Sunday, 15 May 2011

I’m knitting with only one needle…

I’ve figured something out.  I’m now officially out of sync with the rest of my generation.

I’ve always felt odd, a bit different.  In my best and most positive moments I would describe myself as unique!

I shouldn’t be a widow at 43!  Nobody should be.

My peers, my friends have husbands and families to share their lives with.  They do things together. Ups, downs, tears, tantrums, joy and laughter.

We were at the stage of the children growing more independent yet still needing us and we were making those adjustments required to accommodate adolescence.  We had a long way to go but we were learning – together.  A mutual help and support group of two.

OK it’s not like that for everyone.  There are lots of people who are on their own.  Some people never meet that special someone to share their life with.  I was “lucky”, for a while.  For someone who suffered so much anxiety and self-doubt growing up that I would never meet anyone, I counted myself as truly blessed – most of the time.

But now that’s gone.

Nobody should be a widow in their early 40s when there are still jobs to be done.  The children still need raising, the house still needs fixing.  It is a time to plan together for the empty nest.  The years at the end when we get the chance to fly too, satisfied we’ve done our best.

My parents are away on holiday at the moment, a coach trip to Scotland.  Just them and their friends relaxing and having fun.  That should have been us in twenty years time.  Only I always wanted us to return to Tahiti, a romantic getaway, same hotel, our exotic paradise with black sand…. 

I have been enjoying walking round my garden more and more usually in the morning.  It seems like the thing to do, to admire new growth.  I am going to write some more about that another day.  My last post about the garden was a very popular one, this time I may include some photos!

While taking a wander this morning (still in my dressing gown, because I can!) I thought about not quite fitting in.

To me the word “widow” conjures up an image of an older woman with her family grown.  She is able to visit children, even grandchildren, but still have her own space to do the things she dreams of.  Memories make her smile and some may bring tears but she treasures the time spent together with her husband and the family they created together.

Of course in reality “widows” come in all shapes and sizes.  Some older and some even younger than me.

It’s just at the moment I am quite angry at the unfairness of it all.  It wasn’t even as if I picked at man considerably older than me so I somehow expected this to happen so early.  Six years isn’t a huge age gap.

What I am most frustrated about at the moment is that I still have to raise the boys.  I have no idea what goes on in their heads they are like a different species!  This is a job for two people and I now have to do it alone.

Today’s title is from a Queen song that just happened to shuffle its way onto my iPod …

I’m knitting on only one needle
Unravelling fast it’s true
I’m driving on only three wheels
My dear, how about you?
I’m going slightly mad

You can’t possibly knit on one needle so maybe I need to learn to crochet instead to hold us together.

The other week I did have a flat tyre and you can’t drive like that, maybe I just need to rely on others to keep me balanced.  Or buy a Robin Reliant!

I am having to adjust to so much to do the best I can with what I’ve been given.  Sometimes it is so hard and I feel like the pain will never end.  I still don’t understand why it hurts so much more now than it did in the beginning.  Probably reality hitting home.  There are still moments every day when I stop and realise - Andrew's never coming back!

Sometimes it feels like I am going slightly mad so please bear with me while I acclimatise to my new state.  The road ahead is still very bumpy but you can still follow if you wish…

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Probably the most depressing song ever to win the Eurovision Song Contest…

Well it’s that time of year again, tonight is the Eurovision Song Contest!

It was compulsive family viewing throughout my childhood.  A real event in the calendar as we got to stay up late and watch the results coming in, knowing full well which countries would award points on the basis of geography rather than the merits of the song.  In some ways it was an education in european politics!

Then there were my teenage years when I wrote down songs and counties on a chart and gave my own marks out of ten.  I vividly remember staying with friends one year and watching, laughing and judging together!

Andrew was never a big fan so I never really introduced the boys to the contest until last year.  We happened to be staying with my parents that weekend and Andrew wasn’t with us.

There were so many weekends and holidays we didn’t share together because of him working away.  It tears my heart to look at photos of us as a family and know he wasn’t there for some family events and never will be with us now.  I feel utterly cheated and bitter and angry!

Anyway,  last year we sat as a family and watched Eurovision.  I’m not sure if we made a note of which songs we liked but after the recap at the end we decided the songs we would all like to vote for and we did on my parent’s phone – and yes I did ask permission before I dialled!  Then we avidly watched as the results came in.

Of course most songs that enter are happy tunes, Cliff with the classic “Congratulations”.  He never won the contest but was the UK entry in 1968.

Maybe there is a bit of a gimmick to the winning entry, Bucks Fizz ripping those skirts off (“Making Your Mind Up” winners in 1981) or Sandie Shaw singing barefooted (“Puppet on a String” winner in 1967). 

Some songs have meaningful lyrics.  Nicole from Germany won in 1982 with a worthy song called “A Little Peace”.  Then there is the heart melting final line of “Save all Your Kisses For Me” which goes “even though you’re only three” ahhhhh!  Brotherhood of Man winners in 1976. 
Others are completely nonsensical “Diggy Loo Diggy Ley”, Norway’s winning entry in 1984 by Herreys and long before that in 1969 Lulu sang “Boom Bang a Bang”.  She actually tied for first place with the same number of points as France, Spain and Netherlands because there were no tie break rules before the 1970s to cover such eventualities.

And of course who could forget the one that has stood the test of time – Abba with “Waterloo”, winners in 1974?

The Eurovision has seen it all but by far and away the saddest song to ever win has to be Jonny Logan with “What’s Another Year” Ireland’s entry in 1980.

Now I must confess to owning several Eurovision winners and entrants on vinyl and this one is among them.

A ballad with the obligatory eighties saxophone beginning and melancholy instrumental solo in the middle.  Powerful stuff, stirring the emotions before the lyrics even start!

What's Another Year?
I've been waiting, such a long time
Looking out for you
But you're not here
What's another year

I've been waking such a long time
Reaching out for you
But you aren't near
What's another year

What's another year
For someone who's lost everything that he owns
What's another year
For someone who's getting used to being alone

I've been praying, such a long time
It's the only way to hide the fear
What's another year

(Saxaphone bit!)

What's another year
For someone who's lost everything that he owns
What's another year
For someone who's getting used to being alone

I've been crying such a long time
With such a lot of pain in every tear
What's another year
(For someone who's getting used to being alone)
What's another year
(For someone who's getting used to being alone)
What's another year
(For someone who's getting used to being alone)

I loved that song then, it appealed to my teenage sense of melodrama that another year had gone by without that someone special in my life – I was 12!

Now it resonates even more.
It was written by Shay Healy and if memory serves me right, but I haven’t been able to verify it, he wrote it while sitting on a bus.  In my mind it’s the back seat on the top of a double decker on a rainy day although I’m sure that’s pure imagination.  However I am certain the bus bit was some extra information given out by Terry Wogan as he introduced the song.

Or perhaps Jonny Logan sat on a bus in a video clip before he sang?

What is definitely true is that it was written about Shay Healy’s dad coming to terms with his wife’s death – no wonder it resonates with me now.

I wrote the other day about rainbows and searching for some hope.  Then I hear my blog is still making people cry.  If this is ever published as a book for a marketing ploy I’m giving away a free packet of tissues with every copy!

Some days it is so hard to even put one foot in front of the other.  It’s only been six months (exactly, yesterday) but with each month that goes by I’m not sure it’s getting any better.  In a lot of ways I feel worse.

I know I’m not really on my own like the lyrics in the song but I’m certain the gentleman in the song wasn’t completely alone.  It's just that when you lose a spouse you lose half of yourself and there is a gaping wound that seems to constantly bleed, sometimes the makeshift bandages can’t hold it all in.

Yes I’ve got the boys, family and friends but it’s like I said about finding old photos and Andrew not being on them.  He missed so much even when he was alive.  And now the boys are missing out not only from their dad not being here but because I can’t function properly without him, I don’t feel I can always give them all they need.

This is grief with no end in sight.  However many rainbows I search for and however much of a positive spin I try to put on things when I’m writing this blog, it hurts.  There are some dark times when I feel I am clinging on by a very fine unravelling thread that’s almost ready to snap. 
Never mind “what’s another year ?”, what’s another day?  What’s the point of another minute?

Then there are times to laugh and create a new future.  Watching Eurovision was sometime I always did in my past, before Andrew and maybe something now to share with the boys and give us something to fondly look back on.  Sometimes I think part of the answer is to find the person I was before I married.

Let’s just hope tonight’s winning song is a joyful one and not one about heartbreak and loss.  Chances are it will be.  I anticipate there will also be some silly costumes and a few songs that are so bad they are laughable. 

Maybe those are the things that will see me through today?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

“Expect GOD to get here soon”

It’s been a tough few days beginning with our anniversary on Saturday. 

On Sunday I rang my parents as I usually do.  My dad had nothing to tell me but sad news - death, cancer and a heart attack!   

By Monday, after yet another email of gloom arrived in my inbox, I felt even more despondent and was beginning to wonder if I would ever be “happy” again!

Monday afternoon was stormy and while travelling back from oldest son’s tennis lesson the sky in front of us intensified to a dense shade of navy.  We had left the brilliant sunshine behind us – it was a metaphor for my mood.

I scanned the horizon for a rainbow because the weather seemed so perfect for one.

“God, I haven’t seen one for ages and I really need some hope, some sign that in all of this you haven’t abandoned us!”  I prayed.

I looked and looked but all I could see in front was an ever darkening skyline.  I’d almost lost hope.

Then we turned a corner to be confronted by not one but two rainbows and they kept getting brighter.  I was mesmerised.  It was as if God had heard my plea and painted it just for me.  A powerful sign to show me how much I mean to him.   That he hasn’t forgotten me even in the midst of everything else that is going on in the world.

Those of you who have been reading this blog from the beginning will know how I believe that a rainbow is a sign of God’s faithfulness.   It is his promise to us.

I don’t think I have ever seen a rainbow so dazzling.  It stretched wide across the deep blue heavens.

God is still holding on to me whatever decisions I make.  Whether in the small things like deleting Andrew’s work number from my mobile phone or the big step of putting the house on the market, HE is there.

Regards selling the house I have left it in his capable and outstretched hands.  I have seen his provision before where houses are concerned.  He was with us when we bought this one.  There was a stage where we thought we may have lost it forever although some part of us always thought this was the one and we trusted God to guide us.   

In our prayers we asked for a house we could use for God’s glory.  We were always aware of how privileged we were in having such a grand house that we often had people to stay and opened our home and garden for various projects and fundraising events. 
I have another house story from when I was at University.  

After a year in the halls of residence three of us decided we wanted to share a house in our second year.  We kept looking for somewhere but found nothing suitable.  It was getting nearer and nearer the end of term. Finally in the last week we went to look round a house with space for the three of us.  However we would have to share with students we didn’t know.  

This could have been a good thing and chance to meet new friends but when we came out it was a relief when we all decided that it wasn’t the house for us.  We just didn’t feel we could comfortably live with the students already living there.  The three of us were Christians and we wanted our house or flat  to reflect this.  A home we could share and use for God.  This wasn't it.

We weren’t being prejudiced, the tenants already there probably wouldn’t have wanted to share with us either.

As we left that term we had no idea where we would be staying the following academic year.   We prayed God would find us somewhere to live and put the situation in his hands.  One member of our group who lived the nearest to the university said she would return to check the accommodation boards through the summer holidays.

All our faith was put in God and what we eventually found was amazing.  A testament to his marvellous provision.

Above a window cleaning business, in an ordinary quiet road, tucked behind the main shopping street, was a sprawling five bedroom flat.  It had never been rented out before so we drew up a shopping list to take to the local hardware shop and chose everything we needed brand new at the landlord’s expense.   

Anything else we wanted, that was a reasonable request, our generous landlord bought us, full length mirrors on the wardrobe doors, rooms decorated the colours we wanted and even a washing machine because we didn’t like having to use the launderette!  

On reflection some of our requests were more than we really needed but we saw God’s hand in this.  This was the flat he had prepared for us.  We had asked for help and he delivered so much more than we ever expected.

Our flat became the centre of everything we were involved in.  It almost became an extension of the Christian Union and was a great place to hold parties and prayer meetings alike!  I know there are people who follow my blog who I’m sure will agree that Stone Street was a special place because they were there and experienced it!

Last week I watched as not one but two little girls were walking along the wall around our church.  Each child was holding the hand of their mum or grandma.  The grown-ups making sure they did not fall and felt secure in their adventure.

I remember being just as small and walking along a wall on the way to the library.  My mum would hold my hand as the wall got higher and higher.

As I watched these children I had a picture of God holding my hand.  In my head I had one of those conversations, almost with myself, imagining God answering and saying “yes I’m still holding your hand and I will take you higher, somewhere that maybe appears even scarier from your perspective but I will never let you go!”

Yesterday morning in my Bible reading I was looking at Psalm 31.  This is the very last verse.

“Be brave.  Be strong. Don’t Give up.
Expect GOD to get here soon.”

And then I turned to the New Testament reading in John chapter 6.

Jesus says “Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me.  And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go.”

I’ve been down and felt that despair of grief that things will never get any better as I have lost half of myself.  I am still unravelling and wonder if this will ever come to an end. 
However the rainbow is still there if I keep searching for it.  Just around the next corner in all it's brilliance.  And like everything from God it will be more marvellous than I ever expected.

And best of all God is there, still holding my hand as he always has been.  Ready to catch me if I should fall.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Sometimes the big decisions are far easier than the small ones…

Well I’ve done it!  I’ve put the house on the market.  The house Andrew and I lovingly worked on to create our family home.

I remember when we first looked round and fell in love with the grandeur of it all.  For Andrew it made a statement of how well he was providing for his family.  It really was his pride and joy.

However now there are jobs that need doing that have become a burden.  There are rooms I never enter on a daily basis.  The house is a drain on my time, energy and resources.

Of course there are people who will be horrified at me making such a huge decision barely six months after Andrew died.  But then I have come to realise there will always be some people who disagree with anything I do.  I have to do what’s best for me and the children.  We have talked it through and between us we feel we are doing what’s right. 

At the moment we live a couple of miles away from school, church, our friends and most of the things we are involved in.  I can only see our lives improving by being in the centre of all we do.  I long to have several days in a row of not needing the car.  I dream of the boys having more freedom with less reliance on mum’s taxi service.

A change of address will see my life being simpler, hopefully with less stress.  Although I’m not na├»ve enough to think it will solve all my problems.  There will always be a gaping hole where Andrew once was and I know in some ways it will be a real wrench to leave this special place we shared together.

I remember clearly moving house last time. 

Andrew had a self-build house when we married.  He had painstakingly chosen the bricks and mortar and joyfully watched it grow from the deep foundations being dug to the final ridge tile being fitted.  He always said when we married that he wished I had been around in those days so we could have made choices together.

Inside it was all painted magnolia because by the decorating stage he was sick of making decisions plus there was the added bonus that a big tub of magnolia paint was cheaper than many smaller tins of individual colours.

Now I am not a magnolia person.  I love colour.  Slowly and surely after we married we decorated every room.  Turning what was a beautiful split level individually designed house into our family home.

I fondly remember our first wall papering experience as we decorated what became the nursery in teddy bear wall paper.  I relished painting our bedroom lilac with daisies stencilled round the top.  Then there was my finest achievement re-creating a picture of Kipper the dog with his sandcastle (by Mick Inkpen) on the wall in the boy’s bathroom.   I projected the image onto the wall using the church overhead projector and spent a happy afternoon painting.  How I wish I had taken a picture of my handiwork!

One of the last jobs we completed was the hall, landing, staircase and lounge.  This whole area was open plan so all needed to all be done together.   We chose a vibrant golden yellow colour, or rather I chose and Andrew consented.  Then alongside a friend, who was a painter and decorator, he worked to once and for all banish the drab magnolia.

The house was complete and we were happy and settled…

Until about a year later when we spotted our current home on the market and wondered if we could stretch our finances.  Once we had it in our sights we did all we could to realise our new dream and move another rung up the property ladder.

Yes Andrew was sorry to leave behind what he had achieved but we looked forward to the next chapter in our family history and the new challenges that lay ahead.

We have done lots to this house.  Built up into the loft, added a bathroom, loads of decorating and had the entire roof re-slated.

One of the last things we did early last year was redecorate the hall, stairs and landing!  After the last lick of Dusted Fondant paint was on the walls I sensed that we wouldn’t be staying here much longer.

When we moved in I asked the previous occupants to leave the nails and picture hooks up so we could easily hang our pictures and immediately make the place feel like our home.  Photos of the boys were placed going up the stairs so you could see how they had grown with every step.  When we decorated all the photos came down but because of my feeling we would soon move we never got round to putting them back up.

The only exception was our wedding photo at the bottom of the stairs which went up for everyone to see after the funeral.

So to anyone who thinks my decisions are rash and hasty you need to know that this was always somewhere in my plans.  And something Andrew and I had considered together.

To be honest if Andrew were still alive we’d have probably stayed, eventually put the photos back up and got on with the next project.  Moving house was more my dream than his.

It is a big step but one we need to take to face the new challenges of the next chapter of our lives without Andrew.