Loosely connected thoughts on the anniversary of the death of my son Dan Bell – Part 1
Friday 1 July is the first anniversary of Dan’s death. I find writing very difficult and have done over some time. Still, I know that writing (privately and publicly) is a good way for me to address that difficulty. Writing, thinking, reading, talking with good friends, loving my family and friends, sewing, knitting, quilting: they are all part of my faltering, imperfect practice of hope.
Reading has become very slow: witness the stack of unread books bought by me and others. It has taken me almost six months to read Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit. I loved it and have read a lot more of her work along the way. I am halfway through The Mirror and the Light that I started reading during the first lockdown in 2020. Clearly, the decline in my reading predates Dan’s death since which time I can hardly lift The Mirror and the Light let alone read it. Poetry has been a friend and dear friends have shared poems with me via online links and gifts of books. The book When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back was sent to me by my dear friend Patricia as a gift of solace. I experienced a sense of hope as soon as I read the title and raced through the book in hours. I will dip into and reread the book. It is a great book and shares other authors’ writing that mattered to Nina Marie Aidt, as well as her own writing about her son and her experience of his death. Although she has inspired me to think and write about Dan, I think that my writing will be largely shared privately rather than published.
Writing changed as soon as Dan was injured. My pink writing notebook morphed into notes on our hospital visits, lists from Dan of things to bring in, a hopeful message from him to be posted on Facebook, and other random things. The second paragraph in my notebook from this time is
“contacted CC – she will give brief details to SI team and say I am unavailable at present”
This was me quickly stepping away from editorial work for the Feminist perspectives on learning, media and educational technology Special Issue.
It reminds me that reaching out to dear friends and practising self-care was part of my nascent practice of hope. I didn’t return to the Special Issue work for another five months and then in a very reduced capacity. I am immensely grateful to the other editors for their care of me and their excellent work.
After Dan died unexpectedly on 1 July, writing occurred as part of the bureaucracy of death: filling in forms, liaising with coroners’ officers, funeral directors, planning the funeral, writing an Order of Service, choosing a plot at the Memorial Park, and many other things I have mercifully forgotten. The day after Dan died, I received two phone calls from the hospital. A doctor and a nurse each phoned to tell me about what happened around the time of his death. What is remarkable to me is that as each phone call started, I grabbed my pink notebook and a pen and wrote a verbatim account of what they were saying. Afterwards, I could remember very little of what was said. I remembered a few things and was touched by their candour. It took me a week to read and transcribe what I had written from what they said. Every time I read the transcriptions, I learn something new from them. They entered the post-mortem and coronial processes and have made and will continue to make an impact. The impulse to transcribe the calls stemmed from a realisation that I had very patchy recollection of previous phone calls. I was unable to understand at the same time as listening. This is not unusual and exacerbated by grief I suppose.
Love is important but not simple in times of trauma and grief. Sometimes people will say that grief draws people together but I think that is a comfort for the speakers rather than the bereaved who know that they have a lot of hard work ahead of them. The three weeks that we had between Dan’s injuries and his unexpected death are very precious. I do not doubt that his love for his parents, siblings and nephew was fully reciprocated and known by all of us and, most importantly, by Dan himself. Just over a week before his death, baby O arrived and though O and Dan never met, he was showing off pictures of his brand new niece to the Intensive Care nurses within 2 hours of her birth. She won’t remember any of this but will grow up knowing of Dan. O has been a gift to us over the last year: she has developed from the serene babe we all held and cuddled, to a one year old with a zest for life and knowing exactly what she wants to do.
On Saturday 2 July, we are congregating at Roseberry Topping not too far from Middlesbrough. My son Tom has organised this opportunity for Dan’s school and Boro friends who couldn’t attend his funeral or the August 2021 memorial service to remember him through an informal ashes-scattering event. I will be staying at the King’s Head, waiting for the scatterers of ashes to make the steep descent. To date his ashes have been buried in a plot and under a Viburnum Opulus at Adlington memorial; and scattered in Iceland by his cousins. The remaining jar of ashes will be buried under a plaque in our garden surrounded by the roses we were given after Dan’s death. He gets around, doesn’t he?
There’s a lot more I could say but that will have to wait. I have run out of steam for now. I’ll leave you with the quote we included in our 2021 Christmas card:
Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.
Let’s keep practising hope dear friends. We are neither optimists or pessimists.