Wednesday, 31 August 2011

“What are we waiting for?”

I never had a romantic marriage proposal from Andrew.  He never got down on one knee swearing undying love for me as it happens in the movies!

Maybe I’ve written about this before.  Sometimes I can’t remember what I’ve written and what I’ve said to people.  It becomes a blur but there’s a point to retelling this story now so please bear with me.

We started going out in late December of 1992 and our love for each other grew through 1993.  I think we always knew it was very serious, we’d both waited a long time for this. 

Andrew was 31 and it had been almost ten years since he had been briefly engaged.  It all ended rather acrimoniously and it had taken him a long time to soften enough to allow anyone special into his life.

Meanwhile I turned 25 in the February of ’93 and had never really had a boyfriend.

We knew this was serious because even from the beginning we spent so much time together.  Andrew was already ringing me constantly when he was away.  I would visit his mum and dad even when he wasn’t around.  We’d chosen a picture together for Andrew’s new house and a dining room table and chairs!  That was all before Easter!

As our relationship drifted blissfully along we’d tentatively talk about where this was going.  It went something like this….

“….if we are still together at Christmas….”

The end of the sentence hung in the air but we knew the unspoken ending was 
“…we will get engaged.”

We made it to the end of August and suddenly we changed the sentence.

“What are we waiting for?”

It made no sense to hang on so we started telling everyone we had decided to get married.  Therefore we were engaged.

“But where’s your ring?”  Said a girl I worked with.  She had just had her planned engagement party and was showing her sparkly diamond off.

“I haven’t got one yet but we’ve decided to get married so we’re engaged!”

It made perfect sense to me but maybe I’d stolen some of her thunder and she didn’t like it.

I’ve made lots of decisions lately.  Making the decision is one thing, carrying it out is another!

This month I’ve driven to London, changed the car and today I have removed Andrew’s profile from Facebook.

Each has been a big step, or two steps, deciding and then acting.

With the Facebook page I had decided to leave it until November, until the anniversary but…
What am I waiting for?

A year is an arbitrary figure and at the end of the day this is something that makes little difference to the outside world.  I don’t suppose most people will even notice his absence on the social network.  Andrew was never one to share much with anyone.  We both joined a couple of years ago so we knew what it was all about when the boys were old enough to have their own accounts.

Removing Andrew’s profile wasn’t an easy task, not from an emotional point of view but it was difficult to figure out where to find the deactivate button!  It’s hidden somewhere in “settings” or something like that.  I think the frustration of trying to find it made me more determined to follow it through.

For me it is another step forward especially as I have also changed my marital status to “widowed”.  Although the word “widowed” doesn’t appear in my dictionary or the computer spellchecker it is true.  I am just thankful that Facebook didn’t add a little red heart in the news feed to announce it to everyone like they usually do with a change of relationship!

The other day I was feeling down when I wrote.  Today I feel more positive and able.  I’m still heading in the right direction even if this route is not one I would have chosen.

I’m still moving forward and “getting there”- wherever “there” may be!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Rainy Days

Yesterday was miserable, it rained all day and today looks like it’s going to be the same.  Summer appears to be over.

In a couple of weeks the boys will be back at school and maybe I can start to clear some of the clutter accumulated over the six week holiday.  The piles of “stuff” where I have emptied a bag or suitcase from our travels but haven’t actually put things away properly!

Then there’s the paperwork that has been mounting up needing serious attention and filing.   My brain has shut down and it’s time to start getting back into gear.

I’ve just had a few days by myself but they have not been as productive as I would have liked.  There seems to be so much to “do” - AGAIN – there’s a recurring theme here I know.  Don’t tell me to rest, I’ve kind of done that for six weeks; there are things than NEED to be done to restore some order in this chaos!

I’ve yet to discover what all the buttons “do” on the car.  Where’s Andrew when I need him to read the manual and teach me what’s what?  My workload has doubled!  

Perhaps it’s the new car that’s slightly unsettled me, it’s a big change and I still have some niggling doubts with no calm voice to allay my fears.  Actually we’d have been as bad as each other, each taking turns to offer reassurance.  It doesn’t matter how many people tell me my new car looks great, I can’t hear from the one person I need to.

It also hasn’t escaped my notice that the nights are already drawing in.  It is now dark BEFORE the lamppost comes on outside, another task - reset the timer.

I’ve never been aware before of how dark the evenings get in late August and it scares me that the year is suddenly passing quicker.

A few months ago time moved so slowly.  I remember when I wished the months would pass so I could get over things.  Now I know I never will.  My heart still aches, I still find myself crying and the passing of time hasn’t made everything easier.

Back in June I bought a new CD by “The Pierces”, I was going to use some of their lyrics in a post, “Seven months to the day since I saw your face.”  It was so apt and the timing was perfect.

Baby where’d you go?
Did you sail away over some distant ocean?
Darlin’ what we had
It cannot be taken, it cannot be stolen
And it won’t be forgotten
No it won’t be forgotten

Now suddenly we are nine months along the journey and I’ve just noticed the second verse after the chorus.

Summer disappears like a dream I had
And winter comes with a knife
That cuts you down
And it never ends, it never ends.

I don’t mean to be morbid.  Maybe I should find some happy music to listen to?

As winter draws ever nearer so does the first anniversary of Andrew death. 

Twelve weeks today.

Some people say the second year is harder when all the birthdays and special dates come round again.  They are already stacking up, Andrew’s birthday in 14 weeks; Christmas only 4 weeks after that and in between two special sons will celebrate another birthday without their dad.

I remember summers when they were little.  Once we got to September and being back at school I would start planning for Christmas.  Would Andrew be home or away and where would we spend Christmas and New Year?  I liked to be organised so other family could fall in with our definitive plans.  Mum would start asking what the boys wanted for presents.  I’d start drawing up lists and getting organised for my busy December.

Now I don’t know what to do for any of it!  Where to go or how to “celebrate”.

I hate to leave my post like this.  I always like to end on a positive note.  Today is just too dreary, damp and depressing.

Maybe if the sun shines later I will add another happier comment…

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Same but Different

“I don’t remember driving on this bit of road last time.”  I thought to myself as I set off once more along the A1.  I’d only travelled it a few weeks ago and I was certain I was going the right way.  Why did it look so different?

Then it dawned on me, last time I drove this route there had been a serious hold up here and we barely moved for an hour!  The scenery went past much slower.  Two lanes merged into three just after the junction and then the road narrowed again back into two.

Same route but a different journey.

During our last journey we had passed the time in the traffic jam with a story tape called “Seriously Weird”.  This time the story CD from the library refused to play on the car CD player and I’d already had complaints from the back despite the fact we were making better progress.

I remembered that other journey I made at the end of last year, again travelling the same road.  The fog and the ice and the snow…..(Following Fog Lights)

On this occasion my eventual destination was somewhere different.  I wouldn’t be turning off at the usual junction to visit my parents.  This was an adventure for me and youngest son, oldest son being away on his own holiday escapade. 

We were visiting friends and they had given me fantastic directions.  My navigator in the back, now distracted from the lack of story CD, read them out to me,  past the sign to the swimming pool, Black Horse pub on the right, over two mini roundabouts (can we really drive straight over the top?) and along the wiggly road!  The Sat Nav finally fell in line with the route we wanted to take and I amazed myself – I was driving in London!

OK this may not be a very big deal for some of you and I was only in the suburbs not the city but this was a journey I may not have even considered if Andrew was still around.  I would have chickened out and planned a time convenient for him to drive us instead.

It’s another step forward and something else to tick off on my own personal CV of achievements in the past nine months.

The word “journey” itself has been an interesting one this year.

The Sunday before Andrew died as we sat in church together I was doodling during the sermon, pretending to take notes, and it was a word that popped into my head and it started my thoughts for the Nativity play last year.  I thought about all the characters and how they each had to travel to reach Bethlehem.

Maybe God had given the word for me personally as well?

And now I have found out about “A Different Journey”, I wrote briefly about it a couple of posts ago. It is a Christian organisation working with people who have been widowed at a young age.  It has been great getting in touch with others who are on a similar path and I have booked to go on a weekend away.  It will be a chance to meet others travelling in the same direction, not the one we all expected when we set off.

I love the fact that we are on the same journey and have appreciated reading other people stories as they are a comfort.

The organiser wrote me an email and said

“Although there are similarities each person’s journey is unique in time taken to grieve and recover.”

However at the moment it is the sameness that most attracts me.  The fact that these people can understand on a deeper level because they have shared this kind of journey.

There are many times when I want to be unique and stand out in the crowd, just look at the picture of the dress I posted in the last blog, that is not the dress of a woman who wants to fade into the background and not be noticed!

But then there are times when you just want to wear jeans and a T shirt, nothing special just something comfortable.

Today, in my jeans and Tshirt, I go and pick up the new car.  Something else “different”.  Something else that Andrew hasn’t shared with me.

I was sorting out the documents to take to the garage and found the receipts for both our current car and the previous family car we bought together.  I looked at how much we had spent before and satisfied myself that I had made a sensible purchase price wise this time, Andrew would be smiling.  But then I always imagine him smiling down at me with each new step forward I take.

(I have a photo of "happy" Andrew by my laptop and that’s the face I always see giving me courage to carry on despite the tears. A few are inevitably falling as I type...)

Our current car was imported it, a cheaper viable option at the time.  When it was delivered Andrew was away.

“What do I do when it arrives?”  I was flustered.

“Just look round it and make sure it looks OK.  You’ll be fine.”

I knew he really wanted to be there to take delivery but he trusted me to do this on my own.

When the car arrived neither me and nor the delivery truck driver could find the CD player but that was the only "problem".  It said CD on the radio so the man left reasoning it must be somewhere in the car.  It was eventually found underneath the front passenger seat.

So I was the first person to drive our car and I will be the last, at least while I own it.

From now on I whatever journeys I make will be different even if they follow a familiar route.

And Andrew is still there smiling, trusting me to do the right thing without him here.

Some things are different but some will forever be the same.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Retail Therapy

I’ve been spending quite a bit just lately.  Well a bit of retail therapy never hurt anyone.

It started with a designer dress.  When I first saw it in the shop window all I knew was it was my size, in the sale, it was quirky and I liked it.  But I never expected to own it.

The price tag was £97.50 far more than I would usually spend.  I tend to buy second hand from the church shop and can usually buy a whole outfit for £9.75!

Anyway it was only a fleeting glance as I walked past the shop with a friend, we had the kids with us and they weren’t prepared to stop.

But it didn’t take a lot of persuasion from my friends to return later in the week and try it on.  Only it was no longer in the window.

I wasn’t going to let it go that easily so I pushed open the door of the rather posh boutique.  This happened while on holiday so I wasn’t in my “best” clothes for elegant shopping.  I was a fresh faced camper from a week of outdoor living who had showered less frequently than I would have liked!

I held my head up and asked the sales assistant, “You had a dress in the window the other day…?”

She directed me to the rail of sale dresses at the back of the shop and there I found it!  She came over to enquire how I was getting on and told me the dress had been reduced even further to half the “original sale” price, which now made the dress £80. 

Out of curiosity I flipped over the sale ticket to reveal the original value of £345!!!!!  Would anyone really pay THAT much?

“Would you like to try it on?”  I was led to a chic little fitting room with a white towelling robe so you could discreetly cover up between dresses!

It would have looked fantastic but the shoulder straps were a little long.  I was all prepared to let my dress go.  After all why did I need a beautiful new dress?  It wasn’t as if I had somewhere special to wear it.

“Oh nothing fits these days.” The assistant told me airily.  “That’s why we have a team of seamstresses upstairs.”  

I had entered a different magical world.  I tend to buy with the idea that I can fix things myself, a couple of stitches here and there, but I never do, then I never wear the item and it goes back to the charity shop!

So a seamstress was called and fitted the straps for my exact measurements.  I was treated like a princess and I loved it.  I am definitely going back for next year’s sale.

Both Andrew and I had the same attitude money.  We were both savers rather than spenders.  So what would he have thought about my extravagance?

Actually I think he’d be smiling.  It was rare I found something I really fell in love with and because of my frugality through most of the year he would encourage me to spend.  We discussed our own personal spending and even asked each other’s permission to buy things.  Letting each other know we both took care of our money and didn't take it for granted.  For me it was clothes and for him trains for his model railway!

The joke was Andrew earned the money and I spent it but it went much deeper than that.  He earned the money and I knew how much we spent on everyday things and could tell him how much money we had in the bank.  Or his favourite figure, the gradually reducing numbers of the mortgage!

He also used to tease that I would be a wealthy woman if he died.  I’d swap my whole bank account and new dress to have him back if I could!

I’m not rich like a millionaire lottery winner, or wealthy by the standard of the fat cat bankers in the city with their huge bonuses.  However Andrew has left us well provided for and with careful money management we can continue to live in the same manner as we always have.  I’m fortunate I don’t have to work and can still be around for the boys 24/7.

Buying a dress was, in the grand scheme of things, a small decision but then this week we made an even bigger purchase…..

…..we put down a deposit on a new car!

I say we because the boys were fully involved.  We’d been talking about it for ages so technically we’d already made our decision.  It’s acting on a decision that is by far the bigger step.

Our old car is ten years old and has done over 106,000 miles so it’s not an impulsive purchase but a much needed one.

We’d decided on a Skoda, well that fits into the principles of buying something “reasonably priced” and “being sensible”. TICK.  Also I had heard good reports about the local Skoda dealership, so that ticked the “reliability” and “peace of mind that I would get good service” boxes.

We decided on a Yeti because Jeremy Clarkson drove it through a burning building with an ice cream!

Eleven year olds have a different perspective on things but it did fit other criteria such as “size” and “style”. 
Also I have to agree with the boys it will be good to drive a car than even Top Gear thinks is cool!

Now I have never bought a car before – on my own.  It was scary to actually say “Yes” and agree to the sale.  Still there were doubts running through my head and no one there to hold my hand and deliberate with or justify such spending.
Beside me was an excitable eleven year old and pragmatic fourteen year old unable to see what all the fuss and indecision was about!

When I wrote my diary that night it didn’t strike me what a big step I’d made that day but I thought of the bigger decisions still to come.

One day someone will put an offer in for the house.  I will have to decide whether or not I accept or reject it, the sums of money involved will far outweigh the price of a new car.  Then I will have to find somewhere for us to buy and once more make a momentous financial choice.

In the end I alone have to do what’s right.  I will always listen to others but no one else can make all the decisions for me or even with me.  And although the boys have a say I won’t do anything I don’t believe is right for us all.

From next week I will enjoy driving round in my new car, well once the novelty has worn off and I relax about driving a brand new expensive vehicle!

But what of my new dress? I will drive the car nearly every day but when will I wear my new outfit?

My friend joked it should be my “first date dress” for when I meet a new man!  (Now there’s a momentous decision for the future!!!!)

Anyway “first date” could be a long way off and I am not leaving that dress in the wardrobe.  It’s too beautiful to never see the light of day especially when it fits so perfectly!
So I wore it out the other night for a friend’s birthday meal.  I felt amazing and I am going to wear it and wear it any chance I get.

Life is too short not to!

Monday, 15 August 2011

When the going gets tough….

Saturday -  I went into meltdown.  This new life is too hard.

Sunday -  I stamped my feet again and declared, “I can’t do this anymore!” 

Things don’t seem to be getting any easier.  The boys NEED me to be their mum and I NEED someone to share all this overwhelming responsibility with. It really is too much for one person. 

Sometimes it seems like I am sitting in a crumbling house with my whole life disintegrating around me.  OK it’s not entirely true but on the home front there are things Andrew and I would have done – together – home improvements and D.I.Y.  Now I have no energy and if I am selling anyway my priorities may not match up to those of a potential buyer.  I don’t want to spend money unnecessarily.

We’ve just got back from two weeks away.  Two weeks surrounded by other people.

The first week was spent camping with our church family.  We were at a big Christian conference called New Wine.  Yes the wine was flowing and I was whining there too!  But I got to escape and do things for me, the boys were looked after and even when they weren’t with an organised group there were plenty of people on hand to keep an eye on them.  They were in a safe environment.

Our second week away was spent with my parents, so once again they boys were well cared for when I managed to have time out.

Now it’s back home to reality and I don’t like it much.  It’s like having a lovely lie in on a frosty winters morning wrapped up in a soft warm duvet only to have the covers whipped away and be left exposed and cold.  I’ve lost my security blanket that had been keeping me snug and cocooned.

However there are some things I’ve learned over the past fortnight and probably the most important thing is that I am not on my own.

There were seminars at New Wine and one of the most helpful ones was about bereavement.  It was led by a couple who had lost their son, a different kind of loss to mine and yet the emotions are universal.  Their words were so soothing and positive.

From the seminar I picked up a leaflet about “A Different Journey” part of “Care for the Family” which helps people like me.  On the website it spoke about grief being in seasons.  A season of survival, one of pain and heartache followed by a time of adjustment and then rebuilding.  Some elements are more difficult to adjust to than others but I am at the stage of trying to adapt to my change in circumstances and rebuild something new.

Also on their website I found other blogs written by Christians who had lost their husband or wife.  They are further along the journey than me but I dipped in and out of their stories so far.  So many things resonated with me.  Themes I had written about were there, just in different words and phrases.  There really are people who understand because they have been in my shoes.

One thing that struck me was a comment about some research showing that the pain of bereavement is similar to suffering a brain trauma!  Now I understand why my brain feels like it’s full of cotton wool. 

For example yesterday I went food shopping.  I packed and paid for my goods and then looked behind at next person’s shopping still on the conveyor belt.  How strange, I thought, they have the same two pizzas as me and a copy of the Radio Times, just like I have.  It was only as I got home I realised it was the end of my own shopping basket!  The man (or boy!) on the checkout hadn’t scanned everything through.  My brain is so fuzzy I couldn’t make all the connections needed to ask him to continue.  At least I didn’t pay for it all but please nobody tell the boys I forgot the pizzas!

The best thing of all I have discovered, re-discovered or realised (remember my brain is no longer functioning properly!) is I am NORMAL and other people have survived before me.

It doesn’t always make things any easier when all you want to do is scream.

When I stamped my feet yesterday and said I couldn’t carry on a friend told me I must.  The sad fact is she is right.  It’s a sign of a good friend when they
can tell you the painful truth even when you don’t want to hear it.

There was something else I was reminded of when we were away and that’s about the special relationship between fathers and daughters.  I was privileged to watch two of the young girls we were camping with climb up onto their fathers' lap for a cuddle.  I watched as they moved in and negotiated a comfortable position, safe in dad’s arms.  Their fathers were compliant, each welcoming their little girl.

There was another father and daughter at one of the evening meetings and I couldn’t take my eyes off them.  She was a very little child almost doing acrobatics with her dad, walking up his body and being flipped over when she reached his chest.  There was even a moment when she was standing aloft on his shoulders.  They were perfectly balanced, not holding on at all, she totally trusted her loving father below.  When she was back on the ground he was teaching her tricks, she was jumping and balancing and trying to copy his moves.  It was truly beautiful to watch.

There was even one night at my parents when I went to sit briefly on my dad’s knee before I went to bed.  Even 43 year olds need a cuddle from their dad sometimes, if they are lucky enough to still have him around.

It reminded me of how my relationship with my Heavenly Father should be.  We should never be afraid to come and curl up on his lap and snuggle close.  He will always make room for us and never be too busy.

I am NOT alone in this journey.  I have friends and family to hold my hand.  There are many others who’ve walked this path before and are willing to share their experiences.  And I have a human dad on earth and a Kingly one in heaven who will eagerly let me sit on their knee and will never let me go.

Sometimes this new life is all too much to bear.  I just need to remember who to trust in and lean on.

When the going gets tough, the tough run to a safe place where they will find rest.  We curl up and want to be a child again.

Monday – I had a good day.  A time with friends and an evening laughing and playing with the boys.  And now I am going to make my way to a royal throne and curl up on my Heavenly dad’s knee, I know he will still be up this late, ready and waiting…

Tomorrow - who know's what will happen, but somehow I have to carry on however tough it gets...