A letter to Fraser

Dear Fraser,

I know you’re not anywhere to read this, but I wanted to write it anyway.

It’s been 2 years now since we were last together and I want you to know how things are going, how the boys are, what’s happening in our lives.  It hurts so much to know that I can’t tell you these things, so I’m just going to pretend you can read this and tell you anyway.

You would be so proud to see your boys right now – they have coped amazingly. I remember how distraught we both were when we first got the diagnosis/prognosis – How would we tell the boys, how would they cope?  Well, they are both doing really well.  Dougie is still the spitting image of you.  He was really strong after you died and really helped me through many a bad day.  He’s had a bit of trouble with insomnia, but at least he lets me know when he’s feeling sad – which is a minor miracle for him!  He’s started learning to play the cornet and has his first concert on Sunday evening.  He goes on a school trip to Lowport next year and is pretty excited (on a Dougie scale of excitement, of course) about going climbing and kayaking.

Speaking of kayaking, you’ll be happy to know that I asked Nigel to sell your kayaking gear… and get got more for your kayak than you originally paid for it 😀

Euan is doing great too.  He’s not forgetting you, and he loves to sit with me and look at old family photos together.  After you died he had a little more trouble adjusting than Dougie.  For a while he didn’t really understand that you were really gone and I had to keep explaining it to him.  That was a really hard thing to have to do.  When he started school we had some problems with him not wanting to be separated from me.  It took a while to get past that, but he’s fine now.  He’s a great little reader and seems to really enjoy school.  He’s always out playing with his pals in the street and getting up to mischief.

And me.  How am I doing?  Well I’ve  had more up days than down days recently, but the down days are still awful.  Obviously, this time of year is particularly hard for me.  The anniversary brings that awful time back to me really strongly, and christmas is difficult of course.  I try to keep it upbeat and fun for the kids, but every time I sign a card or present from me and don’t put your name on there too, I get a little jolt of sadness.

But I feel like I am starting to find my way through it all.  Finding a balance between moving on with my life and not wanting to leave you completely behind.  I’m still singing with the choir and had a great trip with them to Denmark last year.  The singing really helps me when I’m feeling low or stressed.  I’ve also really been getting interested in photography and have my camera with me almost all the time.  Its another thing that helps to distract from my thoughts when my mind is whirling.

It feels very weird to be telling you this, but I’ve met someone who has been taking very good care of me.  It took a while to get my head round, but I know you would want me to be happy.  I think you would like him and he could certainly give you a run for your money in the bad pun arena.  We play lots of music together and we went to Cambridge Folk Festival in the summer, where we saw The Proclaimers and Billy Bragg and lots of other great bands.  The kids really like him, which is obviously so important.

So, that’s about it – you know I was never one for writing pages and pages.  I just wanted you to know that you are still in our thoughts and in our hearts and you always will be no matter where life takes us in the future.  And a little part of you lives on through the boys, who will never forget what a fantastic dad you were.

Lots of love,

Katy

Adrift

There is so much emphasis on the one year anniversary.  You’ve been through all the “firsts” – all the significant dates in the year, birthdays, anniversaries, christmas.  Intellectually you know that things won’t suddenly change after a year is up, but there’s a little part inside you that was sort of expecting it to.  Part of it is that the bereavement experts all tell you not to make any major decisions for at least a year, so you feel like you have some sort of permission to put your life on hold.  So when the year is up there’s a little voice inside your head saying “What now?” and “It’s time to get on with your life”.  But you don’t feel any different, any more capable of handling life than you were a few months ago.

And what does getting on with my life mean?  “Before”, even though I didn’t know what life was going to throw at us as a family, and exactly where the journey of life was going to take us, it still felt like we had a direction, that were were on a track of some kind.  Now I just feel derailed, freewheeling, cast adrift in the ocean – if you don’t mind me mixing the transport metaphors.

You get so used to having a partner in decision making that makes any decision so much easier, lightens the burden.  Just having another person beside you saying “Yes, I think we should do that”, or “Maybe we should wait a while before…” makes all the difference.  of course I can still ask other people for their advice and opinions, but it’s really not the same thing as having someone who the decision will affect equally, who has the same responsibilities as you.  And then they are gone and everything is on your shoulders.

One major decision I have been “not considering” is whether to move house closer to my own family.  I know it makes sense in the grand scheme of things; easier for my family to help and support me, more of them to babysit so I’m not relying on the same people all the time.  But the problem is that even if that decision is made in principle, before i do anything about it there are tons of smaller decisions that lead up to and factor into it.

I look around the house and it is still very much “our” house.  I packed up a few boxes of F’s books to give to people early on, but the bookshelves are still about three quarters full of his books.  I sold his canoeing equipment, but the garage is still full of all sorts of things he collected, magpie that he was.  Do I keep all of his books and fossils in case the kids want them when they are older?  I don’t think I could face moving house – packing up all his stuff and not knowing what I was going to do with it all.

And when would be the right time for the kids?  Euan has been going through a separation anxiety thing recently.  Would moving just unsettle him again?  When is the right time to take your kids away from all their friends and put them in a completely new setting?  And speaking of friends, I don’t make close friends easily.  Can I leave them here and face the prospect of starting the whole slow process again?

All the thoughts and worries and decisions crowd in on me and I end up paralysed, not able to even tackle the simple day to day decisions.

So I go back to treading water in the middle of the ocean and just hope that maybe I’ll randomly drift towards a shore before I’m too exhausted.

One Year Ago

The call came not long after I had arrived home after visiting F in the hospice.  “We think you had better come back in”.  I hugged the kids and my mam, and my dad drove me back there.  F’s mum and dad were there and his brother and wife.  We all hugged eachother with tears in our eyes and sat around his bed.  I’m not sure how aware he was at that point, but occasionally I did feel his hand squeeze mine slightly.

F’s brother had brought along his laptop so that we could play some of F’s favourite songs to him.  At one point while the music was playing his lips started moving and we all moved closer to hear what he was trying to say.  He was trying to sing along to Wham’s Last Christmas.  It never felt like christmas time to him until he had heard that song on the radio.

As the evening turned to night we took turns taking naps so that there was always someone awake with him.  Then one of the nurses moved the beds together so that I could lie next to him while holding his hand and stroking his head.  His breathing got slower as time went on and several times I lay there hating myself for wanting the breathing to stop, for it to be all over.

Night became morning and the nurses brought us some breakfast but I couldn’t eat anything.  I just stayed by his side, waiting.  Long gaps began to appear in his breathing and I knew it wouldn’t be much longer.  Then at noon his breathing made a rattling sound and then stopped and I just knew that was it, that he wasn’t going to take another breath.  I waited a couple of minutes to be sure and then hugged his lifeless body as the tears streamed down my face.  I let the others know so they could all say their goodbyes too.  He was really gone.

….

And now, a year later, it seems like almost a lifetime ago.  I still miss him like crazy, but life is starting to get easier.  Things constantly remind me of him but in a much gentler way than they did to begin with.  The reminders often put a smile on my face rather than feeling like a knife through my heart.  I’m so, so sad that he died, but more and more every day I learn how to be happy and thankful that I had him in my life for as long as I did and that I have two beautiful children who he lives on through.

Poor neglected blog


I’m so sorry, my dear blog (and my dear readers) to have neglected you so.  I’m sure you will be glad to hear that part of the reason I haven’t updated you is because I have been feeling happier and more normal.  I tend to write more when I’m feeling low because writing things down helps me to work through them and get them our of my system a little.  Of course the fact that I’m writing now probably tells you that I’m feeling a bit low again…  Of all the dates in the year to set me off, I never thought one would be Hallowe’en.  I got through his birthday and our anniversary and the scattering of the ashes relatively unscathed, but now I find I’m dwelling on things rather a lot.  It was about this time last year that F returned from a trip to Morocco feeling rather ill, and everything snowballed from there.  My first vivid memory of that time is of him feeling too ill to come out trick or treating with me and the kids.  And he was always so involved with Hallowe’en, and really got stuck in with the whole costume making thing, especially with a Doctor Who theme:

The week away at Oban/Iona went pretty well – it was nice to be with the family and we had a beautiful day on Iona where we scattered F’s ashes near the Abbey and then paddled in the sea.  Then in the evening we sang happy birthday to him as we launched some chinese lanterns.

And then a couple of weeks after returning from the trip, my life changed in an extremely unexpected way.  I met somebody who makes me smile this much:

Every Time We Say Goodbye

When F died, I felt like I had said my goodbyes.

The rest of the family went back to see the body, but I hung back.  I didn’t feel there was anything left of F there.  His body was just an empty shell.  And a shell that didn’t bear any resemblance to how he was for most of his life.  His body felt irrelevant.  I was also asked if I wanted to view the body while it was at the undertakers and I felt the same.  I said goodbye to him when he was alive, and in his last moments.  His body didn’t mean anything to me except for bringing the frail, skeletal image of his face, that I was trying so hard to replace with images of the real him, back into my mind.

I suppose people think that the funeral is a time where you say goodbye, but at that point, everything is just a blur and for months afterwards you have the job of doing all the paperwork and money and sorting away clothes of his, so it really doesn’t feel like you have said goodbye at all.

Now that all that chaos has calmed down I’m starting to get into a new routine and learning how to live my life without him by my side.  And now I do feel the need to say goodbye to him so that I can move on to the next phase of my life.  He’ll always be with me, of course, not least whenever I look at my two beautiful boys, but maybe more in the background like a piece of music that you don’t even know you are listening to until you realise you are humming along to it.

Next week, on F’s birthday, I’ll be going to Iona with F’s family and my mam and dad.  We are going to scatter his ashes there and send up some chinese lanterns.  His ashes mean no more to me than his body did, but I think I understand the importance of the ritual now, as a marker of a moment of saying goodbye to him, like a prop to hang the significance on.  I know it’s going to be really hard, but I recognise how much I need it.

I know there will be many more moments where I let go of him, little by little, in the future and I’ll mark them, quietly, in my own way.

The story of life is quicker than the blink of an eye, the story of love is hello, goodbye ~ Jimi Hendrix

Just bleugh

I’ve been feeling pretty lousy over the past couple of weeks; like I’m carrying a huge weight on my shoulders.  I’m tired and grumpy and have no patience with the kids.  I took my first sleeping pill in ages the other day and slept in so the kids were late for school – only slightly though.

I had such a nice time in Denmark, almost completely free of associations that might get me down and the contrast since I’ve come back has been huge, full of significant dates and events.  The 10th of June marked six months since F’s death and it is amazing how strongly an arbitrary marker like that can affect you.  Most of my down days in recent months have related more to missing him and worrying about the future, but the six months mark took me right back to him being in the hospice and images of how he looked and how it all felt keep flashing into my mind like they did in the days and weeks after he died.

And then on sunday it was father’s day, which of course has made me feel even lower.  I feel that the mask that I put on when I go out and speak to people is wearing thin and the tears are threatening to break through it all the time.

I’m also dealing with making sure a small amount of F’s ashes go to Ecuador next week, which was one of his last wishes – that a little part of him made it onto the trip he was organising.  Just thinking of that has made me realise just how hard it is going to be when we scatter the rest of his ashes on Iona in august.

I’m probably making things worse for myself by putting on a mask and telling everyone I’m fine, but I don’t know how else to be.  I’m not the sort of person who can just let it all go in public; I never have been.  At least with writing this blog, I am letting things out a little and the people that matter will know how I’m really feeling without me sobbing all over their shoulder every time I see them.

 

Danish/Blue

It’s six months today since F died so things are weighing a little heavily on my mind.  So to take my mind off it all for a while, I’ll tell you a little about my trip to Denmark.  With pics!

We stayed in a town called Naestved visiting a choir called Naestved Koret who had visited Edinburgh the previous year.  Most stayed with families, but a few of us stayed in a B&B owned by one of the choir members.  It was a lovely little place, close to some woodland where I went jogging a couple of times.

On our first full day there we were taken on a boat trip past Gavno Castle and to a small seaside town called Karrebæksminde where some choir members had summerhouses.  We all went on various walks around the town/beach, had lunch and then ended up at one of the summerhouses for a glass or two of wine.

On the boat

Gavno Castle from the boat

That evening, most had dinner with their host families whilst those of us at the B&B were left to our own devices.  One of the Danish choir – Inger – came to visit us and brought some food (salmon, bread etc) and combined with what we had at the B&B we had ourselves a nice little buffet, and some more wine.  Inger had also lost her partner in December so it was good to talk to her and get to know her better that evening and over the next few days.

At the B&B

On day 2 we visited the town hall and sang for the mayor, then the former mayor took us on a little walking tour of the town – the highlight of which had to be the “Hanging Tits” statue:

"Hanging Tits" statue

We spent the afternoon rehearsing and then performed at our main concert that evening which went really well.  Then we all had dinner together:

Dinner

It’s late now, so I’ll do a part 2 to this another day.