Monday, 15 February 2010

A belated Valentine

I have had a lovely day today.
My Mum, my big sister and myself all have birthdays within a couple of weeks of one another, and it has become a tradition for little sis to take us all out for lunch. Which she duly did today, bringing along my nearly 3 year-old no. 3 niece, who is such a natural comedienne that there was never a dull moment!

We met in Ironbridge, a sweet little town with many interesting shops and good places to eat. It's also a place with happy memories for me. R and I held a big family meal there for our 20th anniversary, and we also celebrated no. 1 niece's 18th birthday in the same restaurant.

Sitting in the restaurant over lunch, I was watching my Mum and looking at the story of her life etched on her face.
She turned 78 this year, and has coped with so much pain throughout her life, starting with when she was 5 and her mother died from TB. She and her brother were sent to live with her grandmother and aunts as their father was unable to cope. They both stayed there throughout the war and, when her dad came back from the Navy and married again, he took her brother to live with him, but she had to stay with her grandmother. Whose decision this was is unclear, but the feeling of rejection that must have created in a young teenager must have been enormous.

But she got on with her life, trained as a nurse, married my father and went on to have 4 children and a happy home.
Then it happened - the thing that every parent fears most; my brother, David, was killed while riding his bike home from school. He was just 13 years old, kind, intelligent, fun to be with and a fantastic musician. A life full of love and promise ended in a moment.

How my parents survived that I have no idea. But they did, helped partly by moving to the other end of the country to Somerset, where I roamed the countryside in semi-feral fashion for several years until I discovered boys!

Sadly two years later our family suffered another terrible tragedy when my two cousins were hit by a truck as they were crossing the road with their mother. Their father - Mum's brother - was unable to handle his sadness and literally disappeared from view for about 20 years.

Finally my Dad passed away on 18 February 2003 after a long battle with leukaemia.
It is a horrible disease, the effects of which ebb and flow with the passage of time. It goes into remission for periods and the drugs and blood transfusions help, but it always returns, visiting its damage on a different part of the body. During the last few years of Dad's illness, Mum nearly faded away with worry, and I never cease to wonder how she managed to keep on going.

Yet through all those years of sadness and pain, she has always been there for me and my sisters. Always supporting us in what we do. Always there with a shoulder to cry on, words of kindness or encouragement or a home-cooked meal.
She still keeps a beautiful home, looks after herself and dresses well, although her memory is starting to fail her a little, and confusion is a regular visitor. But she bears it stoically, and enjoys watching the birds that flock to the food tables in her garden, particularly in this bad weather.

If I have been able to be strong in my own journey of grief, I know full well where I derive much of that strength.

Love you, Mum. xxx

(Pictures taken from Wikimedia Commons, as they are so much better than the ones I took today!)

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Would it be admitting defeat...

... to buy one of these?

The case for the defence:

I really loathe supermarkets.
Even now I find them scary places - they are just too big, designed for people shopping for a crowd, full of couples and families and their trolleys piled high with food.

And they still make me cry.
R loved them. He adored bargain-hunting, 2-for-1 offers and general excess. They were a Friday night thing for us. If he was travelling by train, I would pick him up at Shrewsbury Station and we would head straight for Sainsbury's, buy some beer and pizza and get home to start the weekend.

Now the sight of crowds of happy, cross, frustrated, arguing, busy, impatient humanity, all sharing their lives with someone else just turns the knife another time. They seem to emphasise how alone I am.
I go to a supermarket if it cannot be avoided, and for the most part it can.

So I shop in my nearest town.
It has proper shops - a good butcher, fishmonger, reasonable baker and greengrocer, a lovely market, ironmonger, newsagent, deli and much more. Or I visit my local farm shop. There the shop assistants are always ready for a chat. I see people I know, and feel closer to the world.

But I don't go shopping very often. If I lived closer to town I could pop in every couple of days on my bike, fill my rucksack and nip home again. As it is, though, I tend to go once a fortnight or even less, which means lots of bags of shopping when I do get there. And without my sherpa to carry it all for me, this means several trips back and forth to the car or aching shoulders.

So the obvious answer is to get one of those. Or these. But definitely not one of these.
But I'm not sure I'm ready to feel like Miss Marple quite yet.
What do you think?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

What if?

R's uncle Les was a troubled man.

He had signed up for the army right at the start of the 2nd World War. He was injured at Dunkirk and captured a little later, and then spent the rest of the War in a PoW camp. After his camp was liberated, he spent months and followed a very circuitous route trying to get back to Britain.

As a result, he didn't make it back home until 1946, by which time the son he had left behind was a young teenager who had essentially grown up without a father. The family never really gelled, and Les's relationship with his son was a difficult one throughout his life.

In my memories, Les was a friendly, yet slightly reserved man, who was always kind and courteous to me. We got along fine, but it was easy to see that his relationship with his adult son was very strained, and they saw very little of one another in the later years beyond a short 'duty' visit every six months or so.

I have no idea what their family situation had been like before the War, but the 6-year separation combined with the very different courses their lives had run made it impossible to simply resume where they had left off and they were unable to ever make up the lost ground. To such an extent that, when he died, it was R's Dad who arranged Les's funeral - not his son.
It was so sad to see.

Lately I have been musing about how it would be if the thing I have hoped and prayed and begged and yearned for were to actually occur and R were to come back. If he were to just walk in the front door one Friday evening as he always did.

After the initial joy and euphoria had worn off, would we be able to take up our life together again where we had left off, as though he had simply been away on business for a while? Or would the forced separation have taken its toll on our relationship?

I have changed. I know I have, even though it has only been 18 months.
I am smaller, fitter and tougher for a start. Although I wasn't exactly fat before, I was on the verge of contentedly tipping into middle-aged spread. The food I now put on the table has changed a lot from the hearty meals we used to eat and I am very conscious of the need to stay healthy.

Naturally the intensity of emotion I have experienced has changed me. Tears come so easily now, and I have more empathy for other people who are feeling pain. Clawing my way up from the pit of despair has made me stronger. I have a different understanding of what is and what isn't important.

Of necessity I have become more independent and am learning to make my own decisions. I feel I am slowly becoming more confident in dealing with people and in social situations. I have burned most of his useful wood!

And R? How would he be? Where would his journey have taken him? Would he be the same carefree soul he was when he left? Surely he could not be unmarked by what happened to him.

How would we knit these two lives together again. Could we do it? Or would the divergent paths our lives had taken be too far apart to join once more?

Monday, 8 February 2010

A simple equation

(R's Useful Wood collection, of which this is but a small selection.)

+ Y
(And I know it isn't in the ideal place, but I can't get to the work bench until I have dealt with the wood problem).


Aaaah. That's better.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Spring cleaning

It is a little early, I know, but there is something about the low late-Winter sun shining through the windows that triggers a cleaning frenzy in me.

I have always been very conscious of not wanting to turn the house into a shrine to R. There is a lady in our village who hasn't changed a thing in her husband's office since he died 20 years ago. While I acknowledge that she may gain comfort from this, I think it would ultimately have the opposite effect on me - keeping me stuck at an early stage of my grief and not allowing me to move forward. I want my house to be a home, not a museum.

In some respects I was 'lucky' in that I spent 3 nights at the hospital with R, while his family stayed at our house. This meant that they had to change the sheets on our bed while I wasn't there. At the time this didn't matter as we were all expecting him to come home again, so when I spent my first night at home alone, it was in a bed with freshly-laundered sheets. Would it have been a comfort to have had the scent of him there with me as I slept? Possibly. I don't know, but I survived without it. And at least I didn't have the dilemma of when to wash them!

As I was cleaning the bedroom yesterday morning, I suddenly had the urge to move the furniture around.
The room had essentially frozen in the configuration it was in on the day R died: the furniture was in exactly the same position, the same pictures on the walls, ornaments on the dressing table, ...

So I changed it.

Different duvet cover, swapped the pictures for some others that hadn't yet found a home, removed a chair, moved some other bits and pieces and bought myself some flowers.
It was nothing dramatic - it's a bit girlier than before, that's all - but there was something very symbolic about changing the way the room looked.

And the last thing I did before leaving the room was to take a deep breath and remove R's dressing gown from the hook where it has remained for the last 18 months.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


I'm not sure if wallowing is exactly the right word for it. But certainly feeling uncharacteristically sorry for myself.

I went into the Christmas period in a very positive frame of mind.
My family were coming to me for the festivities, I had managed to buy gifts for everyone, had organised everything like a military campaign and was very much looking forward to it. And it was a happy time. Even without R, there were fun, games and laughter, and it was a joy to have everyone - particularly the children - around me for a couple of days.

Then they went home. And the snow came back with a vengeance.
The rest of the holidays were mostly spent confined to barracks. Friends who were planning to visit couldn't make it because of the weather, and a trip I had planned also had to be cancelled. Had R been here, it would have been wonderful to have been snowed in together with no work to do, and no means of getting to it in any case – there is always a freezer full of food, a stacked woodpile and a full wine rack - we could have lasted for weeks!
Instead it was a frustrating and not a little lonely time.

I once read on another widow's blog that the 2nd and 3rd years were the hardest. At the time I was still bound up in all my raw-edged pain and shock, and couldn't believe how that could be possible. There was no way it could get any harder.
But I am now starting to understand what she meant.

The only way I can find to explain it is that I have spent the last 18 months grieving entirely for R.

Now it's my turn.

I can finally allow myself to really mourn my lost future.
I can let my guard down long enough to admit how bloody difficult this all is. Not just the fact that I have lost the person I loved most in the world, but also that the day-to-day reality is hard. That shovelling snow on my own makes quite a good workout for a couple of days, but the novelty has very much worn off after a couple of weeks. That it really is sodding unfair when the melting snow brings down all the guttering from the back of the house, sending it crashing through the porch roof. That I’m allowed to cry with frustration when I can’t get the 4x4 started – and the only reason I had kept it was to see me through the snow season. That the day-to-day reality of keeping animals is so relentless when there is only one person to do it – and that person has to work full-time to keep the whole house of cards upright. That there is little joy in planning the next phase of the house renovations on my own. That the apparently cheerful, outwardly-coping person is so tired of feeling sad and lonely on the inside.

That was my mood through most of January.

It didn't help that I had a long and difficult assignment to do for most of the month that prevented me getting outside to do the chores that needed doing out there.

Self-pity isn't pretty, so I kept that to myself.

Happily I seem to have found a path out of the Slough of Despond for now. I have made some decisions, started planning things again, and once more appear to have the energy to deal with problems as they arise.
February would appear to be my month for resolutions.
All that is for another post, though.