A Very Merry Unbirthday

Bad news here, I’m afraid.

Twenty-two months in and the pain is no better; in many ways it’s worse. I apologise for anyone visiting this site and looking for stories of a quick fix, but I can only sadly say there isn’t any.

I know, it’s crap isn’t it? Sorry. You can claim your refund at the box office.

Today was the second of Gail’s birthday’s she has missed, a kind of Unbirthday if you like or, as a similarly grieving friend neatly put it, an Anniversary birthday. I like that and have adopted it.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is nothing you can do with these days. You can’t ignore them – or at least, I can’t – but you can’t really celebrate them either.

Up until today I’ve practised diversion therapy; I’ve either been away for the event or I’ve organised something life-affirming or something I’ve always wanted to try. Stuck in COVID19 lockdown though, it was depressing to see how many things I did this time last year that are unavailable to me this. I could get to London still, but the restaurants are closed, so are the bars, the hotels and even the church. I couldn’t even light a candle today.

Not that that would have been an issue as I’d decided to leave the country instead. I’d booked a short break in Porto but Coronavirus put paid to that though, and I was left twisting in the wind, trying to decide what to do.

The problem was that the dark pit was looming and I knew I had to get out, so I did. I even put her ashes in the car, something I know a lot of people baulk at but she specifically said she wanted to remain with me, so I just can’t get my head round to treating them like a pile of dust. If she wanted to be with me then that’s her, which, strictly speaking, it is anyway, even if some are uncomfortable with the idea.

Anyway, when we first lived together we moved into a new flat in a place called Southend – a coastal town in Essex for those unacquainted – and that was where I went back to today. Our flat was handily placed, not in a great area in terms of silence or salubriousness, but useful for a ten-minute walk that took you down to the sea in one direction, the town shopping in another and – important factor here – a rather lovely park in another.

Gail loved this park and could often be found there on a warm afternoon or a summer evening. Sometimes she’s ring me from work and say ‘Guess where I am?’ and it was usually the park – although there was a really nice pub (sadly long gone) in the other direction! Surprisingly, I found our old flat was empty and I was able to peer in through the window. Seeing the flat exactly as I saw it when we went to view it together another lifetime ago seemed heart achingly poignant. To make things worse as I tried to move away I found the branches I’d leaned over that were covering the lower half of the wall  were actually thorn’s. It took me several minutes to unpick myself. To see the real irony of this, you’ll have to do some homework.

I’ll leave it with you.

After I went down to the park; a place where Gail spent many hours, sitting reading on a bench, feeding the duck or – on a really good day – watching the Terrapins that came to bask on the side of the lake. She had names of all of these and would often ring me at work to tell me ‘they’re here’ meaning i would know instantly where she was. I loved the childlike excitement she got from seeing these creatures and  I wondered if I might be lucky enough to see them. I needn’t have worried. The terrapins had obviously entered their own breeding program since the days we frequented the park and I counted nearly a dozen including some small ones. She’d have loved it.

I sat for several hours on the bench, having lunch and just watching the lake. The distraction almost worked but floundered on the difficulty of extending the day further. Although lockdown had eased, there was still nowhere to go after, our favourite Greek restaurant was still closed and the seafront coned off to stop people parking. There was nothing to do other than come home and face what I know will be a difficult evening.

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In fact, it turned out to be far worse than anything I’d imagined.

I’d being feeling unsteady about the anniversary for a couple of days prior to the park visit, but put it down to just the rising tension of the expectation of the day. Afterwards I saw it for what it was, realising I’d had a full meltdown. During that time,  I was either on the verge of tears or actually sobbing, I was utterly depressed. It was the only time since the previous January, when I wished I could have called my mum.

I talked it through with a few souls who understood but I was extremely low for well over a week. This was more than a general sadness or realisation that all the things I wanted I could never have again. This was dark and dangerous depression and I would say, in retrospect, that I was as low as at any point since Gail passed.

There’s nothing else I can say about it but, in terms of the reason for writing about this whole horrible experience it’s worth remembering that there’s no time-limit on even the smallest part of grief.

Sweet Charity

All charities are suffering under the Coronavirus lockdown, so it was no great surprise when I got an urgent appeal through from the Hospice who provided counselling to me last year.

I’m happy to help obviously and I have several large bags of clothes they can have too when this madness ends. In the short term though, they have suffered a devastating loss of income recently and I feel it’s only right to donate, particularly as the six sessions I had with this Hospice were completely free. The centre helps people facing incurable illness and bereavement, providing support for them, their families, friends and carers, visiting them in their homes and providing 24/7 advice and care. It would be churlish not to support them.

That being the case though, it’s quite difficult to write about my own experiences with them. Having tried Psychotherapy after, I was asked on one occasion by my Counsellor there  ‘What did I expect to get from the sessions?’ and I found it hard to answer. In essence I suppose, I expected to get something I wasn’t expecting; some insight into bereavement that I hadn’t considered, something that might make it easier for me. In real terms, of course, this meant I couldn’t truthfully answer the question; how I could describe what I wanted when I didn’t know what was on offer? Frankly, six months after I’m still really not sure what I made of it.

I’ve spoken of the circumstances of what happened in Cut A Long Story  and in terms of fairness I need to deal with the two sessions separately. So the charity first: Well, in real terms, this just seemed like to somewhere to go for a chat and talk about Gail with someone who had never met her. I felt like I spent the six weeks explaining why she was important to me but didn’t get any further than that.

When I’ve seen therapy depicted on TV or in books, the therapist usually asks pertinent questions designed to encourage the patient (is that what I would be? ) to open up and expand on things they may have difficult confronting. But my Counsellor didn’t seem to say anything and I found the whole transaction emotionally draining (Or is that the point perhaps?). I feel I should have something to show for the experience but other than a poignant memory of the sessions themselves, I can’t seem to recollect anything said either way. To be perfectly honest, at the barrel of a gun I couldn’t even tell you the name of the woman I spoke to for six weeks. That may be my failing, of course. Who can say?

There must be more to doing the job than just listening though or surely everyone could do it? I didn’t feel it was enough to pick up on what I was saying and feed back the usual platitudes that you hear when you’re grieving; I’d heard them all and I needed more but wasn’t sure what I needed more of.

My overriding feeling about grief counselling was it was somewhere to talk about Gail for six hours in that difficult period leading up to Christmas. It was nice to talk about her and I did get upset and release some pent-up emotion during it, gulping back air and swallowing something hard and jagged on occasion, but I never released the wracking sobs and tears of frustration I felt inside. I did get some immediate relief – a slightly euphoric feel just after leaving – but it didn’t last long and I become frustrated by what I wasn’t saying.

Perhaps I spoke too much? I have wondered. At a party last New Year someone was talking to me about Gail and then suddenly stopped, held a hand against their throat and whispered “I’m so sorry, do you mind if I talk about her?”. The dramatic gesture made me laugh and I had to explain that talking about her wasn’t the issue, it was NOT talking about her that caused me problems. So perhaps that’s it? The counsellor maybe didn’t get a word in or thought it best to allow me to keep talking? I don’t know.

In many ways I’d have quite like to have got some appraisal at the end. You know the type of thing: ‘This gentleman obviously loved his wife but seems to have had trouble recognising his failure in dealing with her illness and I sense his feelings of loss mask inadequacies in his own life’ or something like that.

So, helping out an admirable establishment at  a time of crisis? That’s fine. But hand on heart I would have to say I would have been very upset if I’d actually paid for the sessions.

Which brings me to Psychotherapy.

To Cut A Long Story Short

As I said at the start of it all, this is a blog about grief. Something to find and dip into, think about perhaps, dismiss, laugh at, cry over, love or plain hate. Whatever you get or don’t get from it isn’t supposed to impact on anything else; it’s not date-stamped with reference to the outside world.

Having said all that I need to place a reference here.

Regular visitors to this site may have become confused by some posts appearing in the timeline where they hadn’t been previously, while other posts have appeared and then been deleted. I feel the need to explain.

Following the Vinny blog in October, I wrote nothing else for over five months until a blog I entitled ‘A Reason To Feel – Part One’ (for reasons I will explain later ) that has subsequently been deleted. This blog explained why I hadn’t written anything and why I had, effectively, gone against my own protestations about blogs that only went on for a year and then ended; as if grief only had a shelf life of twelve months.

The fact was I’d been undergoing grief and psychotherapy counselling during this period and, frankly without even thinking about it, it had somehow dulled my appetite for writing about things. This is pretty surprising – astonishing even! – considering what had happened to me personally during that period. Then COVID19 appeared and the world turned upside-down.

I tried re-editing  ‘A Reason To Feel – Part One’ numerous times but it become a mess, mainly because what I was trying to explain was a precis version of an event that shapes everyone’s life – the death of your parents. I eventually decided that, for my own peace of mind even if for no other reason, I needed to go back and re-live the six months where I hadn’t been writing and insert them into the blog in chronological order.

Once I’d started writing again, I felt awful about what I had missed, as I  covered the death of my father; the brief period when my mum was a widow before she followed my dad just six weeks later, my second Christmas without Gail and my failed attempt to change things, and then my visit to Egypt to cope with the triumvirate of Valentine’s, what would have been (was?) our 16th Wedding Anniversary and my birthday.

Why this should be the case is something I am still struggling through, and it’s significant that this hiatus in my writing should coincide with a six month period of counselling. It’s also significant that the cessation of counselling – due initially to the COVID19 lockdown – should open up the blockage.

Whatever, I think it’s important in terms of why I started this blog, in processing my grief and getting counselling, to let anyone interested know how it affected me and to understand that the previous four blogs to this were written months after they occurred.

So: about counselling.

A month or so after I lost Gail, I thought I’d contact a local charity to find out about grief counselling. They were solidly booked up but said they would add me to their waiting list. Not knowing what else to do, I turned more to social media and found the support I got there helped me, and I began to dovetail it all with this blog.

Fourteen months later and urged on by some people I knew and some I didn’t, I began thinking perhaps I should really consider counselling again; not necessarily to directly help with the grief aspect – although that was still prevalent – but also because what I knew to be my worst excesses, kept in check by Gail when she was here, had now lost their natural barrier. I feared for where my head was going. Not having heard from the local charity still, I set about finding some other support. I didn’t have to go far.

In the town centre is one of the country’s leading private counselling & psychotherapy centres; a centre that conducts its own national workshops and seminars and whose own counsellors provide expert advice to other practitioners around the country. Also a place I’d already visited a few years back – but I’ll park that for the time being if you don’t mind. I rang and was given a list of available counsellors.

Now I’m not lighting cigars with fivers here but I figured I could afford to budget a certain amount of money to this exercise and, working on an estimated number of sessions, decided I could – and should – pay to see the leading Psychotherapy Counsellor available. This Counsellor, a leading advocate of psycho-dynamic therapy – a word so improbable it shows up as an error in my dictionary – was not cheap, but I didn’t want to waste time and money seeing someone who didn’t help and then regret it later.

Inevitably of course, as happens in these things, the day after I booked my first session, I got a call from the local charity to say that a place had come up in their grief counselling and did I want to take it? I decided to run both together and see what transpired.

I began both sessions in early October explaining in both how the grief over the loss of Gail ran parallel with an unwanted resentment that my elderly parents were alive while my wife wasn’t. Outside of this and in exactly the same way that I had been doing since losing Gail a year earlier, I was still nominally running my business – although I had cut work back to an average of 2/3 days a week – while caring for my parents; trying to juggle the myriad of things to put in place to provide them with social care in their home and visiting them as regularly as I could to make sure they had everything they needed.

Then about four weeks after I started counselling, my father died. I was too busy dealing with funeral arrangements, trying to sort out all the complexities of  contacting everyone, dealing with banks, Solicitors etc while – pretty unsuccessfully – consoling my mother (The temptation to say “See I told you what it’s like” was overwhelming but successfully resisted), to think how this would reflect in the counselling, but I realised six months later this must have been fascinating to see this development in my personal circumstances in what might be described as ‘real time’.

I’d barely got through my second Christmas without Gail and the first without my father – my mother suffering the cruelty of the first Christmas alone; something  I afterwards wished she hadn’t had to tolerate given what was to happen – when my mum went into hospital. She was taken in on New Year’s Day, came out briefly for a few days then went back in and never returned home, passing away in the second week of January barely six weeks after my father.

My charity grief counselling had covered my father dying, but the maximum six sessions finished just before Christmas. The centre counselling continued however and ended acrimoniously – and yes! I’ll cover this later too – when the lockdown for Coronavirus occurred in March and I was asked to continue session via Skype – something I wasn’t prepared to entertain.

So this is where we are now; six months from the start of counselling with one lot of sessions completed and the other nominally continuing (although I’ve decided I won’t return) during which I’ve lost both of my parents and am now in solitary isolation from a threat the world hasn’t seen the like of in over a century.

So plenty of time to think and write, I guess. And catch up.

 

My Friend Vinny

Former footballer and now Hollywood actor Vinny Jones was on TV this morning talking about losing his wife Tanya.

In a mesmerising interview on Breakfast TV, Jones spoke eloquently and movingly about losing his wife to cancer and how the grief following Tanya’s death hit him like a ‘sledgehammer’.

Jones had been married to Tanya for 25 years, marrying her in July 1994, interestingly for me, exactly the same time as I first moved in with Gail. It made the passage of time all the more prevalent.

Jones spoke for everyone grieving when he explained “The hardest part of all for me to adjust to is – even that day [she died] – was everybody’s life goes on. You’re looking around and you’re going ‘this is the biggest tragedy of my life and they’re still going to work, they’re they’re still queuing up for Starbucks.’ The enormity of it all is just heavy.”

Perhaps the biggest contribution that Jones’s interview made though was just to highlight his grief and see how raw and emotional he was trying to explain his feelings. As most know, Jones’ role as the hard man in Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ team during his football days, transferred to the big screen as his film career took off, so seeing him crying on TV before 9am seems to have awoken some emotions in others that they might not have otherwise considered. The interview made the front page on many newspapers and was widely covered on the web and in social media. It seemed – for a brief while at least – everyone was thinking about grief.

Unfortunately, there were the usual comments associated after; even Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid praising Jones’s ‘bravery’. Everyone grieving knows that knuckle-biting pain of hearing someone struggling to find the appropriate words and coming up with something awful. I’d had the ‘brave’ epithet handed to me on a couple of occasions and it wasn’t one I could accept. “Going into a cave to rescue some kids, knowing you may die in the attempt is brave. Waking up and getting through a day isn’t”.

There’ s nothing brave about talking about your grief and there’s nothing brave about showing your emotion either; even if you do have a hard man persona and you’re crying on TV while most people are eating their breakfast. In fact, describing having your world crashing down and losing the love of your life as ‘brave’ just cheapens the emotional anguish.

Similarly, Vinny Jones trying to quantify the emotion of seeing everyone go about their normal life is understandable but also misleading. It’s when you’re ripped apart with grief but you yourself need to eat or get a coffee is when the enormity engulfs you. ‘Why am I hungry?’ ‘Why am I buying this vanilla latte and a shortbread?’. It’s something I struggle with still. Sitting beside Gail’s bed in hospital with hunger gnawing at you; wanting to stay and do the right thing but desperate to get home and just pop a ready-meal in the oven. Other people may not see it but in your own head you know.

Vinny Jones was able to be with his wife when she died. The fact I wasn’t and I possibly could have – had I been able to get out of the house – is an issue I’m now needing to address. Similarly, Tanya left her husband a video. It’s a lovely gesture and a nice ending that must surely help Vinnie Jones as he tries to negotiate the rest of his life. Sadly though, that neat gesture rarely occurs.

In fact, in fiction and in comforting news bulletins; people often slip away in bed, surrounded by loving family and passing on some kind words before leaving this Earth. Even in the otherwise excellent Ricky Gervais TV show ‘Afterlife’ – for those who’ve not encountered it it’s the story of a man trying to live a meaningful life after the loss of his wife (sound familiar?) – Gervais’ character Tony is comforted by a video his dead wife has left for him.

In reality, you’re more likely to find an agonising email or a stray Word document written when the person writing it may not have been at their best; perhaps written at a time when you may have done something or said something stupid to prompt them to respond. In life, you can file that away and forget about it but if someone is grieving and they find that thing it can completely destroy you.

But those are emotions and hurdles for later on. When even the first stage of grief is so misunderstood, its perhaps understandable that we shouldn’t try to run before we can walk. That’s why – and whoever thought I’d ever say this – Vinny Jones has my full admiration. On football field or big screen, it may be his best-ever performance.

 

Day After Day

I’ve noticed that many of the grief blogs I’ve looked at stopped after a year. It’s as if getting through 365 days is all that’s required. It’s not. In fact, after 14 months I’m starting to believe the second year may even be worse than the first.

Stripped of the opportunity to say ‘Well, this time last year’, I’ve found the days longer and lonelier and the nights darker and heavier, and while the movement of warm, sunny days to the chillier months of autumn felt somewhat in keeping with my general sense of ennui last year, this year they seem to have become more what the Germans refer to as weltschmerz; an increased world-pain and dissatisfaction. I have a growing sense that nothing I thought I knew applies anymore.

Now the difficulty I have in keeping this blog now is that I am now wandering dangerously into that territory that everyone always asks about but only those that are grieving can comprehend.

I’ve already mentioned elsewhere that I hate terms like ‘moving on’ or ‘going forward’. Not only do I not find those type of things relevant or helpful, I also believe there is an implication in the phrases that the words don’t actually possess.

Take ‘moving on’, for example, taken literally it’s barely worth saying – I mean, if you’re alive and not suicidal, then what else can you do? By dint of waking up every morning you’re surely moving on? No, what people really mean when they ask you that is, ‘Have you met anyone else yet?’ or, at least ‘Are you thinking of going out to meet someone else yet?’. For ‘moving on’ insert ‘moving upwards’; if not intentionally upwards from the relationship you had previously, then at least upwards from where you’re perceived to be in the dark pit of grief.

Now a lot of this I’ve covered in previous blogs and I don’t want to reiterate it again now, but you can always laugh at something again, have nice holidays, good days out, meet different people, see and do things you may not have even done had your loved one not passed away. (N.B. Note it’s 14 months but I still can’t use the D word!). If you live then, by definition, you’re moving on.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here, is it? We’re talking about opening yourself up to the possibilities of meeting someone, finding another relationship, and perhaps loving again. I know people who’ve done it, some of you reading this may do too. It happens. We’re talking about – arghh! I hate the word – dating.

Now we’re back with someone I mentioned previously in  My Precious – Part One the Television Presenter Simon Thomas, who gave a voice to grief when he tragically lost his wife to Leukaemia in 2017. Just today, I saw an interesting article about his new relationship and finding love after grief. In a piece in which he thanks his new girlfriend, Thomas is quoted as describing her as ‘A woman of boundless love, kindness and compassion who has loved me when I was hard to love, picked me up when I was in pieces.’ It’s touching and it would be a mean-spirited person who would deny him his happiness.

Interestingly though later – and I only saw this after I’d started this blog – I note he ‘struggles to describe his new relationship as ‘moving on’. ‘We only have two choices’ he says. I’d love to meet Simon; I’m sure we’d have some fascinating conversations.

My difficulty here though is how far I can take any experiences I have personally regarding – I’m sorry! – dating and correlate it with my grief. Has one anything to do with the other?

Just to explain this fully, I had occasion to speak to someone last week who had gone through a hideous divorce. Unable to cope with the situation, this person had eventually decided to get some counselling, and was astonished to find, in the course of his sessions, that he was diagnosed with several personality traits / disorders that meant his inability to cope with the collapse of his marriage wasn’t entirely down to the divorce itself and, in fact, these very traits, led him to discover things about himself that may even have led to reasons why his marriage didn’t survive in the first place.

While I’ve not gone the grief counselling route yet – although if things continue as they are I may well still try it – I am concerned that I may well find out things about myself that are affecting the way I think now. Frankly, it wouldn’t be a major surprise. In turn, if that does occur, then anything gleaned as a single man trying mature dating, may well say more about me and how I perceive myself, than anything to do with – look, let’s just go with once, eh? – moving on.

There is a serious danger that certain circumstances may move this from being a grief blog to one about senior dating, and I don’t want that. I’ve also not even covered the part that leads to these first steps anyway; the loneliness, the need for female company and, hell yes!, the need for sex. My parents, friends, family or my children could read this. Do I want that?

You can see why this blog took the best part of two weeks to complete. I’ve got a bit to think about here…

Morris

The trouble with grief is that it seems to make everything prescient.

Morris was our second cat, he moved in with us when our first cat Puss-Puss brought him back one bright summer morning. I can see that morning as if it was yesterday; Puss sitting stock still in the middle of the garden and looking at me in an odd way and, when I asked him why he was acting so strangely, he simply turned his head to the fence where a smaller black cat peered back nervously. This was Morris.

It transpired that Morris originally lived at No: 1 in our road but the owners bought a dog so Morris moved out, made friends with Puss – in itself an odd event as Puss wasn’t a cat that suffered other feline company well – and first appeared in our garden while Gail was away with a friend in Turkey. I rung her to tell her we had someone new coming in and she insisted it was something to do with her Grandfather passing away earlier that year. Gail was one for things like that.

It took a battle with the original owners but it was clear Morris wasn’t moving out and when a neighbour reported that ‘our cat’ had spent a week living in our front garden while we was away on holiday, I realised we had to do something. Reluctantly, the original owners – who still insisted Morris was eating food from their house even when I knew he’d been asleep on my bed all night – relented, passed over his papers and we registered Morris as our own. He lived with us for all bar his first four years.

Morris had a good life with us but developed hyperthyroidism later, he lost a lot of weight and had to go onto a constant diet of tablets. This prompted Gail to respond to questions about our cats – by this time Puss had sadly passed on and he’d been replaced by three others in an effort to fill the gap he’d left – by replying that “Morris is dying”. This annoyed me intensely and I always responded “We’re all dying Gail, Morris is just getting old but he has a few good years left him in yet”.

He did indeed have a good few years in him. Morris lived with his thyroid condition for well over four years and, in a twist of fate, eventually survived Gail. It prompted friends to say “I can’t believe Gail has gone and Morris is still here” and, in truth, it was something I was only too aware of. I had to speak to Morris about it – at the time of Gail’s passing he was already 18 – and explain that, whatever happened, I needed him to live ‘at least another year’. The idea of losing my oldest pet so soon after Gail would have ripped me apart, and so it was I set about trying to keep Morris alive for as long as I could.

Many people don’t understand pet grief but all anyone needs to know is that a pet is part of the family dynamic. You talk to them, interact with them, respond when they want to sit with you or demand food from you. Morris, for example, was my lap cat. After Gail passed and on those long nights when I couldn’t sleep or I’d woken and couldn’t get back, Morris would simply curl up on my lap and I’d be asleep in minutes. I can’t calculate the extra hours sleep I must have got purely because of Morris in that first year. But he, along with my three other cats Buzz, Gus and Ziggy, kept me sane in the months after Gail passed.

Morris did indeed survive the year and, although obviously frail and – judging by the way he ignored the Dyson – totally deaf, he was a functioning member of the family unit until 48 hours before I was due to go on holiday with my Son and Daughter-in-law. With horrible timing and with me due to fly out on Friday, Morris started to deteriorate on Wednesday, I prayed he would at least last until I came back from the holiday as I couldn’t afford to cancel it and, being a teacher and consigned to specific times of the year, it was the only week my Son could make. You can read too much into these things but I think Morris may have spared me the pain of holding him while watching his life ebb away. As it was, it was the Cat-sitter who had to hold Morris as he was put to sleep with me watching on Skype 1500 miles away, sobbing my eyes out at a hotel pool.

By the time I got back, the Cat Sitter had retrieved Morris’ ashes from the vet and placed them with some flowers and a card next to a photo of Gail. It was a lovely gesture and it was nice to open the door after returning from holiday and find Morris’ little casket. I’d hoped I’d be able to shed some tears however they wouldn’t come. Apart from the morning I sat in swimming trunks by a pool in Madeira, watching on a Samsung Notepad as Morris had his injection, I’ve not been able to cry.

I’m upset, of course, but it seems as if the intensity and upset of the last year has become so all-pervading that I don’t have any tears to give. Either that or I’m subconsciously bottling it up and there will be a major meltdown. On the other hand, I’ve never felt I cried enough for Gail either; for someone who gets as emotional as me with books, films and music, this seems strange.

I’m wondering if I use or lose the emotions in the persuasive way I throw myself into mundane tasks and, with the first anniversary of Gail’s funeral approaching and another day I have to set aside, I’ve decided I need to see if I can find out. I’ve strenuously avoided it so far but I’m thinking it might be time to see a Counsellor.

Morris

Wouldn’t It Be Nice

‘Back when I were a lad – before I had me sex change’ (A patented Gail joke there) – a legend was someone who who pulled a sword from a stone or stole from the rich to give to the poor. But as we approach the second decade of the 21st Century, legendary status now seems to be enough to confer on someone who brings back three packets of Cheese and Onion crisps from the bar without being asked.

Language is constantly changing and so it should, but it is difficult sometimes to keep up with these new innovations. For example, it’s no longer socially acceptable to just say goodbye to someone; you now how to be effusive, telling them how you’ll miss them or even that you love them even when you patently won’t or don’t. Everything is great, astounding or, indeed, awesome.

Similarly you can now damn with faint praise very easily. Liking something isn’t enough – even on Facebook it doesn’t seem to do justice to your appreciation of a post – and, if someone buys you a present it is a poor indictment of your delight for you to just say “Thanks, it’s nice”. More often or not that will now elicit the response “Don’t you like it? I have the receipt”

That’s a shame. Because when you’re grieving you’ll have a lot of really nice days. Really nice days. Providing you force yourself out, accept invitations, take holidays, try and go to events that you have been to previously and from which you got pleasure,or even open the curtains and see the sun streaming in through a window; you will find it is perfectly feasible to have a nice day.

Don’t be afraid of nice days but, equally, don’t be surprised if you struggle with the concept of having nice days that you think should be better. It’s unlikely you’ll have a great day or a wonderful day and you’ll just have to accept that. And that will confuse people. If, for example, you are on holiday and looking at something quite wondrous or, perhaps, doing something you’ve wanted to do for a while but never had the opportunity to do before, it is very easy to wonder why you don’t feel greater enthusiasm for what you’re seeing or doing. In your heart, you’ll know the reason of course, but someone outside won’t recognise this and that is where the problem lies.

I’ve found I’ve had to bite my tongue on numerous occasions when people have taken my lack of enthusiasm over something as a sign that, whatever it was I’d been doing, had been a disappointment. “That’s a shame you’ve always wanted to do that”, they say. It’s not that, of course, it’s just that hovering over you the whole time is the reality of why you’re doing what you’re doing and it permeates your every thought. ‘If Gail was here I wouldn’t be able to afford this / couldn’t have come here because the flight was too long / couldn’t have done this trip so easily’.

Death also underlines everything with it’s grim finality. On several occasions I’ve thought ‘I’ve always fancied going there / seeing that – I’ll do that next year’ Then, realising how you know only too well how everything can crumple in a few months let alone a year, I’ve immediately booked to go / see whatever it was I wanted to do safe in the knowledge that not only is there no time like the present, sometimes there is no time but the present.

I’ll feel guilty though! Oh yea, never make it easy on yourself. I’m always sure to remind myself that I wouldn’t be doing this had Gail been here or, she would have wanted to do this too and I’d denied her the opportunity previously, only selfishly going when she wasn’t around to enjoy it. I mean, don’t be hung for a sheep when you can go for the whole flock.

Even sitting in the sun with a glass of wine or a decent coffee, perhaps reading a book or listening to your favourite music, those days when you think ‘Well, isn’t this nice?’ will suddenly turn around and swipe you. You’ll suddenly feel angry at being able to enjoy the moment when someone else can’t.

It’s an endless cycle of sadness, fortitude, determination, anger, regret and sadness again. But there are some nice days.

Cape Verde 2018

 

One Year

29th July 2019. Exactly one year since Gail left and I sit here wondering what to do. Unlike last year when it was (appropriately) a miserable day weather-wise in what was a long hot summer, today is sunny and warm. A nice day to go out

I did have plans for today, but both my parents are in hospital and, as my plan involved a bit of travel and that would have meant I’d have been away for a few days, I’ve had to shelve that and stay at home in case I’m needed. Not that it will happen today. One of the advantages of being a bit of a loner is you can easily switch off the phone or refuse to answer it. I won’t even know if the hospital ring today. I’m fully incommunicado.

In some ways, the fact I’ve had to stay here today may have been the best course of action anyway. I feel the need to be near Gail’s ashes and I don’t ever want to have to take her away again.

Although this is the big one, I’ve found the best way to deal with these days – Gail’s birthday, my birthday, our Anniversary and Valentines Day are the major ones so far – is to do something life-affirming. I like trying the food from the country’s top chefs, so I try and book a meal somewhere special and just pretend Gail is with me. I’m quite good at that. I once spent six years pretending Gail was with me when she wasn’t.

During that previous period, the hope was that one day I’d be able to reverse things and we could be together. I was fortunate that eventually proved to be the case. There’s no such hope now, of course but I do wonder about that six year period. Can I last another six years without her? Or conceivably another 26?

I’ve looked online and seen the heartfelt messages about Gail. All her friends are missing her, no-one seems to have ‘moved on’, nobody thinks it has got any easier. None of them have known her anywhere near as long as I have; none of them saw her each and every day. If her friends can’t get past it how can I? More importantly, why should I?

One year. It could be one day, it could be a lifetime. It’s hell – but it’s another day. A nice day. I’ll go out. And pretend…

Now I don’t even have the solace of saying ‘This time last year’

Holding Back The Year

Sunday 28th July 2019. 365 days. Apparently a year, although it doesn’t seem like it. It seems like Gail left last week and it was just a few nights ago I said ‘I love you, see you tomorrow’ and I never did.

A year since I last heard that voice, the voice that sustained me through the first four months of our fledgling relationship. Because, of course, as we never did anything normally, we fell in love over the telephone, and the physical embodiment of that voice was only seen a few months later when we finally met. Not that it was a disappointment when I did meet her, I must stress. I thought she was the most stunning woman I’d ever seen. That never changed.

It was odd though. Had I seen her first then I’m sure I would have just stopped dead and looked at her; wondered how I could talk to her knowing full well I never would have had the confidence to approach her. It worked both ways though; through speaking to her on the phone she knew me before she saw me, fell in love with the person behind the voice before actually meeting me. Had I approached her in a pub or club and tried to engage her in conversation I’d have got short shrift. We both knew that was true, we discussed it, and I know it was something Gail thought very deeply about. Eventually we came to see our relationship as a series of misadventures and coincidences and we felt it was different. That may sound arrogant, but all I can say is most people who knew us thought it was different too. We both liked that.

And although the actual first anniversary will be on Monday 29th July, it’s today, the Sunday, that is forever burnt into my mind. Leaving that hospital, walking out of that door into a morning not entirely unlike the one that I can see as I write this, knowing my whole world was back behind me lying lifeless on a hospital bed and wondering how I was going to go on without her.

I’m not at all religious but I went to church that morning. I tried to go this morning too, had it all planned, but I woke up very early feeling as if I’d been physically mauled and I knew I needed a bit longer to rest. That rest took me most of the rest of the morning and I slept through everything I wanted to do. It’s strange how the mind can tell your body it’s had enough and you’re not physically up to this but I’m sure that’s what has just happened.

Today I’m just reliving that Sunday in 2018 again oddly knowing that what I didn’t know last year – how I was going to survive without Gail – hasn’t changed but one iota. The only difference between then and now is time. And please don’t believe people when they tell you time makes it better. It doesn’t. But through doing what I’m doing now as I write this I’ve at least found a few dozen people who say exactly the same thing. I’ve found that comforting; not the lie that ‘it gets better’, just the succour of knowing that the pain you’re going through means you were good once, and that is better than some people ever have.

I cried this morning. Racking, dribbling sobs over the phone to someone who is in hospital and is in a far worse place than me and much worse health than me; someone who will never do the things that I am planning to do – and hopefully may do – over the coming months and, perhaps, years.

And that, my friend, is grief. It makes you selfish and miserable, self-centered and self-aggrandising. It’s – and please excuse the term – shit.

But I feel like this because I lost Gail, but at least I had Gail once. It’s all I have – and it will have to do because there is nothing else.

Grief Is The Word

“Grief is like being ill when you’re not ill” B.Blagg 2019

I know you’re always on shaky ground when you quote yourself, but I’ve Googled it and no-one else seems to have said it, so I’m claiming it for my own.

I used it recently as I tried to explain to a friend I’d not seen in a long time, exactly why I looked and sounded like I did. He seemed surprised; as if rebuilding a life without the person you love would somehow be, if not easy, at least something you should embrace and try to hurdle. Apparently I ‘look well’ and should therefore have a bit more pizzazz about me, but nothing is guaranteed to get me more angry than someone asking me if I’ve ‘come to terms with things yet’

As the first anniversary of Gail’s passing approaches – a passage of time I can barely contemplate – a friend who also lost her husband a year ago said something more profound “Bereavement bends time. A year goes in a flash but it feels like a hundred years since you saw each other last”

That’s so true and it does.

I thought one of the best ways to sum up grief as I’m currently experiencing it is to demonstrate it in the form of a fictitious conversation, made up of part conversations I have had elsewhere, one that could quite easily take place in reality. It goes like this:

“You’re looking well, I hear you went to the Amalfi Coast? Sorrento, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri? Sounds fantastic”

“Yes, It was it was a wonderful week”

“And didn’t you go to Hong Kong earlier this year? And you’re going to Madeira next month? You’re certainly getting around! And how was the Grand Prix?”

“It was a good experience thanks. Yes, I’m trying to get out a bit more; get to the cinema, the theatre, some summer outdoor gigs

“Well, that’ll be why you look so well, you’re nicely tanned. You look healthy”

“Yes, my health is pretty good. No major issues”

“SO great, life is pretty good for you then!”

“No, it’s shit”

“Eh? I though you’d done all these things and seen these places and things are getting better, you’re moving on. Of course, you still miss Gail but she wouldn’t want you to be miserable….” And so on

Now, apart from the highly-amusing thought that Gail would, most certainly want me to be miserable without her – I think she’d be livid to see me enjoying myself and pretty much told me as much during past conversations (You’d need a deep insight into our relationship to fully understand the part-humour, part seriousness behind that), you’re still stuck with the realisation that, not unnaturally, for everyone else things have moved on and you’re just lurking there like a spectre at the feast, clinging on to something you can never get back.

The fact is though I haven’t moved on and I don’t really see why I should or how I can. Because for all the things I’ve done since Gail left, all the things I’ve seen and tried to partake in, nothing compares to doing them either with Gail or, as would often happen, without her, but still knowing I’d be returning to her after I’d done whatever it was I felt the need to do.

Most nights though I just ache to just sit on the sofa with a TV show on I don’t want to watch, massaging Gail’s gorgeous feet and listening to her voice. Nothing more. Because for all the things you can see and do in this world, its doing the small things with the one you love that makes the rest special.

And time doesn’t help that.