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.

Where Are You Now?

One of the things I’ve struggled with the most is trying to explain to people the frustration and sheer pain involved in not knowing where Gail is. When I broach this people think I’m talking about religion of spiritualism or some form of after-life or I’ve simply not come to terms with death, but it’s actually beyond that. It doesn’t feel to me as if it’s something I have the words for, but being as that’s one of the reasons I started this thing, I suppose I have to try.

The first stage is just the incredulity that the person you love beyond anything else is simply not there any more. The night I left the hospital, I made sure Gail was comfortable (although I could see she wasn’t), asked her if there was anything else she needed, told her I loved her and then left. I thought I’d see her again the following day… but, of course, although I did ‘see her’ I didn’t really. She’d gone.

The initial stage of that loss is just the incomprehension. All the plans you made, the things you said you’d do, the home you set up together, your whole life, everything, is just reduced to nothing. You feel empty and hollow, angry and frustrated and without any direction and, for all that I’ve done since, I’d have to say that feeling doesn’t really go away.

Within that though, you start to live another existence – not one you want or necessarily care about – but one that you’re forced to partake in. You get hungry so you feed yourself, you get tired so you sleep, the cats want feeding so you feed them and, bit by bit, you get through one day and then another. You may not see anything worthwhile in anything, but you’re aware of others; parents, children, siblings, friends, colleagues who may want to talk to you, ask your advice, be with you or need your help. Through the ennui, you just plod on and start to do other things and slowly build a sort of life.

Now this is necessary, horrible and painful but it’s not what I found crushed me the most. The only way I can think to describe the feeling is, it is like being on the ground floor of the home that you’ve known for a decade or more, moving a cabinet or some flooring, and finding another level below the one you’re standing on. What makes it worse is the banality of it.

Gail loved travel programmes; like many, she was someone who was happiest with an azure sky, a blue sea and a whitewashed panorama of buildings on a steep cliff. She always talked about us moving somewhere warm when I retired. One of the TV shows that captured this best for her was ‘The Durrells’. She loved the whole idea of moving to a Greek Island and this programme really caught her imagination. She got excited when it was on and I’d sit with her as she wrapped herself in the story

I hadn’t given any thought to the show until I was watching TV in April 2018 and a trailer came on announcing the ‘third and final series of the Durrell’s’. I remember just being gripped by an overwhelming sensation. The final series…? but Gail wouldn’t see it! I recall my stomach lurching like I was on a fairground ride. How could there be a series of her favourite show she wouldn’t be able to see? That didn’t make sense; she must be able to see it, must be somewhere where she could watch it.

I said I was having trouble putting this into words and I still am. Even as I type this I can feel that emotion but the words don’t come to close to describing it. Panic is the nearest perhaps, but it’s not the same as that; it’s like the world is tipping and you think you’ll slide off.

It’s just the conventionality and vapidity that claws at you. Just a stupid TV show. With all the things I missed about Gail in my life, all the things I felt every day – and here I was desperately trying to grasp the fact that she wouldn’t be able to see that show unless there’s some sort of Valhalla showing box sets and football matches.

Then you think: ‘This isn’t right, she must be able to see this. I don’t know how or where but she must be somewhere to see this because otherwise there is no point to it. No point to anything. So where is she to watch it? Can she see it?’

Now, of course, essentially this then just looks like the age-old philosophical debate on existence or a theological issue of God – and there are much better places for that than here. In any case I’m pretty sure nobody is seriously putting forward the idea of an after-life where you get to see your favourite soaps for all eternity. But it isn’t that for me. It’s an actual sense of feeling a deeper level here and now; something below what most people think you’re going through with grief (and, as I’ve explained elsewhere, some people can’t even understand the top level!) and something I’ve not heard anyone talking about before.

Naturally, there isn’t an answer to this – in fact, I know I’ve come nowhere near to expressing the question! – but, for me at least, it’s one of the worst, and totally surprising, aspects of grief. The only way I could cope with it was to leave the TV show on where she was, watch it myself and then discuss with it her after. Insane? Perhaps. But I didn’t care; still don’t. I had to know she’d seen that series.

Have I come close to expressing the feeling? I doubt it. The TV series was just a ‘in’ to something that has become a touchstone for something where I just don’t struggle to find an answer, but I can’t even find how to even pose the question. It’s reoccurred since in missing conversations and physical longing – but I’m not going down that particular alley at the moment.

All I’ll ask is how long it took you to read this. Five minutes? Ten if it was too dense. Well, it took me over a week to write it and I’ve read it dozens of times since, but I’m still left with a sense I’ve explained nothing. It will be interesting to see if anyone else has this and has a better insight.

Sweet Dreams

There’s one place you can see your loved one again; one place you can go and no-one else can.

The sub-conscious mind is a wonderful thing. At its finest – when we dream we’ve exchanged cheeses with the Queen in Botswana, accompanied only by Freddie Mercury and the Dali Lama on a unicorn – we marvel at how the mind comes up with such stuff and, unless we’re one of those who believes we can interpret this stuff – an Oneirocritic – -who then says “Ahhh…well cheese means…” etc., we just have a laugh and move on with our day.

Once we lose someone though, things take on an altogether darker turn. Elsewhere, I’ve described a dream I had after Gail died in which I instinctively knew I’d been working somewhere else in the country and I was driving home knowing Gail and I had had an argument and we hadn’t spoken for days. This was a lucid dream though, I knew that as soon as I got home and got in that door, I would see Gail again for the first time since July, and my subconscious wouldn’t let me do it. As I put the key in the dream door I woke up. I was utterly crushed.

As I write this I still don’t feel I’ve dreamt about Gail properly. For well over six months I simply never dreamt of her at all. After seven or eight months she started to be in them but somehow out of sight. Gail’s friends would tell me they’d dreamt about her, they’d spoken to her and she to them, but I had nothing. I’ll admit, it was starting to upset me. I discussed it online with a grieving friend – someone I’d never met – who had lost her husband in similarly health-related circumstances and she admitted to similar thoughts to mine. You almost start to ask ‘Why are YOU dreaming about the love of MY life and I’m not?’. You get angry at others for it. Illogical and self-defeating but that’s how the grieving mind turns.

After about eight months the desire to dream about Gail changed as she started to drop in under upsetting circumstances but never as I knew her; it was almost easier to return to the frustrating days when I couldn’t see her. Without fail these latest dreams are really distressing, leaving me shaken and upset when I wake up.

Always in my current dreams, we’ve broken up, she’s left me for someone else, she’s come back to get her clothes after moving out or something equally upsetting. These aren’t lucid dreams either. These are so real that my first thought on waking is always ”She’s left me and I’ve lost her’, to be replaced moments later with the realisation that the situation is real, but for an entirely different reason. It’s like being kicked when you’re down with your assailant then walking on you as they leave the room. These nights – and, frankly, whole days sometimes – can just leave you deflated; bereft all over again for what you’ve lost and angry for whatever the dream situation left you in.

I’m no Oneirocritic, but I understand it’s said that dreaming about being cheated on refers to feelings of insecurity. I’m not sure I feel insecure in myself, but I can guess you don’t need to be a Greek Philosopher to say that a certain amount of self-doubt is inevitable now Gail has gone.

With over 11 months passed as I write this, I’ve got to the stage where I dread to dream. During the months following July I could barely sleep, lying awake for hours going over things in my mind. Then I slept like a log for a few months before ending up in my current state where I stay awake as long as possible to stave off an unwanted dream. Quite where this cycle will go I have no idea of knowing.

I know how Hamlet felt at least.

Living In A Box

I saw an old friend last night; someone I’d not seen seen for many years. Someone who knew me well enough to know who I am and what I’m like, but not someone who had seen me enough in recent years to understand I’d also changed

We talked about the differences since we’d last met. We were both significantly older for one thing. He had also been through a messy divorce and, of course, I’d lost Gail. He asked me a lot about how I was coping, feeling and dealing with things and – as you might expect from things mentioned here – I had much to say on the subject.

He listened and then said something: “You know over the years I’ve done some shitty things; things I’m really ashamed of and wished I’d never done. But I don’t let them bother me. I put them in a box, tie the box up so it can’t come undone and then I shove it in the back of a cupboard and don’t ever get it out. That’s how I cope. Perhaps you should try it?”

Given some of the short-shrift I’d given some well-wishers over the last months, you might have thought I’d have made my excuses and left to avoid unpleasantries. I didn’t though and for an odd reason. You see, it was something Gail used to talk about, using the exact same imagery. When I asked her something about a previous marriage or an unpleasant childhood memory that is exactly what she would say. “I don’t know. I put it in a box a few years ago and I can’t open it now”. It was an interesting comparison.

Perhaps that is how some people cope. Or do they? My friend said it got him through but it’s very hard to say if that person is how they think they are or whether that stuff in the box is actually in there at all. How can you tell? You can get a long way by pretending you have things locked away when you actually don’t. Indeed, knowing Gail as I did, I never thought that box was tied at all and those things escaped all the time. It was why she was so complex and maddeningly infuriating sometimes. Furthermore, by never confronting them, I’m not sure they didn’t do more harm. I’d long associated the Lupus with some bizarre thoughts and actions but I’d never been able to pin down which came first; the illness or the strange behaviour. In fact, in the months following Gail’s passing I’d come to believe the liver failure that had made her so confused at the end that she believed dreams were reality, had actually existed for perhaps a decade or more before the end stage.

But as we used to say when we got tetchy, when one of us was trying to lecture the other “Let’s cut out the cod psychology, eh?”

The fact is I can’t put everything in a box and forget it. The reason? I actually don’t want to. Why deny myself the thoughts of everything good I had just to give myself an easier life now? I was lucky. I had it good for a long time and that was because of Gail. Because I’m devastated by her loss and suffering badly through it, I don’t see the point in denying everything I had just to make things easier from here on till my end.

Nope, you can keep your box. I’ll take the anguish. It makes me remember, keeps me tethered and, in a wonderful juxtapose, gives me some happiness.

My Precious – Part One

As everyone keeps telling you ‘Grief is different for everyone’. The trouble is you don’t actually want it to be. There are times when you want to speak to someone who knows exactly where you are at and can tell you where you’re going to go from here. I think that’s why Simon Thomas made such an impact.

Thomas is a former host of BBC’s ‘Blue Peter’ and a Sky Sports Presenter. In November 2017, Thomas’s wife Gemma was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia after a routine blood test at her GP. She tragically died just three days after. Simon Thomas’s story touched everyone and, particularly as he had to explain his wife’s sudden and unexpected death to their nine-year-old son.

Suffering from severe sleep- loss – and anyone grieving will know what getting into an empty bed at night is like – the Sky Presenter found writing about his feelings helped (Ditto there). Simon took time out from his job and used social media and his own broadcasting experience to share his grief to the public. Many people have watched his TV interviews, heard his podcasts and read his story.

Finding someone like Simon Thomas when you’re going through your own grief is strangely comforting. There is even, rather unfortunately, a part of you that thinks how easy you have it compared to someone else (crucially, there was no small child involvement for me). More importantly though, when you are suffering your own grief, you take strength from seeing others are going through the same thing. Then you see something you’re not going through and it throws everything into turmoil.

Of course, this is totally unfair. Simon has admitted to having severe depression before his wife passed away and had already chronicled his battle with alcohol when he was younger. There is no reason why our situations should be remotely similar and, in your more sane moments, you’d never expect them to be. But grief isn’t about being sane. It’s about dealing with something we all know will happen but never expect to happen to us. Insanity is a given.

So it was with some shock when in an interview in the early part of 2018, the interviewer noted that Simon had removed his wedding ring. I was floored. Taken his wedding ring off? EH? I have my on as I write this and can never envisage taking it off. Why would I? I’d still be married to Gail if she were alive so why take it off? And, even if you argue that, legally you’re now a widower and not technically married, and it should come off at some time, then when? I mean the funeral could be argued to be just as valid a time as any, but that would be considered distasteful, wouldn’t it?

Amusingly though, the old ‘everyone is different’ adage raises its head here too. In fact, I can imagine Gail reading this would laugh uproariously at me even broaching this. You see, for years I never wore a wedding ring. Some people liked to see some dark purpose behind this, suggesting to Gail I might fancy myself as a playboy and I liked a lady to think I might be a possibility – HA! – but the real reason was much simpler (and purer) than that. You see, I simply didn’t like rings.

Now me not wearing a wedding ring might seem odd to some but, for anyone struggling with that concept, here’s another whammy. Gail didn’t always wear hers either! There are two reasons for this and both are totally ‘Gail’. Firstly, Gail always looked great; her clothes were coordinated in style and colour and if, for any reason, she wanted to wear a particular colour palette then she’d have dress rings to match it and that might mean the wedding ring came off.

Secondly, Gail was always terrified of losing valuable things. Her regular trips to Marmaris were to top up her wardrobe on fake designer goods, she arguing that ‘nobody knows they are fake’ (they didn’t either!) and, ‘if I lose them or they are stolen then I haven’t lost a lot of money’. This fear applied to her wedding ring too. She was petrified of losing it and, when she did wear it, always wore a tighter dress ring over it so it could never fall or be pulled off.

Gail not wearing her wedding ring never bothered me. My head simply didn’t go to those places that suggest there might be ulterior motive for it and, in any case, who was I to insist she did when I had none of my own?

Women are difficult things to fathom though and I sensed a change in attitude to my not wearing a ring in the summer of 2015. I ignored it for a while but it was now something that bothered her when it hadn’t seemed to before. So, on a gorgeous holiday in Santorini in the September of that year, I chose a pewter ring from one of the myriad of locally-produced goods shops there and I wore that on my wedding finger.

I remember showing my hand to an incredulous Gail . Our cat Gus is an independent creature and is the only one of our four who won’t wear a collar. Trying sends him into a frenzy as he tries to pull it off. Holding my hand up to Gail she just said ‘You look like Gus’. It made us both laugh.

As ever with Gail, there was element of truth in her Gus comment though. My old dislike never went away and, wearing this ring from a Greek Island, only served to underline my belief that rings just looked clumsy, bulky and out of place on my hands. Fortunately my reservations were matched by Gail who didn’t like the ring anyway and, while out shopping one day that November, she took me into a jewellers and bought me a slim silver unmarked, unadorned band. It wasn’t expensive but it looked good and felt right. And that is what I have on now.

Quite what Gail would make of this discussion is difficult to fathom. To find I’m now a staunch wedding ring wearer would probably amuse her and infuriate her in equal measure; but I also like to think she’d be secretly pleased that I still consider us married.

In truth though, the main issue is, if I did want to take my ring off – and I can’t stress enough here that I don’t! – then going through that actual ritual of pulling it off my finger and putting it into a box would be an act that I’m nowhere near close to being comfortable with. In fact, I think it would devastate me to an extent I can’t even contemplate; I genuinely feel the consequences might be emotionally or possibly physically dire if I were to do it.

So, 2019 and I have my very own ‘precious’. Who could have known?

But there’s another thing about rings…. see Part Two

Gail’s eternity ring I bought for her in Marmaris just a month before she died.

My Precious – Part Two

Some years ago, on a trip to the North-East to see Gail’s family, Gail was asked by her Grandmother “Is your wedding ring in the shape of an H so your sister (Heather) can have it when you die?”.

It was one of those slack-jaw moments that provoked restrained anger and humour in the same instance. That comment pretty much engendered the same reaction over the years whenever the ring was mentioned – I’d often tease her about it if I found her wedding ring left on her bedside cabinet: “You want me to send this off to your sister now?” – except in the one period when it might have been thought to have had the greatest relevance.

You see, on our holiday to Marmaris, just a month before she passed away, I took Gail to a jewellers to buy her an eternity ring; something she wanted for her birthday. While there, I asked her if she wanted to have her wedding ring cleaned and resized. We’d bought it the self-same shop fifteen years earlier so it seemed a nice idea to return it to them for some work. I thought it might help her get over her fear of losing it if it fitted better. I was aware I might have to have it resized again if, as I prayed, she got better and put her weight back on, but it seemed a small price to pay to keep her happy.

The ring looked beautiful when it came back. It shone brilliantly, fitted perfectly and with her new eternity ring, she was able to wear both proudly for a short period before her hospitalisation (n.b. Just for the record here I’m just choked up typing this out). We never spoke about the rings again though.

When your loved one is being laid-out before the funeral, the Funeral Director will ask if there is any jewellery or anything you want the deceased to wear, while warning you not to make it anything too expensive. However, I had Gail wearing several Swarovski items I’d bought her over the years that cost £150+ each, but it was important to me that she looked as she would have done on a normal day so I didn’t hesitate for a moment in allowing these items to go, nor have I regretted it for a moment since. Yet, even though she was wearing her pink wedding dress, I didn’t put her wedding ring on.

Somewhere in the back of my mind – but try as I may I can’t remember when, why, or for what reason it was discussed – I know we talked about this and I somehow knew the expectation was she wouldn’t be cremated with her wedding ring; that I’d keep it with me as a symbol of our marriage. But what you don’t anticipate after is, though it may not burn in one way, that ring sure burns in another.

The fact is, unless you can somehow utilise it as a pendant or use it in some other fashion, the wedding ring is an awful artefact that just eats away in your soul; a symbol of something you had, have no longer and will never have again. And, of course, I can’t do anything with either the wedding ring or the barely-worn eternity ring. I can’t sell them – that wouldn’t feel right and, irony of ironies, pretty much like Gail when she was wearing them, I’m terrified of losing them, so they are locked away where I rarely even look at them.

On Gail’s first birthday after her passing in July, just before I went out for her day, I did get the wedding ring out and looked at it. I felt I needed to take it with me that day but was wary of just putting it in my wallet or putting it on a chain, instead I slipped it onto my little finger and it fitted perfectly. I wore it for that day but took it off as soon as I got in.

Now you might not think this stuff matters much, but when you’re grieving, things like this this just tear you apart. The fact is though, the left wedding ring is a heartbreaking artefact that serves no purpose except to leave you numb. These here will simply pass onto my kids when I go. I wonder how many wedding rings passed to the next generation and are sold just to pay for a new car or something? Not that I’d begrudge that; in fact, I’ve preempted it by telling my two kids the rough value of the rings and just urged them not to waste the money.

I wish in may ways though I’d just let Gail take the rings with her. I really think I’d have been happier knowing that, rather than having the upsetting ‘small silver item in the drawer’ version of the elephant in the room.

In that black way you do when you’re gripping onto your sanity with your fingernails though, I can almost laugh about this with Gail. You see her Grandmother’s bizarre suggestion may just have been the best idea after all.

The Wedding Ring

Holiday

I had already experienced a holiday on my own when I went to Hong Kong in February. But I had also gone away a couple of times on my own when I was with Gail – a World Cup trip to Germany and a visit to Krakow to go to Auschwitz – so I wasn’t too daunted by the prospect of travelling alone. It was odd certainly, but I can’t rightly say I had no experience whatsoever.

In June though came a different thing altogether. A holiday in Italy with my daughter Natalie and new Son-in-Law Steve. (N.B. Gail is not Natalie’s Mother). This had come about as principally a Christmas present for them both, but also as a thank you for the support I’d received the previous July. This visit to the Amalfi Coast was an attempt to do some of those things that had long been on the list but had faded from view during the years of Gail’s poor health. There had been a time we could have done them, but we had other things to do – other things to spend our limited resources on – and fitting them in became more unlikely as the days progressed.

But now, without Gail and the difficult to acknowledge, but basic fact that, it’s cheaper for one to travel rather than two, I’d decided to start seeing those things I wanted to see. There had to be some point to being on my own and this had to be it. I know Gail would have approved.

Also, though it was barely acknowledged, it was still a basic truth. Gail and I would never have gone away with anyone else – even my Son and Daughter-in-Law and Daughter and Son-in-Law – not for any particular reason either. It’s just not who we were. Gail and I worked together on our own and anyone coming in from outside – even close family – would have seemed odd.

So it was, 2019 would be a chance to see some things I’d almost certainly not had seen but for the events of July 2018, but it was also a chance to do something else I’d not have done, and that is go on holiday with my kids and their respective partners. I booked a hotel in Sorrento so I could ‘do’ Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri and the Amalfi Coast. In terms of the Bucket List – I hate the term but it will have to do – and also trying to realign my new life, it really did tick all the boxes.

It was the first night in Sorrento though when I realised I had some explaining to do. Not that I knew I did at first; it just crept up unawares.

You see Sorrento would have been a place Gail loved; the restaurants, bars, atmosphere but most of all the shops. As I wandered with my daughter and SIL I actually found myself stopping on occasion, so used to knowing what shops Gail would want to go in. I found myself looking at clothes thinking ‘She’d look great in this’ and, as happened in London at Christmas, had to physically hold myself back from going in and finding the price of a couple of pieces of jewellery. It was like walking a tightrope, but one where you’d suddenly woken up and found you’d been placed on the rope without your knowledge.

I wanted to reach for Gail’s hand – something I miss more than anything – and I did find myself looking enviously at my daughter and her husband as they were able to do that easiest and most magical of things.

Before I’d even contemplated that though, my daughter drew my attention to something I hadn’t even realised. “Dad, you OK? You’re quiet?”. Was I? How did I know? I’d spent a good deal of time on my own since the previous July and I just lived within that; not in a depressing, lonely way but simply as someone going about things without the person they normally spoke to not being around to converse with.

I realised quickly I was quiet but for a reason. You see, I was speaking to Gail in my head. “Look at that Pet, that’s nice isn’t it”, “Would you like that?”, “Oh, You’re getting that then are you?”, “Oh yea, that really suits you” etc. etc. All that and even “Not another bloody shoe shop, Pet. Give me a break eh?” . It was our life together for so many years, so many holidays and now I was living it for her because she couldn’t.

But all my daughter saw, of course, was me being quiet, not conversing, deep in thought. It was a hard lesson because I’d not had anyone around to see me and question anything before. Now I could see how I was.

Even so, it took me two days to summon up the strength to tell my daughter why I was like I was. It’s hard because, if you have to talk, you want to say things like ‘Gail would have loved this’ but you have to respect who you are travelling with. Also, with Gail not being her Mother, there simply wasn’t the emotional crush for my daughter as there was for me. I had to explain something in words that actually only existed in my head before then and that is ‘This hasn’t ended – in fact, it’s not even started. Gail is here in my head every second of every day and I take her with me everywhere and see things that we should see together on my own. I see Sorrento, these clothes, this jewellery, this bar, this food, because she can’t’. That’s hard. Really hard. And I struggled to get the words out.

I had similar emotions in Capri a few days after – another place Gail would have loved – and there was even the Monte Solaro chairlift that I would have insisted on going on and which would have had Gail swearing profusely at me for making her ride. I was able to do it myself, of course, but I actually found I missed the verbal abuse and the associated joy in hearing her… so I simply inserted it into my head as I went up and down.

Again, not being a travel blog, I’ll say no more about Sorrento than that. It was a wonderful holiday and one I would never have experienced had Gail still been with me but, in much the same way that I can never see a lemon again without thinking of Sorrento, the holiday was still Gail-tinged and there are things I saw did and experienced – too many to recount here – that will always seem in my memory to have had Gail associated with them.

Perhaps, one day, with my aged brain far-away and never to return, I will actually believe I went there with her. In my way, I did.

The Streets of Sorrento
Hand in Hand in Sorrento