Snakes and ladders

An excerpt from Dani Holland’s blog, Three Chicks and a Hen

I’m sitting on the train after dropping off my littlest girl at preschool, ready to get home and into today’s study when the first memory hits.

A memory of the Bear in recovery after his first surgery, in so much pain, his eyes wide with panic, while I struggle to swallow my own distress and soothe him. This is followed by another – me helping him up after he had collapsed on the bedroom floor, then another, and another, and then finally the image of him dying, looking into my face.

I am frantically swallowing, trying to keep back my tears, my throat thick and my eyes burning. I keep my head down, so I don’t make eye contact with anyone, willing myself to hold on until I get home.

I press my thumbnail into the soft skin on my wrist, hard, not enough to do any permanent damage, but enough to derail the memories that are coming thick and fast.

I can feel myself starting to panic, and I do my best to keep my breaths low and even, desperately willing the tears to not spill until I’m away from other people.

I march out of the station quickly, head down, striding as fast as I can. I’m almost home, almost to the front door. My hand shakes as I put the key in the lock, my sobs starting to escape as I turn the key. I have just enough time to take out the key and close the door before I slide down the wall onto the floor, sobbing like I haven’t for many months.

I don’t want anyone to see me this way, but at the same time I am so desperately lonely.

I lurch into our bedroom and sit on the bed, next to the photo of us, and the pale blue box from the crematorium that is placed behind it.

Looking into the photo, and the brown eyes I still love so much, all I can whisper is “I miss you… I miss you…”

Until a few weeks ago, I was actually doing ok. My study was going well, our home was mostly organised, and my girls and I had seemed to be in some sort of routine.

Memories would still bubble up to the surface, but they were diffuse and friendly, coloured with sadness around the edges, but wonderful, reminding me of special times that we shared.

I managed to get through the second anniversary of his death, and our youngest daughter’s birthday pretty well.

But just recently I have returned to the uncontrollable feeling of being attacked by intrusive memories, similar to those first few months after the Bear died, where I was dragging myself through the days, not actually wanting to die, but wishing for nothingness, anything to stop feeling the way that I did.

I had loved him so much, so I guess the corresponding wound of his absence felt immense, like shattered shards of glass gutting me constantly. I had thought that the sharpness had dulled somewhat, but for some reason it feels like the glass has broken afresh. Not sleeping probably doesn’t help.

What has changed? Is it stress, depression, menopause? I don’t know.

All I know is that I no longer feel in control. I am beginning to doubt myself, when I had worked so hard to gradually regain my confidence over the last two years.

I know I need to be strong for my girls – they need me, and the weight of responsibility to them is a heavy burden, that is lightened only by love.

I have avoided it for a long time, but I guess it’s time to call in the professionals, and take myself off to the GP.

Before I lost the Bear, I imagined grief to be a straight road covered in shadows and mist at the beginning, that gradually climbed up into a sunny hillside of remembrance and acceptance.

But that is a lie we tell ourselves.

There is no road.

It’s a never ending game of snakes and ladders, with not many ladders and lots of snakes.

Snakes and ladders was my least favourite board game as a child, because it was all chance. There was no reasoning, no skill, just a roll of the dice to decide your fate. I guess my rolls have been unlucky lately. Time to blow on the dice and try to even the odds.


Until January 2015, we were a happy rambunctious family of five, a loving hard-working dad, a crafty stay at home mum, and three wonderful girls. Then the Bear was diagnosed with inoperable bowel cancer, and everything changed. After his death in January 2016, our family of four is still trying to make sense of the cards we’ve been dealt.

To read more from Dani, visit Three Chicks and a Hen.

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