Alpine sunset

This photo was taken on the last night my partner had in her beloved Switzerland. During a stunning sunset. Watching the moon rise over the Alps was just the most wonderful experience.

Little did we know that she would be gone 12 months later.

This is a photograph I can look at and still smile. Other photos bring tears but not this one. Don’t know why. In fact the more I think about it this was probably the last Swiss Photograph. It really should bring tears. Strange.

That night we racked our brains trying to work out ways of emigrating here to retire. Drawing up plans for spending all of our long life’s together. So many plans. In reality just pipe dreams with no chance of coming to fruition. The one thing we never factored in was an early death. You never do probably.

A few days ago I walked behind an elderly couple who had been shopping. They walked slowly hand in hand. Behind them a broken man walked sobbing his eyes out. In our pipe dreams that was us in thirty years.

I can’t tell how much that hurts.

The weather

I bumped into a parent from our son’s last school this morning. A conversation started about the weather (forgive us it’s a British thing), Brexit (forgive us it’s a British madness) and son’s old school. Nothing remarkable. Then the dreaded question from the parent.

“It’s been a couple of years now. You must be over the worst now. Now the clouds are parting do you think it’s time to move on. Find someone else. Your still relatively young…”

Couldn’t believe it. What a thing to say. Relatively young. Cheeky bugger I am still only 24!!!!! I think it was 1875 when I was 24….

That conversation reminded me why staying in the house is often so appealing and cheaper – ended up sponsoring his son.ł

A year ago the main part of that question would have thrown me completely. I suspect I would have gone to Jelly. Now it just yields a deep sigh.

Every persons grief is different (forgive me I keep saying this a lot). With me the clouds do part some days but they often quickly move back in, blocking out the view.Like the weather I get fine days, average days and crappy days. The comment about you must be over the worst because it’s been a couple of years is clearly an unfounded assumption as every persons grief is different (forgive me I’ve said it again). Find Someone Else ….. makes it sound like I’m house hunting.

The photo is taken near Interlaken in Switzerland (forgive me it’s another favourite country plug – still waiting for my chocolate from the Swiss Tourist Board……). It’s quite a good representation of my grief journey. Yes the clouds keep sweeping in often covering the mountain peak. But somedays the mountain is cloudless. Same mountain vastly different mood. So unpredictable. That’s the weather for you (The Brits and the weather AGAIN ).

Sneaky Grief

Grief sneaks up on you. It often doesn’t attack head on – when you can brace yourself for impact. The big hits are the attacks from behind – the ones you don’t see coming. That song on the radio, an unexpected find, a hidden photograph, a surprise film scene.

In the U.K. Mothers Day is fast approaching. It’s not an easy day to get through but it’s no surprise. You have weeks to prepare. It won’t be fun but I guess it won’t be a complete meltdown. I suspect I will blog further on this again.

Taking the dog for a walk in the local Arboretum. It’s a lovely relaxing place. I was using the walk to get my head round a work problem. The mad dog was happy – a dog and an Arboretum full of thousands of trees …. Pup Heaven.

So I was in autopilot. Just following Captain Chaos from tree to tree. Starting to form a viable fix to the work problem. Then I stopped dead in my tracks. A sudden realisation of location. A sudden sinking heart. Suddenly hit by a sneaky grief attack.

In autopilot mode I had drifted into one particularly beautiful area. During autumn a place glowing with silver leaves. A place my partner would repeatedly visit. I can see her face smiling at the view. A place where she wants part of her ashes scattered. A flood of tears and complete despair. I feel very old and so very alone.

But thankfully for my sanity I have designated role. Our Son needs me. He deserves the best childhood possible. So I let the dog pull me away from the area to a particularly exciting unmarked giant Tree.

Put away the tissue. Breathe. Refocus. That wave of grief has passed but I know that the tide will return.

Blue Croc

Captain Chaos with his beloved blue crocodile. That poor croc needs years of therapy.

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When a parent dies it is so tough it is difficult to explain the feeling. That’s a so called adult speaking. Imagine what it’s like for a young kid.

I lost my dad when I was 21. He had been ill for years. I got the feeling during the last period of his life that he was trying to keep going just to see me graduate. Sadly he missed out by a few months. It was a numbing experience but the pain was mitigated a bit as I had been expecting it to happen for ages. I was sort of prepared. My mum died a couple of years back. It was a complete shock. But a five years earlier she had suffered a massive stroke. Doctors told us to prepare for the worst. Yet in a month she was back in her house – still able to live independently. In some respects it felt like the years after the stroke were a real bonus. She got to spend time with her grandson.

But for our son we have no mitigating factors. He had just been to his beloved grannies funeral and a week later his mum goes into hospital for some routine tests. His mum deteriorated rapidly and completely unexpectedly. He was visiting his mum in the hospice two weeks later. For someone so young that’s devastating.

We still get tears but now he can talk about his mum. He can laugh at the good memories. But the anxieties caused by that period of death are still impacting his daily life. He is so worried about becoming ill and also about losing others close to him. Today is common. We have had anxiety about catching illnesses. Worries about dying. On top of that every time I sneeze or cough he runs to make sure I’m ok. We try to find ways to ease the anxieties but it is still so tough for him…..

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Son comes back from school to be greeted by Captain Chaos and a well chewed croc. That’s one thing that works.

Ashes

This is another photo from Whitby. For some reason the WP app for the IPad refused to accept it yesterday. Maybe it’s my not new iPad but the app is becoming almost unusable. Anyway today the photo seems to work and it will get its moment.

My partners ashes are still in the house. We have a sort of make shift shrine in a room overlooking the garden. Now she has been joined by 3 energetic gerbils. She would like that. At some stage we will start to scatter the ashes but not yet. It just hasn’t felt like the right time (for both of us). My mums ashes have been scattered in a cemetery (with the help of a squirrel – see earlier post…)

I asked our Son about if he was ready to start the process.

“Not yet Dad. Dad do ashes go off”

Don’t think so. They urn doesn’t have a use by date on (don’t think badly of me, but I did check). But an urgent google check confirmed no safety time pressures. But it did reveal some additional factors to consider.

  • The Vatican has issued guidance that Catholic remains should be buried in cemeteries rather than scattered or kept at home. However this clearly doesn’t apply to Quakers.
  • Ashes containing bones don’t decompose so they shouldn’t be scattered around plants.
  • UK Law is fairly easy going when it comes to scattering ashes. Nothing specifically exists to prevent scattering. You only need to secure the landowners permission.
  • In Germany cremated MUST be buried in a cemetery. Switzerland are quite relaxed as long as it’s not for profit. France does open up a few scattering options.
  • In the U.K. it is legal to scatter ashes in water or the sea. The only restriction being that you need to get the permission of the water stretches owner. In the US you need to scatter ashes at least 3 nautical miles out (and inform the EPA)
  • Currently you can take ashes out of the U.K.. The Tunnel and Eurostar are the most relaxed. However Brexit may change all this.
  • In the U.K. it is ok to bury a pet in your garden if you own the property, it has domestic use and (if I’m reading the legal stuff correctly) the pets have not been declared as Hazardous Waste.

So for the for the time being I suspect my partner won’t be going too far. So I can give her the daily updates about our son. As my partner was so very organised I strongly suspect that if roles had been reversed then I would have been out of the door within months not years.

I hope this all doesn’t sound a bit too matter of fact or flippant. This post could so easily have been extremely dark. I vividly remember driving my partners ashes back from the crematorium. It’s burnt into my sole. I was fine until I got back into the car. I put the urn on the front seat and quietly said “time to go home my love”. Suddenly the Dam broke. I completed collapsed into a deluge of tears and despair. Didn’t stop for hours. My lowest ever point.

Deep down I am worried. I am not sure the brittle foundations that my new self is built on are strong enough to cope with another one of those final car journeys to scatter the ashes.

Sun sets.

We took the dog for an evening constitutional. This was three nights ago. Lovely sunshine then as the sun sets – suddenly the light was transformed. Not day and yet not night. The colours just so dramatic against the advancing black. Then just a few moments later – all gone. Just blackness. But no surprises, we know exactly when the sun was going to set.

Fast forward 3 nights.

That evening scene is etched in my brain. It’s such a metaphor for life, well my life. Happily walking along the path of life – so much light. Then suddenly a dramatic transition and everything changes. Within such a brief period of time the light is replaced with darkness. The big difference is that in life we just don’t know when this is going to happen.

I wish I had understood this a few years ago. We had plenty of time. We had years. So much time to have a second child, visit New Zealand, take our son to Lapland, spend every available hour together……. So wrong, so very wrong. So many unfinished dreams.

Please don’t make the same mistake. Seize the day before the sun sets…..

Cragfast

Somedays you wake and the world is full of hope. Yes it’s a challenge but you stride purposely towards the light.

Whether it’s the alignment of the stars, or the moon, or the lack of sleep or the weather or the cards are stacked against you or the demons have woken ….. but for whatever reason somedays the world appears different. You are alone and operating without a safety net. It’s is dark, cold and scary. Often I liken the feeling to a Tolkien like scene. You are stood on the ramparts of Helms Deep. It is cold and the rain pours. You are besieged by an evil army of Orcs. But this time you are stood alone and Gandalf isn’t riding over the hill top to save you that day. You feel like hope has deserted you. A battle you didn’t ask for and one you cannot win this day.

In climbing the dreaded word is cragfast. Basically you are stuck. You can’t go up, down or sideways. Less polite terms also exist for this ……

My mind drifts to The Eiger. Back to 1936. Four young climbers attempt to be the first to scale the infamous North Face.

Andreas Hinterstoisser, Edi Ranier, Willy Angerer and Toni Kurz.

On the ill fated ascent Hinterstoisser opened up the mountain with an astonishing traverse now named after him. Tragically they decided to remove the ropes they had fixed in that section. A huge storm set in so they tried to retreat. They discovered that the Hinterstoisser traverse could only be completed in reverse with the aid of fixed ropes. They were suddenly out of options. A suicidal decent was attempted. Over the next few hours three climbers died. Rescuers got close to the remaining climber Toni Kurz. But they did not have enough rope to reach him so they had to retreat leaving the young climber stranded. They left to the echos of a climber pleading not to be left alone. The next morning a second rescue attempt was launched but they found the young climber close to death. He quietly said “Ich Kann nicht mehr” – I cannot go on. He died feet from rescue.

The German 2008 movie of this tragedy “North Face” is one of the bleakest movies you will ever see. I have stood at the bottom of the North Face. Your mind can’t help thinking of those brave young climbers. Too many climbers have been lost here. It’s a truly cathartic experience.

What is the point of this post. I am not sure. Maybe it’s just about saying that life can be bleak and dark. You will come across times when you become stuck – cragfast. You find times when you are on the ramparts alone. You hope that when that happens people will come to save you. But rescues sometimes fail – even heroes stumble. These are the times you have to stand alone. Those are grim times. Times we must endure. You hope to just make it through the night. The morning may bring new light or a hero. Or you may have to struggle on for another day alone. It’s a sobering thought.

Searching in the dark

Just after my partner died I remember reading a book which suggested that grief was like a black hole. All consuming yet over time it’s energy shrinks and eventually it disappears allowing new life to replace it. I’m still waiting….

Everybody is different. Everybody deals with grief differently. This approach worked for the author but not for me.

Maybe another way to look at it could be that life exists outside the black hole. The black hole is always there. Somedays it’s powerful and sucks so much life force out of your universe. Other days not so strong. But the key thing is that although it never disappears a new life exists outside it – it’s your choice, your journey that determines how far you move from it. – that’s a bit of my inner Carl Sagan coming out in me.

My current take is a little different. It’s a dark place with doors – maybe it’s inside the black hole. My thinking is that when Bereavement occurs doors begin to shut (many permanently) on my old world. My old world will always be there I just can’t go back to it. It’s up to me to decide if I want to continue to stand next to these closed doors. As well as doors I will also discover windows into my old world. Those windows are too small for me to re-enter my old world but they do allow memories to enrich my soul. In the darkness other doors are created. They lead to new worlds, new experiences. On my grief journey I will come across these new doors. It’s my choice whether I decide to open the new door opportunities or not. Maybe I will make a few drinks, pull up a chair and take my time.

I carry my family’s trait of not having any sense of direction. What could possibly go wrong with me stumbling about in the dark trying to find some random doors…..

Which mountain?

It’s just over 2 years since we lost her. It doesn’t feel like 2 years. It still just seems like last month..

This photograph was taken on our last family holiday. It’s the view from the hotel. The view brings back so many happy memories. But it’s a sobering thought that the next time I see this view for real it will be on a trip to scatter her ashes. That wasn’t in the script…..

I feel a bit like Dr Strange in the last Avengers movie. Scanning all the possible life outcomes and probably only seeing one which involved ashes within such a short time span. Unfortunately that one came to fruition.

On that last holiday we spoke briefly about if something happened where she wanted to be laid to rest. I never paid too much attention to it. Surely that life option isn’t going to happen for many years – I would make a really crap Dr Strange. But now we have a bit of a problem. Can I remember the preferred sites. Two in the UK are reasonably simple and straightforward. The two in Switzerland ……

One is easy as it’s an instantly recognisable location, we have been to it several times before. The other location is a tad more problematic. She wanted to be scattered at the same location as her beloved Dad. It’s at the top of a mountain I have never been to. Assuming I have remembered the right mountain, Switzerland are not short of one or two. Then I can vaguely remember the instructions. Get the cable car to the top. Start the path down and it’s next to a bench near a small pile of stones. Unfortunately looking at the internet the mountain has at least 8 paths and I’ve counted at least 20 benches. As our son helpfully points out – you will know if you have picked the wrong mountain or wrong bench when that bolt of lightning strikes. No pressure then….

Two years ago this genuinely caused me huge anxiety and anguish. Now I can see the funny side. That’s progress.

Important note. Trying to arrange taking ashes abroad from the U.K. is a nightmare especially if you are planning to fly. You need to arrange a specific flight time with the airline. Then get the undertaker to securely package the ashes and complete the required cover note which has to include the flight details. The airlines I spoke to made the process so difficult. Also straight after the cremation the last thing you want to sort out is air flights. Fortunately the Eurostar train option is so much friendly. They told us to get the ashes securely packaged. Then book as normal when you are ready – just pre warn security when they check your bags. It’s another train journey for my partner then – she loved trains.