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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Its been replaced by a large picnic table – probably courtesy of the Parish Council (bless ’em).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

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Nine months have passed for the Earth

Sometime around 4 a.m I tried to find my jeans in the dark

Sometime around 6 a.m I made notes for you and watched the dawn force itself from night

Sometime around 10 a.m I stumble trip, stumble tripped  from the bus to a side room

Sometime around 3 p.m I talked to my boss before rushing to school

Sometime around 6 p.m we tried to do hangman while a nurse flurry bottlenecked the bedside

Sometime around 11 p.m we followed the bed upstairs and laughed at my Mr Bump icepack

Sometime around Friday morning I heard the noises as they fetched the nightstaff

Sometime around Friday I told Dad where the new lunch box was and noticed the weave on the blanket

Sometime around Friday afternoon I met the first of the faces and felt I was being managed

Sometime around 5 p.m I returned after only just getting home to Mum’s expression on the doorstep

Sometime around 6 p.m I sat by the faded flower mural for 45 minutes. In the desolate endless empty cold corridor next to our friend who silently studied his gardener’s hands

Sometime around later the nurse looked down at me saying  ‘he’s very ill isn’t he?’ and I experienced the first of the violent thoughts

Sometime around the evening I followed them to a private office. I watched the slow moving mouths down the wrong end of the telescope

Sometime after when gravity had tripled I shuffled the weight of my leaden legs to the lift

Sometime around 9 p.m I tried to make my voice work to your sister in law whose inhumanity ran free

Sometime on Saturday morning I looked at charts and sat in the orange relatives room. I pressed my head against the glass and watched the reflections of the outside world

Sometime around the afternoon I picked up our son from friends. Their natural garden wound round the doorframe like the crawling bindweed anxiety choking up through me

Sometime around Saturday evening I spoke to your friend as I stared through the debris on the bedside table

Sometime around early Sunday I avoided eye contact with Mum as they drove off. I hung onto your brother for a comfort I couldn’t get. The settee was too low and too soft, his voice a reminder, your rage searing through me, destroying, eating me up from the inside out just as it did to you

Sometime later I misplaced another small bottle of water as I swayed my way past the mural

Sometime in the afternoon I had minutes at home before our son came back. I noticed the TV and felt the raw pain tear up in my throat while my heart thundered and contracted before the doorbell broke through

Sometime around 4 p.m she didn’t know what to say like she didn’t when I first met her and everything was awkward

Sometime around the night I looked up at the rainbow you painted on our sons wall. The eyes in the letter O’s of  ‘My Room’ smiled down at me and I listened to his breathing

Sometime around Monday I listened to your brother spout on about his shiny new mini. The grotesque  carpark abyss, anchored weighted grey and cold in the relentless rain while my feet wouldn’t work

Sometime around the evening I looked at the images you couldn’t see. The narrow room of steely cabinets filed away our life as we sipped icy water

Sometime around the Tuesday car journey your Dad squeezed my shoulder as I replayed your chat on the doorstep

Sometime around afternoon I existed by your brother as our son played with the bead frame counting off the hard wooden seconds

Sometime around then I laboured with the time and the inclination

Sometime around later I gave the coffee back to her as she knelt by me with that expression

Sometime  around that moment their voices wouldn’t fade

Sometime around the evening they pushed me beyond the peeling mural to the relatives room, wheels squeaking on the sanitized floor.

Sometime after they bought me cardboard sandwiches. A pointless platter for my carcass

Nine months ago

I walked through the door, down the hall.  I dropped down close to him on the softness, I sat in my usual place and our son sat in yours. I took his hand and turned to face him.

xx

In our world the smallest things can have such impact.

An out of the blue text, a friend, a real friend from the old world, who lives miles away would be passing. Was I free? Could we meet? The last time I saw her we visited with our young son to see her new baby and we cooed and compared and remembered the times working together while our husbands struggled to find something in common. Over the years and the miles we have had less contact, life getting in the way like it used to do. I moved again, she had another baby and contact was down to a Christmas card. But we started out together, we volunteered and trained together and we cried and held each other when reality was too much. And somehow it was ok because somehow she was still a close friend, we just didn’t talk that much.

Sometime last year I found her on Facebook and an infrequent catch up began. She was the same person though her world was quite different and earlier this year after reading a book I knew we should talk about I emailed her and promised, really promised that week, one evening , when all the jobs were done I was absolutely positively going to ring.

And then came The Severing. The screaming. The inferno of confusion. The carnage of a life. The crushing terror. The Void…

Some point later, quite early I seem to remember, I sat at the computer. I really didn’t do much else then. I stared vacantly at the Merry Widows website not really close to approaching any thought that this would become my home for months. That a string of letters would be a necessary gateway to a tumble of people who knew, just knew and would be there to hold me. I clicked to Facebook found her and typed. I don’t remember what I said, I’m not going to look back at it, I don’t need to but do I recall the feeling. The desperate longing, the anguished emptiness as I attempted to put some words together which explained why I hadn’t got around to ringing her. I thundered out some garbled reference to what had happened, some wounded hollow cry, a whimper. The horror, the panic … Help me and hit send.

She was there.

She didn’t have my number but reconfirmed her own. And while the endless stream of cartoons bleated out from downstairs I shakily tapped out the digits. She wrapped me up in her voice, the same tones from years ago when she was younger and when I was real. She held me with her words as I retched and gagged out my shock. My son came upstairs to investigate and I tried to capture some breath to say I was ok, just needed to chat to my friend. (What did he feel in those moments? I have such work to do. I have to unravel his story soon…)

She was there.

The years were irrelevant. She had known him, she had her own shock but she cradled me from miles away and bandaged me up in her prayers. I was destroyed yet felt so loved. She couldn’t do anything practical from many counties away, and I didn’t know what I needed anyway. But she could listen, hold and love. She did it in that bleak brutal chasm of a February night and many times since. She put me in contact with another young widow who had travelled further, she sent me a special book and on Friday I got a text. She would be in the area Saturday. I’m writing out these feelings because they overpowered me. I couldn’t wait to see her but I was scared too. I lay quietly in my morning numbness waiting for reality to find its level while the varying veils of distorted dreams started to lift. I hadn’t cried, Then I read the text and sobbed suddenly with fear and understanding that her hug, her real there-in-my-lounge-hug would bring reality. She would come into this house, our house, our home and he’s not here, he’s not here, he’s not here …

And she would come with her love but also her past and mine and all the people we used to be. All of us walking in behind her. The free crazy girl from the Youth Agency in my bikers jacket that he raised an eyebrow over but secretly and not so secretly, liked. The same jacket that he said I shouldn’t wear as a new mother because it was so incongruous. “You can’t push a pram wearing a bikers jacket!” Well, of course I would have done had my back not been so weak that the heavy weight of leather was too much for me.

And she’s would be followed in by The Bride, so excited to see his reaction to the dress I designed and his face at the altar. Then the clambering up the fire escape of the Hotel where we had our Reception, (seemed like a good idea at the time – we left tin-canned and ballooned and they wouldn’t know that we hid round the corner and sneaked back in later,) but I was still in my wedding dress (because the zip had stuck on my Going Away outfit) with my bustle un-bustled because ‘someone’ had managed to tread on the train and accidentally (I’ll give him that,) unhinged the carefully scaffolded creation. So there I was, an unfurling cloud of taffeta, in 4 inch heels, pushing a drunk husband, shh-quietly-shh-gigglingly, up a spiraled staircase. I remember it with such clarity, so frivolous and absurd. He, unsurprisingly had a more veiled recollection due mainly to the large amounts of Southern Comfort consumed to aid delivery of the speech. Even now, here in pain, it still smiles out as one of the outstanding moments of my life.

And she was there in the crowd beforehand, clutching her gift to us. The smooth wooden bowl still sits on his bedside table crammed with essential bits and bobs of life. Its solid carved permanence will outlive me too.

And she visited when I was pregnant, glossy and billowing, full sail in the thin lilac dress. She unpacked her wishes while we tried to catch the baby turning, drank and gossiped, hoped and dreamed. I was full of beached promise and she was full of possibilities, and some time later I leaned on my pushchair full of toddler to take the weight off my aching back while she smiled and stood with flowers in her hair.

And I was worried about seeing them again, who they were and what they bought. But she couldn’t travel alone, so they would be welcomed as much as my friend. I knew them all intimately. Their games and faults and gifts and the intrinsic parts they played.

And then

She was here

She arrived like the sun coming out and all the years and miles were wiped away. And she didn’t do what others do, no ‘it’s ok, come on, you’re doing so well.’ She held me, said ‘let it out’ and I did. And she knew what I needed and she just let me talk. She told me she didn’t know what to say, but she did. The pain tumbled out on her lovely purple coat and we slotted back in with no spaces. And through the tears I almost caught up with her life and saw where time had taken her. And behind us all the girls and women that we were chattered and laughed in their potential. They had it all ahead of them and they couldn’t know. And we sat on the same settee where she bounced my new baby back then but now it was me she cocooned. And I missed all of us and the life in full throttle and there was never enough time and there still wasn’t now. I felt it all layered around me under the weight of the inescapable present. And she reminded me of who I was and I saw how I’d got here. And the love was so strong it countered the transience. Despite it’s fleeting moments the visit burrowed deep beyond the plans and dreams of youth to a permanence of connection. To what lies beneath, to the things that bind us. Through joy and pain, ecstasy and anguish to the very soul of being here: to connect and to love. The hug went on forever but the family had arrived so it was time to go. And as quickly as she came, she went, like a fading rainbow and I tried to hold onto to the moment, straining my eyes to search out her colours. It had been crystal clear, a beautiful refracted light but no matter how hard I stared I could only see the sky.

I called out her name in my hallway and cried for all of us, for the girl who didn’t know, for the woman who did and for me, now and all I’m becoming.

People come into your life for a reason. She underlines it.

This post is for you, you know who you are.

Thank you x

I existed in the solid black granite sphere for weeks probably months, it’s all too hazy, I can’t remember. Time doesn’t happen to me anymore anyway. At some point I started to hatch. The sphere clung to me like the shell to a chick as uncontrollably I started to peep out. The sphere was a part of me, born of me, yet distinct. Somehow essentially me and somehow grafted on. At the same time both necessary and contingent. I felt it’s physical presence, it was clearly defined and I needed it. Often, usually daily I crawled inside in gratitude, and hid within its fearful cold dark womb.

Time moved around me, seasons changed and others saw progress. I existed in my new dimension. I saw them, I sat above them, I passed through them disinterested. They didn’t see their irrelevance. I could see it all, The Pettiness and The Frailty. I had arrived within myself, unrecognisable on many levels. At some point I felt a shift, the sphere stayed but hung back, vital but less dominant.

I had new company and it was all around me, spilling out everywhere. I tried to make sense of it, to give it form, to harness it somehow.

Elephants

Elephants everywhere. Not soft curved, gently coloured plump Disney Dumbos. No bouncy big eyed genial marshmallowed ones. No, these were real elephants. Huge-loud-smelly-dusty-demanding-ugly and aggressive, charging and fighting for space. A whole herd squashed into my house. They filled every space, every crevice. They were part of me and they were in control.

All the thoughts and feelings and memories jostle for attention and each has its own animal. Some are more subtle, they suggest and poke. They pop up occasionally. But mostly they all need to lead and thunder about chaotically, tripping up each other and shoving me to the ground leaving me dazed and winded. Over time I will get to know them all but for now I only deal with the most vocal. In one second it is our first argument all those years ago with me in the red hat and duck feeding to make amends, then it’s trampled away by the consultants silently moving mouth as he stripped my world from underneath me. I can’t manage them all, they overpower me, thrust into and damage my days. They follow me everywhere, round the supermarket whispering, sneering in my ear like a big grey Fagin “You’re a Widow, d’you know that? a Widow.” I can’t escape them. I have learned to contain them when I really need to but its an effort that would make Billy Smart proud. On a good day I can don my sparkly leotard and top hat and whip them into submission. They never take the hint though and finally shut up, they are simply muffled. So I crawl about my daily tasks in the other world and they moan and grumble behind me like a tired toddler pulling on my arm. I count to ten, wondering if I can get home before the meltdown happens and pray that the checkout girl doesn’t ask me if I’m “having a good day?”. Bing Bong-Wet Spillage at checkout number 3.

It feels odd that others can’t see them, they have such presence for me. So I wade through them and look at them, listen to their demands. There is no option. My days are a management exercise, shuffling and filing, addressing and avoiding, battling and negotiating, I’m squashed under its ruthless relentlessness.

Sometimes one becomes fierce, like today. It breaks free from the mass and charges at me.

Here’s today’s inescapable elephant.

Today I broke the punchball: today, right now, I really want to hit someone. Not a squealy little hand flapping girly slap, all scratchy and flailing but a powerful direct rage driven hard in the face nose cracking blood dripping crunch that stings and possibly breaks my hand in the process. Today I want to rip my hair out and scream until I lose my voice, today the Blackness flares Red.

There,

Does that cover it, do you think? Do you get it? Can you read this and feel how I have changed? These are not the words from who I was in January. If you know me in reality, or knew me, the old me – the difference is stark. I was fairly quiet, (though not after the Merlot:-) didn’t ‘do’ anger or aggression, struggled with conflict, very even-tempered and well…..stable. I was the calm one while my husband did his Don Quixote impression and railed against whatever he needed to, be it deep-set family issues, politics at work or an expletive fuelled quest to end his contract with NTL. He expressed himself, he paced, he wrote plans, he tried to fix it, he didn’t mind telling people how he really felt…while I listened, I supported, I Polyanna-ed it and somehow we worked it out. I was The Ameliorator – bit like Arnie but more hearts and flowers rather than guns and ammo. Anger? – no, just wasn’t me.

But now…when it comes its terrifying in its strength, it screams at me as it approaches, tearing towards me, all smoke and lights like some Ghoul Express out of the long black tunnel. Smashes into me, demanding its release. There is no way back.

And when it subsides? Hollowness.

So the elephants always have their way in the end, they own me and direct me. My extension, my thoughts and feelings kicking up dust clouds and hurling me from tusk to tusk. Flicking me up and impaling me, each in turn. All I can do is respond and react to them. They call the shots.

One day, maybe I’ll be strong enough. Strong enough to not be at their mercy but to harness them, to know them fully, to command and ride them? Slowly I’ll pull myself up onto its back, clutching tightly to its big leathery ears. We understand each other now. I nudge with my knee and we take off. And the walls will fall away revealing the garden all Disney- drawn and vibrant. We soar up and over the houses, gliding far away. Seeing it all from above, making sense, everything where it belongs.

I can hope.

One day. As one with my elephants.