Thursday, 17 September 2009


It's a bit of a 'Carry On' word, but I don't mean that sort of debriefing. There is definitely none of that going on around here these days!

I mean the nightly download by telephone that was the highlight of my day for several years.

R worked in IT, for the last three years as a contractor. But whether permanent or freelance, the jobs all had one thing in common - they were too far away to commute. So, for much of the year, I would drive him to the train station in Shrewsbury at some unearthly hour on Monday morning and that would be the last I saw of him until Friday evening, when the glorious weekend would start.

I think this weekly separation prepared me a lot for what I am living through now. I didn't suffer too badly from the empty bed syndrome in the early days, as I was used to him being away.

During the week, there are moments when I am able to almost pretend that none of it has happened and that it is just a normal day. My logical brain knows full well that this is simply denial, but it is nice to pretend for a few minutes. And it does make the weekends doubly hard and lonely. I still get that dull, sicky lurch in my stomach on Friday evenings when it hits me yet again that I don't need to get the car out and drive to the station. It doesn't matter if I cook a panful of chicken wings or tomatoey rabbit stew - his favourite Friday night foods - he won't be coming back to enjoy them with me.

No, during the week, life trundles along to a large extent just as it always did. Obviously there is a lot more crying than there used to be, but I now do my work, look after the animals, potter in the garden and meet up with friends locally as before. What is missing, though, what has left the great big gaping hole, is that I don't get my evening phone call.

During the day we would email or IM each other, but it wasn't the same as hearing his voice. The evening call was carved in stone. Even if one of us was going out, there would be a quick hello. Mostly we just told each other all the inconsequential things had happened during the day or I tried to talk him out of buying the latest 'bargain' he'd found on the work intranet. Or we would plan the weekend. Or just say 'I love you'.

This morning my iron caught fire. No actual flames, but lots and lots of acrid black smoke poured from its innards. No one was hurt, but it was very dramatic. And I would have looked forward to telling him about it this evening.

And now I can't.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Ten years on

A little under 10 years ago, our friend Tim died.

He was just 36, fit and healthy and simply dropped dead while out mountain-biking with some friends. He left behind a wife and twin 6 year-olds.

I will never forget how we learned of his death. We had just returned from one of our European road trips. As neither of us had a mobile at that time, we had been incommunicado for the week. We walked cheerfully into R's parents' kitchen, gifts in hand, all smiles and wanting to talk about our holiday. His Mum had a very serious look on her face and just said, "Tim's dead".

I remember vividly that feeling of confusion. It didn't make any sense. There had to be a mistake somewhere.
We had both lost grandparents and older family friends, but people our age didn't just die like that. We were young. We had a whole future ahead of us.
It was wrong. So wrong.

Tim's widow, Ali, was incredible. Less than a year later, she stood in for him as Best Man at R's brother's wedding. In a strange twist of fate, R was also asked in to stand in as the Father of the Bride. It was a very bittersweet day. I remember thinking how brave Ali was as she stood up and gave her speech. Now I know that it has nothing to do with bravery - just a deep-down need to do him proud combined with clenched muscles and feelings, fending off the emotions long enough to get through it. And a whole lot of tears in the privacy of her own room afterwards.

I've just had a letter from Ali. She is planning to mark the 10th anniversary of Tim's death with a small get-together, and is asking for friends' memories of him to include in a book she is planning to make with the children for them to keep.

Somehow this reassures me.
Even though I know that my own memories of Tim are still very much alive, and I think about him often, I have an irrational fear of R being left behind by the world and forgotten. A few years back, Ali found a new love to share her life with and we were all very pleased for her as she is the sort of person who has lots of love to give. But her gesture shows to me that whatever happens, whatever future paths our lives may take, our lost loves always stay with us.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Home again

I guess that is another milestone ticked off. I survived a holiday without him. And for the first time in over a year, I even put on a couple of pounds!

My friend Jane has very severe arthritis, and finds it difficult to spend long periods on her feet, so she and her husband tended to stay at the apartment in the mornings. As I am a bit of a fidget and don't really do sitting around doing nothing, it meant I had a lot of time on my own. This was actually a good thing. I got to do a lot of thinking and wear myself out, pounding the streets and climbing the hills of the little mediaeval town or walking for miles along the river bank.

I had a major wobble on the first day.
Dinan is a town R and I had visited several times. Indeed it was the place we bought our engagement present for Jane and Keith.
On the first morning, I went out to buy breakfast as the other two were still in bed. I was fine until I turned a corner and started walking up into the town. I had such a sense of him walking beside me, it almost took my breath away. I remembered so vividly every shop front, the windows we looked in, where we held hands, the conversation we had.

My feelings of anger at the unfairness of it all were so overwhelming that I did something that I very rarely do - I went into a church and sat down for a while. Normally I get my comfort from nature, from climbing a hill hard and fast so that the ache in my legs matches the ache in my heart or from sitting quietly by a river and watching the fish jump to catch flies on the water's surface.
But that day, the peace inside the ancient building was just what I needed. The beauty of the stained-glass windows and sheer majesty of the high vaulted ceiling served their purpose and put me back into my place in the great scheme of things!

The rest of the week passed without major mishap.
There were many moments of sadness that he wasn't there, but Jane, in particular, is very good at making me articulate my feelings, and I think I was able to work through with her some things that have been holding me down.

The sun shone. We went sightseeing. We drank some very good wine and sat and talked. We ate rather too much of a lot of excellent food.
I didn't quite have oysters every day, but they were so good that I probably could have done. And choucroƻte de la mer was a revelation; with its buttery sauce and choice pieces of fish it surprised even those in the party who were convinced that they didn't like sauerkraut!

If I had been able to bring the dog, I would have been so tempted to stay on for another week.
Just being away from home has allowed me to think through a lot of issues that have been bothering me. I have been able to release my lingering resentment from being let down badly by some friends, and I have rationally drawn up a mental list of commitments I need to let go so that I can concentrate on what is really important.

Moose does actually have a passport so he can travel out of the country, but on this occasion it wasn't possible to take him. Although I knew he was in good hands, I was starting to feel edgy not having him there with me so I had to go back, even though it would have been possible to stay on alone. And picking him up first from the friend who looked after him made going back to the empty house a little more bearable for once.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Nervous and excited

I'm off to Brittany on my holidays this evening!
Some good friends have been nagging me to go away with them all year and I finally gave in and agreed. Now the moment has come around, I am really looking forward to it. We have booked a lovely little apartment in Dinan, a small mediaeval town not far from the sea. It is still warm at this time of year. The seafood and game seasons have started, so this will be a great time to be eating out in France. I am looking forward to simply relaxing and just clearing my mind of a lot of the issues that have been bothering me lately.

It's the first time I've been away for more than a weekend since R died and I am racking my brains trying to think of all the things that were his job to sort out before we went.
But I know that the animal-sitter is booked, I have my passport, credit cards and clean underwear, so anything else is just details.

Now if only the weather forecast didn't predict howling gales at roughly the moment we drive onto the ferry!