Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Normality, Part 2

The normality starts to get to me. I find myself missing him all the more because I slip into normality, and forget he's not here. Then I catch myself and remember, and it hurts. The familiar routines become suddenly empty. I realise it is because we had arrived at the thing so many think and believe they want: he was my 'other half'. As I have said, it's not that we shared every thought, it's not that we didn't keep some things private from each other. It's not even as if we were always in perfect accord — far from it. But we were necessary to each other. And now — well I guess it's a bit like the time I went off to Texas for five weeks and left him behind on his own. Except now he's the one who's gone off. I know he is busy and full of energy. That makes me feel even a bit resentful in my worst moments. Selfish of me — because I do not wish to join him yet. I am just grudging him whatever takes him away from me, from here. Selfish and childish; I am being a petulant child. Of course I don't really want him back to suffer and struggle. He tried so hard!

But when Freya lies down with me in bed and looks for him, and purrs — but never as loudly as she did when he was here, and stretches out — but never with such complete, trusting abandonment as when he was here, I become sad.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I Behave Normally; It Feels Weird

I observe myself doing all the usual things — shopping, feeding the cats, vacuuming the floors, watching the shows I like on telly.... Part of me just can't understand how I can go on acting so normal. My friend Mo said that when her first husband died — years ago, in a sudden and shocking way when he was still young — she used to think afterwards, 'How can the birds go on singing?' What I am experiencing is not like that. I'm quite happy for the world to remain normal; it's me being normal that seems bizarre.

And yet, what else is there to do? We had arrived at quite a pleasant lifestyle, in the way we conducted the everyday trivia. It was something we enjoyed together; now I need to learn how to enjoy it when it's for one.

It does make it seem, sometimes, as if he must still be here. Because there I am, going about my usual business just as if he was.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

There's Only Me (I Say Repeatedly)

... in all sorts of ways, with all sorts of permutations. So I thought to start recording a few:

There's only me.
The grapes rot
before I finish them.

There's only me.
I play music
without headphones.

There's only me.
Why do I wear
my prettiest sarongs?

There's only me.
The cats spread out more
on the bed.

There's only me.
It takes four days
to fill the washing machine.

There's only me.
But his voice in the passenger seat
still says, 'You're clear this side.'

There's only me.
I arrange the pillows
a different way.

There's only me.
I can eat all
the chocolate.

Expanded, final sequence here. (It could go on and on, but I think this is enough.)


(from personal journal)

The cats are such good company for me! Now we are settling down into a 'we three' consciousness. We stop looking for him, who was so much a part of our home, our family, our lives. We know he has moved on. We know that now it is indeed just we three. We bond together into this tighter unit.

Not that we were not bonded, of course; it's more a drawing in closer, a re-configuration of the shape of this little family that we are. We make new routines — only slightly different from the old. All is familiar, reassuring, habitual — and yet it is subtly changed. We have got past the first awful weeks of feeing the gap, the vital ingredient gone missing. Now we have seamlessly closed over that gap, so we have not a gaping hole but an alteration in the fabric, a different pattern to the weave.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

So Soon?

We had the minutiae of daily life working well, in ways that suited us. So those details still work for me. At present my habits and routines help me feel normal.

It wasn't so in the beginning. All those little things were a source of pain because of the missing bit — him. After only six weeks it is a comfort, in a way, to know what to do. I fall back on the usual.

It seems very soon, but I find myself feeling acceptance. Not long ago I had a whole day of incredible peace — the kind I associate with being in the presence of angels. I think it was him. (He was what Doreen Virtue calls an earth angel, and what my friend L, who can see people's spiritual origins, refers to as a feathered angel.) It didn't last beyond that day, but afterwards everything had shifted.

Oh yes, I still have my grief, acutely at times — like, several times a day — and I still talk to him, both in my head and out loud, regardless of whether he's listening or not. I still have tears, and even the odd shriek. But behind all that, this shift into acceptance.

I guess everyone's journey of grief is their own, individual, but it does seem to me that it has come very soon.

From a Letter to My Brother

...in response to his hope that I'm 'doing OK and managing to stay on an even keel.'

I am doing OK, all things considered. I have moments of acute grief, but they are only moments. He went when it was absolutely time for him to go, and I can only be glad he didn't linger. We had a great 20 years, and the final years — while difficult in many ways — were particularly loving. I'm glad he is free of the physical restrictions and discomforts he suffered for so long, and in a way it has freed me too. His practical care, despite having some respite in place, was increasingly arduous and time-consuming. So much so that I am feeling a bit purposeless now by contrast, wondering what my life is for. In the past, I would always have told others that life is its own purpose and reward!

I am living it anyway, and glad to be doing so. My friends and neighbours are good at keeping in touch and making sure I am not too much alone, and that I know I can use them for unburdening whenever I feel like it. But I am a writer, so that is what I use for unburdening. Not much poetry happening since he died — just a little starting again — in contrast to the months of anguished poems earlier. (It really was a bugger of a year, when I look back ... though full of precious moments too.) But I am journalling and blogging. Meanwhile the cats keep me grounded. And I finally have leisure to catch up with many things that got put on hold the last coupla years, as well as the freedom to get out and about as I like. I have resumed Tai Chi lessons after a gap in which I didn't even find time to practise; and, having inherited Andrew's digital camera, am playing with photography. I am also sorting through his papers, which will be a long, unhurried task; and I am rearranging things in the house to suit me better.

It feels very strange not to share my activities with him, if only in conversation. But in truth there was much less of that in recent months, as he spent much time asleep, and when awake was sometimes confused and forgetful. I have in a way had a gradual preparation for being alone and self-sufficient.

Marriage is a great adventure, and ours was certainly fulfilled. No loose ends. I guess widowhood is my next adventure. Adventures aren't always nice, but they are interesting and they get you somewhere. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Finding a New Hobby

When young Andrew was to enter the work force, he wanted to be apprenticed to learn photography but his father steered him into retail sales instead. That didn't last long, but he'd lost his chance of apprenticeship. He became a film editor, which must have helped satisfy his artistic urges. All his life he also took photographs, most of them very good. There are some wonderful framed blow-ups which we've always had on our walls: a London bus at night (with Tardis in background, I swear); young lovers in Central Park, New York; a colourful New York street scene; and an Australian landscape. He gave one of his sons a stunning framed blowup of Mt Warning at twilight, as a wedding present.

When digital cameras were invented, he wanted one of course. I got him one for his 80th birthday. (We went to the camera shop and he chose the one he wanted, then I put it on lay-by and paid it off over the next six months.) He enjoyed it for the rest of his life, and took some more good photos. Also I used it sometimes when his hands were too shaky; he explained the shots he wanted me to take. And then I sometimes borrowed it to take other snaps. He left it to me (along with most of his other possessions).

I was given a box brownie when I was 12. I didn't have much idea of how to compose a photo, just snapped friends for the record. As photography was an expensive hobby in the days of film, I didn't continue with it when I got older. But now some things have coincided. 

In July a friend created the Photo a Day Challenge on facebook, with a month of people photographing trees. I didn't; I was one of the people who enjoyed looking at the results. The next month was rocks, and well into the month (Day 27!) I suddenly realised I had some rocks I'd like to photograph. Andrew was in the nursing home. My two older stepchildren had been and gone; the younger was yet to arrive. It was obvious Andrew was dying, just not exactly how long it would take. It was good, in the times when I was not bedside, to have something nice to do to take my mind off things for a few minutes. 

Andrew died on September 3rd and after that there was a lot to attend to in various ways. That was the month of birds in Photo a Day Challenge. I didn't have any bird photos, nor time and inclination to take any. I didn't even tune in that often to admire other people's. But now, in October, as widowhood settles in, the theme is flowers — appropriate for Spring in Australia. I missed the first week, but since then I have been enjoying the challenge of finding the flowers and attempting to compose beautiful and/or interesting shots. (And now of course, one can manipulate them on computer for better results.) It's lovely to have a new interest, just at the time when I need something.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Changing the Pillows

Strange little adjustments happen.

I arrange the pillows on the bed — the same number of pillows — so it looks more like one occupant than two. (Otherwise I am too forcibly reminded of the absent one.)

Each of us came to the marriage with a triangle pillow for sitting up in bed. His had a navy pillowcase, and was smaller than mine, which had an off-white one. And I had a big pyramid pillow. All have been very much used over the years and are still here. His triangle pillow was with him on both stays at Heritage Lodge, and in the hospital that last time.

I used to make our bed with a triangle pillow each side, on top of the pillows we slept on, and the pyramid pillow in front in the middle. (And a toy tiger sitting on top!) I put it back that way to show you:

When I make the bed now, I have the flat pillows either side, but I then arrange the triangle pillows atop them in the centre, one behind the other, and the pyramid pillow in front as usual. Psychologically it makes a big difference to me.

(I want to keep all the pillows, as I only have a single bed as a spare bed. If ever I get couples staying, I can vacate and give them the double, with two sets of pillows. Meanwhile there's nowhere else to store them all.)

The bedside tables and the pictures above the bed are somewhat different from how they used to be, too. That's for reasons of convenience and aesthetics, but it doesn't hurt in terms of reducing the glaring gap of his absence, either.

At night, I still sleep on 'my' side of the bed. The cats now stretch out on the other.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Adjustments, realisations, alterations ...

Already it's over a month since he died!

I've realised I need to get out of the house and be among people, if not every day then most days. For that and other reasons, I now shop often for small amounts, instead of doing one great big shop per fortnight. Although I didn't always use it, the Coles online shopping service was very useful when Andrew was at home and couldn't be left. Now I can't imagine using it any more unless I become sick. A friend informs me that what I'm doing now is 'the French way — buying everything fresh'. (It's certainly necessary from that aspect too, as otherwise food would be going bad at the rate I eat it.) 

My friends are very good. They ask me out or phone to check how I'm doing, making sure I'm not too much alone. I'm accepting invitations and enjoying them. Coming home again to my own company is sometimes a bit of a let-down.

I've always talked to myself, and to inanimate objects, so that's not much of an adjustment. But I've been doing it a bit more lately. And I'm talking to him perhaps a little less than I did at first — but still quite often. 

I still haven't had the 'good long howl' people advise. When I get weepy moments, I think I will — but then my mind progresses naturally to the many happy memories, and the tears dry up. So I am shedding them little by little instead. I can't seem to help this, but I don't know that it's a good thing. My body has always been inclined to give me messages that put me in closer touch with my emotions, and what it's manifesting right now is fluid retention! The message could hardly be clearer. Obviously I haven't shed nearly enough tears yet.

Sorting through his notebooks and unpublished writings, I find that several times in the last couple of years he wrote about being ready to die — partly because he was sick of the pain in his body, and partly because he longed to be with his father and brother again. It's clear from what he wrote that he hung on for my sake. I'm so grateful that he did! The gradualness of his deterioration gave me time to become resourceful and self-reliant enough for life on my own. His health scares and hospital stays which didn't result in death, but looked as if they might, allowed me to confront the possibility and motivated me to get wills and things put in place. 

He didn't always feel ready to go, however. Much of the time, even in his last days at home, he was keen to stick around and get on with his life's work — which was, essentially, inspiring people to embrace their highest potential. His gift for writing was simply one means of doing so. He was particularly motivated to work with youth — hence his children's books, and his role (before I knew him) in bringing to Australia the Discovery accelerated learning course for teenagers. 

Since his death, many of his friends old and new have mentioned what an inspiration he was to them. Several have credited him with being a mentor to them.  I hope he knows now how well he did perform the function he so wanted to in people's lives. I don't think he ever quite believed it when he was here. I said to a friend today that he under-estimated himself. 'The good thing was that you never did,' she replied. Getting him to believe me was a challenge, though! Now I have been coming across birthday and Christmas cards from his daughter, telling him over and over again what an inspiration he was to her, what a guiding light in her life. He kept and evidently treasured these cards, so perhaps her words got through to him.

I am making some changes to our home. 'You must make it your own little nest now,' said a friend who was widowed a few years ago. It started when I bagged up his clothes to give to the opportunity shop and spread into his wardrobe as well as my own. Various other changes have followed, and will follow. 

Pretty new couches have replaced the ancient armchairs which we only kept because he was still able to haul himself out of them. 

I was given a beautiful painting of an angel. (Long story.) Putting it in the perfect spot meant removing another picture, altering the placing of yet others.... In the course of this I realised I want to make the whole place into a more magical space now, instead of confining that aspect of my life and being mostly to one particular area. I've started with a small altar in the bedroom, even though I have a main altar out in the garage — which I'm never likely to use as a garage, it being my library, temple and consulting room. 

His office, which has the spare bed in one corner, will become a more comfortable guest room. When there are no guests, which is most of the time, it will be a pleasant work space for me to iron, draw, practise my Tai Chi, or meditate. Oh yes, I've started Tai Chi lessons again, after two years when I simply couldn't leave him in order to attend. 

I've resumed Tai Chi, daily walks, and meditation, and I've stopped the evening glass or two of red wine which I'd got into the habit of. After all, I have now had an excellent demonstration of the importance of maintaining good health into old age!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Things I'm Noticing

(Jotted down over several days.)

  • I hate it when a car drives up, because it's never going to be him. (Not that he drove the last couple of years.) It's not any old car but the sound of a familiar one, like my neighbour's in the back unit, coming up the driveway. Takes me back, I suppose.

  • I'm afraid that, as the years go on, I will lose the immediacy of my memories and my sense of connectedness to him; he will just become for me The Past. I can't bear the thought of that possibility! On the other hand, I'm afraid of getting stuck in the past and not moving forward and evolving. Also I believe that he, as a spirit, must evolve too and not be hindered by my emotions holding him back in any way. Academic questions, perhaps. I can't try and control things either way. I can only go on day by day, being in the moment and reacting spontaneously. And what will be will be.

  • I feel lonely when I do things for one that I used to do for two, such as making morning tea.

  • I was having a tearful day when I went out with my friend. 'You cry so lady-like,' she said affectionately. 'Have you had a good howl yet?' I laughed.' Oh yes, at home I wail and sob and swear.' But then I thought, afterwards, 'No, I haven't had a real good howl yet. The wails and sobs and swearing last only a minute or two at a time, and then I pull myself together and get on with whatever's at hand.' I can't produce a good long howl to order, but next time I find myself getting teary, if I'm home alone I'll go for it.

  • Everyone says how wonderfully I looked after him, and I certainly did my best. But what they don't realise is that he looked after me too. Tonight I choked on my dinner; a lump of food went down the wrong way. A scary moment! I reached around and thumped my own back, and after a lot of coughing and spluttering, it came up. He would of course have done that for me if he'd been here. On one of his last nights at home, I had an uncontrollable fit of sobbing. 'I don't exactly know why,' I told him, 'It's just that everything's a bit much.' He cradled me in his arms, murmuring endearments, until I was soothed. I felt cherished and safe. That kind of looking after I'll never get again. Maybe the memory will sustain me.

  • My appetite at mealtimes has diminished considerably. This was unexpected. I tempt myself with things I like, and paradoxically I am putting on weight, though just a little. 

  • My eating is altering in other ways. I used to make meals we both enjoyed, but there are things I love which Andrew didn't, so I am buying them now — salt herring, sardines, cottage cheese....  Instead of big tubs  of yoghurt, which now take forever to get through, I have started buying the tiny, individual ones. I haven't fancied tinned fruit, although I always used to. Luckily I still fancy fresh. I have largely given up trying to cook for one. I make stir-fries and get two meals out of them. I cook up big pots of soup and freeze most of it in individual containers — that gives me six or seven meals. I am sticking to the Oatmilk Andrew used, which I learned to love, but I don't go through it very fast as I don't have milk in my coffee and eat cereal only occasionally. Luckily it keeps. One packet now lasts as long as four used to. I have got in small UHT packets of dairy milk for visitors' cuppas.

  • There are times when I become aware that subconsciously I still expect him to return home after a short time away, as if death is just some kind of trip he's taking.

  • Freya still sleeps on the bed. She used to squeeze up between us and purr her little head off. Now she either stretches out on his side, or comes close to me for a cuddle. She does purr, but never so ecstatically loud and long as she used to when she was with us both.