Archives for the month of: December, 2011

 

How did I breathe afterwards?

How did I organise and shake hands?

How did I close the door when they left?

How did I take him to school?

How did I see faces from the old world?

How did I put on an expression?

How did I stumble to their arms?

How did I get off the floor?

How did I get through the firsts?

How did I talk to our son?

How did a counsellor sit on our settee?

How did I sleep?

How did I get out of bed?

How did I crawl for food?

How did I find a community?

How did I change routines?

How did I keep appointments?

How did I take on his jobs?

How did I stand waiting?

How did I sit by an empty chair?

How did I walk through our town?

How did I make decisions?

How did I pack?

How did I travel?

How did I look over the balcony?

How did I stand at the top of the mountain?

How did I return?

How did I get through the memories?

How did I get through the responsibilities?

How did I continue with commitments?

How did I sit at the swimming gala?

How did I listen to him playing to the crowd?

How did I find my voice at parent’s evening?

How did I watch the Nativity?

How did I wrap presents?

How did I make a new Christmas?

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How do I support him?

How do I sustain?

How do I continue?

How do I exist?

How do I live?

How do I age?

How do I pass through time?

How do I hold on?

How do I let go?

x

How do I do it all again?

How do I look to the light?

x

How do I breathe?

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The granite sphere is back unexpectedly. The concrete blackness of shock has encased me, it’s the day before Christmas Eve.

The badness has been around for a while, hounding me, plaguing me, hiding in my shadow. It would pop up to say hello when I didn’t know it was there. It played games with me, darting behind trees, laughing, teasing, just to ambush me as I walked by.

But it’s not hiding now, it’s out, it’s here, in non glorious mono colour, in my room, in my body. It’s on every breath and the enormity of what I’ve persisted in calling ‘the weekend’ has hit like a tsunami.

In it’s wake I lie crushed and terryifyed. The weight of reality seems to make the air itself heavy and painful.

At this moment I can’t understand how I’ll get through the day let alone the weekend. And somewhere behind it all I can hear the echoes of my widowed friends screaming at me ‘baby steps’.

Yesterday through my drunken wrapping up session I’d begun to regret my plans for a cut off Christmas, seeing no one, not even parents.

I missed her, who I used to be, fussing about, buying too much, wrapping with too much precision, worried I hadn’t got enough bows, and most importantly, loving their faces when they opened whatever the package containined. I always felt satisfied if I’d reduced someone (usually my Mum) to tears with a gift. A job well done.

But this year I don’t need gifts to make them cry. They cry because they can’t fix it, and I cry because I can’t show them my pain.

So in addition to the fundamental grief there is yet another loss, of her, of us, of our traditions, of our togetherness, of our Christmases.

Our mess of grief all tangled up and confused, knotted darkness, strung up with no purpose.

Layers upon layers of grief. Un wrapping it all slowly but never getting to a gift. Unless the grief itself is the gift? A permanent presence, an anchor to love, a pain that etches itself into you, weaves through and around until it’s part of you at your very heart. An enfolding force, a guide, a teacher.

And the memories dance and twirl around you in never ending spirals, fractals of our identity, a graceful frond to forever, patterns of spirit surround us.

Images of my childhood, her Christmases and the groundwork in place for who I’d become, and our Christmases, new and negotiated, with visits, plans and dreams, and our sons Christmases , stockings and Santa and me eating carrots, biting chunks out of apples and leaving floury footprints on the patio. At five in the morning when binbags rustled louder than when I packed them and the coldness tingled with anticipation.

And now

And a new artificial tree for my artificial life and the unravelling of the innocence. We will always watch the Polar Express last thing on Christmas Eve. I bought it for our son when he was train obsessed and always wept over it’s beauty, it’s symbolism of rites of passage, of growing up, of magic, of love.

He would raise an eyebrow over my sentimentality but he adored the spirit too and I know that from the things he said, from the stories we shared and from his reaction to the tiny plaster of paris Santa we found when looking through his mum’s possessions.

And I know where the Santa is now, and I know what it all means.

And we will create new traditions.

But at the weekend they’ll all be there around me whether or not they are seen.

The little girl I used to be,

The wife and mother who I became,

and the woman I’m becoming

Just me and our son, yet surrounded by all my family. The relatives now and then, those I knew as a child for just a few years, those who are still here for me now, who helped to form me, who support me by trusting me to find my own way and the spirit and love of those who hold me close even when they can’t.

And us, in everything, in every fleck of glitter and every tiny light, ineffable, constant, unknowable yet certain.

And at the centre of it all, our son, my beacon, my promise, still a child – but shifting, enjoying feeling older, easing himself into the next phase, often just one beat ahead but I still keep up. Always behind him, always around him. Responding, guiding, trusting.

Finding his way through the grief, through the pain. Held in the love that defines us.

Holding his hand as we creep through our morning to carefully unwrap what we’ve been given, to understand the gift and use it. Through the overwhelming darkness to find what is waiting. In the light of the dawn all existence fades to a being with my soul. Eventually all things merge into One, and our love runs through it.

To hold tight, to hold on to each other. To find what we need, to become who we need to be.

This moment

This pain

This joy

This agony

This love

The bell still rings

Believe

X

Boxing Day last year and we had a stupid ‘disagreement’. I flounced off, pony tail swishing to stomp and sniff in the bedroom whilst he relocated his trusty cave to the bathroom for a two hour sulk. But our plans got in the way so instead of us both simmering quietly until a resolution, we had to haul ourselves out to a jolly family social event. Eye contact and normal service had resumed by the time we’d done Twister and ate cheesy things. But my memory of that time is not about the silly arguments that I miss as much as the joy, it’s about the large tissue papered lantern in the shape of Sponge Bob that grinned inanely at us from the conservatory.

The Christmas lantern parade was a local tradition, a beautiful heralding in of the Christmas market, the ice rink, the lights switching on and that lovely warm feeling of love and togetherness. We were impressed with the Bikini-Bottomed wonder and promised we’d join them next year for the lantern workshops and the procession itself.

At some point in November my friend reminded me of the workshops and was I still interested? I said I’d check in with our son and though part of me wanted to hibernate indefinitely and absolutely not go near anything remotely sparkly, I knew if he was up for it then we would ‘join in’ and I would wear extra armour.

And so it came to pass that by the time of the workshops he had planned to make a Borg space ship from their beloved Star Trek series. I appreciated the blackness of the symbolism. Borg are the ultimate alien, all things in their path will be assimilated and even ‘Death is irrelevant’ …ah, if only. I loved the fact that he was making a dark cube with very little that would light up amongst the twinkly illuminating glowing stars around us. The helper on the workshop was concerned he was using too much black tissue paper and the light wouldn’t show through. Without breaking down and sobbing I assured her, it was ok, and it was important that it was a faithful (to us) replica of doom.

Somewhere during the process I decided to make my own lantern and there was only one thing that it could be. My Tao symbol would be perfect. Our son found it funny that mine would be ‘all about love’ whist his was all about destruction and through the torture I saw the beauty of what we were embarking upon. I was increasingly concerned that it would be upsetting for him to hold up something that represented Daddy but through gentle questioning I found he didn’t appear to see what I did.

Mine was all about the Rite itself, down to working with the willow to gradually bend it to shape, and the forming and smoothing to build it into what it needed to be, and the papering over the cracks and damage, which were, in the end, irrelevant as the light would still shine through despite its imperfections.

I was fearful of how or if I’d get through the procession itself. How could I stand there and watch this symbol of my life be lit up? I couldn’t imagine….but I knew it would happen somehow.

The evening dawned and the car was full of excited children and a large ‘Hello Kitty’ head courtesy of our friends who had gone for a pink and white look rather than last years yellow. I cradled my lantern on my lap and returned to my trance like February service state of mind.

We started from the top of town, the Great Hall a heaving mass of anticipation and one upmanship. The lanterns and their creators paraded around each other like size zeros on the catwalk and objectively some, actually, many were amazing and elaborate but my relatively small and delicate Tao symbol was my only focus and I stood solemnly holding it aloft with a painful pride.

I encouraged my friend to stand near the door as even in the old world I wasn’t over keen on crowds, and with my fragility at an all time high, feeling highly strung and wanting to bolt, I prefered to be at the front of the throng. Plus in my head and heart the whole thing was for us anyway, for a celebration, a marking , a journey and me and my agony deserved to be in the vanguard.

We were ushered out to the waiting darkness and streamed into sections for the candles to be lit. By chance I was directed to the one that was flanked by the TV crew and though I would never see the footage, my sparkly tearyness at the moment of lighting was captured somewhere in time.

I had survived the start, put on a public face and now stood with our son and the Borg ready to weave our way to the Cathedral.

And through the winters air the wrapped up band played carols and the streets were lined on either side with children on shoulders, character spotting and ooing and ahhing, and we followed a crack squad of lantern makers who had pieced together a wide selection of Star Wars inhabitants. So I followed the tissued papered Yoda, quite fittingly with my Eastern promise to ‘feel the force around’ me and the crowd cheered, whooped and clapped and were amazed at our creations. Although I knew they weren’t clapping us specifically or probably had not even noticed us but our pain shone out over and above it all, and in my heart our lights were the brightest. And my wet eyes were not for the warmth of the spectacle or exciting Christmas spirit but for the landmarks of our life that I ticked off as I strode proudly but weakly past the statue near his workplace and abandonedly unravelled the memories as I made my pilgrimage with dignity to the bottom of town.

At the Cathedral all lanterns were parked against the railings for the waiting paparazzi to shove and consume. I held it together though inside the wailing was building. I felt numb, relieved, respectful, broken, exhausted, defeated and done. All I needed was a moment to gather myself and I’d be more than ready to pile back in the car, to crumble home and sob while he watched Star Trek downstairs.

But it wasn’t going to be, as the children wanted to see the fireworks. So just to ignite a little more pain we waited for the crowd to thin with a quick moment or two in the cathedral where my friend talked about buying the tour as a present for her husband and I spun and swooned on the inside remembering millenium Eve and the messages we wrote for our unborn baby. That Eve at the cathedral with the messages for the tree and the chimes we didn’t hear but we knew. And I could hardly look the building in the windows for the anguish it unleashed in me. so I just added it to the pile for later. Our son was enjoying himself and I was paying tribute to our life.

We edged round to the market where I looked down as much as possible. I didn’t want to see the ice rink with him drinking coffee or the twinkly German chalets replete with stuff I wanted but didn’t need and had so loved last year. It couldn’t be me who was here last year trying to decide on the wrought iron robin or cockerel. It was someone else’s life, but if it wasn’t real while did the panic grasp and bind itself round my throat again?

My window of strength had long since closed and I was close to stopping the pretence but if I let the mask fall I feared I would spiral out of control completely and that wouldn’t be a good end to the evening, it would have distressed our son and perplexed passers by (not that they mattered at all). It was a familiar management exercise but this one took every ounce of my last reserves. Every moment came with a ribbon and bow, all brightly coloured and garish, screaming out to me ‘here is your life, look closely at it, remember it well, because it won’t happen again’ and every exploding firework shattered through me and we were way too close so it hurt to listen. Whilst all around me winced and shielded themselves with mittened ears, I stood there bare hands with knuckles clenched feeling the pain of every flare as it drilled itself into me. And every flash reminding me of the years our son struggled with the loud bangs. Now he looks upwards without a flinch as I pray for the panic to subside whilst wishing I could be shot away on one of the rockets to burst and splinter into the sky, to shed my colours over the earth and leave the crowd gasping. So I let the wretched fantasy play out till the acrid smoke descends all around us and for a second I let go of the tension in my hands.

We began the return trip through the disapating throngs, everyone tired and drifting with that ‘after the concert’ sort of listlessness. but for me it wasn’t over. I still had the final part to walk in silence without the crowds to revisit, to hurt and to thank.

All those around me, including our friends, carried the lanterns under arm or over shoulder, their job done for another year. But mine was not about Christmas, it was about a life and a love. While our son swung his Borg cube to terrorize ‘Kitty’ I persisted in holding up both my head and the lantern and quietly noticed our moments as I passed by them. Held high past the pillars where we walked with me in my grey stilettos, Millennium meal on that magical night. And the call to his mum but we couldn’t say what we wanted to, by the same shop for my last birthday where we stood but we didn’t know what was approaching. And Waterstones as usual, with our son’s new book, still making my arm ache as I looked up to the glowing light. And every other walk and second till the final piercing past the statue at his workplace with all the times we met him, tired and stressed, walking ahead, heels clicking to the car park after some story spinning in his big black chair. A glance left and was torn hollow by the darkness till the final shot at the jewellers where we chose my wedding day locket.

And through all the twinkly comforting warmth, the glistening merriment, the joy of happy fizzing people, the beautiful glimmering of days without pain – walks my newly shaped family. My new world. The crisp, aching, undecorated reality of a torn existence, gutted, gouged and discarded amongst the other world of Christmas Loveliness. A beautiful middle class Hampshire way, coupled up, linked arms, rosy cheeks and wooly hats…. and us

never closer to death.

I lowered my lantern as we got to car park and the children chattered on my reflective journey home. Past A & E in silence and my friend hoping it had been ‘ok’ for us. Thank god I’d left the lights on as we bundled back through the door to carefully place the lanterns before I took my pounding grief upstairs as our son boldly went on his usual way.

Our assimilated anguish

My wounded soundless solemn walk

A broken pilgrimage

Our lanterns lit for love

My walk through the hours

My endless tears

Our cradled pain

And the blown out candle of our life

xx

Someone has moved my Grieving Bench.

Its been replaced by a large picnic table – probably courtesy of the Parish Council (bless ’em). I’m not sure I like it, I glanced at it disdainfully today and kept walking. I will try it out later in the week but may move my place to the next bench down the hill. This new interruption creates a different feel, less enfolded, more outward looking. it’s not about contemplation, it’s about spreading out, so it may not be such a good fit. I liked my old battered bench for my old battered life.

I have a good view from up here and have carved it into my morning routine. sometimes this walk and the space are the process itself, sat overlooking our town with a perspective I can’t get from my cold settee in a dark dank lounge. But sometimes its only a moment, a pausing, then home to a private pain and welcomed isolation. I go with it, either way its good and necessary.

Last week while crawling through the early morning ritual of breakfast- lunchbox-bookbag-are your shoes on yet- have you got tissues routine? I acknowledged just how dark it was outside and revelled in the fact I’d be out in its blustery misery soon. I am a winter baby, I appreciate the stripping back to nothingness, i feel calm amongst bare branches. The season reflects the starkness of my life. I am a grey stormy day.

I observe, I sit above and outside of it all, it passes around me.

We swirled and buffeted our way to school and when he blew across the playground with the debris of autumn I turned to unfurl my emotions on the hill. I shuffle-huddled defiantly across the bridge till a gust of wind carried me, disheveled and bleak to my usual location. I dropped down into the morning like a Bergman version of Mary Poppins, humming ‘a bottle of Merlot makes the grief go down….’

and from my black vista I surveyed the scene.

Stormy, three layers of grey clouds over noisily protesting trees. I can see the painted horizon, solid heavy gun metal, it needs more white in it. The thick heavy wash of grey moving in from the right, fast clouds today, starkness with a purpose. Startled by floppy damp dogs who trundle after their quilted owners, both carefree and abandoned in the bluster.

A buzz of traffic tries to compete with the wilderness but I am focussed. I’m back in Howarth with both of them, cold Christmases and the obligatory protesting at yet another visit. Linked arms on the slippy cobbles and her slow unsteady gait through the graveyard to the oppressively brooding church, before we’re pulled back to reality round the corner for tourist teashops. It’s always autumn there, even in summer. The hills make her knees ache and we have to get back for the in-laws ordeal meal in the evening. Getting lost was inevitable yet fun and we never did get to the treacle mines.

What can I see in the distance now? Can’t quite make it out? Flat and white could be a frosty field and in the brown suburban-ness a late street lamp hangs onto orange. One tiny pinpoint of warmth in this appealing desolation. The rain clouds bring mist over the fields and I’m back in my long black velvet dress, the hem tatty and unravelling, wet and muddy round my bare feet as I stumble desperately across the barrenness.

Same bench – different day

and the landscape both inside and out paints an alternative story…

In the beginning was the word and the word was Nothing.

I took breath in and breathed out, that was all.

The panic and fear came from thinking, thinking ahead and dazzled by the void in front of me.

We liked the wisdom of the East – no, not Great Yarmouth, slightly further- China. He especially tried his best to be true to its nature. But as we understood from Yoda “Do, there is no try” There was something Good about it, in the truest sense of the word, least resistance was The Way. Years ago when first introduced to the concept I didn’t think ‘The Way’ would play this role in my life. I joined that particular social group because it had to be right for me, it was yet another sign. I had to follow – though ‘Widowed and Young’ was not the spiritual path of my choosing.

Some days in, those ahead of me advised ‘baby steps’. Despite the catastrophic debris of my mind I still remember my reaction. Is that all I have to do? Can I really stop trying to do and think and just creep teeny tiny little fragments of movement along? It was such a relief and release to just let go. But to simply ‘be’ turned out to be harder than it sounded and it took a while to adjust, to leave behind the practised engrained approach of many years of being busy, keeping the plates spinning and sniffing around for the next idea.

I had stopped.

Imperceptibly I slipped into this new pattern. It is my salvation.

I have learned. When the blackness arrives around me I can only surrender and regardless of whatever action I feel compelled towards, I know enough to sit it out.

It will pass.

When I stare out of myself, the carcass of who he knew, I know it’s not permanent. When the wailing makes my ribs ache and the panic crawls and ravages me from within, I breathe. I hurt – but I still breathe and after a while it shifts. And this is how it is.

There is wisdom in this process. I am learning to observe, to sit outside of as well as be the pain. Non attachment does not come easily, there is something dynamic going on.

And so I look back to the East, and am guided by a deeper truth. I am reinventing myself from the feet up and from my uncarved block comes a continued existence. I can’t say it’s a life yet, but it is an existence. Leave the block untouched, let it be, follow its natural lines.

I spend a lot of the mornings on the hill, the changeable weather and scenery reflect my grief. I am reassured by the barrenness that has replaced my earlier companions. The colours around my summer bench have decayed. I study the ground, the splinters of broken glass from the late night giddiness of youth and grubby discarded stubs.

The detritus of a life: but in the quiet of the freshly opened day the dew sits in perfect spheres on the tiny sharp blades of grass. In the sunlight each fires a rainbow at me and somewhere deep inside on some quantum level the particles push and shove for speed and position. In the surface tension on each dewdrop I am perched in a miniature reflection of myself, peering both inside and out.

Being and becoming. Uncertain duality.

In the wavelengths of light in between everything.

All in motion, giving and taking, beginning and ending, hurting and healing. Spinning atoms in tiny spheres on a whirling lump of molten rock in a swirling expanding universe.

In these moments of clarity I see it all. Simultaneously.

The wood is warm to the touch from the sun rays that connect us. The third generation star made from bits of the start of the universe heats up the carved bark that I sit on.

I feel it’s warmth, it is Good.

Everything has its place

Everything is wonderful

Even my agony.

x

I remember writing that and the wholeness I experienced. But today, right now – my legs are cold. I’ve sat here too long. Wet, hollow, alone, bedraggled.

The spheres on the leaves are raindrops now, not dew.

Incomplete – harshness – wandering

Black, Bleak, Brutal

P.S

Went back this morning stumbled over tyre tracks. The winter visitors had been and mowed back nature. Muddied crevices to freeze and trip over. It must happen every year but I didn’t come up here that often in the old world, didn’t noticed the change before. Now I notice everything. Now it’s a daily necessity.

It seems merciless. Where’s it gone? My sap heavy grief spring, the aching summer fullness, becoming dried out brittle pain, vulnerable, fragile, to crack and seep back into the earth.

To follow the natural lines of loss.

And now it’s been raped, torn, ripped from its place.

A forced change

on my nature, something was in motion, moving, growing, feeling with energy, being.

Suddenly out of time, against its curves, imposed,

Savaged, ravaged, abused,

Razed to the ground

Taken

Gone

My bench, my field, my life

Winter has descended

I stand and survey the damage,

then and now

The icy wind and pain bite into me

My gloveless hands ache from the bitterness.

The world still spins

Days tick by

Seasons come and go

Life in motion

Everything moves

Except me

x