Sat in the pub waiting for our niece and her husband on Good Friday, Ralph asked me whether I felt he gave me enough support. I couldn’t understand why he might think I thought he didn’t, but he went on to explain “well you don’t write much about me in your blog, you just said I sometimes join you on the bridge….” . “How many of my posts have you read?” I asked “Just that one” he said, “But I plan to read them all”. “That’s good” I replied “I think you will find I talk about you quite a bit and although I talk about us grieving in different ways and how we have struggled with that, I don’t think I’ve ever once given the impression that I think you don’t support me as much as you can”.
Later that Bank Holiday weekend I published the piece I had written about Mother’s Day. Ralph read it. “What did you think?” I asked, he said he thought “it was good, but very upsetting”. “You sound so alone” he said “I don’t do enough to support you”. “I wasn’t talking about you” I said. “When I said I felt alone, I was talking about my parents, not about you”. “Still” Ralph replied, “I don’t think I do enough to support you”.
I tried to reassure him, but he still seemed perturbed and a couple of days later he presented me with a couple of gifts; another caterpillar planter, which I named Chloe and a Willow Tree figurine, “The Guardian”. ” Thankyou, I like these now” I said, “I know” replied Ralph, I read it in your blog…
Reading back, this all sounds like we never talk to each other, and sometimes I admit it can feel this way; life without Phoebe is unbelievably hard and tiring. We often return home from the day so exhausted that there isn’t any energy left for deep conversations so we settle for just being in each other’s company. I know I’ve written before about how we can be out of sync and that it is hard to be a rock for each other on such shifting sands. We have had and continue to have very difficult moments and days. In the first weeks and months we had some terrible arguments and I once even threw him out of the house for the night, I was so angry at him for spending so much time in the pub. But while our struggles are far from over and we still argue, it is not with the ferocity of those early days and weeks; things are overall much calmer now, we seem to better understand each others way of grieving and we recognise that we are sometimes unable to support each other. We ebb and flow according to each others needs much more and let moments of tension pass. We mostly recognise that our battle is with coming to terms with the loss of our girl and not with each other even if it sometimes manifests itself as otherwise. I love my husband dearly and I am proud of him, proud of the special, special daddy he was and will always be. I am proud of how he somehow always manages to dig deep despite the enormous despair I know he feels and rises to the challenge, none more so than when he ran the Manchester Marathon.
On Sunday 2nd April 2017 Ralph ran the 26.2 mile distance in 4 hours and 24mins. Pretty impressive I think, for his age and given his less than perfect training regime. Over the weeks his emotions rollercoastered and he battled with niggles and injuries all of which meant he struggled to stay on mission. I set up a just giving page as we were going to try to raise funds for our charity in the making, “Phoebe’s roundabout” but he wouldn’t let me share it so doubtful was he that he would be able to get to the startline. With a week to go it was still touch and go due to a hamstring injury, but following visits to a Physio for massages he decided he was going to try, not to raise money but for his own personal sense of achievement, even if he had to walk round and however long it took he said he was determined to make it around the course.
We got up early on the 2nd and we headed to the start line on the tram. The platform at Brooklands was heaving with runners and we had to let the first tram go, unable to get on. We got off at Old Trafford and made our way to what Ralph calls his “VIP suite”, also known as the Kellogg UK office gym, to get changed. We had left my car there the evening before with his kit bag and a large picture of Phoebe in the boot. Ralph wanted me to chase around as many points as possible along the route around Sale, where we live, with her picture so that he would be able to see it and so she would motivate him round and so that was what I did, I kissed my husband goodbye and wished him luck as he made his way to the start line and I went back to the tram to make my way to the first agreed point in Sale town centre near the Metrolink station, The Kings Ransom Pub and the Town Hall where we got married.
Phoebe would always point out the Town Hall, “you got married there” she would say “that’s right” I’d reply, making a mental note to get the wedding album down from the top shelf in my wardrobe and show her, but life is busy, you always think there will be another time, but there wasn’t. You never know how much time you have and I’d urge everyone to always try to remember that.
Anyway, I was supposed to meet up with our niece Naomi and her husband Jonny so we could cheer Ralph on. When he ran the half marathon in October not even a month after Phoebe died, Ralph had commented how much having his friends and family cheer him round had meant and that we had been the best and loudest supporters all the way round. He said that other runners had even commented how great the support that he and his running partner that time, Mike, Phoebe’s friend Joseph’s Dad, had. We were far fewer in number this time as others were on holiday and unable to attend. I knew this had disappointed Ralph although he knew it couldn’t be helped, so I wanted to try to make up for it by making as much noise as possible. He deserved it and I knew how important it was to his self esteem to finish. I believed that crossing the finish line would give him a badly needed boost. However the leap from half marathon to marathon is by no means insignificant and Ralph had spent many evenings on the couch lacking the motivation to go out and train weighed down by grief…. And then there was the injury, would the magic of the physio’s massage sustain him round? Well if that wore off, then I was determined that our support and the sight of our beautiful girl would push him on. Running as Ralph has told me so many times, is as much mental as it is physical and I wanted to do everything we could to help him maintain his resolve and make his way round the course. Although he had said that it wasn’t about the time, that he would just be happy enough to finish, I didn’t completely buy that, I had seen his disappointment at just missing a sub 2 hour time in the half marathon. Irrespective of the lack of sensible training, like I had seen Joanne, Phoebe’s friend Eve’s Mummy, plot on Facebook, I wanted to help Ralph to deliver in line with what I thought his preferred target would be, as close to 4 hours as possible.
But it didn’t quite go to plan…. Firstly as I have already said, I couldn’t find Naomi and Jonny. I scanned the crowd but couldn’t see them but I had just bagged myself what I thought was a great spot at the front. I could see the runners running up towards me up Waterside Plaza. This, I thought would give me plenty of time to spot his approach so I didn’t want to move. I sent them a text but the reply explained that they couldn’t get to me, they had walked into Sale along the canal and this meant that they were stuck on the other side of the route unable to get across so numerous where the runners and because of the barriers. But I would still shout, I would hold Phoebe’s picture in plain view and shout and cheer as loudly as I could. I frantically scanned the runners legs as they approached. The picture obscured my view of the approaching faces somewhat and as many of the other runners seemed to be wearing shorts I thought this would be a good way to spot him as he had opted for running leggings, but it wasn’t…… The next thing I knew, he was shouting at me as he headed past the pub and off towards Broad Road. I had missed him! That wasn’t the plan, how could I have missed him? I had kept a gaze fixed down the approach, I hadn’t looked away, but I heard him shout before I saw him and then only his back sporting the beautiful picture of Phoebe which also heads my blog. I hoped he had at least seen Phoebe’s picture, her dressed as a bunny in the dance school show the previous year. I hoped he’d seen me wave frantically as he twisted his head to look backwards before disappearing around the corner. I wouldn’t miss him at the next agreed spot and I would shout twice as loud to compensate.
I wasn’t the only one to miss him en route. Ralph had asked one of our lovely neighbours, SJ, a talented amateur photographer, to take some pictures of him. He had estimated the window of time between which he should pass the end of our road and agreed a spot where she should wait, but she too missed him seeing only his back as he ran off up Marsland Road and towards our next agreed spot, the corner of Marsland and Brooklands Road. But just like me she wasn’t to be deterred. Catching him by Brooklands Metrolink station with a cheery wave and arms raised high, looking strong and upbeat at the 18 mile mark.
Brooklands was my next appointment too. I spoke to Naomi and agreed that due to still being divided by runners that we would try to meet there, this time on the same side of the route. For a moment, I considered walking along Hope Road but then I thought, why not just hop on the tram, I had a day pass after all and it was a good job I did, else I don’t think I would have made it in time. I got off the tram and pushed my way through the crowd and grabbed a spot on the outside corner of the route where the runners turned left onto Brooklands Road. Other spectators insisted on creeping up the middle of the road blocking our view now Naomi and Jonny and then our friends Tara and Jon had joined me. We yelled at them to move trying to help the poor marshall who kept asking them to move only for more people to creep back into the space each time she cleared it. Tara had seen him further up the road, so this time we knew he was on his way and we were prepared. We saw him, we shouted, we cheered and he waved. He looked happy and strong, in a good rhythm and I was relieved, not only had we given him the support he deserved and needed, but he looked good. He was going to do this, I felt certain.
Next stop was follow the route down Brooklands Road to the next water station which was manned by Phoebe’s Dance School. They had also manned a station during the half marathon and had missed him. This time I knew they were determined not to and I hurried down the road to join them. They had seen him and based on current pace we estimated we had about a half hour wait before he would retrace his steps in the opposite direction. We grabbed a quick and not so relaxing coffee in the Belmore Hotel while I constantly looked out of the window at the passing runners and my watch alternately before darting between the runners to take up a spot on the opposite side of the road and wait for Ralph. When we saw him we all went crazy. I jumped up and down, yelled and waved Phoebe’s picture willing him on for the final 8 miles. As this was the last planned spot before the finish, I got understandably emotional and hugged the picture of Phoebe I’d been carrying around all day tight. Daddy’s doing it, I thought, he’s making the day count, just like it said on the fridge magnet I was given alongside the route. “I saw this and thought of you” said Lisa, a former colleague and dance school mum as she gave it to me.
But it was Ralph who was making it count that day and this is why I feel supported. As I made my way back to Old Trafford and waited for him just past the finish line, outside the gates of the Kellogg car park, I was filled with hope. Since losing Phoebe, I have frantically searched for hope in our dark world, hope that one day it won’t be quite so dark and hope that we will survive together. I freely admit that in the first days and weeks, I worried what would become of us. During her life, as is the case for many parents, we had become Mummy and Daddy, rather than Ralph and Claire and we hadn’t invested in our relationship as much as we should have. It felt as if Phoebe had become the glue that kept us together and I had worried whether we might subsequently fall apart, indeed the statistics are not great with regard to relationship breakdowns following the loss of a child. But that day I saw beyond the tensions and strain on our relationship and I saw the man I married, a man with determination to climb out of the pit and make things happen, to keep trying and this is all the support I need.
Beyond the one off event of the marathon I feel supported in many other and increasing in number, ways as Ralph’s resolve has grown:….
I am so very proud of Ralph for reaching out for help. Previously suspicious of counselling or therapy he has stuck with the CBT sessions I and his friends and family encouraged him to attend even though he found them difficult initially. Historically a man of extremes which definitely manifested itself in the early weeks and months following Phoebe’s death, he is now much calmer, more stable and I think it is helping to create a space where we can better support each other. An investment in himself and in us. It takes courage to ask for help and courage to stick with it when the going is as tough as this. This is the real measure of the man I married beyond the moments of craziness when tempers have flared.
He has given me small and thoughtful gifts, a heart shaped necklace, Fairy Daughter to hang in my car all of which remind me of his good heart, the daddy he was and will always be and the husband he wants to be.
We are running together. Ralph has to slow his pace and adjust his stride pattern to run with me but he has been helping me train for the Manchester 10K which we are running together.
Yoga has also become another shared activity. I sought solace in yoga almost immediately after we lost Phoebe even though I would regularly cry during the darkness and relaxation at the end of the class but it was too emotional for Ralph at first but now despite his continued struggle with downward dog it has become a regular shared appointment and we are even thinking of doing weekend retreat together to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary this Summer.
He built the arbour in the garden for me at Easter. I knew he wasn’t really in the mood. He did it for me.
He has started cooking, determined we should eat more healthily and move on from the ready meals we have mostly relied on for the past 8 months. This has inspired me and I too am resolved to follow his example beginning with the avocado and asparagus omelette I made myself last weekend.
I really can’t ask for more. This is good progress, we are so much further down the road and much more together than we were when we went to The Compassionate Friends retreat at the beginning of the year and this is in large part down to the effort my brave husband has put in.
He far from perfect but neither of us are. He still likes to escape by propping up the bar in our local pubs and talking to whoever comes in. He still hasn’t read all of my blog, but I know he will. He has bad days, days when he just wants to give up, but he is trying. If he falls, he gets back up again just like Princess Poppy from Trolls. I know he too thinks of Phoebe saying “you’ve got to try, haven’t you” and the song from Zootropolis “Try Everything” sung at her life celebration by our friend Helen. Officer Judy Hopps sits on our bedhead to remind us everyday and drives us both on.
We have had the worst 8 months any married couple could have but Ralph’s fear that he doesn’t support me enough is unfounded. Irrespective of the tensions and tough moments which I have no doubt will continue to occur, Ralph is my hero, just as he was Phoebe’s. I even convinced him that we should go to our friend Jo’s 80’s themed 40th birthday party dressed as She Ra and He Man. Although I knew we would look ridiculous, I liked the symbolism and I thought we deserved to be super heros for the night. We did look ridiculous, his muscle bound body suit which I know Phoebe would have loved based her response to something similar in the Barbie Girl number in the show we saw at Centre parcs, garnered much attention. Attention my brave husband deserved so much more than he realises.
Keep trying Ralph, keep running. You do support me, I know you’ll get me round tomorrow’s race and that we’ll keep on getting each other through one step at a time.
Love your Pie xxxxx