I've been overwhelmed with the responsive to my last post - that you all x. A common response has been "no words". And there aren't any. To know that you have read it and have compassion for me is very comforting, and more that I expected. I've only been able to reply to you with "thanks x" - because sometimes there really are no words.
I appreciate it's probably a bit of an emotional bombshell for those that read it, so I want to use this post to set some context. I also have a need to explain things that verges on the pathological!
I'm also trying to become a better writer of stories - I'd love to get any feedback about that post (or any other on my blog) about the quality of my writing. Especially critical comments and ideas for improvements. Please do use the comments section or Twitter to send feedback.
The car accident I described happened in 1991 I was 17. The emotions I expressed in my post are all true. Though time passing, friends and therapy has helped enormously. I feel the emotions I expressed far less often that I used to - there was a time that they were all consuming. They are now rare (thank god!).
That said, I don't think some feeling of guilt will ever leave me. However, I can work on how I manage and respond to those feelings. Talking (and in this I include publishing blogs) helps.
The crash happened on a broad sweeping though blind corner of a 60 mph road. Some visitors (used to driving on the right) to the UK had pulled into a petrol station, then pulled out. As many people have done, the driver got confused and was driving on the wrong side of the road. Once this had happened, a high speed head on collision was inevitable. It's nobody's fault - sometimes the world just deals you a shit hand of cards.
Despite the emotional barrage that I think anybody would go through at such times, there are also practicalities. I was in the Highlands (Fort William to be precise) knowing my mum had died. My dad and brother were down south going about their normal lives. Obviously they had to be told. One thing that I am still proud of is it that I turned down the police's offer to contact my brother. If anybody was going to tell him, it was going to be me. Hardest phone call of my life. I had to cut through is general chit-chat to say I had something very important to say. And then convince him I wasn't joking (and why wouldn't he think that? It was all so sudden and unexpected).
I wish I could have phoned my dad too, but nobody knew where he was, so had to leave it to the police - talking to him after the event, the police were great about it.
John - the driver who shouted "fuck" - was my mum's boyfriend. They had a strong relationship, and I got on with them very well. My mum and dad had split up a few years before - there's no doubt they were going to divorce, though they were legally married at the time. This meant my dad was legally next of kin. I spent a lot of time worrying about how this would all pan out. I needn't - they were very adult about it and fully respected each other. Phew!
Finally, on the immediate aftermath, at the time of the accident I had no idea of my roles in mum's death. I could barely remember the accident itself. The only thing I knew, based on what the police told me, was that there was a head on collision with a car driving on the wrong side of the road. I bumped (sorry - inappropriate pun) into the driver of the other car in the hospital. I made a point of of saying to him that it was an accident, that I bore no ill will to him, and I hoped he would be OK. This is the proudest moment of my life. I'm not good at blowing my own trumpet, though on reflection it's the best example I can give to myself that I am a kind person and care about others. I imagine he was already feeling shit - but it was an accident. It could have been anyone of us. It just happened to be him. Sometimes life deals you a shit hand.
Whatever cards you get dealt - the good, the bad, and the ugly - I'm a big believer in finding the comedy. To be able to laugh at something despite the joy and the pain is part of what makes me feel human. So here's the thing that, to this day, still makes me laugh about the whole tragedy.
Me, my dad and brother were meeting the police inspector assigned to our case. Being a British chap in front of a grieving family, he did what the British do best. He offered us tea. And, being British, of course we accepted. Little known to any of us, a common police station prank is to replace the sugar with salt. And yes, dear reader, we did all spit the salted tea all over the table. The poor inspector was so embarrassed - I still find myself thinking "top prank" to the officer that did it!
Lessons: talk hard
When events like the accident that led to my mum's death happen I think it's normal for most people to ask a lot of "what if?" questions. Questions like what if we'd decided not to travel on that day, what if I was wearing a seat belt, what if the other car hadn't stopped for petrol. I don't find these useful questions - we got dealt a shit hand of cards.
The one thing I wish I'd done differently is how I responded to being dealt such a shit hand. I wish I'd talked about my emotions sooner. I wish I'd sought professional therapy years before I did (I left it for 15 years). I wish I knew how much talking about emotions helped. I wish I wasn't as screwed up as I am (though getting better) by bottling up.
I wish that you, having read my stories, find the courage to talk to people about the things that upset you. It doesn't have to be as big as losing a loved relative. Deep down, you know if you're bottling something up. Take it from a pro of bottling up - it will end badly. Talk about it. Talk loud - you are worth it.
Oh yeah, Bonnie. The one that I screamed at to get out of the car. I never said who she was.
Bonnie was our family dog. A Labrador Alsatian cross, though only knee high (looks suspiciously at parentage). She was as sweet as anything. More of a people dog than a dogs dog. If she was left alone even for an hour, she'd great my return much vigorous tail wagging, squeaking, and bouncing. I'd 'lost' her twice before. Once whilst out mountaineering, once when she fled when some twat threw a firework at her. Though each time was only a few hours, and our reunion was with much tail wagging and squeaking. From both of us.
My screaming at her to get out of the car was protective and instinctive. Though I'm sure it scared the shit out of her. Once she was out of the car, I'm ashamed to say, I think she dropped out of all of our consciousness. It was only the next day I asked "where's Bonnie? Where my dog?". Nobody knew. She'd vanished. I was heartbroken.
I won't keep you in suspense. Four or five days after the accident we got a call from the police: "A dog has been found that might match your description. She's in the kennels at the moment. Would you like to come down and see if she's yours?"
"Yes" I said, and hung up - no point wasting time on the phone while I could be heading down to the police kennels.
And there she was. My Bonnie. Fit and well, albeit a bit thinner and less kempt than when I last saw her having been living wild for a bit (and we've all been dirty stop outs at some point, right?). To say the reunion was emotional is as bigger understaement as I'll ever make.
And I cried. And cried. And cried.
I cried at the loss of my mum. I cried at the cruelty of the world. And I cried that no matter what shit cards I'd been dealt, good things can and do happen too.
- The photo on this post is me (right), my mum and my brother. My dad took the photo. I am no longer blonde, and a bit taller than in the photo.
Thank you for reading x.