A brief few minutes of decent weather before the next wave of wet and windy ‘yuk’ arrives. It’s good to get outside to breathe even if it only for a short while. Having said that. Try telling that to a dog. A dog who has taken one look at the weather and decided to hibernate inside. Can’t blame him really. Cold wet grass or playing with a toy on the sofa. Not really a tough call.
I remember after my partner died that I felt like hibernating. Straight after a death you are constantly forced out to sort out death certificates, funeral arrangements, banks, legal stuff, family, friends and acquaintances (many you have no idea who they are). It’s the last thing you want to do but you just have to. But then after your back from the funeral it starts to change. The requirements to venture out start to diminish. In my case I had to quit my job to become a single parent. Apart from the school run and shopping, no need to go out. And that’s what I did. Started to hibernate. But home wasn’t a warm and safe nest. It felt cold, empty and scary. But hibernate I did.
I was lucky. For some reason one day I went for a run. Suddenly running was ok. I could avoid people and venture out. It helped break the spell of that lifeless house. Mile after mile running and listening to music. It was a start. I was outside more. Starting to breathe again. People would come later. And yes a mad dog would arrive to bring life back to the house. So yes I will grant the mad one a bit of hibernation. He’s earned that.
It was another one of those Yorkshire days. Cold, wet, windy, brooding.
That weather combined with a pandemic, homeschooling and our enforced lockdown is a heady mix. A mix which gets me pondering life. Probably too much pondering some days.
I was sat looking out through the window at that dark sky. Sat alone while Hawklad did his school work in the bedroom. I was suddenly taken back to before 2016. The old small conservatory had finally fallen to bits. We had found the money for a replacement one. I think we planned for years of sitting in there, spending time together. But here’s the thing. We never really did. Life always got in the way. We always seemed to be too busy. If only we had found a way of slowing life down. Creating time at home. Seemingly having too much time on our hands. No excuses to not sit together in that new conservatory. At the time it kind of never really mattered. We had so many years ahead of us to do that.
Well that plan didn’t go well.
Here’s the irony that 2020 presents. Suddenly time has slowed down. Often a feeling of too much time on our hands. A lockdown enforcing time together. No outside distractions this time. A perfect time to sit with my partner and look at that dark sky. Thinking how lucky we are to have that time together. The irony is not lost on me.
That’s what my old Dad would have called a proper apple. Misshapen, blotchy and seriously tart. But with a lot of sugar it will make a grand apple crumble (crisp).
Actually that could be me. Misshapen, blotchy and seriously tart. I do like sugar as well. Actually that was definitely my Dad. Round here a better way of saying that is – he was well weathered. Another phrase is – he definitely had a well lived in face and body. He left this world when I was at university. So our son never got to meet him. In fact he never got to meet his other granddad. Which is sad.
Hawklad has asked about where their ashes are scattered. Unfortunately the answer is rather unclear. With my dad we just don’t know. How bad does that sound. Mum decided against getting the ashes back. They were scattered by the crematorium but we can’t remember where. We are not even sure that they were scattered there. It was one question we never got round to asking mum.
With my partners dad it’s equally hazy. He was scattered on a Swiss mountain top. The people who took them there have left this world now. The only person with a clue is me. The person with a capacity to forget important stuff and remember the useless stuff. I call it – Selective Total Recall. My partner wanted part of her ashes scattered on that mountain as well. One day she briefly described the exact location. I didn’t write it down as why would I need that any time soon…… So I’m a little unsure of the mountain and even less sure of the location on that mountain. Apart from its by a bench with some stones to one side. The ashes are where those stones are. Hardly GPS accuracy. At the moment it’s not really an issue. Travelling to Europe at present is not very likely for our family. But one day it will be.
Today Hawklad mentioned the need to get on with the ashes when he is ok in the world again. The pressure just ramped up a bit. I’ve started studying the names of Swiss mountains. Narrowing the potential choices down. If only I had wrote the instructions down. Still there’s a different way to look at things.
“Dad we might have messed up the scattering of the ashes in Britain by then. The secret is for us to do that before I get to the age of 18. Then I can officially blame you as the legally responsible parent and adult. No pressure on me then….”
Time passes. It keeps on passing. A wander round this small graveyard provides proof of this. Many of the once proud gravestones are now weathered beyond recognition. Time passes.
Five years ago I had just driven to the crematorium to pick up my partners ashes. They joined my mothers ashes on the sideboard. At that stage a real urge to get on with laying my those two precious spirits to the earth. Definite external pressure for this. I remember listening to one so called expert talk about it being unhealthy for society for people to linger on those who had left us. Maybe that’s the hidden message there – it might be ok for the person grieving but it’s uncomfortable for everyone else. Anyway it seemed like the right thing to do. The only thing to do.
Within weeks I had scattered mum on her family grave. I remember it so well and I have already wrote about a bizarre memory from that experience. I was alone in the graveyard. As I started to clear some earth away, to my side I noticed a little squirrel. A squirrel apparently doing the same thing on a neighbouring grave. Was it a case of burying nuts or was it a burial. It made me smile, two souls getting on with important stuff, maybe the same stuff, almost happy to have company there. Mum would have loved that sight.
Now time to get a move on laying my partner to the ground. Partly in England and partly in Switzerland. A bit of a logistical nightmare. I secured the paperwork to allow for the transport of ashes overseas. Ready to begin.
Five years later…..still waiting to begin.
Now I worry. Have I left it too late. Have I missed the window of opportunity to follow my partners wishes. Being a single parent and with son’s Aspergers, European travel is a nightmare – feeling like it gets more problematic every year. No similar excuse for the English sites. But it just didn’t feel right. Should I really put our son through more grief when he was still so young. No right or wrong answer here. We all need to do what’s best for our close ones and ourselves here. Unfortunately just like most things, just like European travel for us, it seems to get more daunting the longer it goes on.
Have I missed the best time to do it?
That feeling is making feel very anxious at present. Will we ever get round to doing what we have to do? Was life really supposed to be this vexing…..
So here I go again. Starting another grief year. This will be the fifth one. Grief is not something that suddenly stops. It changes, it evolves but it doesn’t leave you. It becomes part of you. It’s part of me. It will always be part of me.
I remember back in 2016 thinking Life had made a terrible mistake. The roles should have been reversed. It should have been me that went first and my partner became the single parent. I must admit I had the same thought a few hours ago. Why her and not me. For whatever reason it just happened that way and I’ve had to get on with it. But it doesn’t stop me thinking that especially on the anniversary. These days I realise that I will never know the answer. It just happened that way. The key is make sure I’m the best parent I can be for our son. My partner would have done exactly the same thing. Being that parent will not happen if I am constantly inward looking. So let’s put that question back in its bid for another year. Let’s get on with the fifth year of grief by focusing on the here and now. Yes it’s the fifth grief year but more importantly it’s the fifth year of being a single parent. That’s got to continue to be my focus.
This is a photograph that I always keep coming back to. Especially today. It’s a photo that can take me in two different directions. Sadness or Happiness. Currently it’s in the direction of happiness.
A meal and a drink outside while gazing upon one the worlds most epic mountains, The Eiger. Then a walk from Kleine Scheidegg down to Lauterbrunnen. Snow on the tops but wonderfully warm. Walking down listening to our son talk about Dr Who and monsters. A two hour walk was just not long enough for him, he only scratched the surface of his Time Lord memory banks. Listing to my partner laugh at our sons numerous monster jokes.
Yes a beautiful day. All flooding back thanks to a treasured old photograph.
This is what is best described as a free form post. Just writing as the words pop into my head and then I will post it. No checking or editing.
At virtually this exact time four years ago my life changed. Our life changed. I received that late night phone call. I didn’t need to pick it up, I knew the words that I would here. I was right when I did answer the call. It was the Hospice. My partner had passed away. Even though I knew those words would inevitably come it didn’t lessen the pain. The loss. I called her sisters and her mum. I decided to tell our son in the morning after he woke up. I then just sat. I sat all night. Trying to get my head round life and death. The new situation. My old world was gone. The door had permanently slammed shut on that place. The new one was already starting. But it didn’t feel like that . It was just blackness. No light. No new doors to walk through. Nothing. Such a big part of my life was gone. All those unfulfilled dreams suddenly binned. Nothing. What do I tell an 8 year old boy. How do I raise him up when I am utterly flattened.
Looking back. I handled that chat with our son as well as I possibly could. I bumbled through that next period of my life. Can’t believe how devastated I was but still the world kept turning. I felt like I was still looking for a new door to walk through but I just couldn’t find one. Actually that was wrong. I had already walked through the door, I just hadn’t found the light switch. That took much longer to locate. But it was there all along we just find it when we are ready.
Four years on I am filled with emotions and memories. I still feel that loss. I can still feel that dark chill to my soul which I experienced that night. I feel a deep sadness but I may not mourn today, we shall see. It might be a time for tears but it might also be a time for reliving happy memories. I will definitely remember the wonderful times we had. The ways in which our fallen member of our family left the world she found a better place. But I will also not forget that it is a new day. The new crop of dreams still need planting, nurturing and harvesting. I can definitely today look back as well as forward. Here’s to beautiful memories and new dreams.
The first few days in September are often a little tough for me. My mind has a habit of drifting to a hospice in 2016. It’s only natural. Going back to a time of great pain and heartache. The last days of one life – in more ways than one. I remember thinking that it was the end of a book. The author was about to write the words – THE END. It did seem that way. I might be still here but now the words had stopped. It was just nothingness going forward. I would carry on as I had to be mum and dad for our son. But my storytelling had finished.
But life does go on.
Yes I experienced pain and sorrow.
But eventually more smiles.
The story continues.
Looking back now I realise that my partners book did end. But she was still an actor in Sons book going forward. My story did continue. September 2016 only marked the ending of a chapter. A new one started immediately. My story is still being told. New characters and themes are entering the books pages. Let’s see what the next page has to show me.
Five unexpected things I encountered during bereavement. Could do a huge list but let’s just try to pick out the five main ones.
Just how much paperwork, leg work and phone calls you need to make in the weeks leading up to the funeral. Speaking to the hospice and hospital. Letting friends and families know. Registering the death. Trying to sort out joint bank accounts. Solicitors. Informing government agencies. Cancelling cards, subscriptions, memberships. Returning work assets. Selling a car. Pension authorities. Tax authorities. Changing things like house deeds. Changing insurance cover. Booking a funeral. Arranging the service. Inviting guests…… And on and on. This is all at a time when you are at your lowest ebb.Just how quickly the phone calls and visits dry up. Within weeks your suddenly alone. No more checks to see if you are ok. You’ve stopped but the world has kept turning. That’s when the mental health issues can really kick in.One person down and just how empty the house feels. Deathly quiet. Too many empty spaces. A very empty bed and sofa.Just how many times your mind plays tricks on you. Going shopping and you still buy stuff for the person you have lost. When you make meals you automatically make one for your partner. You drive back home and see your partners car in the drive – the first thought is too often – wow she’s home early today.Just how long the the legal side of the death can drag on. In my case the Will took well over a year to be finally signed off by the tax authorities. One bank account took two years to be finally transferred into my name. The telephone and TV accounts are still in joint names – given up trying.
I guess the message is that it’s going to take you to the depths of despair. It’s also going to be a bureaucratic nightmare. You just need to prepare yourself for the long hall. But there is stuff that helps. An empty, deathly quiet house is easily fixed by a mad puppy. If you know someone who is going through loss then why not phone them or even just send a card, especially if it’s a few months down the line – they probably really need the thought. Accept any help when it’s offered – you don’t need to do this alone. Take your time doing this – you don’t get a medal for completing as soon as possible. You need to spend time focusing on yourself, you really do.
We all have a story to tell. Every persons story is just as precious and important as the next. Our life’s are filled with good and bad times. A rollercoaster of emotions. Filled with memories. Some bring smiles, others bring tears.
2016, it’s August. A week before I had been to my mums funeral. My partner had not been well but currently no reason to be truly worried. A Wednesday afternoon and we drove her to the Hospital for an overnight stay and some routine tests. I can see her walking across the lawn to the car. We talked in the car. Can’t remember what about. Just general stuff I guess. After she is settled on the ward we are asked to leave so the medics could start the tests. Told to come back tomorrow to visit, maybe even to pick her up. It’s now Thursday lunchtime and I’ve returned to the ward. The Doctor pulls me to one side. A sudden collapse in her condition. I sit in stunned silence. Tests results are shocking and grave. The prognosis horrific. 95% chance that she will be dead within a couple of weeks. Zero chance of making Christmas. She is in and out of consciousness. It’s extremely likely that she is not aware anymore. If family need to say goodbyes then you need to do it really quickly. Driving from the hospital like a zombie – how do I explain this to our 8 year son. She never regained consciousness and died in a hospice a few weeks later. We never did have a conversation again. The last time we talked was in the car and I can’t remember what it was about.
That’s one of my stories. It’s not easy to tell even now. I can feel the darkness starting to sweep over me. But there are other stories. Stories which bring light and are easier to tell.
Holding our son for the first time after the birth. Looking into his eyes and thinking I’M A DAD. Then thinking he’s very small – don’t drop him. Then one overriding thought. How can something so small be so pigging LOUD.
Sat on a scary rollercoaster with Hawklad as we slowly pick up speed. Hearing his must reassuring words echo along the suddenly panic filled seats – “Dad I’ve just spotted two missing nuts and one support joint without any bolts.”
Sat watching a 4 year old Hawklad in Switzerland. He runs up to a man trying to do some post run stretches. He then spends 5 minutes excitedly telling this man all about Dr Who and The Tardis. Speaking to the man later to apologise we found out that the man had never heard of Dr Who and didn’t speak a word of English. What a poor confused person he must have been.
So we all have stories. Some bad and some good. That’s life for you. They add together to make up who we are. Actually taking the time to listen will open your eyes to another person. If you are fortunate you might even hear some back stories. Gain an understanding of who that person really is. What makes them tick. Without that understanding it’s not wise to jump to assumptions. Without those back stories you really don’t know anything about that person.