The Empty Nest – Happy Birthday- again.

Happy birthday, Nick!

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It’s strange learning to go from two to one. If you’ve always been single it must seem like a doddle and what am I harping on about? But if you’ve always been two – and working from home our daily lives revolved around each other – being one is hard. Don’t get me wrong, I need my space and like my own company, but even as two we managed to give each other that.

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Doesn’t mean I like it, but I’m getting used to it. Luckily, because I am blessed with such caring people around me, there haven’t been many occasions when I have been on my own. If they haven’t been living here, the family are always popping down.  But the times of ‘oneness’ are becoming more frequent. It’s certainly made me think more of others in the same situation.

When I wrote The Bereavement Club after losing some people very close to me back in 2005, it said what I was feeling at the time. I had no idea there was a deeper layer of grief I hadn’t even touched on.

With the help of our gorgeous gardener, we have planned and planted (she was the one getting her hands dirty, of course) a redesign of the Garden of Remembrance at the church where you lie. I’ve sorted your tablet and hopefully you will eventually be surrounded with snowdrops and alliums, agapanthus, verbena and hellebores, amongst others…and a large dollop of rosemary for remembrance.

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I’ve been writing again. I went back to Canada with a deadline in mind to finish my middle-grade adventure manuscript. Other writers will understand the feeling when you write, The End. Yes, there’s always rewrites to do but at least, instead of procrastination, I now have words to juggle with.

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We went away for your first anniversary to Majorca. It was a good break in the beautiful old town of Pollenca. All cobbled streets and sunshine. It was strange you not being with us. We’ve never been away as a family without you. You always did the driving, took charge and managed us. Of course, we coped, but your absence around the table was huge. We missed you so much.

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Only 2 years ago I wrote this about our weekend in Amsterdam. How I was getting stressed about getting ready for Christmas. How petty all that stress seems now. It’s the simple things that are the hardest. Writing four names on birthday cards is difficult enough, I have to take a moment to physically stop the pen from forming your name. So, writing numerous numbers of Christmas cards, would be like banging it into my head again, and again, and again. So I’ve cancelled Christmas again this year. I’m sure in time I will come round and look for ways to enjoy it. But for now I can’t face it. It was such a big, happy part of our lives.

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Christmas 2016 – our last with Nick and his brother David.

People say I’m doing well. I don’t know what that means. What is it judged against? Is it because I haven’t spent the last 15 months under my duvet, but made myself get up each day and engage with the world? Albeit on my own terms, but even on the mornings when I have that split second, cocooned in my dreams of our old life before I open my eyes and face reality, I endeavour to eventually haul myself out of my pit and push back the curtains.

Is it because I haven’t succumbed to depression? I know I’m not depressed – I’m deeply sad. I feel my emotions have plateaued. Everything is just ‘ok.’ Maybe that is what life is for some anyway? But it wasn’t for me in my old life. Life was good, with highs and lows. Yes, I still find things funny and laugh at things, but nothing seems to touch my soul anymore, giving those rushes of elation.

Is it because I don’t burst into tears at the drop of a hat so much anymore? Mostly I can live in my superficial world. I still well up at music or memories that spring into my mind at the weirdest of times, but usually I just glaze over and feel disconnected a lot of the time.

It seems there are two choices to me; give in and become a burden on your loved ones or keep going and get through, any way you can.

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These three are my reason to get up each morning.

I feel as though this is all a story belonging to someone else. I look at photos of our old life and can’t believe it’s gone. It feels as though you are just out; visiting a site, down the pub with the boys or …anything… but gone for ever. But I have to look at the positives if I want to live, not merely exist – what I have got, not what I haven’t.  I am blessed with three wonderful children, whose love, resolve and courage are astounding; a loving family doing whatever they can to help and, supportive friends, who have stuck by me in my darkest moments, even when I have been selfish. I have a beautiful home in a stunning place with the most amazing views to wake up to. Not so many people are this lucky. I must just keep going.

So, happy 58th birthday, my darling.

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Messing about on our last holiday, January 2017.

All my love, always

Teresa x

PS. I don’t feel I have much joy to spread but as I’m not a completely, heartless Grinch, I wish everyone reading this a Happy Christmas and healthy New Year.

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The Empty Nest – The Bereavement Club

Until you’ve joined the Bereavement Club you have no idea what it feels like. You can never change your mind, put it off for another day or revoke your membership. No words I’ve ever read come anywhere near expressing the pain and heartache that paralyses you when you lose a beloved. It’s a myth that time heals, it doesn’t, it just numbs. The all consuming, intense pain of the first few months diminishes so that you can exist on a day to day basis, but life sends reminders to catch you unawares causing that pain to spring out of its box.

With so many terrible events happening in the world, it seems our emotions are wrung out to dry on a daily basis as we are confronted with a regular dose of exposure to suffering. But like a movie rolling before our eyes it is difficult to comprehend the suffering involved with each disaster. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the seemingly regular news about attackers or accidents causing fatal injuries, each remind us that someone else is joining the club, but even then it doesn’t touch our lives unless you have a loved one caught up in these traumas.

Before we had immediate access to national and international events, there was an element of shelter from such mass trauma. Unless you were bought up in the countryside, death didn’t enter your daily life. The first person I was aware of dying was my grandfather when I was seven, but even he was hidden from me when he quietly died in hospital. My mother told me one morning whilst I was eating my Weetabix that he wouldn’t be coming out of hospital and then nothing more was said about it in my earshot. I wasn’t even present at the funeral as I was sent to play with a friend.

When my mother died in 2001 from cancer, even though her last few weeks had been nursed in a sunshine yellow room in my home, I in turn, protected my two and four-year olds from the sadness of their grandmother’s funeral by sending them to play with a friend for the day. Perhaps it was more from my own selfishness? I knew I would be inconsolable during the day and didn’t want them to see their oh-so-in-control-mother reduced to a sobbing heap. Was that the right thing to do? I still don’t know, but when my sister died after a short illness, again from cancer two years later, I decided that they couldn’t be sheltered for ever from this natural part of life and I was doing them more harm than good by pretending it wasn’t upsetting. How, when they’d been aware of my four-day vigil by her bedside whilst she struggled for life in Intensive Care, and watched as I collapsed yet again in a heap after her demise, could I pretend that this major life event was anything but devastating?

As the subsequent years pass learning to cope with your membership to the Bereavement Club is difficult.  The triggers sneak up on you any time any place, like assassins ready to make you crumble. For me it’s especially times alone; driving the car or those few, quiet moments of reflection late at night before sleep takes you to its haven. But it doesn’t have to be only then; days when I feel in full control up beat and raring to go, a dagger can still pierce my heart by the sound of a few significant bars of a tune, sight of something beautiful or an associative scent. Sometimes I think I’m really brave able to mention their name and talk about them, but I have to keep my thoughts at a distance, not connecting with my heart. I know that death is part of life and makes the circle complete; it’s said that if we hadn’t loved the deceased so dearly it wouldn’t hurt so much and that we have to have one to have the other, but no matter how hard I try these words sound empty and meaningless.

When my closest friend since gymslip days was whipped so swiftly and unexpectedly off the face of this earth in the 2004 Asian Tsunami, my children cried with me, probably more from the pain of seeing my raw grief, but I was weak enough with this third death of a beloved, to have lost my mothering, protective instinct. Why shouldn’t they see me cry? I wish I could have wailed and beat my breast it hurt so much.

Getting through the first year for each of them was the worst. It was hard not to negatively think back with a ‘this time last year she was still alive’ approach which doesn’t help at all. And the looming anniversary only serves to make the whole loss seem so final again. Eventually I learnt that distraction worked for me. The first anniversary after my mother died, my sisters and I blew the little bit of money she left us and took our families off to Disneyland Paris, staying in the most expensive hotel we could afford. My mother would have loved the fact that we were all together having a fabulous time at her expense. It didn’t stop our tears, but at least we were crying together and remembering her in a positive way.

Many people can’t or don’t want to talk to you when they know you’ve been recently bereaved. Or they expect you, after what they consider to be a reasonable amount of time, to have got over it and moved on.  Often kindness can be the thing that causes your fragile defenses to break down, but I began not to care whether my eyes welled up whilst talking to someone – I wasn’t ashamed of my tears, it was their problem, not mine. I’ve found those who chose the head-in–the-sand approach to be more hurtful by not mentioning it.  It is really only fellow members of the Club who are likely to understand the down days and remember to treat others with empathy around anniversaries.

Given time, I’ve learnt to live with my three angels. I still laugh, cry and live my life but it’s the pain of not sharing it with them that is so hard to bear. It is inevitable that we will all join the Bereavement Club at some stage in our lives; I just hope your membership comes to you as late as possible.

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The Empty Nest – A year has passed…

Dearest Nick

So we’ve made it through our first year without you. How can that be? How can I not have spoken to you for 365 days? Not heard your voice, kissed your cheek or seen you smile? How did we even manage to get to this point? Too many questions…and never the answers.

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Nick on holiday in Italy

This last year has passed in a blur. We are all still numb and I still cannot believe how dramatically my life has changed. Only those who have been through this kind of trauma will understand what it feels like. Even with my previous bereavements, I had no idea when I offered platitudes to grieving friends just what they were possibly coping with. You can’t until it happens to you.

I’ve always tried to find the positive in life. Always tried to find humour. Even when things have been dark… and there have been many dark days in my life…but losing you has completely floored me. I have had to dig so deep. I have become a person I don’t recognise. I still have all the initial feelings of numbness and disbelief. I still live on two different levels – the daily superficial one and the real one tucked below. Time is supposed to heal. But I’ve learnt there is no limit to how long it can take to find your equilibrium again. There is no magic switch or formula that will get you to where you want to be. It is literally a day-by-day process. Some days are easier than others, but all have a cloak of sadness over them. The cloak does lift occasionally for you to take a break but soon envelopes you again in its familiar fold.

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I’ve learnt this year our home is not our sanctuary. Yes, it’s comforting and familiar, but you are around every corner. Still in the kitchen when I make my morning tea or standing beside me when I brush my teeth and stare in the mirror moaning that I am looking (and feeling) old that day. You would pause in your brushing, grin at me and say, ‘ me too, but at least we’re doing it together.’ Now you won’t get any older. I will be doing it on my own.

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Nick wanted to do more sailing. This was on holiday in Turkey.

I’ve found I have to go away regularly for my own sanity to take off the cloak of grief that pervades in the very walls of the house. If not, I sink deeper and deeper until I can’t see the sun through the cloud. When I’m in a different environment I feel a bit lighter. We’ve all found this so are making sure we don’t get sucked in too deeply. Luckily we recognise it now so can take steps to get away for a while so we have the strength to come back to the house and live a little before the sadness covers us again.

Reflecting on the last year I was feeling that baby steps were being made. I had made some decisions. I’ve collected your ashes from the funeral directors. Harry came with me and carried you home. You sat on the dresser for a while. I have part of you in a scatter tube so that we can take you to the mountains when we feel able. I also have a small muslin bag with a tiny part of you ( I like to think it’s mostly your heart and I keep it under my pillow) which we want to put into pieces of jewelry, and I know some may not understand this but, I want another tattoo. They can mix a little of the ashes into the ink. I thought a sweetpea would be suitable. That way you will always be with me. But now the main part of you lies in Laughton churchyard in the Garden of Remembrance. I’ve booked a double spot so that you can wait there until it’s my turn to join you. Thinking about my own death doesn’t bother me at all anymore. Not that it did before but now it has become more of a reality. Conversations about your last wishes are so hard to have with your loved ones at any time but so much easier when you are fit and well.  I couldn’t equate pouring your ashes into the earth with it being you anyway.

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All Saints Church, Laughton

We have achieved a lot this past year. You would be so proud of the kids. Jo is changing career direction and doing something that makes her happy. Ellie managed to complete her chalet season in France and now has a new career to start in London and Harry got through his second year at Uni, passing his exams well. All these steps have taken courage. They have dug deep and made themselves keep going even though many days they didn’t want to.

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Jo, Harry and Ellie all dressed up for their cousin’s wedding.

And me? I’m still lost. We were a partnership. You were the anchor that kept me grounded.  Now I am adrift. You were the reassuring presence for us all. We both took on different roles within the family and now I have to cover them all.  I don’t know what to do with my life. I am still sorting the company out.  Still grateful to family and friends for propping me up. I take each day as it comes. Some are ok, some are shit but I am determined to struggle out of my pit each morning and draw back the curtains to see what the day brings. I began to detach my ears from my shoulders, not waiting so much for something to hit me all the time, when only a week ago we had a huge knock back when we had to say goodbye to Bisou. Your dog. 

Just a dog some might think. But this was a special dog. One we hand reared and bottle fed from 10 days old. One who thought we were her pack. One who was so pleased to see us when we came home we’d have to say hello outside in case she peed herself in her excitement. One who never tired of chasing balls. It was sudden and unexpected, and it brought back our deep feelings of the life we have lost.

I found this recently

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It really resonated with me. Friends tell me it’s still early days, that I must be kind to myself. I just know that I must take a day at a time because each day I feel different. I still feel as though I’m standing in front of a huge black void, toes curled over the edge wanting to find my way across but not knowing how. Perhaps as time goes on a path will become clearer and I will find my way to the other side without realising. I do hope so.

Meanwhile we have to start a new year. A year where I can’t think back and say ‘this time last year you were still with us.’

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One of my favourite photos of us all, we were laughing at Bisou

Now I have to ‘make a life’. I will always miss you and you will always be part of me.

Perhaps this new life will be terrific, who knows…

…but I do know it will most certainly never be the same.

all my love

Teresa x

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The Empty Nest -A letter to my love on our anniversary.

My darling Nick

Happy anniversary!

Remember when you proposed? I had just come round from surgery to remove all my lymph nodes, including the cancerous one, from my groin. The cot sides of the bed were up and I had 2 drainage tubes attached to my leg which were creeping out from under the covers displaying their attractive contents like golden beer.  Oh and a catheter. Don’t forget that juicy little addition hanging off the other side of the  bed. I may also have been on a drip – it all blurs a bit. Just like my brain at the time trying to cope with the effects of the anesthetic. So romantic! I remember you sitting next to me holding my hand as I tried to focus on your offer. Having both messed up our first marriages we’d already agreed we didn’t need a bit of paper. We knew we had committed to each other. We had Ellie and Harry to cement it. What could a marriage certificate give us that we didn’t already have? So your proposal came as a complete surprise. But I knew it was the right thing to do. We were in love. It was March. They couldn’t tell us if I would make it to see the summer roses bloom – I think that spurred you on to propose. For me, yes, I knew I wanted to be your wife but I also needed to know that my children would be safe. That you would have no legal trouble in swooping them up and caring for them if I didn’t make it through. I suppose that’s a mother’s love. The wedding was then planned in a rush for 2 months later; 19th May 2000. We found a hotel that could do the whole thing,– my mother was recovering from her own cancer treatment and yours was elderly.

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My mum and Ellie having fun on our wedding day

 

We needed it to be easy for everyone to relax and stay put. NO fuss. Sadly, just the family were invited as it was too difficult to get everyone sorted at short notice but we had a big party later for everyone else.

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I found a dress that covered my swollen leg and the huge bandage covering the wound with the MRSA I’d subsequently caught in hospital. Job done. Not too shabby for a quickie wedding. You scrub up very well.

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Harry doing his own thing in the background…

 

This is my favourite picture of the day though. Harry wouldn’t behave and kept hiding under the trees when the photographer wanted to snap. You’d already had to hold him while taking your vows to stop him crying.

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Harry preferring to hide behind the trees

 

The girls had pretty much chosen their own dresses and the sun shone on us. It wasn’t just our mums who needed to pace themselves during the day. It was the longest I’d stayed awake in one go after my op.

 

We were blessed to have a second chance at happiness. Blessed that we found each other.

Narrowly as it turned out.

If you hadn’t come back from your round the world trip 2 days before the creative writing course began we would never have sat together in the adult education classroom. You told me later that you noticed me as soon as I walked in. I was blind to everyone else, in such a fluster having left a 10-month-old Jo at home. I was too busy congratulating myself that I had got there only five minutes late and without baby sick on my shoulder. It was another three years until you asked me to dinner. And even then I made you wait another two years until I extracted and sorted myself out from my marriage. You always were good at waiting for what you wanted.

We were blessed. Blessed that I made it through so that we could nurture the three wonderful young people we have been given. Not many are as lucky as us. And what fun we had together! 

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I’m trying to find the blessings in life now and not allow myself to be consumed by my grief. Sometimes it’s harder than I know how, but I always think of what you’d say if you were standing next to me. In your patient way you were always my back-up, giving me the strength to go for my dreams, keeping us charting a safe and steady path through life even when I wanted to rock the boat and stir us all up now and again. It’s only now you’ve gone that I realise just how much you had my back.

We fought our battles together.

Together.

Now this is my personal battle I have to fight on my own. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Far harder than all my previous bereavements. But I will find a way through.

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All dressed up and ready to go to a wedding – April 18

I feel it is all unfair. Why me? Why us? But that can never be answered and it’s a stupid question really. I’ve decided it’s random and our number came up. There are just soooooo many of us out there struggling to get by and deal with life without loved ones. So many not knowing how to make it through the day;trying to find distraction until the fog clears a little. I know I’ll never be the same again and you will always be part of me. I exist in two lives now. The surface one when I don’t think about you. This is the one that gets me through the day. Then there is the real one underneath. It isn’t tucked too far below and I can usually choose not to touch it by refusing to let you in. But sometimes you overwhelm me and bleed into my day causing me to stop, instantly remembering what I have lost. Then the tears flow and the stab to the heart causes me to involuntary gasp. It’s not always convenient to cry. The woman at the supermarket checkout won’t understand that the almond magnums on the shopping belt were our favourite and I’m eating them alone now, not sharing them with you. And walking down the street its difficult not to let my eyes well up when I smell your aftershave on someone else. Anything I know I have to get through I can prepare myself for. It’s the triggers that sneak up that make it hard to hold everything together.

When we had the ‘conversation’ with the hospice about your last wishes, remember when we were alone afterwards I said ‘tell me what you want now and then we won’t speak of it again but concentrate on living.’ I asked you where you wanted to be buried. You looked me straight in the eye and said ‘as long as it’s with you I don’t care.’ You showed me not only how to live but also how to cope with dying. You never once said ‘why me?’ Instead you said ‘Look what we’ve had together. We’ve been so fortunate.’

So ‘happy anniversary’ darling man.

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Nick in Lyme Regis, a month before his operation.

 

I miss you every day. From the moment I open my eyes and look across at your empty pillow, to the moment they close and I’m grateful to have made it through. Thank you with all my heart for the magic of the years we had.

I was one lucky woman. 

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In Lyme Regis – May 2017.

You are with me now and always will be.

All my love

Teresa x

 

 

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The Empty Nest – Birthdays are a Bonus

My darling Nick

So it’s my birthday today. The first one without you for 25 years. We’ve had a few momentous ones… remember my 41st? That was the day we learnt about my cancer results. And this day last year we had an appointment with the oncologist to learn about your treatment. I remember seeing your right kidney on the scan and the consultant calmly saying you were a young, fit man so after recovery from the operation to remove it you would embark on the inhibitor drugs, as though he were discussing a cold.

‘Should we stop work?’ we asked ‘and dissolve the company?’  No, life would continue in some form. You would be able to work – possibly for years as long as the pills held the cancer at bay. I even had a holiday to Cornwall booked six weeks after the surgery. The specialist nurse said I wasn’t being silly, she thought it would be ok to go by then. I bought a special sun lounger so you could stretch out and recuperate. There was decking at the holiday cottage that looked over the beach where I thought you could while away the time watching the surfers battling the waves.

How did we get it so wrong?

It’s hard not to look at my diary and relive how the events of last year played out.

On my recent road trip, after Canada, we went to Barbados. Yeah, I know, awesome. And it was. I was amazed how healing the feel of sun on your skin could be. Swapping my winter boots for flip flops as we came into land was so removed from my life in England I felt as though I was in a dream world.

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Barbados is a beautiful place. My trip helped enormously. I came back a little stronger. I’ve been in hibernation. I feel as though I’m emerging from a deep sleep. But I am getting up each day.

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I’m still in a dream world. This life is not my life. I don’t know what my life will be like yet. There are too many decisions I have to make and I find making decisions difficult at the moment. I am lost. I have to find a new career and I don’t know which direction to go in. But I’m beginning to change things because I can’t live the life I had.

You. Are. Not. In. It.

So I’ve sold your car, and mine, and bought another that makes me happy. It is big and bold and called Idris. I can see you raise your eyebrows, but you would  approve even though it is a little outrageous, because I know you’d want me to be happy.

I’m going blonde. Only gradually, but I can’t be the old me and it is supposed to be fun. Fun is what I’d like.

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I’ve moved the office. I can no longer sit in a room which is so full of your presence. I now look out over the garden; the sunlight can stream in and the view is invigorating.

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I have started playing tennis again. Only in small doses but it’s a start. I just have to learn to cope with the pity in people’s eyes when they see me for the first time. I’m not responsible for their emotions but sometimes it feels as though I have to take charge of the situation as they are waiting for my reaction.

These are all superficial things. They don’t detract from the fact that my life has changed beyond comprehension but in a small way they help.

But I can’t change some things. I can’t tackle your clothes yet. I still need to bury my head amongst your shirts and take a deep breath. You still linger there.

I still don’t sleep well but I have discovered Audible. It is comforting to listen to a story in the quiet of the night especially if it is the gravelly, grandpa voice of Laurie Lee reading Cider with Rosie.

I still haven’t collected you from the funeral directors. I feel bad about that but I think it’s because if I do it will make it real. How can you be in a small box? You’re here with me in the kitchen standing at the island chopping veg, or in the garden shed potting up sweetpeas as I bring you a beer, or pondering the cryptic crossword, pen in your mouth, glasses resting on your head.img_6773.jpg

My birthday is just one of many ‘firsts’ we have to get through. Our wedding anniversary is coming up next month. I wanted more.

And more.

And more.

But I can’t have any more.

I have to be content with the magic I had. This is a journey I was unprepared for and never wanted to take but as today is my birthday and every one of those is a bonus, I must make the most of it…

All my love

Teresa x

 

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The Empty Nest – Reflections

Dear Nick

Write what you’re feeling people say. But I’m feeling so many different emotions. It’s been 5 months and I don’t know how I managed to get here. I have been in a surreal dream world. The ‘Teresa ‘ I knew doesn’t exist anymore. The life I knew doesn’t exist anymore because you… don’t… exist …anymore. I don’t know who I am. I don’t recognise this world I’m living in. I have been tossed up in the air and haven’t landed yet and which way up I will be I don’t know. After the initial feeling of being in a pin ball machine, just being knocked from bumper to bumper out of control, I am not waiting so much to be hit by something else but perhaps taking the curved sweep across the top before I bump my way down again.

How can losing one person have such an effect on everything else?

I am exhausted. Exhausted with the events of the last year. Exhausted with getting up and coping. Exhausted with dealing with the company. Exhausted with dealing with your estate. I don’t sleep. I don’t want to eat. I cannot meet people. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I have to force myself to go out each day when all I want to do is stay under the covers.  A cloud of grief has hung over me for so long now I can’t see the sunshine or believe that it is there above the clouds.

Are you having counselling people said. So I took counselling. It was my hour. My hour to cry and reflect. What were my needs, the counsellor said. It was my time to wail if I wanted. But I wail in the dark of the night. I can’t let anyone see the true depth of my sorrow. It is so intense. It bubbles up. It bubbles up until it bursts over and overwhelms me. The sobs come in gasps and the tears flow so much my eyes get sore. I sound like an animal in so much pain you would shoot it to put it out of its misery.  My heart feels as though it is being burned with the pain. I can see the counsellor’s eyes welling up as she listens to me and watches me dissolve in front of her.

How can it be that you have gone? You no longer walk on this earth. You’ve gone for ever. I will never see you again.

And then I came to Canada to visit a girlfriend.

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I nearly didn’t. I’ve never come so close to backing out of a flight. What is all that about? Where is the woman I knew who is brave and capable? Sitting at the departure gate I felt I couldn’t do it. I would be away for too long. I wouldn’t cope. It was a mistake. Maybe I should just sit out February at home and hope time will pass. Maybe I would get there and instantly regret it? But I rang a friend and was reminded that I could do it. I could take this step to get away.

And it has been a liberation.

I am in another surreal world. My life in the UK seems a stage removed. I can still picture the events of the last months, but it is more like a story. Someone else’s story. It is very cold and snowy here. My favourite environment. I sit and watch the snow falling for ages. The sun on the snow falling outside looks like glittery, fairy dust swirling around in large sweeps of magic. There is a fir tree outside my window which reminds me of my own personal ‘monster’ from ‘A Monster Calls’. I haven’t done much. Just slept, sat, watched TV, but having permission to do nothing except please myself is such a new experience, it is calming. We took a trip to Niagara Falls. Such magnificence. I appreciated the majesty of it all. Something I haven’t been able to do for ages. I’ve had no feelings. Numbness had taken over my soul. Dimmed my eyes so that I couldn’t see.

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My grief is still with me. You still spring up on me in an instant dissolving me into tears, but I somehow feel a little lighter. The cloud has some gaps where I can see a shaft of sunlight peeking through the grey. It closes quickly again but I saw it there. It may come again. Maybe I can have a life without you. Maybe I can find joy. Maybe I am allowed to live. Maybe… There are some maybes now where before there was no hope. And If I cling on to the maybes…

love

T x

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The Empty Nest – Happy Birthday.

Dearest Nick

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Happy birthday!  You would have been 57 today.

It has been 3 months since you passed away. I still can’t say ‘died’. It sounds so unreal. You wouldn’t believe the effect you’ve had on us all. I didn’t know you could feel this sad.

I’ve learnt a lot over the last three months. I’ve learnt that some people like to take advantage of the situation and some people are extraordinarily kind. 

Family and friends have been constant. They have looked out for me, sat through my tears and listened without hesitation. They’ve badgered me to make contact even when I’ve been reluctant and antisocial. I feel very antisocial. I can’t cope with large groups – you know I wasn’t good with that anyway. I always made my way round the room to find you at parties when it got too much.

Work wise it has been difficult but I think we’re getting there. Somehow with help, I’ve managed to keep things going. For now.

How I’ve got to this point is a miracle. I’ve cried so many tears I should have been washed away in a torrent of waves by now. Grief comes in waves. Huge uncontrollable ones that crash over you unexpectedly and soft sobs, that pour down your cheeks at a kind word from a friend. I never know when they will sneak up on me to blur my vision, so it makes  life difficult. Difficult to go out, even on the necessary daily dog walk in case you bump into someone who says innocently ‘How are you?’ Instead of replying ‘How the fuck do you think I am?’ which is what I want to say, I politely apply the English reserve, stamped on my placenta, and reply ‘I’m fine.’ They need to say ‘How are you today?’ Because each day is different. Each hour is different.  Each minute is different. Some people don’t want to know that you’re not coping. They want to hear that you are ok, back to normal, everything’s fine. I suppose it shields them from their feelings.

But I’m not fine.

I’m not fine because I have lost half of me. There is a huge gaping hole where you should be. I’m not whole. I am existing. Not living.

The bed is too big without you. Sting nailed that one. I wake and there is a split second of calm before I look across at your empty pillow and remember. Then I must get up. Straightaway. What is the point of lying in bed when I’ve spent half the night awake trying not to recount the past months? I’ve taken to putting the TV on. The chatter fills the silence left after the kettle has clicked. One cup to make. The dishwasher to empty, dogs to let out into the garden and cats to feed. Our morning dance we used to perform together. Performed and perfected over many years. Each of us knowing the steps.

I do a mean solo performance now.

I’ve realised that I can’t revisit places we enjoyed together as it’s too painful for now so I must make new memories. This house, our home, is a mixed blessing. While it is our safety blanket which envelopes us in its familiar fold, it has turned into a house of sadness because we all expect to see you here. You are in the kitchen cooking; I swivel my chair in the office and expect to see you beavering away at your desk; or stretched out on the sofa watching TV; you don’t call out anymore in reply to my ‘hello’ when I come through the door.

You would be so proud of the kids. They are struggling but they are made of your stoicism and are battling through to find their equilibrium again.

You would be aghast at how difficult it has been to deal with the admin surrounding your death. It shouldn’t be. I think you must be the first person ever to die. Santander thinks so. After two previous appointments I am sitting in an office with a member of staff who looks as though he’s just left sixth form college.

‘I’d like to open an executor account please.’

‘What documents do you have with you?’

‘What documents do you need?’ Your colleague has already taken copies of every possible document I have. I’ve been carrying a folder around with everything but my bra size in it.

We started to fill in yet another form on line.

 ‘Have you grant of probate?’

‘No, I don’t need probate to open an executor account. I just can’t access the money in it until I have it.’

‘You need probate to open the account.’

‘Please can you check, as I’m sure I don’t.’

That was just the beginning. After phone calls and more paper waving (by him not me) it ended up with me walking out in tears of frustration. The sixth former rang later that day and sent flowers as an apology. They don’t seem to realise every time you have to ring or visit to explain what you need is like Brutus’ knife plunging into your heart.

But you’d be proud of me too. I’ve had to man-up. With the help of kind friends, I’ve sorted the boiler when it broke and the car when it wouldn’t start. I’ve had a few melt downs though. The best one was when the wine stocks began to run dry. I can see you raising your eyebrows at me. But you always knew the kind of wine I love, I didn’t need to know, I’d just ask you – now through trial and error I can answer a Malbec or Shiraz.

 I have lost half of me. I am not whole. I have people to do things with but have lost the person I did nothing with.

Not many are lucky enough to have the kind of relationship we had.

So we will keep going, my darling, because that’s what we must do.

All my love birthday boy.

Teresa x

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