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.
Over the last few days nature has been providing its very own washing service.
Many people are doing more and more washing over the last six months. Especially hand washing. That’s certainly the case here in our little corner of the world. Since about the age of 6 son has had anxieties relating to touching unclean objects. This would result in fairly frequent hand washing exercises. Thankfully only a few seconds of soap and water was sufficient to calm the fears.
That all changed in 2016 when his mum died at a relatively young age. Suddenly the world was filled with uncertainty and unseen dangers. His hand washing rapidly spiralled out of control. It became more frequent and went on for up to a minute at a time. Thankfully he started working with a wonderful nurse counsellor who over a couple of years brought his hand washing back under control. He was taught to wash like a nurse and get it done in under 20 seconds.
Then a pandemic hit. All the reassurances, all the hard earned confidence was blown out of the water. His fears re-emerged worse than ever. Life is now an ‘avoid touching anything and hand washing’ fest. He will wash his hands several times an hour. When he starts washing, he will wash for anywhere up to 5 minutes. All without trying to touch the tap and only using elbows (usually my elbow).
Any delivery or letter has to be taken into the garage for several days of quarantine before it is opened. After I have touched the item then I need to change my clothes completely and be seen to wash my hands. If I venture out then almost full decontamination procedures have to be followed.
Welcome to 2020.
This time it feels different. More engrained. The health professionals agree. All we can do is try to manage the situation until he sees that the pandemic is under control. A vaccine works and he has had it. But even then there are no guarantees. His fears and anxieties may never truly fade. Maybe they will but only until the next killer bug emerges. The future is uncertain. It is uncertain for many.
Definitely it’s a time of change. The season of change. Yesterday was T-shirt and shorts. Today is wet, windy and chilly. 50F probably means the T-shirt season has gone and it’s time for woolly jumpers. Ice Cream replaced with Hot Chocolate.
It’s that time of year.
Four years ago I would have been sat at home looking at the ‘Sincere Condolences’ cards on the mantelpiece. It was a couple of days after my partners funeral. Life was looking bleak. But as the years pass this time of year has increasingly felt like a time of personal change. The end of a period which marked the passing of my partner and mum. A time of sadness moving to thoughts of preparing for winter and all that entails. Thoughts of loss replaced by thoughts of short days and long nights. This year is complicated with our ongoing lockdown which is likely to stretch through the entire cold months. So yes this period of change feels different . Definite change but what? In previous years the next few months brought challenges but also things to look forward to. Concerts, Football Matches, Firework displays, Halloween parties, family meet-ups and meals, Christmas Markets, crisp winter walks and runs. This year these are all none starters. Could that tip the balance of the change. Only time will tell but the change is not yet set in stone. It can still be a positive period but it will need much work.
I’ve just started my fifth year on my grief journey. A journey I would must definitely would rather had not started but now I’m on it, well I might as well make the best of it. And that’s what I am trying to do. For several years it was a nightmare. Just awful. But over time things have slowly moved on. Now it’s definitely good weeks and bad days.
I still get so many reminders of the process I am going through. Many of those are repeated experiences but every so often I still find new reminders.
I was checking the garden for things I could harvest for tonight’s meal and I came across these small tomatoes. Then a thought struck me. There was a time when this was not something I would do. Yes I would grow the tomato plants but that was it. My partner loved tomatoes. She would go out every day I see what could be picked and eaten right there and then. Those days have gone and now the ripe fruit sits and waits for me. That thought made me sad. But life has to go on. Hawklad would like a few fresh tomatoes on his plate. He currently doesn’t feel comfortable touching items outside so it’s down to me. Life goes on. Pick some tomatoes, think of my partner then it’s time to get on with living. Time to focus on the here and now. Find happiness in the world around me. It is most definitely there.
One of the advantages of exercising first thing in the morning is once I’ve finished I get a chance to enjoy the view. It always amazes me how damp our ground can get when we have had no rain for days.
Clearly it’s very easy to feel damp. The weather can cause such sudden changes. It like life and the soul.
I was putting together a post for tomorrow. A Swiss Sunday post. Looking through some photos. Then I came across one. Looks like one of those family photos. I’ve cropped this one down severely. The photo is my partner sitting next to our son on a bench.
How had I missed this photo for so many years. It’s from 2015 and our last trip to Switzerland. The last day of the trip. My partner was not very well and on a lot of medication. We didn’t know how ill she was. The doctors didn’t. Exactly one year later she was in a hospice and she was gone a few days later.
Finding this photo shook me in two ways.
Firstly this might be our very last family photo. The last photo of Hawklad with his mum. Don’t think there was another photo with my partner in. I had never thought about that . Never thought about the last photo. Well this is probably it.
Then there is one more thing about this photo. A completely forgotten memory. It’s what my partner is pointing at. I think she knew what was on the horizon. That afternoon we randomly seemed to get onto the subject of where she would like her ashes scattered. She is pointing at one of the places . A rocky outcrop overlooking a beautiful lake. It wasn’t a serious conversation. Our son helpfully suggesting some interesting places to consider. I didn’t take it seriously. We surely had many years to go. Finding this photo has really shaken me. As I say I had forgotten about the photo. I didn’t know she was actually pointing at where she wanted her ashes scattering.
I really don’t know what to say.
One thing is that it’s a beautiful location.
I wasn’t sure about posting this at all. But what did convince me was one thought. You just don’t know what is around the corner. Don’t assume you have time. If you have dreams to live, don’t wait, try to do them now.
We all have so many stories to tell. Wonderful stories. Stories that tell us about life. Characters. Events. Even reveal things about ourselves.
It’s sad when those stories are lost. When the are lost they are lost forever.
I’ve lost so many people in my life. Friends, grandparents , parents, even my partner. All had stories to tell. One of my biggest regrets is that the importance of stories didn’t sink in until far too late. Not until they had left this world. So many stories went with them. All I can do now is just shake my head at the thought of how little I really know about those loved ones. Can I even remember how their voices sounded!
Now I look back and wonder what could have been. If only I had found more time to listen. To ask more questions. To write some words down. Maybe even record them. How treasured would it be to listen to some of those lost voices again, to listen to them tell their stories. Even just to hear those voice again talking about routine stuff. Just before my partner went into the hospital for the final time she left me a voice mail. Seemingly nothing important, can’t even remember what it was about. Why didn’t I save that. Why didn’t I save that last voicemail from my mum asking for some items from the local shop.
These are real regrets. Please don’t make the same mistakes I made. Some mistakes can’t be fixed.
Life becomes really hard when you stop dreaming. When you stop imagining a wonderful holiday, the perfect job, achieving a goal, publishing that book, being with someone, seeing that better life. Whatever the Dream is, they are precious but they are so easily switched off. I’ve been there. It’s a not a good place to be. After I lost my partner, my dreams did switch off. All I saw was a void. Nothing to look forward to. No reason to hope. Nothing was going to change.
I was lucky in that I did have something to drive me on. I still had to be a parent. Actually a double parent now. In effect my life continued because our son needed me. I lived life through somebody else’s eyes. Unfortunately far too many with dreams switched off don’t have such luck. That’s a dark, scary and lonely place to be.
But dreams are always there. It still can be a wonderful life. It’s all about finding a way of switching them back on again. It took me a long time but now they are back. I can see some wonderful dreams again. Now I have to nurture them. Cherish them. Those dream muscles need to be worked out each day. Make them stronger. Make those dreams more real. Fine tune them for 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.
Grief definitely comes in waves to me. Sometimes the waves are gentle, other times they are storm filled beasts. The waves can crash over me, leaving me feeling as if I am drowning. Other times gentle waves bring solace and comfort.
So yes grief can bring sadness and tears. It can also bring comforting memories and reassuring flashbacks.
Plus as time has passed I have started to understand that even the really bad grief storms will eventually pass. The crashing waves will ebb.
Which waves will it be this week?
30th August sees the first Grief Cafe.
An online virtual meet-up led by The Grief Reality and YogaofLife. Details can be found here.
Sunsets just happen. Nothing we can do to influence them. Maybe move to a better position to saviour them.
Loss can come from a range of sources. External factors. From within. The loss of someone special. The loss of something so vital to us. So many potential causes. And so many different roads to travel. Each grief journey is unique.
I’m on my own unique road which I must travel. I’ve come to realise three vital things about my own journey
It is possible for me to LIVE AGAIN,
It’s just as ok to LAUGH AND LOVE as it is to WEEP AND BE SAD,
I’m not alone on this journey.
And one more inevitable fact. Grief is like the tides and the passing of the day. I can’t fight them, I can’t stop them. When they happen I’ve just got to let them wash over me. Experience them. Knowing that they will eventually ebb away.