Sunday, June 17, 2007

Melt Down

I am standing in a church with Mad Twin, ready to walk down the aisle with her not as a bridesmaid (our feminism eschews such a notion) but as her Best Woman. I am so happy.

The last two months have been very tough. I am back at work with a young baby,which is hard enough but on top of that Fil has had a stroke and is still in hospital. He was taken ill the same week as my mother was rushed to hospital for a gall stone operation. I was torn in two. But we thought fil was dying and Spouse needed me, my mother is being looked after by the rest of the family. I couldn't be in two places at once. My father's strictures about my first duty of care being to Spouse have never seemed more apposite, or more difficult to adhere to.

But now I am here. At my twin sister's wedding. A beacon of light to which I've been looking forward for many many months. A moment of joy amidst much misery. Mad Twin being the independent soul she is, insists that she doesn't want anyone to give her away, though our brother drives us to the church.

It is only as the first hymn sounds that I am overcome with the most immense feelings of loss and desolation. The last time I stood waiting to go down the aisle was at my wedding, with Father by my side. It is not quite two years since he has died and for the first time it hits me he really really isn't coming back. The shock of that realisation is totally unexpected.

I sniff my way down the aisle behind Mad Twin, and sit down at the end of a pew. Pull yourself together, I admonish myself. This is HER day, you're meant to be happy. And I am really, I am.


Two years ago Spouse had all our parents and in an incredibly short space of time we've lost one, and nearly lost another two. How can life change so utterly and brutally?

I manage to get myself under control eventually, but at some point in the service I am aware that my mother is crying. My mother NEVER cries. It is enough to set me off again. Tears stream down my cheeks, and in the end I give up trying to stop them coming. Mother passes me a tissue and we sniffle our way through the ceremony. By the time we get to sign the register I am bawling my eyes out. A floodgate has opened, and I cannot shut it.

What's the matter with your sister? The best man asks, perplexed. Long story, says Mad Twin. The priest has a box of tissues, I get through dozens while I wait to sign my name. The tears keep spilling out of me - the way the words I am having to write about my father are spilling out of me now. All those months when I couldn't cry, and I wanted to. All that time, when I could have done it privately, and here I am - me, who abhors public displays of emotion - bawling my eyes out for the world to see.

I manage to get it together for the photos, though I look suspiciously red rimmed in most of them, and I'm finding it incredibly hard to raise a smile.

Spouse comes and gives me a hug, which sets me off again. My sisters take it in turns to look after me, but I am a mess. I've gone into meltdown and the block of ice which has lodged in my chest since my father died has finally been swept away by a torrent of emotion I can't control.

Blimey, says my new lovely bil, I always thought you were such a hard nut.

So did I. So did I.

Since fil has been ill I have been like stone. Unflinching and hard, because my job right now is to support Spouse, mil and look after no 1. I cannot afford the luxury of breaking down, until I am here, with my family, and it is permissible.

Grief is an uncontainable unknowable thing. It hits you when you least expect it. and takes your breath away with its intensity.

I am grieving not just for my father now, but for the loss of my other dad. Fil, who quietly stepped into the breach when Father died, and took over his mantle, eventually recovers from his stroke, but he is never the same. And at the point when most young couples with babies are struggling to deal with their change in circumstances, we get hit with the double whammy of having to care for Spouse's parents. The carefree happy life I was fortunate to lead in my twenties has gone for good. I am thirty and feel weighed down with responsibilty and care.

I am also rather cross that this has happened right now, at the moment when I wanted to share my sister's joy at finding her soul mate.

Eventually, after a series of dashes into the ladies when it all gets too much again, I meet my godmother there after another paroxysm of weeping. Are you all right? she asks with concern. I have just pulled myself together and this sets me off again. By now my constant howling is actually becoming rather funny. Seeing that concern is the last thing I need, my godmother changes tack and says, Read any good books lately? I roar with laughter. It is just what I need to snap me out of it.

I go back into the fray, slightly worn out, and feeling like a limp rag, but able to at least enjoy the rest of the evening.

The highlight is dancing with my sisters to We are Family.

We are together. And that's what counts.

My father's best legacy is us.

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