Saturday, February 23, 2013

There's This Ghost in the House

I don't mean real, true spiritual visitations. I mean the ghost in my head, made of habit and memory.

It's all very well to have breakthroughs and realise he's actually gone and won't be coming back. It's all well and good to remind myself there's only me here now, and get on with the things that need doing. It's fine to be gradually turning the place into the home that suits me best. Nevertheless, as I go about my business, he's here in backdrop. When I'm in the living-room or kitchen, or walking down the passage, I can feel him in the bedroom snoozing or reading, or in his office, either at the computer or going through boxes of papers gathering material for his memoirs. He might be in his blue (always blue) pyjamas and dressing-gown, or in his grey trousers and white shirt, or his Flying Scotsman wind-cheater; he always looks smart and comfortable.

I don't consciously summon him up, but sooner or later I notice his presence — such a pervasive, permanent presence!

It's just a unit after all, even if it does have decent-sized rooms and two bedrooms. We were always very much within easy reach of each other. Impossible to move around the place and not be aware of the other. It didn't feel crowded; it felt reassuring. He was warmth and life, even when he was ill and frail. His presence, his moving around, his conversations, all brought this place alive and made it a home. On bleak days like today, overcast and threatening, the bleakness never used to come into the house. 

Now, when the ghost is absent — when my head is conscious that he's not in fact here — there is such emptiness, such quiet. I feel as though I should do something to brighten the place up for the poor cats; that they must be bored and depressed without human interaction taking place. I talk to them, I cuddle them, I watch things on telly, I talk on the phone ... but it's not the same, for them or for me. 

There's someone missing, leaving a huge gap, and there's nothing I can do to change that. Visitors come, and that's nice, but they aren't him. He's the one the cats and I miss. They don't complain; they get on with their catty lives, and there are things they still enjoy — just like me — but it's apparent, from how subdued and resigned they often seem, that the gap is there for them as well. 

So I think I must be glad about the ghost in the head, and hope for their sakes that he is sometimes in their heads too. 

It is always when I am not particularly thinking about him that he slides into place, and then, after a while, I notice that he's been there for quite some time.  But if I were to go and look for him, he would vanish, as ghosts do, to be replaced by emptiness ... absence. The gap is all the more glaring when I experience it anew. Better just to give a little nod of acknowledgment to that warmth on the periphery and keep on with whatever I'm doing. Almost like normal.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Scary Stuff

I lie in bed looking at the curtains. 'I was so proud of myself when I found them,' I think, 'And he was so proud of me too.' I do a lot of this — thinking of the way things used to be. It shocks me that already I see our marriage as past, over. Which it is, of course. All that interaction, all those years, all that love — a phase of life that is completed, finished. 'But it was so recent,' I think, in useless protest.

Scarier is the thought that time will go on, and it will get more and more in the past.

I have aches and pains, more than I had when he was alive, or so it seems. Maybe I just didn't have time to pay attention to them then ... and of course, he would always give me Reiki.  I wonder if I am going to decline quite quickly into being a decrepit little old lady.

Oh, please God, not! And I realise it's largely up to me. I'm even more sedentary now. I need to move the body more! 

Well, I am gradually incorporating new routines into my life. That shall have to be one of them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pros and Cons of Living Alone

My Firstborn finds himself living alone for the first time in his life, and he's enjoying it. Except for a very brief period 46 years ago, this is also the first time I have lived alone. But our circumstances are rather different. He has a lovely new relationship which may well change his present living arrangements in due course; meanwhile it alleviates his solitude. Me, I'm adjusting to the permanent loss of the one I love best.

I feel particularly sad about that when I come down with a heavy cold. I feel weak, vulnerable and little-girlish, and I want my love here to cuddle me and tell me to go to bed and rest. I do go to bed, and I wrap myself in a favourite warm shawl, but it ain't the same. I find myself wishing I hadn't got rid of all his pyjamas. I might have liked to put a pair on and feel embraced by him that way. Eventually I decide to be grateful for the years of cuddles and kind words, which I can recreate vividly in my mind. Recreating them makes me feel sad, but also somewhat comforted.

I know from past losses that in years to come the warm memories will produce more happiness than sorrow ... but that can take quite a lot of years. At 73, I wonder how many I have left.

When I am well, there are things I enjoy in this new aloneness. In fact only yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to notice how happy and contented I can feel now. I am just beginning to fully appreciate how very run off my feet I was, looking after him, and looking after all the tasks I had been used to sharing with him for most of our marriage. I am only just realising how much stuff I was having to keep in my head the last few years — when he needed to take which pills, and so forth. On his frequent visits to the doctor, I would take whole lists of things we needed to discuss. (He himself could not remember them all.) The new leisure is very pleasurable, now that I'm getting used to it. Not that I'm not still busy; I'm still the one looking after everything — but I'm not nursing him as well. I'm not running on adrenaline all the time. I don't have to any more.

There is no-one I need to please or consider but me. (Well, the cats a little, but they're easy.) There's no-one to whom I need to explain why that object lives in that particular spot, or why this one should not be picked up right now.

There is also no-one who takes as much interest as I do in the minutiae of the living arrangements. I now have time to make all the small improvements I always wanted to, and can't help thinking how much he would have enjoyed them too — but when he was here, I simply couldn't get to them. Bitter irony!

I never have to tell anyone what time I'll be home; I can make spur-of-the-moment decisions to change my plans.

On the other hand, there is no-one to come home to, or to come home to me, with whom to share the small adventures — bumping into a friend while out, overcoming a car problem, finding or not finding a particular item in the shops....

I can write a poem without constant interruptions. It will take me a while to get accustomed to that. I still anticipate and even miss the interruptions, though they used to drive me mad. But when I get absorbed, it takes longer to miss them now. The frustration and attendant stress levels must be considerably reduced! It is a luxury to be able to give my full attention to creating my art.

And in general I get to choose whatever I do whenever, and exactly how I want my life and my home to be. It is complete autonomy.

Well no, not quite. Complete autonomy is impossible for anyone, without support. When I'm ill, there's no-one to rush down the street for me and get medicines; no-one to drive me to the doctor; not even anyone to feed the cats while I flake out. Ah well, those were not options anyway, in his last months.

He was aware of my burdens and wanted, and sometimes tried, to help. Sometimes I let him, so as to allow him to feel he was contributing and pulling his weight — that he still had value. (He did to me, regardless, but he needed to see it for himself.) Other times I tried to discourage him because I was concerned that it would take too much toll on his already frail health.

We always looked after each other as best we could. Always. So things are very different now, in all sorts of ways. A line from a poem keeps going through my head, that so much expresses where I'm at. I don't remember the rest of the poem, nor the poet, but it's probably well enough known that someone will be able to refresh my memory. It's about a spouse or loved one having died; and the poem concludes:

'Alone, most strangely, I live on.'

I do, and it's very strange.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

It Seems I've Turned a Corner

Or is it that I keep turning a series of corners? But this feels like a big one.

Two things happened. A new friend visited. We had a cuppa and a chat. Suddenly I was pouring out the trauma of Andrew's final weeks — the sudden collapse, the hospitalisation, the move to the nursing home, his death. I sobbed; the floodgates opened. I was a little embarrassed, a trifle apologetic, but not excessively. I must have needed it, I thought. She received it all sympathetically, and gave me a big hug afterwards; truly a new friend.

That was nine days ago. I'm sure it was indeed necessary, and helpful. I think it had to happen before I could begin to heal. If so, it couldn't have been more timely.

The other thing that happened is that, three days ago, another friend volunteered to give me a remarkable spiritual healing. Since then I haven't been feeling such intense pain about Andrew's death. I expect it with the usual triggers, but it doesn't come. There's grief, but not anguish.

It's not even six months yet, not quite. I am astounded to find myself sitting here so calm, so normal, in my situation. But, I must say, it is a great relief.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


There were times when I stayed up late working on poetry, after Andrew had gone to bed. He often wanted me to stop and come to bed with him, and sometimes I did but other times I kept writing. I would think, 'I'll live to regret this', but at the time it felt important to keep writing. That last almost-week he was home, I was determined that I would start reforming my ways and go to bed and cuddle him more often — but then, so soon, he was gone.

I have lived to regret it. Now that I can't wrap my arms around him any more and feel his around me, I have been wishing very much that I had done so more often. (Even though I also know it would have been bad for me to give up my life of writing, which for many reasons often had to happen at night.)

Just now I finally realised that it makes no difference. Even if I had gone to bed early with him every night of our lives together, even if I had cuddled him every night — I would still be wishing now that I could continue to do so.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Death / Birthday

I have just finished reading a book about death, a beautiful book called The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. It is narrated by Death — who, in the book, is quite a decent bloke.  At one point he remarks that a difference between humans and himself is that humans have the good sense to die.

Today would have been my dearest's 84th birthday. But he died when he was still 83. Eight and three make eleven, the number of mastery. And he had mastered his life by its end. He had mellowed considerably from the lovable but exasperating little dynamo he so often used to be. He had absolutely entered into unconditional love. Sometimes, from dementia, he was like a child. But it was a light dementia, and even at his most confused moments he knew how to be loving, and was most concerned that I should know I was loved. (I did know. I do know.) He was like that in his many lucid moments, too.

He had the good sense to die just at the point when his body stopped working. Up until then, although he had pain and frailty, limitations and frustrations, his quality of life outweighed its drawbacks. He died just at the point where it was going to become the other way about. 

He was a great communicator during his life, and since his death he has been in communication with those who are able to perceive it. So we know that he is busy and happy, interested and engaged as always. Resting in peace? Not exactly. But his earthly troubles are over. He lived a long life, experienced joy and adventure, and contributed a lot to the wellbeing of others. 

I miss him like hell, remember him well, and cannot wish that he had lingered longer. I was very lucky to be with him for those 20 brilliant years.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Finally, I Say Goodbye to Him

I realised I had never actually done so. His children did, when they came from interstate to visit him shortly before he died. They came specifically to say goodbye, knowing they would not see him alive again. I particularly remember his youngest, who came later than the others, on the last day of his visit kissing his father and saying, 'Goodbye, Dad.' It was so clear to me that he was, in full awareness, saying his final goodbye. (Was it clear to Andrew too? Probably.) I remember doing the same with my father, many years previously. But I never did that with Andrew.

He was ten and a half years older than me. In recent years, as his health deteriorated, we realised that, barring accidents, he was likely to go first. 'You'd better come back and haunt me!' I told him repeatedly, 'or you'll be in big trouble when I catch up with you!' I wasn't really joking. In his last year, when it became apparent that he was in decline, I kept saying to him, 'Don't leave me!' For most of those months he assured me he had no intention of doing so. But during his last hospital stay, and again at the nursing home afterwards, there were times when he knew and tried to tell me that he was in fact leaving me — only I wouldn't cooperate with any such conversation. I knew he was dying, yet clung to some small hope that it could be postponed a few more months. And when, in the hospital, he said gently, 'I think it's time for us to break up now,' I insisted that even if he were to 'go into another dimension', we wouldn't break up; we'd always be united. I thought I was reassuring him, but I was really reassuring myself — and in doing so I robbed him of the chance to have that goodbye conversation with me, and robbed myself too.

I did set him free at the end, on that very last day when I sat with him as he did his dying. A close friend had asked, very perceptively, if I was ready to let him go. I realised he might be hanging on past his time for my sake — and by then his physical state was such that it would have been cruel to keep him lingering. And so I whispered in his ear the words of release. I certainly didn't wish to impede him by clinging!

Yet afterwards I still clung. I didn't think I was, but I see now that on some level I was trying to live as if I were still in the marriage; still absolutely reluctant to say goodbye. I have been blessed with some communication from him since his death, but I have been wanting and seeking even more, as if we could continue on in the relationship in much the same way, only in different dimensions.

After the message of the dream, I knew I must finally say goodbye. I decided to make a ritual of it on the night of the full moon. But first I communicated psychically via Reiki II: one final conversation, so as to be complete with each other. When it came to it, there really was nothing much to say. We actually did get all the important stuff said during his life — the acknowledgment of the love on both sides, the appreciation, the thanks.... Now we reiterated these things one last time.

He told me that he would not be reincarnating again during my present lifetime, so there would be no point looking for him in anyone else. And he confirmed that I must let him go now, and assured me I was capable of doing so.

He said, 'It's so much bigger here. You'll understand when you get here.' I had the sense that it was beyond his ability to explain in terms I could understand now — and yet in a strange way I felt I did understand, emotionally rather than logically.

He said he wanted me to be happy, that I should go on and live my life — and that if I had to do some crying first, that was OK, 'just get on with it.'

Again I was reluctant to say goodbye. Then I remembered something I have often quoted to others and even told myself in the past: 'There is never any use dwelling on goodbyes. It is not the being together it prolongs; it is the parting.' (I can't even remember at this point what famous person said it.) I dare say it was Andrew who put it into my head just then, reminding me. Anyway, I got the point. I stopped procrastinating, just said, 'Goodbye, Andrew' and concluded the session.

There was no moon visible; our skies were black behind sheets of rain. For the first time I used the little indoor altar I recently set up in the bedroom. That meant that, when I cast circle, the bedroom became the sacred space — which seemed appropriate.

I called the Goddess and God and the spirits of the elements to bear witness to the goodbye I had just made to Andrew. I had not waited for the ritual to swap my wedding ring to the other hand. I had done that without ceremony earlier in the day, as well as putting away our wedding photo and also our last photo as a couple, taken only a few days before he died. I spent some time rearranging my rings, deciding to start wearing some which I seldom had before except on special occasions. So when I came to do the ritual, I was wearing my rings the new way, and I called on the Beings present to witness this too.

Finally I called them to witness that I formally laid claim to Andrew's possessions, which he left me (apart from a few bequests to his children). I had been tending to think of some things as still his.

These formalities have created a psychological shift. I hate funerals and deliberately did something different from that to honour Andrew's passing — but a funeral is a way of saying goodbye and freeing people to move on. Without that, I finally had to devise my own way, after a nudge from my unconscious.

It has made a difference. I feel much freer, for instance, to dispose of his things. I had already done some of that, but the ritual claiming of them has removed a sentimentality which doesn't serve me in practical ways. It's easier now to throw out items like his old coffee machine, which he brought to the marriage. He used to be so proud of it, and used it with aplomb. In recent times we didn't do a lot of entertaining and it was more practical to use a plunger, even for guests. So I thought I might give the machine to the op shop. Then I discovered that, after standing unused in the cupboard for so long, it was actually starting to disintegrate. I ended up keeping the glass jug, which may be useful, and putting the rest aside for the hard rubbish collection. Only the day before, I'd have felt ridiculously reluctant to get rid of it, because he once treasured it.

Some effects of the ritual are not so good, but must be lived through. Now I'm REALLY doing my grieving, having finally faced up to the fact that he's gone. I know love never dies, and I know I could call on him if I was in need, but for all practical purposes I'm on my own now — and it sucks. I'm finally experiencing all the sobbing and wailing that only happened in increments before.

At times I still find myself in anguish over the difficulties he experienced at the end of his life. But that always comes down to the thought, 'That's over now.'

I just had a conversation with my niece, in which I remarked that I am having to learn how to be on my own. She said,

'But you know how to do that. You've always been an independent person'. She's known me all her life; I guess she might be right. I do have what's known as inner resources. And, since Andrew died, I've been getting out and about more than I could while caring for him. I'm even making new friends.

'It's all good,' I said to her. Then I said,

'No, it's a bugger. But what can you do?'