The thing they never tell you when you are growing up, is how much in your life you will be affected by death. As a child you’re simply told that ‘Nanny went to heaven’ or ‘Uncle Morris is resting now’. Nobody ever really talks about death, and because of this, most of us are less than equipped to deal with it when it eventually comes into our lives in a meaningful way. I was five when I lost my Mum. Lost is a stupid way of putting it, but it makes sense. When somebody close to you dies you feel like part of you is missing every time you remember. You can spend the rest of your life looking for them if you keep forgetting
When I was four years old my mother told me a story. Once upon a time there was a butterfly queen who ruled over the garden kingdom, and charmed all of the creatures of the garden with her beauty and grace . One day she met a human man, and they fell in love, so she turned into a human too and they got married. Soon after they had a baby girl, and their family was complete. They were so happy, and loved each other so much, but then the queen got sick. She knew she must return to the butterfly kingdom soon, or she would die. She didn’t want to leave the little girl, but she knew that her father would look after her, so she gave her a locket with a painting of a butterfly on it, and told her she would be watching over her from the garden.
I always knew she was sick, I can’t remember her when she was well. But after that day I had a magical shimmer of hope hanging over my head, which I think helped little me cope with the worst thing in my life. It’s not that I didn’t get she was going to die, I did. But I had this notion of butterflies and princesses filling my head, and numbing the pain with the genuine belief that she was going to become a butterfly again and watch over me. Even just thinking about it now I realise how stupid it is, but kids like to believe in magic and fairy-tales. It’s far better than understanding all the realities of the world before you can spell them.
The day it happened I was taken out of class by my reception teacher and went down to the office where my father was waiting for me. His eyes were red and I remember he looked so tired, like he had been awake for days. He picked me up and carried me out of school, and Miss Jennings cried as we left. I knew it without anyone saying anything, I knew even more when I saw the flowers covering our front room, and all over the front steps.
When the funeral came, all I can remember is Dad crying, a lot, behind doors when he thought nobody could see. At about four in the afternoon, he threw dirt into a hole in the ground, then a red rose, and turned away from everyone there, even me. One of the neighbours looked after me that night, and for the rest of the weekend, trying to play games with me, or get me to do colouring, or eat something. I sat in the corner, twirling my butterfly necklace round and round, staring out of the window in case she flew past. She never did, and on Monday morning, Dad came and collected me, tied my hair into two pigtails, put my arms into my red duffel coat, and walked towards school, not holding my hand. I screamed at everyone who tried to play with me in school, until a social worker came to collect me and take me to a room where they just asked me to sit and draw how I was feeling. I was taken out of school for the rest of the year, so when I went back I was a class behind all of my friends. For ages I would go out into the garden and search for the butterfly watching over me, but I never found it. When I got older I thought Dad had somehow got rid of all the butterflies in the area, as if he couldn’t bear to see them. I wore my locket every single day.
We never talked about it. I always felt like if I so much as uttered her name, or was in any way difficult or unhappy about anything, it would break him. He seemed so fragile, like he wasn’t really there any more. So I learnt to ignore my emotions and bottle them down inside me as if they were the biggest secret in existence. I grew up way quicker than I should have done, being in that sort of environment forces you to realise things that adults don’t usually let kids see. When I was seven I kept a diary for a while, but I always ended up writing the story lines to films instead of anything real, and Dad kept finding them and asking about it. So I just kept it all in, and never talked to anyone about my feelings or problems. However, when I was a teenager there was one person who I could talk to, and share things with, and feel happy again with. My best friend, Luke Johnstone.