Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Lion Tamer

At first I was angry about so many things in my new normal life. I felt I had every right to be angry because I had lost everything that I held dear in this little rented terrace. I was so angry. I screamed and used the most inappropriate language to anyone who was brave enough to enter the darkness and try to connect with me. My mother in particular was the receiver of my wrath.

I upset almost anyone and everyone that crossed my path. Some deserved it but others did not.
The reason why I was so angry with other people is clearer to me now. I was furious that they did not understand what I was going through.

Anger is a complex emotion. It is very different from the feeling of losing ones temper because that, at least, is an outburst which leads to some sort of outcome. The anger I felt in the early days and months was such an overwhelming sense of outrage and fury that I questioned my own character.

But still, I raged on. I was snappy, impatient and antagonistic. And most of the time I didn't care. I had lost the capacity to care for others and I certainly didn't care about myself. When the person you love so deeply and intimately dies, I am afraid that this is what is can do to you. I became somebody that I didn't recognise and worst of all, I was someone that I did not like.

I came to realise after entering my new normal that I had never truly been angry before Bebe died. I had lost my temper only once in the 8 years we had together. I had felt the pressure building and it led to an angry outburst which was not my finest moment - but it was directed at somebody else. In the cinema, during a film. Yep.

So somewhere between Bebe dying and where I am now, I began to take stock. I did this because I began to truly understand that I have a choice in these matters. I knew that I did not want to continue treating people around me, particularly the ones who were trying to reach out, like they had done something wrong.

I was angry because I wanted somebody or something to blame for my situation. I thought I would blame cancer - that vile, incomprehensible and silent hijacker of life but that just made me feel even more powerless.

My thoughts turned to how powerless I had become over my emotions. I understood that I needed to cry and be sad because after tears, all encompassing as they were, I always felt slightly calmer.

But anger was a different animal. It was a lion that strolled through my being as if it owned the place and it was the cancer that was giving this animal the freedom to my city. It had to stop.

Cancer had taken the life of my loved one. The anger was a reaction and I refused that it would hitch a lift on the back of my attempt to survive.

And with that, I battled it away. I went to bed one night and I talked myself down from the trees. My life is precious. The people who love me deserve the best of me.

I deserve the best of me.

For Bebe: I was never angry in all those years we were together and we had a great life. I cannot promise that I won't get annoyed as these times are very testing for me. But I promise that I will continue to let go of this anger and not let it spoil me or my relationships with others.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The New Normal

I had been travelling for so long when I finally arrived at the outreach post.
The journey had seemed endless and I had totally lost my bearings. I was scared, utterly disoriented and completely unsure what to expect at the other end.

During the journey, it had been so dark. I don't recall seeing many people at the roadside - there were a few people I recognised and they were waving me on. I can't be absolutely certain but I think there was some cheering but by the same token, I heard some of them crying too and I remember thinking that it was very strange.

The easiest part of the journey was when I slept. All long haul travel is less burdensome if you can break it up with periods of slumber and so I figured that this trip may be the same.

But even during sleep, I had an overwhelming feeling in my subconscious that I hadn't packed the right things. I knew that I had forgotten something and it made me feel uneasy.

I thought it may be a good idea to stop off along the way and try to figure out if I was on the right track. This proved to be more unsettling because when I asked for directions, I realised that nobody could understand what I was saying. This seemed ridiculous and frustrating because essentially I was speaking the same language and yet the other travellers looked at me with confusion and panic.

I continued to struggle onward. I knew at some point that surely I would find a stranger who may be able to understand what I was saying, yet the route seemed to get less crowded and I was fearful that I was entering a deserted area where there would be literally nobody to help me answer my questions at all.

Finally, when I was on the verge of giving up, I arrived at the outreach post.

There was a gatekeeper who asked me for my details. She asked me 'Are you qualified to enter this world?'

I couldn't believe that there, in the still of the night was somebody who seemed to be expecting me.

'I'm sorry that you qualify to enter' she said 'but I am glad you have found us.'

I was tired from my travels, absolutely exhausted. I hadn't eaten in so long and I had cried such a lot.

I went through the gate and immediately I was helped along with all of my bags of sadness. The town was packed with people - men and women, all quite young really - not much more than the age of fifty. Some of the people were very young - much younger than me.

Some of the townsfolk had children. One lady had 4 beautiful children, all under the age of ten and one of them was just a babe in arms. There were other women who were pregnant.

I noticed several women were wearing a wedding dress, just like me. And plenty of men and women, who just like me, had no children.

For a moment, I could not quite believe where I had ended up. I hadn't expected this and I certainly never planned for it. None of the people in this town had a husband or a wife or a partner and they were all so very sad. There were hundreds and hundreds of them - thousands even. All with their own special memories, heartbreaking stories, hopes and fears.

There was a small group in the corner that looked a little brighter. Some of them were sharing a joke and managing to laugh a little. Some of them said they only visit here now and again, because they live somewhere else these days.

When I had gathered my thoughts, I told them my story. I told them of Bebe and how he had caught a different train and that there was nothing we could do to stop it leaving. I also told them of my terrible journey into the unknown and how frightened I was to be without him.

'Is this normal?' I asked.

'This is the new normal.' they replied.

For Bebe:
I am living the new normal. I have connected with people who understand what it is like to lose a spouse or partner. However, my loss is unique because you were an incredible soulmate.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The mono-rail

Life in my new normal world still has some sort of familiarity. 

Today I did my weekly shop in the same supermarket I have frequented for the past year, although the list is different. I have slowly got to grips with shopping for one.

At the checkout, I was behind a mother who was in the throes of trying desperately to placate her toddler who was throwing the most almighty tantrum.
I had not witnessed the start of the battle but it had escalated to such an extent that the little boy had thrown himself onto the floor and was having a meltdown.

‘Why?’ he screamed, amidst his snotty gurgles. 

‘Because that is why!’ said his mother, as she multi-tasked packing the frozen foods whilst half leaning over and trying to coax her child back to his feet.

I was pretty sure that her answer was not going to cut it with her little lad. If he was in such a fit of rage, he was clearly expecting a much better answer to his question than the one that she was offering.

‘But why?’ he persisted, or rather it was more ‘But WHYYYYYYYYY?’ 

At this point, I started to put my toothpaste and bubble bath neatly on the conveyor belt, behind one of those nice plastic barriers that denotes that my goods are separate. I noticed that the little fella had put so much effort and emotion into his query, that his face was almost the colour of my pickled beetroot.

With her shopping packed up and her bill paid, the mother then bent down and scooped up her child. He was still kicking and screaming. He was still asking ‘why?’ and she was still adamant in her response. ‘…because that is why!’

It struck me today, right there at the checkout, that the toddler in me is still living too. Okay, I am a grown woman and have the grace not to put on a full scale drama show and crumble to my knees screaming ‘Why?’ at the Sainsbury’s checkout.

But behind closed doors, I have asked the same question as that kid, with all the tears and snot and rage. In fact, I have done it many times since ‘the blow’ – never in front of Bebe but certainly in front of the mirror in the middle of the night. Back then, I screamed the question silently with a pain so deep in my soul, I thought that I myself may die from it.

I never thought that I was capable of displaying my emotions so silently. Anger, I thought, was something that showed itself with sound. 

After he died, the emotion came with sound. It also came with volume. It wasn’t in public but it was in my home and yes, I was like that child – crumbled on the floor in a pitiful heap of sorrow and rage.

‘Why?’ is probably the first question we learn to ask as we are growing up. 

‘Why’ is a powerful because it demands a reason. 

We always want to know the reason. We always want to know why, because somehow we think that if we have the reason for something that can’t, might, will or has happened then we have this sense that it will be easier to accept.

But if we continue to ask the question and we don’t get an explanation or a reason then we continue to feel desperate for an answer. For months, I was in that loop. It is a horrible place to be – like I was on a monorail at a grief theme-park and it just kept bringing me back to the place I had alighted.

For the past couple of months, I have refused to engage with the question. I have accepted that there is no reasonable explanation of why Bebe got so ill, so quickly and so silently. I have stopped asking ‘why didn’t we realise that something was so terribly wrong?’

And I have also realised, that even if you attempt to ask the first question, it really only leads to a chain of other equally frustrating ‘whys’ and the worst one of all is ‘Why him?’

I refuse to ask any longer because firstly, there is no acceptable reason and secondly, it changes nothing.

If I continue to ask the questions, then I continue to be frozen in time and paralysed with fear and pain. I choose now to move forward and I know that he would want that.

The thing is, he never asked the question ‘Why me?’

He did the direct opposite and asked ‘Why not me?’

I remember him saying it very early on. And he said it with a surprising nonchalance.

The mother at the checkout was more accurate than she may have even realised today. Her response was ‘because that is why’

She had a point.

For Bebe: I have stopped asking ‘Why?’ There will never be an answer. Like you always said – ‘It is what it is.’

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Sandcastle

Nobody can ever imagine what it is like to lose your love but I cannot ignore the elephant in the room if I am going to blog my journey.

So I have chosen to share my experience through an analogy. It is rather a long analogy but I hope you will bear with me as I try to paint a picture of my loss by telling you a story I have written…

One day, a little girl was playing on the beach and decided to build a sandcastle. She only had one bucket and she knew that although it was possible to build a castle with her bucket, she had far bigger plans.

You see, this girl didn’t want to just settle for the kind of sandcastle that appears after a few firm taps on the bottom of the bucket because she had bigger ideas. She wanted turrets, and a fortress wall and a drawbridge and a moat and well…the list goes on.

Anyway, she gets to work on it. She spends a bit of time carefully mapping out the boundaries and deciding how she is going to build this masterpiece and uses her finger to draw an outline in the sand where she will make the walls.

A little boy has noticed what she is doing. He is all alone, just like she is and although he is shy, he plucks up the courage to ask her if he can join in. She likes the look of him and also on a practical note, she sees that he has a bucket too and she agrees that they will work together and make this lovely castle.
All afternoon, they play together on the beach and craft the most wonderful castle. They dig out the moat and squeal with laughter as they run back and forth to the sea with water and try to fill it up.
Later on, as the sun goes down, both of them know that the end of their fun is nearing as they will be called back to their family to be told that it is time to go home. And so quickly, they both use the shells they have gathered to put the finishing touches on their castle and without noticing that the tide is coming in, they stand back and admire their construction.
It is quite simply the best castle that anyone could ever make and they are both so proud that they built it together.

But suddenly, from nowhere or so it seems, a massive wave comes crashing over it and in one mighty swipe, the castle has gone.

It is absolutely obliterated.

The little girl looks on in horror. She feels an overwhelming sense of disbelief as her whole body feels like it has gone into shock. She couldn’t see that coming and there was nothing she could do about it.
She stares at what was once the castle. That beautiful castle that she had been crafting so lovingly with her mate in what felt to her like a lifetime. 

She can just about make out the boundaries of it but the walls and the turrets and the drawbridge have all gone. The shells are scattered all over the place – just fragments of a reminder that just moments ago, things had been so very different.

And now she starts to shiver and cry. She turns for comfort to her mate.
But he has gone.

She falls to her knees and scrambles around trying to pick up a tiny shell. And holding it in her hand, she knows already that as small as it may be, it will serve as a reminder of what once was.

At that moment in time, the whole day just seems wasted. All of that effort to be left with nothing and no-one that will ever truly understand just how magnificent that castle was.

She vows to tell people about that castle. And the day on the beach with her mate who helped her build it. But she knows that they will never really understand. They will never really get it.

For Bebe. I can’t rebuild the castle without you.
I will build another castle. It won’t be the same but it will still be magnificent.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Fuschia Tree

On the 6th of June 2014, my partner of nearly 8 years was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was 37 years old. 
We married on the 22nd of June and he passed away at home, where he wanted to be, just 12 days later.
I have been in hiding for the last six months. Not literally, although it may have seemed that way to some people. But now, I am ready and willing to share my story and my journey of 'Living the New Normal'.

It may have been logical to start my story at the beginning. It may have been easier to let you know about the shock of diagnosis, the traincrash of being dealt 'the blow' that our lovely life together was about to be smashed to pieces but I figured that there is no point in that. Not today.

Because today something happened. Something small but amazing that unlocked my soul and let it breathe once more.
Today I am filled with hope and  I am choosing to start my story with where I am today.

I live in a little terraced house in South Wales. It doesn't have much of a garden, more of a backyard.
Back in June, the yard was filled with flowers - courtesy of my mother, a keen gardener who decided that if my Bebe was coming home from the hospital then he would appreciate something 'nice' to look out upon.

So there it was, one day on our return from 'the blow'- a yard transformed with beautiful plants and flowers every shade of the rainbow. It was here, in the yard, that he asked me to marry him. Amidst the rented blooms and in the blazing heat of the summer sunshine.

After he died the flowers remained. My mother moved in for a couple of weeks and tended to them morning and night. She also tended to me. I was incapable of doing anything at all.

In the heat of last summer, I lay in bed under the duvet. I didn't eat. I didn't speak. I wanted to die. I could not manage to do beyond the basics - laying in bed and having a shower or a bath. I figure now, that both of these activities were the only way I could feel heat wrapped around my body but beyond this there was nothing.

But during that time, my mother continued to water the flowers. She also fed the flowers - something I had never realised one needed to do. She also tried to feed me. I would not eat.

And then she left. After a couple of weeks I requested that she allowed me to be alone. I had become dependent on her buying my two staple requirements - diet coke and cigarettes.
I also knew, despite my acute state of trauma that I would eventually leave the house if I knew I had to fetch these supplies myself.

She left reluctantly. To see the depth of her own daughter's pain on losing her love must have been heartbreaking in itself. But she agreed to leave me on one condition - that I look after the flowers.
'It's easy', she said 'you only have to water them - you must water them or they will die'.

As she left on that Saturday morning, I agreed that I would look after them.
And then I went back to bed. The sun continued to shine and I stayed inside with curtains firmly drawn. And in my world, that time seemed to have forgotten, it continued to be dark.

I never watered the flowers. And they withered - until they browned and then they died.

As Autumn set in, and I stood out on the yard to smoke yet another cigarette - I would stare at the graveyard of flowers that I had 'cultivated'.

On the window sill, sits a fuschia tree, which at her height of glory was resplendent and a beautiful backdrop to the aforementioned proposal. The last few months, like me, she has looked lost, bleak and lifeless. I don't know much about gardening but I came to the conclusion that like me - life was over for this little plant. No more blossom or colour, just a stark network of dry, dead twigs that had once been the life and soul of the (garden) party.

But today I noticed something amazing. I was staring at the Fuschia tree and smoking yet another cigarette. Like my life in the early days of the 'new normal', I just wasn't expecting to see or witness anything different....

....But there on the 'lifeless' twigs, I spotted some tiny, baby green shoots. It struck me so dramatically that life does go on. My little fuschia tree that has been with me throughout the last 6 months or so has sprung back to life. She never actually stopped living.

And I realised today, that my life is like my fuschia tree. I too, just like people promised me, have begun to develop some new green shoots. Small shoots that have the capacity to grow and if I tend to them then I have the chance to blossom again.

For Bebe. I promised you that I would be okay. I am.