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.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

In Limbo

I always thought I’d be fine being on my own. After all, I spent many years more or less on my own, with the children, admittedly, but very little adult company, except at work. It’s always been on the cards that Beloved goes before me, that’s how it is when you marry someone much older. It’s not a surprise when it happens. But, by golly, it’s strange. And hard.

I find myself sitting around uselessly, staring into space, not doing anything. I start on jobs, like clearing out cupboards, decluttering, by fetching out empty boxes ready for filling, And that’s usually as far as I get; empty boxes are piling up but cupboards and chests of drawers remain full. I have taken a few things to charity shops but I’ve hardly made a dent.

It’s hard to know what to dispose off. It feels as if I’m clearing Beloved out of my life and this house before he’s even dead. I find programmes of special occasions at the Opera House and foreign tours. Should I keep programmes of Royal occasions, like Charles and Diana’s wedding? What for?  Piles of sheet music, who wants it? Ancient photographs, loose and in albums, any takers? Notes and written records, in a painstakingly small and neat hand, beyond my eyesight now, what relevance do they have now? A large stack of original vinyl, whole sets of symphonies, operas, ballet music, some of them conducted by the composer. Perhaps there’s money in them. I hear vinyl is fashionable again; internet, have you any ideas? Photographic equipment, bags of pre-digital cameras, lenses, etc.; you can’t even give it away.

So there I stand, picking up this and that, flicking through, and back it goes on to the shelves.

And then I go to my china and glass cupboards. For years I collected things, we had such fun going to antique markets. I also still have stuff I took away when I cleared out my mum’s flat, some of it going back to her wedding. Here too I sit a box on the floor and stare into the shelves. Is there anything I really still want? Everyday stuff lives in the kitchen, yes there are dinner and tea sets. which I will keep for now, but really fancy glass, silver and my willow pattern collection, presents received over the years, bits and pieces picked up here and there, keepsakes for the future, I thought. The future is here and I can only stare at the stuff, feeling paralysed, unable to even formulate a coherent thought, much less carrying it through. There’s stuff which is actually valuable, so not really meant for charity shops, although the things might well end up there eventually.

Some of the boxes will be filled when I can bring myself to do so, there are a few things our assorted children will want, but not many. “We don’t have the space”, they say. What they really mean is  “We don’t have the space for your mouldy old treasures.”

I’m in limbo. Utterly unable to rouse myself. People and self-help columns tell me I must socialise, get out and about, meet people, talk. I had some tea in a little coffee shop this morning. I met an acquaintance in the street yesterday who hailed me and wanted to know everything about Beloved and me. As well as tell me about her husband who is in hospital at the moment. “Why don’t we keep each other company and have a drink at The Maltings tomorrow”, she said. I couldn’t think of a good enough excuse to turn her down and agreed. It wasn’t too bad, I talked, she talked, then a chap joined us who talked a lot. Quite a lot of the talk was about mental illness in the elderly. Apparently one in three of us will eventually lose our marbles, if we get old enough. Earlier, I had been for a blood test at the surgery. Very soon the nurse launched into a detailed account of how dementia had changed her mother. There is hardly a person I meet who doesn’t have a tale to tell. Many details are instantly recognisable, the saddest part is when the sufferer no longer recognises you.

Beloved is not there yet. Although he is changing day by day, he still knows me. At least I hope it will be so when I next see him. Our country road has been closed for roadworks and going to the Care Home requires a long detour until it is reopened Friday. I confess I haven’t seen him since Sunday. He didn’t wake up at all then and I left again after only 45 minutes, reading my book, sitting next to him.When I rang the Home to tell them I wasn’t coming they said, “about time too” “Take some time off for yourself, if there’s a problem we’ll ring you.” They haven’t, which means all is OK, or as OK as it can be.

Visiting him every day at least gave me something to do. It also gave the other patients the opportunity to fuss over Millie. Millie too seems unable to settle to anything. She clings to me and gives me a huge welcome when I return after leaving her for even just a very short while.

Having family around would help, but that’s not to be. Beloved’s younger daughter visited him, coming via a long train journey. But no one else has visited. Soon it’ll be too late. My son is coming next month to help me with things around the house, let’s hope I have an idea by then what needs doing. And while he’s here Beloved and I will have our 30th wedding anniversary. I never thought we’d make it that far. I hope we will, it’s a nice round number.