Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Location, Location, Location

I’ve found a house I really like.  Trouble is I still haven’t sold mine.  There’s only been one potential buyer in the four months it’s been on the market.  Actually in the current economic climate that’s probably quite good.  One friend I know has had her house on for over a year with no viewings at all!

I always said I wouldn’t seriously look at houses until I had a firm offer on the table for mine.  It seemed the most sensible way to proceed and not get my hopes up in the process.

Lately I have been seriously considering all the options available.  There were no houses in the location I wanted that got me excited.  Those on the market were too big, too small or needed too much work doing to them to create the home I wanted.  I’d even started looking further afield and toying with the idea of taking a huge step and moving nearer my parents and family.

My friends were shocked and devastated at the thought I might leave them and I must admit it would be a huge wrench for us too.  They have been my rock through this last year; the three of us are all happy and settled here.  However I’ve had a sense of everything being up in the air, like the autumn leaves swirling in the air.  So many possibilities are open to us and I feel like we are standing at a crossroads.

My “dream” house was on the market a couple of years ago.  I longed for it then but we weren’t in the position to move.  Besides it would never have accommodated Andrew’s grand designs.  Not quite big enough for the four of us but more than perfectly adequate for three.

As I drove past this particular house the other day I offered up a sort of silent prayer.

“God, why can’t this house be on the market again?  This is where I’d like to live.”

I am trying hard to be good and not look online very often but having watched “Location, Location, Location” the previous evening I was once more curious.  Anyway, I reasoned, I had seen a few more sale boards up maybe I should investigate? 

Imagine my utter surprise when I scrolled down the list of possible houses and found the very one I wanted for sale!

“Dream” house took my breath away as I read through the details and realised it ticked practically ALL the boxes.  It had the right number of bedrooms, reception rooms, it is situated close to friends, church and school and has a good sized garden.  It is within my budget and has been so tastefully decorated that it would require no immediate work – just what I need at this time.

So did God hear my almost frivolous prayer?  Was this the answer?

Today, taking a huge leap of faith (or maybe due to a complete moment of madness on Saturday when I called the seller’s estate agent to make the appointment) we went to see the property.  I’d told so many people we were going to have a look what if when I got there I hated it?

Nothing of the sort happened and now of course I am completely smitten!  You just know when you walk into the right house and I have maybe foolishly set my heart on this one.

I still have to sell my house and maybe I need to lower the price for a quicker sale.  How much of a price do you put on being in the right location in the perfect house?

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot this year about God being my father.  All good fathers know how to give good gifts to their children.  My youngest son has already started asking me for what he wants for Christmas.  So how much different is it for me to ask God, my heavenly father, for what I want?  I am not asking for anything beyond my means or completely out of reach.

I believe I have been given much I have wanted this year, my new stunning dress, which I wore to church on Sunday to many admiring comments, and then there’s the new car.   God knows what makes me smile and makes me happy.  He delights in giving me gifts of rainbows and sunsets and flowers in my garden, friends who are there when I need them as well as the material things I need.  I am grateful for all that I have been given and try my best to use everything I have for God’s glory. 

My prayer now is that God will make my path smooth and bring along someone to buy my house so that I may have my “dream” home and build a new family life for the three of us.  It’s going to take a miracle but fortunately that’s the business God’s in.

On the wall of THE house in question I noticed a plaque, it said

“Dreams can come true”

Let’s hope my dreams and prayers are answered. 

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” Psalm 37 v 4

Friday, 23 September 2011

Textbook Grief and Other Helpful Models?

There are various models and patterns of grief in the textbooks.  Some are helpful and others are best left between the pages of the self-help manuals.

I’d already heard about the classic “stages of grief” before my own journey began.  Now I know it was devised by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and there are 5 different phases to go through.  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I guess as I am currently taking anti-depressants I have reached stage four, ergo one more to go and I’ll be back to normal! As if.  

It’s not that prescriptive and from a bit of googling I have discovered that Kübler-Ross originally came up with idea by interviewing terminally ill patients about their experiences of coming to terms with their own mortality rather than those left behind and grieving.

In the beginning, when Andrew had just died, I was fearful of looking up the five stages.  All knew for sure was that “anger” was in the list and I kept waiting for it to strike.  I never have got as angry as I felt I should be and that created an issue - what if I didn’t fit into any of the categories?   Would that make my grief less valid?

Even scarier - what if I did fit into this neat and orderly pattern and I didn’t like where it was heading?  

It’s that paradox again of wanting to be normal but also having the desire to be unique.

So that’s the five stages idea dismissed.  Not just by me, there are other more knowledgeable writers on the subject who believe it can be unhelpful.

Much better is a concept by Richard Wilson that grief is like a whirlpool.  We travel along the “River of Life” and when someone dies we plunge down the “Waterfall of Bereavement” into the “Whirlpool of Grief”.  Put simply our emotions tumble in the turbulent waters going round and round sometimes revisiting thoughts we have had before.  Eventually the waters settle and continue on their way.  It is a less rigid approach than the five stages idea and I particularly appreciate the picture language.

Strobe and Schut, some other well respected and learned people I am sure, came up with the notion of “Dual Process”, the general principle being we can experience both sadness and joy in grief.   However I don’t know whether I am coming or going with this one as I bounce between “loss” and “restoration”.  Anyway don’t we all oscillate between good days and bad whatever we are going through?  It doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly earth-shattering theory.

Another idea used for describing grief is to think of it as a ball in cup.  I haven’t managed to find the author of this model but it works like this.  Your grief is the size of a small ball and your life is a cup.  In the beginning the ball completely fills up the space, however over time your grief, the ball doesn’t get any smaller but your life expands.  The cup grows into a bowl and then bigger still into a bigger bowl.  Tea cup, breakfast bowl, small mixing bowl, larger mixing bowl, washing up bowl.  (The five sizes of bowl to accommodate the 5 stages of grief perhaps?)

This sort of makes sense in that it doesn’t diminish your grief and loss for the person but honestly how much can my capacity increase?  I am already so busy and my life is full where are the extra hours in the day coming from to allow me to expand my horizons and fit more in?

Of course it could work on the same principles as the TARDIS but that is far too complicated a concept to pursue.

No I have decided we need a completely new way of looking at grief and how to explain it.  So I have come up with my own model based on the popular children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen, beautifully illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. 

I apologise at the start to anyone who hasn’t read this classic, maybe you would like to pop to the library now and get a copy because there will be SPOILERS to the plot…

This book was a favourite of the boys when they were small and more importantly one Andrew loved to read to them and often quoted when we were out for a walk.

The basic plot is that a family are out on a bear hunt and on the way they encounter a series of obstacles.

We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!

That’s grieving in a nutshell.  You can’t go over it!  You can’t go under it!  You can’t even go round it!


It’s something I am constantly learning.  There is no quick fix.  Tick all five stages, you’ve passed the test and can move on as good as new.  You can read all the theory and understand all the models but you have to experience the day to day living without your loved one.  All the inevitable ups and downs of dual process or swirling whirlpool however you wish to label it.

Let me tell you the hurdles that have to be faced in the bear hunt story because they conjure up some great images that also help describe the bereavement process.

Long wavy grass that goes swishy swashy as they sweep through.  It marks like thin paper cuts, niggling and painful to touch leaving tender scars that may fade but are a constant reminder of the journey.

There’s the splosh splash of the deep cold river.  It’s difficult to walk through normally.  All of a sudden your life has a surreal quality about it and when you have negotiated the river you are left feeling uncomfortable and weighed down by too much excess baggage.

You dry out from the water and find thick oozy mud as the next challenge.  It clings and squelches and my favourite word of the book squerches .  Like the water it is hard to get through and slows you down.  You can’t run or hurry in squerchy thick mud.  Each step is an ordeal.

Then there’s the big dark forest that causes you to stumble and trip.  It’s the unseen branches that snag your clothes and pull you back.  Great tree roots that hamper your progress and make you fall down.  With every tumble you have to get back up however hard it may be or you become lost.

A snow storm closes in, sounds to me like last winter all over again.  It batters you from all sides, howling tormenting wind.  Memories, regrets, swirling “what ifs”.

Finally there’s the cave and inside you find the bear but once you confront your fears you don’t really want to be there so you rush back home and hide under the duvet.

These are the many stages or obstacles you have to face in grief but feel free to mix and match and because this is a children’s story not a textbook this model is not to be taken too seriously!

Right at the end of the book on the final page is the bear plodding slowly back to his cave along a moonlit beach.  He had chased the children back home and when they wouldn’t let him in he wanders home alone.

That’s when I always felt most sad.  I remember reading the story to my youngest son and when we got to that page I said, “Aww, poor bear he only wanted to play.”

Eventually my young son would be repeating my words and we both had sympathy for this much maligned character.  I wonder how the author and the artist saw him?

And maybe that’s what’s grief’s about too, wandering on your own, feeling lost and alone, thinking no one understands. 

In the end you just have to "go through it" and hope when you get to the other side you are in a better place to cheer on the next person and encourage them to carry on.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Autumn Blessings

I saw a sign in a gift shop window today which read “Autumn Blessings” and it reminded me of the thoughts flitting round my head.  Time to sort them out into some semblance of order, sit down and write….

I love autumn.  I have just been into the garden and picked apples and rhubarb for a crumble for tea – delicious!  I adore the colours of autumn, the crisp leaves that turn from fresh green to a dazzling golden display and the crunch as you stride through them.

Some of the trees in our garden are already changing colour, particularly the horse chestnut trees and there lies, literally scattered about the garden, the downside of autumn.

  • Downside number 1:  Horse chestnut trees produce conkers.  As beautiful and shiny as they may be they announce the arrival of the season of children coming into our garden.  We have already given away a few bags to the well-mannered youngsters who knock and ask, remembering their “pleases” and “thank yous”.   However there are some, generally older youths and the occasional adult, who think they have a right to be here and give you abuse if you ask them politely to leave.  So far this hasn’t happened this year, a bit early perhaps, but it makes me feel tense and angry just thinking about it.
  •  Downside number 2:  The leaves will eventually fall along with the conkers and that will give us another task to master.  The grass and leaf collector will have to be hitched to the lawnmower/tractor.  To be honest there are still dead leaves in it from last year.  The leaves Andrew picked up probably only days before he died.  The jobs in our huge garden are never ending.
But despite the problems associated with this time of year autumn is a beautiful season.   Along with all the other seasons,  I can never decide on a favourite.   They all have their merits and their drawbacks.

As the summer has drawn well and truly to a close and the boys have settled back into the school routine I think more and more of my own season of life that started so abruptly last November – my season of being a widow.  The onset of autumn will forever make me remember my heartache.  

In the spring I watched with wonder as new things were growing, new buds awakening.  Spring is such a hopeful time for a new start.  Autumn feels like everything is dying again.  Closing up and shutting down for the winter.  Sometimes I wish I could hibernate until the warmer days again.  Close the curtains and shut out the world for a few months.

My GP has put me on anti-depressants which I think must be working to some degree because those thoughts are not as prevalent as they were a couple of weeks ago.  I can write about it without the need to curl up and cry.

There are bright spots in my days and in my garden particularly.  My honeysuckle has provided the most amazing display this year; my sweet peas are still flowering and filling my home with their beautiful fragrance.  I can see two bright sunflowers from my window as I type and another one has grown unexpectedly where a stray seed must have landed.  The hydrangea bush keeps growing and blossoming and my rose bush which flowered and then seemed to die off before the summer months has all of a sudden come into bloom again!

Little reminders that there is still beauty and hope to be found.

There is laughter too and sometimes children playing in my garden that are invited and allowed to collect conkers to their heart’s delight!

Those of us at church with children meet every Friday for a shared tea and for the last two weeks we have met at our house.  It’s unusual to meet twice in a row at the same venue but I enjoyed welcoming my friends once more.  We have the biggest house and garden and I’m not trying to boast by saying that.  It is a pleasure to entertain and be able to share our good fortune and plentiful space.

In the shower the other morning I remembered when we moved here and our prayer that we would use this house for God.  I think it was a reminder that God has always been here with us and an acknowledgement from him that we have opened our home as we promised to do.

With it being on the market our time here is limited and only God knows how much longer we will be able to share this special home and garden with our friends.  He also knows where we will move to next.

I can imagine him shuffling the pieces in the right order, like those square puzzles where you slide the pieces along to make the picture but on a much grander scale.  Sometimes I have such strange images of the Almighty!

My prayer is that when the timing is right for our new season to begin it all goes smoothly with everything magnificently falling into place.

Until then I will gather the conkers, rake up the leaves, and pick the blackberries, apples and rhubarb, remembering to enjoy my autumn blessings.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


I can remember being at Brownies and working towards my “thrift badge”.  Basically it involved making something new from something old.  I made a pot holder out of an old towel.  A square piece of yellow towel, double thickness with blanket stitch round the edge and the words POT HOLDER embroidered in the middle just in case you had any doubts as to its identity.

And a “pot holder” is?  Well it lived in the camping box and was used for lifting the kettle off the camping stove to stop you burning your hand in the process of making a pot of tea.  But that would have been too much to stitch on a small scrap of fabric.

I got my thrift badge which had a bee on it.  Are bees renowned for their thriftiness?

The strange things us young girls got up to in the seventies!  I’m sure there is no longer such a thing as a thrift badge.  It's not a word we use much any more.  The name of course could have been changed to a "recycling challenge badge" but not having girls I have no idea.

The idea of "recycling" or "thrift" or "make do and mend" mentality is not new at all.  It’s come full circle and is all back in fashion. 

There is a lady at our church who has for a long time made handbags from recycled materials, old coats, curtains, skirts.  She has plundered the charity shop for buttons and beads, oddments of wool and made some amazing creations – several of which reside in my wardrobe to be matched and co-ordinated with the appropriately coloured outfits.

As a fundraising idea in the holiday she held a day in the church hall to teach us how to make a bag with a view to sharing her skills and getting more bags made up ready to sell near Christmas in aid of our church hall development project.

We’ve been inspired and several of us have taken up the challenge to make more bags.  I have a few in various stages of manufacture and now I have the hang of them I’m sure I can knock up several more before November.
I have my own limited supply of fabric and buttons but no end of ideas….

One of my many notions involved making a bag out of one of Andrew’s sweatshirts. 

Most of his clothes went a long time ago, I didn’t see the point of holding on to them.  I’m glad I did it then because whatever is still left I can’t bear to let go of now.  I was sniffing an old decorating T shirt I found only yesterday.  I think it mostly smells of the wooden wardrobe it was left in but it’s still comforting and reassuring…

The particular sweatshirt, I wanted to make the bag from, was one of his favourites and he probably had it the first Christmas we were married.  I know it was a present from my mum and dad.  It came from C&A so that dates it! 

He wore it on the first day of the new millennium, I have a picture of him in it; he’s holding son number one on the balcony of our old house looking out at the sunrise.  About three years earlier he had been wearing the same sweatshirt when our eldest son was born.  Again there’s photographic evidence.

It had a soft feel to it, a slight fluffy texture which over the years of wearing and washing had worn flat but it was always very cosy to snuggle up to.

Many times over the years I had tried to put it in the draw of work clothes for him to take away off shore but he’d persist in wearing it out and for special occasions.  For a man who loved anything plain to wear he did have a thing for patterned sweatshirts.

I took it out of the wardrobe and folded it into a bag shape with the arms as the handle.  I figured it would work quite well so with trepidation I laid it out on my cutting board and cut the precious garment.

“You’ve murdered dad’s sweatshirt!”  Was youngest son’s cry of horror.

Too late now.  There was no going back.   

It was a real labour of love as it wasn’t an easy fabric to work with.  I’m not used to sewing knitted fabrics which stretch as you go along.  However yesterday I finished it and today I used it for church.

I didn’t get many compliments; it’s not the kind of special bag that would warrant much attention and adulation.  It’s a bag to carry while wearing jeans, something very casual which is very fitting. 

Something of Andrew I can keep by my side every day.

Monday, 12 September 2011

New Beginnings...

Last Wednesday the boys went back to school.  (This blog has been a long time in the writing the first sentence originally started “Yesterday…”)

The beginning of another school year, a fresh term and new start for them both of them.  

For oldest son the start of his GCSEs and to his delight that means no more drama or food technology lessons ever again!   He once asked his drama teacher what was the point of the lesson and he set fire to his recipe in cooking.   Yes those lessons are best forgotten and I’m sure the teachers concerned have breathed a heavy sigh of relief that his name doesn’t appear on their register!  

Now he gets to do the subjects of his choosing and so far I am impressed, I’ve seen him learning his French vocab, admittedly while watching Sky Sports News but I think he’s taking a mature approach to studies from our brief teenage son to mother conversations.

Youngest son is also growing up fast and is now also at big and scary secondary school.  My baby (he hates it when I call him that) looks far too small to be in a sweatshirt matching his brother’s.   

He tried on his uniform Tuesday night, just to see if it fitted and I had tears in my eyes.

“Why are you crying?” He dislikes me crying too.

“I was just thinking that your dad never got to see you dressed up for big school.”

“But he can still see me.”  Always so self-assured and confident that his dad is watching down on us all.

I dropped them off on the first day and watched them going beyond the school gates together.

“Have a nice day, work hard, be nice to the teachers.”  The car doors’ slammed on my parting comment. 
I doubt they actually heard me, after all I am only their mother and they were with their friends, but hopefully they listen to their teachers and are learning something.

I’ve only just realised there will be no more kisses when I say goodbye to the youngest, too embarrassing in front of his peers.  At present he still holds my hand while we walk down the street together but how long before that ceases too?    Our hands slip together so naturally and the closeness is special, even more so now I no longer have Andrew’s physical presence.

I am really proud of both my sons.  The way the just carry on with things, moving forward to the next stage of their little lives, with no apparent worries or cares apart from the ones I seem to impose with my constant questioning.

“Are you sure you’re OK?”  I ask when they appear subdued.  How do you distinguish between teenage angst and grief?

I am getting better and trying not to ask so often.  It’s hard to relinquish the role of overprotective embarrassing parent.

In truth I was a little envious watching them saunter into school.  They seem so carefree. 
When they got home on the first evening I sat and copied out their timetables to put up on the fridge.   There was a certain satisfaction in measuring out a grid to fit their lessons in and writing neatly.  How I wish I could have my day mapped out, French, Geography and Maths, then some lunch followed by an afternoon of English and how about some Drama?

“They” say school days are the best of your life and I believe them – whoever “they” may be!

Andrew hated his school life and always thought I was mad for enjoying mine but lessons came easily to me and I thrived on the praise I received from the teachers.  School was somewhere I excelled and felt confident.   Maybe as the years have passed those school days have taken on even more of a rosy glow?  I’m sure there are some things best forgotten, I just can’t remember them.

At school I always knew I would continue my education through to A levels and a degree.  It never occurred to me to stop learning.  My life was mapped out and secure.

That’s where the problem lies now; my life is completely up in the air.  As the boys walk off into their structured day I am left with a void to fill and too much stuff to squeeze into the hours between 9 and 3!  In the holiday I let everything go and now I am aware of all that needs doing.  I am not disciplined enough to set and stick to a self imposed time table.

I desperately want to sort things out in the house.  Although I have practically resigned myself to the fact we will probably be here for a least the next 6 months and through the winter months there is always the outside chance that someone could buy it before Christmas!

Sorting one room a week was my plan starting last week with getting on top of the filing.

Have I done the filing yet? – No, because once the boys were back at school I was overwhelmed AGAIN.  For 6 weeks I’d been longing for space and when I got it I fell apart.  I spent all of Thursday in tears on and off.  Not just a few I could sniff away but great big sobs that came from deep within.

It is like a game of snakes and ladders you think you are moving along nicely, up a couple of ladders on the way, buying a new car, driving to London, until you land on a snake that seems to take you just about back to the beginning.

Everything is still so draining and even writing this blog has taken a while.  Now I am typing away again things are making a bit more sense and the fog has lifted a bit, but for some of last week I felt completely lost.

The whole timetable of my life has been torn up and I am faced with an almost blank sheet of paper to start again.  I have options open to me now that never existed before and my brain goes into overdrive planning what “might” happen.   

I have always been the sort of person that NEEDS to know what’s happening.  What's next on the agenda?

Is it because it makes me feel safe?   

Or do I just like being in control too much?

The possibilities now for me are scarier than for my youngest going to big school.  At least he has a plan of where he has to be and when.  So far he’s come home smiling and happy at his new adventure.

I feel like mine is just beginning too and I need to embrace it but at the same time take one day at a time, I can’t look too far ahead or I’ll trip over. 

There’s more to write on that subject but that’s for another day.  There is another half a blog written and locked away in the laptop but this is today’s task and now I need to move on to the filing.  Little steps and let the bigger plans fall into place along the way because in the end it doesn’t matter which direction my mind races off to it says in the Bible that

God…” is able to do IMMEASURABLY more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us.”

I love those words “IMMEASURABLY MORE”.  Whatever I could plan God has something so much better in store.  I need to learn to trust and let go, then there will be new beginnings all around.