Eleven years ago I sat here in pain, my world was changing and I just had to hold on. I was well past my due date with severe ligament damage and an unstable pelvis meaning I couldn’t really walk or even lift a kettle without support.

The natural birth I wanted (for which I had written a Birth Plan – a great work of fiction) went out of the window along with my muscle strength, mobility and visions of early motherhood.

Many days and drugs later I held him for the first time, releasing a primal love that served me through the long years of a slow recovery to health and is my only foundation now in this unstable new life of widowhood.

…So ten years after the birth, sat in the garden on our wedding anniversary, I had the foolish idea to travel to Norway. I reasoned it would be six months by the time of the holiday and I would feel differently.

6 months landed in a second and whilst I’d emotionally, barely moved from the spot, and as I was without a way back, I hauled all of us (me, my son, the suitcases and the pain) off to find our Ship.

A cruise wasn’t really our sort of thing, not what we’d normally do. We were small cottage types with a spider or two in the sink and some old leaflets from 1994 on available attractions. However, we’d done a cruise once before as a special holiday after losing my Mother in law. So I knew the system and as long as it was a different ship thought I’d be ok.

I’d never left the country by myself, never needed to, yet here I was having triple checked the documents, the money and the doors attempting (no, actually going) to do it.

The widows amongst us will understand how some days even to get a pair of boots on is a major achievement, so this was an immense challenge yet I felt compelled by the fear. Although scared I was driven by a determination to do it and something primal kicked in. I had to get out there, build a life for us and shoving suitcases in a taxi was the very first step.

Once on board I came down heavily with a splat. Great, I’d done it, all the practicalities over with… now what? I’m in the middle of the North Sea, looking out for oil rigs and he still wasnt around. Did a part of me think I’d find him on the ship? Did I think it would break the spell and find it had all been some huge hideous mistake? Our son was happily checking out cupboards and trying to make the tv work (like father like son:-) whilst I was sobbing quietly looking out to sea, battling with competing emotions of abandonment, desolation, pride and fear.

I survived the trauma of our first evening meal: silver service, smiling waiters, chinking couples and the horror of 2 places at a table for 4. Yes we were ok – no I didn’t want the wine waiter – no more rolls thank you – yes everything was still fine with the meal, – no we didn’t want anything else……Oh God, I longed for Macdonald’s and a jaded 18yr old. “Did i want fries with it?” would have been music to my ears.

Apparently we were approaching a ‘Front’ that evening and the Captain assured us that although there maybe a slight ‘swell’ it was nothing to worry about. I wasn’t worried anyway, maybe we’d go down with the ship and join him then all this agony would fade away. But the ship didn’t sink and I lay awake awhile listening to the clothes rattle on their hangers, the glasses slide on the table, depressed and wanting to go home.

As is usual (but not always) with grief, the morning brought a new landscape. It did for me, literally and emotionally. We’d arrived in Stavanger, I saw the sun come up and rediscovered some of my resolve. The scenery was quite fairytale, small painted wooden chalets, misty lakes and seering mountains. Despite my pain, I felt lifted and calm but it soon became obvious that the fjords weren’t going to ‘cut it’ for a ten-year old. We had chosen excursions carefully together – cable cars, hairpin bend coach trips and the ubiquitous aquarium, so I was hopeful that we would both get something from the trip. However, my grief and his boredom, tiredness and an inadequate gift shop made a nasty combination and soon my patience was on the wane.

I began to regret the ‘adventure’ and struggled to keep the tears at bay. I didn’t have the energy or will power to try to engage with the information from the guide. I wasn’t the old Mummy who could conjure up some fun with a discarded biscuit wrapper or make up spontaneous silly stories when irritation and strop were looming. I was the New Me, still Mummy, but so exhausted on every level, so crushed by the new existence, grieving openly when appropriate but generally trying to hold it together with a butterfly thin exterior. I couldn’t do it anymore, I’d had enough. I wanted it all to stop. Right there, Right then, in the endless dank mist on the top of Mount Ulriken.

Not unsurprisingly the world didn’t stop, we cried and hugged, used up some krona on a packet of Pringles (the ideal souvenir from the sparsely filled ‘Gift’ shop) and made our way to cable car to sniff some strangers armpits for the tightly packed descent into town.

Although the reality of travelling with a ten-year old had knocked the shine off what I hoped would be a chance to bond again, I knew it had to work for me. I needed to find something in the landscape, in the achievement itself to give me a foothold in this new life. As we snaked our way through the villages I began to feel a change creep in. I listened carefully to the guide’s stories of the floods and fires and simple folk going about their daily task of being Norwegian. I knew I needed to embrace this day-to-day living and since February had thrust me into ‘the moment’ I’d found it easier to just go with it, to exist moment by moment and to simply ‘be’. So there, half way up a mountain in Aeslund I turned into Scarlett O’Hara and found myself thinking “the land, the land – I must go back to the land!”

Of course if you knew me you’d realise how silly a notion that really is. I don’t ‘do’ soil. The obligatory tomato plants I grew with my son couldn’t be fully harvested because by the time they were ripe they were in the throes of a ‘web-fest’ and I don’t ‘do’ things with eight legs either. Also I have a gardener. (Before you get ideas about me floating around in acres of lush rolling grassland, with a paddock in the lower field and someone called Giles who’s “just fantastic” with the horses….let me explain that the garden is small but the back injury previously refered to keeps me away from faffing about with a Flymo or any associated implements.)…..But in my head I had a new life in the hills, wearing layers of white petticoats, rustling around the kitchen, making something hearty out of the fruits of fertile soil I’d so lovingly tended. Maybe this was the way forward? Something simple, meaningful and pure.

These spiritual musings ended abruptly as we pulled into the rainy car park, hissed and clunked up to all the other coaches and disembarked. Dozens of us, all kagooled and camera-d, wrestling with rucksacks intent on consuming the next new vista.

A friend recently said, ” there must have been some great times?” Well, not exactly, that’s too stong a word. We had ‘nice’ times. I choose the word intentionally – nice – nothing more nothing less, times when he wasn’t grumpy and I wasn’t teary. Like playing table tennis and losing too many balls either to the sway of the boat or our incompetence and narrowly missing the perfect shot into a fellow traveller’s Guinness. We laughed and it was funny.

However, it wasn’t funny and I didn’t laugh when the small side zip on my posh frock wouldn’t do up. I was jittery anyway, going to a formal night, what a stupid idea and if the zip didn’t work soon I was going to burst into tears, put on the tv and get room service. My son tried valiantly but it was an adults grip I needed…one particular adult. The symbolism was too painful, but he really wanted to meet the Captain so I tried one last thing. I took it off again, zipped it up and managed to squirm and wriggle myself into it with zip already closed – Success (…courtesy of the death diet). Survived standing around with the sparkly glossy types while my son played impatiently on the sweeping staircase and I tried my very best to ignore the flirty, sipping, hairflicking fun that was going on all around me.

We saw the Captain, I shoved down another beautifully presented proper meal (shock to the system given I’ve been living off garlic bread, pasta and the odd uneaten fishfinger for 6 months)…and bed, another day ticked off.

So what was it all about?

It wasnt a cruise, a holiday, or a change of scenery. It wasn’t as a non-widow said “a chance to leave it all behind” (yep, that’s it Grief, I’m off. You stay here on the settee with your own box of tissues, look after the place and I’ll see you in a week. Off I skip swinging my bags with not a care in the world, doing a great Gene Kelly as I glide and twirl towards the taxi.)

Hmm, not really.

It was a chance to reconnect with something, it was a pilgrimage, it was a voyage to find a part of me that I desperately needed. I know my son can’t see this and he may not for many years. Though on the surface it didn’t tick his boxes he will benefit greatly and long-term.

In doing this journey, at this time I found a tiny spark of something, an atom of me that didn’t die with my husband. Something timeless, something pure. The part of me that knows I can go on and that I have to. The benefit to my son is that despite the hideous drawn-out fallout that I’ve had since our return and the second by second struggle to get through the memories of his birth, despite it all I found what I need to make a life for us and this is where it starts.

Eleven years ago I couldn’t walk. A damaged pelvis was compounded by an eventual cesarean, recovery would be slow, agonizing and complex. Eleven years yesterday I gave birth and began the tortuous road to health that left me housebound and isolated for 6 months. I lived on the bed and everything else stopped. Everything I recognised about myself had gone and my focus was on my baby. I became my mothering instinct, every breath was about that responsiblity. Despite the pain and the limitations I would do whatever it took to look after him.

I look for symbolism everywhere. I join the dots backwards, I see patterns.

Eleven years on not much has changed: I take small painful tentative steps in this unreal, scary new world. It hurts every day, every breath sometimes. But I do it, with each step I get stronger. This is how it is…..and though my son -my whole world- is pushing at the boundaries and racing away to the next essential phase, I’m right back there where I belong, doing whatever it takes. Holding him and holding on.

Emotionally, I carry him as a newborn.

x

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