Friday, 29 July 2011

I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye

At the beginning of the school holidays when your children ask “what are we doing today?” you should never have to reply, “picking up your dad’s ashes.”  Nevertheless that was the start of my week.  I wanted to have them ready in anticipation of the perfect day to scatter them. 

Yesterday started off as such a day.  The sun was shining and the air was still.

While sitting in the undertakers all those months ago he asked what I wanted to do with the ashes.  I made the impromptu decision to scatter them over the cliff tops where we live.  It seemed a fitting place.  Andrew had always joked that was where he would dispose of my body if he got tired of me.  He would return tearful from his walk with tales of how I had accidently slipped over the edge never to be seen again!

I on the other hand always said, in jest, that I would poison him.  We laughed about it last year when we went to Alnwick and visited their poison garden.   Andrew called the guidebook we bought a cook book and we discussed which poisonous plants I could easily get hold of. 

That was the kind of relationship we had, secure enough in each other’s company to discuss such things knowing it would never get anywhere near that bad.

My original plan for scattering his ashes was for a large family group to walk together along the cliffs to find the perfect spot but over time my thoughts had changed and I knew it was something that we had to do just the three of us.
The only planning I did beforehand was to check the tide times.  I didn’t want Andrew’s remains to tumble down onto the unsuspecting heads’ of people walking past.  So we set off just before high tide.

But the clouds were beginning to roll in by this time and the wind was getting up.  The bag was heavy, oldest son and I shared the duty of carrying it.  We tried to laugh and joke remembering when we had walked this way before.

When we got to the cliff we looked for a suitable spot and knelt down to open the rucksack, then the box and finally the plastic bag they were held in.

Oldest son and I scooped out a handful each.

As we let go the wind caught the ash and blew it back at us, tell tale speckles landed at our feet.

We sat and cried knowing this wasn’t the place and time to say goodbye.  Andrew wasn’t ready to say goodbye and maybe neither were we.  Wearily we walked back home the way we had come still weighed down.

I’ve always hated saying goodbye.  You could guarantee when we were leaving anywhere Andrew would already be sat waiting impatiently in the car along with the boys while I made my final farewells with hugs and kisses. 

I’m the sort of person that can’t help but write long emails.  As I get to the end there are so many paragraphs starting “anyway must go but….”.

My phone conversations go on and on as I remember some other small detail to be discussed.  I don’t like finally hanging up.

And in the days when I wrote long letters to pen pals my writing would get smaller and smaller as I tried to squeeze my remaining thoughts onto the last scrap of space on the page.

The trouble was this time I was ready to say goodbye.  I needed some kind of closure for want of a better word.

While cooking tea I devised plan B. 

I’d already thought of various places Andrew had liked to go and suddenly one popped into my head that hadn’t before.  It felt perfect.

The boys weren’t unduly bothered about my change of plan as long as I didn’t keep it a secret.  They needed to know where we were going before we left.  And youngest son needed to know that there was little or no walking to be done as he was fed up with that game.

So we got in the car and drove.  It’s not far away but the weather was closing in fast.  I had to switch the windscreen wipers on along with the lights to lead the way.  A thick mist descended as we reached higher ground and I thought of turning back.  However rather than making it inappropriate somehow the spooky atmosphere of the foggy evening made it strangely even more apt.
I carefully lifted the box out of the rucksack and took the plastic bag once more out of the box.  As we walked around this remote spot with the open bag the wind caught the ashes and although some of it swirled around back towards us it was amazing to see the majority flying free.  This was where he should be, unencumbered, no more burdens, no more pain.

It was just like releasing a flock of birds or a cluster of balloons and just as beautiful and satisfying to watch.

Andrew approved of this final resting place, this was where he wanted to be. 

We have photos of him here with the boys, happy times and good memories.  Now we have another memory to add to the collection and I’m sure it is a place we will return to again and again.

My expectations and plans for the day had been thrown into disarray but I have learned there is no such thing as a perfect day to do the things you need to do.  Sometimes you have to make the best of what you’ve got and you may accidently stumble on the answer that has been there all along.

I am making this up every day as I go along and learning there is no right or wrong way to deal with my grief.

What I also know is that even though we have thrown Andrew’s ashes to the wind we haven’t completely said goodbye.  Just as some of the ash remained clinging to us in the damp air there will always be a part of him that is with us.

It reminded me of the ending of “E.T.” when the spaceship returns and the little alien has to leave.  Elliott, the young boy who found him is distressed at the thought he will never see his friend again.  E.T. reaches out his bony finger and points it to Elliott’s chest, where his heart would be, “I’ll be right here,” he says in his croaky new found voice.

We now have another place to "find" Andrew if we need him and when we go back we will probably discover he’s always been with us all along.  He never really said goodbye.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

All That Remains

Picked up ashes
They run like sand through my fingers,
Dark sand
Like the shores of Tahiti.

Volcanic black remains
A place where our story began
Love and tenderness intermingled.

White bone,
Black ash,
And specks of golden wood.

Weighing as much as our babies
But heavier by far,
The weight of the world
Encompassed in a shoe box.

The depth of our love
To be blown on the wind.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

My life in a day ...

I keep waking up early.  My brain already active at 6 a.m.  Although not always making sense. 

It never used to be like this at the weekend.  I used to wake up later.  We used to wake up later.  Sleepily, lazily debating whose turn it was to make the tea as we snuggled up together.  Neither of us wanting to relinquish the duvet nor the closeness.

I rarely lie in with a cuppa now.  By the time I’ve got up and boiled the kettle there seems to be no point in going back to an empty bed.  Instead I search out friends on line; email and facebook have replaced the quality early morning time spent with Andrew.

Sometimes youngest son will climb in bed for a cuddle but I know we have to get up and face another day.  The routine of getting ready for school giving us the much needed impetus to get moving.

But now it’s the holidays, like a permanent weekend stretching into the distance.  A time of late nights and late mornings – if I can ever switch my brain off and blissfully sleep beyond the eight o’clock mark.  I'd be happy if the numbers on the clock started with a seven!

Last time I wrote about my heart, how I was feeling.  It races along in a daydream looking for something to fill in the cracks.

Meanwhile my head tries to keep things in perspective and slow things down.  Heeding advice and urging caution.  In my head I know that all this talk of finding a new house, a new man and starting my new life, is realistically a while off, there are still many hurdles to negotiate.  The grieving process is a long one and far more draining that I ever thought imaginable.

I’m still sorting things out slowly in tiny manageable pieces.

Yesterday I moved a few things around on Andrew’s desk in a haphazard attempt at tidying, suddenly I found the memory card from the old camera.  The camera which had been dropped and broken last summer.  The one Andrew took apart with a view to fixing!  The memory card had been misplaced and I’ve spent all these months desperately looking for it.  I think it may contain the last ever photo of the two of us.  Finding it made me cry, tears that were a mixture of joy and sadness.

As well as sorting the mess Andrew left behind, there is my own stuff to deal with.  The truth is whenever and wherever we move to the new house will be smaller than this one so there is a lot of de-cluttering to be done.  I keep far too much, hording mementos that remind me of the happy times and special events.  

I have a box of keepsakes packed from the last time we moved eight years ago.  It is filled with acceptances for our wedding invitations, wedding cards and anniversary cards, old photos albums, girl guide badges, school reports and certificates – I have proof that I can safely ride a bike, swim and that I passed my music theory exam with full marks in 1980!  I have rediscovered that I was enrolled in the junior Red Cross for a short while, and on my first school trip to France I saved receipts and yoghurt pot lids in a scrap book!

But there are bigger items I have realised I will have to give away.  We have always had plenty of space and so kept the cot and the high chair, there are also lots of old games and toys in the loft too.  My head says it’s sensible to let go now.  My heart still wants to hang on.

It is my heart that somehow lives in the past and the future.  Able to hold on and look forward.  My head tries to see things clearly and weigh up the sensible options for the here and now.  I’ve got to somehow get them to balance and achieve a perfect tension between them.  Not letting one overrule the other.

In today’s service the Old Testament reading was from 1 Kings Chapter 3.  It was a passage where King Solomon askes God for the wisdom he needs to rule over the people.  He knows he can’t do it in his own strength.  

My task is far less daunting but I still need God's guidance and discernment to help me make the right choices for us as a family.  Making decisions was something Andrew and I did together.  Now we need to work out as a family of 3 what we need to keep and carry with us to the next phase.  No "throwing away the baby with the bathwater" – even if there is no cot for him to sleep in when we reach our final destination!

The other day I wrote about longing for my next chapter “What Sarah did Next”, when I added my blog to Facebook there were all my friends reminding me of “What Sarah did Before”.  Friends from now, from college, from sixth form and from school. 

They have each shared a part of my life and helped shape the person I am today.

These are the things they reminded me.  I am still the same person I always was.  I have never done anything by halves.  I am faithful and loyal to my friends.  And finally whichever era of my life they came from they all agreed I have a future and maybe my writing has a big part to play.

Today I started writing early in the morning and with all the normal interruptions of the day it has taken me until almost midnight to get to somewhere near the end.

Brain still ticking, thinking, pondering even though it sometimes seems to be as battered as my heart and incapable of making any rational judgements.

As much as I hate early mornings in bed alone I loathe the nights.  I drag out my night time routines procrastinating, trying to attain such a sleepy state that it won’t matter I am on my own.   

It’s a common enough thing to do if your husband works away, I’ve spoken to other wives who tell me they do the same and I always went to bed far later when Andrew was off shore.

So it’s one more check of the emails and Facebook and I’ll post this before I go.  

Night Night and God Bless!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

State of the Heart

It’s been a while since I wrote about how I’m “doing”.  My posts have been more about events and happenings.

Well the other day someone asked me “how is your heart?”

Strange way of putting it but a very deep question that had me immediately bursting into tears.

My heart is still fragile and broken despite the sticking plasters of activity, family and friends that keep it held together.  The pain isn’t always so raw as it was although sometimes the stitches break where the scars aren’t fully mended and I wonder when the tears will stop.

The days have blurred into weeks and then merged into months.  Time isn’t going quite as slowly as it did in the beginning and it is now over eight months since Andrew died.  Four more and we reach the one year anniversary.

People have said you don’t get over a loss but learn to cope with things on a daily basis.  Sometimes I think I’m doing well and then it hits me once again.  Just like the unexpected bottle at the concert!  OUCH!

My youngest son says he just pretends his dad is working away.  That’s how he copes.  Sometimes I feel like that too.  I get on with family life because I have to in just the same way I did when Andrew was off-shore.  Everything is solely my responsibility. 

Because I spent so much time without Andrew around there are moments when I suddenly think “I must tell Andrew…”, but I tend to leave those thoughts unfinished as I catch my breath with the realisation that he’s never going to ring to find out the latest news.

It feels like little pin pricks of rain on a summers day.  You brush them aside or find shelter quick less the tears turn into a torrent.

My oldest son just blocks everything out, shutting down and carrying on regardless.  Not opening the box labelled “Dad”.

Maybe each of us in has found our own way to somehow cope?

Now we are coming to the end of another family chapter.  The end of the summer term, which also happens to be the end of youngest son’s time at primary school.

The other week year 6 had their leaver’s assembly celebrating their achievements.  In her speech the head teacher read out a list of children who were the youngest in their families, the families that are leaving the school for good.  It was quite a list and the end of an era.

Time moves on, people move on.  Life is constantly changing.  As one door closes so one opens – that sort of thing.

I’m eager to start my own new chapter.  I still feel in limbo somewhere between the epilogue of one novel and prologue of the next.

The house is on the market and that is the next BIG change I see.

I want to move on.  Not to pack up all of my life so far, I want to pick out the best bits to take with me.

Youngest son, like his mother, is an avid reader and the books he likes best are the ones that are in a series.  I can understand why.  When you open a sequel you already know the main characters.  You want to continue reading about them in their next adventure because you care what happens.

The next bit of our story is just a continuation of the whole picture.  The last book was “What Sarah Did” and I can’t wait to see “What Sarah Did Next”.

However I know that a new house is not going to mend my heart it’s just a new setting.  A good beginning to a fresh start.

What I really long for at the moment is to have someone special in my life again.  I want someone to share my day with, an exclusive relationship where you are so in tune with each other you can read the other person’s thoughts.  That first person you think of when you want to share your news.  I want someone to care for me and someone to care for in return.

I miss having someone special around to bounce ideas off, to cook for, to rely on, to laugh with…the list goes on.

However this opens a whole new can of worms and experiences.

I have a very high specification for this new man in my life.  He needs to possess Andrew’s best qualities along with some new improved features I’ve decided I would like next time around!

Realistically I have set my sights way too high but maybe that is because I am not yet ready to find him.  I still wear my wedding ring - when is the right time to even think about taking it off?  Some widows wear their wedding rings for life, forever married.

Is it a betrayal to want to move on?  I always joked with Andrew I’d have a toy boy “next” time!  I know he wouldn’t want me to be alone forever.

But then there’s the thought of how do you go about dating these days?  I was pretty rubbish at it first time round!

Youngest son is adamant I am not allowed to find anyone else.  When I broached the subject with oldest son he said pragmatically and in a tone reminiscent of his father,

“Let’s get the house sorted first.”

When and how did he get to be so wise?

When I started “going out” with Andrew it was all so natural.  We were working together on a radio project and he left me a note on the mixing desk.

“Would you like to go out for dinner?  – no strings”

What started as “no strings” has ended in “unravelling edges”.

The note was unexpected, out of the blue.  I was happy on my own and for once not looking for the elusive Mr Right.  Andrew may not have fitted all my high ideals of the time anyway but on reflection we were always made for each other.  Complimenting each other’s personalities and bringing the best out of each other - mostly.

We were two halves of a whole and that’s why my heart still aches so much and needs careful repairing.

It is, bruised, battered, scarred but waiting and wishing.  Knowing somewhere there’s a brighter future but just like our British summer it’s impossible to predict with any certainty just when the sun will shine again.

I’ve just found out that one of my favourite Christian bands has reformed for a tour and consequently I’ve “re-discovered” all their old songs once more.   
These are the lyrics that express something of how I feel.

The skies have been unbroken since I can’t remember when
The sun it hasn’t shined all this time
I can’t believe that it’ll stay
This way until the end
So I’m lying on the seashore on my own
Looking up into the grey
And I’ll wait until that far off precious moment
When the clouds will roll away

Aggressive Sunbathing
Lying in the rain
It’s poured for forty days and nights
But I won’t give up the fight
While there’s hope in my heart
That some fine day I’ll see the blue
And I’ll be sunbathing with you.

                From Aggressive Sunbathing by Fat and Frantic

Friday, 15 July 2011

Rejection is never easy

In the last couple of weeks I have had two rejections.

The first was last week.  We had the first viewing of our house.  Fortunately the cleaner was around to help get the place tidy.  There was a flurry of activity as items were thrown into cupboards and they probably won’t be found again until we eventually move for good.

(I now have two of those very large shopping bags full of paperwork and assorted detritus found and scooped off from the kitchen worktops that I really must sort out and file away properly.)

We made the house look spick and span leaving only a few areas with that “lived in” look.

At precisely 2pm as expected the prospective buyers arrived, an encouraging  sign.  The viewing itself seemed to go alright.  I pointed out all the wonderful features of the house and enthused about how happy we had been there explaining the circumstances behind the sale.  I’ve been watching “Location, Location, Location” on the telly, I can talk about the potential my house had to offer as well as Phil and Kirsty could!

They seemed genuinely interested, delighting in the period features and even enquired about the possibility of a second viewing.  However the feedback I later received from the estate agents was less than complimentary.

I had been getting my hopes up; looking with more urgency at the houses for sale in the area I wanted to be.  I was even looking seriously at the descriptions and room sizes, assessing whether my furniture would fit in.

Now all hopes were dashed and my mood once again slumped.

It had all been so different the week before when I had received a very different rejection.

I would very much like to publish my blog.  I’d like to think my words could help others in a similar situation as well as offer an insight into the grieving process.

To that end I applied to an organisation for a writing award, both financial and offering help networking with agents and publishers.

I’d even planned my outfit for the award ceremony and imagined talking to potential agents.  I am such a daydreamer.

Anyway it wasn’t meant to be but the rejection letter was far from the standard terse rebuff of “thanks but no thanks”!  I was commended on “tackling such a difficult subject matter”, not of my choosing I can assure you but something I have felt called to write since Andrew died.  I was also told my writing was “accessible”, always good to know you are not writing complete gobble-de-gook! 

They advised me to “keep working on this manuscript with a view to resubmitting in the future”.

It didn’t feel like I’d got a rejection letter in my hand but one that affirmed this is what I should be doing.  I will carry on, there is more to write, not that I have any idea where this is going or where or when it will end.

Writing helps; it clears my head and focuses my thoughts.  At the end of the day it may never actually make it into print.  Just like the artwork I produced for our church art exhibition that I wrote about earlier in the week, sitting here typing is cathartic and maybe that is enough?

But you are reading this, some of you have stuck faithfully with me from the beginning and I value your support and encouragement.  I pray you have got something from my words that I have helped you in some way.  Perhaps this is something you will come back sometime in the future to in your own time of grief.  It’s a sad fact of life that we all experience it one way or another.  I will still be here – well unless computers and blogs are superseded and obsolete.

But I wasn’t finished with my thoughts of rejection.  God once more had the final word to add.

It happened when I was looking round our church art exhibition.  The title was “Living Stones” but it had completely slipped my mind as to where the phrase came from.

As I wandered round looking at the wonderful creations I came across a pencil drawing of a brick wall and growing from between the bricks was a beautiful rose with two hearts at the centre.  It was drawn by a young teenager in the church.

There as the mortar holding the bricks together were the words I needed to read. 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 2:4-6

Rejection is never easy even when people let you down gently with their constructive comments.  There is a sting of pain when the words are negative.  But Jesus knew all about rejection and suffered far worse and yet he was raised much higher.

That’s the encouragement I need to keep on writing, to keep dreaming that I have a future and this stage of my life is only temporary.

God has chosen me and holds me in the palm of his hand; he has set my feet on the solid rock of Jesus.  Hopefully there I will grow like a beautiful flower.