LESSONS IN HEARTACHE AND WHY LAUGH­TER AL­WAYS HELPS

Woman & Home - - CONTENT -

CATHY RENTZENBRINK ON LIFE, LOVE AND LOSS

THINK OF CATHY RENTZENBRINK AS YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND – WARM, WITTY AND IN­CRED­I­BLY WISE. HERE SHE WRITES EX­CLU­SIVELY ON WHAT SHE HAS LEARNT ABOUT LIFE, LOVE AND LOSS

CATHY RENTZENBRINK,

44, IS THE AU­THOR OF THE BEST­SELLING MEM­OIR, The Last Act of Love. PUB­LISHED IN 2015, THE BOOK DEALT WITH THE DEATH OF HER BELOVED BROTHER. CATHY’S NO-NON­SENSE STYLE RES­ONATED WITH READ­ERS, WHO IN TURN SENT HER HUN­DREDS OF LET­TERS AND EMAILS, AND TO DATE IT HAS SOLD OVER 100,000 COPIES. SHE BE­LIEVES THAT AL­MOST ALL OF US HAVE A DEFIN­ING MO­MENT THAT PRE­VENTS US FROM LIV­ING AS FULLY

AS WE POS­SI­BLY COULD, SOME­THING

SHE DEALS WITH IN HER NEW BOOK,

A Man­ual for Heartache. SHE

LIVES IN LON­DON WITH HER HUS­BAND, ERWYN, AND SON MATTHEW. CAN YOU BEAR TO COME WITH ME TO

THE DAY THAT MY HAPPY LIFE WAS BLOWN APART? I WAS 17 AND LIVED IN A PUB IN YORK­SHIRE WITH MY PAR­ENTS AND MY BROTHER, MATTY. MATTY WAS 13 MONTHS YOUNGER THAN ME AND NINE INCHES TALLER. HE WAS CLEVER, SPORTY AND CHEEKY IN EQUAL MEA­SURES, AND WE TOOK IT IN TURNS TO LOOK AF­TER EACH OTHER.

THEN, ONE NIGHT, HE WAS KNOCKED

OVER BY A CAR. I KNELT BY HIM IN THE ROAD AND WENT WITH HIM IN THE AM­BU­LANCE TO LEEDS GEN­ERAL IN­FIR­MARY. I SAT IN A ROOM WITH MY PAR­ENTS DRINK­ING END­LESS CUPS OF TEA WHILE A BRAIN SUR­GEON OP­ER­ATED ON HIM. MATTY SUR­VIVED SURGERY AND

THE DOC­TORS SAID THE NEXT 48 HOURS WERE CRIT­I­CAL. I PRAYED IN THE HOS­PI­TAL CHAPEL. I WASN’T RE­LI­GIOUS BUT HAD BEEN TO A CATHOLIC SCHOOL AND KNEW THE PRAYERS. I SAID THEM AGAIN AND AGAIN AS I SOBBED AND BEGGED A GOD I DIDN’T BE­LIEVE IN NOT TO LET MY BROTHER DIE.

WHAT HAP­PENED NEXT WAS COM­PLI­CATED BE­CAUSE MATTY DIDN’T DIE, BUT I HADN’T KNOWN THAT I WAS PRAY­ING FOR THE WRONG THING AND THERE ARE MANY AND VAR­I­OUS FATES WORSE THAN DEATH. HE WAS IN A PER­SIS­TENT VEG­E­TA­TIVE STATE FOR EIGHT YEARS AND MY HEART WAS BRO­KEN AGAIN AND AGAIN AS ALL OUR EF­FORTS TO ROUSE HIM PROVED FU­TILE.

I GRAD­U­ALLY AND PAINFULLY RE­ALISED THAT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BET­TER FOR MATTY – AND FOR US – IF HE HAD DIED ON THE NIGHT HE WAS KNOCKED DOWN. IT TOOK A COM­PLI­CATED LE­GAL PROCESS TO FI­NALLY AL­LOW HIM TO LEAVE THIS LIFE, AND FOR US TO HAVE A FUNERAL AND MOURN HIM.

EX­CEPT THAT IT WASN’T OVER. I THOUGHT I’D CRIED SO MUCH OVER THE EIGHT YEARS THAT I HAD DONE ALL MY GRIEV­ING, BUT MATTY’S DEATH UN­LEASHED NEW AN­GUISH IN ME AND I DRIFTED INTO NEARLY A DECADE OF DRUNK­EN­NESS WHERE I DIDN’T BE­GIN TO UN­DER­STAND OR AC­COM­MO­DATE ALL THE PAIN SLOSH­ING AROUND IN­SIDE ME. >>

Mov­ing for­ward

LIFE GRAD­U­ALLY IM­PROVED. I GOT A JOB I LIKED WORK­ING IN A BOOK­SHOP, MET A KIND MAN AND HAD A CHILD, BUT I WAS IN AND OUT OF DE­PRES­SION ALL THE TIME AND THOUGHT I WOULD NEVER ES­CAPE THE AL­MOST CON­TIN­UAL FEEL­INGS OF DE­SPAIR. I WAS GOOD AT PUTTING ON A MASK AND AP­PEAR­ING NOR­MAL AND CHEER­FUL IN PUB­LIC, BUT I FELT LIKE THERE WAS A BOMB IN­SIDE ME WAIT­ING TO GO OFF.

SO I WROTE A BOOK ABOUT IT ALL CALLED The Last Act of Love AND THAT HELPED. I FELT A SENSE OF PRIDE THAT I HAD WRES­TLED THE COM­PLEX STORY ONTO THE PAGE, AND I LOVED THAT LOTS OF MATTY’S FRIENDS GOT IN TOUCH TO SAY HOW WELL I’D CAP­TURED HIS SENSE OF HU­MOUR – AND TO TELL ME THAT THEY TOO STILL MISSED HIM. AF­TER YEARS OF WORK­ING IN BOOKS, IT WAS A MOV­ING AND HUM­BLING EX­PE­RI­ENCE TO HAVE MY OWN BOOK OUT IN THE WORLD AND SEE IT IN BOOK­SHOP WIN­DOWS.

THE BIG­GEST THING, THOUGH – AND I HADN’T EX­PECTED THIS – WAS THAT MY LIFE CHANGED BE­CAUSE PEO­PLE WHO READ MY BOOK STARTED TO TALK BACK TO ME. PEO­PLE I HAD KNOWN FOR YEARS TOLD ME THE SE­CRET STO­RIES OF THEIR

OWN TRAGEDIES, STRANGERS WOULD TALK TO ME AF­TER EVENTS, AND I RE­CEIVED HUN­DREDS OF LET­TERS AND EMAILS FROM PEO­PLE THANK­ING ME FOR SHOW­ING THEM THAT WE’RE NOT ALONE IN THAT FEEL­ING OF BE­ING STUCK IN SAD­NESS AF­TER A PAINFUL LIFE EVENT.

I was good at ap­pear­ing cheer­ful but I felt like there was a bomb in­side me wait­ing to go off

I RE­ALISED THAT AL­MOST EV­ERY­ONE HAS A “THING”, A DEFIN­ING MO­MENT OR PE­RIOD IN THE PAST THAT STILL DIS­TRESSES THEM AND PRE­VENTS THEM FROM LIV­ING AS FULLY AS THEY COULD IN THE PRESENT OR LOOK­ING FOR­WARD TO THE FU­TURE. SOME­TIMES IT IS FAIRLY WELL BURIED, SOME­TIMES IT IS LEAK­ING OUT ALL OVER

THE PLACE. IT CAN BE ANY­THING. IT CAN BE A DEATH OR A LOSS, BUT NOT NEC­ES­SAR­ILY. PEO­PLE CARRY GREAT BUR­DENS FROM UN­HAPPY CHILD­HOODS, FROM BE­ING BUL­LIED, FROM NOT FEEL­ING LOVED. WORK, RE­LA­TION­SHIPS AND MODERN LIFE ARE ALL FULL OF HUR­DLES THAT ARE OF­TEN DIF­FI­CULT TO FACE. I BE­GAN TO SEE I WASN’T THE ONLY ONE WHO FELT WEAK AND IN­AD­E­QUATE AND A BIT OF A FRAUD. I BE­GAN TO FEEL PART OF A COM­MU­NITY OF PEO­PLE WHO WERE OWN­ING UP TO THEIR PAIN AND AL­LOW­ING THEM­SELVES TO BE SEEN. IT WAS SUCH A RE­LIEF TO FEEL LESS ALONE.

What I have learnt

LOTS OF PEO­PLE ASKED ME FOR AD­VICE ON HOW TO NAV­I­GATE DARK TIMES,

AND FOR HELP WITH WHAT TO SAY TO A SUF­FER­ING FRIEND. I WAS ALSO ASKED IF I THOUGHT ANY­THING COULD HAVE BEEN DONE DIF­FER­ENTLY TO MAKE IT LESS OF A LENGTHY, TOR­TU­OUS PROCESS FOR ME.

PEO­PLE OF­TEN ASKED IF I THOUGHT THEY SHOULD GIVE MY BOOK TO A FRIEND

WHO WAS IN NEED. THEY WANTED THEM TO EX­PE­RI­ENCE THE POS­I­TIVE EF­FECTS OF READ­ING IT BUT WOR­RIED ABOUT IM­POS­ING THE SAD STORY ON THEM.

THIS GAVE ME THE IDEA FOR A Man­ual for Heartache. I WANTED TO WRITE SOME­THING CONSOLING THAT COULD ACT AS A KIND FRIEND IN TIMES OF TROU­BLE, SHAR­ING EV­ERY­THING I HAD LEARNT.

I’M NOT A DOC­TOR, A THER­A­PIST, A PHILOSO­PHER, A PRIEST OR AN EX­PERT ON ANY­THING. I’M JUST A HU­MAN BE­ING WHO HAS THOUGHT A LOT ABOUT HOW TO BE ALIVE IN THIS WORLD. OF COURSE, THERE IS A LIMIT TO WHAT A BOOK CAN DO, BUT I HAVE AL­WAYS TAKEN GREAT COM­FORT FROM BOOKS AND I WANTED TO CRE­ATE SOME­THING THAT WOULDN’T PUSH ANY­ONE FUR­THER INTO DE­SPAIR BUT MIGHT OF­FER A FRIENDLY SHOUL­DER TO LEAN OR CRY ON, A HELP­ING HAND TO HOLD. I LIKE TO THINK OF THE BOOK AS A VER­BAL CUDDLE, OR A MES­SAGE IN A BOT­TLE. IT’S EV­ERY­THING I’VE LEARNT ABOUT HOW TO HOLD STEADY IN THE FACE OF LIFE’S TWISTS AND TURNS, WHAT­EVER THEY ARE.

AND, ONCE AGAIN, WRIT­ING A BOOK HELPED ME. THINK­ING ABOUT WHAT WOULD BE USE­FUL FOR OTHER PEO­PLE TO KNOW WAS USE­FUL FOR ME. I LEARNT A LOT ABOUT BE­ING HU­MAN BY WRIT­ING THIS BOOK, HOW WON­DER­FUL AND FLAWED WE ALL ARE, AND HOW TER­RI­BLY IN­CLINED WE ARE TO BE HARD ON OUR­SELVES.

SOME­TIMES IT HELPS ME TO THINK OF LIFE AS A GAME. IT IS VERY CRUEL WHEN YOU FEEL YOU ARE TRAPPED IN, SAY, A GAME OF SNAKES AND LAD­DERS, BUT I’VE LEARNT THAT IT HELPS ME TO BE RE­SILIENT IF THAT’S HOW I CHOOSE TO SEE IT. “OK,” I CAN THINK TO MY­SELF, “I’VE JUST LANDED ON AN ENOR­MOUS SNAKE AND THAT ISN’T FAIR BUT I’M NOT GO­ING TO LET MY HEAD GO DOWN, I’M GO­ING TO GET READY FOR MY NEXT TURN.”

WHAT I’VE LEARNT IS THAT LIFE WILL THROW US ALL SORTS OF CURVE­BALLS. BUT IF WE CAN AC­CEPT THAT HEARTACHE IS HU­MAN, AND STOP POUR­ING ALL OUR EF­FORTS INTO HID­ING WHO WE ARE BE­CAUSE WE THINK PEO­PLE WON’T LIKE THE REAL US, THEN WE HAVE MORE EN­ERGY FOR

GET­TING OUT IN THE WORLD

AND SEE­ING IT FOR THE

BEAU­TI­FUL PLACE IT CAN BE.

A MAN­UAL FOR HEARTACHE by Cathy Rentzenbrink (Pi­cador) is out now. W&H

Cathy and her beloved brother Matty

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