Resilience: “ the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.” (Google Dictionary)
I have not written for a while for a number reasons. It has been 18 months since Angus died. I wondered if I should give up the blog and try and leave some of this journey behind, avoiding too much introspective naval gazing. It is not always socially acceptable in this British culture of ours to bare your soul. But then, I realise that I am not your stereotypical British stoic. It’s not surprising really given the Hungarian and Irish blood coursing through my veins. We are a family of cryers and it takes very little to generate a quiver in our collective bottom lips. Angus, with his Latvian heritage joined in unashamedly with the rest of us. So while I value courage, stoicism is not for me. It is a pretence that all is well with the world and, of course, that is a lie. If we lie to our friends then it undermines the value of friendship. To write is a way of expressing, externalising and sharing aspects of this onward journey.
So where to start…
In September Rudi and Natasha left West Street to start the next chapter of their lives at Northumbria and Nottingham Trent Universities, both studying Business Studies. It was so exciting and yet just so devastating . Prior to their start I talked lightly of it to those who asked, those who wisely anticipated the new hole it would leave.
“Yes, yes, it will be fine.” I said, ” This is what is supposed to happen. They need this new chapter in their lives. It will be great. I’ll be fine. It will be nice to have a bit of peace and quiet!”
Yeah. Right. Delusion and denial….the heart trying to protect itself. In reality it has been another year of huge adjustment for all three of us.
I am so proud of Rudi and Tasha. I know Angus would be too. They have not only adjusted, but bloomed. They have made friends, learned how to look after themselves, discovered new influences and interests, opened their minds, developed new tastes. They eat many….many VEGETABLES now. They want to be HEALTHY…..
“Why isn’t there any healthy food in the fridge mum?”
Who knew? Rudi goes to ART GALLERIES and listens to PODCASTS! Tasha organises her life with military precision, and I suspect, those of many of her friends. She loves good food, both in restaurants and at home. Between them they have visited or are planning visits to Austria, Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam and Rhodes. They have self funded their holidays too. They ‘phone, FaceTime or text me every few days and we meet often. They are both in relationships with mature, kind, generous people who, as in the best relationships, make them fuller, wiser and more loving versions of themselves. Beth and Jake give Rudi and Tasha some of the love, reassurance and validation that was so deeply lost when Angus died.
Monty and I were all set to muddle along together after the children left. But in all the chaos of the university shopping and applying for student grants and moving them in, we failed to see that Monty wasn’t well. He had not been right since Angus’ death, he was listless, drinking loads of water, but the vet and I put it down to grief for his beloved master. However, when he started wee-ing every night he had more tests and eventually he was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease caused by a tumour on is adrenal gland. At that point it did just seem a bit unfair. To cut a long story short, ( and to avoid a shaggy dog story….sorry…I love a pun), after much deliberation we took him to Dick White’s extraordinary veterinary hospital in Newmarket where he had surgery to remove the tumour, which as far as they can tell, is benign. He has made a wonderful recovery and rediscovered his joie de vivre. Tasha, with her customary pragmatism made me laugh when she said:
“It’s just as well Monty didn’t die or the operation would have been a complete waste of money”
She is her father’s daughter.
I know we are so fortunate to have been able to afford medical care for Monty, and the irony of his receiving significantly superior care to that available to many people of the world is certainly not lost on me. But somehow the prospect of losing Monty was just too great to bear. He is a luxury item and extremely high maintenance. Insurance….yes we had it….no they did not pay for the op…..don’t ask.
As for me….I am muddling on. A friend of mine who lost her husband some years ago warned me that this second year of grieving is, in some ways, easier and in others, much more difficult than the first and she was right. The first year was driven by a kind of determination to keep going, to complete the huge number of tasks following the death of a spouse, to be a good mother. The sadness was to be expected. People flocked around us. But this year has been quieter. The children gone. Some people falling away as life goes on….understandably. One cannot wear one’s sadness quite so openly…it just isn’t appropriate. I wouldn’t want to burden my friends and family more than I already do. And it is boring…I bore myself with it. But believe me that sadness remains, relentlessly clinging like a greasy dust, contaminating every moment of every day. It is like living parallel lives, the one in which you appear normal and laugh and function pretty well, and the one in your head which thinks constantly about what is lost. I do not cry all the time now and there are many many relatively happy moments brought by kind, loving generous people.
But there is an inevitable loneliness and isolation to it all. The price of love is grief. I find myself gazing at elderly couples, hand in hand and envy them. I deeply miss the life that Angus and I shared and mourn the present and future lost to us: the daily conversations , the jokes and memories we shared. What would he think of the world of Brexit and Trump? The world moves on unstoppably. I will soon be older that Angus was when he died….the two years between us extinguished and I will continue to grow older while he will remain forever 50. I have cleared out his wardrobes and his office with lovely people to support me. I have to say he was a TERRIBLE hoarder! He kept every item of clothing he had pretty much ever owned. He kept every appliance AND ITS BOX even when they were defunct. There were treasures too….his wedding speech written neatly on little postcards…a menu from our honeymoon. I have kept a few bits…and a pair or two of the hotel slippers.
My confidence and sense of identity wax and wain. For so long I was Angus’ wife. Sometimes it makes me oversensitive about the things people say and do. I see a shadow of disapproval or judgement about my choices or an unwelcome offer of advice, where perhaps there is none. I call it the soft underbelly of grief . Most of the time I give myself a good talking too and a day or two later gain a little perspective on the matter. But the unpredictability and uncertainty of grief are a constant challenge. And vulnerability is where the devil finds work.
I am so busy with the everyday stuff. The pink jobs, the blue jobs, and , it seems, everyone else jobs as well. Only people who live alone, who parent alone understand the relentlessness of these daily tasks. The bulb that goes, the tap that breaks, another bill, another wash, another meal. Angus did so much in our lives and I know I was lucky. And I know I have a great deal of help….both paid and unpaid which I deeply appreciate. And so many people are so much worse off. But still. It is hard and I get so tired.
So what helps? How do I cope? I have developed a number of strategies and resources that keep me going.
FAITH: I wish I could say I am as faithful to my God as HE has been to me but there have been times of real challenge where I still struggle to understand why this has happened to us. I know all the Christian theology around this but it is hard. The bible is full of stories of extremely challenging lives and people calling out to God. But it is so hard when the prayers of others for healing are heard and answered …
”Praise God!” they say.
Don’t get me wrong …it IS wonderful but why not us? I am blessed with a wonderful church family and small home group as well as close Christian friends and so I continue to try to live the life, read the bible, pray, go to church and TRUST that all will indeed be well in the end. God works all things. ALL THINGS. For good. We are very blessed in so many rich ways and I am trying my very best to be truly THANKFUL for these blessings every day.
WORK: Work is good. It grounds, rewards, inspires and motivates me. It is good to offer help to others. It is good to try and make a difference. On the whole I am able to cope with our clients, cancer and all, except when a situation is just too similar to ours. But my colleagues, special people, support me. I don’t tell people my story unless they ask and you would be surprised how few people one meets, both at work and in life, actually ask many questions. Perhaps people aren’t all as nosey as I am.
PROJECTS: I have a number of projects planned for the house which, after 17 years of family life, is in need of some tender loving care. To start with I am extending and renewing our kitchen, something we were planning before Angus’ death. I want to provide a space where friends and family can gather, share food, life and love.
I have commissioned a headstone for Angus’ grave. It will say that he was:
“ A Gentle Man and a Gentleman”.
Basically sums him up don’t you think?
FUN AT FIFTY: I turned fifty in February and I have had special times with the aforementioned dear friends and family. The icing on the cake will be a special trip to Thailand with Rudi and Natasha in December. When I was forty Angus took us to Africa to fulfil a dream I had. Memories were made…I floated above the Serengeti in a hot air balloon at dawn. What a gift. Angus wasn’t that keen on going to Africa. But oh my he fell in love with it. He took about a million photos. He would have loved Thailand too. So my gift to myself and the children is to create an adventure for us and to make new and equally special memories that will glue us together.
FRIENDSHIP: F and F mean everything.
MEANINGFUL MOMENTS: A friend has a son who plans to name his own son…one day…after Angus. Other friends are naming their new Labrador puppy…GUS. So appropriate. I went to the wedding of our bridesmaid. It was really beautiful. These things honour Angus and remind me that he is not forgotten.
WRITING: I have just completed a Certificate in Creative Writing which was demanding but wonderful too. I met some amazing people and learned a lot. Like most things the more you learn the more you understand about how little you know. This year I am planning a couple of short courses and to make time write other things for myself.
DIET. EXERCISE. AND ALL THAT STUFF. Don’t do enough but try to anyway.
THE POWER OF WORDS: Reading (stuff about grief and other stuff.) Films. Plays. Radio. TV. They give me distraction, stories and a wider understanding of the world.
Yesterday I listened to Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of facebook and a heroine of mine, talking on Desert Island Discs about her life, including the recent loss of Dave, her husband and father to their two children, to a heart attack aged 48. She has written a wonderful book about building resilience after loss called ‘OPTION B’. Her words, both on the radio and in the book remind us that all of us experience loss in life, that we can survive it, that it makes time to find a new normal and that its ok to talk about it and to cry and to be sad. I salute her resilience.
As for me…. a friend of mine has a great saying about our efforts in this earthly life:
“We do our s****y best”
Not an elegant or indeed inoffensive phrase but pretty good at summing up stuff for me just now.
For those who pray:
Please continue to pray for us. For faith, resilience, courage and, in the fullness of time, joy.