When big, bad things happen, they happen in an instant.
One moment you’re eating your tea. The next, your mum’s on the phone and she has cancer. Everything’s changed.
One moment you’re queuing for coffee. The next, your mother-in-law is on the phone telling you your father-in-law is dead. Everything’s changed.
Then you have to go tell your husband his dad is dead and in that moment, when you look at him and you know this terrible thing will change his life and hurt him beyond measure, you know with crushing certainty that this moment of his blissful ignorance will pass and in the next moment, as you hand him the phone, everything’s changed.
One moment you’re in labour. The next your baby isn’t breathing. Everything’s changed.
One moment the cancer has regressed. You’ve got the all clear. You think it’s over. Then it isn’t. You see the doctor. You’ve got a few months left. Everything’s changed.
One moment you’re getting ready for a nap, happily relieved that the last 2.5yrs of desperate turmoil has finally ended. You’re planning the future. You’ve made lists. You’re finally pregnant. Then you start to bleed. Everything’s changed.
That tiny slice of time, the difference between one moment and the next – so small. Yet so huge and utterly unfathomable. You can’t go back. You can’t unpick it – rewind to the blissful ignorance which, by its very nature, you didn’t know you were in.
I go into denial in these moments. Unwilling to accept the new status quo that just a moment ago wasn’t even so much as a worry on the periphery of my mind. I try to backpedal. I question the fabric of reality.
But ultimately we must accept the new moment. And all the moments after it. We stumble around to find the pieces of Before blasted around the After – sad reflections of a more naive time.
When I come across a piece of Before, I’ll despise it for a while. That thought, that plan, that inconsequential worry that I can now see was utterly pointless. What an idiot I was Before. How ridiculous these things seem in the After. And then I mourn them. I turn them over and hold them close. Can any of it be saved? Redeemed? Reframed in the After? Does any of it even matter anymore now that this moment has happened and everything’s changed?
Sometimes It can be redeemed. A plan can be salvaged, a worry set aside into a new time frame, sometimes that piece of the Before just needs throwing out. Irrelevant now.
And then there’s all the new challenges and truths here in the After, often seeming overwhelming in number and magnitude. The funeral. The therapy. The return to clinic. The costs. The grief. The ongoing normality of the rest of life in the new shadow of the After. It’s exhausting. It’s terrifying.
And even as I rebuild, collect, turn over, consider, grieve, throw out and sort, I still want that moment taken away, erased. From time to time I feel strong. From time to time I want to be a child again and be held and told it was all a bad dream.
But responsibility comes to the plate and pokes me in the chest. I’m a mother. A wife. A friend. A daughter. There are others all around me, each experiencing their own moments at different times. Others who need us to resurrect from our Afters and help them with theirs.
Because when big things happen, they happen in an instant. And it doesn’t make sense. There is no reason, no logic. The absurd holds no sense of justice. And I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that, as long as I live.