Happy Days – Spiez

Looking out at the rain and the trees bending in the wind. It’s all just a bit too grey. Sometimes you soul needs more. For us that was a holiday in Switzerland. We probably couldn’t afford it but was it worth it – you bet.

We always used the small town of Spiez as our base. A stunning and friendly place sitting by the banks of Lake Thun. A transport fanatics dream. On one side you can take the regular boat service (sometimes an old steamer) to explore the lake from Thun to Interlaken. On the other side a brilliant train station offering precision perfect links to the rest of Switzerland, Germany and Milan.

After a hours of exploring we always ended the day with a walk up through the vineyards to a small hill top with stunning views across the lake to the Alps.

Memories and views like that are worth so much more than money. It’s why my beloved partner indicated that she wanted some of her ashes scattering here. A perfect choice. One day hopefully I will do the same. So our souls can wander here forever…..

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 revisited

I really don’t think I finished off the last post correctly about Cragfast.

I want to highlight something I have mentioned in the comments.

I am sat here with my iPad, in a comfy chair with a hot drink. That occasionally may seem like cragfast but it is most definitely not Hell. It just feels like that somedays. That’s human nature. Those poor climbers experienced hell. I read the truly inspirational stories some of my blogger friends tell of how they cope with life challenges – that is real adversity. They are the heroes who appear at dawn and bring hope.

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.

A letter dilemma

Out of the blue I received a letter addressed to my partner. It was a friend who clearly hasn’t heard the sad news yet. Reading the letter was heartbreaking as this lady had tragically lost her husband. She was clearly in a bad place.

This leaves a dilemma. Do I tell her or not?

I know the right thing is honesty and I should inform her. And yet…. does someone who is in such a bad place really need another piece of bad news. I told our son when he noticed that I was distracted. Interestingly he said that I shouldn’t make her even more sad. I had assumed his Aspergers Truth Filter would have made him say – just tell her straightaway. It rather puts a lie to the frequently heard argument from experts that people on the spectrum are cold and uncaring.

Even after a few hours I can’t make my mind up.

It doesn’t help that I remember when my partner found out about a friends death. She had met this wonderful lady from Channel Islands on a trip to China. They became good friends. I remember she came to stay with us for a few days. We hadn’t heard from her for a few months. Unfortunately a birthday card my partner has sent her was returned unopened and marked ‘person has died’. It had such a profound effect on my partner, I’m not sure she ever fully healed from it.

The circumstances are different but do I want to put someone through this now. I really don’t know. I just don’t know….. What I do know is that I can feel those icy fingers of sadness starting to circle my soul again.

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.

When dreams fade

The pre Valentine onslaught is in full swing. One advert claiming to have the perfect gift for my partner, every base covered….. Really – every base?

I’ve always been a daydreamer. As a child dreams of football, cricket, astronauts and mountains dominated. They gave hope. The years went by and still I dreamed. Dreams of happiness and a successful career. Then I met my partner and the dreams changed. Suddenly dreams focused on starting a family. Then our son was born and dreams shifted to happy family life. Few years further passed and it became more likely no more children would arrive – again my dreams shifted. Now they were dominated by images of us happily growing old together. Walking hand in hand. Sat together in Parisian cafes. Sharing new experiences in new lands. Dreams and hopes intertwined. Then the world suddenly changed….

Now I live in the moment, just focused on the practicalities of the day. When I daydream now (very rare) these are entirely focused on our son. Dreams involving me have gone. When I look – nothing. They died with my partner. No happy thoughts of growing older. Just the deepest blackness. I have heard this phrase used before. Living our lives through our children. It is so true. One role.

One day I do hope my daydreams return. Some things don’t change. I am still a daydreamer at heart.