Wednesday 15 February 2017

Not fade away... a year on

Well,'s here....the first anniversary of your death.  

In some ways it feels like only yesterday - the memories of your last weekend are so vivid....watching England play Italy in the Six Nations rugby match; exchanging Valentine cards; making plans to convert the bedroom into a bedsit so you didn't have to climb stairs which you were finding a struggle; bringing you a cup of coffee in bed the next morning and listening as you told me about your dream, then returning a short while later to find you had taken your last breath....I still regret that I wasn't holding you in my arms at that time.

In other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened and so much has changed since then...

For the first six months or so, the challenge was getting through all the stuff that has to be sorted out when someone dies: notifying people and changing all things held jointly into my name; dealing with Probate and attending the Coroner's Inquest; deciding (or not deciding) what to do with your personal effects; trying to catch up with the urgent household stuff that had been put on hold as your health had deteriorated, and dealing with my own health issues.....

Over the last six months or so, I've been distancing myself from things like that, quite literally in one way, with lots of traveling (Italy, Romania, back to Italy, Cuba and Belgium, as well as staying with family and friends here in the UK).  

I've consciously distanced myself from mesothelioma too; stopped the google alerts, taken a long break from writing the blog, which is almost at a natural end anyway; not looked too closely at what's happening with the Meso Warriors in of other deaths from mesothelioma just stirred up all the negative emotions again - and there seemed to be so many: Andrew's Nancy, Amanda's Ray, Sue's Big G to name but a few - although the news that Mavis is still in remission brings me joy, and I am in total awe of Lou in Australia who just seems to keep going somehow, no matter what happens.

Throughout the last 12 months there have been emotional and poignant milestones; the first anniversaries of our significant dates.  

Your birthday last March was a quiet affair, just me and our kids Jack and Katie having a meal out.  In truth, I think we were all rather preoccupied with thoughts of your funeral which took place the day after, at 3pm on the third day of the third month.  Given your love of numbers, we thought you would appreciate that....

In May, the first wedding anniversary without you was spent in the company of photography friends in the Netherlands.  I had run away from home...just couldn't bear the thought of being in Oxford without you on that day.

I ran way again in July, to celebrate my birthday with Katie in Italy and meet up with our friends Giuseppe and Maria Adele in Rome.

In September, we scattered your ashes on the River Thames, to the north of Oxford. I carried you to the end of the street, then Martin your brother carried you the rest of the way, and we all walked (me, Jack and Katie, Martin and Mary) along the towpath for three miles or so, passing some of our favourite haunts and riverside pubs on the way, before finding a quiet spot for the little ceremony.  We end up at The Trout, where we had a lovely family meal and raised several glasses of fizz in your memory, before walking back home. 

I like to think of you, floating down the Thames, passing close by our house, through the centre of Oxford and on via Reading (one of the places you grew up) and London (where I grew up and Katie now lives), out into the ocean and on around the world, carried by tides and currents. 

The elements - fire, water, earth and air - were a recurring theme in your artwork.  On the way home after scattering your ashes, it struck me that your mortal remains had already passed through fire, air and water, so I completed their journey by burying the last few particles in the earth of the large pot in which the Japanese maple is growing, just outside the kitchen windows.  Its pink leaves and red stems light up the sideway in the spring, turn a beautiful fresh green in summer and glow yellow, orange and red like fire in the autumn.  A lovely reminder of you as the seasons pass.

In November, we scattered ashes on water again.  This time it was your mum's turn, in Bristol on the River Frome, and the occasion was marked by the family having tea and cake at the little refreshment kiosk at Snuff Mills.  Perhaps a little bit of you will be reunited with a little bit of your mum, one day somewhere out in the waters of the big wide world....

Knowing Christmas would never be the same without you, Jack, Katie and I opted for something completely different this year.  We rented a house in Bruges, went sight-seeing in Bruges and Ghent.  We enjoyed sampling gluhwein, waffles dipped in Belgian chocolate, frites dipped in mayonnaise and other local delicacies (but not all at the same time!) and I met up with photography friends while Jack and Katie explored Antwerp independently.  I think it helped us being somewhere completely different, but some things were still the same, including taking your thick, white walking socks to act as stockings for the kids' presents....

Our friend's Ian and Ruth came to my rescue on New Years Eve, organising a diner party with games so that I wasn't at home alone at the start of the year.  

Indeed, our friends have come to my rescue many times over the last 12 months, including me in invitations to events, meals and trips away in the UK, as well as offering and providing practical help and emotional support. My photography friends abroad have been wonderful too, not to mention other members of the family, especially those who live in Bristol whom I try to see when visiting Jack.  I am very fortunate to have such a good support network.

However, as a widowed friend of a friend said, "I have lots of people to do things with, but no one to do nothing with." And that's how it feels sometimes.  I still find it strange to come home to an empty house.  I'm still not used to the sound of silence (music is played more often now, as is the radio.) Cooking for one doesn't feel right ....perhaps I should invite people round for a meal more often.

I know from the phone calls, messages and cards that many of our friends have been thinking of me - and you - as the first anniversary of your death approaches.  They say I have been strong, but I have probably cried more in the last couple of weeks than during the last six months put together, knowing that this day was approaching.  

What is it about anniversaries?  They are just dates...days like any other day; they come; they go.  But they are a trigger for memories, happy and sad, the good times and the bad, and times for joy, quiet reflection or celebrations, depending on the occasion...I suppose it's because they are important personal milestones which mark the passage of time in our lives, that we cannot let them pass without acknowledging them in some way.

Even with family and good friends to support me, it goes without saying that I still miss you, even though its been a year now and life goes on regardless.

I miss the physical stuff...your presence, your touch; our morning and goodnight kisses; holding hands and having cuddles; dancing with you...  

I miss the sound of your voice; your laughter; your smile; the twinkle in your eye; your enthusiasm; your creativity...

I miss hearing your opinions - even though I didn't agree with all of them.  I miss your delight at solving a particularly tricky cryptic crossword puzzle and your patience when you had to explain some of the clues and answers to me - crossword puzzles have never been my forte.  I even miss those occasions when tensions had built up and you would loose your temper like an explosion, but you would calm down so quickly after letting off steam, rather than sulking...

I miss your practical chauffeur has gone, along with the car; my IT consultant is missing (although Jack is a good substitute); I no longer have my design consultant (although Katie steps into your shoes when needed).  There's no one to advise me about the right screws and rawl plugs to use when putting things up on walls, hold the bottom of the ladder or the other end of a tape measure.  Google can fill the gaps in my knowledge but can't help to fold a king size duvet cover, which is a lot easier when there are two of you!  And of course, you were always much better at housework than me....

Until today, my last emotional milestone in the year since your death was yesterday - Valentine's day.  For more than four decades, I have received a handmade, personal Valentine card from you on this day.  I still have them all.  Looking back now, the card you gave me last year feels like premonition...why else choose the theme "Not Fade Away" inspired by the sixties song sung by the Stones and Buddy Holly.  

Of course, there was no Valentine card from you this year. But last year's card still sits on the mantlepiece in pride of place. The last creative act you did, the day before you died.  The ink may fade but the sentiment will not. 

I used to be a bit sceptical when people said they thought about their lost loved ones every day.  Now I get it.  It's not that you occupy my waking thoughts, all day, every day.  But after sharing our lives for more than four decades, you are woven into the fabric of my personal history and the lives of our children.  That doesn't stop, or cease to exist, simply because you have died.  

Having lived in the same house for so long, there are also many physical reminders of you everywhere, from the odd notes written in your hand scattered around the house, to your art work on the walls and the kitchen cupboards you built over 20 years ago...not to mention those personal effects which are still around....some now in use by me, others put away in a memory box, some still awaiting a decision or action.  

And's arrived at last. The day I have been dreading. This time last year, there was pandemonium in the house, with so people coming and going - medics, GP, Police, the hospice nurse, undertakers.  Katie returning from a refresher driving lesson wondering why there was an ambulance in the street outside; having to tell he that her dad had just died.  Then having to tell Jack the same, by phone....then the rest of the family and close friends. There were tears, tears and more tears...No wonder I have been dreading this anniversary.....  

But now it's dawned, unlike last year, I feel strangely calm and peaceful, which has come as a bit of a surprise.  It's only the start of the day, I maybe different when Katie arrives later....But we have made it this far, in spite of the overwhelming feelings of loss and grief which engulfed us this time last year and for a long time afterwards.

I still find it difficult to look very far ahead into the future. Nearly 7 years of not thinking beyond the date of your three monthly hospital assessment is a hard habit to break.  But now there are plans in the pipeline up until July, when Jack will once again be riding the Etape, the mountain stage of the Tour de France open to non-professionals.  I will be there as the support team this year!  

Between then and now, there is more traveling...picking up again on our extended grown up gap year so rudely interrupted in June 2009 when you were diagnosed with mesothelioma and told the average life expectancy was 12-18 months.  Belgium calls in March, followed by work in Guernsey, then a big trip to Namibia and shorter trips to Scotland and Portugal.

But apart from travel and photography, I have little idea where my life is going at the moment. There is no clear direction of travel. I am reluctant to make regular commitments.  I'm still living very much in the day. That's the inheritance of living with a mesothelioma diagnosis for so long.  Perhaps I shouldn't worry about it, but just carry on going with the flow....

However, there is one thing I want to progress this year, and that's the idea of commissioning an artwork as a permanent memorial to you to be installed at a place nearby where lots of people can see and enjoy it.  That can be my mission for 2017.  When it comes to fruition, I'll post another blog entry.

Until then, or until the next significant event or anniversary, in the words of the song "A love for real not fade away..."