Good Grief Polly
by John Darvall
It has been exactly four weeks since my eldest daughter Polly was killed in a car crash. It has been just over two weeks since her funeral, which was attended by 480 people. We thought about 100 would come.
In my last blog I wrote about how my daughter’s death had been reported by the media. This included the BBC, an organisation I am proud to work for, love and yet worry about on a daily basis as it faces attacks on all sides. The BBC were accurate in their reporting of Polly’s death, even if they did not include all the information they had sought from the family. They have written to me and I feel for my colleagues who are among the best journalists I know. We can all learn from this. I will certainly be a better journalist for all this.
The newspapers however were not accurate. They lifted quotes from social media without checking the provenance or the facts, causing further distress. They made claims of contact to me and other family members when to date no evidence of this can be found. The Bristol Post published my blog, contacting the BBC press office to see if I was going to get the sack for it. The credited ‘reporter’ did tweet me in the afternoon prior to publication to try to speak to me. In the Bristol Post’s published ‘report’ on my blog it says I had ‘been spoken to’ by the BBC, with all the disciplinary tone this implies. The BBC have been nothing but supportive. Other papers produced articles that were poorly written, inaccurate, with questionable personal relevance and lacking in either fact or respect. Formal complaints have been made.
This first four weeks of grief has been, err, yes. I have been back to work at BBC Radio Bristol and although I am trying I am finding it very hard. The listeners have been brilliant and the staff, my team have been complete in their support. I always said to my two elder children that they should never go to bed on a Sunday dreading Monday because if you do then you really are in the wrong job. Stop. Change it. Go to bed fundamentally happy. I love what I do and I can only hope the joy will return too.
Sitting here four weeks to the day after Polly’s death I thought I would start to make a few changes to my life. I’ve been told this is a life-changing event and I can see it is. I’m not unique, nor is our family. Other children have died in many tragic ways. Death is life and grief is not a competition as there are no winners.
The first week was awful, truly awful but with moments of real, honest, heartfelt laughter. Laughter is vital. Gallows humour is essential. You can learn from grief. I believe that.
Talking with my family, my dearest friends, my partner and my boss at work has been a huge comfort. This small group of people have been extraordinary and have reminded of who I am when I still really have no idea who I am at the moment. They have all done their best to keep me from jumping off at the deep end.
I won’t go through each day as I don’t want to read it back next year and be reminded of it but I can tell you that the first Tuesday was the worst day so far. See earlier blog. Last Sunday was awful too but lead to a Monday that I felt better. The grief kicked me in the nuts again on Tuesday. Simply, no parent should carry his or her child’s casket into a funeral. I now know what is really meant by a dead weight.
So what have I learned so far?
Drinking really does not work. I am a drinker and a cigar smoker. Don’t rely on drink; rely on your family and friends. I will give up smoking.
Right any family wrongs when you can. Don’t ever let them fester. Right beats wrong as much as truth beats lies. Don’t think you can put things right later. There really is no time like now if it needs to be said or done.
Listen to those who know you; your colleagues, your friends, your partner and your family. You are not you when you are grieving but a version of you. They know you and they will help you do what you should be doing when you really are not you.
Ride the support, the love and the messages you will get. The social media world means that you will be swamped by it. Take it, scan it, save it and then in time you can come back to it.
Cry. When you feel the need to cry just let it out. Don’t hold it in. Don’t stiffen your upper lip. Don’t worry about where you are or whom you are talking to. Cry when it comes. You need to and perhaps others need to learn from you that it is okay to cry. Try not to suppress how you really feel. I find this very hard as it is changing a habit of a lifetime.
Try and eat. I’m failing at this one but trying too. I’m either a simple snack that gives me all I need to keep going or a lavish taster menu with fine wines sort of chap. Polly, I am told, was the same.