After the early days

I haven’t been able to find the words to blog, these past couple of weeks. I still have a daft post about how much I hate glitter sitting in my drafts folder from the evening of 22nd May. I wrote it, saved it, closed my laptop and went to bed early. I heard a muffled thump in the distance as I drifted off, wondered if it was a bomb (I’ve heard one before, on 7/7- that’s another story), told myself not to be ridiculous, and went to sleep. The next morning, everything had changed.

I still haven’t posted the glitter post. It’s pretty funny, as it happens. But I don’t know about you, but 2+ weeks after the terrorist attack  in Manchester (and less than one since the London attack), it just still doesn’t feel like the right moment for silly LOLs.

I’m sad. Are you? I don’t have any wise words about any of this awfulness… But I can say that, if you’re still sad, you’re not on your own. I can’t get the faces of those who died, and their families, out of my mind.

Perhaps it’s because I know some of what they are experiencing. I am almost phobic of making this- or any tragedy- all about me, and I am dithering over whether to post this blog, in case that’s how it comes across. But now that the funerals for the beautiful children, women and men who died are beginning, it’s all so reminiscent of when Helen died, that it’s all getting tumbled up together in my heart. Thankfully Helen’s death was nothing to do with violence, or hatred, or politics- I can only imagine what that is like. But her death was completely sudden, unexpected, tragic and so young. So I have at least a window into the experience of the families of the 22.

The anniversary of Helen’s death is rolling around again- 13 years. This fact keeps bringing into focus for me that as Manchester and the world moves on, the families left behind are barely a step into their lifelong journey. They’ll still be treading this path 13 years later- and 30 years, and forever.

The thing is, those early days after a tragedy have a strange kind of magic about them. It’s like an odd upside down Christmas. Everyone is there, and there are flowers, and people bring you food without you asking, and you laugh softly by candlelight, and the focus is entirely on the one you have lost. It keeps them present. To put it bluntly, I remember feeling as though Helen wasn’t actually dead. As though we could somehow build her from flowers and lovely messages, and songs and tributes.

In 2017, in the world of social media, I can only imagine that this sense of keeping the person who has died present is even stronger. When heartwarming hashtags about your loved one are flowing, and there are endless photos to discover and share- I can imagine the comfort and magic that would conjure.

And then, in this case, there is the huge scale of it all. The fantastic concert last week, the amazing tributes in St Anne’s Square, the outpouring of unity and helping each other that flowed from the attack. The silver linings people have created have sent light pouring from the edges of this darkness. I hope that brings comfort to the families left behind.

But I know that beyond all of this, and for a long time ahead, there will be many, many times for these families that don’t carry any beauty and don’t have any silver linings (and I know that most likely, they would take all the silver linings and throw them in the bin, if they could just have their darlings back. Or maybe they are better people than me). Grief, at its ‘best’, can have a beauty and a sweetness to it. It can bring out the best in people, sometimes, especially at the start. But the rest of the time it is just ugly, and bleak, and gruelling. That’s the reality of it, when the weird magic of the early days has passed. Someone special is gone, and they’re always gone, and their gone-ness is endless.

What would I say, if I knew these families? I couldn’t provide any insight into their specific and heartbreaking circumstances, and wouldn’t try to. But I suppose I’d say: it’s going to be bad. It will feel unbearably bad at times. But it does get easier to live with. You won’t always feel, every moment, like you want to crawl out of your skin to get away from the pain. You’ll realise and accept, at some point, that your loved one isn’t going to come back. That will never be OK, but somehow, hopefully, you will incorporate that into your life. You’ll still stare at your computer screen blankly and google their name instead of working- but this will be occasionally, not for most of every day. You’ll grow as a person. You’ll start to be annoyed or delighted about everyday crap. And one day, if you’re lucky, you’ll feel light enough to post silly shit on the internet about glitter.