Mum. That change of direction in my life enables that.
- Being invited to write another book for Bloomsbury.
- Recognising I am good at what I do and what I have is enough.
- Being brave enough to reassess the direction I want my life to take.
- Learning to create and live with a quality work/life balance.
- Being content with what I have done, what I have and who I am.
- Finding my singing voice again and being able to sing some very difficult songs because of the emotions they evoke. I haven’t managed them all yet but with singing engagements this year, who knows?
Here’s to 2018. Be kind to yourself. Look after yourself.