Tuesday, April 7, 2009


After two hours sleep, I get up. It feels very strange to not have any funeral arrangements to tick off my list. I feel lost. No purpose. Stunned.

It is hard, very hard, two hours later, to say goodbye to Jenny and Dad. They have been my rock, my resting place, my constant during the past three weeks. I feel as though I am leaving Cliff behind too, somehow.

I am not ready to drive home alone yet. A first for me. So I find myself driving to Vicki’s. Step into wide arms and I cry, “It’s so hard”. Drink at least 4 cups of herbal tea.

Still peeing lots.

Now I decide I’m strong enough to go.

Into the car. Oh dear, maybe I can’t do it just yet.

Drive to Gary and Gaynor’s and Gary is in. Gary tells me Gaynor is at the hospital having her 5 year check for cancer and I start to feel panic-stricken inside, but make all the necessary noises about how I take my tea. My legs hurt. I have been tensing them for so long, even when I sleep. I have to REALLY concentrate to sit on the barstool at the breakfast bar, then don’t want to move, even to flick the ash into the ashtray in case I fall. Gary talks and I feel like everything is in slow-mo, then gradually relax and move my arm to get my tea. I didn’t fall. OK, back on track.

Gaynor comes home, instantly hugging me and wanting to hear how I am, but I am getting frustrated. I need to hear that she has been given the all-clear. “Of course” she pauses to say. OK, now we can move onto my favourite subject – Cliff. They are happy to join in and add their own anecdotes. Gary gets upset and I go to hug him. This helps because it takes the focus off my own pain, as horrible as it is to realize that I am relieved by someone else’s pain.

After a couple of hours, I start to feel tired and decide that it’s now or never. If I don’t drive RIGHT NOW I will NEVER get back on the horse, so to speak, and this realization scares me. I decide that I will do it for Cliff.

More hugs.

Into car and off I go. The first time I have ever driven back from the coast home without Cliff. I speak to him constantly, all the way home and it has a calming effect.

The car feels strange to me all of a sudden and I panic. What am I going to do without you? You always took care of me. I want you back Cliff, it’s not fair. Then I look at the speedo and I am driving at 97 mph … the car is 8 years old … no surprise that the car is complaining and making different noises. Home – at last. Relief.

Look at the front door and want to howl and scream. I CAN’T DO IT CLIFFY. I CAN’T WALK THROUGH THAT DOOR WITHOUT YOU. The dogs have heard me arrive and are yelping for me. I talk through the letterbox to them, but CANNOT open the door. Not yet. In a minute.

Oh, I need milk, coke, Marlboro Lites, Vodka, cereal don’t I? Back in the car to the convenience store on my street, then park on my drive again.

Deep breath. You have to do this BOO, come on you can do it.

I’m in. Dogs are in a frenzy of excitement to see me. I’m sobbing and can’t see as I’m walking around on auto-pilot, putting away the shopping and taking my overnight case up to the bedroom. I lay my head on his pillow, and breathe in his scent, and my body is heaving with sobs, and I’m getting louder and louder and louder, but I don’t care. The dogs are licking the tears from my face and I’m cuddling them so tight that one of them wriggles to get away.

OK, I’ll pack for Sweden in the morning. Flight doesn’t leave till the afternoon, and I’ll take a shower then too. Too tired. Go down to pour a drink, and I’m touching everything that he had been working on, his tools, picking up hammers, screwdrivers, looking around at pictures we chose together, smiling and breaking at the same time. This feeling is PRIMAL. Every cell in my body is SCREAMING and longing for him. I want him back. WTF am I going to do Cliff? I am petrified, terrified, broken, useless without you.

Make hot drink and take it up to bed. The dogs were never allowed upstairs, but I tell them that things are different now and they will have to sleep with me, to which they happily oblige. Get out of bed. Must protect his pillows because they smell of him, so I put one under the duvet to sleep with and take the other two, wrap them in plastic (to keep in the scent) and put them in his wardrobe. Then I run, heart beating fast, into the bathroom. Is there any unwashed clothing of his in the laundry basket? Rummage and find a couple of t-shirts and shirts. OK, I can go to bed now. The bed that was too large for Cliff and I is mysteriously too small for me and two small dogs. They each guard their “territory” of the bed in a Mexican standoff.

I lay down. My body hurts all over and I am worn out.
By 02h00 I can hardly breathe due to the sobs that are racking my body and I call Brian. I need to hear his voice. I need to be consoled. Eventually I go to sleep.

My eyes are swollen and I hurt even more. I wish the adrenaline hadn’t left me. I can’t pack! I can’t shower! I can’t do anything. So I sit on the couch and log on to Facebook. There are shed loads of messages and this makes me feel connected to the world again. People care. Then I search for help, reading information about grief and bereavement, and click on a hyperlink to a Forum, or Discussion Board. I cry as I read other’s experiences because I can identify with what they are saying. I bookmark the site and decide to join the Forum when I get back from Sweden.

I now have 10 minutes to pack and get ready, and call a cab or I will miss my flight.

Miraculously, I make it.

Then I remember that I’ve forgotten my diazepam which I only ever use when I’m flying. But I don’t care. I don’t give a damn in the plane falls out the sky. In fact, I hope it does. Even if it doesn’t, I know I will feel closer to Cliff at 30,000 feet.

I spend the flight with my nose pressed against the airplane window, looking for him. I’ve lost my fear of flying.

I find Kathy, upon landing early, in the smoking area outside the airport. “How did you know where to find me?” she laughs. “You don’t go to boarding school with someone and not know how they tick,” I reply and we are giggling and crying at the same time.

We sit down with drinks until 02h00, and she gently probes me for the details. How it happened. I tell her and my voice breaks in parts, big fat tears rolling down my face which I don’t bother to wipe away.

She helps me absolve some of my guilt. She tells me that when her mother died of a stroke at the age of 42, that the coroner in Kenya had told them that some people are born with a weak blood vessel in their brain. It’s not because of stress, or working too hard, or even from smoking. The vessel can only cope until it’s got to be a certain age, then boom, you’re gone.

I hold that thought and go to bed and fall asleep straight away for the first time in almost a month.

I had wanted to go down and scream at the sea. So we take her dog Toffee for a walk and when we get to the beach, she says, “Scream as loud as you want. Here you are.” I open my mouth but NO sound will come out. Nada. Zilch. A tsunami of sadness and longing comes over me. The waves are lapping on the sand and the noise is beautiful but too painful to hear. It is the sea that lapped on the beach in Jamaica where we got married. It is the sea that I could hear from our apartment on the coast. It is the sea where Cliff had run his pedaloes in another lifetime. It is the sea where Vikings had their burials. She understands somehow and we walk slowly away back towards the road.

Then I have this warm, safe feeling all over me. I can feel him. He’s with me. I scarcely breathe in case I make him disappear. I wallow in the beauty of it. I love you. The feeling gently subsides and a Peugeot Partner white van drives past as he slowly leaves me. He KNEW that it would be too upsetting for me to look at it without any reassurance, because I will always associate those vans with him, complete with roofing ladders lashed to the roof-rack.

The next three days are a blur. I eat, sleep, chat to Kathy. She tempts me into eating by cooking coq au vin, beef bourbignon, spaghetti bolognese and putting it in front of me. She lets me borrow Toffee to sleep with on the proviso that I don’t grass her up to Johan, her son whose room I am borrowing. I have to have a siesta every afternoon for a couple of hours, and her dog and cat always join me. I read a LOT. Escapism. I don’t understand why I am not crying, other than a few quiet tears each time I get into bed at night. I feel bad about it.

The next day I feel brave enough to phone Roy in Thailand. He’s been a close friend to Cliff for three decades and it will be tough to hear his voice for the first time. I dial and he answers immediately. “I’ll call you straight back, it’s cheaper,” he says before I can mention that it I’m in Sweden and therefore it might not be for him. He wants to know about Sweden. He wants to know how the wake went, and asks me twice so that he is reassured that no-one was disrespectful or out of line. I realize that he too, just like Chris, is looking for an outlet for his grief. Men do. Women talk.

I feel better after speaking to Roy. My world. Our world.

I check-in for my flight home online and see an announcement about snow. There has not been a snowflake in Sweden or Denmark in January, yet there is 12” of it at home. I get worried. Right now I have to plan stuff, then execute it. It’s the only way I can set parameters in this brave new world. It gives me a feeling that I can control some stuff in my life and gives me a sense, however minute, of stability and normalcy. What if my plans go awry? I suddenly find that I am having trouble breathing and swallowing. What if my plane is cancelled?

I call Kathy upstairs to read the announcement online. She tells me that we are boarding school kids and this is nothing to us. That we go forwards, and so what if the plane can’t fly. She’ll bring me back. This is nothing. We flew halfway round the world when we were 10 years old, 12 years old, and thought nothing of it. SHE had even flown lollipop airways in Africa, and they were ALWAYS falling out of the sky. I agree and go forward.

At Copenhagen Airport she asks me not to share my feelings with anyone. “What feelings?” I ask. “That you don’t give a shit if the plane falls out the sky,” she replies, explaining that she does NOT want to have to collect me from jail, because they think I am a terrorist with a bomb or something.

When we bank over London, I can see the snow. It’s like a white blanket has been thrown over the whole area. We land. HARD. As I turn on my cellphone, it keeps beeping. There are messages from Kim to say she is thinking of me. Vicki to say she loves me. I can’t remember what the other texts said or who they were from now.

I queue for a cab at the airport, as my driver is snowed in and can’t even get his car off the drive. I have time for two smokes before my cab arrives, and get home at 22h00 to find 12” of snow in my garden. My dogs are ecstatic and I am tired. Sad. The tears come and are relentless. But it feels like a relief. Like a pressure being released. I manage to make a cup of tea, ensure I have work clothes for the morning and set my alarm clock, before taking a shower and getting into bed. I NEED some reassurance, a familiar voice to make me feel safe, and call Brian who chats to me and, even brings a smile to my face, for long enough, till he can hear my voice fading as I grow sleepy and finally says, “Nite, baby, sleep well.”

I get up in the morning when the alarm goes off. Barney is a remarkable back-up alarm because he pretends to be a whirling dervish as soon as he hears the alarm. If the alarm doesn’t wake me, him bouncing around the bed in circles should. My other dog, Fred, is deaf, so he awakens courtesy of Barney.

My heart is breaking. This is not right. Cliffy always brought me my cup of tea and one slide of warm toast with nut-nut (peanut) butter. HE woke me up as I never heard the alarm clock. Oh god I miss you. I’ve got to do this haven’t I, Cliff? And I do.

Faye and David arrive to pick me up as promised and we are dropped at the commuter bus, me feeling like a school-kid. I remember that I have never driven in the snow because he wouldn’t let me. I feel like a child. We sit together at the front, talking quietly. Everyone says hi to me, which helps. I had told my director that I was worried that people would avoid me because they didn’t know what to say, and I knew that would make me feel worse. So far, so good. I talk non-stop all the way to work, and Faye listens and she knows what to say, when given the chance. She walks in with me and I automatically walk towards my desk on the first floor. I’m wearing a Peruvian hat – with flaps and a pom-pom, so some people don’t actually recognize me. Incognito is good. I get about one-fifth of the way towards my desk and all the girls are coming straight over to say hello, welcome back, I’m sorry and giving me kisses and hugs. The men all stand up as I walk up the floor, to hug me but don’t speak. I am speaking to someone and feel someone hug me from behind and just hold me for a few seconds. I turn round and it’s one of our senior managers. No need for words. Philip must have taken my fear seriously and communicated it to the department.

I’m at my desk and feeling a sense of normalcy for the first time in a month. The worst month of my life. But this was always my world, not Cliff’s, even though I shared achievements that I was proud of and funny stories with him at the end of each day. It is therefore the least painful place in the world for me right now. I know that I will miss his daily phone call, hearing the smile in his voice. But I feel, for the first time, that MAYBE, perhaps, there is a faint chance that I can do this.

1 comment:

  1. Three things you mention stuck out for me in this post...
    The smells (as is your husband's pillow)... I wore my fiance's last shirt he had on for about a week, it still had his cologne on it.

    Loss of fear, its funny you say you were no longer afraid of flying. Its as if you don't really care about anything else after all the stress, I wonder if this is why we lose fears of things?

    Its good to hear that going back to work may work for you, it helps to try to feel normal again. It was hard for me since I worked in the same place as my fiance, though they moved me into another office on another floor for change...then I went away for school, which I think was the hardest thing to do for me, but I did it.

    You CAN do this!

    take care, xo