Since You've Been Gone

Mark Love

The supermarket shop arrived this morning. There were the usual substitutions – one kind of tomato substituted for another kid of tomato, stone coloured loo roll for peach coloured loo roll. Pretty low stress stuff. The idea of wiping your bum on a stone or a peach feels equally odd.


The most troubling substitution was a packet of four teacakes for a much-anticipated iced spiced bun. Now I accept that to most right-minded people this substitution is probably not a good enough reason to go to war. Not quite.  But I was REALLY looking forward to that bun. And, let’s face it, in terms of come-hither confectionary your teacake is less Kate Winslet in a bijoux bodice and more Bradley Walsh in a baggy onesie.


Don’t get me wrong I like a teacake. A teacake on a wet Wednesday in Wolverhampton might actually be a thing of rare beauty. But it’s not an iced spiced bun is it? I mean your iced spiced bun is a glogg soaked Yuletide fair in Copenhagen. It’s a sweet, doughy kiss of cinnamon loveliness wrapped up in a sugary duvet of sticky water icing. It’s basically a winter holiday in your mouth with extra hygge dipping sauce. Whereas a teacake is…


Well it’s Just a teacake.


I note on the packaging that said teacake was actually manufactured in Lancashire, which as a proud Yorkshireman makes this substitution akin to a biological weapon attack. Only kidding. Its far worse.


So, the point is, I had been looking forward to something. Really anticipating it actually. And I was therefore a little bit disappointed when it didn’t arrive.


That same day I happened to catch a news item about a support group for fathers mourning children who had died before they were born (Wow, gear change Mark!). The spokesman talked about how their sense of loss was sometimes considered as being inferior to that of a parent who might have lost a child after they had been born.

It chimed with something I had been thinking about. The difficulty in mourning a child who had not died, but was in actual fact quite hale and hearty. But at the same time was so massively different to your expectations of the child that you had imagined you were going to have as to be unrecognisable.

It took a lot of years for me to come to terms with that. Care professionals have rarely really understood it. I love my son, wouldn’t change him for the world. But I also deeply miss the son I had imagined that I was having – my iced spice bun if you like.

It’s a difficult one. On the day my son was diagnosed, the paediatrician kind of poo-pooed our surprise, and dismay. “Well you’ve got ANOTHER child,” she said blithely, probably fantasising about the really big Coronation Chicken sandwich she was now going to score at Greggs, once she’d pushed us out of the door. “Everything will be fine!”


It’s possible it was a cultural thing. The child mortality rates in the paediatrician’s home country are still truly horrifying. And some genders are perceived as having a greater value than others. But here it’s not. And they don’t. Read the room Doc.

We had not seen it coming. My son emerged in the world frankly a little odd looking. But by the age of 18 months he was beautiful. His hair was long and ridiculously blond, and he was greatly amused by everything. We called him our little surfer dude imagining for him a long, adventurous  life of fun and frivolity, riding waves and taunting sharks across the beautiful beaches of the world.

The reality, of course, is that our son can get into serious peril within his own underpants. He’s never going to travel on his own, and he wouldn’t know what a shark was if it bit him on the arse. It’s one of those ‘Sliding Doors’ or ‘A Different Corner’ moments. Or, more accurately, ‘Sperming Flaws’ or ‘A Different Egg’ moments I suppose. The road not travelled.

So, while it is considered fine and natural to mourn someone who is actually gone, it feels a bit weird grieving the loss of someone who is technically still here.

And yet it happens all the time. When my sister-in-law died far too young, I noted that it was not the assembled female mourners who were a sodden mess in uncomfortable suits, but their other halves. The despair these chaps were feeling was as much eviscerating empathy for the friend/brother who had lost the light in his life as for my sister-in-law herself. They were all effectively destroyed by grief at just the thought of losing their own partner. This the woman, at that moment, sat by their side, wondering if she’d packed enough pocket tissues, and how difficult it might be to get snot out of his snazzy new Moss Bros.

As dementia slowly consumed my Mother, I recall mourning the little pieces of her that were being stripped away every time we talked. It was like she was being replaced by someone I didn’t know. Someone who was obsessively preoccupied with things that no-one else cared about. Someone hard to like. When she finally died, if, I’m honest, I was relieved. The only just barely functioning shell she was by then, was not my Mother, just an unpleasant changeling who had apparently borrowed my Mother’s body. She was simultaneously in the room with me, and yet also long gone.

These days I feel it is natural, honest and brave to admit that you are upset that your loved one is no longer, or never will be the way you expected them to be. It is necessary to mourn the person they were or the person that you thought they were going to be. Ultimately, mourning what you feel you have lost or what you will never have helps you to better love and understand the person you have lost, or the new person that circumstance has arranged for you to meet.


That’s what I think. But I also think that autonomous cars are a good idea, so make of that what you will.


*These are the words of Mark and not Carers in Bedfordshire