House of pain


Pain comes in many shapes and sizes. Or is that carrots? I always confuse the two.

When I set up my Year of Fear challenge, I fully intended to just cover myself in cabbage and take my chances with a hungry porcupine, but instead life threw me a way to tackle my childhood fear of pain that couldn’t be soothed with tweezers and calamine lotion.

The very day we returned home from the failed Big, Mad Swim, my extraordinary mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer and the far-too-quick process of losing her began. For the past few months then, the rest of the family have clung together as we were unceremoniously battered by the overwhelming emotion and grim practicalities of end of life: organising and caring, dignity and choice, suffering and disbelief.

Then, of course, came the grief. Unavoidable and necessary, grief is like trying to rebuild foundations around a hole; you think you’re making progress then just a little nudge sends the entire sorry enterprise tumbling into a void that you don’t have the excess energy to fill. And when that gap in your world is one recently occupied by someone so vibrant and bold and joyful as was ours, the chasm widens into every memory, every syllable, every moment.

Yet, we’re surviving – as we were warned repeatedly that we bloody well must. And gradually, that wonderful mechanism in our brains that protects us from imploding will start to build up the layers between us and the pain so that, while it’s always there – that gnawing undercurrent of sadness – we can begin to stand beneath its weight.

It’s a cliché, I know, that life is an adventure, but my incredible mother-in-law was proof that death can be too. So I’m choosing to embrace the adventure with which she blessed me, even to her final days, and recognise the agonizing pain of losing her for exactly what it was: little cost for knowing her at all.


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