Grieving during quarantine

As much as I like writing (well my version of writing), my favourite part of blogging is getting to read other blogs. They can make you laugh, cry, think and fill you with renewed hope. One of my favourite blogs is by Katie and Evee. It really captured me as like my son, grief often hits when we are far too young. They talk about it so beautifully. It’s grief with hope, loss with the desire to live again.

I’m really excited as today Katie and Evee are here on my blog. They have also rather recklessly allowed me to write on their wonderful blog today as well.

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Grieving During Quarantine

Hello, our names are Katie and Evee. Gary has kindly shared his platform with us today to write a little about our experience with grief during quarantine. 

~

Sometimes, during big events where the whole world is grieving such as the time we find ourselves in today, our own personal grief can feel small, detached and forgotten.

Evee: We lost our Mum 18 months ago, on the 9th of September 2018. We still feel it every day, but recently, the want for our Mum during such chaos, is deafening. For example, when I was at university trying to work out how to get home before lockdown, everyone had parents on the phone to call for comfort, or to pick them up. I felt the loss of my mum then.

Katie: Over the past 18 months I have been learning what grief is and how I can fit it into my everyday life, and our blog has been a great means of doing so. When life shifts, as it tends to do, I try to bend with it. I try to shape my grief to fit the big hole where Mum used to be. Before quarantine, I was working on allocating time to fit grief into my fast-paced life; 05:45 start, the commute, work, the commute home, cooking, exercise, writing for the blog, sleeping, and amidst that, trying to maintain friendships and socialising and trying to find time for me. Each of these parts were like spinning plates.

With this global transition, I now work from home. I think I speak for the whole nation when I say that this is a hard adjustment. We are all confined to the house, yet working towards the constant harsh deadlines. This, alongside the anxiety, fear, and sadness that the whole world is feeling right now has been intense and hard to escape. For me, something has had to give in the last couple of weeks and a couple of my spinning plates have fallen down – grief being one of them. 

Getting to grips with my new quarantine routine, I have not been able to dedicate any time to reflect on my grief or to sit quietly with my thoughts at all. But grief doesn’t stop just because our lives seemingly have, and as Evee mentioned, we both miss our Mum more than ever right now. 

Evee: On the other hand, I have a lot more time than Katie, because all of my exams and most of my assignments have been cancelled. I haven’t been able to do work because it feels like the minute I do, I get an email saying that the module that I’m working on has been abandoned. This week, the only thing I have been able to count on, is my home exercise routine. 

The gym used to be a huge part of my life; it would often be a place where I think about Mum and process everything. I enjoy the feeling of my body being spent, and of stretching my aching muscles out. For some reason, while my body is active, my mind can chug away slowly and think about everything that is happening in the world, and its impact on my small world. 

When the gym became a breeding ground for the pandemic, I began to create workouts at home. I have created a hard work out for myself to do during the day. I find this gives me a sense of normality, and enables me to have that time to myself and for me to think about Mum. Like what she would say and what she would do in this situation. My one hour outside I use mainly for cycling or walking.

I also spend a lot of time cleaning, tidying and making this house cosy and homely for my little family. It is things like this that make me feel like I am helping out, and easing the pressure off of my sister and Uncle.

It is in these moments where I can clear my head and remember happier times, and think of who I have, and what I can do to get through this period. And that also involves a lot of blog writing! 

Writing has always been a big part of my life, but particularly now, I find it indulgent and wonderful to log onto our online community, talk and feel less alone.

Katie: Thankfully, the clocks went forward recently which gifted us with an extra of sunshine in the evening. I use this extra hour of daylight to take my walk and I’m truly grateful for it. Evee pointed me to the direction of a nearby, beautiful church. It has become a wonderful addition to my newroutine. I go there to stop. Sit, think and reflect. It is an hour dedicated to being still and quiet. I close my eyes and reflect upon life and our Mum. I use this time to ground myself during such pandemonium.

~

This is a challenging time for us all. We constantly receive intrusive breaking news notifications on our phones. Our head is clustered full of worries, anxieties, and fear. It feels like at any moment our spinning plates will fall. Dedicate time to yourself. Dedicate time to reflection. Dedicate time to processing. In a little while, you’ll be able to pick these plates back up.

Stay safe, sane and smiling, friend.

Today we leave you with a song from one of our favourite and happiest artists; Newton Faulkner. 

 

My best-laid plans are washed away

No time to make ’em all again

Sometimes life gets in the way

We’ve got to keep on breathing

Look how far we’ve come

Look what we’ve made

Started from nothing, building

Brick by Brick – Newton Faulkner

 

Katie & Evee x

Spring

Spring must have arrived as the Rowan Tree has sprung into life.

My partner loved these plants. She thought every garden should have at least one in a prime location. We had a beautiful one next to the front door. Poignantly it died the winter just before our partner left us. It’s taken a few years to grow a replacement but now she would be pleased again.

These days the replacement is in a large pot in the back garden. Now that’s my running is restricted to endless circuits of our little garden the tree forms a helpful obstacle to run round. On my last epic run I rather sadly counted how many times I passed the little tree. 213 times….. Yes I can count that far.

So according to the Rowan Tree and the daffodils it is Spring. Can someone tell the weather. It’s freezing. Even the bird bath is frozen every morning. This means the path is icy. That explains my latest fashion statement. My son looked at me with one of those Paddington Bear stares, shock his head and sighed.

Dad in most cases the human species has been evolving for millions of years. Clearly there are one or two exceptions to that.”

I had just finished my early morning workout and has decided to feed the birds. On my way to the bird table I slipped on the icy pavement. When I say slipped I mean a full ‘arse over tit’ moment. Most of the bird seed, bread crumbs, surplus rice and water landed on my very large head. It was a fetching look especially when it was merged with a white T-shirt and pink compression leggings.

Don’t you bloody love Spring.

While on the subject of Spring let’s seamlessly transition into our weekly fix of terrible poetry in the form of Chelsea Owens weekly challenge. This week Chelsea has set the following task

  1. The Topic is Springtime -or Autumntime if you’re South. You can haiku, limerick, free verse, acrostic, tanka, cinquain, sonnet
  2. Length is wholly dependent on the type of poem you write. If you go with an epic ballad, please cut things off before page 54.
  3. Rhyming also depends on your creation.
  4. The goal is to make it terrible. Mother Earth must rise from her seasonal slumber to smack you with an olive branch of peace.
  5. Keep the Rating at PG or cleaner.

You have till 8:00 a.m. MST next Friday (April 3) to submit a poem to Chelsea.

It’s Springtime in Yorkshire

The Sun is still on vacation

Still waiting for it to be a scorcher

Oh the pigging frustration

The path is covered in ice

And I’ve just landed on my bum

Now I’m wearing last nights rice

And I feel a right dumb dumb

The washing on the line is frozen rock solid

The gale force wind screams over the barren field

The weeds and broken branches makes it look so squalid

The poor garden birds hide in the bushes seeking any decent shield

So Springtime is here which means dust down the garden chair

Now I’m off inside to find my extra thick thermal underwear

Friday I guess

Some random daffodils blooming next to our front window. These always make me smile as they just seemed to appear one year. I can’t remember planting them. Having said that, this is me…..

My mobile phone rang this morning. I could hear it somewhere really close but I just couldn’t find it before it rang off. A few minutes later I found me phone when I sat down. It was in my back pocket.

This morning it took me one hour to work out that it was Friday.

Sometimes there are no answers.

A few months back I was asked if I had found a magic bullet, a cure for it.

Sometimes there are no answers.

No it wasn’t the W.H.O. approaching me as a world expert on the search for a vaccine for the pesky virus. No don’t worry, I am still the same old dim witted goofball. No it was a parent from my sons last school. She had recently lost someone close and was really low with grief. She was desperate for the pain to go away.

Sometimes there are no answers.

Unfortunately I’ve not found a magic bullet, no cure or no vaccine that works with bereavement. It still hits me. It still hurts me. The days became weeks, weeks became months, months became years. I’m still waiting to gain acquired immunity. The route cause remains and will always remain. But I do believe that I have started to understand myself better. I am also slowly finding things that help with the symptoms. That’s something to cling on to. Sadly the things which help me, may not work for others. There is also no guarantee that what works today, will work tomorrow for me. I guess that’s the case not only for bereavement but for many other areas of life.

So what works for me (sometimes…)

  • Exercise, weights and running
  • Music
  • Movies
  • Nature
  • Walking
  • Climbing (I haven’t been able to climb in 4 years but just reading about it helps)
  • AND above all focusing on making our son happy.

Today was one of those days when virtually everything on the list did not work. All I could do was throw myself into keeping son happy. That distracted me. It got me through the day. It numbed the symptoms but didn’t cure the route cause. Now it’s 2am and those dark soul symptoms are bubbling away again. Probably going to be a long sleepless night. Will watch some rubbish TV and will again ponder over the home finances spreadsheet. Don’t know why – it’s not going to look any better when I’m tired.

It’s a brand new day. A fresh start. The old problems and hurt will still be there. But maybe, just maybe it will be symptom free day and it will be a good one.

Stay safe my friends.

Dreams pesky dreams

If I was a flower I wonder what dreams I would have.

Before my partner died I would have the occasional dream that I could remember, but not that often. My sleep would be disrupted but usually by our son. Plus back then, when there are two of you can take turns on the sleepless shifts.

Then after my partner died sleep became increasingly disrupted. Son has always had an interesting sleep pattern. Whatever we have tried has never managed to change that. Eventually the health professionals just called it – it is how it is for him, it works for him, so just run with it. Basically his mind and body are too active for sleep anything south of midnight. He will usually fall asleep between midnight and 1am. Then he will sleep until 6am until his mind and body kick into active mode again. When he was younger he would constantly wake during that time, so one of us would need to be with him to get him back to sleep. But as he’s got older he more often than not sleeps through. A couple of times a week he will still wake and I get the night visits. Checking I’m still here, wanting an answer to a question or wanting to tell me a fact.

Dad Harold (that’s Harold II) was not the last english Saxon king. William beat Harold on the 14 October 1066 but wasn’t officially crowned until the 25 December. In theory Edgar Atheling (Edgar II) was king. He had the strongest blood claim to the throne. Night Dad.

But as our son’s sleep has stabilised my dream pattern has increasingly disrupted mine. It takes an age for me to get to sleep then all to quickly a vivid dream wakes me and then that’s usually it for the night – no more sleep.

The dreams have also changed. I have had three distinct dream stages. Each stage has its own unique dream type – each night its the same sort of dream.

The reliving fond memories stage. This was the nicest, yet saddest stage. The dreams would relive completely accurately lovely memories. Maybe a holiday trip, a birthday, an early date with my partner, finding out when we we’re going to be a family….

The bizarre memory stage. Then suddenly the dreams changed. They still were based on fond memories but always morphed in some bizarre way. A dream about a lovely family trip to a petting zoo, but in the dream the cute little animals were replaced by dinosaurs – we still petted them. A dream about sledging with son on one of our few proper snow days. But in the dream the white snow had become pink.

The current dream stage. The weird/unsettling dreams. No more dreams based on real life memories. Just unsettling made up dreams. Last night for example my partner (who was pregnant) and I had gone shopping in this made up out of town shopping complex. We had gone into a huge furnishing store. We found some items we needed and I went looking for a shopping trolley. Couldn’t find any trolleys inside, so I looked out in the car park. Still no trolleys. So I walked across to the next store which was a supermarket (ASDA). They had trolleys but they needed a coin to release them. None of my coins would work. I then couldn’t find our car to get more coins. So I ran down a short slip road to the next group of shops. Here the trolleys were all vandalised. I ran down another slip road to the another shop which was a huge DIY store. They had trolleys but they wouldn’t push correctly. It took all my strength to move them a few inches. Finally I found an electronics shop which had trolleys that worked. But now as hard as I tried I just couldn’t find my way back to the first store with my partner who would be getting increasingly annoyed with me. I was now completely lost and in full panic mode. Then I woke up. Now I was completely unsettled and that was it for sleep. Too tired to read or blog. So all I could manage was to watch crappy TV and listen for the clock to tick round until son woke up.

I look back with fondness at those memory dreams. Even those bizarre Dino type memory dreams. Yes they could be sad but they where a wonderful gateway into the past. But these current dreams I really hate. No sweet memories here just my brain finding new ways to unsettle my soul. Sleep is now something I desperately need, yet I struggle to do it. It is also becoming something which brings me nothing but stress. I hate being stuck in this ever decreasing sleepless circle.

Sausage Roll

Castle Howard is only a few minutes drive from our house. The photo is Castle Howard not our house. Sadly we don’t go that often now as it’s so expensive. Which is a shame as it’s truly stunning stately home.

Work came to a premature end at 10am this morning. That’s the deal with zero based contracts. Yes they are flexible and can fit round being a single parent but absolutely no guarantee of work. So a deep blue sky beckoned a first run in ages. The plan was to drive home and just run from the bungalow. But without really thinking I pulled over at the next village when I saw an enticing path sign. I thought ‘well lets see where this takes me’. The answer was stunning run which skirted the edge of the Castle Howard estate. All for free.

My trail shoes don’t have much tread left on them so I was taking a bit of a risk running down a steep muddy bank. I lost….. A sudden grip failure resulted in a crunching fall followed by several rolls down the steep slope. All sides completed covered in mud. After a few minutes the mud began to dry in the sun. I now know what it feels like to be a sausage in a sausage roll…..

After the painful and slightly embarrassing slog the run flattened out. The reward was glorious views of Castle Howard and the Estate. I had the trail to myself which gave me time to think. Probably too much time. It’s at times like this that my mind wanders to what has been lost. At least with running I do have a release valve. Just run quicker. It works but wow I’m knackered when I finish.

It was a wonderful run around a stunning track. My partner would have loved it. She would be definitely walking rather than running. I was sad that she never got to see these views. I will just have to look for the both of us. I really hope that works for her.

The road

The road often seems so long and never ending. Somedays it is, especially when your trying to run along it straight into the teeth of a biting north wind. Absolute purgatory. But then other days the road is short and manageable. Even in my rubbish car it only takes a couple of minutes to drive it. It’s good to remind myself this every so often.

In those dreadful early days of being a widow and a single parent the journey in front of me looked so daunting. So beyond me. A road with seemingly no end. I would shake my head and just think – I can’t do this. Yet I still set off down that road. I didn’t want to but I was faced with no choice. I was a parent to a young kid who has just lost his mum. He’s was also trying to get his head round not being able to read and that new word – Aspergers. I owed it to him to at least try. Nobody else would. It was down to me.

He only gets one childhood and it better be as brilliant as is humanly possible.

So I started down that road. I had no idea where the road led to. I was so confused. As a result I was hoping to find a ready made parenting plan – an easy to navigate road map. As hard as I tried I just couldn’t find a map which I could use. I searched everywhere. So many books and articles were scoured over for that magic road map. But in the end it was a futile search. No one is going to do this for me. No easy shortcuts had been forged by others. It was down to me and I needed to own it.

Fast forward to 2020 and I’m still here. Still a widow. Still a single parent. Still slightly confused. Still travelling that road. Still haven’t come across a map. But there is a difference. That road doesn’t quite feel so daunting. It doesn’t feel quite so long now. That’s progress in my book.

Laughter

Most runs around here end up with one last slog up this winding hill. A number of cycle clubs use it for races. The British Universities use the hill for their national road race championship. The 25% twisting ascent is a real leg sapper.

But on the bright side it’s a rapid, helter skelter of a descent. On one cycle decent I lost control and ended up in the farmers field. Still not as bad as one cyclist you apparently was rescued after being found face first, stuck in the roadside hedge. You could only see his legs sticking out. That would have cracked me up. As Monty Python would sing – Always look on the bright side….

Over the last couple of years I’ve learned the importance of laughter. It really has been a life saver some days. Really dark thoughts have been broken by a random laugh. A few weeks after my partner and my mums funerals I was as low as I have ever been. But a random chance encounter with Python’s Holy Grail movie lifted my spirts. It was bizarrely the scene where Eric Idle was collecting the dead bodies on the cart and John Cleese tries to get rid of a ‘not’ dead old man. It just touched a nerve and I laughed a lot. It just seemed to brake the spell.

Yes laughter breaks the spell. It’s distracts me. In computing terms it seems to reboot my system. The problem is that often when you need that reboot the most. At your lowest ebb. The hardest thing to do is laugh. The mindset is that your not allowed to enjoy a bit of life. Laughing is just not acceptable. Almost as if it makes you a bad person. Really. For me the two of the nest things I’ve learnt about grief

  • It’s really ok to cry AND
  • It’s really ok to laugh as well.

The news is unremittingly grim at present. Nothing like a pandemic to bring out the worst in our leaders, our media and sections of the population. Today the media was full of misinformation and photographs of empty supermarket shelves. Panic buying has started. So with some trepidation I ventured into the supermarket for a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread. What a pleasant surprise to find a well stocked shop. Then one last gift. With a sense of humour the store was running a promotion on Corona Beer. Clearly with shoppers loading up with the stuff that it was selling really well. Certainly better than in some parts of the world. It’s a shame that I’m on the wagon and that I never liked the stuff anyway. But it did get me thinking – maybe the World Health Organisation should continue naming viruses after products. Especially if it leads to heavy discounts. Maybe the next pandemic could be called the Cadbury’s Cream Egg Virus. I look forward to that discount….

Always look on the bright side of life….

Unwanted anniversary

The way forward is sometimes difficult under foot.

Another storm is heading our way. Storm Jorge. The world news is grim and unremittingly depressing. Definitely no solace at school. Son scored 14 out of 15 in his Drama spelling test. The one he got wrong was Unferth. Unferth is a warrior who opposes Beowulf. It’s not a word he’s likely to use much in life. I am so pleased with son. I wouldn’t have got 14 and I’m not dyslexic. Yet the teacher told him to try a bit harder as a few of the kids had got all the spellings correct. Deep sigh.

Today has been tough for me. The above factors don’t help but they are not the main cause of my struggles. No it’s a grief thing again. Son’s birthday is fast approaching. Since she left us this is just one of those times. Her organisational skills would go into overdrive as his birthday approached. She would be so excited. Her love would shine through.

Then the world changed. (That was going to be the original name of my blog site but I messed up the setupBereavedDad was a cockup).

So today I was trying to sort out his birthday and I felt so wrong. She should be here enjoying this time as well. I’m not often bitter but today I was. What is making this birthday so raw is that he is turning into a teenager. My partner has missed so much of his childhood and never got the opportunity to see him grow into a teenager. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

But unfortunately feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to help. It’s not going to bring her back. It’s certainly isn’t going to deliver any presents. It’s not going to yield a happy birthday for our son. It’s not going to make him smile AND his smiles are the only currency I should deal in now. So give myself a proverbial massive kick up the butt. Turn the news off. Play some loud music and fully commit to birthday mode. That’s what my partner would do and by jiminy – that’s what I am going to do.

So yes the way forward is sometimes difficult under foot but you still need to follow it.

Hanging on

After all the bad weather. The floods. The driving rain. The damaging winds. After three storms. Conditions which have proved too much for the early daffodils. The snowdrops are still hanging on. They are truly wonderful little delicate flowers.

Hanging on applies to the humans as well.

Son’s anxiety levels are definitely spiking now. He is returning to the outside world after 10 days of safety within the confines of his house and garden. Days of not needing to build rickety bridges between his world and the world of others. It’s been wonderful to see a kid enjoying being a kid again. Seemingly without a care in the world. But soon school will open the gates to its hostile environment again. As hard as I try the smiles are harder won and often just a little too forced now. Today he is hanging on.

His Dad is just hanging on as well. Son’s anxieties are sending shock waves through my system. A system which is operating on too little sleep. A system which is facing its very own localised storm. A Grief Storm. These storms don’t last as long as they once did. But they still can have an intensity which still takes my breath away. Sucking the life force out of me. They often sweep in without warning. Turning seemingly light into dark. It takes me back to my climbing days. Happily climbing looking into a dry sunny cliff face, blissfully unaware of the raging blizzard which is screaming towards my back. Within seconds I am are grimly hanging onto the rocks trying not to be swept into the oblivion beneath me.

I strongly suspect this Grief Storm was germinated in my fears as a single parent and the growing prospect of homeschooling.

  • Is it the right decision?
  • Am I taking on too much?
  • What happens if my work levels and our income are adversely effected by factors outside my control. My role is heavily dependent on community and sporting based events. These are likely to be curtailed if a certain virus takes hold in the UK. That would make our financial position even more precarious.
  • Are we giving up on school too soon?
  • How will I find the time to do those things which currently help get me through the day. Homeschooling is likely to make activities like running a bit of a rarity.
  • And on and on

Wrestling with these factors on my own. Thoughts then increasingly turn to the gaping hole left by my partner. Suddenly it’s a full on a Grief Storm. So I end up just hanging on. But at least I am still hanging on and that’s a start.

Graveyard visit

This is the local church and graveyard. The current church structure dates back to the 12th century but it’s likely that an early Saxon structure stood here before that. Inside there are parts of the church still in remarkably good condition from the 12th and 13th century.

The weather worn graveyard has a definite ancient feel to it. So many long forgotten graves. These places have a habit of making you think about your own life.

We still have my partners ashes in the house. We just haven’t found the right time to start the process. We did spilt them. Some for England and some for Switzerland. We’ve thought about many sites. We sort of have a draft plan in place. It struck me today that we have never once considered this graveyard. Really don’t know why.

The other thing that struck me was that I hadn’t been to my mums grave in nearly two years. It’s mums old family grave about 60 miles from here. What makes it worse is that I scattered the ashes by myself. I’m the only one who has been there since then. Really must address that this year. Sadly I think I said the exact same thing last year. Life always seems to get in the way. So many demands. But those demands take over. My Dad was cremated in 1987. His ashes were scattered. I can’t even remember exactly where. I’ve never went to that place. Never been in 32 years. So now I need to ask my brother and sisters. Just hope one of them can remember.

So many things to do. Even so, surely I should be able to find the time to pay one visit. To remember those who shaped and moulded our live’s. I came across a quote from David Eagleman which sets this whole thing in context;

“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”

For those of us who are not the likes of Shakespeare then this process is inevitable and extremely sobering. But that’s life. We need to make the best of it. So for the last three years I have spent a little time each and every day remembering. Last night it was 15 minutes. Remembering names which I’m not yet ready to send into the third stage. So each night names are called out and good memories recalled. I guess it’s my version of a graveyard visit.