Saturday, January 29, 2011
There are two things I'd like to keep in mind during 2011 ...
Finding a balance between living and grieving.
Finding a balance between home and work.
How am I going to manage this? Well, during January I took five minutes each week ... and stood still. Quietened my mind. Asked myself if there was balance in my life in these areas. Answered myself truthfully.
And then addressed it.
For example, one week I spent a considerable amount of time participating with others on a Facebook Group for widow/ers, channelling positive energy into a beta site for the widowed, working on a project for Widows' Rights International and keeping up with my blogroll ... only to realize that I'd been "counting" that time as grieving, when in fact I wasn't. It's healthy for me to spend time on this stuff, but I have to be mindful not to sub-consciously spend too much time participating in these activities as a means of escaping my own pain.
The crucial issue is this. Acknowledging the imbalance. Then adjusting in an attempt to level the scales.
So, I took a couple of evenings to just be. I read a book. This helps me immensely because reading ensures that I cannot give my attention to anything else. It is another form of escapism in a way, however, the objective of it is to relax, to have a break. The other evening I spent some more time on my memory books and allowed the tears to flow freely.
Just past the second anniversary, I still cry every day. But it's not enough. There is still a need to have a "big cry" each week or thereabouts. To acknowledge the pain and let it engulf me, simultaneously letting it out. If I suppress it, consciously or otherwise, it makes me feel "not right" (relatively speaking), out of balance (again, relatively speaking) and it doesn't help. Far from it, it hinders. Or worse.
If I work too long on my scrap-booking and memory books (part of my grief-work) thereby dedicating too much time into remembering what I have lost ... accompanied with the outpouring of grief, it wears me out and results in my days becoming devoid of colour ... so that I am left with only darkness. There is a tipping point ... and unfortunately I don't know where that tipping point is until I have passed it. At least I am aware of this now, and take steps to rectify it. I literally tell myself that I need to have a break and don't return to that activity until intuition leads me back there.
And the home/work balance? After leaving the office one evening at almost 21h00, I ensured that I left on time the rest of the week, even pushing back on a couple of requests (usually very hard for me to do) and took a lunch break on two days, as opposed to shovelling food in my mouth with one hand ... the other on the keyboard or mouse, which is my usual practice.
Hey, it's a start.
Only another 11 months to get the hang of this.
Which amounts to something like 260 minutes over the course of a year. It's not a lot to ask of myself.
But will I do it?
It is essential that I do ... because I can clearly see the pattern that emanated from not being aware of this last year. I didn't give any thought to balance whatsoever ... not that I'm berating myself - let's be honest, it was hard enough accepting he was dead and existing with that weighing heavy on my heart for the duration ... but I can see how I was running from it by working stupid hours, not addressing workload issues, culminating in my grief having its way. And when that happened, I lost grip on the little control left in my life. Grief translated itself into illness, leading to time off work which caused me more worry and stress, followed by blindly throwing myself into work, frantically catching up, attempting to make amends through taking on even more stuff. And so it went on. Round and round and round in circles. Weekends were mainly wasted because I had to rest and sleep or cry, because there was no energy left over to do anything else.
Just like water, grief finds a way ... its force is as powerful, if not more ... it is as heavy as molten lead, as heavy as an ocean full of water, as heavy as a desert full of sand. It is this that sits on one side of the scales ... I have to fill the other with work, light, laughter, friendships, home improvements, moving through this whilst channelling energy into positive activities.
It's a fine balancing act ... without my safety net.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
If you do try using this music to help you, please let me know if it worked, or even what your favourite pieces are.
(I haven't included the full list that she recommends due to not finding everything on YouTube.)
My favourites are asterisked.*
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
I know that the shock of losing a husband or wife has the ability to affect us physically. From weight gain to heart problems. From weight loss to becoming diabetic.
I know that we have all experienced the freefall into that deep dark place ... and then crawled back out of it. Time and time again.
I know that grief is more tiring than anything else I have ever experienced.
I don't express the saying, "there's a thin line between sanity and insanity" as a platitude any more. I now express it as a truth, as a given.
I know that this pain, this loss, has put everything in my life firmly into perspective. But it wasn't a lesson that I learned with the luxury of a mentor. It was more like being thrown into a freezing ocean ... without a lifebelt ... and finding myself marooned and broken, somewhere in a land that was alien to me. And being terrified. Bullied into realization.
But imagine this.
Imagine having to endure all that you have so far, the relentless battle that you win ... and sometimes lose on a daily basis, knowing that the war against this monster that we call grief is far from over.
Imagine this ... as well as ...
... being blamed for your husband dying. Being called a witch. Being considered as "bad luck".
Imagine washing your dead husband's body and then being forced to drink the water.
Imagine your brother-in-law taking all your possessions, even your home.
Imagine being raped by your brother-in-law because it is thought that you need to be "cleansed" of the sin of causing the death of your husband. No matter how he died, even if he was killed in an accident.
Imagine your children no longer being able to go to school. And not being able to feed them.
Imagine your daughter being forced into the sex trade at an unimaginable age.
Imagine losing your children.
I tried to. But I really couldn't quite imagine it. A bit like I couldn't imagine what it would feel like should the unthinkable happen. Before.
And for some widows ... what we cannot quite imagine ... is their nightmare reality.
Yesterday, I spent time with Patsy Robertson and Kate Young from Widow's Rights International to think about ways in which I can help them raise awareness and funds. Simply put, to help them fight for widows' basic human rights.
And I'll be brutally honest, I'm not doing this out of the goodness of my heart. I'm doing it because it's grounding and humbling and it's the right thing to do. Empathy? If I've swapped my husband for empathy, albeit unwillingly, I may as well put it to good use.
I need to be grounded ... every now and again. This pain threatens to overtake my life. Smother it.
If I can let a tiny shard of light into their darkness, it will allow the reflection of that white into my own black.
I need to be grounded.
The pain would not be worse if I were in their position, but my life would.
Imagine that ... I find it hard to.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Monday, January 10, 2011
Saturday, January 8, 2011
I survived the two year anniversary. By that I mean I am breathing. I'm still amazed that losing Cliff hasn't killed me. During the first year, I assumed that I would not survive, and I couldn't have cared less. In fact, I hoped for release. The second anniversary brought a tsunami of longing and pain so colossal that I again wondered if it would destroy me. Mentally or physically. I had to grieve so deeply and accept the pain with open arms, just as I had embraced his love. I went to that deep, dark place and cried, mourning him on a primal level again ... making those sounds with a voice that I did not recognize as my own. It's a different cry, the cry of mourning. It sounds different, it feels different ... it's ... primal. Then, just as the force of the tsunami started to dissipate ... just as I felt defeated ... exhausted ... I screamed out loud, "I MISS YOU" and turned on the TV to check the time (no idea why). And stood there amazed, mouth agape, staring at Buzz Lightyear reminding me to aim for "infinity and beyond". I smiled and said to Cliff, "I hear you." Now I'm not ga-ga enough to think that Cliff arranged for that clip to be aired, however, it was strange that I happened to have that particular channel on ... and also that I turned the TV on at the precise moment that the 5 second clip was being televised. I got the message ... that I've grieved in this way long enough. By that I mean, I've stood still for two years. Yes, I've made headway. I've grown. I've understood. I've learned. But everything I've accomplished has been on an intellectual or spiritual level. I knew in that moment, that I now have to start moving ... I've got to take those Santa's down, clear away his mug and dish that remain by his bedside. I've got to physically take those steps so that my home "catches up" with my mindset. Otherwise I will get stuck where I am. Crystal clear clarity. Then, upon feeling a need to connect to this world again, I checked Facebook and Megan had sent me a poem. As I read it, I felt a feeling of calm ... reminding me that although Cliff was dead, that he was still in existence, that I would see him again one day ... just not in the form that we had last been together.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
“Meeting you was fate, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you I had no control over.”
The circle turns and the seasons change.
Dogs grow old and in the summer it still rains.
But I never thought you and I would ever be apart.
Babies cry at their mothers breast
and Sunday morning is still a day to be blessed
but what can I tell my broken heart?
Where you go I don't know
Maybe closer to my dreams, maybe far away
Take me today
Give me wings to fly
It's going to be hard letting go of you
and living separate lives
The stars aren't diamonds and the moon's not blue
There's no gold at the end of the rainbow
There's no dream to hold on to, without you
The only thing that's real is this lonely road tonight
Maybe a change would be good for me
Who knows where this road might lead
Where you go I don't know
Maybe closer to my dreams, maybe far away
Take me today
Give me wings to fly
It's going to be hard letting go of you
and living separate lives
It's going to be hard letting go of you
and living separate lives.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
There is no such thing as coincidences on this journey. My lovely and thoughtful friend Lizi gave me this book yesterday. It is no exaggeration to say that its words were the balm that soothed me as I struggled to fall asleep last night. Gibran's words on love and death are inspirational and comforting. He was an extremely talented Lebanese artist and writer who had his share of loss and grief.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
As if we knew.
We were close enough to.
Him and me.
I would exchange the rest of my life, just for a taste of him, once again.
The following day, January 5th 2009 at 15h00, Cliff suffered a fatal stroke. And 12 hours later, he died. My world ended ... literally ... for he was my world.
From March 16th 1956, he was born in Mtarfa (Malta) at this hospital
and in the blink of an eye, on January 6th 2009, at 03h00 ... this magical man took his last breath.
From that to this:
In the blink of an eye.
Even if we'd had 60 years together ... it would never have been long enough.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
And it was the right decision. I knew that the Pirate Club Party in London would have been too overwhelming. I'd have started looking for him, and more than likely my mind would have started playing tricks with my eyes. It would have got messy. Too similar to the Ministry of Sound's Millennium party (2001).
NYD - Dominican Republic - hair of the dog
Our first NYE together in 1994, spent with his family at an old acquaintances' ... where I got very mashed and being very loved up ... kept asking him to take me home ... and giggling and rolling around on the floor in my long elegant dress like a child, when he did ... being wrapped up in his arms and sinking. Sinking so deep that I would never own my heart again.
The NYE when we celebrated with Gary at his friend's party, having almost recovered from bird flu - which had wiped us out on Xmas morning.
NYE 2000 - which we saw in with many friends - old and new - in our large apartment overlooking the harbour, having mingled with the crowds at the bar below and the Escape Club. In the early hours of NYD 2001, it was just us three (Cliff, me and Hammer) ... still going strong, I was dancing to the music which was banging, and then we heard a couple arguing outside ... she screamed at her boyfriend, "you bastard, you've ruined my first Millennium" and Cliff hung out the window and shouted down, "what are you, a witch?". And being a bit confused at why couples argued ... because we didn't, not really. We only had about 3 or 4 serious explosions in 15 years.
The photo below shows me at my most childish, having been deprived of his undivided attention for too long during the evening ... and when I got it, a couple of friends tried to join in with the embrace and conversation ... hence my face. Never mind my face. Look at his. That's the face of the only person in the world who ever completely knew and understood me. Yes, even more than my mother. Or. Anyone.
The New Year's Day that we got engaged ... and I felt like I was living the dream because I was. I loved watching him that day, so full of happiness, excitement, pride and love. He didn't stop moving. I remember he disappeared for 5 minutes and reappeared with 6 bottles of bubbles and proceeded to pour everyone in the bar a glass. He kept back one bottle which he was swigging from and topping up my glass with. We went to a club en masse. I kept looking at my diamond, which was flashing in the club lights. And looking at him and smiling. I was so happy just looking at him. Being near him and being safe, so completely safe. The same ring I took off last year, along with my wedding ring ... then started wearing again - but on my middle finger.
The NYE, a few days after our dog died, when Cliff fixed 9 mo-fo fireworks together - to represent the nine years that our rottweiler lived (and enjoyed countless firework displays with us) - and set them off at midnight. And ignoring the front door, the phone, the texts. So that we could pay tribute to him together, alone. Holding each other and watching the fireworks through a veil of tears. Whispering, "Happy New Year Ham-Ham".
Our last NYE in 2008 which we spent entirely alone. A first. But I'm glad now. He'd suggested driving up to town (London) to watch the fireworks along the Thames, but I was nervous about the drive due to the car playing up ... so we stayed in. I wish now that I hadn't deprived him of that now, so sorely. We got dressed, I slapped on makeup, put the fireworks on our big TV screen, scrubbed up the lounge, Cliff made some delicious cocktails, and I ensured our glasses were primed ready to toast the new year in together. And he produced the last firework, a surprise - hidden out of view. I can still see it in the sky, still feel the explosions thudding through my heart. The huge hug and "HNY darling" on the threshold of the back door, then watching some cynical "I hate NYE" programme on TV. It was like we almost knew it was the last one. Quiet. Gentle. Tender. Cuddling lots.
Our first NYE in our home here. A few friends driving up from the coast to see the old year out with us. Music, a beautiful tree, drinks, Hammer loving it. Feeling so complete and happy. Superb fireworks courtesy of my beautiful magical man. I was a smug married.
The NYE when our niece (Esther) turned 21 and we joined his family on the coast to celebrate her birthday as well as the new year. Fireworks for Es and sleeping over.
Another NYE spent in Holland with his sister, niece and brother-in-law ... and dancing with Esther to celebrate her 16th birthday. Fireworks, getting quite squiffy and Cliff getting emotional. Es and I cuddling him ... and the three of us snuggled on the sofa very late. A feeling of protectiveness emanating from us both, and washing over him.
Another couple of NYE's here at home spent joyfully, always happy, safe and warm. Laughter. Close. Hope. The promise of another year together. His charisma and presence filling our home.
We were the best hosts. We selected a mix of music to accommodate everyone's tastes. Ensured they were fed and watered. Prepared food that everyone could "graze" on. Bought in their favourite branded drinks, mixers and filled up the ice buckets. Laughter and more laughter, shared memories. We excelled at hosting parties or nights "in" chez nous if I say so myself, but I know I'm not delusional at all - I was told this by our friends, time and time again. Our dog even revelled in it.
On NYE, I lit candles for Austin and Warren. I couldn't speak. There was no need as the words were swimming round in my heart.
I had imagined, earlier last year that I would have a tree over the holidays and bought this new ornament in Australia, to hang on the tree. I wasn't able to. But I didn't beat myself up about it. I did enjoy three other trees this year. But there was no way at all I was ready to have a tree at home. Not without him. It would have hurt me too much looking at it without him here.
I managed to avoid but two fireworks in the sky, whilst driving down on NYE. Thankfully. They have lost their lustre, yet maintain their ability to floor me in a nano-second.
I slept-over at Cliff's brother's, and felt empty the next morning, with an anxious feeling in my heart at having to return home alone. No matter. They insisted I stay another night, and I took the opportunity when they went out for a drink, to visit Roy and Shirley. I just needed - literally needed to see them, just as I need oxygen. It boosted me having a taste of my baba for a while.
Upon returning to family, I found them in good spirits, singing along (badly) to a home karaoke, and mixed myself a drink. Before leaving, John's girlfriend told me in a quiet moment, that she and John had played Springsteen early on New Year's Eve, and they had sat quietly on his couch, reading through the Eulogy that I wrote for Cliff. It touched me so much that they did that. And that she thought to tell me. A while later I found out that her first husband had died when their baby was 6 days old. I could barely speak. We stood there communicating with our eyes instead for a moment. So much was said though ... in the way that widows can without a word spoken aloud.
It began to hit me. The date had arrived. 1.1.11. He would not play an earthly part this year. Not breathe next to me in bed. Not hold me. Not this year. Not this decade. That stunned me. A decade? Never mind forever. Forever is such a big word and doesn't bear contemplation. I wondered how many more NYE's I'd have to tolerate before I would be released back into his care.
Then I attempted to get a grip. But it started to spiral down and down. I couldn't fight the music. Despite my repeated requests to play some more upbeat tunes, my pleas fell on deaf ears. It was a mix of music to slit your wrists to. I even tried sarcasm, saying that we may as well play non-stop fucking Leonard Cohen. On three occasions, I had to say in an almost panic-stricken / manic voice that I couldn't listen to the songs selected. But the third song actually got played, paused, played, rewound and replayed ... to explain that it was about someone dying. Seriously. I could feel my lip quivering, felt the tears burn me as they rose, felt that panic, my foot pumping up and down furiously whilst I focused on breathing and avoiding eye contact with anyone. Felt myself zone out. Disengage. Comforted myself with images of him flicking through my mind.
When this song was played, I didn't even ask for it to be turned off, opting instead to stay in the bathroom for the duration, trying to block it out.
I went quiet. I just wanted to come home. Just unbearably sad. Unspeakable pain engulfed me. My heart and soul crying out, almost screaming for him. The liberal amounts of vodka consumed meant that peeps started heading for bed. John left to head home. Louis started clearing up the mess we'd created and I suddenly realized it was three minutes to midnight, so I scrabbled around in my flight-bag for Cliff's third (and last) candle - for this season of sleepovers. I spoke to him softly while Louis was in the bathroom, telling him that I loved him and missed him. Said the words just as if he were there ... "Happy New Year darling", but also thanked him for everything he did, and for everything he taught me. Louis came back in to mop the floor while I washed up the glasses and ashtrays, and he put the radio on, the volume soft ... and on came this song. I smiled. I felt him. He always told me there is no such thing as coincidences. And there aren't. He was telling me he was with me and it was alright.
And today? I slept in, showered, ate brekkie, chatted and laughed with family before heading home via Vicki's. I just needed that injection of strength from seeing her, along with two cups of tea before leaving the coast, and was rewarded with a beautiful tip of a blood red sun sinking below the horizon. So fast. My breath was taken away by it just as he could and did. I said, "hello baby. I see you." All I could feel was love.
I've had tears since returning home. But I've also felt relief that the holidays are over for this year. I am proud of myself for facing it this year, and not reacting to NYE the way I did last year.
The next hurdle is January 4th, when Vicki has her mammogram to check that she is cancer-free. I won't allow myself to think about it until she's been. If I do, I shall vomit. Literally.
Then January the 5th at 15h00, it will be two years since Cliff had his stroke. Followed by a 12 hour period, on January 6th at 03h00 when he took his last breath.
It cannot. It will not. It can't be as bad as witnessing him take that last breath. The breath, that I knew on some primal level, was his very last. So sure in fact, that I held my own, and when I was proven right, I tried so hard to keep holding my own, so I could go with him. But my body became my worst enemy and would not allow me to do so.
Why? I don't know. I guess that until my time is up, I've got to battle on, make him proud of me and make the most of the good days and the laughter.
Happy New Year baba. I love you always. I miss you too much.