Saturday, November 30, 2013

Afterword. New Resolution: Don’t Look Back

Mid-November was my wedding anniversary. Last year, so soon after Andrew's death, it wasn't an occasion for extra grief; it blended in with the rest, one long grieving process. This time, having finally arrived at quite a nice place after a year of grieving, suddenly I was hit with another round of crying which lasted the rest of the month. 

Looking back to the happy times, I cried because those times are past. Looking back to the traumatic times, I cried because I was unable to make life perfect for him. And then, watching a TV program about someone far gone with Alzheimer's, I cried with thankfulness that he (who had it only mildly) never got to be like that. 

Additionally, I've again experienced shaking and breathlessness, things I need to remember popping out of my mind almost as soon as they pop in, and the deadening effects of depression. 

'So I know the grief is liable to recur at all sorts of times, in all sorts of ways. I am not so stupid as to imagine I'll ever 'get over it'. But I don't want to court these recurrences. I've decided I must stop looking back. It will happen unbidden of course, so in practice that's likely to mean nipping it in the bud, switching my thoughts as soon as I catch them. 

It's not as if I've been suppressing my feelings for the last year. I don't think it's unhealthy if at this point I refuse to wallow. I might have many years of living left. I'd like to live them, not stay tied to the past.

So, OK, no looking back — but how do I look forward? The unknown future confronts me. I have no idea what direction it will take. Anything could happen. My only plan is to be present for it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Becoming Someone I Don't Yet Know

It is already a little over a year. At first, when the year was up, it seemed a turning point. I could come alive; I could come into joy. But now I find myself sobbing again at unexpected moments, when a triggered memory reminds me that he's gone. It is as if I were reliving what it was like a year ago, so soon after he died. But I know it's not like that. (That was worse.)

Then I was not only grieving but very busy with all sorts of things that must be attended to when someone dies - paperwork, disposing of possessions, executing the will.... 

Now I have more time, less duty. I leave the dishes in the sink and feel guilty that in his last months, when he wanted me to leave them and come to bed, I would wash them anyway. I feel guilty not to have pleased him in this small way, but I also know that I was run off my feet in those months and was saving myself from being even busier next morning. The circumstances were different; I acted (and act) accordingly. I cry to think of cuddles I could have had instead of standing at a sink. Then I remember how often he stayed awake reading until I did join him, so we could have the cuddles anyway. Or we would have them in the morning ... or both.

I encounter feelings of surreality. I find myself thinking that nothing's normal any more — 'normal' being the way we did things as a couple. Now that I am single, I don't even eat the same food anymore. And I find, strangely, that I don't fancy watching movies I would have anticipated with pleasure seeing with him. That's a revelation: that some movies are pleasures to be shared and much of the pleasure is in the sharing.

There are others, of course, that I want to see anyway, and enjoy for myself. Some of them he'd have liked too; some he wouldn't have — none of that is anything new. But to find that movies I would have looked forward to now leave me indifferent because he is not with me, that's amazing.

After doing a Sunday market stall yesterday, I treat today as my Sunday. I think, when I get up, that I'll tidy the living-room some time today, but in fact I do very little of that. I spend most of the day reading. Again, I feel guilt. I know, at the same time, that if he had still been here, we might have had a lovely, lazy day together, both reading, and not feeling a bit guilty. It would have been cosy, companionable, a sweet treat. It's of course not the same now, but wouldn't you think I could at least enjoy this kind of day for its own sake? But I can't revel in it, and the thought of how it used to be makes me cry some more.

We had a companionate marriage, I decided last night, thinking about my three marriages. That's what made it so much better than the other two. Bill (husband number two) and I had some companionable times too, but we basically had different ways of operating. Although we enjoyed many of the same things — books, movies, travel — we had different ways of being in the world. He was an active man, and a lover of talk. I'm sedentary, reflective, and bad at making conversation.

For most of the time since Andrew died, my memory went over and over the last few weeks of his life, then the last few months and years since our move to this, our final home together at the beginning of 2010. It was six months after we moved in that he became ill and (as I now know) began his decline. I dwelt on that decline, as if we had no previous existence. But eventually I must have processed it enough, and began remembering further back, over the whole of our years together. More recently I have gone further still, back to my life before Andrew was in it — my long and eventful life. We both had long and eventful lives before we knew each other; then we shared another long, eventful life together.

I seem to be doing a kind of stock-taking. 

A year has gone by, and a bit more. The years will keep going by. I think that the time will come when my life with Andrew will take on some unreality. I am no longer afraid of forgetting him, as I was at first: trying to cling to the memories, even the traumatic ones. I have remembered that, 30-odd years ago when someone I was in love with died suddenly, afterwards I never forgot him. To this day I remember, and that was a much shorter and less intimate relationship than I had with Andrew. No, I won't ever forget, but I fear there will come a time when it isn't quite real any more — when it becomes just a story that happened to me once upon a time.

That is not quite how it is about Bill, nor about the other love who died. Those are things that happened a long time ago now, but they are still real and vivid. No, it is more that I am another person by now, to whom a lot of other things have happened. And of course I shall continue to live and evolve and experience new things. One day I won't be the me who lived with Andrew, who worked with him and travelled with him and made new friends with him, the one who taught him and was taught by him, who nursed him and lost him.

The me who experienced earlier sections of my life is still within me, part of me. So will Andrew's wife / lover / best friend be — but the whole of me will be something else again, incorporating that along with everything else, but also a new and different person. 

It must be so. Indeed it is good that it will be so — better than stagnating. But I see that what I am mourning now is probably myself as much as him: this self which is already in the process of changing. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

There's More to Say After All

I had an afternoon nap — a rare thing for me, but I had a late night last night and have to go out this evening. I dreamed that Andrew came back. I dreamed that his illness and death had all been a dream, and now I was awake. 

He was so well! And he looked quite a few years younger — still grey-haired, but very fit and happy. (Better than I ever saw him, in fact.) He had apparently been away somewhere, as I showed him all the changes and improvements I have been making to the unit. He was very pleased and encouraging. 

My friend Tish, who is consciously connected to God and the angels, told me two nights ago that Andrew had finally left the earth realms and been 'assimilated'. Apparently one or more old friends had been trying to hang on to him, to use him to get messages from 'Upstairs' — not realising that (a) being still attached to the earth realms, he was in no position to do that, and (b) they'd do better to connect directly with God anyway. However he is now in the right place to start his work. Tish said he will be working with children (which he himself told his daughter he would be doing, when he visited her shortly after he died). And he will be my angel. 

Neither of those things is any great surprise. But I must say, they are very nice to know. 

Now I wonder if it was a true dream, and that was his angelic self come to visit. Not only did he seem in much better health than I ever saw him, even when he was well, but ... I was going to say he also seemed kinder and wiser, but he was those things in life anyway. It was as if he was more assured in his kindness and wisdom, more at home with them. And he was clearly very happy, in what I sensed as a calm, ongoing kind of way. It is really quite hard to describe these impressions. I'm groping after the words. But I experienced them clearly enough. He was himself, and at the same time a sort of bigger and better Andrew. If it had just been a wish-fulfilment dream, I think I would have dreamed him exactly as he was in life.

Oddly enough, I didn't feel particularly upset when I did wake up and find his illness and death were not a dream.

Soon after he died, as I have recounted elsewhere, he came to look in on me. I actually saw him for a moment. And since then I've occasionally felt as if he was there briefly. But for the most part I have not felt his presence, which was odd given that I'm a psychic medium. I talked to him constantly in my head, of course, just to get myself through my days, but never with any sense or even expectation that he was really hearing me. It pissed me off a bit, though I tried to tell myself, 'Oh well, he's busy with his new work'. I am thinking now that it may have been because his attention was monopolised by people wanting him to act as their personal messenger! 

Never mind. All his friends loved him. Anyone doing that would have been misguided, not malevolent. And now he is where he belongs. 

And I do think he came to visit me in that dream.

Monday, September 9, 2013

So Here I Am

So here I am again, writing in my garden, on my trusty iPad Mini. It's a pleasantly warm day in early Spring. I have watered the garden, washed the car and swept the back steps. The vacuum cleaner is charging, preparatory to being used. I am feeling virtuous. 

The weather is conducive to my on-again, off-again daily walking habit, so at present it's on again. That and healthy eating is having me lose weight at a gradual, steady pace and feel energetic. 

My life is comfortable. It suits me. I am essentially doing the same things I've been doing for decades. I have even more freedom now to do just as I please, without taking a house mate into account. Yes, I still have anguished moments; I still miss him and would prefer he were here — if that could be in vibrant health — but I make do, and find ways to enjoy my solitary life. What a blessing that I have always liked my own company, and in fact have always needed plenty of solitude between interactions. There are still interactions, on and off-line. I need them too, of course, as we all do, and I'm lucky they are there.

This dear, daggy little town we came to live in 19 years ago suits me too. It's surrounded by the natural beauty I love, it has all the shops and services I need, and enough people here know me either as friends or acquaintances. I love small towns, where you can't walk down the street without exchanging greetings with someone you know — usually several people. I grew up in one (Launceston, before it was a city) and I'm glad to be spending this end of my life in another. Actually I am spending it in a region, and many of the surrounding villages are familiar and nurturing too.

I can't walk around town or drive around the area without Andrew being everywhere, in memories that spring to life every moment. When we came here, I was glad that this was one place which (previous husband) Bill and I had never explored in our travels around Australia. We always meant to go and check out Nimbin some day (famous hippy town) which would have meant going through Murwillumbah, but we never did. So there were no memories of Bill and me imprinted on this place. Likewise, Andrew had not been here before. We came to a new place for us, to conduct our new marriage. 

And we loved it from the start. 'Australia's best-kept secret,' we said, and, 'Paradise!'  We continued to love it. We missed our families, all the more so as we aged and made fewer visits back to Melbourne, while they acquired more and more responsibilities and made fewer visits to us. But the thought of leaving this locality was never desirable.

This place is my home, and it is full of Andrew. That still occasionally causes a pang, but mostly it's a pleasure, and adds to my sense of belonging. Nowadays I am more often remembering further back than the recent difficult years of illness and decline. I guess I had to work through them awhile and release all the pent-up emotions. Now it's a pleasure to recall all the rest of our life together, and the adventures great and small.

I could no doubt continue these 'chronicles' indefinitely — and no doubt I shall, in some form. But it seems to me that this is a logical point at which to end this blog, having traversed my first year of widowhood and reached some peace. I'll continue posting about my life back at my SnakyPoet personal blog.

I have just realised that on this date last year we held Andrew's wake. A fitting completion date indeed.

The next project is to turn this account into a book — perhaps including poems I wrote on the same topic, and private journal entries which at the time felt too personal to share. Thank you very much to those who suggested it should be a book, thereby motivating me to try and make it happen.

I'll keep you posted! I'll leave this blog up as an archive, and as a place to tell you about the book, when that comes to fruition.

Thank you all for reading, and for your kind and understanding comments.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Getting to Base Camp

Sunday morning, 9am. The day starts up: a plane drones over; a lawnmower comes to life down the street. The cats and I have had breakfast. When I start late, it works for me to meditate after breakfast, not before, though that's against all the 'rules'. Feeling hungry is too much distraction. And life itself distracts; if I decide to do it before lunch instead, I might never get to it.

I like to come out here early, when the day is fresh. The machinery noises have gone now, and some nearby bird is chirping, softly and briefly. It is the first day of Spring. This time last year, Adam went home (back to Melbourne) in the afternoon, after visiting Andrew in Heritage Lodge in the morning. He had been here several days, and felt there was no more he could do, as well as no more he could stand.

'Goodbye, Dad,' he said, knowing it as the final goodbye. Andrew was deeply loved by all his children, and loved them deeply. Remembering, I'm struck by the sadness in that moment. At the time, it was one piece of a larger, ongoing, all-encompassing sadness.

On the first of September last year I wrote a poem (a tanka): 

in Spring
the time of new life
my dear love
makes ready to travel
to the Summerlands

And indeed, two days later he went. The anniversary is now so close! I cannot believe a year has gone by already. A year in which I have been focused on getting through grief and widowhood as best I could, a day at a time. I am reminded of what my psychiatrist said, many years ago when I was in therapy: 'Just keep putting one foot after the other —and after awhile, if you look back over your shoulder, you'll see that you've travelled quite a way.' Yes, a whole year, step by step. 

I feel as if I am only now beginning to adjust. I suppose it took that year-long journey to bring me to this point. I recall our flight to look at Everest in 1998, which revealed that it's a heck of a hike even to get to Base Camp — an arduous journey in itself, even before starting the actual ascent. I guess I've just reached Base Camp. This, I acknowledge, is an achievement in itself.

I don't expect to proceed very differently. I'll go on step by step. But for climbing a mountain, different plans and preparations must be made. You have to make sure you are physically fit. I'm working on it! You have to make sure you have the equipment you need. I've just upgraded various household appliances that conked out ... and I have my friends, my cats and my writing. You have to be in the right frame of mind. I meditate regularly now.

My neighbour next door has woken up and is giving the repeated, phlegmy cough with which he always starts the day. I think I'm bad, with the throat-clearing that goes on at night when I hit the pillow! If I drink olive leaf extract, that fixes it. This guy is much worse; but it seems to be a first-thing-in-the-morning occurrence, not lasting through the day.

We all continue doing our lives the best way we can. Until we stop.

This day, every year, is the birthday of my dear niece, Ellie. This day last year I didn't ring her. Couldn't quite come at saying, 'Happy Birthday — and by the way, Andrew's at death's door [uncontrollable sobs].' I deferred the call until some days after he died. But I'll phone today, in a little while.

Music, Meditation, and Another Small Epiphany

My new neighbour is playing heavy metal — not loud enough for me to hear when I was indoors, but very audible now from my back yard. Which is good. I like heavy metal. I'm not so into it that I could name bands, but I quite enjoy hearing it when I come across it. If that's his taste in music, I can happily co-exist.

Luckily I am well-trained in Transcendental Meditation, which I've practised (on and off) for about 40 years, and was able to do my morning meditation despite heavy metal in the background.

Now I have moved from my meditation chair to my writing table — both outdoors. There are indoor options too if the weather isn't right, but I love to be here in my little courtyard surrounded by trees. 

I find I am liking a number of things about my life alone. Many of them, of course, are things I also enjoyed in my life with him. So I guess what I am experiencing is some easing of grief, to recover that enjoyment even in present circumstances. Then again, this home was the scene of his decline, and during that period I had little time or opportunity to sit in this back yard to meditate or write. Now I can savour these enjoyments more. 

Acceptance increases, as I start to go further back in my memories than those final years. I was recalling the other day what an independent man he was, most of the time I knew him. It allowed me — finally — to be thankful for his Alzheimer's. (Of course, that would not be possible had it not been so mild.) There was only a fairly short time when his restrictions, such as having to stop driving, felt intolerable. Then the childlike aspect he acquired allowed him to live with them. They sometimes irked, but he was able to adapt and be in the moment. 

Then, although his mind became confused sometimes about present reality, it was still full of dynamic ideas and passionate ideals, still a place where he could engage with fascination and joy. 

I am continually led back to knowing that all happened for the best, no matter how hard that was to grasp at the time. 

I am sure it helps that I also believe in reincarnation and karma. Indeed, I think of it not as belief so much as knowledge. I don't view karma as reward and punishment, but as both achieving balance and experiencing all there is (which could scarcely be fitted into one lifetime, no matter how full). I realise that he was not only involved in working out the karma between the two of us, of which I have some awareness, but also other karma which had nothing to do with me. 

I believe, too, that the soul chooses its own life experiences before an individual incarnates. 

These ideas reinforce the notion that all was for the best, no matter how it looked or felt at the time. But it is one thing to understand all this intellectually, another to absorb it deeply, as I have just done in relation to Andrew ... and do over and over again, regarding various bits of what occurred. 

I don't get one big epiphany and then everything's all better forever and ever. I am sure I'm not done yet with crying and (literal) heartache. But I do have epiphanies, and something of each one stays.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Finding Peace

I am starting to like what I come home to now, after I've been out and about — which is peace. 

For a long time I missed what I used to come home to: the warmth of his presence here. But the months have passed, and I guess I'm adjusting. After he died, for a long time I came home to his absence — and, simultaneously, a house full of his vividly remembered presence. The memories accentuated the actuality of loss. It was only today that I noticed myself feeling peace on entering my home.

I have made it my home now, in various ways — new furniture and household appliances as needed, a rearrangement of some rooms, and new routines becoming new habits. It's nice.  It suits me. 

And I am further away now from the way things used to be. Time has done that. The last year of his life was particularly intense in terms of caring for him. He started seeing the geriatric specialist; it became necessary to put some respite care in place, because he could no longer be left alone safely; he had to use the wheely walker at all times, even around the house; and I managed a complex regime of blood tests and medications which he could no longer manage himself. But now another year has passed, in which none of those things happened, and so I arrive at this new state. 

'He was a lovely man,' people still say about him, and indeed he was. I will never have again that warmth he brought to our home, even in his decline, just by being here and being who he was — but I am thankful to have peace.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Want Someone to Make it Better Now!

We're in a sudden cold snap, just as we thought we were over the winter. The blankets I took off the bed are back on, and I've reinstated my hot water bottles. 

I'm glad it wasn't so cold this time last year. I'm glad Andrew wasn't cold in the hospital. He liked Murwillumbah Hospital. The whole community agrees it's a beautiful hospital, specifically because of the warmth and caring of the staff. He remarked, towards the end of that last stay there, 'This is a lovely hospital.'  

He hated being cold. 

I guess I'm saying that I'm glad he died when he did. I am, for many reasons. As I keep saying — because it becomes evident over and over again — it was perfect timing. What I'm sad about is that he had to die at all. Which of course is not rational, as we all must. And I'm sad that he was so ill before he went  — yet he bore it bravely, and still had many times of great joy in life. 

Earlier tonight I went out and communed briefly with the full moon. I did my full moon ritual the night before, when she was 99% full, which is close enough for the full moon energy to take effect. Not sure why; just felt that it was the time to do it. Perhaps the Universe, or my Unconscious, knew that tonight, on the actual night of the full moon, I would need something more personal. 

I went out because it was full moon. I rugged up warm because it was very cold out, using the hoodie again as my witch's robe (over slacks and boots). I was glad of both the hood and the length. Because I had done a full ritual last night, this time I simply greeted the moon and the elements. Then, unexpectedly, I found myself in tears, begging for help to heal my grief.

I want to have joy in remembering Andrew. I do have that, but I also have many tears. I don't suppose I'll ever stop missing him, and I wouldn't exactly want to. But I do want the intensity of grief to end. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Good Life — Past, Present, Future

It's an overcast day. It's gone all cold again after a few days that seemed as if Spring had already arrived. And I'm a little unwell, with an upper gastro-intestinal tract infection. Food tastes awful, and I'm unusually tired. It's exactly the sort of day I'd like to go to bed and snuggle up to my darling. But he ain't here. I did lie down earlier for a little snooze, but it's not the same.

Sometimes we had lazy days in bed together even when we were well, just for the heck of it. I miss that so much, but remind myself I'm glad to have had them. I constantly think of the Kahlil Gibran quote, 'in truth, you are weeping for that which has been your delight.'

I think way back to the little flat we had in Brighton, Melbourne, and the first weekend when we decided to just stay in bed and snuggle (apart from a few forays for food). Our friends Jim and Jen phoned up, and said, 'Oh how wonderful. We've forgotten what a good thing that is to do. We must have a day in bed soon, too.' That was in our very early days together.

We came up here to the subtropics around Murwillumbah, this little rural town in the Mt Warning Caldera, in search of a better life, according to our ideas of that. We found it. The things we thought we might miss in city living were art galleries and theatres — but Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and Lismore were not far away. We saw wonderful theatrical shows and art exhibitions over the years. And it was nothing to run up to Coolangatta for the latest movies, with lunch at a favourite cafe; and then later an even better cinema was built at Tweed Heads. We told family and friends we left behind that we'd be down to see them often enough — and for some years that was so. Also they visited us in our new home. We even travelled to Perth; we even went around the world.

Andrew was, as I have said before, a dynamic and adventurous man in those days, full of enthusiasm and initiative. He didn't mind driving all over the place. We became a one-car family before we left Melbourne, after I wrote mine off in an accident. For quite a few years he had a manual car, so he was the driver. I only had my licence for automatic. After he went to hospital in Brisbane for major heart surgery in 1995, I realised I had to learn how to drive the manual too. Several kind neighbours gave me lessons. I was never very comfortable with it, though, and one of my friends remarked that I drove it like an automatic. When we needed to replace it, we went to automatic and stayed with that. 

He still liked to drive if we were together. I was usually the navigator instead. (When I eventually took over, some people were surprised; they thought I was a non-driver.) We drove down for a visit to Melbourne at least once, but then discovered the delights of cheap train travel on our Age Pensions. We loved the daytime train travel, when we could look at scenery, read, write, enjoy a meal.... 

We drove to Tamworth the year I was asked to be a psychic reader at the annual Country Music Festival. Some people who lived there were readers and liked to have a 'stable' to make a killing at the Festival. They came across me doing readings in our town when there was a street market, watched me a little while and invited me. When I asked later why they picked me, hoping to hear something flattering about my reading style, they said, 'You were out in the open. You weren't hidden away.'

The trip to Tamworth was an experience. I had my stall in the daytime, with others, and Andrew mostly hung around and helped. Evenings, we'd go to see all the shows. The atmosphere everywhere was of great excitement and we loved it all.  There was plenty of colourful stuff happening in the daytime too, accessible from where we were placed in the centre of town. We could have gone back every year, but we decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, a great memory.

Because we rented, and landlords tend to want their houses back sooner or later, we got to live in different places around Murwillumbah, all of them beautiful and interesting — by craggy mountains or rolling hills, streams or the ocean, close into town or semi-isolated. We made many friends and saw them often. We participated in arts and literary events (even initiated some), in environmental movements and Reconciliation. We wrote books; he went to university; I did online Druidic and Wiccan studies. We held Reiki classes. We met Hare Krishna devotees and followers of Sai Baba. We had stalls for years at various Sunday markets. We learned Pranic Healing, Seichim, Thought Field Therapy, Theta Healing, Genome Healing, and many advanced versions of Reiki. We even learned Indian Head Massage. We did weekly Reiki treatments at a local youth centre. We acquired two kittens, who became our immediate family and are still here 15 years later.

And we wrote. Ours was the writer's life, times two.  He was a fiction writer and a journalist; I was, and am, a poet and a blogger. That was what our days were always most filled with.

Very gradually our activities became more and more limited due to ageing and his deteriorating health. That period had its compensations along with it's difficulties, as we grew even closer. But for the best part of our 20 years together we had a full, rich life. Our friend Dinah, in her speech on his 80th birthday, remarked how engaged with life he was.

So we did find, and create, the good life we came in search of. It was both peaceful and adventurous. The thing I need to make myself understand is that it's still there for me. I still live in this place. I still have my friends. Because I ended up being the driver, I gained the skills and confidence to travel to surrounding places to see friends or attend events. 

I do go out and about, as I couldn't when he was so ill. I do keep up with my friends, and make new ones. I am doing one Sunday market and seeing clients at home. I am training a new Reiki Master. Life goes on. I just have to learn to relish it more, as I used to. In some ways, nothing has changed; in another way everything has changed.

Meanwhile the medication is kicking in. My body starts to feel better.

I have been writing this bit by bit, over the hours. It is evening. I sit up in bed, where I am writing by now, propped on big pillows, and look around. How much I like my room! I notice myself thinking 'my'. It is largely the same as it was when it was ours, but there have been changes. The latest is bookshelves where his wheely walker used to stand, on his side of the bed, just inside the door. It was always a nice room, a cosy nest for us. Now I like it even better, as it becomes more streamlined, less cluttered — or at any rate the clutter more neatly and aesthetically arranged. It gives me pleasure to see my many books-still-waiting-to-be-read on shelves instead of piled higgledy-piggledy on tables. 

I let my mind wander over the various bedrooms we shared, as we moved about the Caldera, and also went travelling. I think of things I did to make them comfortable and beautiful. Good memories all. I come back to this one and see how well it suits me now.

Yes, it was a good life we found and created here. It still is. I just have to let it integrate with me again, or me with it. 

The Australian Opera's production of Carmen was recorded and is showing tomorrow afternoon at the local cinema. I'll be there.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

It's Been Almost a Year, and ...

Only this morning I fed the cats, then sat at the computer checking emails before breakfast, and after a while had the habitual thought from the back of my mind that I'd better see if it was time to do something for Andrew — give him insulin, get his breakfast, dole out medication.... Wait a minute — habitual? Hey, that was nearly a year ago! 

Well, my psychologist reminded me yesterday that a year is not really very long on this particular journey. 

It's good to be seeing her. I was telling her about 'a bad memory' of an altercation Andrew and I had in his last week at home, a product of his dementia and my exhaustion — after which we both cried and hugged, and reaffirmed our love for each other. 

'Was it only a bad memory?' my psychologist asked. For a minute I didn't get it. I looked at her blankly. Then I realised: 'No, it was a good memory too.' Now I can allow myself to dwell in the love we expressed, rather than the difficulty. 

We only came to live in this unit two years and nine months before he died, so it's full of memories of his final decline. He wasn't in perfect health when we moved here, and some of his physical ailments were giving more trouble than they had, but he was still full of life. Six months later he had a sudden collapse and went to hospital, and they didn't know if he'd recover. He was weak and frail when he came home, and that's when I raced out and got him a wheely walker. He recovered and didn't use it much for a while, but then things deteriorated further and further. So I tend to remember him shuffling on painful legs, staying in his dressing-gown some days, always having breakfast in bed...

He used to apologise for that. I finally convinced him that it was only fair, after him giving me breakfast in bed most mornings for the best part of 20 years!

It still feels surreal at times, not to have him around. 

I've always talked to the cats, but now I talk to them in new ways as well as the old. I find myself passing the same sort of little comments I'd once have made to Andrew. Nothing special, nothing earth-shattering, just remarks on what I'm doing or how I'm feeling. 

In the bathroom this morning, I moved a jewellery box back to its usual position, where I think it looks best — then suddenly said out loud, 'Oh shite, what on earth is the point?' I was hit by the realisation there's no-one but me to see or care. Yet, that IS the point: it's I who see, and do care. Andrew would have moved it for convenience, not for aesthetics. It's taking such a long time to grasp the concept of doing things just for me. (Even though for the most part I do keep up my standards, because my head tells me I must.)

I hear the new neighbour start up his motor bike and drive off. That's a big change! It used to be lovely Penny next door, in the other unit on this block: Penny who was so understanding about Andrew's illness and death, and my stress and grief. She wanted to move nearer town, and we're still in contact, but I selfishly wish she had stayed. The new guy seems OK — polite, pleasant, unintrusive — and that's all one can ask. But, as one of my friends pointed out, it's probably not a great idea to do any more skyclad rituals in my back yard!

My friend Mo is concerned about what I'll do on the death anniversary. She's ready to step in and help if I need. I don't at this point know what I want to do. Maybe stay home and write. I'll ask for guidance on that one.

For reasons both emotional and financial, my stepchildren are still undecided what to do about a memorial service for their father in Melbourne, where he used to live. Perhaps they will decide on a small family gathering, or perhaps a larger event close to the anniversary of his death. Meanwhile, with his old friends in mind, many of whom became my friends too, I want to get on with a project I've had in mind for months. I want to turn one of his old blogs, which are now under my management, into a memorial site. I want to get all the wonderful tributes that were posted on his Facebook page, and first of all print them out and stick them in the book which people wrote in at the memorial I had for him here. Then I want to type up the handwritten tributes from that book, and put the whole lot on his blog. It would be good to have that ready for the anniversary, and invite people to add anything else they might wish.

Meanwhile, there are things to enjoy about the solitary life. In his last months he didn't want me watching episodes of my guilty pleasure, 'True Blood' (sexy vampire show, if anyone doesn't know, with lots of explicit sex and violence). 'You don't understand,' he said, in some distress. 'I can't have that energy coming into the house. It's not good for me.' I expect he was right. But I think I can clear any bad effects for myself, and now I can watch it freely. Season 5 awaits right now. 

The cats and I have settled into new routines. Some clothes and some household appliances have worn out and been replaced. The rooms, particularly his old office, have been more or less transformed. I have made new friends who never met Andrew. The GP who looked after us so well has moved, and I have a new doctor who didn't see me through all that. The vines with orange flowers have grown halfway along the side fence, where I've been training them. I have begun writing my memoirs — or perhaps it will be a full-scale autobiography. 

'Change is the only constant.'

Monday, August 5, 2013

Difficult Decisions

My cat, Freya, is strongly suspected of having bladder cancer. Further tests, which would be costly, would tell us which kind, and that in turn would tell us whether surgery might help or would be useless. It's possible the tests would indicate instead that there's nothing to worry about — but that's highly unlikely.

Freya is 15, and at present appears well and happy despite the bleeding from her bladder. The blood was orange one morning, bright red the next, dark red the next, and today is not there at all, and there was none in the urine sample the vet took this morning. So apparently an area bled for a while and has now stopped.

My concern is her quality of life. So far, that seems excellent. I have decided to do nothing further at this stage, apart from keeping a close eye on her. If she were a young cat, I would probably have decided differently, but at her age I can't see much point in subjecting her to invasive surgery, when even that might reveal the cancer to be inoperable.

As I see her all the time, if her quality of life markedly deteriorates she'll be in discomfort only a few hours. I wouldn't let it continue. Meanwhile she can enjoy her life as long as possible ... as long as it remains enjoyable.

It's very distressing, but after all I'm no stranger to caring for an elderly loved one in declining health.

What to watch out for? Leakage from the bladder, frequent urination, and 'vocalising', suggested the vet. She's always been a very vocal cat, so it could be hard to tell if that's any more so than usual. I guess I'll just pay attention. 

'Give her lots of cuddles,' said the vet. Well, that'll be nothing new.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Is My Girl Leaving Me Soon?




My little furry girl, that is: my cat, Freya. She seems well enough in most respects, but she's pissing blood.

Yesterday I took her and her brother, Levi, to the vet. I didn't know which one had, as I thought, bloody faeces. After tests, the vet didn't know for sure either, but thought probably Levi. She recommended a white diet (chicken) for both for a few days, and wormed them in case it was due to intestinal parasites. 

But today I saw Freya use her litter tray and now know for certain that it's her, and that the blood is in her urine.

Both were diagnosed, maybe three years ago, with incipient kidney disease and put on a special diet. They've done well until now, but this is not a good sign! 

The vet is shut until Monday. I could take her all the way to the Cabarita vet tomorrow — indeed, could have done so today — but why subject her to such a long trip, when she hates car travel? I don't think it's the same sort of emergency as if she'd had a tick bite or something. She is full of energy, shows no sign of pain, and appears quite happy. I think she must be dying, and I don't know how long that is likely to take, but I don't think she will go tomorrow. 

So I'll phone up on Monday and take it from there. Meanwhile I am trying to harden myself to the thought of losing her. Once again, as with my husband, it's about quality of life. I'll have to wait and see what the vet says, but I certainly don't want to prolong her life beyond the point where she can be both comfortable and independent. She's a very independent little soul!

In one month it will be a year since Andrew died. As I have repeatedly said, the cats have helped to keep me functioning and grounded since then. I know they are elderly and have health problems, and can't go on forever, but I had hoped for longer — just as I did with him. With our grown-up kids and our grandchildren all living far away, those cats have been our family. (Freya is also my 'familiar', the one who lends her presence and energy to any sacred or healing work. When I held meditations, she would sit in a chair and join the circle. When I gave a Reiki treatment, she would come and lie alongside the client. And so on.) It will be a blow to lose her.

I am well aware of animal ghosts, and animal reincarnation too, but there is no substitute for a physical presence. However, it is good to know that physical death is not the end.

A few days ago my friend Heather, who is very psychic, came and had a cuppa with me. After a while she said, 'Andrew's around. I just saw him standing at the end of the passage there and looking into this room, as if he might often have done that.' She had not visited this house previously, but of course she was right. He would come from either the bedroom or his office to do so.

In the few days before that, I had felt as if he was living here again. Instead of this thought making me cry as soon as I realised it was not so, I stayed happy. I didn't ever feel, in those few days, that it was not so, no matter what my head was telling me. When Heather saw him, that was the icing on the cake, the verification.  

Now I am wondering if he came back to remind me that there is after-life, in preparation for Freya's departure. In the past, when someone leaves, I have had this sort of confirmation before the event.

Well, whatever happens, he will be glad to spend time with the cats and they with him. And I guess I'll still have my family around me, in one form or another. Funny how, just now, that doesn't stop the tears.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm Getting Into 'This Time Last Year' Territory

The anniversary of his death (September 3rd) approaches, and this time last year he was about to enter his final decline, although we didn't know that yet. 

I have been reading my personal journals from that period, from some weeks before the present date, up until his death. Time is kind — I had begun to forget how intensely traumatic that time was for both of us.

This week last year, however, was good, and the one before it too. He was in respite care at Heritage Lodge, enjoying it. He felt a little as if he was in a luxury resort. He read, he talked to people, he gave Reiki to one of the patients and to one of the nurses ... and I visited often, had lunch with him, took him out to appointments, watched TV with him. I enjoyed my time to myself also, between visits. My son David visited on his last weekend in there. It was ideal, though not originally planned that way, as David of course stayed with me and we had a good chance for a catch-up without my attention being on caring for Andrew. We went and took him out to lunch one Sunday (next Sunday, this time last year) and to the Art Gallery. 

It was altogether a nice time, that fortnight, and it was nice for both of us when he returned home, too. We were happy.

It was the times before and after that which were traumatic. I had forgotten to some extent, for instance, just what excruciating pain he was in for so much of the time — so much so that when he finally lost the use of his legs, I almost felt relief because he also became free of pain. 

I had also forgotten some details of how very difficult it was, dealing with his increasing confusion. Everything was so unexpected, so unpredictable. It was scary. At night he became a different person. I had to play it by ear, go along with it as much as possible, and also keep him safe.

Well, it's all over now, but re-reading what I wrote makes it clear to me again that neither of us could have gone on.  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How Can Beauty Still Matter Now?

(Doing it for myself)

My face is looking old. I observe this in photos more than in mirrors. 

I tell myself, 'You can let yourself get old now. He's not here to see.'

Perhaps he would have continued to see me as beautiful, as he always did. But I still would have worried about turning old and ugly in his eyes as well as my own ... even though he still looked beautiful to me, no matter how aged he also looked. 

Now, though, if I turn into a wizened old crone — as I suppose I must — who cares?

However, I still put on my make-up (albeit minimal) when I'm going out. I still dress nicely, and take an interest in my clothes. It's not just for the sake of keeping up appearances — I'm far too nonconformist for that — so it must be for me. I realise it must always have been for me, even when I hoped it would please him too.

It's the same with things in my home. (How readily now I say 'my' instead of 'our'.) Today, when changing the sheets, I started thinking about the way I always tried to match blankets to sheets and quilts. Now I feel less inclined, although I still do it. It struck me that this had been a foolish practice all those years, as he didn't seem to notice such things anyway. 

But then I remembered when Bill (previous husband) and I bought our first house, and lived in it some months with horribly garish walls until we could afford to repaint. Only after we had done that did we realise the source of the stress, poor sleep and irritability we had been experiencing. One's environment really does matter, even if it seems to be just a background. It's subliminal, and it does have an effect. 

So it was important for Andrew that I did those little things to make our home aesthetically pleasing. It was important that I did them for both of us, and it's still important that I do them for me.

As for the face, perhaps I can't do much about that. Age will happen! But I can still enjoy colour, texture and style along with comfort. I can still adorn myself with my bold, exotic jewellery which gives my own eyes pleasure. (And perhaps, wherever he is, he smiles to see.)



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I Must Have Been Quiet Enough to Hear Him

Had a bit of a weepy time today — though sort of in a good way, realising how much he taught me.
At the computer tonight, pausing to ponder something, my mind quiet and open, I heard, as from a long way off, him calling my name, 'Rosemary', as if to get my attention. When I listened, he called again: 'I love you.'
It was always his way of reassuring me, his ultimate, when-the-chips-are-down message, and he always meant it.

I took a moment to digest it, then I said out loud, 'I love you too.'

Inheritance

Except for some family heirloom type bequests to his offspring, he left everything to me. I still find it hard to think of some things as mine rather than his, e.g. his iMac. 

However I am glad to have them. 

I decided not to sell the iMac. It has a great screen for watching any TV shows which I happen to miss on TV; also I like to play my music on it, rather than the laptop, which I work on. 

I took his files off it, transferring them to the laptop, because I did at first think of selling it. That was easy. Removing him as a user/admin was harder — not difficult to execute but difficult emotionally: so final. 

There are various things like that, which I have to remind myself that he no longer needs. Some were his, some were ours; it's hard to think of them as simply 'mine'.

But, had it been the other way about, apart from a few family bequests of my own I would have left him everything of mine. In fact, I did. We both made wills at the same time. I need to make a new one now.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stages of Grief: Depression, then Acceptance

As I said in my last — and excuse me for getting a bit repetitive here — I didn't recognise depression when it arrived recently. I don't think I've ever experienced it before. (Lucky me. I know people who suffer from it frequently, and 'suffer' is the word.) I was calling it things like 'emptiness' and 'pointlessness'. Eventually it occurred to me that there was a pattern happening, so I looked up the 'Stages of Grief'. Oh. Depression. Yes, that description fitted. 

'It can't be very serious,' I thought. 'I haven't been having suicidal thoughts ... oh, hang on, yes I have.' I was so deadened that I didn't experience those thoughts as dramatic, so I wasn't paying them any attention. 

'What if they're insidious?' I asked myself. So I decided I'd better see the psychologist Andrew and I used to go to.

Then, just when I'd arrived at those realisations, the next stage came along. I had some strange understandings — I might even call them epiphanies — one after the other. 

The first one came to me as, 'I'm where I've always been headed.' 

Andrew and I always knew that, barring accidents, he'd go first. He was nearly 11 years older than me, and he had quite serious health issues, albeit well controlled most of the time. 

And it came to me that I had been waiting all my life for time to myself. Well, this is not quite true. In the brief period between my first and second marriages, I was hellishly lonely. Nevertheless, I am — fortunately, in present circumstances — essentially an introvert and have usually enjoyed my own company. In fact, in the past I often craved solitude. I experienced it as a need.

If ever Andrew was away for a few days, which sometimes happened, I loved it. It's the permanence of his absence and the lack of choice in the matter that has made it so hard to bear now. That and the fact that I have been releasing much grief which was, of necessity, bottled up over the last months — even years — of his life. 

Before his final hospitalisation, knowing the end was inevitable, but not how long it would be in coming, I prayed that he would have as long as he needed and that his quality of life would remain sufficient during that time — but I also prayed that it would be soon enough for me to make a life for myself afterwards. 

I was very clear, however, both before and after his death, that the said new life would not include a new partner. I wanted time with me.

All these factors added up to the conclusion that this single, solitary life is exactly where I was always headed. Another way of putting it, I decided, is that I'm exactly where I'm meant to be.

I was settling into that realisation when I had another. I'd been slightly pissed off for some time that, although I kinda knew Andrew was still available, I hadn't experienced his presence very much. Then, suddenly, I had a vision of him up in the blue sky (where we always mentally locate heaven) happy and joyous, dancing. It hit me that instead of him coming down here to be with me in my gloom, I should be going up there to join him in his joy — not by dying, but raising my vibration, putting my consciousness there. And indeed, I can do that. I've had years of training.

All that created a big shift, emotionally. I'm not doing anything different, but I feel different. It dawns on me that I've arrived at acceptance. And here I appear to be staying.  

It is punctuated by moments of intense grief and tears, still, which can be triggered by all sorts of memories. And I have it on the good authority of widowed friends that the stages of grief don't go through a nice, neat, linear progression and then finally stop. Oh no, they can get all mixed up together, as I've already experienced; and then, after you've been through them all, they can return without warning, any old time, for years to come. Oh well. The present position is still a big improvement on what went before.

I kept the appointment with the psychologist. 'I've just reached acceptance,' I told her, 'And at this point I come to you.' She said she thought it was probably a good idea, with the anniversary of his death starting to loom close. Then I wept for an hour, telling her the whole story. 

'Each time you tell it,' she said, 'Or part of it, it becomes ...'  Well, I can't remember what she said it becomes, but something useful. Integrated, perhaps.

She thinks I've reached this point quite quickly, and that it must be due to all the ongoing support I've had from friends on and offline. I couldn't agree more! You've all been amazing. Being responsible for two cats has helped too, and so has the writing.

People have started telling me, in some surprise, how well I'm looking. And I feel well! It feels as if I'm no longer just marking time while being without Andrew, but that I am living my life again.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Oh Goody, Another Stage of Grief

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages. I like the model which expands them into seven. As I have remarked before (and is generally agreed) they don't happen in neat, linear order — but the current one is new.

I'm glad to say I've never in my life suffered from it before, though I've witnessed how awful it can be for others. With no previous first-hand experience, it took me a little while to label it. I've been calling it boredom, apathy, emptiness. Every activity has been feeling pointless, every pleasure lack-lustre. I've even lost interest in the taste of food. 

Eventually these things started adding up and I thought to re-read the stages of grief. Ah yes, there it is, in both the five- and seven-stage models: depression. Those other things I mentioned are symptoms, and so are loneliness and reflecting on the past, which I've been experiencing too. It's not a very severe case, I suppose: not profound despair, just a kind of dullness. I was about to say, 'I haven't been feeling suicidal or anything' — but hang on, yes, those thoughts have crossed my mind recently. Only they too seemed uninteresting, nothing to take seriously. I would have expected them to be full of drama. Perhaps, after all, they sneak up, insidious.

Don't go panicking, anyone, please. I'm really not going to act on them. I couldn't leave my poor little cats uncared-for. I wouldn't so upset my family and friends. And it would let Andrew down. He was concerned about the cats when he was dying. 'The poor little pussy cats,' he called them then, wishing he could see them again. He relied on me to look after them. Even more, he wanted me to live my life and be happy; I know that.

Besides, I've just made arrangements to start seeing my psychologist again, a woman Andrew and I used to consult to help us through various situations in the past. How ironic to look back and recall our last appointment with her many months ago, when we were coping with everything so well that we didn't see the need to continue. Only a short time later his physical health began a steeper decline, and then the Alzheimer's became more pronounced ... ah well. Anyway, she's very good.

Oddly enough, it wasn't the depression which made me think of seeing her again, but a woolly-mindedness I've developed. I even asked my GP, the other day, to give me the cognitive test for dementia again. As he put it, I 'blitzed it in' with a perfect score, and I could tell while I was doing it that what it measures is something different in quality from what I've been experiencing. 

I have been told that memory gaps and absent-mindedness are symptoms of grief, and I had them more dramatically in the early days. As I say, it's not a linear progression; here they are, back again. So I thought I had reached the time when being with my grief and observing the process might not be quite enough any more. And that was before I realised I'm depressed! Now, getting help is looking even more like a damn good idea.

It's quite educational, actually, to observe what depression feels like on the inside — this degree of it anyhow. I don't want to find out how a more severe form might feel! 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Becoming a Little Old Lady

I was in Coles, considering which of two items to buy, and I felt my lips move forward into an expression that comes with that state of mind. 

In my head I could hear him say, 'I wish you wouldn't purse up your mouth like that'. (He said it only once, years ago, but it stuck. I know I have that habit.)

I started to soften my mouth again, then suddenly had the thought that it doesn't matter any more. There's no-one left to look pretty for. I can let myself turn into a funny-looking little old lady if I like. (As this is happening inevitably, perhaps the new attitude is just as well.)

I don't expect I'll seriously let myself go; far too vain for that. But it might be nice to free myself from some social expectations.  It might be nice not to fight too hard against reality, to just be whatever I am.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Realising I'm Not the Only One

This experience is so intensely personal that I am liable to forget how common it is. In that, being widowed resembles other great milestones of human life — first sexual experience, giving birth, facing death.... We must each experience these things as if no-one else ever had, because for each of us they are in fact unique. And yet, they are also so very common. We all get born; we all die. We don't all lose our virginity or have children, but many, many of us do, and have done over the centuries.

I become afraid of seeming self-centred, not so much here where the purpose of this blog is to record my personal experience of widowhood, but out there in the world at large, or at least in my community. I remember explaining to someone I'd just met that I'd been widowed recently. She said, a little testily, 'Yes, I was widowed two years ago,' and I realised I'd been talking as if I was the only person it had ever happened to. I imagine my personal grief to be more intense than anyone else's, my love to have been greater. But how can we measure grief or love? Both are subjective. I can only say this is my greatest love or most intense grief.

At the Life Writing group last week, we had to choose a topic beginning with the letter R. One woman chose Romance, and told the story of how she met and fell in love with her husband. She was unable to stop herself from breaking down at the end, as she read, 'We were married for 45 years; then, four years ago, he died in a tragic accident.'

'Is that what I have to look forward to?' I thought. 'To still be sobbing four years from now?' 

Ah, and why wouldn't I be? I can't imagine that I'll ever stop missing him.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

There's No Logic To It

I have a comforting vision of him: an angelic version of himself, come to visit me.

I read my blog posts of a year ago and I'm reminded of how very difficult life had become for us both. I realise all over again that we simply couldn't have gone on. I confront what it would have been like if he'd lingered — the inevitable slow decline — and I'm thankful we were both spared that.

People tell me I look well, and I point out that I no longer have the stress of being his carer. 'I have grief,' I say, 'But not stress.'

I go out for lunch with a couple of women friends. I enjoy the food and conversation. We laugh together. We make plans to start a meditation group. I become animated, suggesting how we might go about it.

'I'm back in life,' I think. 'I'm moving forward.'

But it's not a linear progression.

Suddenly I find myself thinking about a night last year when I had a glass of wine, and he wanted one too. I was scared to give him a full glass because I'd been given to understand it was dangerous for him, what with his Alzheimer's, his high risk of falls, and all the medications he was on. I gave him half a small glass. He sipped it with enjoyment. Then I could tell, from the look on his face, that he'd have liked a little more. Neither of us said anything, but we didn't have to. It was on both our faces: his wish, my fear of granting it, his resignation. All very sensible. I didn't know that the following night he would end up in hospital, and in only four weeks he'd be dead. 

So I think guiltily that I could have let him have that extra small glass he wanted. It wouldn't have hurt. It would have given him pleasure in the moment. And so on and so on and so on — even though I know I had no idea at that point that he wouldn't live for years, and I was looking after his long-term health. I cry and cry and cry about that glass of wine I denied him. (I don't suppose he himself remembered it even an hour later.)

And all this after feeling really good, really together.

Well, that is, except for the moment earlier today when, contemplating the prospect of my arthritis getting worse with age, and my family all far away, I was suddenly overcome with self-pity and screamed at him in my mind, 'Don't leave me alone!'

And that's what it's like. Sometimes I cry for him — for things that were hard for him when he was still here, even so trivially hard as missing out on a few sips of wine. And sometimes I cry for me, for having to live the rest of my life without him. 

Either can hit me after it seems that I'm making real progress — a sudden relapse for no obvious reason. There's just no logic to it.



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nostalgia Trip

I'm in the Choux Box café in Kingscliff, looking across the road to the sunny blue ocean through the few foreshore trees. I'm having a mug of mocha coffee and a big slice of their amazing banana cream pie topped with toffee chips and macadamia nuts. Andrew and I came here a lot over the years, particularly the Pottsville years. It was one of our favourite places. I am trying to remember when the last time would have been. It must have been after we had moved back to Murwillumbah. He was already somewhat frail, I recall. 

We always had a mug of mocha and a slice of this very decadent pie. Today I am finding it a touch too rich, but I finish it all the same — a gesture to memory, and good times we shared. I am at the corner table we liked best. The breeze is just a little too brisk, as always; but, as always, the ambience is worth it.

I was going to visit a friend in Kingscliff after the Life Writing group today, but she texted me this morning to say she and her son have colds. I phoned another friend who lives in Cabarita, not far away, but she wasn't home. Somehow I was reluctant to leave Kingscliff today. In recent weeks I've been popping in and out to the Life Writing group, straight there and straight home afterwards, without any diversions. Today I finally did a bit of reconnecting, calling at the shopping centre, walking around and re-acquainting myself with it, and discovering some changes that make it even better than it used to be. 'I could shop here on Tuesdays,' I thought. 

That was before today's meeting, but I guess it set the mood for afterwards. I wanted to linger. So, when my friends weren't available, I decided to come to the Choux Box and have a little nostalgia trip. It's been nice, and so far hasn't made me cry. Instead I've enjoyed it, just as we both used to do. It's easy to imagine him here with me, as he was so often — every time until now. These are small, ordinary memories of relaxed pleasure. 

Lately I have found myself going over bits of our history together, my mind spontaneously summoning them up and running through them. Now it is bits of our history with Kingscliff that occur to me as I sit here. I look across the road to the right and see the little hall where our Reconciliation group, run by the indomitable Khani, staged an art show one year — a very successful art show. And down to the left is the market ground where Andrew and I often had a stall, and where we met Marieah, the lady who made me the purple goddess gown that I wore on my poetry tour of Texas.

I remember walking on the beach that last time we were here together, deploring what the erosion had done, and collecting stones to become the gratitude rocks which we gave away at the markets. No, that can't have been our last visit, because he stopped doing the markets a year before we moved to Murwillumbah. Also I remember him walking on the beach OK, which he couldn't have later — though impatient as always for me to hurry up and finish collecting the stones so we could get home. I wonder now if his legs were already giving him more trouble than he was letting on. But in any case, he was always impatient, always eager to get on to the next thing. Only in a few places, like this café, he could relax and enjoy some leisure. He was not a leisurely man. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Familiarity

I realise my lifestyle hasn't changed that much. We had a lifestyle that suited us both — two writers in the same house. Of course, when we were younger we did more gadding about, and also ran more courses: Reiki, Tarot, Qabala, and writing workshops. As we got older we quietened down a bit, but only in the last three years really, as he became sicker. However, even in the early years, we spent a lot of time separately writing.

Now when I work at my computer, I still fall into a habitual mind set in which he too is sitting at his computer in another room — or perhaps lying in bed, reading or napping or waiting for me to join him. So the things I think about, I imagine telling him a little later. 

This no longer distresses me as it did at first. It has become, in a way, quite comforting. I guess I have become used to it, and while I really know all the time, underneath, that it is an illusion, still it is a pleasant illusion. I allow myself to bask a little while in the familiar warmth of his presence, glad I can still recall and recreate how that feels.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When I change things, I cry

When I throw away some household gadget that I got and used during our life together, or when I acquire a new one that he will never use or see...

When I gaze with pleasure at my newly-created sunroom where his dark and cluttered office used to be...

When I cook things he wasn't allowed to eat...

When I decide not to watch a TV show he liked, or one that we used to watch together...

When I watch something he would not have liked, and enjoy it heartily...

When I wear something new that he never saw me in...

... I feel the past retreating, faster and faster, growing ever more distant. 

I move forward in my life. I do the things that work for me now. (There is no more us.) And I am happy about the things I do to make my life work for me. They are all my choices. I like them.

Nevertheless I cry. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Heavy Cold

I'm streaming from nose and eyes. Started last night and it's been almost non-stop ever since, over 24 hours already. Emotional, I know. 'Grief and other complications,' I told my friend Marian in a text. (The complication being the going wrong of what had seemed like a delightful new friendship — the other person easily hurt, and me unable to give her as much time and attention as she desired. Upsetting!)

Meanwhile I've been uncomfortably sick. It makes me feel childish and sorry for myself. I want my Mum to come and take care of me, or Bill (second husband) or most of all Andrew — the people who did so in the past — but they are all dead. When I am well, I am quite clear that I can take care of myself. When I'm sick, I want to crawl into bed and be a little girl again and have someone look after me.  And because this isn't going to happen, I bawl like a baby. 

And all the while I am actually looking after myself, of course. That's the trouble, though — that it's me who has to do it for myself. That's what makes me bawl. I have these moments where I feel that I've completely dropped my bundle — and yet I haven't actually dropped it at all, because I simply can't afford to. I HAVE to keep going. I have to look after myself because there's no-one else available. And so I do, alongside the complaining. 

Even when Andrew was in hospital last year and I had flu, I looked after myself without whingeing about it: it was so important to get well. I just got on with it, did what it took. Now there's not such an urgent reason, so I can afford to indulge in childishness; or I think I can. Not rational really, but there you go. Not only did I look after me very well last year, but him too. When he had a cold or anything, I babied him when that's what he wanted or needed, helped him be strong and (relatively) independent when that was required. You'd think I could look after me just as well, wouldn't you? Doesn't seem to work that way.

[Pause.]

At that point I decided to re-read my posts for June last year at the 'Shifting Fog' blog in which I recorded Andrew's illness and decline. I thought maybe I could be having an extended anniversary reaction. Whew, could I what! I had forgotten already just how difficult a time that was, horrific for both of us. Obviously my subconscious is well aware. 

At that time Andrew was prescribed some new medications which didn't suit him. I did manage to get them switched to things with fewer nasty side-effects, but it took some doing. Meanwhile his dementia temporarily increased and he appeared to have some small strokes (maybe he did, though it's hard to know, as the observable effects didn't last). I can't bear to recount the details; it was all so very stressful. If anyone wants to read it and be harrowed, click on the blog link above, but I'll excuse you if you pass on that. 

[Another pause.]

I have put myself to bed now, with hot water bottles and a cup of cocoa. The cats have come in from outside through their cat door, and both are lounging on the bed with me and purring. It's nice.



Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bits and Pieces (Random Reflections)

* Poor little old single lady — it's a dead giveaway as I buy myself two carrots, a quarter cabbage, a tiny head of broccoli, only half a dozen eggs. Single and frugal.

* I've known my dear friend A for a long time now, but — both busy for years with sick husbands, as she still is — we only see each other now when we bump into each other out shopping. Luckily that happens quite often. Now that Andrew's gone, she makes a point of giving me, along with her beautiful wide smile, a quick pat on the arm, hug, or kiss on the cheek. She understands that I don't get so much of that any more.

* These days, when the toilet isn't flushed properly, or the dining table becomes cluttered with unread newspapers, or finger marks appear around the fridge door handle ... I can no longer assume it's him.  Revelation! Maybe it was always me, or at least a lot more often than I imagined. (I'm glad I didn't go crook at him for things like that but just quietly dealt with them, or how mean and guilty I'd be feeling now!)

* I've internalised him — all those empowering remarks. When it was no longer safe for him to drive and I took over full time, I used to find it irritating when he would say to me, in the middle of some sticky situation in which I was concentrating hard, 'You're doing well!' I wished he'd be quiet so I could be sure to stay focused. Now, though, those words come back to me at such times, as the reassurance they were meant to be, and I'm glad of them. So many other things he praised me for too, always admiring of any competence I showed at anything, and very nice it was to have it said. It's good now, when I must be more self-reliant than ever before, to have those oft-repeated compliments in my head, reminding me that I am capable and resourceful.

* I never have to worry about him any more, I realise suddenly — and then realise what a huge relief that is.

* Off to attend a lecture about growing one's own food, I realised I was a bit scared about fronting a room full of strangers, after my experience in December when I went to a xmas party and saw the couples visibly close ranks against me. I discovered it's quite different at a lecture. Nice, friendly people, whether couples, singles, or families. Everyone, including me, was intent on hearing the information we'd come for; I suppose that makes it different from a social occasion.

* We did the best we could, both of us — and it was very good. Sometimes, for a moment, I think, 'Yes, but what was the point of it all?' Then I recollect: Love was the point, always; and is and continues to be the point. Of it all. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Not Keeping Up With My Reading

Oh sure, I've always had a pile of books waiting to be read. So did he. There were a few he still hadn't got to when he died. A terrible  thought in one way, not to finish — or in some cases even start — every book you want to read before you die. But any book lover knows, it would be impossible. And in another way that's a good thing. How much worse it would be to run out, to have nothing more left to read! (Well yes, we compulsive readers would read cinema tickets and bus timetables if there was nothing else, but that's not quite the same.)

At present, however, the pile to be read is growing too fast, because I just can't get into many books these days. This is a very surprising thing in a lifelong bookworm like me. It's downright disconcerting. It has to be an extraordinary book to hold my interest now. I don't necessarily mean an extraordinary work of literature. 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak did, because it's one of the most beautifully written books I've ever come across; but I'm struggling with Kate Grenville's acclaimed 'Secret River'. It's not that I don't like it, it's not that the characters aren't engaging. Despite that, it's hard to care. Some fantasy novels (my favourite fictional genre) have been a bit easier, but not much. I make my way through them slowly. Once I'd have devoured them almost too fast, sorry to reach the end.

This new phenomenon has become more pronounced, the longer it is since Andrew's death. I think I've finally realised why. Reading was a thing we often used to do together. I don't mean reading the same book at the same time — though occasionally we did that too, either looking over each other's shoulders or taking it in turns to read aloud. No, I mean that we used to sit up in bed together, at either end of the day, propped against our big pillows, and read side by side our different books. It was very companionable, very cosy. Sometimes we'd share aloud some special passage; often we'd say to each other, 'You have to read this book!' (which we often did). Reading in bed now is just another occasion for missing him.

I do read in other places too — at the meal table, in waiting rooms — as always, but I don't linger. I lost an earlier great love of my life many years ago, and I learned then that keeping busy is one way to get through a bereavement.  That gave me the habit; I've been a busy person ever since, always putting a bit too much on my plate. In Andrew's final years I was busier than ever before, caring for him round the clock and still trying to keep up with everything else in my life. It's not like that now; I've stopped running on the adrenaline and slowed right down. But still I use the trick of keeping occupied so as not to wallow in grief. I don't suppress it, but I don't live in it all the time, either. Sitting down to read just doesn't happen as often; if I sit down, it's more likely at the computer or iPad, where I'm doing the writing — whether that's making out my shopping list, writing a poem, or talking to people on Facebook. Or creating a blog post, as I'm doing now.

Wouldn't you think a good book would be the very thing to take me out of myself? Apparently not. Which is rather odd, as watching TV or DVDs does. I guess that the act of reading allows the mind to wander too much — to go off on a trail of association, and suddenly come bang up against the grief once more. On screen, the action keeps on going and you have to stay with it. Yes, it has emotional effects, but then it and I move on.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

About the Blankets on the Bed

I feel such pangs over such small, unexpected things. They are things which mark change.

I put clean sheets on the bed. It now has winter blankets on. The weather is likely to get colder yet. I think about that happening, and about adding the big tiger rug. Then I realise with a pang that this will probably be all I need. 

Andrew, with his circulation problems, sometimes had a lot of blankets on. We didn't have the tiger rug then, but we had various good woollen blankets, which each of us contributed to the household when we got together. Over the 20 years of our relationship, those blankets became our good friends, part of the family. Now, it's probable I'll never use them again — not on my bed. I have a moment of wishing for my friend Helen's ruthlessness in decluttering, but then I think I might need them for the spare beds, if at some time I have visitors in winter. They're doing no harm, stashed away in the bottom of the linen cupboard; they're not taking up space that I need for anything else. I may as well keep them. 

I straighten the big brown blanket which I'm using as a quilt at the moment. Andrew was the one who brought that into the marriage. I don't know its history prior to that — as I suppose he never knew the history of those chequered ones which I look at and remember my kids when they were little, and houses we lived in then. 

When I see the brown blanket, I  remember that when we lived up on Pinnacle Road I looked at the orange-gold satin ribbon edging it, which was worn and frayed and missing some sections, and decided the blanket itself was too good to be allowed to look like that any longer. I unpicked and removed all the ribbon, and got out some thick, deep red wool. You wouldn't think that'd go with dark brown, but it looked and still looks marvellous. I bound the edge all around with blanket stitch, using my big wool needle. Then I crocheted a fancy edging, hooking first into the row of blanket stitch. That must have been in 1995. It still looks good, and it kept us warm for the rest of those 20 years. Last year he was under it with me, and all those years before, every winter. But not this winter. Another pang.

I must stop dwelling on the memories that hurt. But they sneak up on me. They reside in my household goods, the familiar things we shared and enjoyed. So many memories! Good ones mainly, and occasionally I can dwell in them with pleasure. But, mostly, not yet.