On March 17th last year, at the age of 1 year and a couple of weeks, my son Herbert had a stroke for no good reason on God’s green earth.
I was at work in York when it happened. Gem tells me he was shovelling beans into his face like he does almost every day when he went all floppy on the right side of his body. Gem screamed him to hospital in Wythenshawe and the attending doctor that night put him on an emergency course of worst-case-scenario antibiotics. She figured it couldn’t be a stoke because babies don’t have strokes.
A few hours later when I arrived back in Manchester he was cuddled up in her arms with a huge bag of Some Drugs dripping slowly through a canula into his good arm. He still had a hugely high temperature.
While we were changing him in the little bathroom there, his eyeballs rolled back in his head and he went away. That experience tends to stick with you.
We were in the hospital for 2 weeks and we have to go back a fair bit with checkups and physio and whatnot. I’ve struggled with sadness a fair bit since then. I became aware that I was filled with it and I couldn’t get away from it. I began to feel like a cave full of cold, dark seawater.
I got help from lots of awesome people. I briefly took drugs for it - they were excellent really. I tell people that my heart broke. Those are pretty much the only words I have for how I feel. Still, actually. My heart broke and that’s where the seawater leaked in and I think it’s irreparable - though I hasten to add that I’m fine and I’m happy and I have an awful lot of closure on the whole business so, please, don’t call in.
Anyway, I was talking about grief the other day with my Mum. My younger cousin lost a baby at the age of 6 months - Poppy her name was. She died because sometimes babies have strokes and sometimes they die. I was talking about that with my Mum. We were talking about how my cousin hasn’t had another baby since Poppy died and how that probably wasn’t surprising.
I love my cousin. He’s like 6 years younger than me and we grew up pretty close. When I think about his losing Poppy it makes me think of my son in the hospital, rolling his eyes and going away and it makes me wish I could help my cousin more. Or that I had helped him more.
Poppy died years before my son was even invented and I couldn’t even begin to imagine at that age how much it must have hurt my cousin. I was appalled, of course. I was sad and I cried. But it’s like the Grand Canyon; it’s one thing to hear about how big and impressive it is and quite another to stand on the edge and stare down into it.
I said exactly that to my Mum and realised I’d accidentally been profound. My choice of words took me right back to hospital and I was staring at Herb and he was going away and I could feel the ragged edges of the wound on my heart, still tender, filled with cold, black seawater and now somehow vertigo-inducing and terrifying in its enormity.
(A horrible collision of metaphor. Not unusual, if you know me. I pretty much just tend to toss my words together like a salad and chuck them out there. You’re lucky, frankly, if you can understand one word in ten.)
But that wasn’t my sadness - it wasn’t even my cousin’s. Just something I’d projected on to him that he may or may not feel and, either way, wouldn’t be pleased to hear that I was feeling on his behalf. Depression is like a dropped lolly-ice in that respect; it’s sticky and picks up other things all too easily and pretty soon you can’t tell cause from effect. It’s all just a big ball of woe. (I am a student at the Katamari Damacy School of Amateur Psychiatry.)
So: scar tissue is what I guess this is about. The Bad Thing that happened is going to stay happened - and every day that goes by (365 and counting!) puts another few layers of skin between me and the wound.
And, to add yet another layer of ridiculousness to this already fucked-up metaphor, the wound is clean, cauterised and doused, for good measure, in Scotch.
Related story: the above all happened a week or so after the anniversary of Herb’s stroke. The actual anniversary was spent with my sister and her kids at the beach in East Kent. It was lovely. In actual fact though, I had no idea that it was the anniversary. Somehow I’d got the wrong date in my head. When I finally realised my error, I had a little cry and lost my temper a little bit, chiding myself that I’m a bad father, until it occurred to me that what we’d done was exactly what I would have chosen to do to mark the anniversary - with the added bonus of not having to dwell on painful memories.
So anyway. I just wanted to write these things down to mark the occasion, and to note that it is an occasion, however painful and inconvenient that might be, and to bring people up to date. Which I have now done. Please return to your gyrations.
[Edit: Here are some links to things I wrote at the time. I don’t remember writing them, actually which I choose not to pursue further. This was the day after he had his stroke - before he’d even been diagnosed. This was a few days later and I think I posted it on Facebook.]