Sunday, 15 January 2017

Sunday lunch

Today I went to Manchester for a meal and meet up with some members of a bereavement support group designed for people widowed (relatively) young. I was in two minds and even considered opting out this morning. I don’t get particularly daunted at the thought of meeting strangers, so it wasn’t that that put me off. It was more the general lack of motivation that almost stopped me; everything just seems too much effort and somehow pointless. Yet I really felt that I needed some contact with others who are in the same situation as me; although I can’t complain about the kindness of many of my friends and acquaintances, I rarely meet anyone who even begins to understand the huge, life changing event of losing a spouse.
I was very glad I went, the journey and finding the place was no problem and I found it very easy as well as a huge relief to talk to people in a similar situation and hear their stories as well as be able to tell my own. You can't be too gloomy when sharing a meal and most of the conversation was about topics such as family, work, weather, there was a lot of laughter and it was just sociable. I also felt quite pleased that I had managed to take what might seem a small step but is at least a step, perhaps forward.
The group makes an effort to ensure events are not too pricey as a lot of people face financial difficulties when bereaved, especially when children are still young, mortgages have not been repaid, pensions are not yet being drawn. A three course carvery meal cost seven pounds per head, which was great value, the train ticket (return) was only £7.60 and the venue was in easy walking distance of the station. I am needing to be more aware of what I spend myself and a day out for less than fifteen pounds is a pretty good deal.  There was a group going shopping in Manchester afterwards, I just did some window shopping, there is nothing I need and I am not a great shopper anyhow.

So many people commented on how they would find it hard to go home to a dark, empty house at the end of the day. It made me glad to be one of those who has offspring still at home for some company. There is no shortcut through the pain and loneliness of losing your life companion, but there are people to reach out to and that is good.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Jill Sager

 I was shocked to hear yesterday of the death of Jill Sager at the age of only fifty one. I remember the case vividly from the eighties. I have never experienced a one off horrific ordeal like Sager's, but I did experience sexual abuse by my grandfather from the age of four to thirteen and so  sexual violence and abuse is an issue close to my heart. I could write so much about Jill Sager and this case but I have written too many grim posts recently and what I want to focus on is her positive response to what happened to her. I think nobody would have blamed Sager if she had remained silent, perpetrators of sexual violence often rely upon the silencing effect of shame and distress. By speaking out, Sager helped improve the situation for many other women and bring about changes in the law. I also hope and believe that transforming such a situation led to post traumatic growth for Sager. Too often we see those affected by rape and sexual assault as victims and not as survivors and this too can be dis-empowering. As I said, I am not going to dwell too long on this post, but you can read here of how Sager help to bring about changes to both the law and the treatment of and attitudes to sexual violence, abuse and attitudes to women. A terribly brief life, but one well lived, I am sure the thoughts of many will be with her family and friends today.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Decisions, large and small

This morning I received a card wishing me a Happy New Year from Kev's family, a great relief to know that they hadn't forgotten about me (or Kev) and that they most likely found it easier to send a card than to phone. I was quite touched as a card takes more planning in some ways than a call.  I feel now that I should really phone them- and this does give me a pretext as I can thank them for their card, whereas without that gesture I would have feared getting in touch due to seeming too needy. I have to say I will still find it difficult to phone- it is amazing how difficult I even find tiny decisions like that at the moment -but I  will try tomorrow.
Speaking about decisions , tomorrow will be a difficult day as we are going down the the crematorium to look at plaques and monuments and decide  what do with the ashes. I got a call from the undertakers just before Christmas to remind me about this and I know it is something I have to get around to. Just before the funeral someone asked me about what we would be doing regarding the ashes- they actually asked me what I would put on the headstone or plaque.My reaction to this surprised me as I felt anger and outrage... mainly because at some level I was in denial about what had happened. It seemed to be hurrying things on far too much, and to be honest I simply didn't want to accept that my husband was dead and that he would need a headstone.
Another hurdle facing me soon is going back to work again after the Christmas break. I don't want to and it feels just as bad as going back the first time and that leads me to thinking about bigger decisions about my future.I was already burnt out and exhausted at work before Kev died, and I can't seem to generate the energy it requires. Another things that makes returning hard is that we had pretty much decided that I would hand my notice to leave at the end of this academic year. I had even talked to the Principal about this possibility and she had asked me to do so by January to allow them to have time to find a suitable replacement (legally I have until May as I need to give three months notice.) I am now in a different financial position with our income more than halved; there is the small problem of living and also supporting two sons, one who is working part time on the minimum wage and the other at university. I really don't know what to do as I am not sure anyone should stay in a job like mine when their heart is no longer in it.
In the medium to long term I have to make these decisions. At the moment even very simple ones, like getting out of bed or what to eat seem to be challenging on bad days.I feel like I've been brain damaged or something, it is so weird how difficult simple things can be. So for now it is "baby steps" (a friend's advice), a phone call, a visit to the crem and then perhaps in time I can tackle the bigger things.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Becoming invisible -Journaling grief 3

Well, in the end I even went out to a friend's to "celebrate" New Year's Eve. It was nice to see some of our old friends again - even to me they feel a lot more like our friends than my friends... I left at ten thirty with the perfect excuse that I had promised to let our neighbour's dog out for a toilet break hugely relieved to be missing all the happy New Years, fireworks and Auld Lang Syne. Cuddling the neighbour's dog was the best bit of my New Year's Eve; one thing about bereavement is the sudden lack of physical contact. Having said that I dislike even fairly close friends hugging on me or violating my personal space but with dogs I am just fine with it, plus they just sympathetically lick tears away- dear reader, if  even close friends were to attempt this I would rapidly ask them to desist:)
I thought I would feel better having got to the end of the official festive season but I woke up on New Year's day feeling incredibly low. The day before someone had said I must be longing to put 2016 behind me but it isn't as simple as that. 2016 admittedly won't rank as a great year but at least I had my husband for nine months of it whereas I face the whole of 2017 without. There is also that grief at the inexorable march of time, the New Year highlights that the person you loved is already becoming part of the past, being forgotten by others, if not by you yourself.
The final thing I found difficult was that Kev's brother and sister-in-law did not phone either on Christmas or New Year's Day. I wasn't too surprised at Christmas but they always phoned at New Year.  It is difficult to fathom the message behind a silent phone- it could be that they too have forgotten (unlikely as I just can't believe his brother hasn't thought about him this Christmas) ; it could be that they just don't think they have any connection to me now (quite possible), or it might be that they didn't know how they could phone me without saying Happy Christmas or Happy New Year- both a bit incongruous in the circumstances- and so they did nothing.
I think I need a dog. To a dog you are never invisible and, though supposedly dumb animals,they make their message crystal clear.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Celebrity, sorrow and 2016

I don't really think much of the culture of celebrity that has grown over the last few decades and don't pay a lot of attention to it. It has been suggested that our obsession with celebrity is a kind of substitute for religion, allowing us to pay homage to our quasi-divinities, worship their fame and achievements and model ourselves on them. I don't know how much that is true, but certainly the reaction to the death of someone famous is interesting, the shrines and tributes which are set up, the media encouragement to join in the general adulation.
It isn't really surprising that over the last few weeks whenever the radio has chirped at me, "which death in 2016 broke your heart?" I've swiftly turned the thing off, however I have to say that the news of Debbie Reynolds' sudden death following the news of her daughter Carrie Fisher's death gave me a real  pang of sadness. This reaction was not because I was a particular fan of either actress but just because the story spoke to me about the way in which this world can be so cruel, irrespective of rank, age, wealth or status. The death of a child, at any age is a particularly cruel blow.
 My late mother in law lost both her husband and daughter. Her husband died of a heart attack at only 41 and her daughter, despite excellent general health, died on Boxing Day over twenty years later aged 35 after catching flu. Marion found the death of her husband devastating and for a time went to pieces. It was a particularly difficult time for Kev, who at sixteen had some of the responsibility to care for his younger brother and sister fall on his shoulders and  left school to help support the family. Yet Marion always said that, although she finally came to accept the death of a husband at such a young age, nothing could bring her to fully accept the loss of  her daughter because you do not expect to lose a child, it is not in the natural order of things. It made it more difficult that her daughter had been about to get married the following year, or perhaps it didn't, I'm not sure anything makes such a loss more difficult, it just exposes a fresh facet over which to grieve.
Anyhow, I sincerely hope that 2016 does not bring a final celebrity death, not least for the selfish reason that I don't want to hear about it. But we should reflect that for every celebrity heart break story,  many more similar, unheard stories are playing out across the country and world.  And maybe it is this that lies at the heart of our shock at celebrity death, the incredulity that it could happen to them, that they are not immortal or invulnerable despite the fact they possess this alchemy of fame. At the end of the day, in the face of death and pain none of us is invulnerable and all of us are equal.

To end this New Year's Eve reflection, I give you Margaret Atwood's The Sad Child which I think explores our modern day cult of self ,our petulant outrage when life give us things we do not welcome and the thought provoking conclusion of the poem that in the face of death or tragedy none of us is the favourite child- or else we all are.

The Sad Child

You're sad because you're sad.
It's psychic. It's the age. It's chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
Or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep.

All children are sad 
but some get over it.
Count your blessings.

Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.

Forget what?
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun,
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favorite child.

My darling, when it comes
right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you’re trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car,
and the red flame is seeping out of you
and igniting the tarmac beside your head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we are.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Journaling grief (2)

Well, Christmas was difficult but I got through it. I actually wasn't well at all having developed a heavy cold which was a kind of blessing as it meant I could quite legitimately go to bed for several hours in the afternoon and wipe out a whole chunk of the day. The hardest thing for me was sitting at the table and being very conscious of the empty space where Kev would be.The whole of Christmas was always a very meaningful time for us as both our sons have birthdays in the week before Christmas (timing not our strong suit) and the season always held memories of bringing them home as babies, of children's parties (some pretty stressful) and of milestones reached. My youngest son's twenty first birthday last week was very hard. Kev was so proud of him and it just seemed wrong that he couldn't be there.
 These last few weeks and months have made me reflect that when you lose someone very close to you,  it is stronger than that you  want them back, it is more that you still need that person in your life.  I've needed Kev ever since I met and fell in love with him; from then on I didn't just feel I wanted to be with him, more that I had to, it was hardly a matter of choice ; he just wasn't an optional extra. As a result, I am struggling to know how to go on with my life. I guess this is the same for everyone who has been bereaved.
Although I haven't had any more flashback dreams since breaking up, I have had two recurrent dreams. The first is based on the death of Princess Diana and the morning that I went to the Tesco in  Basildon where we then lived and saw the headlines in the newspaper. You might remember those newspapers with huge headlines saying "Diana dead."Only in this dream row upon row of headlines say "Kev is dead". In the dream it seems to me that there might be a mistake and I ask the shoppers around me if it is a misprint. They all shrug their shoulder and walk on, nobody is remotely interested. When I think about this dream the next day I imagine Kev at his most Essex would seriously take the piss;" I ain't bleeding Princess Diana."
 In the second dream I am standing next to a thin strip of wood over a chasm (think Niagara Falls!) There is a man in the dream who tells me I have to walk over it. I tell him I can't and he then says I must and he gives me a stick which he says will help me balance. He then says I  must do it blindfolded. Once blindfolded, I realise the stick is of no use as I can't see and so I put it on the ground, go down on my hands and knees and feel for the edge of the plank to crawl across. This is as far as the dream goes.You don't need to be a psychoanalyst to work out what these dreams mean, the first that I need to take in the big news and the second that I must find a way forward even if I can't see one.
I've got two invites in the next few days to New Year type events/ parties and don't feel in a party mood! I only seem to want to spend time with members of my immediate family at the moment, I can't be bothered to go out and make small talk, even with people who are/ were quite good friends. I will try to go to the first one as I don't want to end up completely isolated in the future, the invite for New Year's Eve itself I really can't face. I think that calls for an early night.
I know I have a few readers but I am closing comments on this post, as it says, it is just a writing out of grief and nobody has to find anything to say about my grumblings.
 However, I do wish you all the best for the coming year.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
 till men and nations were at peace.
came when the Heavens were unsteady,
 prisoners cried out for release.

 He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
 In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

 He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
 the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
 to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

 Madeleine L’Engle