Holly’s Report, nearly 5 years on

Dear Rich and Mum, Here is Holly’s school report. I’m immensely proud of her from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul. Her school reports tells tale of a kind hearted and generous being, who makes others feel great. A creative sporty young lady with a thousand questions to ask and a Folville star. She has been able to use her life experiences to soften her, not harden her, she has been able to embrace all opportunities in the midst of great loss. She has dealt with the challenges that have come her way so far with humour, energy, style and honesty. She has been a mentor to younger children at the school, and has excelled in her work, and she’s excited about the adventures ahead.

In addition, here’s my report. She is curious and enthusiastic, she’s a poet, she’s a dancer and she plays the trombone, she has expensive taste in trainers and knows a hundred hairdos, and I value her fashion advice. We created her, and now she’s creating herself. We taught her, and now she’s teaching us. She is made of love from love. She fosters kindness not anger. Her shoelaces are always undone and she eats everything and drinks gallons of milk. She has been lucky enough to have two amazing dads, she is my best friend and my inspiration. She gives the best hugs and still sucks her thumb, she still sleeps with her two favourite bears Handy and Nanny. She’s the funniest holiday companion I could ever wish for, and she’s about to join a brass band!

imageA chapter of her life is coming to an end next week, one she has lived through without you Rich, I can feel your beaming smile. Mum, everything has turned out just fine. We miss you both so much, but in your lives ending we have come to know the joy of life itself. Holly, I salute you.

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The 7 year itch

14.7.18. The 7 year itch.

Hello blog. I’m out of practice, please excuse me, here goes….

It’s 12 years since he proposed, and we’re at the same place, the river festival. It’s 11 years since we married. It’s a displaced idea. Its 2 months since I split with ben.

I don’t know quite how to write this, I’m rusty. Time and grief.

The grapefruit and the egg cup analogy: grief is the grapefruit, I’m the egg cup and now I’m a big fruit bowl, or a bucket or something. Anyway now I’m a bucket I have finally accepted something about my grief journey, and it’s come about because I’m single again. I’ve finally accepted that I will never have the two parents type nurturing family unit. This is a massive deal to me, because I’ve been terrified of that for nearly 7 years.

Holly will continue to grow up with me and without a present father. I’m enough. I’m finally ok with being a single mum, it’s taken nearly 7 years to accept this. No fear or anxiety about it at last. So that’s another step along this road, that means I’m bigger than a bucket, now I’m a barrel, a barrel of laughs? Sometimes.

I’m wondering what it’s like to be just me. I’ve been avoiding that for nearly 7 years, because I didn’t want to know or accept I had to find out.

Just being me is like this (at the mo) I’m Just doing the things. That’s it, simple, actually Just doing the things. The things: Home things, work things, making things, going places, being sociable, planning things, and exploring being alone. Not procrastinating, just doing. Just doing the things is a huge relief. I was doing the things before, but I felt resentment. I felt that because I thought the things should be shared, not done alone.

I’ve got a lot to share, but not give. Does that make sense? For years I thought I was sharing but I was giving. Sharing is slightly different, sharing is two way or multi way experience, like a good conversation, putting stuff together on the table with others, putting stuff in the pot, seeing and partaking in what others share with you on the table, in the pot, swapping, halving, changing, mingling, adding flavour, combining, compromising with what’s on the table and in the pot, and growing because of it. Giving is different, giving is just me putting what I have on the table, in the pot, and others just taking it, I like giving but I want to share, does it make sense now? I’m sharing now and not just giving. The resentment has gone.

I am observing this round of loss inside myself and from the outside and from experience. It’s not scary but it hurts still, despite feeling relieved and just doing the things.

In this round of grief the anger and depression bits are easier than the bargaining bit, and although I’ve captured glimpses of the acceptance bit, I’m not there yet, because I haven’t done the denial bit. Well maybe I’m there right now because all I can think about is the good times.

I’m yearning for those, I just want those, can’t we go back to those? Happiness, proper sharing, excitement, contentment, travel, laughs, connection, that stuff, those times, I’m feeling confused about where they went. I’ve been dreaming about them. I even thought I felt them, touched them, heard them, then I woke up and cried.

Maybe this is really is the denial bit, I’m denying all the other times on the flip side. The opposite. Heavy heart, giving and not receiving, apathy, anxiety, being stuck, tears, detachment.

I miss you now and I’m really tired of missing people all of the time. I’ve been missing people deeply for nearly 7 years. I’m not sure it’s possible to stop missing people so I’m adding it to my list of just doing the things.

So nearly 7 years on I have an itch to scratch. It’s one of those itches that nearly drives you mad because you can’t quite reach it, so a tool for scratching it is required. I’ve tried a few tools to scratch that sweet itch but I haven’t quite reached it yet. I know it’s going to feel amazing when I do, but it’s frustrating at the moment and I’m yearning for the times when I wasn’t itchy. The best thing for those itches you can’t scratch is the sharing thing. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, but I am without a fellow back scratcher now. I can’t finish this itchy analogy, it’s probably irritating to read as well, if it is then the metaphor works. I’ve got the (nearly) 7 year itch.

Who’s that girl?

Coming of age. Of late I’ve been wondering who that woman is in the mirror, the one who’s face is changing shape and needs more concealer than before under the eyes…. It’s definitely me, emerging from one chapter into another. Last time I really looked I was sort of blooming in a ‘death becomes her’ sort of starved twinkliness, and glowing from new love, safe in the knowledge I had survived a catastrophe. 

I must have spent a lifetime laughing and constantly being amazed to have developed the forehead I now have. Which is a gift in it’s own way. My face is telling the world what kind of experiences I’ve had, or what my personality is like, how I react to things…..the frown lines are from a few years of crying, and concentrating too hard on things, and in recent years staring at small screens (sometimes in amazement) not all the amazement has been good, some amazement has been shocking, shocked at sudden death or the price of a gin and tonic in a swanky bar up town. I’m currently working on some crows feet from saying ‘Ooo’ lots and kissing. Some of the amazement so far has been joyful, hilarious and epiphanisy…I just made that word up, it’s my language and it’s called Melish. I noticed that my face didn’t need concealer today, staring back at me, relaxed and well rested, and there in the mirror, the lines, wrinkles and forehead folds in all their glory, I recognised mel, somewhat weathered and developing a real vintage visage. Time to love my new face, time to recognise this mel, time to smile at this face, which is changing everyday it seems. 

My face let’s people know I can feel things, it’s let’s people know I like a good laugh or am easily pleased by the simplest of things. It says I’ve lived and am ready for some more adventures. I’ve still got some freckles, there’s still a child within. 

I say thank you world for this face, thanks for the genes, the people who have made me laugh and surprised me and made me cry, and thank you for the constant amazement, the ability to feel pain and joy and be aware of it, and thanks for holidays, without which I wouldn’t get to see my face as it should be. Love.

To cut a long story short

scissors

To cut a long story short, I thought this might be a title. If this blog turned into a book. I actually used to say this phrase quite a lot, always had done, to get to the crux of something, you know, “let’s cut to the chase, let’s get to the punch line, let’s get to the root of the matter”, let’s get to the important part, the part that makes you understand the plot, the ending, what actually happened, what it all means. like reading the last page of a whodunnit. I use to wish I could cut the grieving short. I used to believe that it would all stop after 6 months, after a year, after two years (the average life expectancy of grief according to theory).Now that all quite obscure. The cut was not an ending, it was a beginning. I want to avoid the cutting of this story short.

To cut a long story short no longer makes sense to me, because I’m no longer in desperate pain. I want to understand the whole plot, the whole journey, to be gratified by the ending, I don’t want to cut out the learning, that would cut out the meaningful time. The journey. Was our long story cut short? Was our epic journey cut short? Were our plans cut short? Were they really? Or maybe they just ran their intended course. That’s the thing, maybe our story was fated to be 15 years long. Maybe his story was destined to be 48 years long. How long will this story be?

Who determines the length of a story? Is it me and you or something outside of ourselves? To cut a long story short is not true.

When you sit still you hear yourself. There came a time when I could sit still, listen to my exhausted body and soul. It’s wasn’t easy, resisting the fidgeting, the organising, listening to myself and sitting still, embracing solace, embracing new life, reflecting, remembering quietly, and noticing the small gifts that were given each day. Really beginning to understand. Really appreciating the journey, starting to see how everything was connected, starting to see how it was all coming together, just like snow, only as it settles is it clear that it unifies everything.

To cut a long story into bits would be more precise, to end this chapter and begin another.

Music and Zoochosis (or Now that’s What I call Grieving)

zoochosis

 

I started this chapter thinking I might write a musical guide to my grief as a list of songs. It could be ‘The Ministry of Grief Bereavement Anthems’ or maybe ‘Now that’s what I call Grieving’. Along the way there has certainly been particular songs that have helped, maybe I will make a compilation another time. Music is one of the main things I attribute my sanity to throughout all of this. Music is really the only universal language, it tells us how to feel, it gives rhythm to chaos and ultimately provides a theme tune to life. Music was a big part of our lives together. A few months before he died I asked him what music he’d have played at this funeral, because I’d had a dream about it. Resolutely, he answered Redemption Song.

The music was a healer, a pain killer, sometimes I couldn’t leave it alone though. At times I was so desperate to just sit and rock on the sofa to quieten the mind, to breathe, that I’d be straight there as soon as I got in the house, it was like an obsession, like I had Zoochosis.

“…..thousands of zoo animals held in artificial environments with little stimulation, enrichment or opportunity to hide from the public gaze, display unnatural behaviour patterns. Even in the better¹ zoos, abnormal behaviour can be widespread, and include repeated pacing, rocking, vomiting and even self mutilation.”

I was living in captivity, I didn’t do the self mutilation I mostly did rocking and swaying:

Rocking

Sitting, sometimes hugging the legs, rocking forwards and back. A recognised symptom of mental illness in humans.
Can be displayed by chimpanzees

Swaying

Standing in one place and swaying the head and shoulders, even the whole body, from side to side. A behaviour exhibited by mentally ill humans.
Can be displayed by elephants & bears

Grief is akin with mental illness in terms of behaviours, depression mirrors grief, I was I kind of depressed bear I guess or maybe a disturbed chimp, I certainly wouldn’t have made it to the PG Tips ad.

When I was a child I did the same, after school, when I was on my own, I used to play my brother’s records on the strereogram, piling up 7s on 7s, listening to the same records over and over and rocking in the chair. I used to rock so hard in the chair I made a hole in the black vinyl of our sofa, my hair would be matted at the back from doing it. It was a running joke. I often attribute this rocking to the fact I’ve never had a proper breakdown, because it’s true that there in that moment I felt safe and soothed and in a meditative state.

Music to grieve by. I looked at the laptop, daydreaming, watching time pass on the clock, watching the lava lamp, the mornings I sat there and had my morning cup of tea, I did the same after work, and so many evenings. Holly did her stuff while I listened, sometimes we’d talk, sometimes she’d watch telly or me (but after a while she just got used to it, so paid it no mind), sometimes she’d play on the Wii, sometimes she’d be upstairs with her own music playing loud. I apologised to her, and said I must look demented (or at least like a depressed bear) she just said “it’s ok mum, I understand, it solves your mind”.

zoochosisbear

At times I got stuck there, particularly on stressful days, or anxious days or if I needed to contemplate or stop the anxiety escalating, sometimes the same song over and over, or the same album over and over , sometimes I did manage to get off the sofa and make up silly dances with Holly, or we’d sing our own lyrics to the tunes once she dressed as a caterpillar (not a depressed one) But mostly I sat rocking. Once I sat there for 4 days during a cry-athon, I just listened and cried. At times it was like a trap, a cage, it was an addictive drug, and a mixture of therapy and just obsessive behaviour, I felt like it was a soother and a safe place.

I couldn’t sit and listen to when he died because I had so much noise in my head, but I had to make the music choices for his funeral service. So I knew the first song. The next ones came to me over the next couple of days, like they were whispered to me somehow. Arranging the funeral was a kind of auto-pilot affair, the music, my tribute to him. I chose ‘Natty Dreadlock’, Rich told me this was the first Bob Marley tune he ever bought. ‘Superbad’ by James Brown, Rich loved to funk. Make it Reggae, Shark Wilson and The Basement Heaters we used to sing it all together when we were travelling on holiday which was bittersweet since Rich had his stroke as we were setting off to Dorset for the week. I remember thinking I should have seen the signs, but he managed to help pack the car and he made the lunch, that night I checked the sandwiches to see if there were any clues, as if I’d find the answer there, ah yes well he did forget the tomatoes, but he always forgot tomatoes.

I couldn’t find the chosen tunes at home, that would be like finding a needle in a haystack, there was no order that I could understand to the record collection, Rich’s filing systems had no logic, he knew where everything was but I didn’t. I passed on the choices to the funeral directors, they used a company to source them. I imagined a couple of guys in a backroom somewhere plugged into You Tube. I had to listen to them over the phone. Lucky I was so fastidious because they’d chosen the version of Make it Reggae. It was quite bizarre, a solemn occasion and quite matter of fact. Then I had to decide the order of things. ‘Natty Dread’ on entering, I asked Madu if he would sing ‘Redemption song’ during the readings. ‘Superbad’ when the curtains closed on Rich, and ‘Make it Reggae’ on exiting. There were so many people at the funeral that Natty Dread had finished well before everyone got into the crematorium. Madu faltered in his beautiful singing for his dear friend, and I joined in with him, as did the congregation. I thought Superbad would be ‘tongue in cheek’ when the curtains closed, but it felt more ‘heart in mouth’.

I remember after the wake, being at Christine’s and coming home to try to find some records to play, I just walked in and pulled out two at random, they were “The Funkiest Chicken in Town” and The Beat (The Beat) Rich had bought me the The Beat album in Brighton a long time ago, we saw The Beat LIVE together on the night he proposed to me and we had ‘Hands off She’s Mine’ as our first dance at our wedding. So it felt fateful that I found that, just like that.

His record collection just looked like an insurmountable mountain of vinyl to me, over whelming. Covering a wall in the living room, and there were boxes of records tucked here, there and everywhere around the house. When I was first on my own, when the dust was settling I started to look at the records tentatively, pulling a few out here and there, and then just crumbling to the floor breathless, I was desperately pulling out records, and panicking at the enormity of it all, how would I ever listen to all of these, what was I supposed to do. I wondered, if it had been the other way around, what Rich would have done with my shoe collection, at least they were easier to pair up. You can easily identify a pair of shoes or boots, but records only offer a wafer thin edge to be perused, rather like a box of after eights, except they’re all different.

The volume of records represented the long journey I had just embarked upon and it was sick inducing terror. Trying to find some order, some answer some sort of resolution, but where to start? I just started from the top and worked down. I found the Bob Marley and the Wailers collection on the top shelf to the left (of course seems obvious now), I’d never seen them before in all the fifteen years we had together. Rich kept them well hidden, all in plastic sleeves on a high shelf. (like keeping the sweet treats hidden away from the kids or the after eights) I didn’t play them I just put them together so I knew where they were.

I found a case of ‘mix’ CDs with Jazz and Funk music in, these are what I played first, the “Superbad mix” over and over, I was just sobbing and shaking still in shock, trying to feel the music, trying to feel something other than sickness. I was almost scared to listen to more, like the sheer volume of music at home represented the sheer volume of grief to walk through, a journey if a thousand steps, a journey of a thousand tunes, but you have to start with one.

For a while, I don’t know how long, I couldn’t play the vinyl, it seemed too precious, was I even allowed to? I had to come to terms with the fact they were now mine, well really they were Holly’s. I just pulled out the “Burning” album by the Wailers and I put needle to vinyl ever so gently, and listened, it was powerful, Rich would have said “just record them, don’t play them”. It was a glimpse of acceptance, a new start, and so I played all the Marley albums one after the other, until I had heard them all and it felt good and rebellious. Then I let Holly play records too, and even Eleanor’s son Henry had a go (during the weekend when panic at the panto began).

This was the start of the reorganisation of the records. I have listened to music a lot every day since, I did before his death, I have all my life, but these have been redemption songs. Over time they have freed me from the heavy burden of loss, they have rescued me. I got a radio for the kitchen, I found jazz fm, and that was on every morning, every mealtime, sometimes all day in the background for company. Jazz fm is always good, funky and soulful in the morning, ‘dancey’ on a Saturday evening, bluesy and soft at other times, Jazz just seems to take the edge off. It was lighthearted and just provided the rhythm, I needed a rhythm, not an orchestra tuning. Jazz fm has disappeared now, it’s on line I think if you want to check it out, it was just there when I needed it.

I moved a sofa to the ‘music end’ of the living room, in front of the vinyl collection and the decks, the system, so I could meditate on it while I was listening and learning. (and rocking) I played records everyday. At first just Marley and the Wailers, then the Funk, Soul, Hiphop, Drum and Bass, Jungle, Latin, Disco, Dance and Jazz, everytime I played a record, I’d put it back in some sort of discernable order, I was beginning to own the collection and climb the mountain, I’m still climbing it……. Then I started to buy records, as if I didn’t have enough, and CDs which seemed ridiculous, but if I was to own the collection I had to buy more of it. I’d buy up compilations by bands such as Blondie, The Jam, The Kinks, Faithless to mention a few, and upload them into Itunes. I found Jake Bugg, I loved that album, I played that a lot because it made me cry, it was like an emotional laxative when there was a blockage. I bought American Pie in a charity shop for 50p and played it over and over trying to remember all the lyrics, it’s a long tune, but I loved the narrative within it. I also played a lot of 90s stuff and 70s reggae, sing along tunes Mr Shabba Man.

I stored the 10 inch collection at Deb and Rob’s. The sevens were boxed and in the loft, some were on the landing on top of a cupboard. I used to feel an irresistible urge to sell huge chunks of the collection, so they didn’t dominate my space so much. My friends talked me out of it in the early days, so I kept it, reorganised it and I just slowly began to get to know it, and now I am guardian of it, I’ve recently started to sell some of it, UK Dub, Steve Vibronics helped me by identifying what was collectable, and shared the list with collectors, now I recognise the labels and the artists. I’m learning who’s who and what’s what and his records are spread all over Europe and the UK. The money is going into Holly’s savings. I consulted her before I did it, and although I’ve sold loads, you wouldn’t know from looking, there’s still so many. That’s just the vinyl, there’s also the CDs and the 5000 tracks in the ITunes library.

The music was the most important ‘thing’ that rich left us with in terms of objects. I found it easier to liberate myself from material stuff because of it, and as time went by more and more ‘material things’ had less significance, because of the music, and because of the memories. Music has helped to heal me, it allowed me to meditate in my Zoochotic state, and there is a life time’s worth of it, it’s a wonderful gift. Organising the music and the music paraphernalia was a great part of the grand reorganisation.

Instead of the decks, mixer, sampler, amp, CD player, Graphic Equaliser and some other unplugged black metal boxes there was now the laptop, the computer, the mixer, the turntable and the amp and then later just one deck, the amp and the computer. I had to unplug it all and untangle the cables, I had to label each one so I knew how to put it all back together, Rich loved cables, it was spaghetti madness! I copied across to my new computer, all the music and the playlists and I’ve plenty of playlists of my own now, and I even started trawling through the dub, looking for tracks I liked or remembered, and I made playlists for them, I’ve deleted hundreds of tracks too, but I checked them first, and anyway everything is backed up on an external harddrive, this is my collection emerging and for now it’s a break from the vinyl.

I actually learnt more from Itunes because it was quicker, speed sorting, which wasn’t zen, but  more realistic given that I’m not immortal. I did my first two reggae lists, one 70s style, one a mixture of dub reggae and bashment, and I was quite proud of myself for that and I really enjoy those lists. I smiled when I did them because I know what he would have said.

Live music has been just as important as that which I listen to at home or in the car. We held the Richi Rootz Dance in honour of him, where his fellow musicians paid tribute to him, and so did the audience and we raised £1,500 for the Laura Centre. It will be in it’s 4th year this year. We’ve raised about the same for a family room at the stroke unit at the Leicester Royal Infirmary and raised £1000 for a music studio at Soft Touch Arts. So he lives on and does good through the music. I’ve taken Holly to festivals so she can experience music live, and she’s loved it, I’ve been to more gigs and performances that I have before, and sometimes I’ve been to sound system nights, where I’ve closed my eyes and seen him there within the bassline, with my nostrils vibrating.

Now that’s what I call Grieving.

 

 

 

 

 

Oiling the wheels of the Grief Machine (or ferrapy innit!)

counsellor

 

I’ve actively pursued ‘therapy’ on this journey through fear of getting stuck, through fear of being alone, through fear in general. I’ve ‘worked hard’ at it. Therapy isn’t always easy, but it has oiled the wheels of the grief machine and made it go faster I think. The more I’ve had ‘therapy’ the more I’ve come to realise that you can turn anything into a therapy.

Counselling, Reiki, Reflexology, Massage, Crystals, group work, Yoga, time with friends, pissed up conversations, hugs from Holly, hugs from anyone, random kindness, care from family and friends, saying prayers, music, fantasy, stars, the moon, angry outbursts and masturbation, to mention a few. Clearing out, new ideas, symbolism, steps forward, cake and chocolate, smiles from strangers, lunches and dinners with friends, laughter, tears, fears and quietness, flirting with a fantasy man, searching For the answers and finding them when you least expect it, hair doos, shopping, picture hanging, recycling, simplifying spaces, going to work, solving a small problem when it feels like a triumph, dreaming, hoping, crying, smoking, making new, and writing.

i’ll elaborate on some…….

Hugs with Holly

Deeply beautiful and inexplicable, animal and spiritual. Mother and daughter, it’s holy, it’s a world on it’s own. It’s the most deeply understood action for both of us when we can’t find the words. We have a joke about me snotting in her hair when I’ve been sobbing, it’s her special conditioner with added shine. We have a word for it, but it’s our word, and I don’t need to share it here.

Hugs in general

Connection, joy, random love, always accepted, hugs from Ben, close tight and unexpectedly all encompassing. Hugs are good for anyone and are highly recommended for mental and physical health, squeeze tightly. Apparently hugging makes you live longer….

Creativity

Allows the brain and soul and experience fully the grief and torment, well it does for me, through writing, music, making, cooking and moving, just playing, playing with ideas. Creativity has allowed me to stand outside myself and observe. In that one experience lies my salvation. I thank the universe for the gift of writing.

Work

I am blessed to have a job I adore. Full stop.

Masturbation

Ultimately a release in a physical sense, but also calms the mind, the hormones (ovulation… ovulation) and increases appetite, which is great when you’re on the B Plan diet, and It made me feel quite ‘cocky’ ‘yeah, I got this covered, no need for any outside input (quite literally). Good vibes.

Music

Oh music, redemption songs. Music hits you and you feel no pain, it gives the soundtrack to life, changes your mood, enhances your feelings, lets you cry laugh and feel deeply within, I close my eyes when i dance to really feel it. Thank you Festivals, for feeling it LIVE, thank you Dub Sound Systems (for massaging my soul with your bass) thank you Babble, with your love cabbages and smiley faces, thank you jazz fm, for obliterating the silence of the kitchen first thing in the morning with your sweet and cheesy tunes, thank you Bob Marley, for putting words to my pain, thank you Rich for the gift of your vinyl collection, thank you for the decks and the mixer, thank you for 5000 tracks on itunes, that’s music for life sorted. I have written a ‘Music to Grieve By’ chapter, all in good time…

Changing things:

Rooms, clothes, shoes, colours, windows, habits, haircuts, holiday destinations, cars, beds, mind set, the order of things, direction, ways of seeing. Change is necessary natural and liberating and inevitable. The biggest change was the death of my partner, I’ve tried to roll with it, bend with the wind. “Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride” it’s not all fun though, it’s a big rollercoaster and it’s not like one of those rides where you shout “Again! Again!”. Well it is when it comes to boots and holidays…..but there has to be a grand re-organisation. “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” Frank Zappa

Gestalt:

I kept cardboard boxes for stamping on after my anger broke a few things:

“So I’m so fucking sick of being strong and good that I boxed the fuck out of the sofa. It wasn’t quite enough, I didn’t want to worry anyone by smashing my carboot genie bottles so I kicked the tumble dryer and hurt my big toe, what a waste of today’s Reflexology, now fuck off. I really hit the spot by smashing my favourite glass and smashing holly’s IKEA egg chair, then I swept up a dead bird before doing the washing. The cat is pissed off too. Holly just said to him, “you angry too bill? Do you want to break something? Here you can break a Barbie….the ugly one” =D

Survival pockets

Survival pockets have played a big part as one of my coping strategies. They have changed over time, but the stuff in my pockets had to be there, or else I felt at risk of panic, in their own way they were therapeutic to have around my person. In addition to purse, keys, phone, lipgloss and old receipts and coupons from the supermarket, and fluff.

During Rich’s time in Hospital in my bag:

Chewing gum, a clipper lighter, tobacco, papers and tips, tissues, phone and the code for the door to the hospital garden, loose change, magic soap (hand sanitiser), a photo of us kissing, lip balm, bottle of water (which once leaked onto my phone, so had to revert to an antique nokia).

Immediately after his death and for weeks after, in my pocket I kept 3 of Rich’s dreadlocks wrapped around his wedding ring. Which I held in my pocket and occasionally had a sniff of.

For months after his death, In my bag and in addition to the stuff above because I wasn’t able to sort out my bag at that time: Flowers rescue remedy, lavender balm to rub in my temples, tissues, chewing gum and a folded paper bag (for panic and anxiety). Paracetamol and diazepam, Tampons, a biro, mirror compact with Miss Scarlet on the case and a small envelope with a message from Holly that said “I love you”.

Time with friends

This deserves a chapter of it’s own. I’m blessed with special amazing friends, and much love comes from here, friendship is the most wonderful and eternal cruise ship you’ll ever sail on. Weathering storms, staying strong, a powerful crew at the helm.

Having drunken conversations without inhibition, which can be Cathartic and powerful but can be agony afterwards, it’s necessary, it’s good for everyone, because grieving Rich isn’t just my thing, it’s all of us together sharing the grief. I have sometimes been so wrapped up in my own pain that I forgot about the pain of others. The toughest bit is letting yourself do it, without fear, and letting yourself enjoy it too, and laughing about the taboos, thank you Christine, Deb, Rob, Maggie, Emerson, Vicki, Mum, Dad, Bill, Lynda, Rich and Tara, Eleanor and Anona and Moose. The hardest part of that is being on your own with it afterwards, but you know you get a bloody good cry.

Eating with friends is simple and essential, much better than sitting in front of the telly with a jaffa cake (cos you’ve got to eat something), but sharing food, cooking for friends, them cooking for you, family feeding you when you’re starving and adrenalin sick. Lunches, meals out, just sharing eating.

Random Kindness

You’d be surprised how much kindness strangers are capable of. At the hospital, In shops, at the supermarket, at the garage, at the dump, at the funeral parlour, on the bus, in a car crash, in the sauna, on holiday, in your home (thank you to the man who put up all my blinds, listened to my story and hung a door for me and fixed my window, too kind). Random kindness from strangers makes you realise you’re never alone. Don’t listen to the media. Human beings are wondrous, generous, caring, kind and funny, give them a chance and accept the helping hand.

And then there’s…….

therapy

Reiki

Channelling and cleansing (you have to have an open mind). Working on the physical, mental and spiritual levels. I’ve received Reiki from 3 practitioners, Anne, Elaine and Margaret. In the beginning I felt it was an opportunity to communicate with Rich, or at least he would see me through the process. Mind-blowing at times and feeding hope. Later on it became a way to relax, it made me feel like that moment when you’re falling asleep and all of the sounds become heightened then quiet and your body and mind lets go, like opening a window. It’s energizing too, having someone focused on you, intently. We had to reign in my aura a few times didn’t we Margaret?

Reflexology and Massage

(back, head and face, facials are good because my face was knackered from being screwed up all the time, and I had a persistent headache too)

Reflexology for me is and was the ultimate relaxation and comfort. I always had a Reflexology ‘hangover’ which tended to be in the form of sadness, anger and anxiety, and lots of weeing. But us women like a bit of relief from the water retention don’t wee?

Massage was painful because of the knots of grief that built in my body, and pain relieving because of the grief knots in my body. It was so cleansing and nourishing and warm. I often felt like I’d had a workout after but felt the benefit more about 2 days after. Just wonderfully soothing and such a treat. It’s about the human touch.

Crystals

Like Reiki but grounding, making millions of snapshot dreams in my mind. An opening of the shakras. Crystals are ‘chosen’ and placed on your shakras as needed. The aura is cleansed at the end with ‘chosen’ essential oils too. Margaret said my Head Shakra was always open to the universe, but I had to be grounded. Mel White doesn’t always want to put her feet on the ground! Neither does Mel Harper, have you seen her boots? Calming at times but frustrating in others, built resilience and immunity. Soothing and reassuring when I was low and anxious, but when I felt good and energetic it unbalanced me for a few days after, but I know it changed according to my hormonal cycle, and seriously though, with an open mind, it’s been revelationary. Thank you Margaret, thank you Laura Centre.

I’ve had waking dreams, like visions during crystals sessions, like an opening up, like colour flooding in. I had this one dream vision which was more ‘complete’ than the others, it had a start middle an end, not just fleeting images, a story. It stays with me really clearly. I was on a walk, a tour if you like, around the places I’ve lived in this city, starting from a flat I lived in on my own, where I was living when I met Rich. The flat was bare and I was walking through the rooms, just looking at spaces where stuff used to be, it was empty just how id left it in 1996. I locked the door and went through Highfields to the flat I’d shared with Ben and Alistair, it was just empty, just how we left it in 1997. Then to the first flat I lived in with Rich and then the house on Cedar Road, empty, just like we’d left in 2003. I walked back through Highfields down the London road and into town, past the train station onto Granby Street, glancing at the chippy, looking through Northampton Street to where the Spread Eagle used to be, all empty. I carried on down into Gallowtree Gate and up to the Clock Tower, where I stopped, (everyone meets at the clock tower) there as a gathering there.

At first I recognised some of the mums from school, so I went over to talk to them, and in the midst of the chattering the gathering started to grow. I was turning around on the spot slowly, and as I did more groups of people appeared, first work colleagues, then my close friends, and my old friends, then family, and even aquaintainces, doctors and therapists and my yoga buddies. The gathering became a large circle with me in the middle, everyone was smiling at me, I continued to turn around, on the spot round and round, and suddenly Ben was in the middle of the circle with me laughing his head off and wearing a silly sort of Christmas tree hat, he made me laugh with him. Beyond him there was a gap in the circle, beyond the gap stood Rich looking at me, with his suitcase. He gestured to me as if to say “see, everything will be ok, you are surrounded by people and friends, can I go now?”

Group work

Absolutely the most exhausting. The Laura Centre. The Laura Centre is a charity that supports children who have lost parents and vice versa. Specifically that, it’s a very special place. I felt so lucky to have this place close by. I slept for 13 hours after my first session, and 12 the next. I made friends, kept friends, shared something wonderful, painful and deep. It’s very intense, the listening as well as the talking, it’s hard work, and it’s public (so to speak, there weren’t any spectators). I also did group work with Holly, that was amazing for the both us, not just grieving individuals, but grieving families, that sense of Why Me? being shared and destroyed. Also the lighter events, like ‘christmas at home’ collectively remembering our departed, leaving messages on the Christmas tree, all being together in the experience. Just amazingly helpful and unique.

Counselling

A space to say it all, how it is, spewing all out over the floor, no holds barred, objective, plenty of tissues, safe and confidential.  My counsellor was simply brilliant and gave me practical advice not just ‘what do you think’ answers.  She reorganised my mess of thoughts and explained away the dark thoughts and fears. Counselling was my most proactive therapy. Thank you Anita, and thank you work for organising it for me.

Yoga (forever)

Consistently rewarding and cleansing, and strengthening, and confidence building and graceful. Calming anxieties with breathing and flowing movements, stretching out those tight bereft muscles and bringing energy in exhaustion. Mind clarifying, meditative, personal and shared. A gift that keeps on giving. Where other therapies are now and again, or for short courses, yoga will be lifelong for me. I have a wonderful teacher. A lifetime’s therapy here. Physically challenging, freedom giving, life giving, and once I even had the gift of orgasm in headstand. (it’s true, glad no one else realised, I was up there for a long time, just couldn’t stop, ok it might have been the opening of the kundilini shakra in conjunction with synthetic yoga pants, who knows).

“I’m going to the Laura Centre tomorrow and seeing Anita my counsellor next week. Feel it’s time for some therapy, oh and a massage next week too. These are the ways and part of the support systems I have and I cherish, it’s time to hug my anxious self, hug my inner child and take her by the hand, soothe my inner teenager in her dark nights and love her. She is not my enemy, she is me, my soul, my friend. The profound loss of my husband so young, so sudden is part and parcel of me now and always. No more fighting, no more battling, just continued acceptance and of course occasional Diazepam.”

it’s all ferrapy innit!

 

 

 

 

Ibiza part two. Symbolism is a way of learning.

SYMBOLISM

SYMBOLIC: serving as a symbol.figurative, representative, illustrative, emblematic, allegorical, parabolic, non-literal, allusive, denotative, connotative, suggestive, mnemonic.

Day 5 (it’s still a holiday journal) (it flits about a bit)

Symbolism is a way of learning for me, always has been. It’s just my way of trying to understand the way things are, and to feel in the moment, by recognising signs, being aware of what’s happening. Lately events feel symbolic, or lately I’m in symbolic mode, so events which present themselves help me to reflect on my situation. Like finding ‘Where’s Wally’ in the crowd, I’m finding the clues in the world.

 The symbolic car crash.

Two days before Ibiza. We were on our way to the solicitors to finalise my Will. Sweet irony again. No one was physically hurt, a bit shaken up of course, and the old man that drove into us got a massive dent in his pride and confidence (which is much worse than my mashed up bonnet). He graciously accepted fault. As if I needed reminding of the unpredictable nature of life, but maybe I did. I called the solicitor to say I’d be late and got some free legal advice whilst on the phone.

Our car was now not road worthy and had to be taken away for repair by the insurers, This meant that I would not have the car on the anniversary of the Stroke. Rich sat in the car next to me when it happened, in a moment, a word reduced to a whimper, a flickering in the eye. A wrestle with the seat belt, a momentary blindness. I had enough flashbacks of that, but thankfully wouldn’t have to experience that on August 13th. Shakira the Zafira would return to us at some unknown date in the future fixed up and ready for new adventures. (just like me). I have a sneaky suspicion it will be away for 3 weeks, to cover the same lapse of time between the stroke and the death. (and I was right, in the meantime I got to drive around a big posh silver sales rep sort of a car, in which I had my first date with Ben and my first festival with Holly). So I got some respite from black memories, a reminder about unpredictability and protection, and the promise and opportunity to take new journeys. Symbolic.

 Symbolic Keys and Doors.

I’ve felt ready to open a ‘new door’, but it was sticking a bit.

The following events happened on the same day.

Deb is feeding our cat Bill while we are away, she texts me to tell me she is locked inside our house, she can’t open the front door from the inside. She has tried everything I suggest but it won’t budge. I give her loads of ‘tweaking and fiddling about’ advice but she’s starting to panic. When I tell her where the back door key is, she can’t find it. I tell her where the key to the side door is, she finds it and is able to escape. She tries the front door again from the outside and it opens perfectly well. So she can get in but not out. Which freaks her out, she felt trapped, she says she won’t go alone again. Good job I happened to have my phone switched on. I had been thinking about getting a new front door, not because it sticks, just because.

The electronic swipe card to our hotel room ceases to work, we can’t get in. We have to get a member to sort it. I have hired a safe to keep money and documents in. I go to open it, it’s worked perfectly so far. The key gets stuck and moves around in the lock but does not unlock the safe. I have to do a lot of jiggling about with the key in the lock, changing pressure and so on, I have to find the ‘knack’. Same with the room door. Locks, keys and doors are all metaphorical of course. The point is, you can’t just expect doors to open, you need the right key, and the right way. Sometimes others can show you the way, but you have to get it for yourself, which brings self confidence and of course an open door…..which invites you to step through it. Or maybe some doors aren’t ready to be opened yet. Either way I’m opening doors. Symbolic.

We’re back in the hotel room after the pool, I did some salutations while Holly was in the bath, very slow, taking 5 breaths in every pose, followed by a meditation, which was deep, I could feel the gentle rocking of the earth rotating through space. Ferrapy innit? Clear mind, relaxed body. Simple dinner. Peace. Later on the jetty, taking photos of the view, then sitting quietly watching the waves rolling in.

The symbolic sea.

The waves peak beautifully then roll over meeting with others as they break onto the beach softly then retreat, spent as the next does the same. This is beauty, nature as it has always been, eternal and consistent. This has never changed. Those waves echo the experience of childbirth and bereavement. You cannot stop it, and why would you want to, one brings life into the world, one takes it, one lives again. Symbolic.

Day 6

I’m awake in the middle of the night and I’m crying. I’m sitting out on the balcony, so as not to disturb Holly. I’m missing home, I’m missing my friends, I’m missing what used to mean home. Someone being there to welcome us home. I’m missing not being able to call home and say I miss you, I’ll be home soon. I’m missing him saying I miss you. I’m missing someone saying they’ll have the kettle on. I’m missing looking forward to being met at the airport. I miss hearing Holly shouting “daddy!!!” He always hugged her first, sometimes us both together, a family hug, a squeeze, then put the kettle on and snuggle up on the sofa, and talk about the day, the adventure, and maybe she’d fall asleep on his magic tummy. I miss the comfort of home, but for the first time since he died I MISS HOME!!!! This is a massive turning point, I’m looking forward to going home, and being at home, and seeing our friends.

My head is full of this memory, I have to go through it clearly to remember it out loud, or in words, here….he always slept to my right, but when we were laying on the sofa I was always on his right, arm wrapped around his belly, my right leg over his, nuzzling into his neck, shoulder, smelling his hair, such a comfortable loving place, I’d almost always fall asleep there. When he died, this is how it was with him on his hospital bed, I wrapped his arm around me and held him just like on the sofa. I held him until the warmth left his body, from the face down. I kept the warmth between us for 4 hours that night, it felt like 5 minutes and an eternity, time didn’t exist, I just worked it out after, the time he died, and the time I got home. When I cried the tears filled his eye sockets and trickled down his cheeks. I remember saying “goodnight sweet love, I love you”

That memory used to cause me anxiety. I’m not scared of it now, now I can write it down, now I can observe it. Now the pain and sorrow is softer and there’s a kind of ecstasy to it, not fear, the ecstasy comes from the knowledge and experience of that love we shared, til the end, and I’ve survived. I’ve survived the trauma, it hasn’t killed me, it’s brought me to Ibiza.

I’m looking forward to going home.

Day 7

Last night was a bit of a rollercoaster. From feeling peaceful and still, irritated then angry, tired and restless, emotionally exhausted. I had furtive dreams, broken sleep and general unease, but I had revelations. I’m knackered like I’ve run a marathon and had a fight, I definitely had a punch to the stomach. My period arrived this morning, a few days early. Hormones……now we’ll both be on ‘string-watch’.

We spent the day at the beach, then went out for dinner for a change, because it’s our last night here. This place is beautiful. We went to a pasta n pizza place. We did the market then chilled at the beach bar, Holly was her usual self with added hyper which I just wasn’t in the mood for, period pains like labour.

I’ve realised some BIG things, my mind turning over and over, a thousand thoughts tumbling around like they’re in a washing machine, churning, rinsing, churning, spinning….(Later I had to take 4mg of Diazepam and have a fag). I’ve smoked too much here, well generally this summer. I want to give up, I can feel the time close by, I’ve done it before, but I’ve been using the tobacco as a crutch and a friend on this holiday, it’s not my friend though, it’s my pimp.

It’s been great to come to Ibiza. Some deep thinking, deep desires and deep realisations. I’ve chatted to few people but not really connected, well I did with Gemma, but she left half way through. There’s been very little distraction and a lot of reflection. It’s been cathartic.

It’s important to reflect and it’s really important to share with people. I’ve really missed my friends this week, missed talking, really missed that. Missed home. It’s good to miss friends. I love my friends dearly they’re so important to me, they’re the family I have made or we have made collectively. My brothers and sisters. I’ve missed routine, yoga, taking Holly to gymnastics, the day to day stuff, I’m looking forward to getting my brain in gear for work too. Work is important to me, I love my job, I miss it. I’m loving missing things instead of just missing him.

We just had our last evening in the town, at the beach. I miss adult companionship so much right now, and at the same time I know I should be cherishing this time with Holly, which I am, but there’s only so far a conversation about Spongebob Squarepants can go. I am lonely and I’m not. Sometimes I resent being mum and dad. I have to be good cop and bad cop and sometimes that’s really tough. Tough being the only one. Hats off to the single parents!

I know Rich would have liked it here, I told Holly that if her dad was with us, everywhere we went, people would have wanted to talk to him, he was magnetic. I felt so proud to be with him. I’m remembering how warm, charming and cheeky he was. We sat on a bench by the river and I shed a few tears and spoke to Holly about Rich. On the anniversary of the stroke, we’d be returning from our holiday instead of going on one, as we were that day.

She told me whenever she spoke to him on the phone when we were in Bedford, he’d always say he was watching Spiderman and she said she missed that and wondered if they have films in heaven. I’m brimming with tears. Just then a little scottie dog appeared, so lovely and fluffy, funny and happy. It lifts our hearts. Thank you Angels. (it was a real dog, not like a heavenly dog, it had an owner, i wasn’t hallucinating, maybe it was heavenly though..)

It’s an overnight flight, I might take a diazepam so I can sleep on the plane.

So what have I learned from this holiday? I’ve learned I am not naturally a solitary person. I have learned about liberty from my bereavement and grief, I have learned about giving in to them and stopping the fighting. I have learned how much I love my friends and family. I have learned that I have reached new points on my journey. I have learned how much this record, journal or book is important to me as therapy but as something I hope to share, and in that help others. I have learned that wine and gin don’t mix in the same evening. I’ve learned how brown my skin can go. I’ve learned how much I miss exercise and yogurt! I’ve learned that desire and fantasy is not wrong but can be difficult and destructive. I’ve learned more about being by myself, that’s it’s ok, and I’ve learned I know I’ll be able to love again when the time finds me. (and that’s the symbology of my fascination with Ben).

Home

I bought the wrong perfume at Duty free because it was 3 in the morning and I’d taken a diazepam, everything seems to smell a bit nicer on that, anyway what’s that got to do with anything?

When we arrived at the airport, the very same taxi driver who took us to the airport when we went to Majorca, picked us up. So it was an unexpected welcome home afterall, he was pleased to see us and we were pleased to see him, i think he felt a king of paternal instinct for us, because he knew our story. When we got home Slinky Bill (cat) greeted us at the front door with a meow and a purr, (but didn’t put the kettle on) and Moose rang to tell us he was sitting on the bench with his new lady. I feel like I’m home.

Home is where the heart is and Ibiza is where the holiday was. It was more than a trip It was a journey of discovery. Thank you symbolism.