A decade since my daughter Catherine died

(A personal post – I’m pre-writing this and it will be published on 13th April, as I am not going to be blogging that day. This post is in remembrance of Catherine and Pax, but I also hope it will be an encouragement to those who are struggling with recent bereavements. Hopefully you will reach a time when you’ll look back at think, “I’m glad I’m still here.”)

On 27th May 1982, my little son Pax died in Bhopal, India. He was 3. He had a genetic condition that caused a severe blood problem. It was a sudden death.

On 13th April 2011, my beautiful daughter Catherine died in Dudley, England. She had severe mental health conditions. It was a sudden death.

This ended my tenure in this world as a mother of living children. No more children. No grandchildren to come.

It seemed all of my life dreams had reached the end. Not the fulfillment, but a premature and incomplete finish.

I saw no future. I saw no way of surviving the agony of my sorrow, no way of surviving the turmoil of my thoughts, no way to cope with all of the emotions that buffetted me.

But 10 years later, I am still here, and the memory of Pax and Catherine lives on.

Living on in memory

Pax and Catherine certainly live on in my life, but hopefully with others too. Like other bereaved parents, I am desperate for my children to be remembered.

This blog has morphed since I began it. Although I don’t write about Pax and Catherine in every post, I assume most people who visit here are aware of my children’s existences. The blog has received visits from almost 30,000 people, and l like to think these are people who know that Pax lived. Catherine lived.

There have been other articles and my own book published.

The little memorial wall in the park opposite my house has their names inscribed.

Hopefully there will soon be a new bench with their names at a local nature reserve.

There’s a plaque on a tree in Yorkshire for which I walked 26 miles.

There is the entire Living with Loss project, supporting those who grieve, which exists only because of Pax and Catherine.

There are the random conversations I’ve had with strangers.

There are the young women I chatted with at the cemetery recently, who went off to have a smoke with Catherine at her graveside.

There’s a memorial in India for Pax.

There is the education for several Indian children we’ve been supporting – they’re about to graduate now.

There is you, if you’re reading this. Thank you.

Who is Catherine?

I don’t write a lot about Catherine as she was quite a private person and I want to respect that.

She was also a very troubled young woman, and remembering the impact of her mental illness is very painful. I don’t like to dwell on it. But I’ll tell some other stories.

She was born in the back of a car! My husband at the time (not John, my current spouse) was in no hurry to drive me to the clinic and we left it too late to leave. It was a fast labour and a fast drive, weaving through the post-midnight Athens traffic. By the time we arrived at the door of the clinic, Catherine was crowning. A friend who was there to support me rushed into the clinic to call the doctor. The doctor delivered the baby while I was still on the backseat, carried her into the clinic, and I walked in after her. So my newborn daughter arrived at our destination before I did. She was always very smart!

Catherine was almost two when Pax died. I don’t know if she really remembered him; I didn’t talk about Pax much as I have explained elsewhere.

She could read at the age of three, little storybooks with large print. I taught her. I was into the homeschooling thing. She was very smart but didn’t do so well when she was in classes later on.

She did well in college; she did well in the early secretarial jobs she took. Sadly though, by the time she reached young adulthood, mental illness was ruining her life and she wasn’t able to complete either the courses she began or continue her employment. Her mental illness (bipolar disorder with psychosis) also played havoc with her relationships, both with her different boyfriends over the years and with her family.

In the last years, during the times when she was well, she enjoyed her bike, she enjoyed spinning classes, and she enjoyed cooking. She was friendly and kind, caring and generous. She was training to be a volunteer with St John’s Ambulance.

Her illness frustrated her because she felt like she was wasting her life. Eventually she ended it, taking her life by suicide.

A decade has passed

Like almost everyone bereaved by suicide, there are endless unanswerable questions. I don’t know what was going on in Catherine’s mind when she died, though I have a general idea of the progression of conversations she had during that last morning.

It’s been 10 years since that tragedy. Despite not believing or necessarily desiring to survive – at least in the early time – I have. And I have to say, at this point, I am glad to have survived. There are so many things that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t survived. Of course, this is tinged with sadness, because my children aren’t here to enjoy the good things that life can give. Yet, nevertheless:

I am glad to have eaten apples from the trees that Catherine gave us when we moved to our new home (a year before she died).

I am glad to have painted and repainted the birdfeeder she gave us as a moving in present, and filled it with food, and watched the visits of blackbirds and robins, starlings and woodpigeons, blue tits and finches.

As I look back over the ten years, there is so much that has surprised me:

I didn’t expect to take the trip to India, two years after Catherine’s death, to remember Pax and make his memorial. But I did.

I didn’t expect to walk so much. Walking in memory of my children and raising money at different times for Samaritans or The Compassionate Friends.

I am glad for the holidays and all the places I’ve explored with my husband John. He booked a holiday in Turkey in the year that Catherine died and I really didn’t want to go, but in the end I was glad I went. Glad for the sights I saw. Glad for the time sitting on the beach. Glad that I could cry those fresh tears in a beautiful place.

I didn’t expect to make new friends that I have (although I am sad for those who vanished off the radar either because of my grief or because of a changed worldview or religious views). But mostly I’m glad for the friends I have now.

I’m glad that I have been able to tell the story of Pax and Catherine, and through doing so, have helped other people in their own grief journeys.

I’m glad I had my dodgy knee replaced. Glad I survived kidney cancer. Glad I didn’t succumb to Covid-19.

I’m glad for the little things I’ve enjoyed in the past decade – good meals, good drinks, good books.

I’m glad for the craft activities I’ve tried, some more successfully than others.

I’m glad for the spiritual discoveries – a more peaceful, meditative and reflective Christian path.

We get so much of our life’s meaning through having a purpose and this too has been a journey of discovery. When Catherine died, I didn’t expect to publish a book and run a blog. I certainly didn’t expect to run a bereavement support project = Living with Loss! I had never even heard of The Compassionate Friends, but now I help to produce their information leaflets.

But I am still terribly, awfully and everlastingly sad that my two children are not here to enjoy what life brings. There have been some very dark periods in the past decade. Moments when life didn’t seem like it was worth living any longer; days when there seemed to be no point in surviving in the midst of so much pain.

But – again – there have been good times. On the balance of things, I am glad I lived the past 10 years. Much has happened that has surprised me since then.

If you are someone who is recently bereaved, and you’re struggling to believe there is a way forward, please believe that there will come a time when too will look back and say, “despite it all, I am glad I am still here”.

And so, 10 full years since Catherine died, 39 years since Pax died, my life is like the marble cake we served intentionally at Catherine’s wake. Plain vanilla cake with swirls of chocolate, symbolising the mixture of sweetness and bitterness that was Catherine’s life and is a picture of all of our lives.

You can light a candle for Catherine on this, her anniversary, if you wish, but the best way of honouring her memory is doing kind deeds. That’s what I always request from her old friends for Catherine’s birthday (19th June). Do a kindness for someone today and you will add to my list of gladnesses.

Catherine – maid of honour at my marriage to John

One thought on “A decade since my daughter Catherine died

  1. Pingback: National Bereaved Parents Day: Keeping our children’s memory alive | A Valley Journal

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