Perspectives from the Mentalist's Best Friend

Good afternoon, loveliest readers. Following the success of A’s series of guest posts for Confessions on daily life with a mental, my best friend Daniel asked if he could add some thoughts of his own. Clearly I jumped at the chance to have these insights, so I fired him off a couple of questions, which, along with his answers, now follow. Enjoy 🙂 ~ Pan

What was it like growing up with a mental friend? Did you know how mental she was? Did you ‘get’ some of her weird behaviour? What, if anything, did you feel you could do about it?

An interesting question, because as a teenager, rather than consider my friend to be mental, I considered her to be interesting; as such, I chose to emulate her behaviour.

I remember running up and down streets carrying a curtain pole. I recall parading around people’s living rooms with a cushion on my head, making stupid noises. I was there when we walked home, unable to afford our bus fares [Pan – having spent our money on alcopops, if I recall], from the near-ish-but-far-to-walk-from large town (approximately eight miles, if my memory serves me correctly) – all the while pretending to be German, talking to every person we met in broken English. They were helpful in offering us directions and admitted that they had forgiven us for “the war” when we insisted on apologising for it (and yes, I’m still laughing about it now, perhaps 15 years later). [Almost literally pissing myself at that one. Ah, memories…].

Oh, almost forgot: we phoned teachers in the middle of the night pretending to aroused horses, cats and vampire bats. Good times.

This seemed to me to be completely normal, acceptable behaviour – and if I am brutally honest, it still does [agreed]. This is how we chose to spend our time and was what made us laugh as children. Of course, society may judge young people behaving like this as being weird, unbalanced and perhaps even dangerous – but this is certainly not how it seemed to be at the time.

But, in saying all that…I was also there the night Pan took her first overdose (I think we were 16). I recall watching her take the pills and I helped her mum force her to spit them out. I was still there that night in the hospital, when Pan informed the staff that if she were allowed to go home, she would kill herself. A sanctimonious A&E doctor curtly replied, “no, you won’t. Manics don’t want to kill themselves”, to which Pan calmly (bearing in mind she’d been hysterical only moments before) explained, “oh that’s interesting, because I do”. [I don’t remember this bit; I hadn’t realised I’d talked back to the supercilious bitch. Good.]

And in a moment of what should have been horror for any young person, that wry smile – infectious when around Pan – spread across my lips; here we had this suicidal teenager who, despite her suffering, still had the audacity and quick-thinking to look a doctor in the eye and calmly tell her that she didn’t understand a word of what she was talking about (though Pan’s mum was naturally mortified).

Who doesn’t love a bit of black humour?

But in all seriousness. I just went with it. When Pan got out of the hospital, we did talk through the issue that had upset her. But we never psychoanalysed her decision to overdose (on ibuprofen? [yes. That makes me cringe now.]). It wasn’t the sort of friendship we had then – again, because it was just normal for me.

If you knew me, you’d know I judge everybody. I can’t help it. It’s a cold part of an unashamedly bitchy streak of mine. I judge people on their clothes, their hair, their reading habits, what music they like, their accents, and the things they say.

With that in mind, the following may be surprising. I think Pandora’s the only person in the world other than my partner that I love unconditionally. As such, she’s one of the few who’s been immune to this cult of judgement – back in school, throughout university, and still today. For her part, she has never formed an judgemental opinion of me, despite supporting/counselling my countless foolish decisions. Perhaps these acts have been made because of some undiagnosed mentally interesting characteristic in my head, I don’t know; as such, either way, I have never formed any judgement on the way she thinks and what she does. Ever. And I never will. I can’t understand the exact thoughts in her head – and again, I probably never will – but I ‘get’ why she has them.

So – growing up with a mental friend? Every day was an adventure. Most days were fabulous. On a daily basis, Pandora painted my dull life with beautiful colours. No one has ever made me laugh as much as her. She knows me inside out – in ways that, almost terrifyingly, I do not know her [you do, my dear. Believe me, you do].

Did I know how mental she was? Yes. Definitely yes.

What could I do about it? Not a lot. But I hope I was one of the things in her life that at least didn’t exacerbate the problem. Although thinking about it…curtain pole/teacher stalking/rollerblading late at night/”Shinobi”-wise – I totally did, didn’t I? [Indubitably. But in the most hilarious and uplifting way possible 🙂]

To what extent has a physical separation impacted upon your friendship with the mental, if at all?

I don’t like it very much. But I know “the mental”, as she so eloquently puts it, very well in different ways. Her blog outlines in detail what she is up to, so on a very cosmetic level I know how she’s getting on [or did, until I took an unannounced hiatus. Explanations and more for that next week]. And I understand a lot better now what she’s thinking. So that’s nice.

Fundamentally Pandora has always behaved exactly the same with me, so when I see her, we click back in. Since I have been away she has developed her relationship with A, who is now also a good friend, so it’s been great to get to know them as a couple and have – to an extent – a more traditionally ‘civilised’ friendship.

Mental wise? Her condition certainly seems to be to be more complicated now – but then, I read about it on a screen. If she were to talk to me about it face to face – and we have done so, on some issues – it is/would be no different to how she communicated things to me when we were children/teenagers. Still, this blog certainly allows us to have a ‘conversation’ (about mental health) that is often made more difficult in person. But I imagine that’s because of the context, therapy, drugs, triggers etc etc – inevitably, analysis of such difficult issues is more easily tackled in the written word, no matter how close the relationship.

How do you reconcile the teenager you knew with the depths of the person you now do?

Right – I have touched on this a little bit. But she’s very, very similar. Pan has always been deep, though perhaps she is much more considered now in how she speaks. I don’t witness her highs or lows, since I see her maybe only three times a year, usually in a public setting – so she comes across to me as the same girl. And often we will reminisce, so we talk a lot about us as children.

But now, what’s interesting to me is how rather than reacting angrily to her mental health difficulties in the way she might have perhaps done as a teenager – she actually uses them for something constructive. It’s quite inspiring actually.

Perhaps some of the people who read this blog have a certain schadenfreude about the terrifying thoughts that go through Pan’s head and how she reacts to them…But she’s really not a dramatic person. She’s calm, caring, thoughtful, considerate and although she does like the occasional bit of recognition for a job well done, this blog doesn’t exist to win awards or amass some sort of international recognition, or whatever. Rather, it’s to help three groups of people.

  1. Pan – to keep a diary of her progression and an archive of how she is feeling after certain therapy session and/or drug cocktails
  2. To help people like me who are ignorant about mental ill health understand that sufferers are ordinary people leading extraordinary lives
  3. To provide information and a forum for people who are suffering – so they know they are not alone.

She wouldn’t have had the balls to do this as a teenager – no one I knew would have, and most wouldn’t now. To take something like mental illness – something that can be so powerful and destructive – and harness it into something that has been described by influential types in the mental health sector as “beautiful” is, in my mind, the mark of an exceptionally gifted woman.

This side to her, although I knew it was there in ways…well. I don’t think I could have ever imagined from knowing her as a teenager that she had all the facets and experiences that led to the persona we all now know as Pan…Does that make sense? [very much so. I didn’t know this…entity, I suppose, of Pandora existed until relatively recently either]. The Ang Sang Su Chi/Eva Peron/Catherine the Great of the Madosphere? We’ll see [don’t be so melodramatic!!!].

The mental is, of course, mental. As a writing professional yourself – knowing that the mental narcissictally proclaims herself a writer – do you that think she has any realistic occupational prospects in this arena (be honest)?

Ok – she has won more awards than most well-known or full-time writers, and turns in copy that is tidier and requring less editing that the majority of journalists I work with.

But writing is a big job description.

The issue here is in confidence. I can only speak for myself in my own job. I have to attend networking events in rooms with dozens of suits I don’t know, attend dinners and sit at tables with people I’ve never met – and talk to them. I have to interview executives in their offices, over the phone, speak to PRs and have hideous corporate lunches – daily.

Pan would hate all of this shit. [I would…most assuredly, I would].

I had to write a 3,000 word feature once on bio-degradable microwavable packing (I can send you it to read if you want [I cracked up at this. Please send it. It sounds incredible!]) as a freelance piece when I was looking for a job – and I can’t imagine her ever doing this.

But, and I really don’t want to sound patronising here, she has a hell of a lot of raw talent and will dedicate herself to something – but only if she’s passionate about it.

I would LOVE to see her have a regular column in a paper or magazine, edit a serious mental health journal, or – dare I say it – write a book.

This is probably where the future lies – but I know she’s already talking to editors, making strides and breaking into the wider arena. I think there is a lot to be hopeful about. It’s just about planning a strategy and working to it, and I’m learning that Pan doesn’t necessarily tend to let things she’s terrified of stop her from doing what she wants, if she really wants something (although she doubted herself…MIND awards anyone? She was petrified of attending the ceremony, yet she threw caution to the wind and just went). [Very true – I was genuinely terrified of attending the event (fucking anxiety), but knew it would be a travesty, both personally and professionally, not to. I’m so glad now that i forced myself to go, of course – but I managed to get through my agitation and enjoy the night, in part, with Daniel’s help 🙂].

And that, boys and girls, is a rap.

Can I just add here that I am touched and flattered and have a warm fuzzy feeling inside after reading all that Dan has written here. I know he loves me, but it’s always nice to be reminded of it. I love him too 🙂 With a friend like Dan, and a partner like A (whom, obviously, I also love very much), I really have much to be thankful for. You two rock. ~ Pan

Cancer, Crohn's and Crappy Days

Someone please write Saturday’s TWIM for me (thanks to the lovely sanabituranima for writing this week’s TNIM at short notice). My head is too mushed to even think about This Week in Mentalists at the minute – it’s not just that I can’t face writing it myself; even approaching potential authors is a task pathetically beyond me right now. So please volunteer. Ta.

Firstly, may I refer you to the rant at the start of this post. I had written up a shitload of this entry, then went to look for some links to add into it, only to return to find that the WordPress iPad application had crashed in the interim. Granted, I should have learnt my fucking lesson the last time this happened and saved the thing frequently – but really. What is it with the device that hates my blogging self so? FUCK YOU, STUPID APPS.

With that out of the way…OK. Now. Me. Not dead. Well, not dead in the biological sense, but certainly without any form of the life-emitting spirit that I believe less cunty individuals refer to as the ‘soul’ (an amorphous concept to my mind, but then nothing much makes sense to me). Writing is not something to come easily to me right now, so Maisie’s funeral saga will have to continue to wait. Thank fuck I have no professional deadlines at the minute. So, in brief…

Monday

My mother had an appointment at the cuntspital where Maisie drew her last breaths. She had been recalled, rather urgently I’d add, to the dump after a recent mammogram, the implicit suggestion being that something untoward had been found.

Naturally, as if I have not been mental enough over the last week or two, this sent me completely round the bend with worry. I lay awake all night on Sunday night/Monday morning dilemminating about it, wondering what I could possibly do to maintain even the vaguest semblance of sanity – possibly of life – if Mum had cancer and died.

This panicked frenzy of morbid thoughts was not aided by something that I heard about over the weekend. About 10 days ago (from today) one of Mum’s closest friends, Lucy, had been taken into (the same) hospital after being unable to breathe. Her breathlessness was caused by a large lump in her throat, which her genius GP – on several occasions – had perceived to be an “infection”, for which he kept throwing her anti-biotic scripts.

Upon her hospital admission, predictably enough, the lump was found to be cancerous.

Despite the GP’s incompetence, though, the medical staff thought that they’d probably got it in time. They stabilised her breathing through her neck, and undertook further biopsies on the lump to see whether they would favour chemo- or radiotherapy as treatment. There was no, “we’re sorry, but you only have x weeks/months”. Despite being unable to speak, Lucy was apparently in cheerful spirits, passing convivial notes of communication to her husband Andy and other assorted family members. This was on Wednesday or Thursday of last week.

My mother contacted me on Saturday to advise that Lucy had died in the early hours of Friday morning.

Another death. Thanks, 2012, you’re really loving everyone in the Pandorian plane, aren’t you? Now, in all honesty, I was never close to Lucy, and my mother and her had, in recent years, not been the good mates they once were – but overall, for quite a while, she’d probably have been Mum’s second best friend. So whilst I wasn’t upset for my own reasons, I was for those of my mother. First her sister, now her friend. Who fucking next?

And of course, Lucy’s passing only served to reinforce my concerns about my mother’s breast screening. I tried to rationalise it. I tried to weigh up statistics and likelihoods of x and y in my mind. I tried “positive thinking”. Unsurprisingly, none of this did anything whatsoever to assuage my concerns – if anything, it only worsened them.

After the appointment time had long elapsed, I voluntarily rang my mother. Yes. I chose to use the phone; that was my level of concern. To my abject horror, she didn’t answer either her mobile nor her landline. I started catastrophising that she’d been admitted right away, due to the severity of whatever had been found.

As time passed with further no-replies, my apprehension turned into a full-blown mentalist panic. Should I ring the cuntspital? Should I go to it? Should I just kill myself now – why wait to hear that the fuckers accidentally killed her whilst she was in a scan or something?

Ridiculous, but real. When I finally saw her name jump up on my mobile, I was stunned and relieved (though still paranoid – “it’s one of the nurses or doctors using her phone to tell me that she’s dead”). As I answered it, however, I feigned nonchalance. My mother worries about me being worried.

This is what happened, as I reported on Twitter:

Mum has a mass in her left breast, spotted from a comparison of her recent mammogram and the one prior to it. They performed three more mammograms and an ultrasound. Apparently the mass spread out under pressure – which they claim it probably would not have done were it malignant – and the ultrasound was clear. So they are “happy enough”. It’s a relief…”

Yay! Great news! Surely that was the end to my panicked worry?

Not quite:

It’s a relief, but the tests were at the shithole hospital where Maisie and half the rest of the country die(d), so I can’t settle despite them giving what Mum described as “the all clear”. Paranoia, I know. Should just be grateful and relieved. I am, obviously, but catastrophising was/is always my default setting. Just hope that she really is OK.

I mean, there was a mass. Is an ultrasound and a mammogram sufficient to tell what that mass’s true nature is? I’m no oncologist – maybe it is. But the fact that they didn’t give her a biopsy or any such tests keeps my nervousness from abating entirely.

When I logged off from Twitter, I was suddenly overcome with a great sadness, as well as the severe depression and anxiety I’d already been experiencing. And I started to fucking cry again, sitting alone on my sofa. Pathetic. But then I remembered that the cameras were there and I dried the fuck out of my eyes and sat there pretending to be normal. Which was a fail, it seems, because A was struck by how palpably black the house felt when he got home from work that evening.

Tuesday

Up early to get Srto Gato to the vets for his neutering operation. Went back to bed upon return to the house and spent most of the day there. Dozed in a haze of non-sleep drowsiness for a bit, spent most of the time staring at the wall as the seconds languorously ticked by. Vets sent a message about 2pm to tell me to collect the cat about 5pm. Blocked number then called, but naturally enough I ignored it. For once, though, the caller left a voice message.

Turned out that, in the wake of our re-assessment sessions, it was Paul offering me “ongoing counselling” from Tuesday 28th February. He asked me to call the office to confirm whether or not this was suitable. I duly contacted Nice Lady That Works for Nexus and advised that this was fine.

But it’s not fine. I mean, I am glad to be going back – ultimately, psychotherapy with Paul was an enriching and helpful experience – but I’m dreading it too. Through no fault of his, working with him fucked me up on several occasions in the past. It’s the inevitable, gruesome nature of trauma therapy. And whilst it is, in the long-term, important that all the trauma and related issues are thrashed out, in the short-term it makes for a very difficult mindset. So. I don’t mind admitting it for once. I’m scared.

Went to get the cat, and forced myself to stop at the shop. Bought pancake ingredients and made A and myself two batches that evening. I’ve no idea how I managed to fight teh m3nt@Lz for long enough to be able to have done this, but whatever the case, I’m glad of it, and count my pancake-making as a win.

Wednesday

Mother phones. “Rhona McFaul is in hospital,” she tells me. “They’re doing her operation tomorrow.”

I mentioned briefly towards the end of this post that Rhona was being admitted, and that her husband was worried that said admission would be to the cuntspital where Maisie died. Unfortunately, that is exactly where she ended up.

Worry about Rhona. She is one of the McFauls that I like. The operation – to help relieve her very severe form of Crohn’s disease – is major. They were cutting out her entire large bowel, sewing up her rectum and attaching a colostomy bag to her stomach. Poor cow.

Go to mother’s house, as per weekly convention. Manage to maintain an utterly deceitful façade of pseudo-sanity to stop mother worrying about me. Mother asks if I will go with her to cuntspital to see Rhona before she is taken away to the gas chambers goes through the operation on Thursday morning. Agree.

Go to cuntspital. Wave after depressing wave of oppression and misery emanates from every atom of its building. Force self to carry on to Rhona’s ward. Ward is even worse.

Rhona and family – just her, her husband and their two children – are in surprisingly cheerful form. Rhona is having a blood transfusion and being forced to take ridiculously strong and foul tasting laxatives. Do not envy her one bit.

Why am I writing this in the present tense? This happened on Wednesday. This is Friday.

So, I didn’t envy Rhona at all, but was encouraged by the positivity she seemed to be demonstrating. We didn’t stay with them that long – it was only right to let her have her last time before the thing with her immediate family – but wished her well and told her daughter, Student, to keep in touch the next day to advise on how the operation had gone.

We returned to my mother’s, and I continued to exhaust myself with the maintenance of my “sane” façade until bedtime.

Thursday

At 3.30am I decided that I was evil and should ergo ingest about 60 Zopiclone. This was a moment of sheer idiocy, as I know full well that that sort of Zopiclone OD is unlikely to be fatal (to me, that is. I am not for one second suggesting that it is in any way not dangerous for others). Got up to get Zopiclone, to find that I only had three of the fucking little shits. It didn’t seem worth it, so I took one for sleeping purposes and abandoned my plans.

The rest of the day was uneventful, except for my mother’s worry at several points about not having heard from Student. When we eventually did learn how things had gone – quite late in the day, perhaps about 4pm – it turned out that the delay had been caused by Rhona being in severe pain straight after the procedure, meaning that she had to have an epidural and stay in the recovery ward for much longer than expected. Other than that, though, the operation apparently went well and there were no complications.

That didn’t stop my mother’s neuroticism, however – yes, I know, I know, I’m one to talk – instead, her need to worry fixated upon me instead.

“You know, Rhona might not have had to have such a huge operation if something had been done about her Crohn’s a lot earlier,” she said, reasonably enough.

“I know,” I replied, “it’s a fucking disgrace.”

“Yes,” Mum said, in that expectant tone she uses when there’s something more she wants to say, but she’s unsure as to whether or not she should actually say it.

I waited.

“You should really go back to Lovely GP,” she complained eventually. I asked why.

“Your IBS has gotten ridiculous. You can barely keep anything even down, and when you do, off you have to go, straight to the toilet.” This is true. So much so that I’m genuinely mystified as to why the fuck I’m still so fat.

“But Lovely GP and his colleagues have already told me that there’s nothing they can do about it,” I reminded my mother.

“Fuck that,” she said defiantly. “What if you have what Rhona has? They originally told her that she had IBS. It was only when she insisted that they examine her more closely that they found out she had Crohn’s – and now they’ve removed her bowel, and she’ll have to use that horrible bag thing for the rest of her life. Just in case, go and see him and ask for a referral. Please. Hopefully it’s not Crohn’s, but if it is, then the sooner they find that out the better.”

I think I’m as likely to have Crohn’s disease as I am to be sanctified by Benedict XVI, but I made the appointment, if only to put her mind at rest. Things are really bad IBS-wise, but nothing has helped – medication, removal of x and y and sodding z from my diet, eating the fuck out of fibre-rich products. Nothing changes it. There is nothing Lovely GP can do, save for referring me to a specialist. And then I’ll go through the trauma of having a fucking camera shoved up my arse to find that – surprise surprise – there’s nothing they can do, but have I tried a nice bath before bed?

Still. If it calms my mother, then good.

Friday

Sitting in bed typing this. Consider the following as a scale of depression: zero is when you are awake but so full of blackness that you can’t move and might as well be comatose. Five is hide under the duvets. 10 is being able to comb your hair or something. That means that something like 100 is feeling OK. I think right now I’m at about six. This is actually good, because the rest of the week was generally hovering at zero/one, with occasional threes or fours.

I don’t entertain the notion that I’m coming out of the depression, mind you (though obviously I’d welcome it greatly if I were). I still feel fucking awful, and although I’m not going to off myself (despite the Zopiclone wobble), I keep seeing helium, bodies flying off buildings, the usual cal, floating nefariously in front of my eyes like Macbeth’s dagger. But I’ve survived this long, so don’t worry.

(Can’t be arsed to proof-read this, sorry).

Perspectives from the Mentalist's Partner (5): Thwarting the Downward Spiral

I should preface the following by noting that this post has not been written by Pandora. Rather it is a guest post by her partner, known to regular readers of this blog as A. The views expressed, needless to say, are not necessarily those that are held by the Serial Insomniac herself. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll proceed.

Over recent months, I have sometimes found myself wondering to what extent worklessness, quite independently of Pandora’s mental health issues, breeds the kind of motivational collapse that this blog so often and so effectively chronicles. The question seems particularly apt with the Coalition government taking forward very significant changes to disability support and out of work benefits.

Let’s get something straight from the outset; in raising this question, I’m not for one moment suggesting that Pan is in any position to work at the moment or that she isn’t deserving of the support that she currently receives. What I am asking is this: is being away from work for such a long time a contributor to the difficulties that now stand in the way of Pan resuming a ‘normal’ life? (Cue all the usual reservations about the word ‘normal’.)

In speculating on the life-deadening impact of worklessness I speak to an extent from personal experience, albeit not a long stint of same. When I completed my university education some years ago, I naturally went job hunting. I didn’t think I’d get anything quickly, and in the interim determined to enjoy myself, drink in (sometimes literally) the freedom that being away from full time study could bring. Without a care in the world, I could begin on any number of projects I’d always thought I’d like to do – writing some short stories, composing music, improving my guitar technique, learning to program a computer in a much less amateurish manner, honing my understanding of the world and its most important issues through wider reading. Sounded good. And yet I’d been warned that prolonged exposure to the dole could be psychologically debilitating. A friend of mine, a long term doleite, told of the fact that he had come to the stage where he couldn’t even be bothered getting up or having a shower on many occasions. I dismissed such thoughts; that was him, I was me. Nothing like that would happen to me.

Well, for my first four or so weeks of freedom, I was right. I had a whale of a time. No commitments. No pressures. I could go out when I wanted. I could stay up as late as I wanted for some deeply interesting all night philosophical conversations. I could catch up on series upon series of the good TV shows I’d missed, read good books, experiment with writing, compose bits and pieces on the computer, and so on. I could pursue what I wanted to pursue, all the while job hunting, attending a few interviews – not having much success – but oh well, time would sort that out, wouldn’t it?

Week five brought a niggling feeling that things were starting to veer off course. I’m obviously an impatient person, because by the time I’d reached this stage, the boredom had subtly, insidiously started to set in – and with it, the transformation of my motivation into molasses. That morning shower? Bah! Showers were for losers! [Pan – yes, they are. I’m actually scared of them, and since I am soooo awesome, anyone who thinks that showers are cool is wrong. Matter closed]. It could wait. Going to the shop to get milk? Black coffee would do just fine. Tomorrow, maybe. Getting up? Well, surely past midday was perfectly respectable. Maybe I could even practise some lucid dreaming! In short, postponement and procrastination gradually became the order of service, and with this development, the ebbing of creativity marched dolefully in step. Days blended into other days. Weekends were the same as weekdays. Friday afternoons weren’t the great escape they once had been. Time to do stuff was, well, just more time. And I had plenty of that, so why rush?

By weeks six and seven, my brain was beginning to atrophy. By week eight, I was finding it an achievement to force myself to take a daily walk into town – I’d even set this as a bloody goal, so pathetic was my motivation by this stage. That was the height of my ‘achievement’.

Luckily for me, I’ve always been driven by some sort of guilt trip which prevents me from giving up entirely – so far, at least. I continued the job hunting, somehow, and eventually secured a position.

But enough about me. The point I am trying to make is that worklessness – or so it seems to me – creates its own challenges which are generated separately from, or at least contribute in a separate way to, the challenges brought about by what I will call, for want of a less generic description, clinical depression.

I’ve now had this conversation with Pandora on a number of occasions. What part of her is unable to get out and about, to find motivation, to look for work, etc, as a result of her condition? And what part of all that is the result of being in the situation she has been in – without work, without what one might call external responsibilities – for around three years?

This thought process of mine should not be interpreted as a suggestion, as some would have it, that people struggling on benefits are necessarily work-shy and simply need a good kick up the backside. Do such people exist? Certainly. Are they typical? I doubt it. The long term unemployed who have lost hope need help back to work – a carrot and a stick, probably – but at the same time there are plenty of mentalists who, for various reasons, are unable to work, who want to work but are simply not currently in a place where they can do so at this moment. Let me put it like this: would you want your colleague having paranoid delusions, or bursting into tears/storming out of the office or off the building site because they can’t cope with what might seem an ordinary task? I have an acquaintance who sees conspiracies everywhere and who is working. Or was. Until he was fired. For threatening colleagues. On more than one occasion. Even after formal warnings. Because he erroneously thought that people were engaged in a conspiracy against him. He needed help. He ultimately couldn’t stay in work. He needs help now to get him back to a place where he can resume work. (That he fails to acknowledge this [I’d say ‘doesn’t realise he needs it’] does not negate the fact that he needs it.) I’m sure about this: a person like him should be nowhere near a workplace until he has had an opportunity to deal with – and be helped to deal with – whatever conditions afflict him.

I’m somewhat worried that the proposed changes to the system will fail to recognise cases like this; the medical assessors, as I understand it, won’t be specialists in the field they are assessing. Does that make sense? Not to me.

To return to Pandora’s case, and I can’t and won’t generalise about others, I still wonder how much her chances to get back to a ‘normal’ existence are constrained not alone by mentalism but also by having become stuck in a rut – through no fault of her own – for so long. Adjusting again to the concept of work, after the passage of a long time sitting in the house, will almost certainly be very difficult. It would be difficult for most people, I’d venture. For me, definitely.

So what’s the point of this post?

I’m not sure, really. I suppose I want to reassure myself, and Pandora, that a return to work will be possible, but I need to acknowledge that, independently of mentalism, it will be a gradual process, perhaps starting with some very light voluntary commitments and working its way up to some part-time, low pressure role. Eventually, of course, the objective will be a return to a full-time and, ideally, fulfilling career. You may have observed that Pandora is a smart cookie, and I think she’ll do very well for herself as a professional, provided she is able to reach a sound level of stability and find something that she really doesn’t mind (or, dare I say, enjoys) doing [which is all I’ve ever really wanted out of life].

I don’t have the answers, but would certainly be interested in the views of others on the ‘worklessness breeds worklessness’ theory.

You can follow A on Twitter at @TheNyarlathotep.

The Funeral: Part One

It was a day like no other.

Given her long-term health problems, I had often wondered what Aunt Maisie’s funeral would look like. For such an obstinate woman, she was remarkably popular – as, for reasons I don’t fully comprehend, the entire McFaul clan seem to similarly regarded. Perhaps it’s a rural thing; they seem to know everyone within at least a 10 mile radius, and know them well at that. Me, I’ve never even spoken to my next door neighbours.

Maisie’s funeral service was conducted at her home. Hotel California is situated along a dark and relatively quiet stretch of road a few miles outside a small town. As you approach, you crest a hill, which is about 1,000 feet from the house. As A and I rolled up said mount, with the unfamiliar-to-the-place Eimear following us, we were dumbstruck by the sight that greeted us.

Nearly an hour before the start of the service, a line of cars was parked from the entrance to the house right back to us. There were police cones on the other side of the road, in place to prevent mourners from parking there as well. I was stunned when I realised there was even a cop car, ensconced in which were two officers, waiting in preparation for the events about to transpire.

As I got out of my car, I shook my head in disbelief. Not that I care that much, since by that juncture I’ll be dead, but I wondered briefly if I could hope to have even a quarter of this turnout at my funeral. I concluded that this was, in technical terms, Not Bloody Likely.

We waited for Eimear, and as a trio duly proceeded towards the house. Strangely, the vast yard that surrounds it was mostly devoid of cars (save for those of the immediate family) – it turned out, of course, that this was to accommodate the hearse, and the mourners’ cars which would be arriving to cart Paedo, my mother and aunts, and Maisie’s vast entourage of descendants to the cemetery, its gaping six-foot hole for Maisie waiting patiently to be filled.

I made the initial mistake of trying to get in through the front door. There wasn’t even standing room in either of the two rooms onto which the small hall leads. Some random old git offered to try to shift people around in a bid to accommodate us, but I thanked him and demurred, deciding to go around the back. People were randomly standing about in the yard, most of whom could have been Lord fucking Lucan for all I knew them (or perhaps not, since Lord Lucan’s smug face is not exactly an image unfamiliar to the world). I ignored them, and shoved the back door open.

Fortunately for me, my mother was standing in the back hall. I was perturbed to observe Georgie, Aunt of Evil, standing in close proximity, but I ignored her and reached to embrace my mother. Praise merciful God/Allah/Dawkins/Flying Spaghetti Monster: my mother decided to come outside, and free me from the burden of having to stand in such a cramped and oppressive atmosphere.

Frankly, I remember few – if any – of the words spoken between us for some time. I think Eimear, who is what may be politely termed a ‘motormouth’, stepped in to speak of the various inanities of which she is usually full. I lit up a fag and stared at my (new) shoes (new shoes! NEW SHOOOOOES! Did anyone else like Twin Peaks?), desperately wishing the whole sorry thing would just be fucking over.

“Oh!” exclaimed my mother after 20,000 years. “It’s the ladies!”

I looked up, aghast. ‘The ladies’ is a euphemism for my mother’s golf club acquaintances. Aside from converse with Aunt of Evil, the last thing I wanted to deal with was these women. Some of them are nice, genuinely, but several conform perfectly to the traditional golfing stereotypes: gossipy, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, look-at-me-and-my-perfect-hair. There was one there in particular that, although admittedly she and my mother get on reasonably well, I felt was in attendance for the sole purpose of relaying events to her little cronies (Daniel: you know of whom I type).

Unusually, my mother was not horrified that these women had ‘caught’ me smoking (I’m nearly 30, for Christ’s sake!); not surprisingly, she had more important things on her mind. That said, we had been at a funeral of another member of the golf club – a good friend of my mother’s, actually – a few years ago when the subject of baptism curiously and inexplicably came up. As I went to proffer the view that this was a load of shit and that I was grateful that my parents had not presumptuously forced my infant self through the silly process, my mother kicked me under the table, and said, “oh yes, Pandora was christened in such-and-such a Church.” I remember shooting her a look of abject disgust and anger.

Anyway. As if this wasn’t going to be long enough without silly tangential musings. In the spirit of politeness and occasion, I made small-talk with a few of the assembled golfers (of whom, it turned out in the end, there were something like 10 or 12). When one, let’s call her Amy, pulled me aside and said, “Pandora. Congratulations!”, I felt the familiar tug of paranoid anxiety grip me.

“Congratulations?”

“Yes – you know, for your internet writing. You were nominated for an award for it, were you not?”

“Oh yes. That,” I said, feigning a casual shrug.

“Yes, that! Brilliant!”

“Thanks. I didn’t win it, mind you,” I lied. I looked into the woman’s fucking eyes and lied.

“But it doesn’t matter,” she returned, the cause for her emphasis of the word ‘matter’ being the source of some puzzlement to me. “Just being nominated…that’s amazing. Really well done,” she purred, continuing – as is her wont, to be fair – to overemphasise words of little import.

I smiled bashfully, and once again thanked the Flying Spaghetti Monster when someone else just then butted in. I know it’s my fault that Mum found out about the awards ceremony, but in the name of retaining my anonymity – or, more accurately, in the name of protecting everyone else in this so-called life of mine from the sordid truths of said existence – I wished with a fervent passion that she’d not gone around telling everyone she knows. Even the fucking McFauls know about it, and half of this fucking blog is about them!

My relief was short-lived, however, as Aunt of Evil exited the back door and proceeded in the direction of our little splinter group.

She came up to my mother, and prodded her about something. Facing her – literally facing her – became unavoidable. I took a deep breath and nodded at her. “Georgie,” I acknowledged.

“Pandora,” she returned nervously. “A.” At least she had the grace to be embarrassed. A muttered some sort of equally-anxious response.

And, for then at least, that was that. I waited a few minutes in order to feign a politic exit, then told my mother that I wished to observe Maisie’s body.

She led me in, fighting her way through about 4,028,374 (living) bodies, all gathered in one sodding room. She tactfully opened the door to where Maisie lay, and let A and I squeeze through it.

I mentioned in my last post in this series that when Mum and I had seen Maisie’s body at the cuntspital that she looked surprisingly alive, as though she were merely sleeping. I also said that I don’t normally think that about corpses. Here is where my more standard thinking in this arena came back to reality, slapping me like a wet fish around the jowls as it did: Maisie looked fucking horrendous.

The undertakers had tried to do her make-up to exacting standards, but the biology of death dictated that they would fail in their noble endeavour. Her lips, even through her lipstick, were black. Her chin, rigid as it was in its deceased state, seemed to sag beyond her head like some rancid piece of meat. She had one of those expressions that elderly people in care homes who are devoid of teeth are often seen to sport. I won’t say that I was horrified, because I’ve had enough exposure to dead bodies to know what to expect. But, despite having that awareness on a sort of intellectual level, I was…disappointed, I suppose. She looked so fundamentally unlike herself that I couldn’t help but feel sorry that this was going to be everyone’s last image of her.

Like I had in the hospital, I kissed her(/the corpse – it really wasn’t her) on the forehead, and mumbled something or other. I think it was something like, “sleep well,” which is a fucking stupid thing to say. I had, however, said it many times: Alter Ego was fawning around her Facebook account (in between a myriad of deactivations of same) uttering such things and generally behaving like a normal person who’d been genuinely bereaved. Am I bereaved? Was I? Yes, Maisie was a constant in my life, and yes, she was never personally unpleasant to me…but it was so bloody complicated. Do I, will I, miss her – miss her as a niece would normally miss her previously omnipresent aunt? I truly don’t know the answer to that even now, a month after her demise.

By the time we left the body, the service was almost upon us. My mother negotiated her way through the preposterous crowd towards the living room, from which the same old prick of a minister we’d met on the Wednesday was to conduct the service. I tried to get away, but my mother insisted that she wanted me with her, which was fair enough. Pursuant to that, of course, I wanted A with me, which wasn’t entirely fair on the poor sod: I’m not the only one in the relationship that has a distinct and, at times, overwhelming crowd phobia.

I sort of stood in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. One of Aunt of Boredom’s (AKA Maureen’s) two sons stood to my right, with some geezer I didn’t know in front of him. My mother was directly in front of me; Georgie was to her right. Beyond my mother, Suzanne and Student – Maisie’s granddaughters – sat on the edge of the sofa. I couldn’t see any of my (first) cousins, nor did I observe Paedo. But then, the place was that packed that spotting a cunting elephant wouldn’t have been easy.

Somebody thrust an order of service into my hands. Initially askance at this – we had to fucking sing?! – I melted a bit when I saw the picture they’d placed on the front of the document. It was a good photo of Maisie, insofar as such things exist. She was not, in her latter years, an attractive woman – but she looked so happy in this picture. More than that, she looked maternal, loving and – and it pains me to use this word – sweet.

It reminded me of the good things about her: her generosity, her understanding of the many difficulties I’ve faced (well. That she knows of..!), her willingness to put herself out for me (and my abject failure to ever return that favour), the silly yet weirdly (in retrospect) endearing way she’d always insist on you having “another wee cup of tea” before you left Hotel California. I looked at it, and tears pricked my eyes. As they do as I type this.

I tried to avoid looking at the image for the rest of the day, but I failed miserably. Every time I fought to avoid it, my gaze seemed to involuntarily fall upon it. And every time that it did, I felt that little more sad, that little more regretful. I could have done more. I could have been less negative. Yes, my aunt had bad streaks – but, like I am wont to do with many people, it struck me each and every time I saw her smiling face on that silly piece of paper that I failed (and fail) to see the good that was virtually punching me in the face. And I could have done more.

The service began with a desultory warbling of some hymn or other. For whatever reason, I can’t remember what that was; I do remember that proceedings ended with Amazing Grace, apparently a favourite of Maisie’s, but whatever this was I’ve no idea. In fact, aside from a few instances which I shall henceforth relate, I don’t remember a great deal of the service. Frankly, I don’t think I was missing much, but perhaps it is churlish to say that.

The minister prattled on about how we should be comforted by God’s amazing love and all the usual shite that the clergy bring out verbatim at funerals. He even sounded like he was on stage – on stage, and acting poorly. They (whoever ‘they’ are – not TheyThey‘, thank fuck) say that the sign of a bad actor is knowing that he or she is acting, and so it was with our dear friend here. I do remember that I actively didn’t listen to most of this, because (a) I don’t agree with a single fucking word and (b) I’ve heard it all, so many times, before.

As I felt his predictable little voice evanesce away from my ears, an odd thing happened. For want of fixating on something that wasn’t him, my mind punished me by looking at that bloody picture. And I cried. Not “wah wah wah! *sob sob sob*!”, thank…well, thank whatever you damn well like – but tears were there, in a relatively constant stream. The strangest thing about this was that, for possibly the first time in my life – my entire life, not just my adulthood – I did absolutely nothing to fight them.

I remember thinking at one point, “at least they’ll know I’m genuinely grieving,” though (a) I don’t know who ‘they’ were supposed to be (again, not They ‘They’, who would have found the whole thing terribly entertaining had they been in situ), and (b) as discussed above, I don’t know that I am genuinely grieving. Further, the thinking of such thoughts shows clear manipulation. If that was my view, then I wasn’t exactly crying for my own benefit, was I? I was crying for appearances. That is reprehensible beyond any measurable scale. In my defence, the tears were involuntary, but it strikes me that perhaps my failure to do anything about them was a cynical ploy. And that – using someone’s death to appear more human (despite my recent rant about that usage of that word – see me and my bloody self-contradictions/hypocrisy?!) – that sickens even me. Maybe (Old)VCB was right when she diagnosed me with BPD.

Ballrootvicar bollocksed on for three more centuries during which I continued to ignore him with stubborn defiance – but when I heard my mother’s name mentioned somewhere on the periphery of my hearing, I turned my attention back to the man. In whatever eulogy he was attempting to perform, he was mentioning the grief of those family members closest to Maisie. When he got round to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I saw the shoulders of both Student and Suzanne shake piteously. I shed a tear for them, briefly, then watched in some perplexity as Suzanne supportively rubbed Student’s back.

Deep breath. This is hard for me to admit, but I’m going to do it. I felt something that I’ve almost never felt in this sort of context; I felt envy. I envied their closeness, and lamented my distance from it. They are not just cousins; they’re properly family, which to them trumps all. However, more importantly to me, is that they’re not just cousins/family; they’re friends. For those fleeting seconds, I longed so deeply for the comfort and unabated joy of friendship, for ordinary platonic love. I have no ‘real life’ female friends, something that has never bothered me in my life to date. I’m not even sure that it was their shared gender and its more-customary-than-mine female expression (#feminismfail there, Pan) that bothered me; it was simply that I had no friends there with me. Oh, yes, Mum and A were there – but Mum had her own grieving to do, and much as I love A and feel that he is a friend as well as a lover, the relationship is by necessity different from pure, simple friendship.

Daniel lives in England, and even though he left Northern Ireland nearly a decade ago, I miss him every day. Brian and Aaron do live here, but – and mainly through faults of my own, I confess – I rarely see them. Neither of them would have come to Maisie’s funeral even if I saw them every day anyway, and neither would I have expected it of them. If anything, I found it a little odd that so many of Mum’s friends attended, yet here I am whining about having had none of my own.

Whatever the case, I envied my cousins(-once-removed) and their innate understanding of how each other felt, and though I could probably not be good friends with either of them – whilst I like them, and believe that’s mutual, we are too different to ever be close – I desperately wanted a piece of what they had that day, and was briefly overcome with the greatest void of loneliness I’ve ever known. It is often said that it’s eminently possible to feel despairing, gut-wrenching loneliness whilst in a room full of people. I have never seen a more quintessential instance of that dictum.

This is turning into an epic self-pity-party. To get back to the logistics of the event, at some point the random bloke standing to my right was invited to speak. It turned out that he was the “Pastor” from Suzanne’s Church.

Suzanne, rather unfortunately, is a Presbyterian. Any of you familiar with the denomination will probably have guessed where this is going.

He spoke with the casual but wholly palpable arrogance that I’ve always associated with plane hijackers about hell, fire, brimstone – and how an all-loving God will burn you in agony for an eternity if you don’t submit to his narcissism. Now, let me clear something up here: I know there are Christians that read this blog, and I apologise for any offence I’m causing in this rant. Despite not agreeing with you, I have nothing per se against religion, Christianity included: it is this warped, horrible version of it that grates on me so. I don’t believe in God, obviously, but if He does exist, I can’t believe that the fuckwittery of this brand of Presbyterianism can be true. A loving, benevolent force as exemplified through Christ is not the God of which these people speak. I wished, not for the first time, that I came from a Catholic background.

You know, that’s kind of amusing in a dark way. Factions of the McFaul dynasty are viciously (and contemptibly) sectarian – notably ScumFan, but not just him. I have attempted on innumerate occasions to convince the boy that this whole Catholic/Protestant divide in Northern Ireland is an absolute load of bollocks, and whilst he hears the words and occasionally makes vague gestures of agreement, he doesn’t listen. And that brings me to what I find funny about the whole thing: if, say, ScumFan happened upon this blog and read about what his grandfather had done to me as a kid, I don’t know what he’d do. However, if he happened upon it and saw the words, “I wish I’d been born a Catholic”, I can almost guarantee that he’d disown me. Pathetic, isn’t it? I love this little country, truly I do – but I detest that that will always be an entrenched part of its heritage.

Anyway, this knobhead Pastor wanked on and on with his bigoted bile, to the point where he annoyed me so much that I started making various small noises or fidgety gestures in a bid to get his attention fixated my expression of sheer disgust. He was so self-absorbed in his vile little world, however, that if I’d kicked him squarely in the nuts and screamed, “you’re a fucking wanker, you cunt!” into his face, I doubt he’d have even batted an eyelid in recognition.

During the so-called prayer that he conducted, I actually started muttering bitchy comments at him. You may recall that a million miles up the page I stated that one of Maureen’s sons, my cousin Marvin, was standing beside me, just behind this pastortwat. Although neither my mother nor the pastortwat seemed to hear any of my misgivings, evidently Marvin did; he looked up at me, caught my eye, and – gesturing to the pastortwat – rolled his eyes. I shot him a knowing grin, which he was quick to reciprocate. I knew that A, behind me, would be seething with boiling rage too, but I was so hemmed in by others’ bodies that trying to turn to him would have been like conducted an ugly 4×4’s three-point turn in a danky bedsit. In any case, due to his visual impairment, A can’t ‘do’ body language, so I had to settle on non-verbal vicar-bashing with Marvin.

After this particular twatbag had finally shut the fuck up, it was time for one more bloody prayer, this time with the bald-headed first bloke. I gazed wistfully into nothing in particular, making a pronounced point not to close my eyes nor bow my head. I never do, incidentally, but I made a concerted effort to make it obvious that day. To no avail, obviously, because the very actions in which I was not partaking were the very actions in which those whose attention I sought were.

Finally, the assembled congregation – all of whom I hope are non-choristers – ‘sang’ a tuneless rendition of Amazing Grace, and the service was over. 10,000 people milled their way out of Hotel California, and into the yard to await the next move.

Maisie’s children and grandchildren went to the coffin for one final look at their (grand)mother, and then her coffin was closed forever, and wheeled out the back door – the door she’d always used to access that house that she’d so loved so well.

This post has been exhausting to write, and – I’m sure – to read. Sorry for the heavy emphasis on introspection, but then, if I can’t navel-gazingly reflect on my own blog, where can I? To be continued as soon as I am able.

Death, Corpses, Wake-Like Things, Shite Hospitals, Fuckblah, Etc

This post is continued from Tuesday’s nonsense. Thanks to those of you that commented there – for once, I’ll actually try to respond some time in the next few days.

Wednesday: The Death (Continued)

So where was I? Driving to my mother’s house? Yes.

Well. I drove, and duly arrived without mowing down half of the Western hemisphere as my mother had apparently feared. As soon as I stepped into the house, I went straight into my now-renowned-by-A crisis mode. I’ve alluded to this somewhere before, haven’t I?…Ah yes, here it is. Don’t I have a good memory?

My mother was not alone. She has this friend from down the street who, whilst a pain in the arse in many ways (ways far too boring to go into), would drop anything and everything for the sake of my mother. After Mum had called me, Aunt of Boredom, and Aunt of Evil, she’d rung this woman (let’s call her Eimear), who stopped whatever she was doing and came to Mum’s straightaway.

My mother burst into tears whenever she saw me. She later revealed that she hadn’t cried at all when one of the McFaul dynasty had phoned her to advise her of Maisie’s demise, but she fucking wept when I came in. Cue long hugs, other forms of tactile comforting and several emergency cigarettes from me. I gave Eimear a tenner and asked her to get more fags for my mother, then asked Mum what I could do.

My mother expressed concern for Paedo and Maisie’s children, who were at that juncture presumed to still be in residence at the hospital. My Mum opined that Paedo would be distraught and ergo unable to drive home. So. I rang Hotel California. Yes. I was able to employ the usage of a phone. That alone shows my competence in a crisis.

I spoke to Rhona, Maisie’s daughter-in-law (wife of my eldest Maisie-born cousin, Chris. It gets confusing, I know). I offered to collect Paedo et al, but Rhona relayed the information that Kevin and ScumFan had made a dash to the hospital to collect everyone and their myriad of vehicular transportation. I had a brief conversation with Rhona about how stunned I was to hear of my aunt’s death, a view that she echoed. I let Mum talk to her for a minute, then sat down and considered my next move.

My mother wanted to go to the hospital, and then Hotel California; I stated that I would drive. My mother vehemently refused to allow this, instead stating that she wanted to drive herself. Eimear (now returned), A and I threw a fit about this – if she had expressed concern for my driving (see last post), then there was simply no way she could drive herself. She continued to protest – but she was out-numbered, and eventually gave in.

Just before we were about to leave, the phone rang. It was Merv, Uncle of Evil, calling from the States. Now, I am a bitch for saying this, I really am…BUT. Mum had phoned Aunt of Evil to advise her of Maisie’s death. There had been no response on the landline. My mother rang AoE’s mobile, which was successfully answered. My mother told AoE why she was calling; perhaps unsurprisingly, AoE broke down. Now here’s the bitchy bit: AoE was in the middle of a shopping centre when this call was received, and – being the twisted, bitter cow that I am – I actually found the image of her breaking down in the middle of a crowded place quite amusing. My strong dislike for AoE is well documented on this blog, but even so…what a fucking cow I am! What kind of disturbed, fuckwitted cunt finds something like that funny?

(Though in my defence, it wasn’t just me. When Daniel rang me to express his condolences, he agreed with me. So did A. They detest AoE too, and they are not ‘disturbed, fuckwitted cunts’).

Anyhow, Merv advised my ma that AoE was trying to get a flight as soon as possible, and that one of them would contact her with more details when they were known. This perturbed me somewhat; I always knew the day would come when Maisie would die and AoE would descend upon Northern Ireland for the funeral, and that I’d have no choice but to see her. Still and withall, I have had absolutely no interaction with the woman nor her arseholes since I severed contact with them in the Summer of 2009. She/they had been here three times since that, and I’d successfully avoided her/them on each of these occasions, yet here I was, reality slapping me round the face like a wet fucking fish, presented with the immediacy of interacting with her. Is Aunt of Evil my nemesis? Moriarty to my Holmes (notwithstanding Moriarty’s feeble presence in Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon)? It feels like that sometimes.

Wednesday: The Cesspit Cuntspital

Anyway, by the time we finally got to leave my mother’s house, nearly two hours had passed since Maisie’s last breaths. To that end, Mum was fairly sure that the family would have left the hospital and returned to Hotel California, but whilst on the road up to that formerly matriarchal domain, she told me to pull into the hospital anyway. I did.

A and I silently followed my shaking mother to the ward in which Maisie had been imprisoned. After brief consultation with a dismissive member of staff, it indeed transpired that the McFauls had returned home. However, a nice care assistant turned up and asked my mother if she wanted to see Maisie. My mother confirmed that she did. Nice Care Assistant asked us to wait in the corridor for a few minutes whilst they made the body look socially presentable “cleared things up a bit”.

I don’t know how long we waited, but the interminable nature of sitting there – looking at the depressing non-descriptness of the ward around us, the vapid expressions of the poor patients ensconced in the fucking bastardhole – meant that it felt like 20 billion eons. My mother sobbed on and off throughout. I did the whole supportive daughter thing as she did. Some cunts stared. I stared back with viciousness in my eyes and anger in my face. They looked away. Ha! Twatbags.

Oh God. This is over a thousand words long and I haven’t even got to the bit about the body. The delineation of the funeral might have to wait until a third fucking post. Maybe time to create another series? “Fuck – The Chronicles of Maisie’s Demise”?

Yeah. Anyhow. Eventually Nice Care Assistant (NCA) returned, and escorted my mother to Maisie’s sideroom. NCA was very kind; she put her arm around my mother and said words of quiet comfort to her. I take it she’s on the redundancy list then, on the grounds of incompetence at her job for not being utterly shit at it.

My mother and I went into the room whilst A waited outside, apparently being of the view that it was ‘inappropriate’ for him to be present. Maisie had been tastefully ‘tucked in’ under some well-tightened hospital issue blanket rubbish. She looked like she was sleeping, as my mother indeed commented. We both stared at her in some disbelief; dead bodies look dead. Fuck all that shite that people say about ‘being peaceful’ or yadda yadda; they don’t. That’s bollocks. People say that to delude themselves into some form of anti-grief condolence during times of mourning.

And yet, to contradict myself, Maisie didn’t look dead. Peaceful? Maybe. But more accurately simply sleeping.

My mother approached her and stroked her hair. She murmured some quiet words to the body – that Maisie had always been a good friend to her, and that she hoped she’d found “the peace [she] deserve[d]”. I watched as silent tears dripped off her chin.

This is Instance One of Pandora Being Crap.

Tears stung my eyes. MY fucking eyes. What in the blue fuck? I don’t do crying. Well, apart from when I see animals in pain or being mistreated. Not when people die, especially people who were far from faultless. It was partly out of sadness for my mother, who – despite ups and downs – had essentially been friends with this woman for her entire life. However, it was partly for my own reasons too, which shames me. I DON’T DO tears.

I could speculate at a couple of reasons. Yes, she was a manipulative old bag for a lot of the time, but (a) she was always very personally friendly and generous towards me, and (b) even if she hadn’t been thus welcoming, she had still been a major focal point of my life for over 28 years. There was never a time in my life when she wasn’t there. Well, not literally there, obviously. Despite her probable desires, she didn’t follow me about everywhere. But you know what I mean; for all my life, she was somewhere at least on the periphery of my existence. And now she never will be again; regardless of my reservations about some of her motivations and behaviour, that is still quite a dramatic loss. As I said just after her death, Maisie wasn’t just a person: she was an entire lifestyle.

My mother moved away, and asked me if I wished to interact with the corpse (to, y’know, paraphrase her slightly). I kissed it/her on the forehead, stroked its/her hair, and said something simple like, “rest in peace, Maisie”. I’m sure she was looking down feeling hugely touched by my poignant expressions of grief. Not.

As we left, I sort of padded her on the shoulder, then my mother ‘said goodbye’ (like Maisie was going to hear it), and we left the vile, disgusting, ineffectually-staffed fuckhole that attempts to pass for the major hospital in the region. Words to the wise, readers: if you ever happen to be in Northern Ireland, or more specifically in the region of this vacuous sewer, contact me beforehand so as I can remind you not to become sick or injured during your visit. We have some excellent hospitals, but this is not one of them. No wonder Maisie croaked it there; being admitted to that wankshaft dump is the Western equivalent of being caught peddling drugs and illicit snuff pornography in the far East. A death sentence. (Incidentally. Said hospital killed my grandfather, and A’s grandmother. Furthermore, Rhona, mentioned way above, is due to undergo a major operation. Her husband is not so much worried about the procedure per se, but about having said procedure there. I can entirely understand his position).

[Aside – I’m sitting typing this in my mother’s living room as she converses with a neighbour regarding Maisie’s death. By bizarre coincidence, just after I’d finished typing the above paragraph, my ma started telling her neighbour about the staff at the hospital. “They have a terrible reputation,” she muses, “but individually, they’re lovely.” Well, I never. Perhaps Mum was unwittingly on LSD that week; you never know what they put in the water here these days. Whatever the case, what is the use of ‘lovely’ in medicine/nursing? Only ‘good at his/her job’ is important in medicine/nursing, for Christ’s sake].

So, having left the hospital, on we proceeded to Hotel California. To my surprise, my mother kept her backseat driving to what is, for her, a minimum, though she made general discussion that avoided the surreal circumstances in which we found ourselves. Frankly, I had no idea why we were even going to Hotel California, but I wasn’t going to say that to my ma, and instead verbally batted back to her with responses to whatever conversation she was trying to make.

Wednesday: The Pseudo-Wake (The Wake-That-Was-Not-A-Wake-Because-Technically-You-Don’t-Have-Wakes-In-Protestantism-But-It-Was-Like-A-Bit-Wake-Though-Not-As-Much-Like-a-Wake-As-The-Wake-Like-Thingy-After-The-Funeral-But-I’m-Going-to-Call-This-A-Wake-Anyway-Even-If-It’s-Factually-Inaccurate-And-Even-If-I-Use-The-Word-Wake-To-Describe-The-Post-Funeral-Gathering-As-Well-Which-I-Will-And-If-You-Don’t-Like-It-Then-That’s-Too-Bad)

Just prior to entry into Hotel California, we got stuck behind some old git of a slow driver. I cursed and moaned and shouted at the windscreen in frustration – it doesn’t change the unfortunate circumstance, but it makes me feel better – but was further horrified when I saw him putting on his indicator to denote his intention to turn into HC. Hilariously, though, the entire front yard (which is not at all insubstantial) looked like the M25 at 5.15pm on a Friday evening. The old git had to go and turn his preposterously sized car and re-evaluate his parking intentions, whilst I winged my magical little beauty into a tight spot in the yard. HA HA fucking HA.

Hotel California was packed. Except for Maisie’s great-grandchildren, Marcus and Sean, their father, and two relatively insignificant step-grandchildren (don’t ask), everyone from the dynasty was there. Even a cousin or two (offspring of one of my late uncles or other) that I’d never met. The fucking undertaker was there, the people from across the road were there, some random cunts I didn’t even recognise were there, la la la. Typical Hotel California. The old git I’d been behind on the road turned out to be the minister of Maisie’s erstwhile church (‘erstwhile’ because, whilst she had purported to be a Christian, she hadn’t actively attended Church for years due to her ill health. Not that one needs to go to Church to be a Christian, to be fair to her. I never saw any major signs of it, but she could well have been personally spiritual rather than wishing she was still a member of organised religion).

Until the Saturday following this – the funeral itself, to be summarised (summarised? As if I’m capable of summarising anything) in the next post in this epic series of death – I have never, ever been so glad I smoked in all my life. After having quit for four years, I recommenced the habit some time around the end of 2010 – a foolish thing to do, one might have thought, and quite correctly so. However, I thanked (a) God(s) in whom I don’t believe that night that I’d started back on this filthy habit. A even lamented the fact that he didn’t (and doesn’t) smoke. Going out the back to indulge in cigarettes was the only escape from this crowded, oppressive atmosphere that Maisie, rather ironically, would have absolutely loved. Even though I didn’t imbibe a drop of the hard stuff at any point in which I was in Hotel California over the days following Maisie’s death, I think I got through more fags that Wednesday night and on the following Saturday than I did before the smoking ban on occasions when I’d had 28 pints and six shots down the pub. (That’s an exaggeration, by the way. I think I’ve only ever had as much as 27 pints and five shots on a single night out ;)).

The McFauls were talking to the undertaker about the funeral arrangements. The man was surprisingly jolly, which I found mildly amusing; I know this is their job, and that they deal with death every day, but surely the correct decorum is to at least affect sombreness? A and I stood beside the door like absolute pricks with no purpose. I fiddled with my nails; he stared at the floor. After 20 years, someone – Sarah, I think – noticed that we were there, and demanded that various McFauls vacated seats in deference to our presence. We kept trying to tell her that it didn’t matter, but in a stylistic homage to her late mother, she insisted that it did.

One newly-free seat was in the corner, beside the undertaker. The other was on the sofa beside a gaunt-looking Paedo. In an instant, I considered how I should play this dilemma; let A sit beside Paedo and keep myself away from him, or vice versa? I had already decided that A should take the corner seat rather than the one on the sofa, owing to his abhorrence of Paedo (as compared to my ambivalence) when Paedo himself caught my eye. He then gestured – by tapping the sofa in a sort of fond fashion – that I should occupy the seat beside him.

This circumstance did not worry me as such, but it did rather piss me off. Presumptuous cunt. Just because you decided to (literally) fuck me years ago doesn’t mean you should (figuratively) do so in the here and now, by trying to employ me as some sort of perverted support system. Rather than have the balls to ignore him though, I did my social duty and sat. I was careful about it though; I sat on the edge of the seat, and with my back to him. I pretended to take interest in the meandering words of the undertaker, even though the funeral arrangements were frankly none of my business. After a few minutes, I pretended I wanted to smoke, and left. (For the unimportant record, I did smoke, but the notion that I actually really wanted to was for show).

A and I stood outside in the dark with ScumFan. A discussion broke out as to the future of Hotel California, and I regaled ScumFan with what has seemingly become my mantra vis a vis this whole mess: ie. that Maisie was a way of life as well as a mere person (though I took care to proffer this view with language that I hoped ScumFan would understand). He agreed, and then voiced the opinion himself that Paedo was pretty fucked (irony?). His contention was that, certainly in the last decade plus of Maisie’s life, she and Paedo lived symbiotically off each other, and that the non-existence of one would surely lead to the non-existence of the other (to kinda paraphrase once again, claro que sí. Just a little. A teensy-weensy little bit. Not that much at all. Oh noooooo.).

I think this is a potentially valid hypothesis. Some of you may welcome it, some of you may not wish death on anyone. Me? I simply don’t give a fuck.

Cigarettes regrettably terminated, the three of us went inside. To avoid the hustle of the living room, A and I hovered around the kitchen. I was unsettled when Kevin came in and stood in general proximity to us: I had quite deliberately not spoken to him in over a year, owing to the fact that he had behaved like something of a dick. He had been being sick for about 10 minutes prior to this near-collision, owing to the shock of the situation.

My ma, having observed – well, not literally observed, for that would be grotesque – Kevin’s vomiting, placed herself in front of him and asked if he was OK. Kevin lied and said that he was. Everyone, A and I included, stared at the ground for a few expectant minutes, before Kevin burst into a Niagara Falls of tears (more specifically, a Canadian Falls of tears).

[Why am I writing this in such a facetious manner? Am I trying to over-compensate for something? Oh well].

Mum threw her arms around him and muttered what were actually not particularly comforting lines:

Kevin: I can’t believe I’ll never see her again!

Socially Acceptable but Utterly Meaningless Platitude of Response: There, there. She’ll always be in your heart! [*vomits*]

My Mother: No, nor will you ever again hear her voice.

Well, all credit to her for not spouting the same tired old bullshit. Kevin was particularly upset because, although he’d taken the Monday and Tuesday off work, on the understanding that his mother’s condition was improving, he had returned on the Wednesday. As such, he “didn’t even get to say goodbye.” I considered defending him on this point, on the usual grounds that he couldn’t possibly have known what was about to transpire, but that would have been utter hypocrisy given that I espoused the exact same sentiment on this blog the other day.

Instead, despite the disorderly relationship that Kevin and I had (not) shared in the preceding year, I kept my gob shut for once and sort of solidly gripped his shoulder as a means of expressing comfort and some level of empathy. He appeared to appreciate this.

I heard the undertaker leave with a cheery, “all the best, see you tomorrow!” as if he were meeting his mates at the airport the following day for an 18-30 holiday to Ibiza instead of bringing a dead body back to its former residence. At that point the crap-driver-bald-headed git of a minister remembered that he was religious and not just a drinker of other people’s tea, and decided to oh-so-poignantly “bring everyone together” in the supposed comfort of prayer.

I wanted to smite the old git. Which is not really fair, given that Maisie was sort-of Christian-y, and that many of her myriad descendants claim to be also – but meh. The self-righteousness of the suggestion that we could all find comfort in the fact that Maisie is “with God” both nauseated and irritated me.

He wanked on with his prayer for about 500 millennia before he realised it was a politic time to take leave of the little (huge) gathering. I tried to escape for a fag as he left, but someone saw me and made me return to the living room, so that I might say goodbye to him.

Why the hell would I want to say goodbye to him, and – more pertinently – vice versa? I was Maisie’s niece, not her Siamese fucking twin. As observed, I had absolutely no right to involve myself in the structure of her funeral service, which was the man’s primary reason for being there. Oh well. I suppose it wasn’t a massive chore to shake hands with him and wear a false smile. It was certainly a trick I had to pull off multiple times in the days that followed this one.

I finally got out for my smoke, made some smalltalk with ScumFan, a random cousin I didn’t know, A, my mother and Sarah, who occasionally decides to smoke one cigarette and who then doesn’t touch the vile things again for months. For some reason the smalltalk developed into a discussion of what, specifically, had caused Maisie’s death. None of us (namely, Mum, A and I) had been apprised of the details at that stage.

After coming back from a scan – which had apparently gone well, despite Maisie’s concern about such procedures (see somewhere in the last post) – she was brought back to the ward, and seemed fine. Paedo, Sarah, and two of Sarah’s three brothers, Chris and Robert, were there and engaged her in light conversation. Suddenly, however, Maisie went into a fit of breathlessness; Robert ran into the corridor and called a doctor, who – along with some nurses – came flying into the room, ordering the family out. By that juncture Maisie had started vomiting and, unable to sit up herself, choking on said vomit. The last thing Sarah saw as she was ushered out of the room was her mother’s eyes filling with blood and rolling back in her head.

When the quacks emerged from the room, Maisie was still breathing – but they basically advised the assembled gaggle of McFauls that she wouldn’t be doing so for long. As far as I can ascertain, she was, at this point, braindead. The McFs went back into the room and sat with her as she took her final breaths and quietly died.

It wasn’t a pleasant story to hear, and even typing it makes me slightly sad, despite the fairly bitchy tone of most of this post. Of course, in saying that, hearing it was nowhere near as bad as experiencing must have been for Sarah (and, of course, the others), and regaling it unsurprisingly upset her quite a bit.

Some time passed. Suzanne and Student tried to make conversation with us, but everyone seemed too shocked to partake in anything particularly meaningful. I managed to avoid Paedo, I managed to be shocked at Chris (who was clowning around as if at a child’s birthday party, rather than his mother’s wake-that-is-not-a-wake-but-which-I-am-calling-a-wake), I managed to employ the usefulness of smoking on a few more occasions.

When things mercifully started to die down, my mother – bless her saintly soul – asked to be taken home. For a few short minutes, I thought that perhaps there was a God.

The thing with leaving Hotel California is that when you check out (because, kids, you can never actually leave), you spend three geological eons attempting to make it even outside (and then you have to fight to get to the gate and out onto the road). This was historically because, as soon as she heard the slightest vague suggestion that one might be departing, Maisie would recoil in abject horror and demand that Sarah put the fucking kettle on and make some bloody sandwiches. Even if you got out of that – or, more typically, after you’d engaged in it – Maisie would rabbit on about something for ages to delay your sort-of-departure. I think the average time it took me to get away from HC when she was alive was probably about an hour. Possibly more.

I thought it was a phenomenon that would die with her, but then I didn’t consider the fact that the woman had only been dead for about five hours by this point, and they were all still operating on the deeply-entrenched Maisie-lifestyle. It didn’t take us as much as an hour to get out, but it was certainly a while. I played the part of Very Supportive Cousin and hugged a few people – Sarah and Rhona, I think; Kevin, I know (because it struck me how silly our little feud had been when put into this kind of perspective ((despite the fact he’d sort of threatened me)). Whatever the case, he seemed to genuinely be grateful that I’d come to HC, and he was perfectly pleasant to me on the occasion which I am so verbosely detailing, so I’ll forgive him. Grudges are stupid and destructive anyway).

I did not hug Paedo. However, I once again caught his eye as I was walking out the front door, and he regarded me with what was a forlorn, dejected sort of look. I felt guilty for a few seconds – the poor sod had just lost his wife of over 50 years, don’t forget – but then I waved at him and walked out anyway.

Wednesday: The Final Problem

We were about half way home when Mum’s mobile went off for the millionth time that night. It doesn’t ring much, either for text messages or calls, generally, so this serves as a small measure of what a big deal Maisie’s demise had turned out to be. It was Merv, Uncle of Evil. Over the engine of the car, Mum couldn’t hear a great deal, but the word ‘airport’ was bandied about a few times. I didn’t think much of it at the time, because I knew Georgie (Aunt of Evil) would be coming anyway. It was only a few minutes later that I wondered why Merv, rather than Georgie herself, had phoned.

When we arrived back at my ma’s gaff, she returned the call. She was heard to ask Merv, in some surprise, the fatal question of “she’s left already?” A and I breathed a collective sigh of annoyance.

Mum finished her conversation, and came back to us. “Bad news for you, Pan,” she said. “She’s got her connecting flight, so she’ll be getting the transatlantic flight to Aldergrove [Northern Ireland’s main international hub] in about an hour, and will be there at 9am tomorrow.”

“Oh,” I pointlessly returned.

“Which means that I’ll have to go up there and get her, and…well, bring her back here.” She downturned her lips at me apologetically.

“That’s OK. We’ll stay here tonight, I’ll take A into work in the morning, and then just go home,” I said. “As long as you aren’t alone, that’s the main thing.”

“Are you sure?” Mum pressed. “What about your Seroquel hangover?”

I waved my arm in false dismissal. “Oh, don’t worry about that. If I get up early, it goes away for an hour or two and comes back later. So it’ll be fine. Honestly.”

She nodded in acceptance, and was about to say something when the sodding phone piped up again. This time it was Eimear, introduced a million miles in the far North of this post, who’d seen my car returning.

My ma prattled on about Georgie for a bit, then started waxing lyrical about how wonderful A and I were for supporting her, driving her to Hotel California, etc. I don’t take compliments easily, readers, and I don’t often hear them from the mouth of my mother. Once again, I felt myself fidgeting nervously.

To her credit, as we went to bed, she reiterated these points to both of us, suggesting that her appreciation was truly genuine and, to use a word I absolutely detest, heartfelt. I told her that she was welcome and, traumatic and hateful as the entire evening had been, I meant it. In respect of how grief can lead to insomnia, I gave her four Zopiclones, and told her not to take them all at once like I commonly did. She threw her head up, aghast, in response to this statement.

“I was joking,” I lied. She affected a polite laugh, thanked me for the sleepers, and kissed me on the cheek before retiring.

A and I lay awake staring at the ceiling for a bit. How the conversation came about I don’t recall, but at one point A asked me if I was actually personally affected by the loss of Maisie. I considered the question for a few minutes, before responding that yes, I thought I was.

This is Instance Two of Pandora Being Crap. Sadly, it turned out to be far from the last.

“I mean, it’s still surreal,” I began, “and I can’t quite believe it – but then that’s the point. Regardless of my issues with her, she’s always just been there. I think I’ve taken that for granted all my life, despite her well documented health issues.”

He told me that it was OK for me to cry if I wanted to. I scoffed at the suggestion, downed a few Zopiclone and rolled over. Before I slept, though, a few silent tears did escape. What a fucking failure.

To be continued as soon as possible. If you’ve actually taken an interest in any of this, dearest reader, then I can only guess at the levels of your masochism.

Fuck – Rows, Illness and Death

I accidentally published this post last night, titularly known merely as ‘Fuck’ – but I mistakenly hit the ‘Publish’ button several narrative eons too early. Sorry to any of you that got confused by its disappearance or whatever – I know there were quite a number of hits to it, so I feel like a bit of a dick. Sorry. FAIL!

Jesus. I don’t know where to start with any of this. Everything in the run-up to, during, and in the aftermath of, Maisie’s funeral was shit. I was shit, a circumstance that I will explain why when I’ve reached the correct chronological juncture.

So then, in order…

The Lead-Up

I had previously written a full-length post about some of the stuff that happened in the days and weeks that preceded Maisie’s death, but actually publishing it would feel rather disrespectful. I mean, I know I’ve made a point since she died of not making her out to be something she wasn’t, and I’m not going to discontinue that philosophy, but the level of detail to which I’m characteristically drawn really isn’t required in this case. Suffice to say that Maisie and Kevin (my cousin, her live-in son) had a massive row with Sarah (another cousin, Maisie’s live-in daughter) and ScumFan (Sarah’s son and, you guessed it, Maisie’s live-in grandson). It was so vicious that Kevin and ScumFan came to blows, though curiously Kevin – who, despite his mild-mannered exterior, has a propensity for unacceptable behaviour – later apologised to his sister and nephew. They accepted this, and duly said sorry for their part in the row. Maisie, however, would not let it slide, and in true Hotel California style, the resultant atmosphere was as thick as a combination of treacle and vomit.

I went to my mother’s house on the Thursday before Maisie died to find Sarah and ScumFan sitting there, having apparently been in situ since the Tuesday evening, their escape intending until at least the Friday night. Unkind things were said. Some were true and just, some were less forgiveable. It was more or less universally agreed that Maisie was manipulative (yes), that she always seemed to have a particular problem with Sarah – as opposed to her three sons and two-daughters-in-law – (yes in duplicate), that life in the house – at her behest – was frankly bizarre (yes in triplicate). But we also cracked a few rather unpleasant jokes at her expense, about which I now feel slightly bad. Not OMG I’m such an evil human being, burn me at the stake RIGHT NOW bad, because there were occasions in which she deserved a good parodying, and it’s human nature to pick up on a person’s faults and criticise them, even if you can also see the good.

But what I feel worse about is some of the bile I spewed here about the woman. In my defence, a lot of that arose in the summer of 2010 when she was incredibly nasty to my mother. I reacted with anger to this – rightly, I feel – but perhaps I went too far. Not that she’d ever have read it, but the fact that I thought (and wrote) such aggressive, bitter enmities – without at least later qualifying them – leaves me with a gruesome metallic taste in my mouth (or is that the Lamotrigine? ;)).

Anyhow, due to an engagement on the Saturday, ScumFan had to leave (along with his mother) on the Friday. Sarah especially was dreading her return to Hotel California owing to her mother’s behaviour during the week, and I honestly don’t know what happened when they arrived home. All I know is that on Saturday, my mother rang me to advise that Maisie had been taken into hospital.

One thing that’s important to understand here is that Maisie’s life completely revolved around being in Hotel California, or at least with 4,083,832 family and friends around her in some other ostensibly normal setting. She abhorred the notion of hospital admissions in the past so much that she’d have preferred to fuck up her health to avoid them. She was admitted several times over the last decade, but never once had she not steadfastly fought against the idea. On that Saturday morning, though, someone had called a GP to attend to her. When said GP opined that she should be hospitalised, Maisie did not resist in the slightest. This, my dears, is the micro-social equivalent of the Earth circling the Sun backwards.

Despite whatever had gone on between them, Sarah went with her ailing mother in an ambulance, whilst Paedo (and Kevin? ScumFan? Not sure) followed in the car behind it.

Her initial prognosis was a bit meh, but not – as far as could be ascertained at the time – by any means critical. In fact, at one point the quacks thought it was something as apparently simple as a bug (complicated a little by Maisie’s weight, respiratory problems and diabetes). Over the next few days, they did all the usual faff of blood tests, chest x-rays and so on. At one point, they wanted to do an MRI scan, but Maisie refused; her grounds for this were that if she had to lie flat on her back, that she’d not be able to (a) breathe and (b) get up again. If that sounds bizarre, be advised that for the past several years she had slept upright in a chair in her living room, because lying in bed would have had these results.

Anyhow, as the days went on, she had seemed to have been feeling better. ScumFan, apparently (alongside his mother) reconciled with Maisie, proffered the view that his grandmother would most likely be discharged by the weekend.

Alas, his optimism was to be short-lived.

Wednesday: The Death

A and I were intending to take another trip round the Emerald Isle from the Friday of that week until the weekend just passed. As such, I was intending to leave our cats with my mother on the Wednesday, stay over with her that night, and visit Maisie in hospital on the Thursday afternoon. At one point on Wednesday when I spoke to Mum on the phone, she initially suggested we go to see her sister that day; I demurred, however, on the grounds that “I [could] just go tomorrow.” My mother was seemingly quite content with that, not envisaging any great deterioration in Maisie’s condition. In any case, I found myself massively delayed by the sheer idiocy of Mr Cat, who didn’t bother to come home that afternoon (and, in fact, he only turned up 24 hours subsequent to it). Beyond being irritated, however, I was relatively relaxed. Herein comes the “…if only I had…” bullshit. If only I had put our cat-accommodation concerns to one side for one measly, poxy afternoon, then I could have seen Maisie one final time. Whilst that may not have benefited me greatly (although by the same token, neither would have been greatly offensive, Paedo’s probable presence aside), it would have made her day.

What ifs are fucking pointless, stupid and usually wholly irrational. I consider myself a thinking person, as opposed to a feeling one. So why am even I afflicted by this phenomenon? I’m not a normal human being; I’m a self-styled dickhead providing no service with plenty of sneer. So what the fuck? I mean, let’s get some perspective on this: the what ifs are not totally overwhelming my psyche or anything. I’m not so consumed by guilt and self-loathing that I bawl my eyes out every time I inhale, or that I intend to throw myself off the Si Du River Bridge (though that said, should I ever wish to leap to my death, the backdrop to that piece of civil engineering genius would encompass a pretty spectacular and dramatic scenery on which to fix my final gazes). But it is there, and it is there enough to upset me. ‘Disappointed’ is not a term I frequently use in a self-referential context, but it it is apt here. I’m not disappointed because I’m apparently not a robotic droid; I’m disappointed in myself for letting down this complex person that was, until less than a fortnight ago, my aunt.

Bah. This introspection requires a post of its own. This one was meant to be about the chronology and specific events of the last fortnight, so let me return to that.

I contacted my mother about 5pm to apologise for my lateness and to verbally pour scorn on Mr Cat’s inconvenient – and, I am convinced, deliberate and pre-planned – decision to jaunt off on an extended mission to find himself a bird (post-feminist double entendres, anyone?). She told me not to worry about it and to come whenever I could.

Less than twenty minutes later, she rang me again. For once, I am glad I answered the hateful, repugnant device that is the fucking telephone. Having not been able to support her in those brief, shocked, horrified seconds she experienced would have been tantamount to abuse.

“Pandora,” she gasped. “Maisie’s dead!”

“Oh my God,” said some robot somewhere, speaking in what appeared to be my voice. Maisie being ill was not uncommon; as observed above, being forced into hospital wasn’t unheard of either. And ScumFan – and Mum in some ways too – had either inferred or even explicitly stated that the woman was getting better. And now she was dead? What the actual fuck?

My reaction was odd. I wasn’t struck by anything like one would normally expect – no horror, grief, overwhelming sadness. Arguably, given my quietly fractious relations with the McFauls, one might argue that I could have felt relief, or at least a release. But I didn’t experience any of those things; instead, I experienced a strange, unpleasant rush of adrenaline that stung every nerve in my body. I suppose, retrospectively, it was a quite normal experience: that of human shock. At the time, however, it seemed weirdly inappropriate.

I don’t remember if I quizzed my mother on what had specifically happened. I don’t remember saying much, in fact, but then the phone call wasn’t long. I do recall that I told Mum I’d come over to her gaff straight away, but she urged me not to drive until I had A with me. Yeah, because someone who’s partially sighted and at least partially emotionally detached from the whole sorry saga is going to magically turn me into a slow but still competent Lewis fucking Hamilton (I’m sure A won’t mind me saying that; he says as much to me himself). What I did instead was drive to his workplace, pick him up, and then we set to going to my ma’s.

We hit traffic. I chewed my lip nervously. A fiddled with his phone as he apprehensively scratched at his face. Even the car engine seemed to empathise, emitting as he did a (quite probably imaginary) sound of churning, vague discomfort. I looked out the window at all the world-weary faces of the home-commuting rat-race. They returned my stares of empty sympathy with their own piteous gazes. The sky was dark grey, brooding ominously like an amorphous Edgar Allen Poe.

The setting was well and truly set for the following few days.

I’ll continue this tomorrow. I have to go and see Paul. Did you see that one coming, readers?! I shall attempt to explain and detail that over the next few days too.

Cry Woe, Destruction, Ruin and Decay…

…The worst is death, and death will have his day.

Richard II, Act III:II, L. 102

I’m lying in my own bed, new laptop perched upon my crossed knees with Srto Gato purring beside me, his head bobbing about as his curious eyes watch this screen in puzzlement. I don’t know what I think or feel as of this moment in time; the last 18 hours or so have been completely surreal. You know, I’ve not written much on here lately because, although there were a few abstract issues I wanted to talk about, there was otherwise nothing to say. I haven’t had the Lamotrigine for a week and proceeded to self-harm on Saturday night – but so what? It’s hardly remarkable reading, especially given the myriad of similar lamentations that have previously adorned these pages.

Now, of course, there is too much to say. I know what you’re thinking: “she was only your aunt, and not one of whom you were particularly fond.” That’s true to a point, but I’m not sure I can convey in writing – or in any other medium, for that matter – the sheer gravitas of this situation for my family. This is almost certainly the single biggest event for them in my lifetime. That sounds ridiculous when you consider that my grandparents – Maisie’s parents – are both dead, and in particular when you know how much I adored my grandfather who died when I was 15. But my grandparents, to my cousins for example (though not to me, vis a vis my grandfather), were a degree of separation away.

Maisie had no degree of separation from anyone, at least not when she had her own way – which she usually did. I’m not going to take back my earlier commentary on her and start lauding her as the greatest woman that ever lived. She was manipulative. She was devious. She was vindictive. She did treat Sarah (her daughter) like shit and she did start rows about fuck all squared. All of these things – and others – remain true, regardless of her new biological status as lifeless.

As such, many of the relationships she so deeply fostered were in many ways engineered by her, even if they ultimately did result in some form of mutual love, or at least affection. Two of her adult children still live in her house; the other two might as well do so. One of her grandchildren lives there, and until very recently so did a second. The second in question – Suzanne – might as well still have lived there, along with her two children. And for those that actually didn’t live there – Mum and (to a lesser extent) I, for example – well. You didn’t have to be there to be thoroughly under whatever spell Maisie had (whether unwittingly or otherwise) cast. I call the house Hotel California, because you can check out, but you can never leave. This was the power and depth of her familial influence.

My cousins and their children have had, therefore, what I regard as a bizarre upbringing. Everything – everything – for each of them came, ultimately, back to the matriarch. Their lives all focused around Hotel California. Without the Head Californian, there is nothing. Life for these people will, when all the funereal nonsense is over and the sympathetic callers go back to their own lives, become an occupational desert without point, function or comprehension.

I don’t know how clear I’m making this, but maybe I could simply have summed it up thus: Maisie was not just a person. She was an entire way of life for my family. The reach extended less to Mum – and lesser again to me – than to her children and grandchildren, but it has still been keenly felt.

Her death is a big deal, regardless of what anyone’s actual views on the woman may have been.

I said above that I wasn’t going to unspeak my assertions that she had many negative traits. I’m not. I’m sure that hitherto this post demonstrates that. On the other hand, though, she was always personally nice to me. Although I hated going to Hotel California, she was always – fucking always – wanting A and I to go there and see her. We rarely did, for some obvious and some less obvious reasons, and I feel bad about that, because she probably died thinking I didn’t give a fuck about her. But, in actual fact, in many ways I did. The insistence that we visit her was borne, I think, not of altruism, but out of her own perceived needs (though I’m not sure that she realised that herself). But nevertheless, she was always accommodating and highly generous. She seemed to genuinely ‘get’ my mental illness, and had great empathy and sympathy for the pain I suffered. The last ten, twelve, whatever years of her life were punctuated by quite serious illness and at times profound deafness, but she was still capable of having a laugh with us at times. Although they argued occasionally – and when they did, it was big – as my mother said yesterday, standing over her sister’s body, they were life-long and close friends.

And I suppose therein lies another point: Maisie has always been a key fixture in my life. Even when I hadn’t seen her for months on end, her existence somehow hung around in the periphery of my own. As I said, I had only checked out of her life; I had never left.

So for her to just disappear from this world, and relatively suddenly at that, is…a blow, maybe, but if not a blow, then at least a fucking shock, encumbered with a massive amount of bewildered “what the fuck happens now?” Because without her, I don’t know what will become of the McFaul dynasty. Moreover, I don’t know how the interplay between them and my mother/me/A and Aunt of Boredom/Uncle of Boredom will develop, or if it even will at all.

It’s not just the end of a life: it’s the end of an era, it’s the end of an entire and tenacious lifestyle, and – in the worst case scenario – it’s the end of a faulty, dysfunctional but somehow still strangely close family.

I had intended to make this entry a run-down of what had happened in the lead-up up to, and immediate aftermath of, Maisie’s death, and how I planned to play the difficult cards of both Paedo and Aunt of Evil. But I’ve written 1,000 words of introspection instead, so rather than turn this into one of those insanely mammoth posts of which I am capable, I’m going to leave things there for today. I felt the above was important stuff to say, one way or another, rambling as it is upon a second reading. A few people had asked me what the exact nature of my relationship with my aunt was; this post probably hasn’t explained that specific dynamic well, but I do hope it gives some idea of the kind of magnitude her death is having on us all. Regardless of my relationship with her during her life, her death will have a hugely wide-ranging impact for a very long time.

Thanks for your support, lovely people. ❤ xxx