Hold You – a poem for Rosie
Website launch day! Welcome! Here it is. Pages with words about stuff I’ve done and stuff I’m doing. And blogs! Oh yes, blogs. Brilliant, beautiful, lush blogs…maybe…possibly…I don’t know! Never done my own blog before. I promise stories from under my hat. To keep your glass filled with opinions. Share creative and cultural chat. Tall tales from the personal archive. Views, news and utterly stupid nonsense. You gotta laugh, right?
But maybe not today.
Why start here? 21st January. Why those pictures and the poetry audio? I want to explain the impetus behind the blog: learning from grief. This post has been 10years in the making. A decade ago, on this day, my world changed.
2011: my world changed
An early morning phone call dragged me into work. I should have been at home looking after my son. But a building I was responsible for had suffered an arson attack. A hostel, for 16-25year olds. 48 of them had been made homeless…again. The first time, they had been promised the chance of a better life at our place. A temporary roof on the way to a proper home. Instead it became a sea of flames and smoke. As they ran to the safety of second-time homelessness, they watched everything they owned burn.
I organised my team to find them emergency places to stay. No one had rehoused nigh-on 50 young people in just a few hours before. We had to buy them clothes. Manage an intrusive police investigation. Respond to enquiries from the fire service. Wipe away charcoal and tears. I just kept thinking: “thank fuck no one died”.
Hell of a day, huh? Tough. Manic. Emotional. All of that. Then, around 4pm, I got a call. News. About my cousin. Rosie. And then that word. Murdered.
My head is screaming: “No one died!” I’d spent the day saving people from tragedy. Yet lost a person who mattered more than almost anyone. In a way, I’ve been coming to terms with that moment ever since.
We call it loss. Of course we do. That’s what grief feels like. At the start. A limb, or a piece of your brain, has gone missing. But Rosie wasn’t lost. She was ripped from the world. And in the decade that followed the knowledge of that has helped me understand that “losing” her gave me something. A weight, a hollow aching space, that I never wanted but have to carry. Everyday. Everywhere.
What self-respecting brand new blogger would try to persuade an audience to follow them with a story like this?! Well, its January 2021. The back end of a year of loss. Lost people. Lost jobs. Lost faith in politicians, if we ever had any in the first place.
2021: the world changed for everyone
So many have had so much ripped from them during the Covid crisis that it is hard to know how we will get through this. Feels as if I’m writing this during lockdown 4593. I’ve lost count of the conversations with pals who are finding this time round harder. Like last time the needle was jumping on the record, now it is scratching a brutal new groove.
But here’s the thing. Since 21st January 2011, I have feel like that all the time. It hurts. Some days it feels too big to haul through the next meeting, the next phone call, the next email. So I’ve had to get stronger. Had to pump iron in other areas of my life. It has motivated me to be a better parent. To connect more. Give more. Live more. To write and create more – the journey to this blog and website began that day.
I mourn, I grow. I learn from grief. It is the worst and best of my cousin’s legacy.
A large part of that growth has been my willingness to share how it feels. To express what happens in those moments where it seems like the grief might overwhelm me. Most often on Rosie’s birthday or on this most unpleasant anniversary. These expressions have been my most popular posts on social media. And as I look back on them, I see something…a gradual, steady progression.
Not all in one upwards direction. But its there. And now its here. On this page I share writings about my cousin from each of the last 10 years. Some in audio format. Part memoriam, part memoir, part a call to stop hiding this shit and talk about it. This blog the post for 2021…not every blog that follows will be like this but its a fitting way to begin.
We live in the worst of times. From it, perhaps, if we’re prepared to speak, listen and learn, we can find better times. I hope you all will.
Peace, love and blog on!
Be ‘cous – a collection about grief and growth
on the way home…beautiful service…powerful day…tragic, traumatic but beautiful…thanks to all those who showed their love for Rosie…we are waving her off, away from pain, never saying goodbye…
Its midnight: the start of another December 28th.
I should be composing a text message to my cousin before I go bed, so she would be welcomed to the next year of her life as soon as she woke up. There should be a joke about the onset of our forties, a reference to how no present would match the gift she gives with her singing voice…and a wish to see her, with her children, soon. I should expect my wish to come true. She would make sure of it.
I should receive her reply, a few hours later, and my chest should swell. I should be proud that she respects and loves me still, despite the times I lost myself and neglected our bond.
Memories should be stirred by our communication; playing detectives, meeting at school gates, winning fancy dress competitions on holiday, raiding Grandma’s freezer for choc ices, introducing our children. I should remember a little more of who I really am, and what my life is really for.
All these things should happen. None of them will.
Rosie, I will travel your birthday on the fumes of past experiences. I promise to avoid the landmarks of regret, the fantasy of what might have been if I had understood…if I could have done something. I will pass the cul-de-sac of those images from the inquest, and not turn in.
My future will be navigated by generosity of spirit. Creativity. Romance. The smile that you gave to the world. I’ll try and be more like the best of you, in the realisation that your picture on the wall is the closest I will come to seeing you again.
Miss you cous’. Happy birthday
Goodbye Jan 21 you shithouse, you calendar’s arse wipe, you fuckwad of memories. Now you’re out the way I feel confident to abuse you. Piss off knack heed and don’t come back for another year. In the 2 hours since your departure I’ve decided I will replace the ugly memories you hold with gleaming, excellent, smiling ones.
I will stand in the sunlight of every day that follows you, not the shadow you cast. This year will be good. I’m going to make sure of it. My son will learn that turning 6 is the best thing, and that crazy Dad’s are cool as owt. All the brilliant folks in my family will receive my love. They’re all too precious for anything else.
I’m gonna prove that people of principle continue make a difference, even in times of nonsensical austerity. I’m gonna house a shed load of homeless people. Enjoy myself drunk and, occasionally, sober. I’m definitely gonna say and do some embarrassing things but I’m not going to give a shit about it, after all I’m a human being. I will certainly write a few plays, poems, blogs, articles and yes Facebook posts along the way. Ain’t no point denying what your pen wants to tell the world.
I’m likely to meet some of you reading this, at some point, somewhere. Or send you a message, or whatever. When I do, I’m going to be nice to you because you deserve it. See, as well as all that other stuff I said, I’m gonna support my pals, new and old. And I’m going to be as daft as I possibly can as often I can…to reminded you that laughter is the fuel of happiness.
And in all this, in everything and every day, I will feel my cousin’s hand on my shoulder. Remembering who she was, striving to be more like her, will make the difference between being stuck at the junction of Jan 21 and marching down the road to somewhere better. Its Jan 22 and the year starts here.
At 4 o’clock today I’ll be with my son. We’ll be in Tesco buying things to eat, spending his pocket money and wondering why the “pay yourself” tills never scan avocados properly. My hands will be busy. My phone will remind me of a dozen things that need doing. My mouth will probably force a smile.
But when I see the time my heart will hollow. My head will be somewhere else.
I’ll be 5 years ago. In a room full of young people, made homeless (again!) by a fire that swept their temporary accommodation and destroyed what little they owned. I’ll be the boss of the team in panic, faking calm in the rush to find all 48 teenagers somewhere to live before end-of-day. I’ll be relieved that somehow, despite a heat so hot it melted concrete, miraculously, no one died.
And then the phone will ring. “Have you spoken to your mam?” No. Why? “It’s Rosie…she’s been…murdered.” The moment is on slow repeat on the IMAX surround-sound live-pause TV in my brain. It plays again this day. Every year. Those words are tattooed on the backs of my eyelids. It is not the day she died that I revisit. It is the bizarre situation in which I found out.
The crushing empty space in my chest. The sense that everything is insignificant, that it didn’t matter how many other lives were changed if I couldn’t restart hers. I was busy helping people, but unable to save someone who mattered. If I could turn back time, if I could have known, if I could have…I am glad this moment will happen again today. The replay is welcome. I invite the pain. It reminds me to never be too busy to give myself to the ones I love. The hole they leave when they are gone can never be filled.
At 4 o’clock today I’ll cuddle my son. And I’ll silently say goodnight Rosie, miss you cous’.
Happy birthday dear cousin. I will light a candle today, protect its flame with care and love, and make sure nothing can extinguish the light it gives. It’ll be like the film of you in my head…I don’t believe in heaven. Nor hell. I don’t believe in reincarnation. There’s no after, or second, life. But there is a cinema of my own playing a little indie montage movies of moments that mattered.
The beautiful and the painful ones, the tragic and the laugh-out-loud. And like On The Waterfront, Spartacus, The Blues Brothers, Battleship Potemkin, Shawshank Redemption, 12 Years A Slave, True Romance, It’s A Wonderful Life, Goodnight And Good Luck, Black Panther, 12 Angry Men, Into The Spiderverse (and 100s more), I channel their images everyday. Into real world dramas, comedies, thrillers, romances and action sequences.
In that way, part of you has never left Rosie. You’re always projecting through the darkness and I’m in the VIP seats. I just have to make room in the screening schedule for another now. To fit in mum’s greatest hits…and get used to spending more time at the pictures than I expected.
For all the women we’ve lost, long may you live in technicolour and burn bright without end.
This is the picture that sees me. In the night, when I forget to drag myself to bed. It says “come on, sleep time”. In the morning, “slow down, you’ll make it”. When I’m rushing through routines, misplacing my keys or my phone, with eyes fixed on the to-do list.
This is the picture that picture nods approvingly at my son’s silly jokes. Smiles on my laughter. Listens to family news. The big stuff. And the little. That hears what is unspoken when I rant. Never judges, but has no qualms telling me to grab the rope with both hands and pull myself from the well of pity. And puts an arm around me when I feel alone among the throng of busy people that fill my days.
Its the frame for the best advice. Speaking truths that penetrate the places where I hide from reality. Even when others have tried, and failed. When I’m lost, I find myself in its colours.
And this is the picture I touch when I miss you, in the hope I might feel you breathing…and the last 9years might turn out to be a dream…and this is the picture I hate because it isn’t you, can’t ever be you, is no replacement for all you were. The picture I love because it helps me make sure you are never really gone.
I’m 44 now cous’. Work is brilliant, and frustrating. The view from my home is inspirational. My son is fantastic. Mum is gone now but Beccy survived cancer. I mean I’m still a bit confused when I stumble on a crossroads – aren’t we all? – but I’m finding the choices easier to make. I’m doing ok. But you know that right? Because you are always watching.
This is the picture that sees me.
Happy birthday Rosie. xxxxxxxxx
This is the tenth time we have celebrated your birthday without you. A decade of unsent cards, unwritten texts, unmade memories and phones that have forgotten the sound of your voice. I haven’t. I’ve been listening to your music. A lazy summer beckons when you sing. There’s a warmth, a quiet power and this other sound…a quality…a tone…a feeling that’s familiar and distant.
I know it’s always present but I can’t quite grab hold of it. It has a name..
I wish you had been here when I got married. And when it ended. When my son went to high school. When he was Billy Elliot for a night. When he found his first girlfriend. When our Beccy got cancer and beat it. When I got the best job ever. When I lost my hair. When my Mum died. When the world locked down and we could have Zoomed till the internet ran out of energy and couldn’t keep up.
How familiar this is, for all of us who cared about you, to list the things we did not get share. It squeezes our chests. It has a name…
Actually it has two. It’s called grief. And it is called home. Anyone who has lost anyone that mattered knows these two must co-exist so that we can remember the words, sounds, every inflection of those we have lost. That’s how we keep them alive. In us. That’s how we continue to live.
This is the tenth time we have celebrated your birthday without you. I am learning from my grief. I can still hear you. And I will never stop listening.