Two years on, good grief

by John Darvall

It has been two years since we lost Polly. She was born on a warm, autumnal October Sunday afternoon on 17th October in 1993. I was there to see her enter this world. I wasn’t there when Polly died, losing control of her car at around 1am on 31st October 2015 in the New Forrest. It was just two weeks after celebrating her 22nd birthday. I was told she was killed instantly. One of the many things I now live with is the thought of the sheer terror she must have felt in the seconds between losing control of the car before being killed by hitting a tree. No parent ever wants his or her child to be truly scared. Ever.

After the death of Polly so much has changed in my life. I still have four children and yet I don’t. On holiday with my two youngest children, just the three of us this summer, I was asked by other couples at the resort, in polite conversation, about my family and me. Why not? I was the odd one out, a single man with two young children.  Single and being divorced was not a problem. Having four children from two marriages was a “so what”. Having an eldest daughter killed in a car crash resulted in pity and real fear in the eyes of those who learned this bit of my history. I can’t and don’t blame them. Who wants to be the parent of a dead child? Who wants to hear about that as a parent? It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. A child dying before its parents not natural. A child dying in a car crash, alone, is just wrong. Two years on I still can’t comprehend it so how can I expect others to understand or respond meaningfully?

Two year on from the death of Polly I still struggle to understand my loss, our family’s loss. I fail to understand the loss of a daughter to Sarah and Simon, a sister to Oliver, Elliott and Imogen, Emily and Henry, a grand daughter, a niece, and a friend. Maybe I won’t ever get it. Maybe I’m not supposed to.

The worst of all of this has been all consuming grief. Occasionally it does lift its hand and the sunshine breaks through. Then grief grabs me again, without warning, and it won’t let go. It never fully lets go. I now understand grief never will never let go, no matter how hard I fight it.

Coping with grief and all its layers has been a rollercoaster ride. I’ve struggled with alcohol. Actually I’ve never struggled with alcohol, I’ve only ever struggled with stopping. There have been times in the last two years where I have still been drunk the morning after the night before. That is nothing to be proud of. At best a few, many drinks blur the edges but the stark reality in the wee small hours of the morning remains untouched.

I’ve struggled with my mind too. Following the death of my brother in December last year, my grip on reality was, at best, loose. In the spring of this year I went to see my GP. I thought I was going insane, that I wasn’t me anymore. I crumbled before her. In a matter of days I was seeing a psychiatrist for an hour long assessment. I was there for three hours. She was fantastic. The result of this consultation was I’m not going mad. I’m not mad. I’m grieving. I’m also still me.

I drink a lot less but I still drink. I try to eat a Mediterranean diet. It’s good for your mental health according to the physiatrist, but I live in Portishead not Cyprus. The NHS won’t send you to the Med to live and eat the diet and I think they are missing a trick. I’ve written two articles for grief charities and a chapter on grief for a book coming out in the spring of next year. Me. Dyslexic. Writing and being published. That would never have happened two years ago.

Why am I sharing this with you? Yes, it’s a confession. I’m managing and I’m not. Just because I smile or make you laugh it doesn’t mean I’m all right. I’m mostly not but sometimes I am. I’m getting there.

I have leant more about others and myself in the last two years than in all the previous 49 years. I was so wrong about so much and, Polly, I have you to thank for learning so much. Your mum and the dad, who you grew up with, are beautiful, kind, wonderful people who gave you so much. They love you beyond compare. Your brother Ollie draws on you every day. He misses you every day and is flying in his 25th year.  I have seen his strength, his courage and his sheer tenacity because of you Polly, and I’ve seen how much he loves me. I never knew. Your half brother Elliott and Imogen were touched by you more than you know. The same and more go for Emily and Henry. Your many friends still cherish you.

You never truly know what you truly mean to someone, to anyone until you are not there.

That is one of the biggest lessons in all of this. Those in your life you know and love, you must appreciate and work on the ties that bind you. Let them know they are loved and give them love. And be kind. You, my dear, cleaver, canny, beautiful Polly were kind. Kindness is the greatest gift we have. From kindness comes love. Polly, you have made me more kind. Thank you.

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