My View from Behind the Curtain

There’s a lot been written lately about feminism and Judaism, or at least-about women’s roles in our faith. While I wouldn’t say personally that I feel invisible behind the mechitza, I do struggle with women who are blocked from getting the most out of their orthodoxy, especially where it feels like it comes down to custom or tradition rather than Jewish law.

Losing a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. I don’t grapple with it daily, but it has the power to move me to tears with literally no notice whatsoever, at any given moment. It’s scarred me and shaped me in ways I probably couldn’t describe, and some ways I can.

Judaism has guidelines for losing a parent. And to me, it’s one of the most beautiful areas of Jewish law. From the second a parent dies, their family has rules to follow. Don’t leave the body alone, call the chevra kadisha, say the shema prayer.. the list of laws and customs goes on, from those first impossible minutes until years later, when we light a memorial candle on the anniversary of their death. And the intensity of those rules lessens as time goes on.

The first week, your every waking minute is filled with people visiting you sit shiva, while for the month, the restrictions of new clothes and luxury are enough to keep you aware of your loss but also able to forget for small periods of time, get on with work and friendships and daily life. The entire year, you exclude yourself from social gatherings where you might not feel comfortable, but your life begins to move on, often without daily reminders of your status as an avel. To me, it felt like God was walking me through the process of grieving, not letting me sweep my feelings under the carpet, but also helping me put myself back together without drowning under the weight of it.

But there were moments. Moments where I still feel like my grief would have more bearing, more status somehow, if I were a man.

Standing by the graveside at my fathers funeral, they asked the men to step forward to take part in an incredible mark of respect, to help fill the grave with earth. My family, my friends, people who knew us all my life came close to take a spade and begin the labour. When I asked to join in, eager to honour my father this last time, I was asked to wait while a groundskeeper ran to fetch something. When he came back, he brought with him a small trowel and some ready turned earth in a bucket. They offered me a token, a ceremonial act, like the action of lifting a shovel was going to be too much for me. Like they couldn’t see that the act of not lifting it would be far heavier to carry. Needless to say, I took the spade. But I don’t know that other women would know to insist.

During the week of shiva, men need a minyan, ten men to join them in prayer, three times a day. It means that your home is filled with people, pretty much all of your waking hours. We take breaks, for meals or for rest times, but the company is necessary. It surrounds you with stories of your loved ones, with people who care about you. It’s healing. As the only person sitting shiva, I didn’t need a minyan, so we didn’t always have one. The mornings, I slept in until visitors arrived to see me, and in the evenings, I had to leave the room while the men prayed, standing in the kitchen or the hallway, wondering why I felt shut out, if the reason they were there was me. I chose to say the Kaddish prayer that week, and they chose men to say it with me, to make it more “appropriate”, some of whom I had never met before, turning around at the sound of a woman’s voice standing out from the crowd

I didn’t have to say Kaddish at all that year, and so I didn’t. I asked someone I love, someone who loves me to say it for me, and they did. They went to shul every day, three times a day, and did the action of a grieving child for me. They said my words, my prayer, because even if I had chosen to go, orthodox Jewish law dictates it would be better if a man was doing it too. Some would say that a man needs to be doing it too. That even if I take the nineteen years we had together and pour all of those feelings into every word I say, they don’t really count.

Each year now, on the anniversary of his death, the yartzeit, I head to shul and I say the Kaddish prayer, quietly, respectfully behind the mechitza. If the other men notice a man who has yartzeit, they might offer him a special mitzvah, leading the service or holding the Torah.

Me? Me, they don’t notice at all, and they wouldn’t have anything to offer me even if they did.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the logic and the reasoning behind the laws for women and men. The way it would be impossible to get to shul three times a day with small children in tow, the way we believe that a woman’s spirituality lends itself to needing less outward signs of our faith, the rules of modesty and how they manifest in clothes and song and power struggles. Some of these things I agree with, others less so. But I believe in the package of orthodoxy, and I feel like I matter and have a role to play. But when it comes to grief, I suddenly get a glimpse into how other women might feel, not just in mourning but in prayer, in community, in education. Like their voice is being silenced, like they have nowhere to stand, like they don’t count.

All I know, is that my father meant to the world to me, and I to him. But in a million small ways, Judaism tells me that I’m not quite enough to honour him all on my own. I need a mans help to do that to its full potential. A brother, a husband, an uncle, hey- any relative will do. So long as they’re male.

It’s one small area of Jewish law, and you don’t even consider it until it’s thrust upon you. I hardly think about it any more, just once a year, when I stand behind that curtain. Not invisible, but not quite visible enough either.

Having a Ball-ot

I love voting. I love what it means, that every person has a say in our future, and I love the act of doing it-stepping into the booth, pressing my pencil down on paper to literally make my mark. And while the politics may get dirtier and more cynical, I find voting an incredibly clean and hopeful act.

With that in mind, I’ve collected some of my favourite voting and election stories here, a reminder that even when it doesn’t seem that way, your vote truly matters.

The Guy Who Came Back From the Dead to Vote

In Detroit Michigan in 2012, an elderly couple were voting when the husband collapsed on the floor. A bystander checked his vitals, reported there was no heartbeat and administered CPR. It took a few minutes to get the guy breathing again, but he eventually opened his eyes. His first question on coming back to life was, “Did I vote?” He also took the time to tell his wife that he came back to tell her he loved her as well as be part of democracy in action. What a charmer.

Voting in Space

Seriously though, I don’t ever want to hear anyone say they had too much on their plates to find the time to vote. As of 1997, thanks to a Texan bill, astronauts can now vote from space! From the International Space Station, your voting ballot is beamed up directly to you, and then securely sent to the voting authorities. David Wolf was the first American to take advantage of this ultimate absentee ballot, the same year as the bill passed.

The Proof that Every Vote Matters

I’ve heard people say that their votes don’t matter enough to be worth the effort. That one person can’t change the outcome. Tell that to Liberal politician Harold St Maur, who lost out on a House of Commons seat to Conservative Henry Duke in the 1910 election by one vote. 4776 to 4777. In Nevada, they handle ties with a very courtly drawing of cards, (yep, I mean Ace is high) and in both 2002 and 2011, this process was needed to decide on an election where the results were split.

The First Female Voter

The first American woman on record voting was Lydia Taft, who voted as a proxy for her husband in 1756 at a town meeting in Massechusets. While this was a baby step on the road towards suffrage, I have to say I have a soft spot for a different early woman voter, right here in the UK.

Seven years before women were given the vote, in 1911 Frances was sent a polling card-when organisers mistakingly thought she was a man by the name of Francis. While many women would have dismissed the mistake, Frances showed up on voting day, polling card in hand and demanded her vote. After much discussion (presumably about whether her tiny female hands could manage the pencil grip) the officials in chrage conceded that the rules only stated two things, that the person voting needed a polling card and a name on the electoral register.

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There are countries like Brunei where there are no elections held whatsoever.

There are countries like the UAE where out of 9,000,000 people, only 100,000 are eligible to vote.

There are countries like South Sudan, who has 8,000,000 citizens and has never had an election.

There are countries like Saudi Arabia where women are denied the right to vote.

There are countries like the Maldives, where muslims are denied the right to vote.

There are countries like Eritrea, where there were elections up until 1991, and then the right to vote was taken away.

Or, there are countries like ours. The UK, where although you might not always like your choices, , the right to choose, or to let the government know that you won’t choose by spoiling your ballot, is protected by law. Unlike over 80 million people around the world-you can go and vote right now this minute. So what’s stopping you?

Today I Do…

Facebook reminded me this evening of the post I wrote last year, on International Women’s day 2016. It was called One Day I Will… and it was about how I look to my daughter when I can’t find the strength in the usual role models many women have.

Michael J Fox has said that Family is not an important thing, it is everything. This year, it often feels like the whole structure of my family as I once knew it has been ripped apart at the seams. And so if family is everything, it’s easy to slip into feeling like I have nothing.

I have seen so many brave and interesting posts today from friends and strangers alike about International Women’s Day. The worst of them were questioning the need for the day in the first place, as if they were somehow put out by it’s very existence, and couldn’t just get on with their Wednesdays. The best of them were supportive, proud, strong, and full of support. And it got me thinking. Aren’t those the very best descriptions of family you could imagine?

Unfortunately and painfully, this year, one woman in my life has turned against me for standing by another. The former is blood, and the latter is one of the strongest, most supportive women I could wish to have in my world, and is every part the family I would choose, and have chosen.

I agree with Michael J Fox. Family is everything. But just as so many incredible women have shown me, it isn’t just the family you’re born with. I have a family with whom I share no kin whatsoever, made up of playdates and favours, of shouting each other coffees and coming round with surprise gifts just because. It’s packed to the brim with jumping on a plane, or listening to each other cry, it’s laughing so hard you can’t breathe, it’s sending memes at all hours of the day and night. It’s made up of love.

A working mother’s Facebook group that I’m on has a tradition called ‘bragging Wednesdays.’ The entire point is that women can share their achievements, and be encouraged and applauded by other women. They range from starting your own business or making multi-million dollar deals, to getting the kids to school on time, or carving out some space for yourself in the busy never ending to do list of life. It’s supportive, it’s lovely, and it’s powerful.

There will always be negativity, and trolls, and people who think that you’re doing the wrong thing, failing to see just how much anxiety we all have about our decisions already, without their input.

Me? I surround myself with the family I choose, the ones who have proven themselves deserving of that word. You brilliant amazing women you, you all know who you are. Happy International Women’s Day, and I love you.

 

 

A Delicate Little Flower

You’re right.

She’s not a “delicate little flower”

And I don’t want her to be.
I don’t want her swaying in the breeze,
Moving this way and that on the flight of fancy of the wind.
I want her growing strong roots
Deep beneath the surface
Twisting their way into the earth,
Creating foundations, holding her own ground.
I don’t want her petals easily picked off one by one
By a boy playing “she loves me, loves me not”.
I want her to love herself, fiercely
Hold those petals fast in her grip
So that no-one can take hold
And make her less of herself
Unless giving freely is what she chooses.
I don’t wish for her to be simply beautiful,
(Which so often means beautifully simple)
I wan’t people to stop still in their tracks
Look at her unique colours, stop to take in her scent
Wonder what exotic place she comes from
That she was able to grow so wild and free.
I don’t imagine her little at all.
I want her to fill a room, until it overflows with her,
Not ladylike, but powerful
Not delicate, but extraordinary.
I can’t picture her on a manicured lawn
Under a cloche
Protected from the elements, not her.
I see her at all ages, in my mind’s eye.
Raging against the heat of the sun
Dancing in the rain
Moving with the wind
Laughing at the storm she creates around her
And I smile, and smile and smile.
Not a delicate little flower at all.
A powerful, strong-willed woman in the making.

“Well Done! Mister Suffragettes.”

This week saw millions of women and men marching and protesting for womens’ rights, and boy, did the men have something to say about it. From the accurate yet stupid “There are women far worse off than you, why are you complaining?” to the always clever yet innacurate “Calm down, nothing ever got solved by being angry”. In 2017, there’s no shortage of men who not only understand the issues at hand well enough to have their own opinion,  but also who can let us feeble-minded ladies know what we should be doing, thinking and feeling as well.

I’m so happy to have so many strong men who marched alongside women this week, and don’t get me wrong, I certainly believe men should be able to voice their own opinions and thoughts on sexism loud and clear, even on the issues which mainly concern women. But when these opinions turn into simply telling a woman how to feel or react, or begin to take ownership away from women on their own issues, we’re in different territory.

Don’t tell me that you’ve never seen gender inequality at the office so therefore it “can’t exist”, ask the women who work with you if they have experienced it instead. Don’t scoff at how ‘tampon tax’ isn’t a big deal when you’ve never had to include them in your monthly budget. Don’t inform me it’s a compliment to be catcalled or groped as I walk down the street; ask me, and I’ll tell you it’s harassment. And don’t explain “the real reasons” why feminism exists, to women who have to deal with inequality every single day.

Here are some of my personal favourite male responses to the march this week. And if you think these are just individuals, take a look at some of the likes, retweets and shares that these men are recieving for their most excellent examples of mansplaining and misogyny.

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This guy is a delight. It took me a minute to realise he means people who are pro-choice.

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Y’know how to make America great again? Domestic violence.

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Always good to hear what a white man thinks about racial and gender discrimination. After all, he has all the experience and knowledge on the matter.

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May I make a suggestion…? Bathe.

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Unlike Muslim countries, US women have nothing to complain about. Certainly not a little thing like a 22.4% gender pay gap which is actually widening year on year. (Up from 20.8% in 2016) Oh wait, we chose that. Must be the comfy lifestyles we’re all enjoying as part of ‘having it all’.

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Oh, but Oliver isn’t done. It’s our sexual frustration which is making it difficult for us to get paid and respected equally. Personal thanks to all the ‘good guys’ who touch us without our permission so we know you like us, call out obscenities on the street to help us feel sexy and tell us to stop being hysterical when we’re getting too upset. With your help maybe we can nip this damn feminism in the bud.

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This last photo is CNN, discussing the womens’ march. Can you see anything wrong with this photo? Imagine for a second this was a forum on the Holocaust, and they invited 9 Germans and a token Jew. Yes, the panel rotated throughout the night, but included in the male commentary was David Swerdlick’s comment “You got the sense that a more experienced generation was passing on a tradition of activism to a younger generation.”

Yes. A more experienced generation who are still fighting for equal rights. A more experienced generation who have seen some progress but not enough. A generation who watched their own parents fight for access to better birth control, more equal working conditions, safe sexual rights, a fair justice system for both genders. And yet somehow… still need to pass on all of these battles to their own children.  What a truly sad and inadequate inheritance.

Or maybe I’m wrong, I’ll have to wait for a guy to tell me how I really feel about it.

There are other truths, too.

I’ve had a hard few weeks. Unsurprisingly, for those who know me, marking 10 years since my father died wasn’t an easy milestone, and while the day itself was filled with silly fun with my 5 year old, the days which followed were like trudging through thick mud in boots two times bigger than your actual size. Difficult, slow, cumbersome, and with a constant fear of falling and exacerbating an already precarious situation into something much worse.

While I’ve written in the past about grief, I usually write from the middle of it, from the trenches of it, while the bombs are going off around me and I’m struggling to keep myself hidden from target. Ironically, I’ve come to realise that if I’m writing about it from within the walls, if you’re hearing my war reports, the danger isn’t too great.
In this case, no news is not good news. When I can’t hear myself think to write beyond the sounds of gunfire, when there’s nothing to write because the fog is too heavy? That’s when I’m going to need the artillery sent in behind me.

So here I am, out the other side, tilting my head with interest at the woman who looks so much like me, but couldn’t feel more different. And there must be something I can take out of this, by examining her. Or do I just have to sit and wait helplessly for it to take over again, and then wait for it to pass another time, in a cycle of highs and lows that I’ve come to accept is the very nature of grief itself?

Academically I can say I have been miserable. It sounds like a word for a small child, and I suppose in the loss of a parent it fits. Worse still, this year it’s triggered a realization for me that while I have built for myself an incredible family of people who love me, the ones who are supposed to be there unconditionally just… aren’t. I haven’t spoken to my mother in several months, my father is dead, my siblings are… absent. I don’t have extended family around who have taken me under their wing, I don’t have living grandparents or kindly uncles and aunts. It may seem like a strange concern for someone who is an adult and has their own kids and home. But if you’re game, take a moment to think about the people in your life who have to love you. The ones who may dislike you from time to time, who you could make it your life’s work to ruin your relationship with, but would still be family after all is said and done.

I don’t have that.

Last week, and the week before, it was the only thing I could think about, on the forefront of my mind. It pushed aside all other thoughts and plans. Tears came easy, and cold shivery hopelessness too. The truth of it was overwhelming. If this is true, that I have no family, no people who will be there no matter what… how will I ever feel better again?  I reasoned with myself, and I knew it to be true, that I would never feel free of this burden.

And then…. it lifted. Like our good old English summer, the sun re-appeared through a storm cloud like the rain had never existed in the first place, and I felt warm again. Does this mean that I was wrong? That what I thought to be true wasn’t true?
Absolutely not. I have no real family. Not the kind other people have anyway. But while last week that truth was dehibillitating, this week… *shrugs*.

That shrug isn’t self pitying or sarcastic. The tunnel vision which comes with misery and hopelessness has passed, and I can see other truths as well as that one. My amazing husband, my beautiful kids, the fact that the summer holidays are almost finished and I can soon work during daylight hours again. The truth that I work in the field I love and can be entirely flexible with it, my two best friends who I would choose over blood sisters any day of the week. I couldn’t see those truths last week, and yet the weight of them now crushes any depression over a lack of family down to a mere concern at the back of my mind, a shrug in the same way I might say ‘sure, it would be nice to have some more disposable income’ or ‘imagine how great life would be if school took over teeth brushing responsibilities.’

I feel lighter. And yet simultaneously for next time, I feel slightly better armed to go into battle too. This mantra is a weapon, of sorts. Whatever may or may not be true in my life, there are other truths too.

Democrazy

How did you vote anyway? asked a casual acquaintance in small talk at school pick up recently. Whether it’s Brexit or the General election, whether you’re commenting on the ongoing Presidential race, or who’s going to draw the (increasingly) short straw of running this country come Autumn, there’s a lot of reading to do if you want to keep up with the volatile political discussion at the water cooler nowadays.

Google published information last week that showed a lot of voters in the EU referendum actually didn’t know what they were voting for when they ticked their little box of choice. While this information was taken to mean that people voted Leave while uninformed about the facts, I suppose it’s just as likely that people voted Remain with as much ignorance. But what’s new? People make ill thought out decisions and vote selfishly all the time. People are erratic and thoughtless and don’t have all the facts when they exercise their right to vote. That was true at the beginning of the 17th century when government elections as we know them first began, and it hasn’t changed. Some people vote because that’s how their parents have always voted, others may skim a biased article on the way home from work one day, and some people read up everything there is to know about the subject and make their own entirely subjective choice anyway. Hey, that’s democracy.

It’s been a political few weeks, and there’s a lot to talk about. But as far as I’m aware, no one has taken away our right to a secret ballot. So what’s new, in answer to my own question?  I think a large part of it is social media. Unlike our parents in the last referendum on the topic, I could tell you how the majority of my friends voted on Brexit, and which party they align themselves with politically in the UK, because most of them shout really loudly about it. They produce long statuses and blog entries entreating everyone to understand their reasons for voting, and then often get pretty angry if the results don’t go their way. I’ve seen a lot of abuse towards ‘Brexiters’ this month, and it’s made me a little bit ashamed of the way our generation discusses politics. I’m pretty sure asking who you voted for used to be kind of on par with asking which sexual position was your favourite, but the stigma is well and truly gone. If I don’t want to answer, I’m giving a de facto answer by omission, and must be a ‘raving Tory’ or a ‘Left wing nutcase’ depending on the matter at hand and what the loudest opinion of the time is.

And I’m torn about it. On the one hand, I’m probably far more knowledgeable than I would be otherwise. On the scale of informed voters, I’d put myself somewhere in the middle. I read what people share, I look for unbiased advice (if there is any such thing) but I do sometimes find myself apologising in the middle of political debate that I don’t know the exact facts or I don’t have a specific example to give. If I didn’t know that I was going to have to defend myself at every turn, if our vote was as anonymous as it was a generation or two ago, I probably wouldn’t think so hard about my reasons for my political allegiances and choices. So that’s good right? More informed equals a fairer society, better decision making, more accountability for the powers that be. In theory anyway.

But even setting aside the fact that in this recent referendum we don’t seem to have managed any of the above, isn’t a person entitled to their ignorant vote? As it stands, we aren’t being forced to pass a mini political quiz before we are allowed into the voting booth. Even the earliest democratic elections in Greece had nothing to do with how much you knew about the topic, and were based on who your parents were and if you had a penis. If I decide that I don’t want to research anything, I want to copy a friend, ask my grandparents, flip a coin… that’s my democratic right. Don’t get me wrong, it can certainly be frustrating to watch, especially in a time where so much information is at our fingertips if we want to be educated. But isn’t it what countless minorities fought for? The ability to vote without having to justify yourself, without fear of judgement, and without having to fit into a specific box of gender, race, or level of education.

Especially in a public vote where we aren’t given the opportunity to abstain, and no one really knows the consequence of either decision, aren’t we all just choosing one set of problems over another? I’m not sure why anyone should have to justify how he or she makes that judgement call. And they certainly shouldn’t be nervous of abuse ‘from the losing team’ if they come out on top.

If you have a problem with those who were found googling the EU after the vote itself was dead and buried, if you take issue with people voting selfishly, ignorantly, or for mundane reasons, and if you’re one of the people who is debating the results to death with every person who differs in opinion to you, you don’t have a problem with the referendum results; you have a problem with democracy itself.

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The Last Time

There’s a lot of emotional stuff going around the internet about how you never know [insert event here] is going to be the last time until it’s the last time. You never know it’s going to be your last kiss with someone, or the last time your baby falls asleep on you, or the last time you tell someone you love them, until you realise you can’t do it anymore.

I recently had a last fight with a friend. I didn’t know it was the last fight. I didn’t even know it was a fight at all until we were right in the middle of it. I hadn’t planned it, and I’m not sure they had either. It wasn’t one of those fights where it brews for ages and then finally someone has to say something and it’s taken badly and it escalates. No no. It was more like, here we are having a conversation via WhatsApp, and oh you seem to be getting upset and I’m not sure why, and now suddenly you’re telling me you’re in floods of tears and oh okay,  now I haven’t heard from you in 3 months and we aren’t friends anymore. Haven’t we all had those? No? Not normal? Oh.

Regardless of whether you’re worth working it out for or if the death knell is ringing on your relationship, isn’t there a kind of friend etiquette that means you have to have a post-fight conversation?
I understand the Fadeaway. I’ve watched Garfunkel and Oates. I’m not talking about that. We’re not having a discussion about a brief friendship or a new relationship where it’s kind of awkward to say it out loud but they’re just not that into you. We’re talking about the better part of a decade here. Plenty of meals at each others homes. Cuddling each others kids. Long breaks and then picking up where we left off. Y’know. Friendship. And now… nothing. No final message which says why they want to take some space. No euphemistic let down about why their life is so crazy right now and how it’s not me, it’s them. Not even an angry outburst that I deserve to lose their friendship due to all my terrible character flaws. I can’t get in touch when I hear good news, I can’t thank them for all the times they’ve been a most excellent friend and neighbour, and I can’t turn to them if either of us are in need.

It’s kind of… insufficient.

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe I should make the first move! They’re probably embarassed. It’s been a while now, no contact, they aren’t sure what to do. Let me stop you right there. The first move has been made. I’ve sent multiple messages, via WhatsApp, Facebook, even tried calling on that old fashioned medium called the telephone. Christ I even got in touch with their spouse in the hopes that they just hasn’t checked their own phone in a few days or perhaps seven weeks. Short of turn up unwanted on the doorstep, I’m not sure what else I can do.

The one or two people (everyone who will listen) I’ve casually (obsessively) mentioned it to all say the same thing. Not worth it. Get over it. Move on, they obviously aren’t going to get in touch. And they’re right. I’m clearly not going to get any understanding of why this seemingly quite trivial argument signalled the end of our relationship. And I can’t work out whether expecting some kind of closure is my admittedly often sky-high expectations, or completely understandable. I don’t want to fight, I just don’t want to pretend we’ve never heard each other’s names, or that 8 years of friendship can dissipate without gratitude or feelings on the matter.

Maybe it’s a symptom of this over-sharing thing I’ve got going on, but I would say there’s enough ‘last times’ we aren’t going to get to enjoy as it is. If you know the door is closing on our relationship, give me a quick wave through the window as you disappear and give me a chance to say goodbye, and thank you, too.

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Letting It In, and Shutting It Out

I’m a natural talker. An open book you might say. As I recently read (and stole) from Lena Dunham “I have a tendency to overshare”. Sit down with me for five or ten minutes and you’ll probably know my kids names, my labour stories, my gynaecological issues and the latest argument I’ve had with my mother. Ply me with coffee and cake and I’ll probably give you my internet banking details and let you know where we hide the family diamonds too.

I love to talk. And in sheer yin yang synchronicity, I hate keeping stuff in. Feelings are made to be felt, or we would call them ignorings. (Sorry, I won’t do that again.) I don’t try to push them down, I never apologize for crying, (except at the dentist) and I do my best to never let a problem go unspoken about for too long.

Most of the time, this works out pretty well for me. I surround myself with people who love to talk as much as I do, and who love the amazing moment in a confrontation where you see where the other person is coming from, where you understand something you didnt realise before, and where you get a little closer to one another as a result of the conversation. Most of the time I find a little more of myself along the way too.

But some situations can’t be talked to the other side of.

About three years ago, I had an extremely hard summer. My late father would have turned 70 that June, and the roundness of the number among other things made me feel drowned in grief. Not drowning, not fighting for air, not using my last vestiges of energy to wave and shout and grab attention from someone who could save me, but drowned. Lost already, floating face down and unable to even want help let alone ask for it. I walked around on autopilot, struggling to breathe through the feelings which rose like ice cold water in my lungs and throat.

Eventually, after about 3 months, realising I was being neither wife, nor mother nor friend, nor myself, I called Someone. I am blessed to have 2 or 3 Someones, grown ups who I would still be a lost 15 year old without. But this particular Someone has dealt with their own share of tremendous grief from a young age, and built for themselves a life to be envious of despite it. This Someone is a talker too. An expert in communication, quite literally. They lecture about it, counsel others in how to manage it more effectively, champion talking as the vital ingredient to both a happy marriage and good relationships. I was sure they could help, and they did.

What was the secret I was looking for? How could I deal with the feelings of loss and anger and resentment and just sheer missing? How could I get out of bed every day with the weight of loneliness pressing down on my heart?

Don’t let yourself feel it

I think it was the only advice that could work for me at that point. When you feel it coming in, that great wave of sadness and feeling, just say… No thank you, and push it away.  Maybe it appears at first to you like the terrible advice given to everyone’s favourite Ice Queen. It certainly did to me. I felt like a failiure, like a fraud. What? Just ignore the problem completely? Push down the feelings? That’s just not me. But as time passed, I began to wonder.

Grief comes in some great costumes. Some of them are safe, and others are not. Grief can be nostalgic or funny, or it can appear as a memory you didn’t know you had which makes you smile. Often it’s tears and hugs with loved ones you still have on Earth. Once in a while it’s seeing a lost parents exact expression appear on your own child’s cheeky face. It can even be early nights and the promise of a better day tomorrow. And sometimes…sometimes it’s so overwhelmingly sad that you want to give everything else up just to not feel it any more.

Grief isn’t like other feelings. It changes. And when it’s bad and angry and violent, it can’t be talked through. No one can explain it to you. And there isn’t anyone to confront who can give you any reasons or explanations. There’s no one to feel closer to once you’ve got all your anger out, because there isn’t anyone to respond, and even if there was, there aren’t any answers to give. There’s so little to actually know, that you can’t help but feel further and further away the more you explore it. So opening yourself up to that feeling by swimming further out into those deep waters, is often a surefire way to lose yourself entirely.

This weekend my father would have turned 73, and this summer marks another round number, the 10 year anniversary of his death. This is not a time of nostalgic tears or sad smiles. These are not the calm water of memories which I’m dipping my toes into.  I can feel the violent waves swirling around my ankles, threatening my balance, sharp stings of ice cold salt spraying me from time to time, grapsing for my attention, a very real danger refusing to be ignored.

But this time I’m shouting. I’m waving and thrashing and using the little energy I can find to focus on being wife and mother and friend and myself. I’m fighting every instinct I have to talk and wallow myself deeper into the foam. I’m turning my back on my grief for now, pushing it away while it’s too dangerous to submit to. I’m walking back, towards the shore.