Monday, December 29, 2014

Gone But Not Gone

By now I have pretty much adjusted to being on my own, doing things on my own, living my life on my own, making my decisions — large or small — without reference to another. 

The only one I have to consider is my cat, Levi. He doesn't care what I watch on telly, or whether I choose a new printer over a new pair of shoes. 

The interesting thing that I notice, though, is that I was only able to settle down into this self-sufficiency once I accepted the fact that Andrew's not really gone and isn't ever going to be gone.

You can think of it in terms of him still being around in spirit, in an unbreakable bond with me. Or you can think of it psychological terms, as my having an internalised Andrew in my head.

The way it manifests is the same, regardless of explanation. He's a constant presence in the background, not in an intrusive or spooky way but just there, kinda like he was when alive except it's not a physical presence any more, and interactions are a lot more one-sided.

I'm not doing a very good job of explaining.

See, for quite a while I thought I had to come to terms with the fact that he had gone. I believed I must accept this. I must live in reality, I told myself. Yes, he was around in spirit and I had occasional confirmation of that, but in everyday terms I was on my own. I felt I must be tough with myself, not hang on to illusions.

I don't know what shifted this thinking. Probably it was the fact that I went on a self-designed retreat for two weeks, with meditation and reflection, and as much withdrawal as possible from mundane concerns.

However it came about, I eventually noticed that I was no longer resisting Andrew's ongoing presence in my consciousness, and that this was doing me no harm and in fact seemed to be a good thing. E.g. I  can still talk things over with him after all, being familiar with his reactions and opinions.

Now I understand more fully what is meant by the remark that the dead live on in our memories. It goes beyond remembering the many particular incidents and moments — though I do plenty of that too. It is another kind or aspect of memory, I suppose. It does seem as if there is a living Andrew with me, just not in the flesh.

I think this is a psychological phenomenon. I also think it can be a way of accessing his actual spiritual attention and communication, if and when that is needed.

Anyway, that sense that he's still here makes it easier to get on with things.

Paradoxically, it makes it easier for me to function alone. Knowing that I can get his slant on things, I no longer feel I have to.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Two Years On, a New Awareness

Two years on (and a couple of months) of processing Andrew's final years / months / weeks, I have a lot of hindsight now. I recently found myself feeling consciously and deeply  thankful that he had me, for his sake, as that enabled both of us to perceive him as autonomous long after he really was not. If I hadn't been there to talk things over with, to cooperate in his plans, to share his activities, I believe now that he would have shown up as confused and incompetent much, much earlier. That spousal partnership kept him on track. And he was happy and confident in it.

I can't bear to think of how it might have been otherwise. I'm so incredibly glad he still had the feeling of being in charge of his life until perhaps the last six months, so much so that neither of us questioned the fact. And it was a nice life, which I know he felt too. Yes, there were the health problems, but for the most part they were not incapacitating until the end. We did have a scare two years earlier, when he had a fall, went to hospital a while, and came home frail — but he recovered from that. 

I suppose he would have coped, and had help around him, had I not been in his life. His family would have made sure of that. But  still, ours was such a close, intimate connection and we were so like-minded, it made all the difference in the world.

Just before I turned the light out last night, I read a poem by Galway Kinnell about a woman, apparently Kinnell's wife, looking after her father, who had Parkinson's, as if he was the child. So like some of the ways I looked after Andrew! Maybe that's why I had vivid dreams about his children not fully understanding the situation, and about putting him into and taking him out of nursing homes. It became a nightmare — in life and in the dream.

I am glad the nightmare is over. I know his children loved him dearly and understood as best they could. (We were geographically distant from them in their father's last 18 years, which may have made it harder — but it wasn't their doing; it was Andrew and I who moved away.) And yes, I am deeply thankful he had me, and we had each other.

In a way, I still have that. I have become fully aware that he is lodged firmly in my heart for as long as I shall live.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Coming Back to Life, Perhaps?

At my core since his death has been a lack of purpose, under a veneer of tasks and responsibilities, interests and engagement. Just lately, though, I catch myself in moments of new vigour, emotional vigour that is, where I do feel purposeful in going about my concerns — much the way I used to feel as half of a couple who shared a sense of purpose in all our little doings.

Because they are all little doings really, I know that now. They seem big and important while we are doing our lives, while we still think our lives and activities matter. And now, suddenly, I have recovered some of that sense, in self-forgetful moments. I am momentarily absorbed in, taken over by what I am doing, as if I had a life all before me still, with that consciousness of immortality and invincibility which everyone carries around. We know it's false with our rational minds but can't bring ourselves to really feel that. I lost that false consciousness a while. 

I haven't been afflicted by my lack of purpose or my understanding of the true tenuousness and unimportance of individual life. Despite underlying grief, I've enjoyed many moments of living, and have still preferred to find myself alive and well enough. But now ... I wonder how it will go now? Shall I gradually become unconscious again, immersed in my activities? Will I be as robustly single as I was when half a couple? Intriguing thought! 

I have been living these last many months, it seems, in underlying awareness of the Illusion. I imagine one does not lose that again, not entirely, even if it becomes in the course of time more thickly overlaid.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

It Seems All Griefs Are Different


Nine days ago I lost my little cat, Freya. Silly phrase! I didn't mislay her; I chose to be without her from then on, rather than have her cancer get to the stage of causing extreme suffering. Click here for the story.

Well, duh, of course it's different from losing my husband, you may think. But she was part of our family too: we often referred to her and her brother, Levi, as 'the children'. And she was with me for 16 years, only four years fewer than my husband was. 

'Time to be with your Daddy now,' I told her, saying goodbye.

She was a little more my cat, as Levi was a little more Andrew's, but the affection went in all directions. Levi and I always had lots of chats and smooches, and quality times for just the two of us. We're just having a few more now, as I consciously try to make sure he isn't bored or brooding.

He moped a lot for the first week. There was a bleakness about him. I decided that for his sake I must stick to established routines. That was OK so far as I had control of it. One thing he stopped doing, though, was going outside — a cat who normally loves the outdoors and has favourite spots where he spends hours. In the end, I went out myself on a sunny day and sat on the front veranda, leaving the door open. That worked: he came to keep me company, and since then has been going out of his own accord.

I myself had lots of tearful moments, mentally 'seeing' her in familiar places, in typical behaviours. I sought out Levi for cuddles, as much for my own sake as his. It was not a happy household that first week. Neither of us, we two remaining family members of the original four, quite knew how to go on. I would see him in his favourite sunny spot in the spare room, but instead of sleeping he'd be lying there with head raised and eyes fixed blankly, apparently pondering something. Confronting the fact of her ongoing absence, I suppose. 

Yet after that first week, we seem to have adjusted. I think he is discovering the upside of being the only cat now: the only child, the sole focus of my attention. I am finding that giving him that extra attention is good for me, too. And the stable routines, the ongoingness of what we're used to, albeit with someone absent, have helped both of us. We're calm now, getting on with things; a little subdued at times, yet not unhappy. We're both enjoying this new, exclusive relationship.

How can that be? After Andrew died, we went through great grief. So did Freya, but Levi's grief was extreme. He took months and months; he tore out his own claws from stress. I had to put him on Rescue Remedy for weeks. I have had both of us on it now, but only for a day or two.

For myself, one difference I notice is that, when I cry over Andrew's dying, as I still do sometimes, it's not so much about the death itself as the years of increasing ill-health and pain he endured first. Sure, I also miss him and wish I could still enjoy his companionship in the ways I used to, but the greatest distress comes when I recall the traumas of what he went through and how little I could really help.

He was extraordinary, and still got the most out of life right until the end, overcoming the pain and limitations not by making them go away, which unfortunately wasn't possible, but by focusing on the joys of life despite them. 

It was so much easier with Freya, who, even after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, remained outwardly fit and healthy for another four months. 

But it's early days yet, and I have learned that grief is unpredictable. Perhaps I'm just burying it at present. I do notice how tired I am just now. I could spend practically the whole day sleeping. Maybe I should; it could be part of healing. 


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Old Anniversary Reaction — and a Change of State

Feeling useless, dull, vaguely pissed off. Each day I make plans to pull myself out of it, clean up the house, start on various projects waiting. Each day, instead, I stay in dressing-gown most or all of the day, do the minimum required to take care of cats and self, only go out to the shops if I absolutely must, can't be bothered writing poems or reading anyone else's, almost forget to turn on the news at night — that important lifelong ritual! — and bury myself in escapist books. (Melina Marchetta and John Marsden, the literary end of Young Adult — but escapist all the same: immersing myself in fictional lives rather than be present in my own.)

I think I am describing mild depression. My mother suffered long-term depression late in life. I have friends who have severe episodes of the disease. But, thankfully, I never experienced it. Well, not until becoming widowed. I have now discovered it is one of the stages of grief. And, as I have mentioned before, those stages do not happen in a nice, orderly, linear progression — no, they get all mixed up and tangled; and they like to ambush you, sneak up and pounce unexpectedly. I know I'm lucky the depression bits have been slight for me, but they are a nuisance. Being pissed off is part of the depression — and then I get pissed off about the depression. Vicious circle.

However, anger is a form of energy, and it also helps lift depression. Lacking good, honest, passionate fury, this lack-lustre, can't-be-bothered pissed-offness will have to do. Action! What can I take action on?

I know the cause. It's the good old anniversary reaction, two years on from the time in which Andrew started to die ... and did die. But what exactly was going on today, two years ago? Thank goodness for the invaluable FlyLady calendars, which I keep for future reference. And for my Shifting Fog: Dwelling with Dementia blog, and my Personal Journal (also a blog, but a private one for my eyes only).

Today, two years ago, I was just about recovered from the ghastly flu that hit me at the same time Andrew went to hospital for the last time. (Not that we knew it then for the last time.) I couldn't visit him for the first week he was there: I needed to get myself well, and also not take infection into the hospital. I was giving myself this one more day to make sure I was fully recovered. I was in limbo, wanting to see him yet dreading the news I had to give — that he would have to go from hospital into permanent care, for both our sakes. It was all too clear I could no longer look after him adequately, and was risking my own health trying.

An astrologer had told me a few months before that if I didn't get him into permanent care by September, I myself would become seriously ill. I had been hoping to compromise, getting by with frequent respite visits to the lovely Heritage Lodge and having him home between times. It seems the Universe took a hand. In one way it was just in the nick of time that he ended up in hospital at that point — for himself as well as me. No way I could have continued meeting his care needs as he went into decline.

But I didn't know that, this day two years ago. I still thought he could have a lot of quality of life left, and many months left.  This day two years ago, I was partly savouring one more day to myself to get well, partly yearning to actually see him and spend time with him again. And, as I said, I was having to confront a new reality.

I was wrong, of course, as to the details of that. When I saw him again, next day, it was obvious he was dying.  He went from hospital into palliative care on August 23, and died on September 3, by which time he had had visits from all his children. I was fully engaged, then, in the needs of the immediate moment. So if the anniversary reaction holds true, perhaps tomorrow I'll be able to swing into action and get a few things done.

One thing I did, this day two years ago, my Personal Journal shows me, was give myself a detailed Tarot reading about my situation. The overall card was The Tower — dramatic and apparently disastrous breakdown of the structures one has built up; for the best in the long run, letting in new energy; embrace the new.

In detail I was told to get out into nature, socialise with my women friends, listen to my guidance, further develop my magickal self. Yes, I have been doing all those things. It doesn't take away my loss, but it keeps me occupied, sometimes interested and sometimes even joyous.

On a TV show the other night, someone was widowed, and was shown a couple of years later having got on with her life. Clearly she still deeply missed her man.

"What do you do when you're faced with a bereavement?" her son said to the interviewer. "You carry on. There isn't a choice. You have to carry on." I knew exactly what he meant.  Today, I suppose, I am having a little rest from carrying on. And for the last few days — equivalent to when, two years ago, I was laid low with gastric flu.

Nevertheless, I made a small yet conscious shift today. I suddenly registered that the Personal Journal had a dry, empty, desert background. The text was in a narrow column with tiny writing, hard to read. The better to display the bleak background? OK, so it's not on public view, but I get to see it. Why would I put that into my subliminal consciousness? It must have reflected my mind when I did it — my private, inner mind (my public blogs are brighter and prettier) — but I'm not willing to put up with that environment now, even in private cyberspace.  I changed it to a picture of a dinghy on calm blue water, with deep blue mountains on the far shore and an expanse of sky only slightly streaked with cloud. It reminds me of the 6 of Swords Tarot card, which represents a journey to a place of earned peace. I've also enlarged both the text box and the font. I believe we are emotionally affected by what we surround ourselves with, consciously and subconsciously.


A little while ago, a friend rang out of the blue to say she was coming into town and would I like to meet her for coffee. I had even thought of phoning her this morning to suggest a meet-up, then decided, "Oh no, she'll be too busy." Lucky she's so tuned-in! So I am dressed after all, waiting for her to text me that she's there. It's a very quick trip to town from here. My mood is brighter already. So — not a very serious depression!

This friend never knew Andrew, though of course she knows of him. She is one of a number of new friends I have made in the last two years, since I have been freer to get out and about and meet people. Life, as they say, goes on.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

This Night Two Years Ago

I can choose to remember that it was the night I failed to protect my husband; that it was the night he left me; the night he left his home and never came back; the night he was vulnerable, hurt and afraid; the night he lay in the cold a long time alone without help. 

Or I can choose to remember that he was brave and resourceful and full of faith, and that it was yet another instance (and more than one) of the way he always put me and my wellbeing first.

We watched the second episode of a two-part TV movie about World War I. The previous week we'd watched the first half at Heritage Nursing Home, where he was staying for temporary respite. The respite was for me, to give me a rest from the arduous carer role. I still saw him every day, had meals with him, and took him out to lunch and to the Art Gallery when my son came for a visit. That Sunday night we watched the movie in the big TV lounge, just the two of us, holding hands. The staff on duty kindly brought us supper. It was quite romantic.

A friend had warned me that Part Two was harrowing, with stuff about the trenches. It wasn't good for him, at that time of his life, to watch distressing movies; he became too affected. But he'd seen Part One, and he had a lifelong interest in World War I because of his father's involvement. There was no way I could persuade him to skip Part Two. I hoped that if he had a bad reaction I could calm him with Reiki. However, although it was an emotional movie, he seemed to cope all right.

He ended up being the one to give me Reiki. The staff at Heritage asked if I was sure I wanted to take him home as planned. They'd had a gastric flu thing there and thought he showed some signs that he might not be well. But it was all rather nebulous, and we'd both been looking forward to his coming home. So he did come home, and Part Two of the movie was six days later. While we were still watching it, I developed a sudden, awful cough.

It was violent, pretty much uncontrollable, and at its worst I was afraid I would choke to death! Apparently he hadn't picked up anything from the Home; I had. 

That was the first night in months (except when he was in the nursing home) that I didn't deadlock the front door and hide the key. His Alzheimer's was mild most of the time, and controlled by medication, but that illness gets worse at night and people may wander off physically too. I only did it as a precaution, though; I wasn't aware of a definite need. And anyway, I reminded myself, getting down our front steps was beyond him now and he never attempted it. All the other doors were deadlocked. It seemed safe enough.

That night, coughing fit to choke, I thought if it got too bad I might have to go to hospital. (In which case they'd have taken Andrew too, as he couldn't care for himself.) I thought that if I got worse in the night he could probably call an ambulance all right, but he wouldn't know how to let them in if I locked up too securely. So I didn't deadlock that door. I did Reiki the lock, with prayers that we be looked after.

In bed, he cuddled me and gave me Reiki. Best Reiki hands in the business, I always told him, and they still were. I felt rotten, but the cough became more manageable. He wanted to keep doing it, but I was concerned that he wasn't comfortable and needed his sleep, so I said, "No, that's enough now," and persuaded him to turn over and get some rest.

At some point I half-woke to find him getting out of bed and grabbing his wheely walker. I assumed he was going to the toilet. Normally, I'd probably have gone with him in case he needed help, but I was feeling SO sick. I told myself he'd manage, and went back to sleep. 

At 3am I woke again. The bed was empty. I didn't know how long it was since he'd got out of bed but I went down the passage to see if he was all right. He wasn't in the toilet. 

His office door was shut. I thought he must be working at his computer, as he often did if he couldn't sleep, and had shut the door so as not to disturb me. Again, had I been feeling normal, I'd have opened the door and checked on him, but, still feeling really sick, I went back to bed and back to sleep.

I was woken at 5am by a call from the hospital. 

"We've got your husband here," they said. "Someone found him wandering the street. He's all right; we've made him warm. We're going to keep him in a bit longer just in case. So there's no need to worry. He's safe. You can go back to sleep." 

As if! I got up and found the front door wide open. The outside light wasn't on. I'll never know how he got down the front steps in the dark with his wheely walker and all, and with only bed socks on his feet.

"He's left me," I thought at once. It seemed to pop into my head unbidden. I told myself not to be silly. Then I realised that in one way it was the truth.

I was still coughing badly. It was obvious to me that with me being sick — indeed if either one of us got sick — the whole at-home care thing broke down. I would need to take him back to Heritage. It was suddenly time to make that permanent — which had been discussed with all concerned and we knew it was only a matter of time. But he and I had both hoped it was at least a few months further off.

I turned up at the hospital at 8am with his clothes, naively expecting him to be discharged. I had a scarf over my face so as not to take infection into the hospital. A nurse gave me a mask instead. Andrew was no longer in Casualty; he'd been moved to the wards. When I found him, he was sitting up in bed eating breakfast, with a thermal blanket that looked to be made out of tinfoil still wrapped around him.  

"I was hoping you wouldn't come," he said with some gusto. "You need to be home looking after yourself." He seemed fit and cheerful, but the nurses said he'd be kept in for observation for a day or two, just to make sure there was no serious damage. 

He told me he had no idea how or why he got there, but found himself lying on the ground at the top of our hill, a few doors down from our place, with his wheely walker beside him. He couldn't get up, so he prayed for a car to come past. It seemed he lay there praying a long time, but finally a car did come past (at some time in the wee small hours in our quiet little cul-de-sac — astonishing) but it went by without stopping. Dark pyjamas, black wheely walker; I guess they just didn't see him. 

He decided to try and pull himself up on his wheely walker, and managed it. He banged long and hard on the car outside the nearest house but couldn't rouse anyone. So then he got himself across the road and knocked on a door. It wasn't the door of anyone we knew. The man inside yelled a lot of questions before Andrew convinced him to open the door, but then called the ambulance.

He was gleeful with pride that, at the hospital, he had remembered our doctor's name and our address and phone number.

In hindsight he felt that his getting up and going out might have had something to do with being deeply affected by the movie, but he couldn't really explain it even so. He'd lost the memory; just had some vague notion.

I went back home, swapped his clothes for pyjamas and toiletries, delivered them to the hospital, went home again and put myself to bed for a week. I went through all the stages of that nasty gastric flu that was doing the rounds. With paracetamol, water, Reiki and bed rest, I got myself over it as quickly as I could. Andrew and I spent a frustrating week yelling at each other over the phone. The nurses didn't realise he needed his hearing aids and he couldn't remember to tell them. 

When I saw him again, he had deteriorated. It became obvious to me that he was dying. He did eventually go back to the nursing home, for palliative care, and the end came soon. 

In those final weeks, despite his decline, there were happy, loving moments, and he was at last free of the constant, excruciating pain in his legs (from peripheral neuropathy). But all that is another account I'll write another time. 

The doctors couldn't really pinpoint cause of death. His various ailments that he'd had for some time are all listed on the death certificate. They told me they thought he'd had a series of very tiny strokes that didn't show up on the scans. From various signs, I think so too. But really he died of old age, of his physical vehicle wearing out, of his time having come.

I never got to give him a decent hug again. First I didn't want to pass on my flu; then he had all sorts of drips and things attached; and finally he was just too frail. But that last night at home, when we went to bed he hugged me and gave me Reiki, and next morning at the hospital his first thought was for me to take care of myself even if it meant he didn't see me for a while. So much love! I can never say I missed out on any loving.

Tonight, remembering, I could focus on pain and guilt, thinking of him lying out there while I slept, unaware. I could think, if only I'd deadlocked the door, if only I'd gone to the loo with him, if only I'd looked into his office.... And then what? Would I have left him in the street while I raced home to call an ambulance? Would I have tried to half carry, half drag him home when I was so sick I could hardly move myself? Would I have gone outside to find him already disappeared, and panicked, not knowing where? If he hadn't gone outside that night, would he have had the strokes here at home and ended up in hospital anyway? Probably yes, to that last.

The way it happened was easier for me at the time. For him, he had the autonomy of heading off wherever his dementia was leading him; then the feat of getting down those steps successfully, hampered as he was. And after he fell, lost consciousness, and came to again, he was in his right mind, and that was when he became so brave, resourceful and full of faith that I can only feel awe and admiration. 

Perhaps, after all, looking back from where I am now, I would not want him to have missed such an incredible achievement. Perhaps it was a necessary step on his soul's journey. 

Note: I think I've probably written this account already in some version. At the moment, I'm not even going to try and check. I had a need to write it out tonight in any case, from my present perspective. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Discovery — I Am Who I Am

I was seven when I decided to give my life to poetry. Now I'm 74, and indeed it is what I have done.

Now that I am alone, and nearly two years have passed, I begin to realise that I am doing much the same things I always did — certainly during my 20 years with Andrew, and many that date back much longer than that. I'm a creature of long habit.

I notice it most when I sit at my computer and work on poems, or tasks related to poetry: reviews, revision, workshopping, collaborations.... With or without a husband, a 9-5 job, children or pets, friends or hobbies, courses of study, spiritual odysseys or geographical travels — being engaged with the writing of poetry has been my constant. 

It hasn’t made me great or famous, and certainly not wealthy, but it is the way I have chosen to spend my life, and in its own way has given me purpose and fulfilment. I continue to turn to it naturally: my lifelong habit.

Other habits aren't vocational, but I like them all the same — perhaps simply because they ARE habits. There are just certain ways I like to do things, whether it's the food I eat, the way I wash the dishes, the time of day I have my shower, or the shows I watch on telly. I've made a few changes to suit the fact that I'm pleasing no-one but me now, but I find myself going, mostly, through the same routines as ever.

I live my life much as I did when Andrew was here, except that I’m doing it by myself. It often feels as it used to when he was alive; I slip almost into that comfortable awareness of the partner, the companion, the mate somewhere nearby. 

I realise that many of the things I do when I am taking only myself into account are things I also did when I was partnered … and when I was partnered before … and when I was single in between … and when I was a young student who’d not yet married….

The me inside was always here. There isn't any new or hidden self to discover. Perhaps it's clearer now, since the fading of the "other" in my head — but really it was always clear enough. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I Got Myself a New Car

Well, a second-hand one, of course.

The previous car was pretty old, and eventually needed repairs that would have cost too much to be worth it. I'm pleased with the replacement.

It was a few days after I got it that I suddenly realised: it was the first car I'd bought for me rather than for us. That caused a pang. Another link gone.

As if these external links really mattered; they're only symbolic of course. And yet....

Andrew was so pleased when we got the last car, in August 2011. I was already doing all the driving, but he was keen to have a drive of this car so I swapped seats one day, close to home, and let him drive it the rest of the way. He surrendered his licence soon afterwards, pleased to know we had a good car that would be easy for me to drive.

And it was a good car for me, a comfortable size to drive and to park. It was my favourite car ever — but when you buy an old car, it needs more and more work, and is wearing out all the time ... as it eventually did.

So I must look on the bright side. I was able to choose the latest car solely for my own specific needs. I don't have to worry about fitting a wheely walker into it, for instance. I was able to go even smaller, even easier to park. I'm told that smaller is more economical too. And it's not nearly so old, so I trust will last a lot longer.

The old (1984 Camry)                                                                       The new (1995 Ford Festiva Trio)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Talking to the Dead

Alison Dubois — a famous clairvoyant and medium on whom an American TV show is based — has an advice column in a magazine I read.

A young woman whose brother had died asked if he could hear her and her Mum crying for him. Dubois said he would prefer them not to be upset. Better to speak of the joy he brought them. The deceased like to hear people remembering the funny or quirky things about who they were. 

But yes, he did hear them, and the more they talked to him out loud, the easier it would become for him to communicate with them.

Another woman said she was badly missing her late husband, afraid she hadn't told him enough how much she loved him. (I can relate to that one!) Dubois advised her, too, to talk to him out loud. 

The dead can hear our every word, she said. We can tell them every day that we love them. And she suggested, “Before you go to sleep, ask him to visit you in your dreams”.

I talk to Andrew out loud a lot. I know, from some things a psychic recently told me (a woman who never met him and barely knew me) that he does indeed hear me. Through her, he responded to things I had been privately saying and feeling. 

I did have a couple of dream visits from him soon after his death, and knew them to be real visits.  But it simply hadn’t occurred to me that I could invite him to visit more often.  

Well, that's easily rectified!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

New Experience: Alone in My Head

My friend Shay was visiting. Her partner died a couple of months after Andrew did. It wasn't such a long relationship as ours, but every bit as close and loving. When I first asked, after our bereavements, what it was like for her, she said, "I've lost my best friend." 

Now, like me, she lives alone. Close friends ourselves for two decades, we are the people we can talk to about our parallel journeys. 

On this visit, she said how strange it felt, having no-one else inside her head. I knew exactly what she meant. Quite recently I was driving along in my car when I suddenly thought, "Here I am!" with a sense of being wholly myself, undivided, undiluted. A recognition … and the recognition that it was a new experience.

In the past, neither Shay nor I lived much alone. We had marriages, we raised families. Before that we were in our birth families with parents and siblings; then we were young women out in the world, sharing houses with others. 

"You know what I mean," she said. "How there's always someone else in your head, and you do things partly with them in mind?" Yes, I knew. I think it's probably the commonest human condition, and only in its absence does one discover it.

We agreed we both miss that past companionship, but we're savouring this new experience of self-containment, indeed self-discovery, and don't want to interrupt it too soon.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

I'm Not Back There, I'm Here

Such a lovely thing to do, to start each day: to sit outside in my tree-framed, enclosed back yard, meditate, journal, and do a short piece of "mindful writing". But last time I did that daily, my husband was dying. He left home for hospital and never came back. So I am reluctant now, for fear of reviving those memories.

In this place, where we lived for almost the last three years of his life, the memories are all of his decline — increasing age and frailty, illnesses harder and harder to counteract. There is sweetness too, among those memories, but even so I have reached a point where I don't want to keep reviving them.

Time is my ally. I noticed recently that I have become alone in my head. That is to say, my consciousness now is of myself, singular, whereas before — and for a long time after his death — my inner consciousness was of being coupled, always taking into account his presence, his ideas, his preferences. This was not in a dutiful or compulsive way; our shared life was a joy. It was more just the natural state of things, which I wasn't even particularly aware of until later. Now, though, I am just me, unentwined from my dear Other. I'm back to how it was before Andrew, so this state is not exactly unfamiliar — it's just been a long time. But I am getting used to it again, now that it's here.

Yesterday I noticed that I have also, finally, adjusted to being physically alone in this home (well, except for the cats and various visiting spirits). It finally feels natural that I walk around it all by myself. In fact I now fill it all by myself. 

Sometimes I have a slight reluctance to enter what used to be his office. But it's only momentary. That space is very changed, and last winter I happily used it as my sitting room, my sunroom. I expect to do that again this year.

This is a good home and it suits me — as it suited both of us. The only trouble is that this was the scene of his decline and so those are the memories it arouses. I miss him, but I'm sick of remembering him like that. Earlier memories creep in, but they have different contexts.

To arrive at a date 18 months since his death seemed a significant milestone. The first year is still in some ways a blur. I think I was so much, still, connected to the past (of course).  Entering the second year, I'm clearer; I am more distinctly my self, and have learned that I can go on — even if the thought of going on without him does still fill me with tears at times. 

Time of course did not stop at the 18-month mark, and now it's nearly 19 months already. How can it be? The days and weeks go inexorably on, adding up. Time passes. When all's said and done, I'm glad of that. I begin to look forward, to become curious about what my life will be. I'm not just marking time any more, as I was for so long (though I think I put on a good show on the outside). I'm not exactly striding forward either, but at least I'm looking down the path ahead.

I see a time, though I don’t know when, that I’ll begin my days with a meditate in my back yard, and a bit of journalling….

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Should Have Lain Down Earlier

"Behave as if she was still alive," advised the father to his recently widowed son, who was going off the rails with grief, in a movie I watched today. And so I ask myself, how would I behave if Andrew was still alive?

Pretty much as I do, I think, except that I might look after myself a bit better. I would exercise more, for instance, because it would be important to maintain my fitness so as to look after him properly. I have to deliberately impose a new mindset in which fitness is an important part of looking after me properly ... in which I deserve to be looked after as well as I looked after him. 

Did I look after him well? For the most part, I think I did ... and our doctor thought so too. It wasn't always entirely adequate as his health and strength declined, but I did the best I could. I have to remind myself to do the same for me -- and that I still have two ageing cats dependent on me.

I remind myself, too, that he knew he was dying, and he trusted me to look after myself when he was gone, as well as he would have done. (It wasn't a one-way street. Even at the end, he was still doing his best to take care of me.)

These last few days I've been a little unwell: light-headed, low energy, upset tum. So I am taking it easy. I didn't get out of my pyjamas today. I had a big sleep in. For once the cats let me, and waited patiently for breakfast. If Andrew had been here, I would have spent all day in bed with him, alternately reading, cuddling and dozing. Then, about 4, we'd both have come to life and got up -- to watch TV, work on our computers, get dressed and go out for a walk, or even take the car to the shops. 

Today I did it backwards. When I did wake and get the cats and me our breakfast, they came back to lie on the bed but I stayed up. I did check email and Facebook, but leisurely, and didn't stay on the computer. I sat on the couch and watched a movie (the one with the advice that started this train of thought). I did some reading. All afternoon I was telling myself to have a little nap, but I didn't want to be in an Andrew-less bed.

Finally, at 4, I got the cats an early tea, had a cuppa myself, and came to lie down. The cats joined me. Then the people next door started up the lawnmower! So much for that idea. I think it might have to be an early night instead, and hope I don't nod off in front of the telly first. At least I'm already dressed for bed. 

Meanwhile the cats are enjoying this interlude of togetherness. They are herd animals, and like to be near me. They both smooched up for a cuddle before relaxing. I think I'll have a little read. Who knows, maybe I'll manage a doze in spite of the mower.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I Am Discovering Who I Am

... when I'm just me, on my own.

Rediscovering, you might think. Perhaps, but not entirely. I have had very little time on my own in my 74 years, so whoever I was back then, I'm bound to be different now. The me I am discovering can't help but be formed in large part by the 20 years with Andrew as well as everything else that went before.

Then, I suppose there is a me that's always there, some core self which is not altered by the events of my life. (The poet is part of that core, I'd say: a constant, through everything, since I was a young child.) But I think the core and the external events — or at least the effects of them — all get mixed in together to make up what I experience as me.

And there are now the 18 months of widowhood too, and the changes and adjustments they have brought. I still tend to think as though everything stopped when he died. I want to speak of 'the last 20 years' of being married to him, as though the 18 months since had not even happened.

But they have happened, and they have been shaping me too, as the months ahead will also do. I know now which things may trigger sobs, and which probably won't. I've learned how to shop and cook for one. I have found out that there are things I do and don't want to eat now that I'm pleasing only myself, which are not quite as before. As there are shows I do or don't want to watch, and so on. Some preferences are just the same as before, but others are quite different.

I'm learning how I like to spend my time. Again, in many respects that's the same as ever, but not always.

My friends are my friends forever, but some I see less often now and some I see more of; just the way it's panning out.

It's been gradual, and it's still evolving, but I'm beginning to get a sense of this new me.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I've Thrown Out My Favourite Nightshirt

It's gone into the charity collection, which will be picked up off my front lawn on Monday morning. It was old, and a bit stained, but that's not why.

I looked at the logo, remembered my pleasure in buying it — nigh on 20 years ago already! — and thought: no, not any more. If I should ever end up with another person sharing my bed, I couldn't wear something that speaks so much of my relationship with Andrew. It wouldn't feel right. I think I'd probably cry because of it not being Andrew — which wouldn't be very nice for this hypothetical person.

And to wear it to go to bed alone would only remind me how much I miss him.

But I took a photo of the logo before I tossed it out. Its time had come, but although I didn't want to wear it again, it's a nice memory in this form.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

4th February

It has been one year and five months. Tonight I realised I can remember the feel of your kisses. I'm glad of that. (Those kisses that I'll never have again ... except in memory.) And tomorrow is the date of your  birthday. No, in fact it is today, already; I'm up so late. 

Now it makes sense that tonight I pulled out that chapbook of poems I wrote over the three months immediately following your death, and finished getting it into shape for submitting. 

It is so hard to believe so much time has gone past, although I can feel and see the ways I've changed and adjusted. But part of me is forever with you in your last days, and indeed in all the days we had together. Surely it was only yesterday? 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Time Has Passed, and Now I'm Different

It took a journey, different places, time away, for me to realise this. I went on holiday to places and people from my past, many of them pre-dating Andrew. It was an emotional pilgrimage and a wonderful holiday, both — but it was not that which changed me.

I returned, walked up my front steps and opened the door. It was a pleasure to be back. I enjoyed being home again, and my reunion with the cats. It was some little time before I noticed what was missing — the pang of grief at Andrew's absence from our home. Then I noticed what it was that was present — pleasure in my home, the one I have spent the last 15 months creating. It's no longer exactly the same one I shared with him. New furniture, new pictures on the walls, various items re-arranged ... one room has been completely and others partly transformed.

It has been a year. More than a year. During this time, by bit, I have remade my home and my life. They are mine now, not shared. I have gradually adjusted to living alone, to considering only myself. This took all of these past months. Even just before I went on holiday, I was noticing small ways in which I still had the habit of thinking what Andrew would like. (As soon as I noticed, I started reminding myself that he isn't here any more and I can do whatever I like. He certainly wouldn't grudge me — but even if he would, that's no longer relevant.) 

The very fact of going on holiday is an example of how I've changed. It was last-minute and spur-of-the-moment. I realise I have become quite spur-of-the-moment now, newly spontaneous. I often go to movies alone (which I don't mind) because the local cinema is so close that I can look at the program, think, 'I'd like to see that,' and then realise, 'I could go right now.' This was not possible when Andrew was ill and I was his carer. 

In case that sounds lonely, going off to movies by myself, let me add that I have an active social life. Back from holidays just a week, I've been out for coffee twice with different friends, had others visit me at home, made an arrangement to go swimming with yet another.... These things also were not so easy to manage in Andrew's last few years of life. I am in many ways freer now. 

Yes, there has been much grief and pain. I can still be triggered into tears quite readily. Yet I have adapted. Grief is no longer my main focus. Home doesn't feel so empty any more. Instead, it is nurturing. It has become my home; I fill it all by myself. 

But wait! Perhaps, after all, the holiday did have something to do with this — one event of the holiday, anyway. I had a lomi lomi (Hawaiian) massage from my friend Michelle, whom I stayed with while I was away. It was a blissful massage and also an amazing energy healing in which I released a lot of tears and toxins. It can’t be coincidental that I’ve come home to this big shift within myself. It is true that I have been adapting and adjusting over time, yet before I went away I was still finding it hard not to stay stuck in the grief. I believe the healing I received from Michelle allowed me to complete the process.