Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sixty-five days a widow...

I'm not sure how I should be, but judging from what I read on forums and what I know from my conversations with various folks - from our beloved Macmillan nurse to a lovely woman on the other end of the phone from Cruse (bereavement counseling charity) - I am exactly where I should be. I am where I am and, as a grief is such a personal thing, I can't be any other place but where my grief has taken me thus far on our journey together. So, where am I?

I am tired, bone tired. And emotionally tired. I find it hard to concentrate on anything, hard to do anything. There are so many things that I know I need to do, but I just can't find the motivation. Callie and the family came this past Sunday, staying through Tuesday. It was lovely having them here, of course, but I find overnight guests so tiring. And when one of them is a bonkers 17-month old, it is exciting and fun, but, lordy, there is a reason why women can't have babies after a certain age. Catherine's mature 9 years is quiet and contained compared with Alice. Catherine bunked with me, as the studio/bedroom is still an absolute land of chaos. It was nice having someone else in the bedroom at night. I didn't sleep well, but it was lovely to look over and see her little angelic face, deep into sleep and her dreams. She continues to be such a joy for me. I love her so, so much.

Last Friday night, I took part in the Poolewe Christmas evening event.  The market was from 4pm to 8pm. While the night resulted in no sales, I had such a lovely time seeing friends and feeling so much love. There were so many hugs, kisses, and hand squeezes. I love this community so much. My friends mean more to me than I can say. I can't imagine a better bunch to have around me at this difficult time. This coming Saturday is the final Poolewe event of the year. And the time to sign up for next year, which I most certainly will do. I will have the whole winter to create some more jewellery and I am sure that the creativity will come. In January, I will have all the floors in the house, except the two bedrooms, replaced by laminate wood flooring so my wheelchair will be easier to use. I am sure I will be living here for a year or two more, so I have to make the changes I can to make things easier for myself. I could never afford nor get a grant to convert the kitchen, but at least I can make it easier to move around. Replacing the floors is something I can look forward to. Might give me a feeling of a new beginning? Maybe that will help.

I know that all of us in the family miss Chris so much. From my chats with everyone, I think Lucy and I are having the hardest times with grief. But, I know about her grief. I am still devoted to my father, as close as Lucy and Chris are (love doesn't die, so no need for the past tense here). My dad died 10 years ago. There are still days I miss my dad as much as I did immediately following his death. I know how broken Lucy's heart is when it comes to her dad. A daughter and dad just have this incredible bond and it can't be broken. I know she will miss him acutely for the rest of her life, just as I will miss him.

Even with my darling Caroline, Catherine, Alice, and Stu, I feel very, very alone. Despite the constant support and love of my darling friends, I feel very, very alone. But there is a kind of safety and sanctuary in my aloneness. If I can just find some energy in here somewhere, to do something, I would feel so much better. But that will come, with time and distance. And someday I will feel like doing something, going somewhere, being creative - being happy. For now, all I can feel is this great big hole in my heart and in my life. Every day I become more and more aware of how Chris and I had such a wonderful, nearly perfect love. It was a once in a lifetime love and I know that as much now as I did when he was alive. As I've said before, he was my best friend, my confidante, my inspiration, my love, my everything.

Catherine says that Abba is her guardian angel. She says she feels him with her in moments when she needs his love and comfort. She said she will lose things and then find them exactly where she had already looked. She says that's Abba - just letting her know he's there. And he's let me know he's with me, too. The other night, the little purple corduroy bean bag bear he bought me on our first date slipped off it's pillow by my head and ended up spooning me in the middle of my back. That is the spot where Chris would often place his hand at night, gently resting it there, connecting us once more. It was a moment of such high emotion - feeling that bear pressing against my back. And I had no doubt it was Chris letting me know he was near. And while it would scare the shit out of me, there are times I would love to see him just one more time, to hold his hand, run my fingers through his beard, kiss his soft lips, and hold him close to me. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Knowing and doing...

I have always believed that recognising that one needs emotional support is not a sign of weakness or something wrong, it is quite the opposite. It is indicative of a person really understanding their own emotional health and knowing when it is time to call in some outside help. It is a sign of strength and insight.

I have sought counseling many times in my life, but there is one very big problem I have. You see, perhaps because I am an empath, I am very aware of what I'm feeling and how I can best manage it - theoretically. But sometimes, I find, I just have to let things progress and trust myself to follow my logic and my heart. I can't tell you how many times my counseling has ended after just one session with the counselor saying something along the lines of, "Well, you are very in touch with how you are feeling and why you are feeling that way. I'm not sure I can give you anything more than a sympathetic ear." I end up leaving the session, reassessing my situation, and doing what I can to become stronger or more resolute. And it usually ends up with my facing and defeating the distress.

I am beginning to feel this way about grief. I have made some enquiries and look forward to hearing from a bereavement charity when they are able to return my call. For me, the most helpful thing that has been said from the moment Chris died is to follow my feelings. Don't set myself an agenda for getting through the process. And that's what I'm doing. I am allowing myself to feel the pain, the loneliness, the hopelessness. As one widow said on a forum, acceptance is key. I know that is the answer. I also know, from reading the posts from other widows and widowers, that this grief is going to be part of my life for the rest of my life. You can't love another person so completely and unconditionally and then just "get over it" when they die. My love for Chris will never die, my devotion to him, my gratitude for him, those things will not only never cease to be, but I feel quite sure they will grow and, as they grow, I will become more accepting of his absence. But the pain will never go away. How could it? He was my life, my love, my best friend. No one will ever be able to take his place, I will never love him less.

The tears come more frequently now. I have his portrait here in the living room and, when I look up, I see that incredible smile, the twinkle in the eyes, the incredible person who loved me as I loved him. And I cry. And my dreams are full of cancer and death and sadness. In my dreams, I experience not only losing Chris, but losing my parents all over again. I know all of this is part of the process. I just need to find a way to accept it and get through it. I am concentrating now on trying to have a wonderful Christmas with my family. My daughter and her family live very near Glencoe, so I am sure that I will drive myself out there at some point - just me - and remember how many times Chris and I drove that road, stopped and admired the beauty of the landscape, drinking in the spirituality that emanates from every stone, every tree. And I have a feeling I will cry as I haven't cried before. But it will be good.

I've been back in the studio. I've been pleased with my work, but I still feel a bit numb about everything. If only I still had Chris so he could see my completed work. It's not the same without him. Will it ever hold the same happiness it once did? I won't know unless I try.

So, another week gone, another week without my Chris. Sometimes I think I see him in my peripheral vision. Maybe I do. As a friend wrote to me, he is very close by, just out of sight, waiting for me. I no longer view my death in any other light than that of being reunited with my love. Not that I want to hurry it - I want to see my granddaughters grow up and thrive and live their lives, but I won't mind when I go now. Because Chris is waiting for me.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Widow's First...

I had my hair done yesterday. Left the house at 11am and didn't get back home until after 8pm. It was a lovely day, spent with my hairdresser "daughter" Katie. She has been so supportive during all this, sending us one of the most beautiful cards and she and her sister (another "daughter") sent me flowers after the memorial. I love them both dearly and it was terrific spending the day with her, with her performing her magic on my hair.

It was the first time since Chris died, and it felt odd not to text him to tell him I had arrived safely in Inverness. It was odd not to text him to keep him up to date with the progress ("Darling, I have sparkling white hair now...colour going on.") And when we were all done, I had a lump in my throat knowing how much Chris would love what Katie had done and how I wished he were still here. (There is never a moment I don't wish he were still here.)

My sweet Lucy had paid for this trip to Katie's. In fact, she paid for it months ago, before Chris died. But I simply couldn't leave him for that period of time, so we waited and waited and waited. Finally, I was able to text Lucy to thank her properly for her gift. It was to be "me" time and it was.

The drive to Inverness was lovely - the sun was shining and the sea was so blue and I remembered, once more, what had made me fall in love with this area. But this was the first time I was making this drive as a widow, and it felt weird. It's as if everything is just a little bit off, if that makes sense. Still as it should be, but slightly off kilter.

As I came close to Inverness, the fog engulfed me. It was chilly and damp, but Katie and I kept ourselves warm with laughter and fun. And she did the most amazing job. My hair looks amazing (check out my new profile photo). To an extent, my deciding to go with fun, vivid colours was and is very much down to Chris. Chris was the first person who gave me the freedom to completely and utterly be myself. I think I always knew there was a bit of an eccentric wildchild in there, but I had always felt it important to live up to what I felt others expected of me. Chris took those expectations and cast them aside and encouraged me to be me - colourful, crazy, creative. And I could, and I did, with his unconditional love and support. I am who I am today because of Chris - because of all that he gave me. I bet he never even realised how much he had freed me from all the insecurities that held me back for all the years. I just need to remember to keep being myself. I want him always to be proud of me.

I drove home in the dark - watching carefully for the reflective eyes of the deer and stags on the roadside. I saw the deer in large numbers along the road that leads from Braemore Junction to Aultbea, especially along the Fain. And as I descended into the glen at Dundonnell, the feral goats gathered at one side of the road, one majestically horned ram standing in the middle of the road, requiring me to brake as he sauntered to the other side. I will never tire of this journey, at least spiritually (physically, yes, it seriously exhausts me). I glanced from time to time at the horizon and above to see if there were any signs of the aurora, but not tonight. Instead, a bright half moon shone down onto the rocks and streams, the trees and the ground, covered now with golden grasses.

I pulled into my driveway, the house was dark, not a light on until I got to the back door where the sensor light turned on as it detected the car. And it was so quiet. In the old days, I would come home to find the lights on and the moment my key hit the door, the inner door would burst open and my darling Chris would be standing there, arms outstretched, with a huge grin on his face. He would give that twinkly smile and give me a kiss and then tell me how much he loved my hair (and he would so love this cut and colour). He would carry my bag in and fix me a cup of tea (or a G&T) and would let me know that dinner was almost ready. Gracie was here to greet me, but I think we both felt his absence in that moment.

There are two tiny and very shallow steps (thank goodness) that I must climb to get into the house right there at the door. As I approached the door, I thought of the lyric "As I climb the stair, and turn the key, oh please be there, still in love with me."

Oh, Chris. I miss you so much. I will never stop missing you. You were the whole world to me, you still are. I hope I am doing you proud. Tomorrow, back to work, to make you even prouder. I love you, my angel.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow...

I awakened today to feelings that are odd. The pain is raw, the feeling of hopelessness, of loss, of uselessness is overwhelming. I just figured out that it's been 39 days since Chris died. It feels longer and it doesn't feel real. And I feel as if I've been shot full of novocaine for all this time. I say I'm doing well - maybe I'm not doing so well. Maybe I am so afraid of facing the emotional reality that I keep pushing it back in my mind. I miss Chris. I miss him desperately. Everyday I limp or wheel around this house - unsure of what to do next. Is there any reason to do anything, anyway? What is the point? My heart is empty, every feeling leaked out when it broke 39 days ago.

Is this part of grief? Is this to be expected? This feeling of having no purpose, of having no hope. I said I've always been a glass half full person - today the glass is not only half empty, it's empty. There's nothing there. Not a single drop...

I have the urge to go back to bed and just sleep - sleep for as long as I can. But I get little relief in my dreams. I have strange dreams and when I look up the meanings they are always the same - a sense of loss, a fear of aging, a lack of purpose. I thought I would do better than this. I was doing better than this. But now, I feel so much emptiness and so much desolation. There is nothing that can make me feel better. I know that at some point this will pass and another part of grief will visit me. They are like the spirits that visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve - each sent to repair part of my heart, to open my eyes to the joy that is out there, the humanity, the love. But they come so slowly and their lessons are hard to understand, even harder to implement in a world so full of hatred and pettiness. Chris and I lived in a perfect little bubble of love and contentment. It's gone spirit hurts...

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Ashes to ashes...

Chris came home today. Well, what is left of Chris' earthly remains came home. I now have two urns on one of the high shelves. One will be taken to Sussex next year so we can spread half of Chris' ashes over his beloved South Downs. The other half will be kept in a beautiful ceramic vessel that is being made for me by the talented Sheena Spacey, one of my favourite artists. I will finish the vessel by creating a sterling silver band for the neck, with the design adapted from the Celtic symbol for everlasting love. Those ashes will remain with me until I die, and then Chris and I can be together, our ashes combined in a pod from which a tree will grow. Hopefully, we can give nurture to a Rowan tree - our favourite tree. And it will grow strong and enduring, like our love, in a special place here in Scotland.

Today was another hurdle to overcome. I have found that over the past three weeks, the initial numbness has slowly worn off and my grief now feels fairly raw. I don't even know when I'm going to cry sometimes, it just happens. And I find I am constantly asking myself if I did enough, could I have done more? Why did this have to happen? Where is Chris? Does he miss me as much as I miss him? Painful? Yes. Cathartic? I suppose, slowly but surely. But I've come to the realisation that I will never again be as happy as I was with Chris, never again in the same way. I will never love like that again, I will never feel love like that again. But, God, I was so lucky to have that love, to have Chris in my life. And, as odd as it may sound, I was lucky that I could hold and kiss his hand as he made his journey into the universe. I will and I have smiled, I will and I have laughed. I have appreciated the hugs and kisses of my family and friends. I will not mope, I will not become something I am not. I have always been a "glass half full" person and I will continue to be so. But, jeez, this really, really hurts.

I have had the most wonderful cards and notes from folks, even a couple of bouquets. And this past Tuesday, two of my friends from the market arrived in the afternoon, with scones and pancakes and fudge and a card that all the stallholders had signed. Cue the tears again. I hope to get to the market this Tuesday, as a visitor, of course. It will be good to be in the company of my market family. At the end of November and beginning of December, I will take part in the two Christmas markets. Of course, that will require some making of pieces on my part.

Chris has obviously had a word with my muse and sent her back to me. I have had such an urge to get into the studio and create for the past week. My friend, Beatrice, is coming over tomorrow to help me sort the studio, which has become nothing more than a dumping ground over the last three months. I will create beautiful things because that is what Chris wanted me to do. He wanted me to get back into my art as soon as I could. And, hopefully, I will feel this way when I sit at my bench.  It has been said, of the great artists, that their best works were often created during times of pain and sadness. If that is the case, then I will be creating amazing pieces. But the creation of those pieces will bring me joy. And I will feel Chris with me every step of the way. I just wish, as before, I could show him the pieces as I finish for his critique. He was my biggest admirer, my best critic, my touchstone.

It is hard to believe that October is coming to an end soon. It seems as if it just started. But time seems to go by more quickly the older I become. Soon, I will face another impossible task - getting through the first Christmas without Chris. This next year, there will be so many first times to get through - the first birthday, Valentine's Day, Father's Day, anniversary. And each will open up the gash on my heart and soul that is grief. And each time, I will get through it because I am strong enough.

The pain of losing the love of my life will never go away, but then, the love will never go away, either. I feel his love and will feel it for the rest of my life. This song, from "Love Never Dies," the sequel to "The Phantom of the Opera" pretty much says what I feel...

Sunday, October 14, 2018

And in the end...

My beloved Chris died on Sunday, September 30th. Two weeks ago today. It feels like so long ago, and it also feels unreal. I keep thinking I see him out of the corner of my eye. I know I can still feel his presence - in my heart and in my soul. But the pain of losing him has proved greater than I could have imagined.

I was comforted in those first moments by one of the district nurses, who was standing right by us as Chris took his last breath. She was amazing. She just did what had to be done - called the doctor to certify the death and the undertaker to come get Chris' body. It all happened so quickly, it seems. The doctor arrived within an hour to confirm that Chris had died. He was so gentle and kind. I had to confess to both the nurse and the undertaker, when he arrived, that my vision of an undertaker was rather Dickensian, so I was glad when he showed up with a comforting smile on his face and without the black suit and waistcoat, tall hat, and pinched face I had imagined. I kissed Chris' face before they took him. When I reached for his hand, it was so cold, but I gave it one last squeeze and told him how much I loved him. I slipped his wedding band off and it placed it on my middle finger, right next to my engagement ring and wedding band. And there it will stay. I left the room, heard a zipper being zipped, and he was gone. I expect to receive his ashes sometime in the next week. The undertaker has kindly said he will divide the ashes into two receptacles so it will be easier when the time comes to spread half in Chris' beloved Sussex and the rest with me when I die. A dear and lovely friend who is a gifted ceramicist has generously offered to make a beautiful vessel in which to store his ashes. I will make a sterling silver band, with the Celtic design of eternal love, to place around the neck of the vessel, with either a cork or wax to seal it for now.

We had his memorial service on the Monday week after he died (October 8th). His brother had come from Singapore to help after his death and I didn't want him to have to stay in Scotland too long, and for the kids it was easier to have something sooner rather than later. Chris didn't want a funeral or some sort of ceremony at the crematorium, so we had a gathering at the Poolewe Village Hall. It was lovely, the humanist celebrant was just right for the occasion, as Chris was not a religious man. We played his favourite "A Lark Ascending" at the beginning of the service and then the celebrant talked about Chris' life and, at appropriate moments, called up those who were speaking. Mike, my brother-in-law, was first, reading a poem entitled "My Brother." Then Olly read a poem he wrote called "Let's Take a Walk" that I was glad to have read ahead of time. It was so beautiful and so touching. And then the time came for us all to reflect and say goodbye in our own hearts as our Lucy played Erik Satie's "GymnopĂ©die 1." A poem I found called "Instructions" which were written as if Chris himself were telling us how to go on without him was then read. The service ended with the celebrant reading a poem I wrote and then Afro Celt Sound System's piece "Persistence of Memory."  I wept from before the service started - entering the hall to see photos of Chris everywhere, along with a large canvas of my favourite "portrait" of him. Friends gathered and gave me so much love and support and my family gathered round and we held each other so tight. I am so lucky to have married into a family I love so dearly. My own Callie and Stuart and the girls were with me from the night of the 30th until Tuesday the 9th, and I appreciate their help, along with all the help and comfort given by my Mawson family. I am so blessed.

I've pasted the photo of Chris, links to the music, and my poem below. If you would like to see a copy of the whole service, please feel free to email me and I can send you a transcript of the service.

Thank you all for your love, comfort, prayers, and support throughout this ordeal. It hasn't been easy, but it has taught me that love can be real and it can be eternal. In a world of so much that is wrong, I am lucky to have been touched by a love so real, so unconditional ... I will always love my Chris.

Ralph Vaughn Williams - "A Lark Ascending"

Erik Satie - "GymnopĂ©die 1" 

Afro Celt Sound System - "Persistence of Memory"

For My Chris - Martha Gates Mawson

I have never known this kind of pain before,
But I had never known this kind of love before.
One must follow the other, I suppose, when death comes.

But death cannot kill love, indeed, it only makes it stronger.
It lives on in my heart and in his eternal and limitless energy – 
in his spirit that will not, that cannot be diminished.

He lives on in his children, in his grandchildren, present and future, 
and in the hearts of those who loved him.
He lives on in me and the myriad memories we made together.

I held his hand as he slipped away,
Told him I loved him for millionth time … and the last time,
Kissed his face and hands and heard his final breath.

And in that moment, I knew my life would never be the same,
And while I would never again feel this depth of sadness, 
I will always be full of love, because that is what he left me… 
a legacy of love and laughter and silliness and goodness.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Little by little...

Since my last post, just under a month ago, we've had more changes. Chris now spends his time in a hospital bed that has been set up in the living room. The bed faces the large box bay window, so he can look out to see the tiny birds gather in the hedge or watch the sky as it changes, see the rain on the windows, watch the day become night and then day again. If we raise the bed up to its maximum height, he can see Loch Ewe and, at the far end of the loch, that part of the North Atlantic that is referred to as The Minch. He is connected to a syringe pump for his pain meds and a catheter now allows him to get through the day without giving a thought to needing the loo. His pain meds have been changed from oxycodone to diamorphine and a sedative called midazolam. The diamorphine has been steadily increased from the start and I believe the midazolam is going to be increased this week as he is feeling more anxious and fidgety. As he no longer has the strength to stand or walk, we are trying so hard to help him understand that he must stay in bed or risk injury. It is hard to tell someone who, for most of their life, couldn't sit still for two seconds together that they must stay in bed. It's hard. So hard.

And I say we as I am now joined in this final stand against cancer by our district nurses, health care assistants, Marie Curie nurses (a charity that provides respite for carers), our GPs, and other NHS personnel. I am proud to be in such company. I can't imagine going through this without their support and strength. And they are so good to both of us - it's amazing.

This past week, I was sure the end of was very near. Then Chris rallied for a couple of days and was feeling better. This morning, sometime around 4, he slipped off the bed. I found him at 6. (I had checked on him just prior, as my arthritic limbs only lasted two nights of sleeping on the sofa before it became intolerable - but the riser recliner should be here this week and then I will be able to stay all night.) I immediately called the district nurse on duty and she came over. On looking Chris over, she decided to call the ambulance (if nothing else, the guys could put Chris back in bed). It appeared that he may have fractured his hip, although the shortening and rotation of the right leg had developed over the last 10 weeks or so with the back and hip pain. The GP came round and it was determined that Chris did not want to go to hospital and, as he is on palliative care only, there is little that anyone could do if he had fractured the hip. Surgery would be out of the question and, no doubt, the journey to and from the hospital could cause even more discomfort. His only wish is to stay home with me. The district nurse gave him a painkiller injection (his pump syringe had malfunctioned when he fell, so had not been working for a couple of hours) and he went to sleep. He has been asleep since - for a total of four hours so far. I hope he will continue to sleep for a bit longer. He has not been sleeping well the last three days. We had his catheter removed due to blockage and the sensation of needing to pee simply wouldn't relent and he was constantly moving to the edge of the bed to try to use a portable urinal - and this is probably what he was doing when he fell. With a new catheter in, I am hoping he will sleep again and not be awakened by those urges. I watch him sleep, listening for each inhalation and each exhalation. I know our time is growing short. When the GP (locum on duty this weekend) came, he asked about time predictions. The district nurse said it was just weeks now, not even a month. I knew that, but to hear it said out loud took my breath away.

My love and admiration for Chris continues to grow as each day goes by. His acceptance of his fate is both amazing and full of grace. I just wish we could have more time. And his drugs, of course, often confuse him or make conversation difficult as I try to follow what he says. It sometimes makes so little sense. But I just keep telling him how much I love him, how much his family loves him, how much we all love him. As long as I can say those words, I will tell him, over and over again. When he leaves for The Summerlands, I want to be sure that he goes knowing full well that he was loved and cherished by everyone who knew him and that won't change. Not even death can destroy that love. I've come to realise that the oft-quoted vow of "til death do us part" isn't accurate. Death won't part us, not really. True, he won't be here anymore as his physical self, but I will feel his presence, feel his love, every day for the rest of my life. Until we are together again...