Strong & Silent?
I have to tell you about my grandad’s shed.
It was 10 foot square and it stood in the garden, covered in creeping vines. It was lined with nettles on all four sides.
He’d built it himself, after he came home from the war. Somewhere he could escape to, to be on his own.
He painted there. Pictures of the garden, landscapes of the Essex fields and trees, portraits of friends. In his retirement, grandad would go out to the shed after breakfast, and he’d be there until it got dark.
He wasn’t much of a talker.
He was the kind of man who kept himself to himself. But occasionally, when I was a kid, sitting beside him in the shed, I got to quiz him about the war, and he’d open up for a few minutes.
The stories were shocking. One I particularly remember with my childish fascination featured a mate of his who had stuck his head up through the turret of a tank and got it blown clean off by a German shell. The rest of his headless body just fell back down beside my Grandad, bleeding out beside him, slowly.
Looking back now, I can understand why my grandad was reluctant to talk about his wartime experiences. And maybe stories like the one above stand out all the more strongly because it was rare for him to speak.
This week’s D Day commemorations reminded me of a generation of men and women like him who came back from the war so traumatised with the stress of what they had been through, that for decades, they had no words.
My war has been with sepsis. It came so close to killing me, it took both my hands, both my feet, half of my face and half of my soul. Twenty years on I live with the trauma of it, every minute of every single day.
Unlike Grandad, I don’t paint pictures of the May blossom and pastoral scenes. I don’t have a shed. And I can’t stop standing up in public and going on the TV to talk about what I’ve been through, about sepsis, about trying to be resilient, even though it brings all the pain back and makes me feel angry.
I’ve been devastated on every level, I’ve got mental health issues, I’ve got cuts on my legs that never heal.
I have to work until 10pm on wages that won’t pay for anything. Disability is the most unforgiving taskmaster.
But I still have life, I still have love. I can help to save others. So, I need people to know about sepsis. If I can just save one life, of all the many thousands of lives being wasted in the UK every year, it’ll be worth it to me.
Maybe if my Grandad had felt he could have stopped another war by speaking out, he might have done it too.
He’s gone now, so I can’t ask him.
God bless him though. for all the good things that he did, and what he represented. Bless him, for being my Grandad.
And God bless the millions of good people who gave their lives so we can live hopefully & resiliently as we do.