THE EMPTY NEST – 3 YEARS????!

Dearest Nick

So, your 3-year anniversary is looming on the 5th September. If anyone had told me the morning you died that I would still be standing three years later, I would have screamed it would not be possible. I would have questioned how I could even make it to the next day let alone 3 years. But here we are. It’s been a very difficult road but hopefully things are changing.

I’ve made some decisions. Don’t laugh, the art of making decisions for me passed away with you. Me, who has coped with so many traumas already in my life and come out the other side. Me, who made you wait while I extracted myself from my first marriage, and me, who instigated our relocation from London to the country to change our lives once before.

I wonder sometimes if you would recognise me now. Like a flower in bud I have been forced by nature into life again. I have fallen to such lows. Sometimes it was hard to admit to myself just how low. Being in control is what holds me together and I was not in control of anything it seemed. Events forced me to wake up and take action, but I feel I’m coming out the other side and am at last getting excited for life again.

A few things have contributed to this. One is, I’ve decided to move. A big decision which forces lots of little ones. I need a new life. A new area to explore. New people to meet. A new start. So the house is on the market. We did it together before. This time I must forge my own way forward, but I can do it. Thinking about where to go and how I want to live has been interesting. Thank goodness for google earth and the internet making different areas easy to research. I’ve narrowed it down to the things I do want.

One of my favourite statues in London

I want to be able to get to London and back by train in a day. Probably not high on everyone’s list but I like to have a fix of the fumes every now and again along with the galleries, exhibitions and a fine lunch somewhere. So that gives me a large circle around the capital and a good place to start. I also want to continue with tennis and cycling. I’m the fittest I’ve ever been. Lockdown was good for that at least and of course, there’s always the dogs to be walked. So the countryside along with pubs for those cosy lunches would be good. But I also need a little hustle and bustle around me so I feel connected with the world and not too isolated.

Surf’s up…

My latest adventure is surfing, so getting to Cornwall more easily would be ideal. I recently took a week’s course to learn and I laughed such a lot at my attempts to succeed, I immediately knew it was something I must continue. I need fun in my life. I’m determined to perfect my style. At the moment it is more gung-ho and cling on than spring up and glide, but who knows, I may take up sailing next?

I’m gonna work on my style…

Being thrust into retirement is difficult. Having a structure to my day is important but I’m getting used to allowing myself to take time out and sit and read during the day. And of course, there’s my novel to continue with.

Roo helping with any writer’s block…

A new home would need a few alterations to put my stamp on it so that could be another project. And that’s before I find something I can volunteer for. So, you see, at long last life is opening up and becoming exciting. There is lots going on. I am a restless soul. I like coming and going. If I can’t go out and about, I feel trapped.

So, this year I’ll be surfing on the 5th, Nick. The salty sea will mix with my tears as I think of you, but I know I will laugh as I plonk my body on that surfboard and paddle like mad to catch a wave.

I’m doing my best to find a new life without you. I have a way to go but as I recently discovered ‘nothing is too scary, the scary thing is doing nothing.’ There’s lots more adventures to be had and I’m going to grab every opportunity that comes my way. I know you would be right behind me, urging me on.

Love always

Teresa x

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The Empty Nest – One heart open for business.

So today would have been my 20th wedding anniversary. My previous posts have told the trauma of that time. In 2000, I had just had surgery for cancer, and we didn’t know if it had spread and how long I would have left. Now 20 years later, miraculously, I’m still here but those of you who have been reading my previous blog posts know that life has been nothing if not challenging.

When Nick was diagnosed with kidney cancer in March 2017, we were led to believe we would have some time left together. Maybe we didn’t hear what the doctors were saying or they gave us conflicting views, but we believed there was some time. How much we didn’t know, but certainly not just the 3 months post-surgery following the removal of his cancerous kidney. To say my world was completely tipped over is an understatement.  You have read the journey I have taken since I lost Nick. I’ve written it because it is cathartic, and I hope it may help others who are going through something similar. I want to tell you where I am now.

Throughout this time, I have been supported by my beloved family and friends.

Nick and I ran a construction company (he ran it, I did as I was told) and it has taken the last few years to wind this business up. All this time I have also been supported by a close friend of Nick’s also in the construction business who stepped in when Nick (and I) were floundering. I can still remember ringing him, seated in the hospice garden when I didn’t know where else to turn. He didn’t hesitate and has been invaluable in helping me complete the outstanding jobs and close the business. I could not have got to this point without him and I will always be so grateful to him for his unwavering support when I needed it most.

 As time went on our friendship grew and my heart began to thaw. From living without any sunlight or hope through the darkness, he showed me I could find love again and that there was a life out there for me. Albeit a different one in every way from my expectations, it came as a surprise and for a while I was in denial, but nonetheless a happy and loving life. My head started to accept the change and hope entered my heart. I found happiness again from a completely unexpected place.

Unfortunately, things recently have taken a different path to the one I was hoping for. Just as I began to believe and have faith that, although things may be difficult, there was now something to look forward to, I had found someone to love and cherish again, everything changed. This was the person who had calmed me at my worst, wiping snot from my tearstained face when I was overwhelmingly consumed by grief and wanting to end it all. He stood by me for the worst two years of my life with patience, kindness and care. He gave me hope that there was a life out there again for me. Now my loving friend has decided he can no longer wait for me and he has to put his own needs first. Understandable, but a crushing blow as I come to terms with the heartache and disappointment of what was the possibility of a future together. Two years is nothing in the grieving process to come to a place of acceptance after the kind of relationship I had with Nick. I could see I was thawing from my shocked position and moving forward, learning and accepting that I was not dishonouring Nick by having feelings for someone else.

But it is not to be.

So, what now?

 As hard as it has been and still is, I must somehow find a way to  pick myself up, dust myself off and go forward again. My recent experience has shown me many things – that cloaking myself in my grief and building a wall around myself does not prove  how much Nick meant to me. That having feelings for someone else is not being unfaithful or disloyal to Nick. That my heart isn’t finished with relationships yet. I like feeling special to someone and making them feel special too.

 I’m not looking for another Nick. He was a one off. It’s a funny thing, losing a spouse. It’s not like divorce where you make choices. Even if you are the one left behind you know that person still exists, they still walk the earth. Losing Nick meant that no matter how hard I look through a crowd, I will never see his beloved, familiar face again. That part of my life was precious, but it’s gone. He will never be forgotten and to move forward I have to accept that. I believe he would want me to find someone else to make new memories with. But first I have to get my mojo back again and get myself to a place where I can function properly.

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This recent world situation has made me think. What to do with my life and what is on my wish list? At the moment, probably like most of you, I’m taking it day by day, not looking too far ahead but maybe in time,  walking the South West Coastal path? Going to live in southern France for a while? The Inca trail? Drive around New Zealand for a few months? Who knows what. There’s a lot out there to see and experience.

So, once the world is open, I will be making plans. I would like to find someone to share life’s adventures with again and while I’m doing that, I will have a few adventures of my own. This heart is open for business.

I hope you and your loved ones are well and happy.

Love

Teresa x

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The Empty Nest – Hockney

If you are stuck for something to watch during these unprecedented times, I recommend taking  a virtual walk around the Royal Academy wondering at the brilliance that is David Hockney. I went to see his exhibition The Bigger Picture in 2012, five times and even that wasn’t enough. Make yourself a cuppa, sit back and enjoy.

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The Empty Nest – Happy Birthday to me…

Another year, another birthday. Time passes whether you want it to or not. The daffodils still deliver their yellow trumpets of hope after the wet, dark winter. The bluebells fill the woods with their glorious scented carpet and the sweet peas start their climb towards the clouds.

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Our local woods

Looking back over the year it’s a been a mixture again. I can see I’m a different person to the shell shocked one three years ago. My 2017 birthday was spent at an oncologist’s appointment where they told us what treatment they planned for Nick.

Yet again, I have been travelling when I could. I often need to shred the cloak of grief that is all consuming when I stay too long in the home Nick and I made together.

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Because it was my big birthday year, I chose to do something special with each of my three chicks as a memory for us to share.

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My three chicks…

 

Early in the year, Jo was already traveling in Bali so I joined her there and we had an amazing time. It’s refreshing to be shown a country by your child for a change.

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Later, Ellie and I went to Stratford-upon-Avon for the weekend. Seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company’s As You Like It, was a brilliant way to spend a weekend doing something we both love.

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Beside river Avon

Then in July as my sister, Ellie and my niece were cycling from London to Amsterdam to raise money for St Christopher’s hospice, Harry and I went to Amsterdam to meet them at the finish line. It’s certainly interesting going there with your 21yr old son.

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I also had a brilliant long weekend in Rome with a girlfriend. We were lucky enough to be shown hidden places by a friend of hers who lived there.

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There was also a wonderful week in Cornwall. I donned a wet suit again. Surfing – something I must get to grips with at some time.

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I may have the gear but I’ve really no idea…

Another highlight was the best theatre production I’ve ever seen. It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream and yes, you may think same old, same old, but NO. The Bridge Theatre’s production was a magical transportation to the fairy world. Its trapeze artists swirling, the forest rising from the floor and laugh out loud moments at Bottom’s antics put a fresh prospective on an old favourite.

I was also treated to wonderful presents, meals and more theatre trips by family and good friends. It wasn’t only my big year but also Jo’s 30th and Harry’s 21st. We tried to celebrate in style.

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Harry’s 21st birthday

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Happy birthday Jo

I’ve given up my job in the shop. Eventually it became too much to keep pretending I was ok when really, I wasn’t. Each time I had to put on a mental armour. I would hold myself tense, waiting for a trigger that would bring tears springing to my eyes. I couldn’t keep in ‘shop girl’ mode. Seeing everyone else’s life carrying on as normal became too much.  I didn’t realise just how much I had been walking on a knife edge. I was beginning to get my life on track a little and find some joy but a combination of events eventually  tipped me over the edge and I had a meltdown. I’m mentally more fragile than I allowed myself to acknowledge. I know now I must nurture myself and pay more attention to my body and mental  health. Holding  things close is my way of keeping control. Losing Nick threw me so array I couldn’t find an anchor. Not something I’m proud of, but with the help of antidepressants, I am coming to a place where I can cope with the day again. I’m also trying to encourage my natural endorphins by cycling and walking more.

With all that is happening in the world today, it has made me realise I’m lucky to have this precious thing called life. Nick would want me to live it. He wouldn’t want me to be so consumed by my grief that I couldn’t use whatever time I have left to live a fulfilling life. Yes, I will always miss him. And yes, he will always be a huge part of my life, but in the words of Joan Rivers:

He’s not going to come back, so you have to get your life going again. You must get to it, and don’t wallow. A life can be made. It can even be terrific. But it’s never going to be the same.’

I’ve reread that often, but I don’t think I was ready to believe it. But I am coming to a place where I am. I think a move would be good for me.  This house represents my life with Nick. Strangely I am getting used to being on my own without him but I still feel his presence around every corner.  What was once so all-consuming I couldn’t see how I was going to take my next step, let alone live without him, has mellowed into a soft glow that ebbs inside me. He will always be a part of me. I believe I will take him with me wherever I go but, I have to live a new life now and a new area where I can make new memories may help.

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We’ve also added another bundle of joy (when she’s not pooing on the carpet) to the family.

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Introducing Roo – our new member of the family.

I’m still writing.  I did a writing course during the heatwave last summer. Not a good time to be in London! I’m three quarters of my way through my next book. And  I won a competition with the beginning of it.

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And Harry graduated. Yay! Last chick through the system.

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We’re finding ways to get through the important anniversaries. We stayed at home this Christmas but changed it a little.

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In our new christmas PJ’s.

It’s often the build up to them which is worse than the actual day. Christmas day dinner took on a Mexican theme.

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Working up to our Mexican Christmas lunch

Again, who knows what the following year will bring, but I wish that you and your loved ones are well and happy and stay that way.

Love Teresa x

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The Empty Nest – Happy (although it’s sad) 59th Birthday, Nick

 

You’ll never know just how much you are missed…

All my love, Teresa x

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The Empty Nest – Two years and counting…

Dearest Nick

I’ve tried writing this many times. My attempts have ranged from the rational to the ravings of a mad woman, depending on my mood. The overriding sentence is; –

‘How can it be two years since you died?!!!’

When that happened on 5th September 2017 at 4.44 am, it broke me. The first year I was in shock, now the harsh reality of my situation is beginning to hit. Learning to go from two to one is difficult. I have done many things to pass the time and distract myself these last 2 years. I have travelled… boy, have I travelled. It gave me respite from my grief. Yes, I took it with me, but it felt lighter somehow. It isn’t a permanent solution though.

 

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I know I can’t leave this house yet because it would feel like I was leaving you behind. Being at home you’re still in every room but maybe I can’t move forward until I do leave it? I don’t know what I want to happen. But this new life I’m trying to carve out for myself feels false and wrong. I look at pictures of you and I still can’t believe I’ll never see you again. I know this may seem like the ravings of a lunatic to some but believe me, you have no idea what this is like until you are in it yourself. I do feel like a lunatic sometimes. I don’t have a grip on reality. I go through the day in a dream world. Nothing is like it used to be. Everything is tinged with sadness. It isn’t the life I knew. Half of me has been ripped away, I’m still sliced apart, my heart still shattered into millions of pieces.

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What is the point of going on about it? It can’t be changed. The result I want will never be. I must come to terms somehow with the fact that this is now my new life and I must live the rest of my days without you. I, and my children have lost the steadfast, beloved man we all relied on. You were always there with calm practical words to ease us through life’s traumas, share our successes and support us. Now you have gone.

 

Nick on the ferry

When I had my cancer, back in 2000, lying in my hospital bed, I planned my funeral. Songs I wanted to be played took on a new significance as I listened to the words carefully. Harry was only eighteen months old, Ellie, four and Jo, ten. Obviously, I didn’t want to die, but I felt it was out of my hands if the cancer had already spread. My deepest sadness was that they were too young to remember the kind of person I was. It’s all very well being talked about when you’ve gone, but they wouldn’t remember my perfume or how I held them and sung them to sleep. Being a teacher, I knew those early years are fundamental in shaping a person’s character. I wouldn’t be there with my unconditional love to cocoon them through life’s trials. I took to covering their faces with kisses, telling them that even though they couldn’t see them, a mother’s kisses can never be washed off.

Now I’m so glad the kids were older and knew the kind of man you were before they lost you. You were a shining example of what a father should be, and I know they will take that with them into their future. I see your kind nature in the way they treat other people. I can spot Harry in the distance on the cricket field because he stands just like you did. Ellie has your love of cooking and helps me in the garden. You have left part of yourself in them and I’m so grateful for that. But I am sad because Ellie won’t have her father to give her away if she gets married. I’m sad because you won’t be at Harry’s graduation. I’m sad because you’re not here to see the wonderful people the three of them have become. I’m sad for all our lost dreams and plans. I’m sad for all the big times in our lives you won’t be there to share in. When we have family events they are always tinged with sorrow because you are missing and that will always be. But we will still have these family events and we will just have to find a way to get through them.

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Harry was 21 this year.

I looked over my blog post from a year ago and much of it still resonates today. I am still lost.  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, but I’ve learnt I mustn’t try and force order. My life will evolve. I am not in control but there again, I probably never was. But I didn’t notice. I still struggle with social occasions. One of the hardest is when I am with, or see, pictures of people we would have been with as a couple. I replay in my mind how different things would have been if you were still here. But that is like torturing myself or picking at a scab, so it doesn’t heal. It’s finding that balance between remembering you and not allowing those memories to stab me in the heart each time I must find.

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On holiday in Italy. Breakfast is my favourite meal and what a place to have breakfast!

 

So, two years on…Harry has finished at Uni – it has taken a lot of courage to continue with his studies and be away from home, but he has dug deep. Ellie is carving out a career in marketing and Jo has changed direction, retrained as a yoga teacher and masseur and is finding a new life/ work balance. You would be so proud of them and what they have achieved since you left. It hasn’t been easy, but we are a strong team and somehow when one of us is struggling ,there has always been another feeling strong, to offer words of comfort.IMG_3289

 

I’ve started writing a new novel. It’s about two women – one older, one a teenager both searching for the same thing: friendship, self-direction and unconditional love.

Everyone loses direction – sometimes someone unexpected can show you the way.

I know I can’t write myself better, but it does help while I’m doing it.

I’ve taken a part time job, working in our local village shop. It has made me get out in the world and engage with people again. I go in as ‘shop girl’ and can cope. Only a couple of times my worlds have collided causing you to rise to the surface and me to crumble in tears.

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And I’ve bought a little joy into the family.

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The house is empty without a dog so let me introduce you to Dill. I think I’ve already lost the rule about being on the sofas!

So another year has gone by without you. My days are still a mixture, but I continue to get up each morning and face what comes, and that is the best I can do for now.

 

All my love, always

Teresa x

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The Empty Nest – Now We Are Sixty

This blog post is all about me. Well, as it’s my ‘big’ birthday today, I feel I can be indulgent. It’s bloody amazing I’ve made it! So I thought I’d give you a potted account of my life so far. Warts and all. (And there’s plenty of warts, believe me.) I make no apology for the dodgy hairdos.

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Remember those ruched costumes? Height of fashion!

I was born 11/4/1959, number 5 of 6 children, and no, we weren’t Catholic. I never knew why people would ask me that as I was growing up, and would innocently answer, ‘No, Church of England’ hoping this explained everything.

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Here I am at nursery. I’ve always loved colouring in. In fact, I loved school. My best friend at primary school was Sally Baker, who lived down the road and until she became best friends with Janice Brewer, my life was pretty wonderful. Well, maybe there was a slight blip in year 5 when I was involved in a car crash, but seeing as the rumour spread at school that I sustained my injuries saving a runaway pram from being crushed (falsely, I must now confess), life continued in a blissful round of Brownies, netball and making obstacle courses around the garden with my sister Deborah. (We always ended it, after shimmying through the legs of the green, garden seat, with a somersault into the paddling pool.) I’ve always loved books and stories. When I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would answer ‘a fairy, with wings.’  My mum indulged me by stroking my back and telling me that my shoulders blades were the beginnings of my wings growing. For many years I believed her.

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I was very proud of that jacket as I knitted it myself.

My early teenage years were tortuous. Just as they should be.  Again, I loved school but as I soon became distracted with the opposite sex, perhaps I didn’t pay as much attention to my studies as I should have done. At 17, I fell in love with a sound engineer. Luckily, my mum was very relaxed by the time it came to parenting me and allowed me to go to California with him in my gap year, returning in time to retake an ‘A’ level which subsequently got me to University. In the meantime, I experienced my first flight in first class to Paris, paid for by Roxy Music, attended their parties at The Sanctuary, Covent Garden and travelled around Europe at a moment’s notice wherever they were on tour, (but that’s a completely different story). Heady stuff for an 17 yr old.

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A perm was so in vogue

By 21, I’d had my heart well and truly broken. I graduated and took my first teaching job and by the time I was 30 had bought my own home, given up teaching to fly as cabin crew, long haul for BA, got married and subsequently gone back to teaching.

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At University

My 30’s were a mixture of extreme highs and lows. I had my daughter Joanna, separated from her father, met and fell in love with Nick, divorced, had my second daughter Ellie and then at 39, my son, Harry. I started my Sugaring business (torture, masquerading as hair removal) working from home. Crazy times often hanging on by my boot straps, but those three children are the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

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The bigger the sunglasses the better.

My 40’s (and the millennium – so full of promise!) was dominated by illness and bereavement. I had cancer, my mum died of cancer, I lost my sister and sister-in-law to cancer, and one of my best friends from secondary school was wiped out with her husband and son in the Asian Tsunami. I underwent a five-year, drug trial which involved being injected in the groin and under the arms fortnightly, but there were some highs. Nick and I got married and with the kids, relocated to the country and embarked on our rural idyll.

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My 50’s seemed to start well. I had amazing birthday celebrations. Sadly, I lost my father early on but otherwise, life pottered along nicely. I started my online home accessories business and then,

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I loved my 50th birthday party.

after much deliberation, Nick and I started our own company, working together (a testament to any marriage) and we were chugging along towards plans of long weekends, ‘us’ time now the kids were moving on and finally retirement. Mmmmmm… silly me. Not to be. My brother became ill and subsequently passed away, my brother -in-law became ill and passed away, both with cancer. Then only 2 months after that, and those of you who have been following my posts will know, Nick was diagnosed with renal cancer, and passed away within 6 months.

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Mother’s Day 2017

So, you can see, I nearly made it to 60 with my heart intact. I nearly made it to 60 with (perhaps) life’s usual trials and tribulations, but not quite. But the fact I have made it to 60 is a thing to rejoice and to be celebrated. So many people I loved dearly, didn’t make it. So, doesn’t that mean I must rejoice in my good fortune?

I don’t know what my 60’s are going to bring. I don’t want to know. All I hope is that it is better than what I’ve been through recently. That somehow I will come out of this void, find a little bit of fun and perhaps a sprinkling of fairy dust for good measure.

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At Dream Beach on my recent trip to Bali.

I can always hope.

Teresa x

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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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