I spent yesterday morning with Tanya’s husband, Rick. Tanya collapsed overnight and had to be taken to hospital. Rick has suspected for a while that she has been close to having a breakdown. “She couldn’t sit still. She was like a caged bird,” he said. “Up and down all night, listening outside Leo’s door to make sure he was OK. We got a letter from the school last week saying they could no longer tolerate the amount of phone calls she was making, up to 20 a day just to see if Leo was all right. I had no idea she was doing that. And then to attack you like she did -”
Rick cries silently. He is tall and sturdy with an air of dependability; one of those men that you hate to see cry. My husband is taking the boys to the beach. They have the video camera and plan to make a movie about sealife in rockpools. They rehearse the commentary as they leave – it is a cross between David Attenborough and Mike Myers. Leo appears carefree but his eyes are troubled.
It is noon. The sky is full of clouds as if a bowl of flour had been dropped from above. A wren ducks and dives in the maidenhair ferns that grow along the fence. It sees me watching and propels itself upward like a little sapphire bullet.
“We lost a child,” says Rick. “Four years before Leo was born. Our first child. She was beautiful. Rosie. We called her that because of her cheeks. They were like little rosebuds. She contracted meningitis when she was 6 months old. We took her to the emergency room with a high fever. We were discharged with paracetamol and a diagnosis of a non-specific virus. Well, they were wrong. That virus was very specific. We were back at the hospital within the hour because Rosie’s feet and hands had turned black. She had septicaemia. Her fever was 42 degrees Celsius. They told us they might be able to save her if they amputated her hands and feet. We didn’t know what to do. How can you make a decision like that? She died half an hour after reaching the hospital.
They put us in isolation, gave us antibiotics in case we had contracted the disease too. I wish they hadn’t. I wish I had died right there with her then none of this would have happened.”
Rick’s revelation has covered the garden in eggshells. Fragmented, pearly blue, they surround me. I cannot move for fear of crushing them underfoot. The clouds cast shadows on them like tears. I have lost my voice, it stumbles in my throat. Nothing I can say will be good enough, so I hold out my hand. Rick clings to it. I feel like I am pulling him from quicksand.
“Tanya never recovered from losing Rosie,” he says. “For a whole year she stayed in bed, barely spoke, barely ate. Most of the time I didn’t know she was there. It was like living with the ghost of someone you used to know. We separated for two years. I don’t know what she did in that time – she never speaks of it. One day she turned up at my office, said she still loved me, asked if we could try again. I was aimless, playing the single guy without conviction, so I agreed. A year later, Leo was born.”
Tanya had been overprotective from the start; when Rick pulled her up on it she defined her behaviour as necessary vigilance. When he accused her of redirecting her grief over Rosie’s death into an obsession with Leo’s life they almost split again but Tanya seemed to loosen the reins a bit and for a few years Rick thought she was in control of herself. But now he realises her apparent self-control was just an act.
“I can’t do it anymore,” he says. “How’s Leo going to turn out if I don’t intervene? What kind of father would I be if I just do nothing? And what will become of Tanya if she doesn’t get some help?”
Rick wants me to talk to the police, to lodge a complaint against Tanya; the hospital has recommended it as a way of getting her into the treatment centre she needs. It is a sad end to a harrowing tale of pain and grief. “Rosie’s gone but Leo’s still here,” says Rick. “He the one who counts now. We have to allow Tanya to see him without his sister’s ghost walking in his footsteps or we can never move forward. He has to be Leo, not the boy with the sister who died.”
As we wait for the police to come, a peace descends. A cat stretches, its whiskers soft little question marks. Someone plays Ella Fitzgerald a few doors away.
April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom, holiday tables under the trees…..
Speaking is a nuisance, so I bask like the cat, wondering at the ease with which he moves through the world. I sing with Ella in my head, the mellow tone of her voice is a silken shawl, enfolding me with consolation. The cat reaches for a butterfly and yawns, too idle to really bother. I smile, cheered up, able at last to pray that Tanya’s glass fortress of grief over time will shatter and that she will be able once again, to live.
OMG, that is terrible!
But now, at least, she will get the therapy she needs and, probably most importantly, Leo will get a chance to develop like a normal little boy.
Keith – I hope so too.
My heart goes out to Rick and Leo, how well I know what it is like to live with someone who has chosen not to go on living, but is stuck somewhere in a hell of their own creation. It is devastating and leaves invisible scars on everyone. You told this story well.
It’s not too late for them. I hope they can all get counseling. This comment is hard to write because I can’t see through my tears.
There’s a light at the end of their tunnel, but it is a long way off. Having you and your family there for them will be… will be… everything: painful, heartbreaking, rewarding, exhausting, fill-your-heart-to-bursting joyful, and not unlike being a parent.
Only you’ll be a parent to a family. Watching them, wishing you could do more, knowing they have to do it themselves, doing what you can, wishing they’d leave you in peace for a day, missing them when they do.
I’m sending peace and strength energies to you, m’dear.
I am touched by this story of grief.
Oh My…hopefully now Tanya will be able to get the help she needs. I’m sure your conversation with Rick explained a lot of things. At least he saw that she was destroying Leo’s chances of a normal life…Hopefully Tanya will accept help… I’m glad that Leo is spending time with your son at the beach. These past few days must have been hard on everybody. I wish you luck…
That is so sad. I feel for the whole family. I hope they’ll be okay.
Josie – thank you so much for your comment. I know after all you are going through right now how much you can relate to what Tanya and Rick are going through. I pray they can move forward.
Karen – I will admit to you I am exhausted. The things that happen to some people are devastating. I feel I have no right to complain about anything ever again. You summed up what I am feeling so well. Hugs to you.
Leslie – I had no idea that this was what was driving Tanya’s overprotectiveness. Imagine holding onto that grief for so long….
tball – thank you for your kind wishes. It has been a tough couple of days. I need to do something really silly to unwind. I know, I’ll get my 3 year old niece to come over and tell me some of her ‘knock knock’ jokes. She would put sunshine in anyone’s day.
Daoine – it is sad. But you know what? I feel they’re going to be all right now. It’s like this whole thing is a catalyst for change, like it’s taken the grief that was binding them and shattered it.
Okay, well this EXPLAINS her erratic behavior, but she still clearly needs HELP.
On the other hand, I dont think I would be able to recover if I lost my child either.
This BREAKS my HEART
Meleah – I am still in shock after finding all this out. I know I would never recover if I lost my boy. I think she’s gone mad with grief.