Monday, 27 December 2010

More on Rainbows and Other Miracles....

I wanted to follow up on Jude's comment from the other day "I believe each rainbow is a special gift from God."

I believe it too and I believe it's not just rainbows that God sends our way to show His love to us....

I remember when my Grandma died suddenly.  She was 88, hadn't been ill but  had been asking to see meI was home from University for a reading week (well it really was a Polytechnic then but it's a University now!).

"Your Grandma keeps asking for you but I told her I wasn't sure if you were coming home," said Mum, sensibly not getting Grandma's hopes up that I would call.

"I'll go and see her tomorrow." Was my reply.  Although I wanted to see her I had only just got back and it was getting a bit late in the afternoon for a visit.  There was always the next day....
...Unfortunately there wasn't.  She died that evening, peacefully in front of the TV watching Emmerdale Farm.  What a way to go!  

Did she know her time on earth was nearly up?  Was there anything she wanted to tell me?  I will never know this side of heaven and because I didn't see her it hit me really hard.

A few days later I went for a walk.  It was a walk we had done many times when I was a child and Grandma had been with us on several occasions in her younger days.  In fact she probably did the same walk hundreds of times before I was even thought of.  It was the best place to pick blackberries and walking there always brings back such happy childhood memories.

I sat at the top of the hill with a notebook and my Bible, which was coincidentally the last birthday present Grandma had given me.  The front cover now falls apart from the rest of the Bible but it is still so special, with her inscription inside.

As I was praying, crying, writing or all of the above I suddenly spotted something out of the corner of my eye.  I sat very still.

There was a baby rabbit sitting not very far away from me.  

In all the times we had walked up this hill I had never seen a rabbit this close or this still.  The ground was littered with droppings and there were plenty of rabbit holes, some very large holes that my brother and I used to jump in.  Maybe in the past we'd spotted a rabbit scampering away from two noisy children running around with blackberry stained mouths, well that would be pretty scary for a rabbit!

As I watched this beautiful creature I had a sense that God was there and He was showing me a tiny part of His wonderful world just for me.  A special gift because there was no one else around to see.  It was a reminder of how much He loved me and that He understood the pain I was going through.

A gift like so many I've received this Christmas from friends and family, just a little something special because we care.

One day Andrew found me, he was all excited and grabbed my hand, "Sarah, come and have a look.  There's a peacock in the garden."

We ran off together and when we got to the window I roared with laughter.  "Andrew, that's a pheasant!  Don't you know the difference?"

He would hate the fact that I'm telling you how silly he was.  "Don't write that!"  Of course he would have known the difference if you'd have put both birds in front of him but it is a true story nonetheless.

Actually there was more than one pheasant, a whole family of five used to strut across the garden and we all enjoyed watching them.  In fact there was a time not long ago when Andrew had got back from somewhere with the boys and they stayed in the car for a while just watching them.  It is a happy memory they shared of being with their dad and hopefully every time they see a pheasant it will be another one of God's reminders of both His love and their dad's love.

They are still around in the garden, sometimes it is just footprints in the snow but I've never seen all five, only three since Andrew been gone...

And then there are the rainbows....

I lost count of how many I saw just the week before Andrew died.  The best one was on the Thursday when I was driving to church for our church breakfast.  As I drove down the hill a rainbow hung over the church with the beautiful colours arcing out from the top over the town. 

Now I don't always have a Christian CD in the car but on this occasion I did and I sang along...

Give thanks to the Lord our God and King
His love endures forever
For He is good He is above all things
His love endures forever
Sing Praise
Sing Praise
Forever God is faithful 
Forever God is strong
Forever God is with us

I didn't know what was round the corner but God sent me a promise and a rainbow before Andrew died to reinforce the fact that He was there and wouldn't leave me.  He was and always is forever faithful!

Yesterday's rainbow came to me from an unexpected quarter.  I found it in a draw! 

It is a child's rainbow picture.  There is a big rainbow and a little rainbow side by side, a bright yellow sun and some grey raindrops across the top.  On the back it says "to Mummy".

Today was the first day I started throwing things - a computer keyboard that wouldn't work went flying across the room!

Andrew could have sorted it, sorting out the computer problems was his department.  Finally I'd reached the ANGER stage and it felt good to shout and scream and stamp my feet. 

The boys didn't like it and I suspect things will get a lot stormier before too long.  But with a a bit of rain and lots of Son maybe there will be more rainbows on there way...

Friday, 24 December 2010

Last Christmas - Wham! (December 1984)

I remember last Christmas so clearly.

Andrew was home for Christmas last year and we were "doing" Christmas at our house.  Andrew's older brother and family were staying with us and his younger brother who lives nearby was staying at home so we were joining him and his wife for Boxing Day.

It's just before 7 a.m. as I type this, it's Christmas eve and this time last year I was waking up Andrew...

"Andrew!  We need to get up and get the turkey!"

Now my dad used to be a butcher so to me getting up early on Christmas eve to get the turkey is a mixture of tradition and excitement.  It's reminiscent of the waking up early when you need to go to the hospital because you are about to give birth....the excitement, the anticipation, the tingling nerves - are you really prepared?

"Andrew, will you take me?  It's been snowing!  You can go back to bed when we get back." 

So grudgingly he got up, we got dressed and crept downstairs so not to wake the children or our sleeping visitors.

I remember clearly being in the car and the windscreen wipers automatically starting when he turned on the ignition.  Only they were frozen and they got stuck half way in the ice and snow - out of alignment.

Andrew got out muttering while I sat in the car arms folded against the cold, racking my brain as to who had been the last last person to drive the car and leave them on....I finally decided it was Andrew....

"I've told you before..." I started as he got back in the car having bent the wipers into a reasonable state.

This wasn't going to plan (now is there a theme to my life?  And did it really start years ago?)

When we got out onto the road the wipers went back to their crossed over kissing position.  The snow wasn't that bad - why hadn't I gone by myself?

Andrew once more got out of the car and once more "sorted" the problem with more bending and muttering than I thought was necessary!! 

Finally we made it, got the turkey and we were back home with a cup of tea.  Not sure if Andrew went back to bed but I was now up and preparing for Christmas...

Christmas to me is very special and I admit I can get a little bit bossy, ok very bossy, because I want to get it right.  I love my Christmas memories of being a child, full of excitement and those are the memories I want to recreate for our boys If I'm honest, those are the Christmases I still want for me too.

Which is why I refuse to let "this" Christmas get sucked into the black hole of bereavement.  My "first" Christmas without Andrew.  Well it's just not true.  He worked away, we had plenty of Christmases "without" him here.  I'm pretty sure I spent our "first" married Christmas without him!

This year I expected him to be away, so maybe that makes things easier to deal with.  

The Christmas I grieve over is the stolen one from a couple of years ago.  Andrew had been suffering from a complaint with a long name which I won't attempt to spell which caused his ankles to swell.  He was put on steroids which meant he couldn't go off shore.  Instead he worked in the office - all the way up to November, then he was off the steroids and ready to go back off shore.

He was sent back to work for Christmas week with a different shift to usual.    He wasn't put back in the control room and he said he felt like a spare part all week.

That was his second Christmas away in a row and that was the Christmas he should have been here with us!

However he did manage to get out of working Christmas the year our oldest son was born.  Paternity leave was a wonderful thingAnd the birth of a child near Christmas is magical.

So now I'm planning "this" Christmas and I'm gearing up with typical military precision.  So my plans are up in the air and I'm not getting away for Christmas as expected but now things are settled and I have nine for dinner on Boxing Day. 

Yesterday I bought a ham and found my Christmas recipe so today I will be prepared with a shopping list.

Yesterday I made it out and got my last minute stocking fillers so now I have a bigger pile of presents to wrap to give the boys the best Christmas I can.

The cooking, the shopping, all that preparation, that's always been my job...Andrew just got handed a small pile of presents, the wrapping paper, selotape, scissors, gift tags and a pen and was dispatched with the boys to wrap my presents which I had bought for myself! 

The latest Dawn French novel is "hidden" in the draw by Andrew's side of the bed, where he hid it days before he died, "Give it here and I'll hide it."  He said when I came home from Christmas shopping.

It will be just the boys wrapping it now but I hope they still write his name on the gift tag.

I've called this entry "Last Christmas - Wham! (December 1984)"  A popular Christmas song even now, you would have thought it reached number one but it only made number 2.

1984 was the year of Band Aid so George Michael did make number one that year singing "Do they know it's Christmas?"

It may sound flippant but I want the boys to know it's Christmas time and in the future not just associate this time of year with "when we lost our Dad."  I want their Christmases to still be magical.  This is the time when God sent his son Jesus and Jesus is the reason for any hope I have through all of this.  I want this Christmas to still have laughter in between the inevitable tears or else why bother?

And as a matter of interest, as I've just looked it up in the "British Hit Singles" book, on it's first release Last Christmas was actually a double A side (now you don't get those with cds!!).

On the other side was "Everything She Wants" 

Well that list isn't very long but unfortunately it will never be - so instead I'll make the best of what I've got, which in the grand scheme of things is still an awful lot, and somehow carry on...

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Where's my promised rainbow?

The day after the funeral we went for a family walk by the beach and despite the cold I was happy, well as happy as could be expected.  We were together as a family,

my parents + my "in-laws" = our family

It felt so good, it was the love Andrew and I shared that had brought this strange group of people together on a blustery day.
This year, unusually, I've managed to keep a diary for the whole year, well until my world was turned upside down.  Last year I only made it until March 22nd and I know without finding last year's diary because on that date it says "if I write past here I'm doing better than last year!!"
"What are you writing in your diary today?"  Andrew would ask as we went to bed.  "I know - how about 'another wonderful day being married to Andrew'?"  He would suggest with glee.

Well I did write that, on his instruction, on Monday 14th June.  Also on that day the cleaner had been here and hoovered while I did some tidying.  Andrew had taken our oldest son to his tennis lesson, I'd had a school governors' meeting and then I'd chatted to a friend on Facebook.

Just another ordinary day of married life, so beautiful yet so taken for granted that there would be many, many more...

My last diary entry is from Tuesday 23rd November, our family walk.

"Went for a family walk - even Andrew's mum in her wheelchair.  Bracing, cold, stormy with bits of brightness and a snatch of a rainbow as we left the beach, getting brighter, some hope for the future."

Yesterday I had my flood!  The waste pipe for the shower was frozen, the shower tray filled up and I made my correct diagnosis.  I decided to have a bath and then maybe the rush of hot water when I pulled the plug would melt the ice and all would be fine... wasn't!  When I let the bath water out because there was no escape it came back up out of the shower plughole and flooded my bathroom floor and then dripped down into my kitchen!!

To make matters worse, from all my extra washing of heavy, sopping wet towels my washing machine has packed in!  I've already made the decision to cancel my Christmas plans because of the weather.  And my back is aching from an intermittent, undiagnosed problem.

I had an facebook message from a friend who said she's read the blog and thought I was doing really well, she would have crumpled in my position.

Well I've crumpled and cried and it's been by writing that I regain my sanity and perspective.

And then there's all the love I receive from friends and family.  My "sisters" from church came round last night and brought our tea, I had a foot and hand massage, I'm typing this with beautiful coral coloured fingernails.  They also took my baskets of washing.  They are part of my beautiful rainbow, wrapping us up in God's love.

This really is the most difficult time I've ever had to face but I know deep down I am not alone and "one day"  I will see all of the beautiful rainbow encircling me because they are really round and complete circles.  We saw then in New Zealand when we flew in a small aircraft over Mount Cook.  

"Sarah look!"  Said Andrew pointing out of the window.  It was amazing to look down on the world from on high and see things from a different angle together. Just another one of those wonderful days being married to Andrew...

I'll leave you with some song lyrics that I'm clinging to while waiting for my promised rainbow to fully appear....

Though the storm appears too much to take
See the clouds are beginning to break
Though you feel like you've fallen from grace
There's a rainbow been forecast your way

It's time to let go of all your pain
It's time to let go of all your pain
Let go

For the winter winds left you so blue
With a dose of the sun you'll get through
By the time that the cold's died it's death
You'll be warm with a spring in your step

Words by Andrew Patrick, Let Go from the album Nils Olav by Nils Olav

Sunday, 19 December 2010

How Could You Leave Me?

How could you leave me?
    How could you tear my heart in two? 
Like tissue paper it rips so easily

And sometimes I can carry on - forgetting that you're really gone...

How could you leave me?
     How could you leave this gaping hole right in the centre of what used to be US?

My head is a jumbled mess
         like jigsaw pieces in a box with no picture to follow
                                                      no clue
                   Is it sea or sky?
                                 It's all so blue

I don't know what's up
                            what's down

                                          I'm lost


I want to melt away              
      like the snow

                     to run as a river

                                      and join with the sea...

                                                                           How could you leave me?


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Photographs by Numbers

7 - is the number of shopping days until Christmas
2 - is the number of parcels that arrived at my door on Thursday morning (before 11 - yippppeeee!)
0 - is the number of Christmas presents I have wrapped
5 - is the number of weeks since I last had a lie in with Andrew and we snuggled up close and I lay happy with my head on his chest.

Yesterday my sister-in-law emailed me some photos of Andrew and I together, of us holding hands and cuddling as we went for a family walk on the beach.  We are so together that even our footsteps are in time.

She had warned me in her email not to open them until I was ready, but honestly, when will that be?  I wanted to see them.  When I look at the photos of us so close it reminds me of his touch and I'm crying now as I type.  But I need to remember what it feels like because I don't want to forget.

When Andrew died I tried to find some item of clothing that had his smell on but it seemed to have disappeared.  Even the jumper I pulled out of the washing basket, that I now occasionally wear, had already lost his smell.

I don't want to lose the memory of his touch too.  It was too special to let go of.

-4 - is the lowest temperature I saw in my car yesterday
15 - is the number of people who added a message to my facebook page after I wrote "I don't know how I'll get through today"
1 - is the number of texts I received yesterday from eldest son.  He's in Spain on a tennis training camp.  He gave me some more numbers 10 - 5 the score of the match tie break he won and in return I must text him the football scores today!

My day of special photos continued when instead of going to bed when I should, I stayed at the computer and went through all our digital photos looking for the good ones of Andrew.  I found 15 and I've written down all their numbers....

Number 0426 is particularly good.  It's the last ever photo taken of the four of us.  

Last summer we each chose somewhere to go for a special day out - with Andrew working away we never really did proper family holidays.  He just wanted to stay at home.

Andrew's choice was a walk to a waterfall and on the way there were two large stone sheep which we sat on to have our photo taken.  There were another couple of tourists by the sheep on our return journey so we asked them to take a photo of the four of us.  Andrew and I sat on the front sheep in the race and the boys  followed behind.

We are all smiling and all happy, enjoying life! 

Maybe in some ways it was made more poignant because before we set off my dad had rung to say my uncle, who was also my Godfather, had died that morning.  Although our walk was planned we hadn't planned to go out that day, it just sort of happened as I wanted us to be together.

Life is so precious , memories are wonderful and photos just help us to remember....

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The s**t keeps happening but the angels keep appearing....

Did have something all prepared and ready to post, written at 6 a.m. yesterday but then today happened!

Actually now I'm in a calmer frame of mind or maybe that's just sleep deprivation catching up with me or maybe there are some really good prayers being said for me at the moment....

Anyway after staying in for all of Monday I told child number 2 he was definitely going to school on Tuesday.  That's my day for going into the church shop and I wasn't missing it.  He went without a murmur and off I went with a smile.

When I returned I felt drained and it wasn't helped by the fact there was a card through the door saying I had missed a parcel delivery while I was out.  

Now I know what this parcel is or should I say, these parcels are.  One is younger son's birthday present (yes - very bad planning we have 2 children with December birthdays) the other parcel is his Christmas present! 

The card said they would deliver tomorrow i.e. today - well that's how I read it.

Now today I had a rearranged doctors appointment from Monday so I rang a friend and asked her to house sit while I was out.  Not a problem.  Only the parcel didn't come while she was here, or after she left.  Or before lunch or even after lunch.

You know where this is going don't you?

Eventually I rang and asked how late it might be delivered.  

Well they have been very busy and there were a lot of new parcels in today and oh.... mine wasn't actually sent out today.  Would I be in tomorrow or Friday?

I'm getting sick of staying in, I'm getting sick of cancelling things and missing things and rearranging EVERYTHING.

But this is my son's present and as I told the woman with no hesitation I would stay in and wait because Christmas and birthday wouldn't be so great for him this year as he's just lost his dad - oh I laid it on thick and she said she would try to get it delivered before 11 when really, if things went to plan, I should be going out.

I don't have much hope that it will - I don't expect anything good to happen in the near future.  I've gone from optimist to pessimist in less than a day.

I got off the phone and shouted some very rude words - unrepeatable here! (I know my older son reads this - he would be shocked!!)  Then I texted my friend who had been round in the morning and told her my tale of woe.

Her answer was to jump in a taxi and offer me a shoulder to cry on - angel number one!

After I had dried my eyes the doorbell rang.  A man stood carrying a picture.  He'd been taking ariel photos in October and had one of our house if we wanted to buy it.

Andrew always wanted an ariel photo of the house and in the summer when he was away another man had been with another photo and I had bought it as a surprise.  The morning Andrew died he asked me, yet again, what I'd got him for his birthday.  

"It's a secret!" I'd said with glee, knowing I'd found him something he really wanted.

I explained this to the man on my doorstep today.  He nodded understandingly.  

"There is a person on this photo."  he said and I couldn't get a look at it quickly enough.

There was Andrew looking up at me.  He was cleaning out the guinea pigs but had stopped to look up and watch the plane fly by.  I had to have that picture too.

So now I have two ariel photographs, one from the summer when I was in.  My car is on the drive and you can see the washing I'd hung on the line.  And this autumn one with Andrew in the garden and just his car on the drive - It was a Tuesday so I would have been at the church shop.  Two snapshots of family life. Every day life as it was.

I usually think of angels looking down on us but here I was looking down on Andrew - is that the view he now has of us going about our daily life?

But my day didn't stop there...when I told younger son I'd had no post he disappeared upstairs and came down with an envelope with my name on.

"Where did this come from?"  I knew what it was - the annual school Christmas card that each child lovingly makes.  I've got a collection and each one is beautiful.

"I brought it home yesterday and got my brother to sign it too.  I hid it and was going to give it to you on Christmas Day but you can have it now as you've had no post today."

And here's the poem he wrote inside ....

A Winter Wonderland

A winter wonderland is sparkling
Soft snow covering the ground.
The big bangs of the Christmas crakers expoding all around.
People sliding down big snow mounds.
The clouds are crying as they spit down the snow 
on to the hard ground.
Presents are waiting patiently like trees 
in the breeze swaying all around.
That's a winter wonderland.

Like I said the angel's keep appearing, maybe that's why I'm feeling clamer, more optimistic, hopeful that my parels will arrive tomorrow before 11...

...well that's not a bad thought to go to bed with.....
                                      night night.....

Monday, 13 December 2010

expect the unexpected....

Last night I sat down and wrote all the things I had to do today.  There were several appointments and some were overlapping - it was going to be a busy day.

Then this morning son number two utters those immortal words, "I don't feel well."

Now we've never kept a thermometer but he felt a little warm and he had been coughing in the night.

"You'll miss your school Christmas party.  And your performance tonight."
(And I'll miss my doctors appointment, my massage, my meeting.....were the thoughts running through my head.)

"I know," came the plaintive reply.

Well you can't argue with a child who will willingly miss a party.  So putting into practice the principles of taking things easy, (scroll down to Reflections on Snow!) I set about cancelling and re-arranging the days activities.

It wasn't a hardship, the kids always come first, but today never quite turned out as I expected in so many ways. 

Now I'm a fan of setting my iPod to shuffle and yesterday I found myself listening to the song Change by the Sugababes...

Ain't it crazy how you think you've got your whole life planned
Just to find out is was never ever in your hands 

(Actually all the lyrics to that song are apt at the moment - go and google it!)

I've always liked song lyrics, words are very important which is probably why I like writing.  But it always annoyed me that Andrew didn't like to read what I'd written.  He said he wouldn't understand it and he couldn't make comments as he didn't really read anything.  He'd wait until I'd sold the film rights and see the movie!

Well the last thing I wrote before he died was an article for our local free paper.  It was to go on our church's "Spirit Matters" page.  Well I made him listen while I read it aloud to him.

"Very Radio 4 Thought for the Day."  He said with a smile.
It's taken on even greater significance now.  I am so glad I got him to listen and got the approval from him that I'd craved for so long.

Expect the Unexpected!
It was just before Christmas last year when that the vicar stood up in church and made the surprise announcement that he was leaving.  News travels fast and soon it became common knowledge. Who could have predicted this time last year all the twists and turns and changes that would take place at Emmanuel in 2010?
Christmas is often a time to reflect on the past year and take stock.  We never really know what the next year holds.  Everyone’s lives are filled with unexpected events.  Maybe this year you have experienced the sudden loss of a loved one, the start of a new relationship or had news from out of the blue that has turned your world upside down!
With the absence of a vicar at Emmanuel others in the congregation have had opportunities to take on something new.  In our previous church I had regularly written a nativity play and this year I feel very privileged to be writing one for our young people to perform in the service on the Sunday before Christmas.
The last one I wrote was about an angel in training and had the title “Expect the Unexpected”.  Before Jesus was born the Jews were expecting their Messiah, which says in my dictionary beside me “the awaited king of the Jews, to be sent by God to set them free”.  What they didn’t expect was for their King to be born in a stable to an unmarried mother!   
God has a habit of doing things differently from how we imagine.  Sometimes it’s so easy to be swept along with the busyness of a modern Christmas that we can lose the awe of just how wonderfully unexpected that first Christmas was.  Of how a tiny baby changed the whole world forever.
The story remains the same, of God who sent his son to live among us, but I don’t know what theme this year’s nativity play will have.  I still need to sit down with the children and find out how they want to tell the story.  Why not come along, they’ll be angels and shepherds and of course a baby Jesus, but be prepared to be changed by a God who loves to surprise us!

Today I got my ironing done and re-watched the first two Harry Potter films. 

Only God knows what tomorrow will bring.  

I do want to make it clear that I don't believe God makes the bad stuff happen but he can make good things come out of it - if we let him.

I haven't written so much in a long time and people are reading and liking what I've written.  This blog, the poems, the nativity.  That is what is making me happy at the moment and keeping me positive.  

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A bit of light relief...

I've had comments from friends saying my blog is making them cry :-(

Well last night was the church Christmas social for everyone who contributes and as there were a lot of volunteers from the church charity shop I composed a special little poem to make people smile :-)

The highlight of my week is changing the shop window display.  Andrew always called me "Queen of Charity Shops" long before Mary Portas did her bit for charity retail...

(To be read in a tone of slight indignation!)

Who put that in the window?

Who put that in the window?
Red doesn’t go with green
It was subtle sea colours this week
I left it so serene…

Who put that in the window?
Pink hat, on glass head – well it’s tat
Take it out of my sight and get rid
I’m really not standing for that!

Who put those shoes in the window?
I don’t care if they are “designer”
They spoil my display and they’re not going to stay
I’m sorry to be such a whiner.

Who thought we should have those in the window?
Fondue set and cuddly toy!
It’s beginning to look like a game show
I despair – where’s my feeling of joy?

Whose idea was the straighteners and dryers?
Tangled mess of leads and curls
Is there somewhere else we could put them?
Now why don’t we give that a whirl?

Well this week I’ve done the window
To spoil it would be such a shame
But if you can sell it - replace it
It’s the unending church shop window game!