Monday, 21 August 2017

Afterwards - Part I

After Beloved.

Everything is afterwards now.
There was an old lady's funeral in Valley’s End today; I had planned to go, was determined to go; she had been a friend of sorts and I thought I should pay my respects to her and her husband and family. Also, it would have meant joining a throng of villagers for the funeral tea afterwards, chatting, mingling, getting back into village life, rather than clinging for succour to the few friends I have. So, all things considered, surely a good plan?

I didn’t go. Sitting over my solitary lunch - the funeral was at 2.30 in the afternoon - I felt bad. I knew I wasn’t going to go, no matter how urgently I pressed myself to do so. When I finally hit upon the solution I felt great relief. 'I’ll say, I just couldn’t face it’, I told myself, ‘it’s too soon after Beloved’s death’. ‘I shall break down in tears’. That would do for an excuse I thought. ‘Nobody can expect me to attend.’ That’s what I came up with, and all that after I had promised myself that, from now on, I would never feel obliged to lie again for appearances’ sake. Without Beloved’s polite good manners to rein me in I can say what I feel. Not giving offence, hopefully, but not giving much of a damn either. As my good friend Andrew says: ‘It’s brilliant to mature beyond giving a damn’. "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go . . . .” Jenny Joseph’s ‘Warning' may only seem to concern itself with outward appearance but look a little deeper and she’s telling you to take yourself and your disapproval on a running jump from a short plank.

It’s frequently like that: I have every intention of coming out of my cave, blinking in the sudden light of day, joining others, accepting that life goes on. The other day I bought an expensive concert ticket. Some friends were going to take me and it would have been a pleasant evening. I let the ticket go using a dicky tummy for an excuse. True, I had had some rumblings and frequent loo visits during the day but I was feeling much better come evening. “Such a pity you had to miss the concert,” my friends said afterwards, “you missed a real treat.” Of course life goes on, I am here, am I not? At first I didn’t care to survive, alone, friendless, lacking family, lacking purpose. (There’s some self pity in there. ) Now I do. In fact I have made a decision: I want to survive for years yet, becoming a sharp-witted and sharp-tongued old woman. When I told a couple of friends on separate occasions, both said “Well, you shouldn’t find that difficult, you haven’t far to go to reach your goal.” How lucky I am to have friends who feel able to make that sort of comment, don’t you agree?

The wretched problem is that the recently bereaved become vulnerable, naked; being visible draws attention to that state of insecurity. It’s almost as if you have to take baby steps before you can walk out into the world again with any kind of self assurance. And the lack of focus on something other than grief, the lack of purpose that can fill the mostly empty days make survival questionable. I can’t even say that Beloved died too soon or unexpectedly, although the end did come rather suddenly. He was old and very ill and his mind had begun to wander. But grief does not depend on justification, it just sits there, like the elephant in the room, taking up all your breathing space.

Although Simone de Beauvoir was not speaking about grief when she wrote in her study on the ageing process: "the paradox of our time is that the aged enjoy better health than they used to and that they remain “young” longer. This makes their idleness all the harder to bear. Those who live on must be given some reason for living: mere survival is worse than death.” The survivor had better rediscover that life is for living.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Try Again - Now What?

In spite of good intentions, this blog, although much on my mind, hasn’t seen any activity since the beginning of June. I could say that ‘tempus fugit’ and suchlike - we’re all guilty of using hackneyed phrases occasionally - but the truth is that mundane stuff just doesn’t cut it at the moment. Equally true is that I feel I should come back here, otherwise there’ll be no point. And, like I said in the previous post, getting back into some form of regular activity can only do me good.

No two days are the same.  Tomorrow it’ll be twelve weeks since Beloved died and five months since that awful day when he fell and was carted off to hospital, never to return home (until now, more of that later). Actually, here’s that phrase again: I can’t believe it’s been that long, I really can’t.

In a way he is still here; we never did live in each other’s pocket and spent much time during the day doing different things in different parts of house and garden. On countless occasions during my solitary days now I have to remind myself that, no, I can’t tell him about this little thing or that one. And, no, he has not just left a room when I enter it. I don’t know if that kind of denial is conscious or sub-conscious, but it is like the clever clogs say, denial is a large part of the grieving process. Anger is one that seems to have passed me by. Although I’ve been very angry with Beloved for leaving me, have cursed him, blamed him, I am not angry at anyone else, don’t blame anyone else. For me it’s been denial followed by depression followed by denial. On some days during Millie's walking me I’ve stood and watched her sniff and snuffle while sniffling and snuffling myself, tears running down my face, using soggy tissues to wipe them away and constantly blowing my nose. It’s OK to do that in Valley’s End, people know the reason why.

Depression is the very devil. I sit and stare, have a drink of water, sit and stare some more. Watch rubbish TV, hardly taking it in, sit and stare some more. On a good day I read, voraciously, nothing very demanding, but losing myself in an easily absorbed story; book after book. I eat microwaveable meals or easily prepared fridge/freezer meals with ingredients collected from supermarkets, like burgers, sausages, rice and pasta. Lunch today was pasta with tomato sauce and a small bowl of strawberries for pudding. Not to forget a glass of Chardonnay. It’s rather hot today, not really eating weather.

After a particularly prolonged bout of sadness and weepiness a week or two ago I pulled myself up one morning and more or less forced myself to ‘do’ rather than ‘feel'. Inertia is deadly, it turns you into a useless blob and would be self destructive in the long run. Although I do not believe in the value of “looking on the bright side” or “staying positive” - both can make you feel guilty if you fail to follow up - a whole day’s worth of ‘doing’ felt so good that I repeated it the next day. I sat for hours doing paperwork, did laundry, gardened, cooked a proper meal with vegetables and ate it, walked Millie, and watched an intelligent documentary on TV in the evening. The next day I got the car out of the garage and drove to Ludlow for some shopping, the bank, the clothes collection bins and the Oxfam shop to deliver unwanted goods. I came home healthily tired and feeling alive again.

Neglecting paperwork during a time when there are heaps of it is not advisable. I found letters from official sources which should have been dealt with weeks ago, all shoved to the back of Beloved’s bureau. It’s actually quite amusing, all the stuff he would have dealt with got bundled into his desk, all the stuff which normally falls to me sat on my desk upstairs. Neither got done until I grabbed hold of myself by the scruff and simply started; no, I didn’t want to do it, no, I wanted to sit and stare, but for once I was determined! And nearly all of it got done.

Official letters to the recently bereaved all have the same flavour. They are ever so carefully worded and all start with the same phrase: “we were sorry to hear of - name - ’s death and send you our heartfelt condolences at this very difficult time”.  Then a passage about the matter in hand, giving you to understand that although perhaps you should give it your speedy consideration they understand if it should take you a little longer, although you, the bereaved, may wish to settle it as a matter of slight urgency. Then the final phrase :"we hope that this has clarified the situation for you but if you have any further questions we will be only too happy to assist you if you ring this number", which is an actual phone number, not a computer generated question and press button x service. Do you think there are half-day seminars where staff is taught how to conduct themselves vis-a-vis people who might burst into tears if you talk common sense to them?

Yesterday, on another visit to Ludlow, again to visit a bank and some shops and a photographer for passport photos, I also finally collected Beloved and brought him home. My stepson in Massachusetts tells me that he has heard of green funerals but that they don’t seem to have reached the US yet. I have Beloved’s Ashes, in a green (i.e. recyclable), tubular, surprisingly heavy container. One of these days I shall sprinkle his Ashes in a favourite outdoor, maybe isolated, place. Or now that I’ve decided to stay here in the house until I really can’t cope anymore, I’ll plant a tree and feed it with his Ashes. Old gardener is willing to help, he’s done it for a previous employer who has become part of a rose border. I think it’s a lovely idea, it’s a way of keeping him around, close to me, until I myself have to leave this soil.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Now What?

Half past three at night, soon the birds will begin their first drowsy chirping. Two lots of paracetamol, half a sleeping pill and two powerful tranquillisers later I am still wide awake. Peaceful, calm, but awake.

It’s been a busy day, even hectic and in parts quite stimulating. Old gardener and Kelly the cleaner came in the morning, and for me there was a visit to the surgery for a routine blood test while t hey were putting house and garden in order, (yes, I am still a lady of leisure - properly now, for the first time in my life am I in sole charge of all assets, such as they are, ) then a quick lunch at home and a very perfunctory Millie walk, then off to an invitation to afternoon tea. The proper sort. It started wth a large glass of bubbly,  followed by plates of dainty sandwiches, scones with butter, cream and jam, fruitcake and a sponge. The tea appeared to be an afterthought. The old fashioned kind of afternoon tea, with proper china and napkins.

An ancient couple, fellow guests, made decent inroads into the victuals and did the reminiscing that oldies go in for, often because they can’t remember how many times they have repeated the same story and also, because of poor hearing they tend to not hear the answers and just rabbit on.
My host and hostess were not exactly close friends but regular dog walkers  and pleasantly chatty acquaintances. We have been to meals to them before, lunches and dinners, First solo invitation, well meant and very kind.

Still, so now what? Wherever I go I go alone.

The evening was taken up with a meeting of the poetry group, the first since the 21st March, (Beloved died on the 26th, Mothering Sunday). The next meeting would have been on the evening of the funeral so we gave that a miss.

By the way, he had a wonderful send-off, with music, even a recording of Walton’s viola solo played by Beloved, quite beautifully, an excerpt from a full performance, directed by Walton himself. There were poems read by professional actors and various speeches, which all concerned themselves exclusively with Beloved and his many achievements. Even I didn’t know half the famous people with whom and for whom he had played. Ever modest, never putting himself forward, my  beloved.

Again, so now what? I am almost through with the paperwork, officialdom has been fed with endless forms and certification and statements and a "o woe is you if you are telling fibs’ has been understood and taken to heart. (I have to be extra careful, I’ll probably be deported in 2019 when Brexit does its foul deed. The only good thing about it is that the leavers will probably be suffering the most, they being mostly the uneducated and most dependent on State benefits, of which there’ll be a scarcity.

How to carry on? On my own? I am capable, practical and resourceful, I have few immediate money worries and am intelligent enough to find my way through official mazes. BUT I am TRULY ALONE. I literally have no help, not from family, not from friends. They say they will help and always there’s the “Tell us what we can do” or “You know where we are" was a favourite. Would they have had a heart attack if I really had approached them? Just a few people knew what to to do. They asked me to pop in for potluck and let me talk about Beloved and themselves said kind things about him. Which made me feel warm and mushy inside.

Would blogging help? Perhaps a diary style blogging, much the same as I did before Beloved’s death? I don’t know, I might try. Not necessarily to garner lots of replies and comments, ( that requires a commitment on my part which I find hard to dredge up right now ) more an outpouring of thoughts and feelings. You all tell me that I write honestly, straight from the heart, without tidying things up and without prettifying things. I couldn’t possibly do less at the moment, I simply don’t have it in me to spout platitudes. So whatever comes up is probably not pretty. You have been warned. Stay away if you need the ‘bright side of life’.

Ah yes, the eternal question “How Are You? Lovely to see you, how are you doing?” What should the answer be? The questioners look so earnest, so concerned, but at the same time willing me to tell them that I am fine, which makes it hard to look them in the eye. Don’t ask it, just don’t. How do you imagine I feel? If you’ve experienced the death of someone close to you you know anyway, If you are after a simply and untrue “very well thank you; getting there” get lost, don’t bother.And you, you people crossing the road when you see me coming, don’t be so stupid. If you have nothing to say, a common or garden ‘good morning`’ will do and a sentence about the weather when you really find noting comforting within you. A short hug works wonders too. But don’t ignore me, I don’t carry the bubonic plague and death is not contagious.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

I Wanted To Show You . . . .

. . . but you weren’t there. O to be able to share the wonders of Spring I cannot fail to see, no matter how blurred by tears my vision is. Let Wordsworth speak for me.:

Surprised by Joy

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind 
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom 
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb, 
That spot which no vicissitude can find? 
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind— 
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power, 
Even for the least division of an hour, 
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind 
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return 
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore, 
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn, 
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more; 
That neither present time, nor years unborn 
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore. 

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Hanging On No More

As he lived so he died. He took his leave gently, peacefully, without fanfare or drama.
Good for him.

A good-looking, tall,  civilised gentleman with a quick charm that made him liked everywhere has bowed out. We who are left behind are bereft.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Still Hanging On,

both of us, Beloved by no more than a laboured breath.

End stage kidney failure is closing in towards the end, no doubt about it. All the classic signs are there; the doctors say whatever they do now will make no difference at all. Keeping him distress-free and comfortable, those are the sole objectives now. He will, eventually, just fall asleep and not wake up. That’s my hope, anyway.

Yesterday he was sitting in his chair, he’d had some soup at lunch and a few drinks of tea and water; he ate a small slice of chocolate cake in the afternoon and I thought: ‘brilliant, there is enough life left to do that.’ Perhaps, perhaps . . . .

Strange, I am still hoping for a miracle, how silly of me. When he wanted to get up to use the bathroom (really, to what end? He produces almost nothing now), I called the carers who promptly turned up with the usual hoist. He was too weak to grip the handles, although the inflatable seat thing was doing most of the work. After much effort and, seemingly, pain, they gave up and brought another hoist, a larger one which scoops him out of his chair.

To my shame I admit that I couldn’t bear to stay and watch; it was time for me and Millie to leave anyway, so I took the opportunity between hoisting manoeuvres to kiss him good-bye and leave. By the time the whole operation would be finished he’d be too weak to take much notice of me anyway.

His deterioration is rapid. Last weekend he was still very different. Both his children visited, over different days, and they really had the best of him, most likely also the last of the good days. Both came over two days, for hours at a time, and both managed to have a sort of conversation with him, although he didn’t entirely make sense. On both occasions he was wheeled into the garden and on the last day with N., Beloved’s son, we actually sat outdoors in mild spring sunshine.

“A lovely family reunion,” Beloved said afterwards, he’d obviously conflated the two visits into one. He also thought his mum had been present; it turned out that I represented the old lady who has been dead for many decades. No matter, he truly loved his children’s visit.

On the day N. was here Beloved and I had our 30th wedding anniversary, although he barely understood what that meant and quickly forgot the date. In the evening, N. and I went to the local pub where we had a leisurely meal and did something we have hardly done during all the time his Dad and I have been together: we talked. Really talked. It felt good.

In fact, I have become closer to both his son and daughter during the period of Beloved’s illness. Isn’t it sad that it takes a catastrophe for people to learn that they can get on without vague undercurrents of resentment and bias.

It’s late and I must end here, but given the chance I will tell a tale or two of a lighter nature, to do with other residents of the care home. The seven weeks up to now have not been unrelieved doom and gloom, there have been brighter moments too and, in spite of the pain and loss I am feeling, the one thing I was truly afraid of will now not happen: his body will not outlive his mind. Look at it whichever way you want, that is surely a blessing.

Monday, 6 March 2017

How Wise You Are,

you are absolutely right, of course, to advise me to slow down. Why declutter now? What’s the hurry? There is no hurry. I can take my time, forget about everything else and concentrate on the only important aspect of the calamity that has befallen us, namely us, me and Beloved. The two of us. Just as it has always been, from the day we met, and will be until the day one of us dies.

Our time together is short; the new GP who looks after Beloved in the Nursing Home is of the same opinion as the previous one. It could be anything from a few weeks to a few months. If the present rate of deterioration continues it will be weeks rather than months. Beloved is no longer able to stand, much less walk. At first, four-five weeks ago, he used a cane (walking stick over here), then the stick became a zimmer frame, getting himself out of his chair was slow but possible. Then he needed a carer to assist him. One carer became two, one on each arm. Now two carers are needed in addition to a contraption which is fastened around his middle and bottom, which hoists him semi upright and from there lowers him into a wheelchair. It is utterly painful to watch.

How is it possible that this could have happened in a few short months? Snowdrop time; when he fell ill in the middle of December the earliest snowdrops were flowering, ever larger patches appeared during late December and January and now they’re dying, to make room for crocuses and daffodils. Beloved’s decline will forever more be associated with snowdrops in my mind.

No two visits are the same. sometimes he is awake, painfully so, restless and sharp; sometimes he is drowsy and sleepy, sometimes he is relatively clear and at others completely clouded. Often we sit in companionable silence, interspersed with a few short sentences, a few questions from him, mainly along the lines of “do you see much of .......” followed by the names of his children. My questions tend to cover his physical state, “what did you have for dinner”, "are you comfortable?”, “have you any pain?”. The weather comes into it too and Millie, of course. She is a fountain of joy in the desert. Short term memory is a big problem, the distant past an open book.

Visits are difficult but not entirely so. There are always wonderful moments of gladness. Long visits are worth it just for these moments. There is still some poetry, and music, of course. I uploaded Pavarotti arias on to my phone, he was rapt, completely absorbed in what he was hearing. Another time we had Marlene Dietrich singing French, German and English chansons. A smile plays around his lips and he sits quietly listening, occasionally stopping to say “lovely”.

And always there comes the moment when I see him sneaking a long look at my face; a cheeky smile appears and he says lovely things, like “you are so beautiful,” or “I am so glad I have you”, or “I like your scarf, you look nice”.  And we never forget to say “I love you so”.

I am slowly beginning to do paperwork, letters, bills, official communications arrive and end up on the pile. I am sending emails and letters to colleagues, friends and acquaintances with the news of Beloved’s ill-health. I still don’t like casual phone calls which ask "how is he?” They may be well meant but are an awful drag on my time and my need for silence. I have dealt with Millie’s arthritis, her medication is working. I did an online grocery order today - how strange to be ordering for one instead of two. And how very strange to do an order at all. Life does seem to go on, I must eat. I have sold some minor items of Beloved’s music paraphernalia; two instruments and two bows remain to find a buyer. I have help with that. It’s time to organise the gardeners, Paul has been in a deep depression but is coming out of it. He came for a long mutual session of commiseration, time to get out and start work. Old gardener is as yet unaware of the great change at Castle Moat garden, I really must ring him.

And so it goes. Beloved remains the focus of my attention and my main conversation partners are nurses and carers at the Care Home. But now and then, when I sit in front of some rather boring TV show I feel that it might be an idea to use the time spent away from there a little more productively. I expect it’ll happen anyway. Eventually. No rush.

Next week Beloved’s son from America is flying over for a day in Ludlow, all things being equal. It’s the second of his four children finding the way to their Dad. The nurse in charge of the unit asked me, did they know how seriously ill he is? Yes, I told them, made it quite clear. One is estranged from his Dad, has been for years, is unlikely to come. That leaves just one. Beloved asked after her three times last week, not in any desperate way, just casually. But it means he is thinking of her. There’s nothing I can do.

If he makes it to warmer days I will take him out into the garden at the Home. On Sunday we had bright spring sunshine, we sat by a large window, the sun streaming in and warming his face. "Lovely to feel the sun on me”, he said. How modest we become, how modest our pleasures.