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.