My Camel Moment… Sudden Collapses in Public Places

Richard sits on the 2nd camel

When I was on the camel, I got a bit upset… I was sitting there on the camel. My dad wasn’t there to tell him. It’s the first holiday I’ve been on that he wasn’t there for me to go and tell him.

I am having a Cuppa Tea with Richard. We are recording our conversation for a brand-new podcast, a series of lovely 15 minutes episodes where my colleague Richard Keagan-Bull has a chat with someone about “things that matter to me”. I am the first lucky podcast guest.

That first episode was launched two weeks ago, when I was on leave from work. During the last few minutes of our chat, we contemplate what it’s like for us to have a job that needs us to think about death and dying. Richard (whose dad died last year) tells me what happened on his looked-forward-to camel ride during a recent holiday in Morocco.

I was on leave from work for the saddest of reasons. My sister had just died. I’d had a highly emotional week of hearing this devastating news, crossing the Channel and organising the funeral. They don’t hang about in the Netherlands. My sister was buried a week after she died. “Distressed” is an understatement. I was exhausted.

It was so exciting to produce the podcast together. I had been looking forward to the launch, but when I received an apologetic WhatsApp message from my colleague that my Cuppa Tea with Richard was now online (“Sorry to disturb you but I just wanted to let you know…”), I’d forgotten all about it. I was sitting in the French countryside (a planned and well-timed holiday) and decided to have a listen, as a distraction from my overwhelming grief.

Most of the podcast is about my journey from young nurse in the Netherlands to professor in the UK. I’d forgotten about that camel story at the very end of the 15 minutes. It hit me in the solar plexus.

Because that very morning, I’d had my very own Camel Moment. I had visited a French market and popped into a shop for some Retail Therapy, buying a top that I really didn’t need. My sister and I had our own word for this: Truitje Kopen, literally: Buying a Top. It was an expression we used for when you need some comfort or distraction from a distressing situation. I hadn’t realised that’s what I was doing, until I found myself in tears in the changing room. Because there is only one person to whom I could say: Look what I’m doing! Truitje kopen! and we would laugh together, and she’d understand. But she is dead.

It echoed an identical situation I shared with my sister exactly 10 years ago, when our mother was dying, and we went Truitje kopen together in anticipation of her funeral (complicated by my impending mastectomy in the very same week). I wrote a whole blog about it then, how I dissolved in a sorry flood of tears in the changing room. I called it Sudden Collapses in Public Places. How you can suddenly, unexpectedly and overwhelmingly, be hit by a wave of grief.

My Sudden Collapse in France was due to the realisation that I can no longer tell my sister about things, because I no longer have my sister. That’s specifically what Richard was talking about. His Sudden Collapse on a camel, because he no longer has his dad.

It will happen again, to me, to you. But now, thanks to Richard, we will have a word for it. If I’m floored again by a sudden wave of grief or tears, I can make sense of it and explain it very simply.

Don’t worry folks. I’m just having a Camel Moment!

Oh, and do listen to Richard’s podcasts. They are brilliant. More to follow – don’t miss it!

One thought on “My Camel Moment… Sudden Collapses in Public Places

  1. Brilliant. Thank you Irene. I was deeply moved by this. And smiled in recognition I will send it to my step-daughter who is dealing with her own waves of grief.

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