Thursday, 4 May 2017

Busy on a budget

Still here and life of a sort is still carrying on. I've been pretty busy recently really. I've been to the Lowry, to the Royal Exchange, had a meal out at the Banyam in Manchester last Friday and have been meeting up with new friends for coffee and chats. The advantage is that it has kept me pretty busy which means less time to think, the downsides are it has made me a bit too busy as this time of year is so full on at work preparing students for exams and it has made it very difficult to keep within my budget. When Kev was alive, I had a ready made social life and company pretty much on tap. A walk out and a cup of tea was a treat. It took little effort or money to have a fulfilling life. Now, I reckon I need to put aside ten to twenty pounds a week for entertainment. As a result of this I am going to have to possibly reconsider the money I give to charity. I honestly hate cutting this but Kev and I gave to quite a number of charities and I am going to cancel all but two or three very close to my heart. I do want to carry on with some charitable giving. If you don't give at all, you are truly poor, at the same time we have given for many years but now I am not in the same position and my well being and need for a social life comes first. It is as simple as that.
Meanwhile, having resolved to have a few weeks staying at home and doing some work, I got an invite round to a friend's this Tuesday and then another friend has invited herself round this weekend- which is very welcome. Come the June half term I will have a bit more time and can hopefully repay some of the other hospitality people have kindly shown.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Out-of-the-blue blues

It's so weird how you think you are starting to cope and then you feel you are back at square one. After a busy and coping weekend, I woke up Monday morning and felt complete shock and lethargy, it was incredibly hard to get out of bed. It made me ask myself if I've really faced up to things  or not. I just spent the whole day in a daze and was a bit of a wreck, even almost seven months up the road I can't believe that he won't just walk in. I wonder where he is. My stupid brain takes every sound at the door or car up the road to be his homecoming. I've also been having dreams again, not the really bad ones, just ones where everything is alright or where I am searching for him- usually in places we used to visit, shopping centres, holiday locations, National Trust properties, you name it, I am looking.
Think I'll be searching and looking for the rest of my life.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Carrying on

It is looking like Manchester is my second home at the moment. On Thursday a colleague offered me free tickets for the matinee performance of Twelfth Night  (he'd double booked with a family occasion.) I have loads of marking and prep this weekend but I wasn't passing up a chance like that. So yesterday saw me meeting with a friend in the Exchange restaurant ( nice but a bit pricey for my budget...)  then the show afterwards.  In addition, I'm attending my first evening meal in Manchester with the bereavement group this coming Friday largely because the other local members of the group don't take no for an answer.
After that, I really do have to buckle down and do some work. The students sit exams starting in only four weeks time (AS) and going through into early June (A2) so I am in a relentless cycle of preparing revision sessions on top of lessons and marking seemingly endless mounds of marking. *What, not another timed essay* I know I can get pretty exhausted just coping with work alone so really do need to rein it in soon.
Life is still not easy. I miss Kev every moment of every day and I feel bereft and broken by his death. In response, I am turning to the things and the people who offer  me help and support and help ease the burden. It doesn't take the pain away, but it maybe looks something like a life or at least like a coping, a carrying on, which for now will suffice.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Fellowship

The support group I've joined organised an Easter Monday meal in Manchester today. I am very lucky to have met two members who live in the same town as me and one who is slightly further afield. We all seem to get on really well and try to have coffee together regularly and attend events. Three of us met up today at the train station and travelled in together for the meal and some shopping.
It was also lovely to spend Easter Sunday yesterday with both my sons at home- the youngest goes back to university next week. I cooked a roast lamb meal which seemed to be very much appreciated and  we followed it up with rhubarb pie and custard.
It has been weird this year as I have not attended an Easter service. I think it is the first time in my entire life that I have not gone to church on Easter Sunday. The levels of anxiety and the flashback dreams I've had have meant that I haven't been able to go to church or to Quaker meeting since the funeral. In some ways this is distressing because I feel that it is another loss. But God occupies the secular world and all our encounters and experiences if we let him and I knew as soon as I saw the Easter Monday meal announced on the site that it would be my fellowship and communion for this Easter. And so it has been.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Making everything new

I’ve said before that Good Friday is the day when my faith makes more sense, I think it is because of the authenticity of the Crucifixion. Suffering, pain, failure, death and the abandonment by God seen in Jesus’s cry from the cross speak to our human condition. Easter Sunday and the Resurrection have always seemed more problematic to me. Of course, death and resurrection does reflect a universal human experience in the cycle of birth and death, setbacks and renewals that we all face, but human “resurrections” are often painful, partial and frequently non-existent.
We live in a world which can be beautiful and joyful but which can also be incredibly cruel and where the keynote is pain and futility. It is a world where the bodies of refugee children are washed up on a beach, and people join in civilised horror yet ultimately do nothing. It is a world not only in which we inflict atrocity on each other but where we are at the mercy of disease, tragedy and natural disaster. Many people’s lives are blighted by poverty and gruelling labour or those more first world problems of unhappiness, loneliness and mental illness.
So after the authenticity of a God who suffers with us, what are we to make of a God who says “I make all things new?” What are we to make of texts such as the one published on this page? Well if you have never held a text like that in your hands and honestly asked yourself if it is not really a fairy tale which we ourselves have invented as a consolation for the horror of this world, then possibly you have not thought deeply enough about your faith.
I don’t have a lot of time for Christian apologetics. I’ve never personally met anyone who has serious doubts that religious belief can offer an answer to the conundrum of this world who has been convinced by arguments or theologies. I also think apologetics often lead down a road beset with tortuous reasoning and circular arguments. I suspect people are largely won to faith through emotion- their emotional need for God.
Plenty of apologetics exist for the veracity of the Resurrection story. I remember as a child being told in church that nobody would be prepared to die for a fabricated story and so the disciples must have been telling the truth.
It is absolute nonsense.
Many people have died for fabricated and utterly implausible stories if they believed in them, as religious mass suicides show.  I once watched a documentary about a group of people who believed they had known each other in a previous life. They had recreated the 16th century village they believed they had lived in and were seeking out other reincarnated relatives. They all seemed on the surface perfectly sane. There are implausible beliefs we sanction and those we call insanity.
I’m not sure whether I am sane but I know that I don’t believe in the hope and promise of a world redeemed from pain and suffering because of intellectually convincing arguments. I think all the evidence of the world points away from it. The only thing I have to hold on to is, as I have said before, that glimpse I have had of God’s love and a half grasped understanding of its beauty, wisdom, magnitude and sheer grace. It is that that gives me hope that all things might be possible.
I will hold my hands up before any skeptic or atheist and say that, yes, this is completely and entirely subjective. It may be a kind of lunacy. But I believe it is revelation, just as I believe that the empty tomb on Easter Sunday is revelation.

That fragile and subjective hope, in the face of overwhelming evidence against it may not seem much to hold on to but it is all I have.
 On this Easter Sunday 2017, for me, it is enough.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Good Friday


 On Good Friday we see a love which is prepared to accompany us in our suffering.The promise of God with us is realised as Christ experiences our deepest agonies, despairs and even our sense of being abandoned by God. The kind of love that walks with us into the darkest places where nothing else seems to help is very precious.


When we show that Christ-like capacity to walk with others then we bring hope and healing, not because we can take away pain but because our presence affirms their dignity and value as human beings. It is that which redeems life in spite of all its ugliness, and futility. On this day we see how such a love turns the bleakest, darkest moments to good.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Getting out

Went to see Jane Eyre at the Lowry yesterday, it was a good production which explored themes such as madness, not just that of Rochester's insane wife but the madness of life in general. It was clearly a feminist take, quite rightly in my opinion as the book is very much about individual autonomy and the struggle women faced in the 19th century to live with dignity and freedom. Of course, this is still the case in so much of the world for women and often men as well. I love 19th century novels in general, no doubt marking me out as a bit of a girly swot, so it was an adaptation of a work of which I am very fond, although I think the much neglected Villette to be infinitely superior.It was also a positive day out with friends, a meal and lot of talk, mainly about the play, our families and inevitably current affairs both home and abroad.  As we were leaving the theatre, someone called my name, it was a former student who is now studying drama and we  managed a brief catch up, it was lovely to see him again. Part of me had dreaded going yesterday but it did make me feel a bit more part of the real world which is still out there and still carries on

Saturday, 8 April 2017

On being a fuckwit

Something I’ve discovered is how many stock phrases are said to bereaved people. One of my least favourite is the question “Is there anything I can do?" Now, think for a moment about what the other person can’t decently say because it would seem too presumptuous or needy.
They cannot even say:
You could invite me round for a meal.
You could just ask me round for a coffee.
You could phone me for ten minutes on a Friday night because that’s when I feel such despair at the weekend stretching ahead.
It may be that they do have someone they can say these things to but as the enquirer you need to a. assume that they don’t b. ask yourself if they can really say them to you. If you think they can’t, YOU ask them round or phone them for a chat. 
In the end, when people asked me if there was anything they could do, I would respond:
Not unless you can think of anything (fuckwit.)
The fuckwit is in parenthesis because I didn’t actually say that bit. In any case, I’ve fallen into the fuckwit category myself in the past. I’ve even gone a step worse than asking if there is anything I can do and I’ve just said nothing at all. I did this when someone in the office lost her husband years ago. I really wanted to tell her how sorry I was. The first time I went into the office I plucked up my courage…and then someone else spoke to her about a letter that needed sending and the moment just wasn’t right. After that I felt stupid saying anything because I’d already seen her and so the sum total of what I said was this
absolutely nothing…
 I felt guilty about this but I told myself it didn’t matter as she no doubt had lots of other people helping her and I might be intruding on her grief and anyhow she would know how sorry I felt, surely that was a given?
 All absolute fuckwittery on my part.
When you are grieving, you will usually find a source of solace in those who have been through a major bereavement themselves. Apart from a few rare souls, most other people will be as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Those who have been bereaved come to you out of their own pain, they almost come because they need help- and there’s nothing wrong with that.
This post has come about because I've bumped into a few people recently who've all told me they've been thinking about me constantly or  been wondering whether to get in touch etc, etc. I've no idea if this is true, all I know is that they haven't been in touch. I don't blame them for this because I know that most of us find  subjects such as illness, suffering and death very difficult to deal with. I wish we didn't but we do. Meanwhile I just remain fervently thankful for those people who have kept in touch and pledge in the future to show more empathy  myself-  or be less of a fuckwit if you prefer that idea.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Belief and unbelief

 A really interesting piece by Michael Collett examines the problematic issue of whether God would condemn him for his sincerely held atheism and a response by Michael Jensen called Sincerity is not enough. My sympathies and agreements are all on the side of Collett. I think Jensen posits some rather tortuous arguments which don't add up and deliberately misinterprets what Collett is saying, for example accusing him of an irrational protest against a God he doesn't believe in when Collett is quite clearly rejecting a concept others claim he must hold about God as a prerequisite for belief- an entirely different matter.
It also interests me because my immediate family are largely unbelieving, one son is a staunch atheist, my other son is agnostic and Kev had his serious doubts about Christianity and the Church. Many of my extended family are fundamentalist Christians and regard such beliefs  as guaranteeing  hell-fire. I have never had any concerns that God is going to send them to hell because I have had some sort of glimpse of the sheer love of God and it simply doesn't square with what I know. I know how much I love them and I know that God's love far exceeds mine. If anyone thinks that is an argument based on subjectivity then  they can jog on; the whole thing is subjective if we are going down that line.
 I am not sure I am quite a universalist, although I am getting there. I've lost even the desire to condemn my grandfather (who sexually abused me from the age of four to thirteen) to everlasting damnation and,if the glimpse I have had of God is right in anyway, then he is whole lot more capable of  managing and reconciling justice and forgiveness than I am. I have found God in surprising places over these last few months (no, don't give me that one about was he behind the sofa...) and I've come to wonder whether some atheists might not really be Christians. Jensen might be interested to consider that not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" knows Christ and there will be those who will be surprised that they have met him without knowing that they did.
I've no doubt that some Christians would give counter quotes about Jesus being the way, the truth and the life and that no-one comes to the Father but through him. Well, you can use scripture for anything, but in any case this verse does not quite say believe or you go to hell. It  says Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, it is quite possible and very humbling that some seem to find that way, that truth, that light without any explicit religious beliefs.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Flowers and family

Mothers' Day today and I got flowers. I felt really bad because my son had ordered them and the combination of a ring at the door, cardboard box delivery/ signature and then putting flowers in the vase was so reminiscent of the days before and around the funeral that I inevitably got the shakes, hammering heart, nausea and so on. I felt really frustrated and cross with myself for being such a wimp about what was after all a lovely present from my gorgeous sons. I  was heartened though during a conversation with a friend from the bereavement group this afternoon who told me she promptly burst into tears on receiving Mothers' Day flowers yesterday again because of the associations with her husband's funeral.It made me feel a bit more like I might just be quite normal and not some kind of freak,;thank goodness for the chance to talk to people who understand and have been through it.
The flowers are really very nice, and even nicer was a call from the youngest son and a chance to chat to him. He is going on holiday to Budapest and then Sweden tomorrow and rather sheepishly confessed that he had been so busy that he didn't order a card until quite late on- had it arrived? No, it hadn't but I am looking forward to it some time this week so told him not to worry.
My family has been fantastic over the last few months and weeks. The only difficulty I've had has been trying to persuade the youngest to take more money and the eldest that he doesn't need to give me more money!  am very lucky in that I get a small pension from Kev's work and this currently pays for the living expenses and accommodation for our youngest (Oxford is not cheap.) It is actually slightly less than we used to give him and so I always expected to have to top  it up by a couple of thousand but he won't take the money insisting he can get by! However, this week he texted me to ask if I could transfer a hundred pounds into his account just as a float for while he was on holiday. I transferred several hundred and got a text telling me it was too much and I would be getting some back. I think we might fight over this one! Kev and I always wanted him to have enough and, without being extravagant, to make sure he enjoyed his undergraduate days. My eldest son is just the same, he is working part time  on the minimum wage and for the last few years has given us money towards his food and keep. He now wants to increase this and is learning to drive in order to give him the chance to look further afield for  a full time job.
I do feel really proud of the way they have both rallied round and at just how grown up and supportive they have been. You'd kind of expect this is how family should be, unfortunately I know quite a few people, mainly in the bereavement group, who have had conflict and difficulties instead of support. Maybe we got something right in the way we brought them up or maybe they are just naturally lovely people. I might be biased, but I think so anyway.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Dilemmas

I received a text  from friends yesterday letting me know they are about to book tickets for them and for me to an open air theatre production in July and asking "is that OK?" in a way that implied they expected it would be. Kev really loved this particular event; we've attended it along with these friends for years and always aimed to have a picnic in the grounds first depending on the weather. I've got a real dilemma now as I just don't know if I will be able to go.
One problem I've had since Kev's death is that I've struggled to return to places that evoke strong memories, whether good or bad. It is not just that the experience is emotionally painful, I get physical reactions such as intense nausea, heart pounding and shaking, then often flashback nightmares which will involve that particular context. Sometimes these reactions take me completely by surprise. For example, just recently I had to drive past the turning to the canal where we often used to walk the dog/ go for a cup of tea. As I approached the turn off, I had the feelings of nausea again and began shaking so badly that I had to pull over as I didn't feel safe to drive.
The reason for this is very likely to be the sudden, unexpected and traumatic nature of Kev's death ( I found him along with my son and attempted to resuscitate him, the flashback nightmares always involve this.) In fact my doctor has now diagnosed post traumatic stress syndrome and given me medication which stops the heart pounding but has little effect on feelings of nausea and distress or  the nightmares which follow and/ or precede a visit to places with strong memories. These reactions began very soon after Kev's death, I never anticipated that I would still be suffering from them five months later. My doctor has explained that having had a history of childhood sexual abuse has made me more likely to develop PTSD and has offered to refer me for bereavement counselling.I'd like to say that I will be OK to go to the play in July but I can't be in any way confident that this will be the case.
Although this couple are in many ways very good friends, we always did things together, we never really talked at any deep level. I've been out with them for lunch and been round to theirs for a meal  but if I have ever mentioned Kev, I've sensed they feel uncomfortable. Their incredibly kind way of helping me is to offer company and trips out rather than talking. In many ways I have to say this suits me just fine but I suspect if I told them why I don't want to go they would be uncomfortable and embarrassed -and I might be as well.
So, what to do? I could a. tell them b. make a general excuse c. say to book and then cancel later if needed. Why does life have to be so complicated?

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Philip North

I read with sadness the news today that Philip North has withdrawn from accepting a post as Bishop of Sheffield. It is always a sad day when someone makes a decision of this kind that affects them personally, and also I believe North is very highly thought of and clearly has many gifts to offer which will now not be exercised in this capacity.
At the same time, it is true that women priests in the  diocese of Sheffield- over 30% of its clergy- would have been faced with the prospect of being led by someone who could not accept their ministry as possible or in any way valid. I read that one of the organisations North belongs to issues "passports" to guarantee priests are of a "pure blood" lineage, in other words they have not only not been ordained by a woman, they have not been ordained by someone who has been ordained by a woman, or by someone ordained by a man ordained by a woman... (continue ad infinitum)
 When I volunteered with WATCH and with Changing Attitude at Synod, it opened my eyes to the bitterness and "at all costs" mentality with which some held to enshrined positions and ideologies. I  reflected on the sheer impracticality of the "good disagreement" that the Church speaks of and of finding a place for all around the table. Surely everyone knew this would happen? Surely everyone realised that it is unacceptable and untenable to have a bishop would doesn't recognise the calling of those he leads? Surely at the same time it is equally unacceptable to promise "good disagreement" and an honoring of those who hold a traditionalist line only to see someone of high standing step down in the face of opposition? This is not to say that I do not think North's views of male headship or the male apostolic succession or whatever he holds to frankly ludicrous, but let's be honest, lots of Christians hold beliefs that might be seen this way and the point is that a gracious place for all was promised.
And what of those outside the Church- an organisation which it is still sometimes mooted "exists for the benefit of its non-members" (really? excuse me while I laugh.) Once again the Church looks downright dodgy and rather nasty, filled with what I believe are termed  "weirdos" and "haters".
It  rather brings to mind the words of Ghandi- "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A True Lent

IS this a fast,—to keep  
    The larder lean,           
        And clean  
From fat of veals and sheep?     

Is it to quit the dish                 5
    Of flesh, yet still           
        To fill           
The platter high with fish?           

Is it to fast an hour,        
    Or ragg’d to go,                    10
        Or show     
A downcast look and sour?

No! ’t is a fast to dole
 Thy sheaf of wheat,   
        And meat,          15
Unto the hungry soul.   

It is to fast from strife,  
    From old debate         
        And hate,—              
To circumcise thy life.             20

To show a heart grief-rent;         
    To starve thy sin,         
        Not bin,— 

And that ’s to keep thy Lent.  

Robert Herrick 1591-1674

Herrick ponders here how to keep Lent and urges us strongly against the traditional ideas. Don't give up one thing such as meat (or chocolate, or wine) he says, only to compensate by piling your "platter high with fish". In fact don't fast at all, he says, unless it is from hatred and conflict, above all show your concern for others -"the hungry soul"- in Lent and starve your sin, and not your bin! 
A friend, who is actually a former monk but now an agnostic,once told me he saw Lent observances as egotistical and self indulgent. I am sorry to say he actually saw Christianity and most Christians as motivated by egotism. I didn't agree with him, but I listened to his arguments and he made a point we should consider seriously.
I don't really "do" Lent, at least not in the usual way and I won't be doing anything in particular this year. I wish I had something deep and meaningful to say to you about it at the moment but my focus is still on putting one foot in front of the other each day. I think that is going to be enough of a Lent for me but I hope you manage to keep your Lent in whatever way seems right and beneficial to you.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Oxford weekend

The Vaults garden
Just back from a weekend visiting my son in Oxford. My son had arranged accommodation in Jesus College and managed to get me a (free) formal dinner in the college hall on Friday. We also spent Friday afternoon just browsing around Oxford and had soup and the most wonderful peanut butter and banana cake in the vaults teashop gardens.
On Saturday son drove me and his girlfriend to Blenheim Palace and we even walked in the grounds despite drizzle and rain!


 In the evening, I treated them to meal at TheTrout at Wolvercote, it was always one of Kev’s favourite places to visit, so that was quite hard. This morning son had boxing training (it is the Varsity match very soon) and so I went to St Michael’s church near Jesus College- sung Matins which brought back childhood memories. In one of our churches, most of the congregation was so tone deaf that my dad used to parody the end of the Te Deum , Lord vouchsafe to keep us this day without sing, he would say to us on our way to service. The choir at St Michael’s in complete contrast were amazing, such beautiful singing. We then went somewhere Matt recommended for bagels and  ice cream; the photo above is my ice cream about half finished. By then it was starting to be a struggle but I persevered valiantly...
It was a good weekend, difficult in many ways because there were so many memories everywhere, but my son really wanted me to go down and I was glad that I did.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Feeling down

The probate grant/ letter of administration arrived this week so up town today to sort things out. Bitterly cold and the shops full of valentines cards. Horrible to have to sort this crap out, banks and building societies want copies of death certificates, marriage certificates, wills, driving licence, utility bills all the usual as well as endless  forms to fill in.
Felt totally wretched. Only good news was the bank as soon as they saw the grant of probate were happy to transfer the ISA with them immediately into my current account so I wouldn't go overdrawn or have to borrow money from my son. Relieved-  but then I should think so, we've been with them decades.Later on I got a call from the bank to say I'd left my debit card behind so had to borrow money for this week from lovely eldest son anyway!  Next on the list was to visit two building societies, first relatively straightforward, the second was a nightmare, wouldn't sort it out with me until a financial adviser was free and wanted endless documents, they were like that just to close the account back last year so I wasn't surprised.
Got home and felt totally low and alone.I hate financial stuff and I hate certificates and having to write down dates of marriages, deaths on bloody forms.The whole day left me feeling just deeply sad and low.
 I think I am going to have to be firm and resolute in the future about  looking out for myself and my family and putting us first. It might not be what it says in the gospels but sometimes you just have to - because really nobody is going to do it for me.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Weekend visit

My younger son and his girlfriend are visiting this weekend. They were here when I got home from work on Friday night. The first thing lovely son said after he'd greeted me was that they were going to take  me out for lunch today. How grown up he is getting, I thought. The second thing he said was that he had brought his washing home... two large bags of it... so maybe things don't change that much after all:)
It is good to have them both here, the house feels a lot more like home with people coming and going. I've also enjoyed talking to them, about all sorts of subjects, trivial and serious. I have my eldest son at home but he is quieter and often out at work at the weekends; today made me realise how much I miss conversation.
 I've been vaguely following the news from America, but because I feel low at the moment, it just depresses me so much to hear how awful things are and reinforces my feelings of futility so I try to switch off to an extent and let it all wash over me. My son's girlfriend is a Muslim so they both feel quite strongly about what is happening and I feel on their behalf. If you are a parent, you will know how that feels.
So, a grim and gloomy world at the moment, I was sickened that Trump brought out his ban on Syrian refugees on Holocaust Memorial Day. Do we never learn from history? In a world which can be so cruel and painful, why do we make things worse by our actions to each other? 
We went to the Wizard of Edge in Alderley Edge for our lunch. I had the soup which was pumpkin, (very Harry Potter) and a pulled pork burger with chips and salad. It left me feeling very full and I couldn't manage anything else to eat for the rest of the day, said son has been nagging me about whether I am eating enough. I am amused at him turning the tables and  giving me a lecture, he really is growing up...

Saturday, 28 January 2017

House of Bishops report

I've had a friend message me about this report from the House of Bishops. I really want to say to her that she is not, and never was,  a child of the Church but she is, and will always be, a child of God. The last time I said something similar, I got a long message about vocation and commitment to the Church.
I feel frustrated on behalf of some of my friends because  this is very predictable.I can't believe they can't see that this is going to happen again and again until the Church is dead.
Oh well, I have more pressing things to think about. I am so glad I am not committed enough to care but I am feeling for some people today.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Money matters

This past week a lot of my time and energy seems to have been taken up with money matters. Kev did contract work as an engineer perhaps two to three days a week for a number of companies. Within weeks of his death I got an avalanche …OK three… letters from HMRC. The Inland Revenue are not nice, kindly people- that just isn’t their job. The letters spelt out in no uncertain terms that I was now responsible for calculating how much tax Kev owed for  15-16 and submitting the self-assessment form online and paying the subsequent bill. The letters used language like as next of kin you are the legal representative for the deceased. They informed me that I might face prosecution and that I would incur penalties if I did not act promptly. To be fair, one of the letters did start off with we are aware this may be a difficult time but that didn’t then stop it from going on to address me with the sort of language that implied they felt me capable of criminal activity and were out to get me.
Worse still, when I looked through Kev’s accounts and papers I just couldn’t make head or tail of it all, he worked for several different companies, had invoices, expenses, mileage, payments made and payments due. I had to chase it all up, and while some of the companies he dealt with were extremely helpful, others just didn’t provide me with information I needed. Add to this the fact I was dazed and in shock, only had four weeks leave from work, spent the first fortnight arranging a funeral and dealing with all the other paperwork that a death involves, and was sleeping very badly - to say I was overwhelmed was an understatement! After a couple of very sleepless nights worrying about the tax return, I decided to get an accountant. Despite the cost, it was a good decision, there was still a lot of work as I had to provide a lot of the information but they knew what needed to be done and advised me on what information was needed and where to find it as well as then completing the forms.
However, an additional problem then presented itself in that Kev had an account that he drew on to pay the annual tax bill. Because this account was in his sole name, I didn’t have access to it and had to apply through probate to access the funds to pay the tax bill. This also involved a lot of filling in forms. Shortly after the funeral I was contacted by a solicitor from the funeral company and he quoted me nearly four thousand pounds to complete the probate forms. I decided however that I could complete probate on my own and so for quite a while I would come home from work, cook a meal and then work on the probate forms. No, it wasn’t great. Yes, I felt I was going mad. Yesterday I went to Manchester to attend the probate hearing and swear on the holy text of my choice (that would be the bible then…how quaint that they still do that, huh?)  The whole thing was less formal than I expected and they were so nice to me that I had to cry in the toilets afterwards.
So far so good, but still the tax bill, which is several thousand pounds, has to be paid by 31st of January or I face a fine, and the letter of administration granted by the court won’t arrive for ten working days. Around the time of Kev’s death, I had a savings bond mature, and what I did was pay this into my current account to pay for the funeral and have a cushion for any other contingencies, but I hadn’t realised at that point that I wouldn’t be able to access Kev’s savings and hadn’t thought about the tax bill. Luckily I have just about enough to pay and hopefully not go overdrawn if I am very careful this month – but still it has shocked me just how quickly things such as the funeral, various other expenses and this tax bill has eaten away at the “safety cushion” in the current account. Our household income is now more than halved, I bring home after tax just under 1,500 a month (partly because I pay extra to buy back years on my pension, a decision I may need to rethink) and one son is still a needy student.
Walking through Manchester  reflecting that I must try to draw on savings as little as possible, I couldn’t help noticing how many people sleeping rough –– many more than there seemed to be only a few years ago. I do need to be frugal but at least I have a wage, a home and savings and it is more than some people do.

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.