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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Balance


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

Classical Music for the Bereaved


Music for the Bereaved, as suggested by Ann Rachlin


to soothe, comfort and allow tears:





relieve sadness, relieve insomnia:



to accompany us when alone, to think:






Music to give us strength:



encourage change:


Music to support a change of direction and to encourage when there are problems to solve:




music for the "new normal", enriched with memories, yet having actively and fully grieved, experience of grief, acceptance of new normal:






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

Grounded

I know that one person's grief is not worse than another's ... when a spouse dies.

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

still listening and learning

In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day.
~F. Scott Fitzgerald
It sure is. That's why the bereaved are always awake at that time. And Cliff died at exactly three o'clock in the morning. So began the first really dark night of my life. I have endured many more since ...
This past week has been one of reflection, remembering and learning for me. It's now been two years and one week, and I've taken this time to think about him so much. To grieve as I knew I would after believing that he'd been gone for two years. I've spent this week remembering him. His words. It has been a week of cine-movies running through the corners of my mind. Listening to all his words. Again, like an action replay.
I've put together the first album ... all the photos of him from before we were together, in chronological order, making notes of the year and who he is with. At the back of the album are pictures of people who were his closest friends. A photo of the hospital where he was born in Malta, his swimming certificate from 1964. There are gaps awaiting other items when I find them.
I was going to write notes ... using his words, beside the relevant photos/time period in the book. But I soon realized that there would not be enough space. So I created a document in word, set up columns and a small font size ... and just started tapping away on my laptop.
I had to stop every now and again to have a big cry because I remembered seeing how painful it was for him to recall some memories. I remembered how I'd glimpsed the little three year old boy who was still part of the man I was in love with. The little boy who had no understanding why the people who fostered him beat him.
I was astonished at how I remembered so many of his words. And verbatim. In my mind's eye, I could see him as he spoke the words. So many words. So many memories of his ... which are now copied and pasted directly to me. And he used to accuse me of not listening. But I did. I remember it all, and more is coming to me. So much that it felt like I was being bombarded with his words. His story. Even though I was writing about his earliest years, more bytes were coming to me, from the times that we were together, bringing more and more epiphanous moments as well as an unbelievable amount of tears.
I've filled up two sides of A4 - 3 columns - font size 8 ... and I've only written about the first 3 years of his life.
It's exhausted me, but comforted me. It has also broken me. I've grieved on a deeper level than I ever have before. I've cried for the three year old and I've cried for the man. I'll stick the pages in by the photos, but I don't think I can share them with anyone else. I know that there are words that would hurt others. The truth often does, but I'm not doing this to hurt anyone. Far from it. I feel as though I want his daughter to read them after I have died, but not before. And I don't know why.
But I know why he was always telling me to listen. Because so much has come back to me about the man he was. Much of what he told me explains how the man - the essence of his heart and soul - was formed. And he was mine. He shared it all with me. He gave me those extra years, the years that I didn't share with him. The ones that were denied us. He shared it all - something he had never done before. It was important - he told me it was.
Completing this has opened up something in me. Like a port-hole. And let more darkness in. But along with the darkness has come more understanding, more learning ... and above all, his love and an absolute reminder that he knew me far better than I will ever know myself.
This week has been an explosion of lightbulb moments. And darkness. And feeling his love and care once more. I could feel him near again.
Unlike most, I luckily knew what I had before it was gone. But it has broken me this week to realize that, in remembering so many things that he said to me, that he had been preparing me for this for years. He'd never expected to make it past 50, and he was right, as he died two months before his 53rd birthday. He wanted to, but he knew he wouldn't. He told me that he didn't care before he was with me, but that he wanted to live for me now that he had me. He knew and listened to his body and read the signs. And he was very "fay". He really was. He told me he would die of a stroke, and he told me he wouldn't make old bones. The hairs would stand up on his arms when we talked about stuff. He only said it once because of the way I reacted. I couldn't bear to hear it. He knew me, like I said. He knew how much I could take. So he made sure that he prepared me for this horror as best as he could.
I listened. I memorized. Back then.
I hear him. I understand. Now.
And my heart is breaking because it is so full of love and emotion for him, it feels as though it will burst because it has no more capacity. But something tells me that it will expand to allow more understanding, listening and learning. Lessons for the journey I am on now. Words he insisted I listen to ... because they would carry me through this when he no longer could be beside me ... protect me.
It has also convinced me, that my initial outrage after his death, when people suggested that I was young enough to find love again was justified. For I will never find love again like his, even if I spent every waking moment of my life dedicated to hunting it down. He was my one. I was his one. I'm not saying I won't enjoy a relationship, but I shan't be looking for love. Make of that as you will because I'm not going to waste any time analyzing myself on that one.
He knew me. He loved me. Enough to tell me things that would get me through this, even in the darkness at 3 a.m. He gave me words to comfort me in my darkest nights. Words that turned into balm to soothe me so I can eventually sleep. Words that he knew I wouldn't truly hear until he'd left me.
And then guilt attacked me. The demon raised his ugly head and accused me ... why didn't I "get it" back then? Why couldn't I have been stronger when he was alive? Been a better wife. Did I really know what I had back then? Yes I did. But what I have lost - well I am discovering more and more of that. And I knew that he understood me better than any other ... but just not how well. Did I know how much he loved me? Without doubt ... but I didn't know that he'd given me enough love to last me this journey.
And he told the demon: I loved her for the way she was. For her naivety. I wanted her to live in her lala-land for as long as she could. This was the way I wanted it. She was my wife. My responsibility. My decision. It's the way we were. It's why it worked. I would not have had it any other way.
And for once I heard him the first time.
When it is dark enough, you can see the stars. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, January 14, 2011

a scrapbook for his other girl

I bought some photo albums this week and had intended to spend today filling the first one up with pictures. The first album I wanted to complete was one of all the pictures I have of Cliff before we were together. I met Cliff when I was almost 18, so this album would include images of him - a chronological record - from his birth up to his late to mid-thirties. I was going to include some of his childhood treasures (or pictures of larger items such as his Chemistry Set and toy soldiers), accompanied by written notes (but using his words) of various experiences that he told me about, some of which were funny, sad or downright terrifying. Naturally, my own memories of him from the age of 26 would also be included, along with notes about his favourite food, drink, interests, names of friends, the music he liked etc. This book will be the easiest to fill on a practical and emotional level and would be a good start.
I already made up albums/scrapbooks for our wedding and our trip to the Dominican Republic, but still need to do the same for all of our other adventures and shall probably tackle them next. I have kept mementos, including airline stubs, receipts, brochures etc as well as photos, and they are fortunately all kept together, so this will be fairly easy to do on a practical level.
The second big scrapbook/album would be "our story" ... photos over a period of 15 years, his interests, favourite movies, a CD of his favourite music (that I compiled for him a year before he died), meals that we cooked together, his cocktail recipes, where we lived, words faithfully captured verbatim, a lottery ticket with the results written on it by him, the plans he drew up for renovating our home, letters, cards, his favourite soap, photos of his art that he particularly liked and bought, his idiosyncrasies - stuff that he hated (itchy shirts, injections being needle-phobic, crusts on sandwiches), what he collected (glass, coins, silverware etc), concert and cinema tickets, where we drank, the people in our lives, and innumerable keepsakes (either on paper or photographed for the scrapbook).
This book is going to be a record of our time together, of everything that he did for me and taught me, how hard he worked, how much he looked after me, how much we loved each other and will serve as a security blanket, should I ever worry that I will forget anything ... I know that I shan't ... but, you know, just in case. It will record our dreams, disappointments and happiest days. So many memories, some tender, some hilarious, some enlightening, some heart-breaking. Frightening even. The songs I would sing to him. Routine daily stuff. The funny things we would say to each other. Crazy stuff.
It will be an emotional roller-coaster putting this book together and it will take a long time because the paraphernalia that I want to include in it is spread all over the house, even in the attic. I think it will be cathartic, painful at times but ultimately, it will bring me comfort. Completing it will mean that I will have the luxury of taking nostalgic trips through precious memories when I want to, not because all of these items are scattered throughout our home, sometimes stabbing me through the heart with pangs of loss. It will also bring me peace, because recently, I have been getting really irritated at people telling "stories" about him inaccurately.
So, that's the plan. My first practical mission. I kept looking at the pile of photos, kept peeking at those empty albums. I could envisage the end result. But I just could not motivate myself. I desperately wanted to make a "book" up, but not the ones I had planned.
I was puzzled. Why the hell had I thought in such depth, why had I bought the albums, brought down countless photos from upstairs, located the safe key so I could retrieve our most precious photos from it? Only to feel as though I was missing something.
I kept thinking about his daughter. It occurred to me that one day (when I die) she will be given these memory books and will therefore be able to read his story. The truth. She will know what mattered to him, see a set of ethics that he believed in and followed. The whole picture. Get many if not all of the questions she doubtless has, answered in her mind. My mind kept playing cine-movies of him talking to me about her, explaining decisions he made, watching him get so heart-breakingly upset because he hadn't seen her for too long, or because he couldn't explain things to her for reasons that are too complex ... secrets that are too deep not to remain safely buried where they are.
And it came to me. I would make his daughter a scrapbook.
And I did. Using http://www.mixbook.com/, a book of love was created and named: A Father's Love ... and his words.
An excerpt is included above. It's written for her, so I chose pages that don't disclose words that are really only intended for her ears and heart.
I filled it up with photos of him at different ages, randomly. Only selecting pictures I thought she would like. And on each page I typed in the actual words that he said to me - of his love for her. In his words. Words of love. It is such a comfort to be able to remember, word for word, so many things that he told me. It has brought me such peace to create this testament of his love for her because he worried and wondered if she truly knew that he loved her. After he died, I vowed that I would make sure that she knew. And believed it in her heart. Closure. For him. For her. For me - borne out of my love for him, and a need to do this for him.
I hope it brings her peace, healing and comfort. Then I will have done the last thing I could do for him ... out of love, and as his wife. I care about what he cared about because I love him. Because his feelings are still more important than anything else in this world, even today.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Took my breath away


Beautiful - this video heals and breaks your heart at the same time.


Take 12 minutes to just sit, to just be.


Watch and listen.


It will speak to you.


It did me.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Seven Choices - reflections upon reading the book

My gentle widow-sister Suzann sent me this book on the second anniversary of Cliff's death, and I have to say that this gift was perfectly timed, for it allowed me to reflect on the stages that I have been through (and still re-visit ... as we know grief is not a linear experience), it confirmed that projects I've been planning and wanting to fulfill were actually positive, cathartic and helpful ideas. Healing even. And it gave me further suggestions to help myself to heal more (by that I mean attain balance and happiness in my life again ... not recover/get over it/get better ... because we are painfully aware that losing our spouse is not something that we can "get over"). IMHO, this gift was also perfectly timed because eighteen months or two years ago, I wouldn't have been capable of reading it ... I remember only being able to concentrate on short paragraphs at a time (which was why "Companion Through The Darkness" was invaluable to me soon after losing Cliff).

The author never patronizes, rather she draws upon her own experience, sharing with honesty, interspersed with verbatim from other bereaved people to give real examples of what we may feel, think or behave like during each "stage". There are poems and inspirational quotes throughout. Additionally she explains the psychology behind some of our fears and reactions, along with statistics from academic studies, and she is careful to remind us that every one's grief experience and timeline is unique, then explores reasons why some people "get stuck" at one point of their grief, and how the nature of the loss (e.g. violent death, suicide, sudden death) can impact and complicate our grief.


There are sections at the end of the book on:

"helping children and teenagers"
"useful resources" - music, books, movies, art, photography, organizations, writing, dance, etc.
and a bibliography.

I found the format of listing the following at the close of each "choice" or chapter/stage particularly useful:

"what we need from family and friends"
"what is normal"
"what can I do?"
"what is my active choice?"

The seven stages and choices that accompany them are:

Impact: Experiencing the unthinkable - To experience and express my grief fully (again and again)
Second Crisis: Stumbling in the Dark - To endure with patience
Observation: Linking Past to Present - To look honestly
The Turn: Turning into the Wind - To re-plan and change my life to include but not be dominated by the loss
Reconstruction: Picking up the Pieces - To take specific actions
Working Through: Finding Solid Ground - To engage in the conflicts
Integration: Daylight - To be willing to make and remake choices



I am without doubt at the "Observation" stage but have started dipping my toe in "The Turn" too. I've made some progress in my heart and mind, having approached or reacted to my loss on a primal level, spiritually and intellectually. I've expressed myself, reached out to others who are bereaved, got my career back on track, worked out my new "budget", bought a car and travelled (Australia, Singapore, Europe, USA). Learned and grown, found coping mechanisms and grieved so deeply that I thought I would never crawl out of that deep, dark place. Discovered that some friends are fair-weather, how important blood is, that I can still hear Cliff's voice and follow his advice, that I've also lost my fear of everything ... apart from spiders and driving on ice. One of the most important lessons I learned was that I had to embrace the pain, to fight it is futile and harder work. And grief is more tiring than anything else on this earth. That those who haven't been burned by its flames say the most fucking stupid things, but that after a while you just laugh (and sometimes in their faces). I've almost managed to swallow that bitterest of pills - asking for help. And accepting it. I have learned that there are always deeper darker depths to which you can sink. That I will survive this. That grief is physical as well as emotional - and I have the diabetes meds to prove it. That the line between sanity and insanity truly is as thin and fragile as the stuff that spiders spin their webs with. That the crap that people moan about and obsess themselves with is jack-shit and meaningless. That love is stronger than death. That love is eternal. To be kind to myself. After a year I even had sex again ... to prove that I could. Then discovered that I couldn't expel him from my body in doing so ... because he is firmly attached to my heart and soul. And always will be. I've acted irrationally, and participated in adrenaline-soaked activities ... just to feel alive ... sometimes to dare death ... and laughed contemptuously whilst doing so.

But one huge thing remains - my home, my routine. I'm "normal" at work, and socialize at weekends, visiting a couple of close friends. At home it is as though nothing has changed. Everything has remained as it was that day. Santa's still displayed from two seasons ago. A mug and dish and sweet wrappers left by him in the bedroom. I use his toothbrush on business travel and all this clothes are still folded ... waiting to be put back in his wardrobe. His tools are still laying as he left them ... and god help anyone that touches those. As I walk around my home, cruel reminders taunt me. In this respect, I have stood still for two years. Two fucking years. Waiting for him to come back, because he never let me down, not once. I've rejoined humanity ... but only at work, only on my irrational and widow-brained terms.

I now need to start "doing". Otherwise I will "get stuck". I need to organize all those sentimental photos, pieces of paper, concert tickets and precious memories into albums and scrapbooks, so that I am assured they are there for me to look through. But when I want to. Not because they are there haunting and hurting me. Then his clothes. His tools. Get the house finished and be mature about it ... rather than letting myself succumb to illness each time someone is due to help, so that it can be delayed. Then my home will be a little more like my heart - full of him still, but on the whole, "controlled" ... allowing myself time and space to grieve when I must.

Then I will have choices. Options. I can commit to plans. Entertain. Live again ... instead of living in this time warp of January 2009. Have the home that he worked so so hard to give me, instead of living in a shrine. He'd have hated that.

Live.

I choose life.

Scary, but exhilarating.

I'm under no illusion. Making active choices and carrying them through takes courage and it will be painful. But my beautiful strong husband did that too many times in his life, even as a small child. And for me not to would be wrong. He'd understand if I didn't. But he'd be disappointed.
Thank you Suzann, from the bottom of my heart.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Yesterday


Yesterday was hell.


First I felt so angry, full of bitterness about people who have abused my trust.


Stolen from me.


It hurts that they are not the people I thought they were.


That their attitude changed almost as soon as Cliff died.


That they are not men.


In fact, they don't even know what the definition of a man is.


I do.


I married one.


I have known for a long time that I have to let go of these feelings otherwise they will destroy me.


And I think I did yesterday.


For a while anyhow.


The problem was that when I let go of the negativity, the void allowed grief in once more.


I think that buying the photo albums, looking through pictures and mementos, such as our brochure from the Moulin Rouge - kept from our 1st Anniversary in Paris, and all the thinking and planning I've been doing over the weekend, on top of just getting through Christmas, NYE, his second anniversary, and being hormonal ... led to a huge outpouring. A realization of what I have lost. Forever.


But, as Cliff used to say to me, "Live and learn, Boo." I now know that I have to go through this pain to come out the other side.


And come out the other side I have. Today I'm lighter. Tired but lighter of heart.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Messages, Empathy, Looking Forward, and a "Sister's" gift



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.



Talk about messages.


My best girlfriend, Vicki phoned me last night to tell me that on January 6th she had woken up ... and thought to herself, "I can't do today," meaning she couldn't get dressed, go to college, or do anything that was routine for that day. She shared that she thought she had absorbed some of my pain and loss, and that for that day alone, it had manifested itself as a flu bug ... except that flu bugs don't last for only one day as hers did.

I laughed wryly and told her that I had reacted the self same way. That I too had fallen ill with the same bug, except that mine lasted for two days - the 5th and the 6th. That I'd had a painful throat, temperature, cough, cold ... even my eyes and ears were affected. But by Friday lunchtime, I had magically recovered.

She should have been firing on all cylinders having been given a clean bill of health after her mammogram the day before. Wild horses wouldn't keep her from attending her Interior Design Course - ill or not - usually.

Talk about empathy.

Another friend (from school) Kathy, phoned me from Sweden to see how I was faring on the second anniversary. She had re-read the Eulogy before calling and wanted to know when I was planning on visiting her. I told her that I wasn't because I'd hoped that we could travel to Africa together instead. For me, Kathy is the obvious person to visit Africa with, having been born and brought up on her family farm in Kenya. I suggested that we could go to South Africa and plan the trip so that we could meet up with both of our sisters (as mine goes there annually and her sister lives there), before going on to see her family in Kitale. She quickly agreed with one proviso. That we cross the border into Uganda to see the gorillas. I tell you, I couldn't hang that phone up fast enough so that I could surf and source possible places to stay ... and I may have found the perfect resort.



Talk about something to look forward to.

And upon returning to work on Friday, I received a gift from Suzann in the post. A book. I read it in two sittings. I found solace in the fact that I recognized my own feelings, thoughts and actions within its pages ... at times being surprised that some of the advice therein (at my stage) was stuff that I had only decided to do this week (such as making scrapbooks and photo albums) and that I often listen to Adagio for Strings (don't crucify me for loving this version), not just because I love it, but because I need to hear it as it expresses how I feel where words fail me. But most importantly, it compounded my intuition ... that I have to start making practical progress. It reminded me that one always has a choice. And I sure as hell am not going to be a widow stuck in this half-alive/half-dead state forever. How can I justify that? It was "right" for me to stand still for two years, but I know that I would not be honouring him if I stay here longer. It will be hard. I will fall over. But I'm going to do this. I'm going to take the harder more courageous path. For him. And for the first time in two years ... for me too.




Talk about a gift. (and perfectly timed)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

a glimpse at the boy and the man

"Your absense has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its colour"


“Meeting you was fate, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you I had no control over.”




“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”




“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”




“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”



"As I gazed into your eyes - something inside me forever changed...You laid there by my side and gave me a smile that tore down the walls surounding my Heart..I found what I'd been looking for all along..that magic feeling I could never have before..I felt you there.. beside me.. taking my hand in yours..When the tears faded away and I came to my senses - You gave me a promise I'd been dying to hear since the moment we met..You Told me that we'll always be together...Time and space ceased to be.. Our threads of fate became one..All the pain, doubt and fear in the world would not keep us apart..Not anymore..If I'd have died right then and there in your arms, it wouldn't matter.. It still would have been the happiest moment of my life.. Death is only death.. and you.. are so much more..But then something happened.. The dream ended.. I was forced to open my eyes only to realize.. that I had lost you once again..I had returned back to reality - along with the sad shards of my broken Heart.. The torment of nothingness inside me caused grief unlike any other.. And still.. I wouldn't trade that one moment of true happiness.. for anything.. even if it was just a dream..Though just a pleasant illusion - the time we shared together felt real enough to me.. And that's why I love the nightly darkness so..For I can't wait to close my eyes.. fall asleep once more.. and find you there again.."



"If I had a single flower for every time I think about you, I could walk forever in my garden."

Two Years




It's been two years since my husband died.

Two years.

The world has moved on two years.

But I have stood still.

For two years.

For the best part of that time, I wasn't even sure if he was dead.

But he is. I even have proof.



I knew him for half of my life and lived with him for a third of it.

He was the kindest, sweetest man I ever knew. He would have done anything for me, and he did.

He taught me so much, and I am still learning from him.

I've been loving him too long ... to stop now.



Highway, Highway - Joe Cocker


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?


Highway, highway


Where you go I don't know


Maybe closer to my dreams, maybe far away


Take me today


Highway, Highway


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


Highway, Highway


Where you go I don't know


Maybe closer to my dreams, maybe far away


Take me today


Highway, Highway


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.



(and here is Joe Cocker singing it).


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Beautiful words



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.
My own family history has a strong connection to Gibran's part of the world, my parents spoke of visiting Lebanon on various occasions, with such happiness. I was born in Bahrain (my parents lived there for 15 years) and I can still hear my father speaking fondly about the men he befriended whilst there. Indeed, my first words were Arabic.
As I thanked Lizi for her gift, I shared that I had just - only the night before - found a new blog (http://www.susiehemingway.com/) who writes from her heart about her husband who tragically lost his fight against Multiple Myeloma last year. I was struck by how similar a couple of images she had uploaded onto her blog were to the picture adorning the cover of the book I'd been gifted with, and that one of Gibran's poems was read at her husband's funeral.
And it is no exaggeration to say that Susie's words, along with Gibran's, afforded me more comfort and balm. They touched me and reached out to me in a way that one can't explain, but that widow/ers "get".
Today, the second anniversary of Cliff having a stroke, I had hoped to prove to myself that I could work through it, however my body had other ideas. I awoke this morning to find that my cold had developed into something worse. Throat on fire - causing my voice to sound, somewhat disturbingly, like a man's. Hacking cough. Eyes, ears and nose all affected. So, I called my boss and went back to bed, sleeping away the day.
When I woke up again, I felt so painfully alone and logged onto Facebook and my blog. I read the comforting comments left for me, I saw a couple of people were reading my blog ... and that made me think, "I am not alone." I'm not. Not really. For he is always with me - in my heart - connected to my soul - or other worldly-wise.
My beautiful strong husband, who died so bravely. My baba, whose only thoughts and last words were for me, not himself, even as he was dying.
How lucky I am to have known the love that I have and from such a man.
Tomorrow, I hope I shall be well enough to return to work. Tonight, I hope that I will dream of him.
Inshallah.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

This time two years ago

This time two years ago we spent our last night together in bed. We were both restless, and kept waking up. We held each other all night, which was rare because generally upon falling asleep, as most couples do, we would sleep cuddled up, in our case, usually with his right arm slung over me. But that last night, we literally took it in turns to hold each other. All night long. I can remember looking at the back of him ... his broad shoulders, his neck, the way his hair rested on his neck. I lay there for a few minutes just letting my eyes drink him in. I remember the urge to just hold him tight and never let him go. Fear of losing him flitting across my mind for a moment.




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

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

I watched "A Christmas Vacation" - the Chevy Chase version, that Cliff and I watched faithfully every holidays. I sat alone in my PJ's, and it was there on the TV screen. But those sniggers and guffaws that used to accompany different scenes just didn't happen without him. It made me immeasurably sad to think that this would have been the year that our roof looked like this.




I got to Cliff's family at 22h00, had a swift drink and then found myself ushered into a cab by his nephew (Louis) to meet John (Cliff's youngest brother) at the "old men's club" as I call it ... it's a pub that his Dad and entire family have used over the years. I think we only went in there once or twice to meet them over the years, and if I am completely honest, it would never have figured in any of our NYE plans ... so for that reason alone, it was THE perfect venue to see NYE in. The landlord joined us for a smoke on the patio, and started talking about Cliff ... and I mentioned that I was his wife. He went so quiet - serious, and just looked in my eyes and shook my hand, holding on to it for a few seconds. He would not let me pay for another drink all night and made a point of kissing me on the cheek just after 00h00. John held me tight, squeezing me twice, and hard - for a minute and asked me if I was okay. I was. It just felt surreal, like any night, nothing special. Or perhaps I was all cried out, after a boo-a-thon of 48 hours.

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).
Louis told me that if I wanted to go anywhere else at all, to see our friends at various bars/clubs in the area, that he'd go with me ... but my intuition was telling me to stay put. So we did.
My mind was showing a private viewing of cine-movies, randomly:
Our NYE in the Dominican Republic (1999). Me dressed up in his favourite long black dress. The fireworks. The delectable Chilean bubbles we had with dinner. The novelty "tiara" I wore, supplied by the resort.

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.