Life after Bobby: Grief turbulence

Ding dong!

Hello, this is your First Officer speaking, please return to your seats and fasten your seat-belts as soon as possible. As you are aware we have entered a period of turbulence, myself and your Captain today will do all we can to adjust our altitude to ensure a safe and pleasant journey for you. In the meantime I am asking you, and the crew, to take their seats to and wait until the Captain announces it is safe to move around the cabin safely. At that stage the crew will resume service. I appreciate your assistance in this matter and we’ll do all we can to smooth things out again soon. Thank you.

This was the announcement (or something more or less identical to it) that I heard on my flight home from the US this week. It was a bumpy flight, ten hours of it, and by the time we landed I couldn’t wait to get out the cabin and breathe fresh air. I was over tired, over emotional, hot then cold, cold then hot, shaky and generally feeling a bit broken.


Fast forward 24 hours and a lovely engineer from Southern Electric had an appointment to change my electric meter because the old one had stopped working. My meter isn’t the easiest, I’ve been really lucky so far and always had engineers who have gone above and beyond, climbing into a kitchen cupboard to work, and somehow managing to do what was required. This week we hit a problem, the engineer was left handed, the meter had been changed successfully, the fuse had come out ok but he was struggling to get it back in. To cut a long story short, he managed to fix it in the end, numerous trips to his van, changing the blades of the fuse and eventually creating a makeshift hammer with tape wrapped around his pliers to gently encourage the fuse into place. So, all was well. However, at the point he was explaining the problem, and gently preparing me for the fact that if he couldn’t fix it the power would need to stay off, we’d need to contact the supplier and in all reality they’d need to rip my kitchen out to fix it (complete with fitted real wood worktops) I hit a patch of grief turbulence!

Not aided by jet lag I’m sure, I could feel the tears coming and was furiously blinking trying to keep them under control, but then eventually it was too much. Lovely engineer was doing all he could, he’d already stayed twice as long as he was meant to on an appointment, and was explaining everything to me (as it happens my preference is always to know, even if I can’t change anything, I’d rather know where things stand) but all of a sudden it hit me like a bump and a wave. If my Dad was alive he’d know what to say or do, he’d be able to make the gap in the cupboard bigger for them, he’d figure out how to remove the worktops or get someone he knew to repair them.

Simple fact is I need to sell my house, it’s not excessive but I don’t need three bedrooms, and it’s a 1930s build terrace, which requires much more love than I can give it. I came home to the brilliant knowledge that my leaking chimney/roof had been fixed while I was away, but as soon as one thing was sorted, another problem looked like it was raising it’s head. The engineer was brilliant, can you imagine first call of the day and you have a really awkward meter and a neurotic sniffling woman to contend with; one would be bad enough, but both. I hope his Wednesday got better! The brilliant thing was he acknowledged my obvious upset, listened to my garbled explanation (about being jet lagged and missing Dad) and shared something of his own experience, reassuring me that everything would be ok. By the time he’d fixed the problem and came to leave he gave me a little pep talk, nothing over the top, but he shrugged off my apology and pointed out that everyone has challenges and he was just glad to have been able to fix it.

I made a point of contacting Southern Electric and asking them to pass on my thanks, but I’ve been thinking of how irrational I must have looked ever since. It’s a kitchen, it’s not a matter of life and death, I of all people should know that, but at that moment it was more than that. It was a kitchen, but it was also a massive patch of turbulence reminding me that life is not always a smooth ride, it was a reminder of everything that was brilliant and handy and practical about Dad, but it was also a reminder of the many, many challenges ahead where I can’t draw on his advice, or get his reassurance. Just as I thought I was coping just fine with Dad’s death, it was a stark and visceral reminder of the non-linear nature of grief.

I have consciously made an effort to blog about my experience of death, dying and grief, so decided this deserved an update. As easy as it would be to jot this down as inconsequential, it isn’t that unusual, and I guess it only felt fair to share the hard times as well as the good ones. There have been a few things before and since then that have had a similar effect.

I was part working and part holidaying in the US, but my friend who I was visiting had to fly home unexpectedly as her Mum was taken sick. Talking to her daily (while suddenly standing in as second adult/homework tutor/quasi parent in training, in a household of four kids aged 11, 10 and 2×2) I was reminded of how hard it is to navigate the NHS, the jargon and words that you take for granted once you’re assimilated in the system. The lack of clarity about what was happening and when, the inability to plan and instead just hanging around on a ward hoping to catch a glimpse of the doctor who knows on their ward round. It’s exhausting and draining in a way that few can comprehend until they’ve been thrown in at the deep end. It was a visceral reminder of how life had been for so long when Dad was sick.

Then last night I got a message out the blue from a friend sharing the news that our joint friend’s father had died, completely unexpectedly yesterday. I was asked to contact a number of people and let them know. The conversations were universal in their format, complete disbelief and shock, how could this happen, how and why. Of course there is no why, like many of the patches of turbulence we hit in life, it just is. You need to rise above it, or sink below it, until you find a way through, but there really is no reason or rationale as to why. Another breeze block in the chest, punch in the stomach, kind of visceral reminder.

Life is short and death isn’t rational or fair.

There is no rhyme or reason, we all have good days and bad days. Some of us are lucky enough to get some warning and chance to prepare for death and I’ll always be grateful that we knew Dad was dying, but you can’t really prepare for grief. It’s raw and real and visceral and painful. That pain lessens as time goes on, or maybe it doesn’t and instead our ability to live with it and accommodate it just increases, I don’t know which. Or indeed if either of those things are true. It’s 534 days since Dad died, 1 year, 5 months and 18 days. A lot of the time I miss Dad but feel like I’m doing ok, then some days the pain and grief is as raw as yesterday. I guess grief, like life, isn’t linear.

Turbulence occurs from the movement of air, it normally cannot be seen or anticipated, striking even when skies are clear and there are no obvious clouds ahead. I guess grief is similar, sometimes it just creeps up on you, with no warning. We all hit patches of turbulence in life, and when we do, the kindness and humanity of others can make all the difference.

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