Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.
#bereavement #grief #bipolar #trauma
I got word that one of my riding friends died of a massive heart attack yesterday night. This would be bad usually, but the situation left in the wake of this tragedy hits close to home for me. He is survived by his wife and two step-sons 11 and 12.
It was only last week that Clive had been out riding with the boys I left back in the U.K, apparently. I don’t doubt that he will have been resplendent in fur-lined bomber jacket and flat-cap at a jaunty angle suggestive of exactly the kind of cheeky chap you were dealing with. I can hear his lightly accented, husky voice laughing and tossing banter at all within range between drags of a Malboro. If not dishing out mockery he was often given to quiet, almost scholarly contemplation of the hind end of any women present. Clive knew who and what he was. He neither needed to explain or apologise. Clive was an old-school vagabond who’s bawdy fashion sense was only outshone by his loving, warm character. Clive always made me feel good, despite his obvious suspicion and consequent discomfort that I might be homosexual. Not a fan of skinny jeans and his understanding of the male identity was as old as the hills. That the world is now short of another “Clive” is tragic beyond description.
Twinned with the sadness I feel about Clive’s passing is the razor sharp, bitter memory I have of when my dad died. I was 13 and he also died of a massive heart attack. I remember my (considerably large) family all being present in the morning following the heart attack and one of my uncles who had obviously drawn the short straw coming to tell us that dad wouldn’t be coming home from the hospital. The news was preceded by “I think you know what I’m going to tell you” and that has always stuck with me. The ‘grit your teeth and crack-on’, matter of fact-ness about it. There wasn’t going to be any messing about. We had my mum and sister to look after. I let my younger brother do the crying while I tried to take it all in.
My dad shared some traits with Clive but he was more blunt and bombastic, his love of women probably also exceeded Clive’s. I only saw him cry once, after a huge angina attack that had led to the only argument I ever heard him and my mum have. I’ll admit, it was terrifying. One of the few clear memories I have left of my dad was of him on a hospital bed, eyes close to bursting with tears, apologising in private to me. In retrospect, the thing that makes the most sense is that he was terrified that he’d permanently damaged my view of him. Stupid man. He couldn’t have done it if he’d tried.
There isn’t enough space in the interwebz for this post to be about the details of the loss of my dad. In the context of posting here, my mind very quickly steers me towards thinking of Clive’s step-sons and what they’re feeling. I remember the cataclysmic shift in my perceptions and beliefs when my dad was suddenly absent. Couple that with the hero-worship that I gave to the man’s-man, strong, fiercely independent, bread-winner caricature that the memory of my dad became and you have a potent recipe for a nihilist with a permanently over active sense of emasculation and inferiority. I still can’t live up to the standards I assigned to what I know of my dad, I don’t think any adult could. The values I gave him were seen with the eyes of a thirteen year old, sheltered boy. My dad was Atlas’ big brother, just like everyone else’s dad.
With the benefit of hindsight I think in a couple of decades it will be unusual and unacceptable to other people that we didn’t get bereavement counselling automatically from the national health service. Honestly, I don’t think anyone in our family knew it existed. Had we known about it and, had the counselling quality been high enough, someone might have known to watch out for symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and the like following a trauma so significant. As it is, it took fourteen more years before the suspicion of my illness came to fruition. There STILL isn’t a provision for automatic bereavement counselling for minors in the U.K as far as I’m aware.
I intend to write the letter to Clive’s survivors that no one wrote to me. If I could go back in time and speak to the boiling personality-soup that was the teenage H&J I would explain that his life wasn’t ruined (something they forget to tell you) and that it is VITALLY important he speaks to someone about what he thinks is happening and how he is going to proceed. I have the best incentive to be that person for Clive’s step-sons, but I am on the opposite face of the planet. I’ll give them my skype address but I don’t honestly expect them to call a stranger to talk about this sort of thing. I can only hope, if their circumstances and situation are the same as mine were, that they take my letter at face value and act on it accordingly.
Pretty shit end to the week, really. Someone out there is probably having the worst day of their young life. Through my own diagnosis and the hard times that went with it I’ve not wished I was home, in the embrace of my family. To know that someone over there might be having the same day I had after my dad died has meant, for the first time since leaving England, I’ve caught myself wishing I could teleport back there temporarily. There is probably more than a little bit of this that I see as a do-over for how I behaved when my dad died. I would save someone else the trouble of finding out for themselves how NOT to act.
So help me write this letter. If your dad died suddenly, and you were sending that letter back in the time machine : what would be the most important advice in it? I want to hear from you. If you’re a Bereavement Counsellor or support worker in the north of England near York – I’d LOVE to be able to give you an address right now.
All the best,