6 years, it’s a long time in some respects, a blink of an eye in others. 6 years ago today, the world around me changed dramatically.
6 years ago today I was in hospital. I had the call I’d been waiting for, a day earlier than expected and I was in hospital in the afternoon, preparing to have open heart surgery the following day. I wouldn’t be writing this post today if it wasn’t for that. I first started writing as a way to process my emotions in the 18 months or so leading up to this day 6 years ago. It was a big part of my life and daunting to say the least.
Writing was a way to release these emotions and allow myself to not bottle them up. The time had come and although I put on a brave face during the afternoon evening, once my family had gone home and the nursing staff had done their checks, I cried a lot. I was terrified, earlier that day I had to sign paperwork to give consent for the surgery, which including signing to say I understood there was a chance this surgery would kill me. It was major, major surgery and it wasn’t until that point that I think I really accepted the weight of the risks. I’d had surgery in the past, but I was a child then so my parents had to sign on my behalf, there was something about signing for myself that hit me hard.
I listened to Avicii’s ‘Wake Me Up’ a few times as the lyrics of the first verse and chorus struck a chord at the time. The lyrics are:
Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start
They tell me I’m too young to understand
They say I’m caught up in a dream
Well life will pass me by if I don’t open up my eyes
Well that’s fine by me
So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost
I cried a lot and went through every emotion on the spectrum from ‘I can do this’ to ‘I’m going to die’. I eventually slept and the following morning was too surreal for me to really think too much about my feelings anymore. I was the first surgery of the day and was wheeled down to theatre with my Mum, Dad and now Husband at my side.
Meanwhile, the rest of my Husband’s family, my Mother-In-Law, Father-In-Law, Sister-In-Law and Brother-In-Law (both younger than me, I was aged 21 at the time) were on holiday in France. 6 years ago it was my Sister-In-Law’s birthday and they were on the beach on the Atlantic coast. That’s when our world turned upside down. Although I wasn’t made aware until the day after my surgery, on the 24th of July 2013, my Brother-In-Law, aged 16, was pulled out to sea by a rip tide and died.
I can’t even imagine what happened over the next few days for my family out in France, but two days later, when I was fully awake, my parents and Husband told me that he was missing and what had happened. His body was found down the coast the following day.
Although I’m quite open about what happened, I’ve never really talked openly about my feelings at the time or since.
At the time, I felt an overall sense of hopelessness. Although there were quite a lot of pain-killing drugs swimming around my body, I was perfectly conscious and completely switched on, although I was still not able to move about much. The surgery could not have gone better and the doctors were already really pleased with my progress just two days later. Especially outside of visiting hours, I felt so completely hopeless and useless. Everyone else on the ‘outside’ was rallying around and supporting each other and I wanted to be able to do that, I wanted to support my Husband and his family that were back at home. His Uncle and Aunt had flown to France to support the family out there, but Nan K was still in the same village my Husband lived in and other relatives were around. I couldn’t do anything at all to help and support these people in the worst moment of our lives.
I also felt a sense of resentment, I needed my Husband with me as much as possible, I was going through my own big life event and I wanted more than anything to have his support, but naturally that was being split between me and his family. I felt absolutely awful as soon as I thought this at the time, I hated myself for thinking this and wound myself up even more. It’s taken a while to accept that negative and selfish as those feelings were, they were valid. I was at a very vulnerable and difficult part of my life and I did need that support, but unfortunately that wasn’t going to happen. It’s taken me a lot of time to accept that it didn’t make me a terrible person.
I was only in hospital for 6 days after my surgery, as I said, the surgery and recovery was going better than anyone could have hoped. I was lucky to have friends and family come and visit me both whilst I was in hospital and immediately after and I was so grateful for that. Those visits were always tinged with a hint of sadness as they sent their condolences as well as their well wishes for my recovery, which was very strange to deal with. I wanted to be ecstatically happy and terribly, terribly sad at the same time. I tried to put a brave face on everything as I always do when people pass away (I guess it’s my way of coping) but it was very surreal for this to all be happening at once.
The world didn’t stop turning when Kieran died and naturally as a family we had to keep putting one foot in front of each other. Grief caused everyone to react and cope in different ways, sometimes tensions ran high but it did bring the family closer together. Kieran’s funeral was a wonderful celebration of his life and so many people came that the church was full, the church hall had seats laid out and a video link set up and that was full too. We wore bright clothes with cartoons/superheroes/Dr Who themes and remembered the kindest soul, Kieran wasn’t one of the ‘popular’ kids at school, he was truly loved and popular with so many of his peers which was infinitely more valuable to him and the family than him being one of the stereotypically ‘cool’ kids. Quirky and witty, he’s one of the good guys in life who touched the lives of so many people in his 16 years here.
As we carried on, various things happened, some of which may well not have happened if it wasn’t for Kieran. My husband, sister-in-law, mother-in-law and father-in-law have all done walking marathons to raise money in his memory. Both my husband and I and my sister and brother in law got married since Kieran died and we remembered him fondly at both weddings. I will always be eternally grateful to Aidan’s Best Man at our wedding. He accepted the request knowing full well he wasn’t first choice, it would always have been Kieran (although I do wonder what kind of Best Man’s speech we would have got….!), but he navigated this with incredible grace and tact and provided brilliant support to Aidan throughout.
Last month, we were at Derby Cathedral for the ordination of my Mother-In-Law, it is highly unlikely we would have been there if it wasn’t for the events 6 years ago. Our faith was all tested with this event, some of us turned away, shouted and screamed at God, questioned and resented, some turned towards God and took healing and comfort from his Grace. Quite frankly we all probably did a bit of both, but it’s no secret that Dawn turned to God and faith became an even bigger part of her life. She was already a Reader at Church, but her faith provided comfort at the darkest time and slowly that turned into a desire and calling to enter church ministry full time. It’s been a long time of college, residentials and assignments, but last month we watched with pride as Dawn was ordained and started her curacy at a church in our home city of Derby. It’s not been without it’s challenges, as the family packed up their home of 29 years and moved into Church accommodation and Dawn gave up her career as an Occupational Health Nurse and took her next steps in her journey with God, but it’s amazing to see someone who knows they are now truly in the ‘right’ place, both physically and spiritually.
Anything Doctor Who themed will always remind us of Kieran, my Father-In-Law Kevin has a Doctor Who tie that is worn to all family occasions. Kieran would have made the most excellent Doctor, he had the perfect personality. Some of us now watch every episode and some of us can’t bear to, but Doctor Who will always hold a special place in all our hearts.
It’s taken me a long time to process the feelings I have around this time. On the one hand, as the 25th of July rolls around, I want to do nothing more than be proud as punch that I am however many years post-surgery. As much as I don’t really dwell on my heart condition or accept the impact it has on me (sometimes to my detriment), I’m always proud to talk about living with my condition and I’m proud and grateful to have survived something quite momentous. I am happy to share my story with anyone, wear the scar on my chest with a vicious pride and will always be ‘Cow Heart Girl’ even if my blog name has evolved since then. This is always bittersweet though as the 24th of July is a day that changed our lives so significantly, in a way no one should have to go through. It’s impossible for these two events that ran concurrently when they happened to be remembered entirely separately and it sometimes makes it difficult to process the positive and negative emotions at the same time.
Some things still knock the wind out of me a little bit when I’m not prepared for them. Just this morning, the RNLI (who we now support more than ever, there was nothing that could have been done for Kieran, it happened too quickly, but they help so many others avoid what happened to us) tweeted that three men were missing in the Thames and someone had passed away after getting into difficulty in water in Gloucestershire. Reading that today was especially hard and other things relating to drowning come up on in books/on the television/ on social media from time to time and take me back a bit.
I still think of Kieran a lot. Mainly I think about how we’re going to ensure that our future children know their Uncle Kieran and how much of a special man he is and ensure that he is a part of their lives as he would have been if he was still here with us. I do try and talk about him openly and ensure that he is remembered and talked about.
It took a long time for me to grieve, I’ve never openly talked about this before and it took years before I mentioned it to anyone at all, but I struggled for a long time about why Kieran died and I didn’t. It all happened at the same time and I was the one who was at risk, I had even signed my life into the hands of the medical staff, yet it was Kieran who died. I still remember the first time I told anyone about that (whilst very drunk, at 2am, sitting in the ruined keep of Scarborough Castle looking out over the sea, pouring my heart out to a very close friend. Talk about dramatic!) I still remember their reassurance that I shouldn’t feel that way, that this wasn’t my fault. It took a long time after that for me to truly believe it, but slowly and surely, I got there.
Now, I still remember him fondly as often as I can. We raise money when we can for The Children’s Society, a charity that shares the same values Kieran exuded and supports children who aren’t lucky enough to have the support that Kieran and our family have had, and for the RNLI. I will always support their #RespectTheWater and #FloatToLive campaigns and hope to do so even more in the future. This year, in my first summer as a Brownie Leader, having a session on water safety for our girls was high on my agenda and always will be (it was great, if you are a school or community group, get in touch with head office and they will organise something for you) and although there wasn’t much that could have been done to help Kieran, the RNLI work tirelessly to save many lives each year and I feel very strongly about it’s importance in teaching this to children.
I’m not quite sure how to wrap this post up. I just know that I will always talk about Kieran where I can and always write to process my feelings around this, as these feelings will never go. Time is slowly but surely helping us all to heal, but it will never truly fix us. We can only keep strong as a family and in our faith and honour Kieran’s life at every opportunity.