Reasons to be Cheerful & Mushroom Soup

Reasons to be Cheerful & Mushroom Soup

I’ve just made myself mushroom soup with an onion that had seen better days, some rather sad looking mushrooms, a dodgy bit of stock powder, some water, a squeeze of juice from a mouldy old lemon I found at the back of the fridge and some sour cream – it wasn’t meant to be sour but hey beggars can’t be choosers.   The funny thing is, it was absolutely delicious!

COVID-19 has thrown us all into a bit of a tizz but as I rummage around in my store cupboards and debate with friends via WhatsApp whether ciabatta flour from 2013 is OK to use, I reflect that there are many good things to come of this pandemic; reasons to be cheerful if you like, and I’m not only talking about  mushroom soup.

2020-03-22 17.17.27Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 1  My babies are home. That’s got to be a plus. I mean, I know that they will eat me out of house and home, drive me up the wall leaving clothes all over the place, not to mention coats, trainers, glasses, plates, etc etc. Their washing will pile up in the laundry basket and they will all miraculously vanish every time I ask for help with washing up/drying up/washing/hanging out washing/ tidying/cooking/cleaning etc etc. But they are here. They are here.  We are playing games, reading, going for family walks, laughing round the dinner table, baking – and with a Queen’s Speech scheduled for Sunday, the only thing missing really is the Christmas Tree, and Rich.

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 2  But Rich is here too. As I hang out the washing in the glorious sun, about the only thing around here not self-isolating, I come across his T-shirts and sweatshirts.  Much loved and well-worn items of clothing, now distributed equally between the 6 of us, and of course every item of clothing brings back a memory or reminds me of a story.  We’ve been looking at photos too – while we can’t plan anything beyond today, we are drawn to our yesterdays and the photo albums Rich and I so diligently filled for the first 15 years of our marriage, before everything went digital. I love this one I found of me showing my Mum my engagement ring. Richy looks so pleased with himself and yes, the Think Pink sweatshirt lives on with Toby having laid claim to it these days, I hung it on the line earlier…..Engagement ring photoI’m grateful that the Coronavirus has given me time at home to wallow self-indulgently in these photos.

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 4  A friend left a jam jar of freshly picked garden flowers on my doorstep, a tiny gesture of friendship that meant so much to me.

2020-03-25 09.11.28

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 5. I’ve been cooking, baking and leaving care packages for friends – sausage rolls, cheesecake, bread, and the famous family carrot cake which have been welcomed by the recipients, and this gives me such pleasure.  It also helps me clean out my cupboards and I have learnt valuable lessons – for example, the ciabatta bread mix with a use by date of 2013 mentioned earlier, should be thrown into the bin.  If you come across similar, do not attempt to make ciabatta with it, it categorically will not rise to the occasion.  However, the good news is that red lentils of dubious heritage will make a delicious supper for all the family if you just zhuzh (or is it juj) them up with some onion and garlic, a squirt of tomato puree a tin of tomatoes, and the secret ingredient, a teaspoon of marmite.  You can vary this recipe by putting mashed potato on the top for a veggie shepherds pie or by adding bacon for the carnivores.  Delicious, and thanks must go to Sarah Howie my friend and colleague at Zenith North all those years ago when we worked with two young boys, Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, but a couple of cheeky orphans in short trousers at Newcastle’s Byker Grove.

2020-03-24 16.41.22

Reasons to be Cheerful Part Six.  I’ve started to run again and am fortunate that I am able to take the dog over the fields and far away. We run along the bank of the Great Ouse, and the Heron and the Robin appear – it may sound deranged but I think of them as the reincarnation of Rich and my brother John respectively, and it is always so comforting to know that they are here.

2020-03-25 11.16.10

Rich also came to me in a dream – funny how he appears at key moments – I felt his presence so keenly that when I woke I reached out for him and for a split second expected him to by lying there beside me.   But of course, he was not there. 

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 7.  I’ve been added to a Poem Exchange, not normally something I have the time to countenance but it has been illuminating and the poems I have been sent have been an extraordinary mix of the familiar and unknown, from WH Auden to Carol Anne Duffy and Robert Frost to Rilke. Here is one of my favourites from today, more a blessing than a poem:

“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let

The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”

John O’Donohue

What a privilege it is to have the time to read and absorb such sentiments.  I’m sharing one a day with a friend of mine, it has brought us closer together even though we can’t actually meet in person.

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 8.  There has been much talk of community and the bringing together of people as a result of this pandemic.  I’ve signed up to be an NHS Responder and I’m the street rep for our area.  I popped leaflets through doors, I’ve chatted to neighbours at 2 metre distances and I’ve marvelled at the support on offer for those isolating or vulnerable.  The Teddy Bears in my bedroom window wave at the kids on their bear hunts and tomorrow I will paint a rainbow to stick that up there too.  We clapped for the second Thursday in a row as our street joined the nation in applauding the NHS and all key workers.  I hope and pray that the sense of community will continue long after the airborne coronavirus particles have blown away.  The WhatsApp messages that punctuate the day with amusing videos will cease of course, the tiktok routines will lose their competitive allure, the virtual Zoom meetings, and online House Party gatherings will be replaced by the real thing. But perhaps neighbourhood friendships and FaceTime Family chats will endure, as wherever we may be in the world, we appreciate the importance of making the time to spend with eachother, virtually or in person, and understand far better, the fragility of life; the message that will prevail – you are not alone.  I was so moved today when my eldest showed me this video – a song from Dear Evan Hansen that moves me at the best of times performed by the cast remotely and socially distanced and yet united.

And so for now, I must gather my children in and protect them as much as I can, for as long as I need to. As the flags all across Italy fly at half mast and my sister-in-law buries her mother with only six people allowed at the humble graveside funeral, life seems so cruel and unfathomable but by the same token, I feel grateful for so much and I am not alone as I find my feet on fresh pastures of promise.

“And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning”

2020-03-22 17.58.22

 

Update

It’s been a while since I have written.  That sounds a bit like a confession. 

“Forgive me readers for I have sinned, it has been a while since my last blog post” 

Actually that is not strictly true.  I am half way through a piece entitled I Cry In The Bath.  It is an account of the day of Rich’s funeral, the last few days of his life, but it is too hard to write and too difficult to finish so it will remain in the drafts folder for now.

I guess the dearth of composition is a good thing in a way as it must indicate that I am sleeping better, which I am.  Although the downside of that is that I am absolutely exhausted, physically and mentally, emotionally and physiologically.  In the scheme of things, I have worked out that is really quite a lot of exhaustion to cope with.  And in two days I head off to climb Mount Kenya.

I’ve been doing that thing I do – being busy being busy, to fend off the demons, resisting the grief mavens who tell you what you should be thinking/feeling/doing/reading.

I’ve recorded a podcast with the amazing Nicky Vincent.

This is Strong

I’ve been interviewed by the local paper one year on.

I’ve sold a business. 

And I cried at yoga yesterday.  That is a new one on me.  Not only do I cry in the bath (blog post to follow, eventually), I now cry at yoga.

It had been a long day.  I met my new best friend the beautiful Jo Green for coffee.  She was pretty fucked off with life to be honest.  She wants to be in her 50s again (hey Jo, its not all its cracked up to be).  She wants to be loved, and feel useful and feel fit but as it is she is 72, living on her own wondering what to do with her spare time when not looking after her niece’s daughter, the lovely Elsie, and she wants her hip to stop hurting.

To get the measure of Jo you need to read this.  I wrote it for her birthday. I want to be her when I grow up, although maybe without the creaking hip – oh wait, I’ve actually got that already….

Jo
(with apologies to Hilaire Belloc)

There is a girl whose name is Jo
A feisty lass I’ve got to know
Her sparkly eyes, they shine so bright
Her hair is gorgeous, nearly white
She’s got this coat, its warm and green
The nicest coat I’ve ever seen
She says she bought it for a song –
A charity shop if I’m not wrong.

And one fine day by happy fate
our worlds collided, an auspicious date.
You’d never guess she’s 72
(we’ll keep that quiet – just me and you;
the others, they don’t need to know
that she was born so long ago)
She lights the world up as she goes
With her passion and laughter, her jewellery and clothes.

Her high flying career has made her so wise
She’s seen so much with those sparkly eyes
So we praise the day that the stunning Jo Green
Burst magnificently onto this earthly scene.
Religion and politics – don’t get her started,
She’ll win any battle, but don’t be downhearted.
Her mind is so strong, her thoughts are quite bold
At 72 she is far from old!

A bionic woman, her one good hip
Is made of titanium, it makes her zip
(the other one’s not quite so strong
but as you’d expect, she keeps running along)
chasing her little sweet Elsie Bear,
the joy of her life, and they’re quite a pair!
They sing and they dance, they giggle and play
Then they say goodbye ’til another day.

And Jo Green meets me to have a chat
We laugh, cry and talk about this and that:
Love, and the universe, good and bad luck
(She swears like a trooper, she always says fuck)
Jung is her hero, Jesus is too
She’s sassy and spiritual and I think that’s my cue…
To say what this poem was written to say
HAPPY BIRTHDAY my friend – have a Wonderful Day!!

Thank you Jo Green, my new best friend
Much love to you, with this poem I send.

So we had coffee, or more precisely I had coffee, she had green tea having been throwing up all day yesterday.  I think we gave each other a little bit of strength as we hugged goodbye and went our separate ways, me to climb a mountain, her to get a porch light fitted so that when the love of her life does come knocking at her door, she can actually see him (any eligible suitors let me know).

I then met another feisty woman Zara to talk about an International Women’s Day event she wants me to get involved in on my return from Mount Kenya – I go on Monday, did I mention that??

I then came home and set up a dropbox folder for the people buying my business.  I wanted to give them a toolkit for taking over which would help them take things forward.  It felt a bit like when your kids are being looked after by someone for the first time and you write a long list of dos and don’ts.  What food they are allowed, when they have their nap, what they can watch on TV, what to give them to drink and when, who the Doctor is, what smelly teddy they like to cuddle at night, what story they like best etc etc. (by the time you are leaving your fifth child you just run out of the door, skirt inevitably tucked in your nickers, grabbing your passport from the side, if you remember, as you fall into your taxi shouting ‘the number for Dominos is on the fridge’). 

web___C5A6290

Letting go of the Kiosk is a bit like letting go of a child.  I gave birth to that business 8 years ago, having first approached the borough council in 2009 to ask whether it was feasible to turn an empty shell of a building into a little community hub.  Two and a half years later they finally handed me the keys.  And yesterday I handed those keys on to the new owners. 

Kiosk portrait (26 of 35)

I really do feel the time is right to let it go. I feel proud of what I achieved there, creating something out of nothing, a safe place at the heart of the community that I know provided a haven for many people – first time Mums at the end of their tether, grandparents needing comfort as they looked after recalcitrant toddlers, the lady that arranged to meet her blind dates there because it felt safe, the youngsters who were given their first ever pay packet, the homeless guy who always got a hot cup of tea, the autistic smiling man who came with his career every week and who clutched our hands and asked us to marry him, the 400 strong crowd that gathered every Christmas Eve to sing carols as a community, the families that appeared dressed as Wally for the Where’s Wally run, or Santas for the Santa run. Most important is the fact that I have handed it on to people who will take care of my baby and who will help it to flourish and grow. People who care. People who will continue to make a difference. I am ready to let it go now.

web___C5A6172

And after an afternoon of coffee and stocktaking, sitting outside on a chilly February half term day, it was reassuringly busy as families huddled in to get hot chocolates having fed the ducks/braved the tennis court/cycled round the park/played on the swings/kicked a ball around.  And so I went to yoga.

And let it all out.  I’m not sure quite why I sobbed so much but the tears flowed at the end of Julia K’s session.  A relief.  A release. A letting go.  Another step in the right direction towards the rest of my life.

But first Mount Kenya.

He’s here to stay

This has been a year of firsts. We’ve ploughed our way through them all. All those celebrations that you take for granted but which become so much more poignant when someone is missing. Our first Christmas without him. Our first New Year. The first birthdays the kids celebrated without their Dad. Valentines Day. Easter Day. The anniversary of his own birthday. My Birthday. Speech day without him as Toby finished school. The graduation of our eldest India, without him. Joshy’s first Edinburgh Fringe without him. Our first summer holiday without him. Tony’s A’level results. Sam’s GCSE results. The anniversary of the date he went into the hospice. Our Wedding Anniversary (27 this year). The anniversary of his death. And here we are again. New Year’s Day. 2020. The circle of life continues.

I had been wondering how we would honour Rich’s memory and mark the anniversary of his death. It was a biggy but I think we did him justice.

We took some of his ashes to a loch near where we were staying in Scotland. We gathered with my parents, my brother and his kids and my sister and we all threw pebbles into the loch and watched the ripples spread their rings. We drank a bottle of Champagne and remembered the big old bear.

Then Family G walked along the jetty and scattered some of his ashes into the loch and watched them dissolve gently away into the calm, still water.

It was a fitting tribute. We were all together, we held eachother tight. We laughed, we cried and we remembered. And then my Dad wrote this sonnet.

“How Richard’s Soul lives on”

No tremor touched the surface of Loch Tay

As we all gathered at the water’s brink;

We felt we had so much to share and say

But hugged each other hard so we could think.

We’d thrown our pebbles in which spread their rings

In ever-dying circles to the shore,

And thought of all the many moving things

Which held us all together, more and more.

We knew his spirit never now would leave us

But live on, telling us each passing day

To live life fully, make it glorious,

And full of sunshine to dispel skies grey!

His ashes now have have floated far away

But in our hearts we know he’s here to stay.

Written by PJB LeBrocq 22.12.19

He’s here to stay most definitely and signs of him appear to us daily, to remind us of that fact. For example yesterday in the music that started to play in a French bar when the family was gathered for New Year’s Eve – it was, rather reassuringly, from Rich’s favourite musical:

Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama.

We played it at his Thanksgiving Service in February, the service attended by over 700 people, it was, The Circle of Life……

Swaddled in Disconnection

I am over half way through reading a book.

This is remarkable for a number of reasons.

I have always loved reading – a love instilled in me perhaps by my eccentric Shakespeare-quoting, Virginia Woolf obsessed father, who memorably taught me A’level English with the eclat and elan of PT Barnum, or possibly by my beautiful, serene mother who bore a striking resemblance to Ingrid Bergman and whose calm unpretentious softness was the perfect counter-balance to Dad’s bravura and brio. I have a rather lovely recurring memory of her sitting in front of the fireplace in our sitting room, having successfully pulled off yet another Sunday Roast – she’d have been to chapel in the morning and then served us a mouthwatering full-on roast followed by Granny’s Crumble or Banoffi Pie, hosting two or three guests who would otherwise have been on their own for Sunday lunch. She would clear the kitchen – occasionally hindered or helped by her four redheaded prodigies, and then retire gently to her armchair by the fire where she would sit quietly devouring the Sunday papers from cover to cover, carefully reading each section. I rarely find such moments of peace in my life, perhaps in 2020 I will be able to rectify that.

In any case, back to the remarkable incident of the book that I am reading, which is worth commentary simply because I find myself being able to concentrate for long enough to actually take it in. Grief tends to rob you of concentration I find. Cruel but maybe it is a way of sparing us from dwelling too much on the the things we are not quite ready to dwell on.

My father’s mother, unanimously known as Gargee, a moniker bestowed on her as so often is the case by her eldest grandson, unable to navigate the word Granny, used to send me, one by one, The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. So maybe it is this digestive-biscuit-eating grand dame (she famously had a cylindrical tin beside her bed and enjoyed a biscuit or two with her early morning cup of tea) who made fudge for charity fêtes and told us stories of her time in India who was responsible for my bookish childhood. I would read one of the books, send it back to her, ceremoniously wrapped in brown paper packaging, tied up with string and wait patiently for her to send me the next in the series. How I loved being transported away to another world, a world where the dramatic birth of a calf, or the harvesting of sap to make maple syrup were the norm and where i imagined myself as the protagonist, travelling bravely though Indian territory in a covered wagon with my pioneering family searching for a new life.

Once I had consumed all 8 of this series I progressed to treason on the high seas, or more accurately shenanigans in the lake district with the Walkers and the Blacketts as I embarked on the Swallows and Amazons adventures, and so it went on…. through Rumer Godden (my horsey phase), that series of ‘Sweet Dreams’ teen American trashy books we were all in to (my high school phase) the Flowers in the Attic series (my gothic phase), the Jilly Cooper series (oh the height of sophistication) anyway reader, you get the picture. I liked reading from a pretty early age, and I have read a lot ever since. I read English Literature at Uni, secretly yearned for a career in publishing and have always been a member of a book club. I like nothing more than the promise of adventure that a pile of books on my bedside table or a lengthy bookshop browse brings.

However. I have discovered over this past year that grief in all its strange and peculiar guises, does not like to read. I have managed to plough through very few tomes in recent months, probably the last books I read cover to cover were Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, and Dr Kathryn Mannix’ With the End in Mind. Not exactly cheery stuff. The pile of books I have been given to read continues to grow, untouched, and it is only this past week that I have managed to really get into the book I started some weeks ago Everybody died so I got a dog.

If you’ve spotted the theme here, give yourself a gold star immediately. Emily Dean’s story of overcoming the worse that life can throw at you rings true in so manys, lines that uncannily I too have written – albeit in my head; the shared hospital observations – the fact that suddenly a word like ‘metastasize’ worms its way unnoticed into your every day vocabulary, and the stark loneliness of kitchen-floor parties, only in my case these are parties in the great outdoors – moments when I seek out open spaces and howl uncontrollably into the wind, as opposed to curling up in a foetus position on the kitchen floor – although I can see why that would appeal.

Emily says ‘there were times when grief swaddled me in disconnection and I felt like someone playing at being human, unable to engage in everyday life’.

I often feel just like this and wonder how long this feeling takes to recede. The sense of disconnection is so strong at times as I try to do the things I should be doing, be the person I should be being, while wishing I could just go outside and howl and howl and howl some more.

‘I was starting to realise there is a curious honeymoon period in the initial stages of mourning where everyone treats you with the same friendly indulgence extended to the celebrity. It’s a land where turning up late, forgetting to respond to messages and having emotional outbursts is patiently tolerated. ‘You have to make the most of that time’ I was warned ‘because people forget quickly, they move on. But you don’t.’

Emily was warned to make the most of that time and I still use (abuse?) the ‘extenuating circumstances’ hashtag the family devised to explain away a multitude of faux pas in the early days of my grief. I can still get away with being late, forgetting to respond to messages, howling into the wind, earring too much comfort food, crying in church, having no food in the house, putting my keys in the fridge, drinking too much, losing 6 passports at Geneva Airport because of my #extenuatingcircumstances but I wonder how long this will continue for.

I’m a year in now, actually a year and 9 days. Are these still the initial stages of mourning?

I’m half way through the book. I hope I will be able to concentrate for long enough to finish it. Maybe next year I’ll get to read some other stuff too. And maybe the disconnection I am swaddled in will ease and instead I will feel reconnected with everyday life. Maybe. Watch this space.

Granny’s Crumble – before I got married 27 years ago, I raided my Mum’s recipe files, folders and cuttings and wrote my favourite recipes in a Liberty Print hardback book that Rich had given me, with a picture of him cooking pasted into the front (note to self insert photo here). This is my Mum’s Mother’s easy peasy crumble recipe that stands the test of time.

Pick some blackberries. Rinse through and gently heat with some sliced apples – use up what you have in the fridge/fruit bowl/garden. Add a tablespoon or two of water and some lemon juice.

For the crumble – rub together 6oz flour, 3oz caster sugar, 2oz butter (not spreadable kind). Add granola/nuts/brown sugar as required.

Assemble by puttting crumble on top of fruit base in pyrex pie dish (preferably a family heirloom inherited from a long lost relative) or use individual ramekins which can be frozen and used at a later date when a wayward child returns from an adventure in need of home cooked comfort food).

Must be served with vanilla ice cream and/or custard.

Mum’s Banoffi Pie – adapted from a recipe claimed to have been created by The Hungry Monk Restaurant in Jevington East Sussex.

Crumbly biscuit base

Melt 4 oz butter over a gentle heat. Once liquid, remove from heat and add 8oz of digestive biscuits crushed (I use the end of a wooden rolling pin to bash the biscuits in a large plastic bowl). Once mixed, smush into a loose bottomed flan ring and refrigerate.

Toffee topping – you can either do this the hard way or the easy way.

Hard Way. Take a tin of condensed milk and place in a pan of boiling water. Boil for 2 hours. DO NOT LET THE WATER BOIL AWAY. put a lid on it to prevent evaporation and keep water level topped up by checking every 20 minutes or so. Let the water boil away at your peril. This will result in toffee splattered all over your kitchen (and I mean ALL OVER your kitchen).

Easy Way. Buy a tin of caramel condensed milk. Spread the caramel over the biscuit base, being careful not to mess up the base.

Slice 1 or 2 bananas, as required, at a diagonal and spread in a single layer over the toffee.

Whip a pint of double cream until soft peaks form (do not over whip, no-one likes butter on a Banoffi) and spread gently over the bananas

Sprinkle a chocolate flake on the top of the cream and serve. Serves 8 or so….

Gargee’s Fudge

The Sure Extinction that We Travel to

There’s a poem I’ve read over and over.  I’m thinking I will include it in the book.  The book I may never write.  The book that will include recipes for Carrot Cake, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Tiramisu, Banoffee Pie and Chocolate Torte, his favourite puddings.  Alongside my favourite poems – that is if I ever write the book; the book I may never write.  

The poem I’ve read over and over is one of Philip Larkin’s and it is a poem about death. A year ago today.  He died.

And I wake at four to soundless dark. And I think of Rich and how horrifying the dread of dying and being dead was to him…. the anaesthetic from which none come round.  And I worry that I couldn’t halt unresting death.

Most things will never happen, this one will.   Death is no different whined at than withstood. 

The words echo in my head, in my heart, Aubade – dawn serenade.  And last night I dreamt of him.

Aubade by Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
 
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
 
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
 
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
 
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

And last night I dreamt of him. Such a vivid dream.  So bright.  So bizarre. I have never seen him so clearly or had such a lucid conversation with him in a dream. He looked his old self, not the emaciated shadow of a year ago.  He was in his pink fleece, his Timberland boots, his faded denim jeans.  He was grinning from ear to ear, on the doorstep, rosy cheeks glowing in the morning light and he said – “I’m back, I’m here again”. It was as if to say you can leave the torture of this year behind now and feel my presence with you as you move forward. I asked him where he’d been, he said – “I didn’t die, I just had to go away to get better, and now I’m back, I’m here again”.  My response was – what shall I tell the others; your Dad, your kids, your colleagues  – those 700+ people who came to your memorial service….but he just grinned that cheeky, mischievous, contagious, loving grin of his and all of a sudden everything was alright. 

It will be alright.  The light will strengthen, the room will take shape and work will be done.  There must surely be more to life, more to death than

….total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,   
Not to be anywhere….
Musn’t there?
He is here, isn’t he?
I will greet the dawn in the morning.  I will serenade the dawn at the window of my beloved. And he will be there.
img_4771

My husband died, so I wrote a blog

I have this irrepressible urge to help other people. I think it must be one of my coping strategies, although it’s always been the case. I am forever connecting people who I feel might help eachother out, Rich did this too. He was a pro.

Right now, I’m pretty sure that helping others comes from the fact that if I am helping someone else, I don’t have time to stop and think about helping myself.

But perhaps it goes deeper than that – perhaps helping others provides some kind of spiritual healing – by helping others I am actually helping myself…. I’m sure there’s something in the Bible about God rewarding those that help others… and then there’s the one about the Good Samaritan.

Reading back over one of my previous blog posts, People Stop Telling you Things, maybe the main reason that that irritates me so much is because if people stop telling me things, there is less I can be distracted by and so I have to focus on myself, which is in that ‘too hard‘ pile.

However, I think I might finally be ready to talk about me. I’ve spoken to a couple of amazing women this week and they concur, this is a good idea. One of these ladies is the person I want to be when I grow up. She is beautiful and sassy and spiritual at 72 and says fuck and buys clothes from charity shops and believes in Jungian Therapy and mystery. She speaks Italian and asks personal questions and wears jewellery bought in Beruit. She’s my new esoteric friend and we have a little mutual admiration society going on.

Another of these is an old school friend of mine. She has also been in therapy – she has been let down, hurt, betrayed, but largely through yoga and meditation and sea and sunshine she has found a way through the heartache and is now at peace with herself.

She lent me a book. I’d love to dive in straight away but it’s a 12 week course so I am going to think carefully about when I can realistically commit to it: The Artist’s Way – A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self. How good does that sound? I’ll add it to my ever burgeoning collection…. A collection which as of yesterday includes ‘Everybody Died so I Got a Dog’, a book by Emily Dean I’ve actually been meaning to read for some time….. sounds cheery huh?

But I digress, story of my life. Here is what I am going to do.

I’m going to follow up with a recommendation I have been given for a counsellor and I am going to book a session. I’m going to email her. Today.

Rich saw the in-house counsellor at the school where he worked. He wanted this man to know about his cancer journey and our family and what was likely to happen to him. He wanted to do this so that if the boys ever wanted to go and see this person, there would be some common ground and some depth of understanding.

I think that if I take a leap of faith and go and see someone, then it’s a good example to set to the kids. It says to them – it’s ok to feel confused and hurt and angry and alone and it’s even more ok to find someone to talk to who is qualified to help navigate the maelstrom of emotions. Maybe if I overcome my scepticism, my fear, and take this giant leap in to therapy, it might help me vocalise my pain, share my anguish and ease my despair, but more importantly, it might help them with all these things too.

You see, there I go again, helping other people.

But at least by putting my oxygen mask on first, there is some hope for us all.

The gorgeous framework of mortality – 10 months in.

I still expect him to walk through the door any minute, or to hear his slippers shuffling down the hall. Or to see a cheeky little message on my phone telling me he is whisking me away for the weekend or taking me out for lunch……

I haven’t sorted out the wardrobe yet, his suits still hang there lifeless, his shirts folded with military precision – actually me, not him – none of the men in my family seem to have mastered the art of folding shirts, but despite my eye-rolling protests, I secretly enjoy being good at this and being able to do it for them. His shoes stay lined up as if waiting patiently to be picked for their next adventure, pick me, pick me.

I haven’t ploughed my way through all the paperwork yet or written the obituaries that his old school and work colleagues have asked for – for their respective publications. In fact I haven’t written much at all, not because I don’t want to but my days seem to be filled with surviving, and creativity has reluctantly taken a back seat.

I haven’t sorted out his headstone yet. Or thrown away his toothbrush. Or cleared his bedside table drawer. Or scattered his ashes. Or taken his coats out of the coat cupboard to redistribute to those who might appreciate them as the nights draw in – it’s actually too hard to do.

There’s still a lot in the too hard to do pile.

I have however joined a gym, bought a bike, bought a car and have just come back from a half term trip to Paris with the two youngest.

So I am surviving and I am moving forward, after a fashion, although it doesn’t really feel like I’m moving forward because that implies progress and positivity, and actually I still feel like I just want to sit in a very quiet dark place and read, or meditate or scream or cry or just be. BUT THERE IS SO MUCH STUFF GOING ON.

I know, I know, I am my own worst enemy. I do keep trying to simplify life but there are too many things to sort, plan and arrange, and too many people that need looking after, coordinating, galvanising…..

I also am keenly aware that it’s not just me. So many people have stuff going on, marriages falling apart, parents with dementia, kids with anorexia, cancer diagnoses, mental health problems, money problems, bereavement, adultery, work stress, gender fluidity, mid life crises galore, I know I am not the only one existing in a bubble of suffering, but that doesn’t really help. Most days I feel like a hamster in a wheel or that I’m in one of those zorb things ricocheting off the topography of my life. And I am trying to make sense of it and get through it but I’m just not sure when this mind fug will clear, or not even that, but when it will feel better, just a little bit better.

Filling my days has always been a coping mechanism and seemingly continues to be so. It keeps the cogs turning, ‘normality’ keeps me sane. But I do yearn for the day that I feel I can just stop. I know I’ll never go back to being the person I once was but I’d like to feel at peace being the person I am, and to have a clearer understanding of who that is.

I enjoyed the rare luxury of actually reading the paper on the train to Paris last week and read this review of The Undying by Anne Boyer, a memoir that explores the poet’s diagnosis of and treatment for triple-negative breast cancer – it’s on recovering from trauma:

‘How do you get back what was taken, the whole body, the healthy uncut self? The answer is that you can’t. The compensation is to discover the “gorgeous framework of mortality”, the common ground of vulnerability. It’s a good place from which to live and a very good place from which to write.’

The gorgeous framework of mortality. I like that. I think that is what I must strive for. The common ground of vulnerability. A good place from which to live. Perhaps that is where I will eventually be happy to find myself. Here’s hoping.