Tag Archives: loss

The Unexpected Result of 365 Days of Mourning

I am writing this at 9.00pm on the 15th Sept 2021. Exactly one year previous, though four hours earlier in the day, my wife’s body had been taken away to lay in a local funeral director’s establishment. I had become (and remain) a widower. I’ve been dreading the approaching anniverary for some while, as has my daughter, who took the day off from her day care centre to stay home with me. But I had already resolved to treat the day like any other. It is simply the 15th of September, just as the 14th was a regular day, and the 16th will be tomorrow. Just another day. And, by and large, both of us were successful. We spoke of her, of course; but we never dwelled upon the subject. That’s been done enough during the intervening twelve months. I also knew that I needed something to keep me occupied, lest my mind wander back through time. So I decided that I would make a model out of used household ‘stuff’.  ‘Stuff’ such as lavatory cleaners and anti-persperant containers. You know, quality ‘stuff’. I knew what sort of model I wanted to create. A space ship for the next Earplug Adventure. More specifically a honeymoon spaceship for Magnuss and Hair-Trigger.  So, having previously purchased a huge tube of contact adhesive, I set to work. Many hours later…

…the ship took on form. And what a nice colour it is too. Toyota Carina E metallic blue (which I found in the shed behind the windscreen washer fluid) and some nattily scissored pieces of yellow sticky-back plastic…

Okay it doesn’t really look much like a spaceship; but you wait until I’ve taken a few shots of this baby and played with them on my computer. Then you’ll be convinced. You will swear you can hear the hyperspace drive motors whine as it streaks across the screen. And it already has a name. Rather ironically I discovered it on an old gravestone. It belonged to a boy who died during infancy in the late Seventeen hundreds. It was a wonderful name – though not really for a little boy. Or any human being for that matter. I don’t know what his parents were thinking when they gave him that moniker: but it’ll make  a great name for an earplug spaceship. It’s called the Tankerville Norris. See, how silly is that? So I’m not going to  shed a single tear today: instead I’m going to smile. She won’t be upset, of course: I told her I was going to do it, when I woke up this morning. Of course I can’t be certain that she heard; but she knows  what a silly old Tooty I am, so she’ll figure it out. And she was always happy to help out with an Earplug Adventure. I believe I can feel her smiling wryly behind me as I type.

 

Turning a Green Village Yellow

I’m fortunate enough to live in a village which sits within the boundaries of the Southdowns National Park. As you can probably imagine it’s a very green environment. But for 2021, the parish council – which in a more primitive era might have been termed ‘village elders’ – decided it needed ‘greening’ even more. To this effect they gave every household a packet of wild flower seeds and told them to plant them. Well it has been a great success. But the most obvious success has been the proliferation of sunflowers throughout the village and its environs. Here’s just a fraction of a field that one local farmer turned over to the production of myriad wild flowers…

And the churchyard put on quite show too…

I did my bit , of course. Here’s one I planted in a tub in the back garden…

I was very happy to join in. But then, for me, it get’s a little poignant. Here is one of mine that faces the street…

Isn’t it brilliant? But this seed didn’t arrive courtesy of the Parish Council. This grew from a packet of seeds handed to me at my wife’s funeral. It isn’t the largest sunflower in the village: but it is the best. But to pile poignancy upon poignancy, today – inspired by all these sunflowers that have appeared at every turn – I chose to wear a yellow t-shirt. Burrowing through my considerable collection of t-shirts I spotted a seldom-used Marks & Spencers example at the bottom of the lowest drawer. But as I eased it from beneath the stack I made a discovery. Unlike all of my other t-shirts, I didn’t wash, iron, and pack away this one. This one smelt strongly of the over exuberant use of fabric conditioner. This one was ironed properly and folded neatly side to side. In short, the last person to wash, iron, and pack away this t-shirt was my beloved wife. For a moment I was overcome. Then I put it on…

Not sure what I’m going to do when it needs to go in the wash. Already the creases have fallen out, and the smell of the fabric conditioner has faded away. And I can’t get them back. Another link with the past broken.

Sudden Unbearable Sadness

Like most men (and probably women too) I like to put off the house work until I can’t put it off any longer. Ironing clothes in particular. So when the kitchen table begins to bow beneath the weight of so much laundry I reach for a CD to put in my ancient (1990s) stereo – before I pull the ironing board out from the cupboard beneath the stairs and plug in the iron. Today I selected this CD…

I bought it for my late wife. I don’t know if she ever played it; but I knew I hadn’t. I figured it must be pretty good – Richard Carpenter having re-mixed his original works with new accompanyment from the Royal Philharmonic – especially if the listener likes high production values, wonderful melodies, superb chord progressions, and harmonies to die for. Of course it also included many songs that I’ve been singing along to for the past five decades, so I knew I’d like it. It was a no-brainer choice. What could go wrong? And indeed, for 99% of the CD nothing did go wrong. In fact it  made the chores an absolute delight. Then, after a couple of verses and chorus or two of the final track – ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ – with me singing along with gusto – the words to the song suddenly penetrated into my consciousness. It is a joyous song about two young people starting out their life together. It is a beautiful song with wonderful lyrics. But it was those very lyrics which cut me to the core. At first it was just for me that I felt such sudden and unbearable sadness. Then my thoughts went to all of those millions of other, older people for whom those lyrics can be so painful. To anyone who has lost the most important person in their life  -. especially in these days of Covid 19. My eyes redden and my throat constricts as I write these words. I had been singing along so merrily too. Then “So much of life ahead. We’ll find a place to grow.” And other lines: “Sharing horizons that are new to us.” And: “working together day to day”. I suddenly thought – I’ve done all that. So many of us have. Struggled to raise a family and keep a roof over our heads. Just getting through life together as a not-always-dynamic-duo, doing the best they could. I don’t suppose any of us thought about a time when we wouldn’t be sharing those horizons. That we wouldn’t be working together day to day. How many couples have planned their retirement together? How many have worked a lifetime and now ask for the reward at the end of it – only to be denied when one partner dies? Utimately the answer must be everyone. Those are the lyrics of a young person, for a young person. That beautiful song – and it is beautiful – is now torture for me. Go listen to it: I’m sure you’ll agree. But not if you’re over sixty.

Photography as a Coping Mechanism

I was well aware that my wife’s death was imminent: it was a long time coming. But when, that September morning, I walked into our room, and checked for (but failed to find) any sign of breathing, it still came as a devastating surprise to me. At any time leading up to that moment the scenario had always remained hypothetical – even to her, despite it’s absolute certainty. Now ‘The Event‘, as my Son had labelled it only a day earlier, had occured. Not being a complete dunderhead, my higher functions took over and I took care of the situation. Her Doctor had been expecting the call, and came round the house as quickly as she could. She, in turn, had called others, and by the time she arrived, so had personnel from the three agencies that had been caring for her. Then, having called a funeral director, I finally took a moment for myself. As the Doctor was making Linzi’s passing official, I took a few moments for myself. My Fujifilm Finepix SL300 lay upon the kitchen table; so, taking it with me, I went into our sunny garden to take a picture of something with which I could associate my beloved wife. I took this  photo of some berries…

The reason that I mention this now (November) – two months later – is because (at that time) I needed to share my very raw grief with the world, and so posted the photo on Flickr. Tonight, whilst perusing my portfolio of shots on that platform, I stumbled upon it. Because she had planted the bush upon which these berries grew, I had dedicated it to Linzi. So now, as Autumn looks towards Winter, and the berries have been eaten by the wild birds that Linzi had planned to feed, I re-dedicate this picture to her. I titled it ‘Life Continues’.

Make of This What You Will

During the weeks since my wife passed over, there have been occaisionally hints that she is still around. The first came on the day of her death. Our dogs…

…had kept a vigil beside her bed until eventually driven out by all the care and health workers who attended to her night and day. They moved to the top of the stairs, where they could keep an eye on her. But upon her passing they returned to their beds in the living room. Then, in the early evening they suddenly galloped up the stairs; rushed into the room; stood upon their back legs, and took turns to study her lifeless face. Apparently satisfied with what they saw, they returned downstairs and have never returned. Both are perfectly happy – which suggests to me that they are aware of her presence in the house and feel no loss. They were  devoted to her – their favourite human – but neither has pined in the least. But, more impressively, on the same day (and half-way into the following day too), my daughter (who has speech and language problems amongst her multifarious woes) abruptly expanded her vocabulary by something in the order of a thousand percent; began speaking clearly and concisely; and eased my burden by giving advice on subjects that hitherto she knew next-to-nothing – including financial. When, a couple of weeks later, I mentioned this to her, she had no memory at all of that time period. Another example came a few days later, at a time when I was feeling desperately low. I was awoken one morning by a kiss upon my forehead. I was alone, so knew exactly who it was, and felt much better for the rest of the day. Then (so I’m told, because I didn’t witness this myself) on the day of her funeral she took another opportunity display her talents.  As my son, daughter and I were about to leave for the crematorium, I felt a sudden need to return to our bedroom and pick up the solar-powered Hula Girl that danced happily in the sunshine during my wife’s  final weeks. ‘She’ looked exactly like this…

Prior to the service, I had the Funeral Director place Hula Girl upon her casket. Thoughtfully he noticed a beam of sunlight striking the casket lid, so placed Hula Girl in it – where she shimmied throughout proceedings. As a cheerfull way to end the service, the Celebrant suggested an up-beat song that reflected Linzi’s chosen profession – a song about a dancer of course. I agreed to Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. I’m told that no sooner did the latin beat begin, Hula Girl’s gentle shimmy transformed into a manic dance. “She went crazy.” is how it was described. And those who saw it were left in no doubt who was responsible. If I had seen it myself, I probably wouldn’t have sent Hula Girl into the furnace with the casket. When I learned this, I immediately bought a replacement Hula Girl. She had to be identical. When she arrived in the post I placed her beneath a table lamp, where she began to shimmy. Then, to my Echo Dot I said: “Alexa: play Copacabana by Barry Manilow.” But I took what happened next as an etheral slap on the wrist. As the music struck up, instead of going bananas, Hula Girl stopped abruptly, and refused to move. I understood in a second, and so stopped the music. We, the living, cannot and should not influence those on ‘the other side’.  But it didn’t put her off me. Recently I awoke to the smell of her favourite Ellie Saab perfume. Then this morning (12/Nov/2020) something quite remarkable happened. At around six in the morning I was apparently awoken by her voice as she read something to me – as she often did, even if I wasn’t much interested. When I rolled over and opened my eyes I became aware of two things: daylight entered the room through open curtains: and Linzi was propped up upon her pillows and reading from (I presumed) her iPad. I had to speak her name three times before she heard me and stopped talking. Reason took over. Linzi’s remains were in a small box in the living room: this had to be a dream.  But that didn’t stop me from asking her: “Is this real? Is this real?” As if in reply, I woke up properly. It was six in the morning: it was only half-light – some of which entered the room through a central gap in the curtains, which, for some reason, since her death, I must have. It’s silly, but I get scared without it. But, by that light, I saw her – still seated beside me. She looked directly at me; leaned forward quickly; and kissed me gently upon the lips. Then, as I stared in hope and disbelief, she simply faded away – revealing the curtains that she had obscured only a moment before.  “Damn”. I snapped in frustration. For a moment she had been tangible. She had existed there, beside me. But, for whatever reason, she couldn’t stay. I couldn’t ask or tell her anything. But she knows I love her; and she obviously still loves me. And despite my tears as I write this, I’ve had a wonderful day. And I wonder what her next trick will be. I just hope that wasn’t a swansong.I don’t think so. She’ll be back. Time means nothing over there.

P.S I suppose it’s no surprise that she didn’t look old or haggard in my vision. Age and infirmity clearly have no place over there either. Of course I have no photo that can match what I saw this morning; but this one comes as close as any…

Any thoughts?

 

Growing Old in a Single Season

I must admit that the Summer of 2020 was the worst period in my lifetime. I had to give up work (good) to nurse my ailing wife through her cancer treatment (less good), and, ultimately, its failure and her final days (devastating). Through it all Linzi and I encountered untold kindness and limitless caring from many, many sources. But, as the end approached, I noticed that much of the kindness was centered, more and more, upon me. It seemed that those responsible for that kindness had noticed something in me. A man at the end of his tether perhaps? But I couldn’t see or feel any difference in myself. I was getting by, wasn’t I? What is all the fuss about? Then, today (27/09/2020) I visited my local church and had my little Fujifilm take my picture in the vestibule. And when I saw the result, I realised why words and offers of help and comfort are my constant companion…

I’ve grown old.   

The Race Against Time

When my last Earplug Adventure – ‘Distant Land’ – was published (17/10/2019), and the final extract of the serialised version appeared here (21/10/2019), it was a very different world I lived in – and I don’t mean free of Corona Virus. My wife had recently returned from hospital following a massive operation to free her of cancer. Any ideas of writing a follow up story were shelved in favour of nursing her back to health. Well, to cut a long story short, the procedure failed. The cancer was not defeated. An ordinary life became impossible, and by the time of Corona Virus lock-down in Britain I had to give up my work to care for her full-time. The prognosis was not good. All we could hope for was more time together. As a consequence I felt no desire to write silly stories about earplugs. But, as time passed, and I realised that it was quickly running out, I decided to attempt to complete the story while I still had the chance. I knew I would never write it otherwise. It has been, quite literally, a race against time.  Now (22.00 hrs 08/09/2020), as I lay in bed beside my fitfully slumbering and terminally ill wife, I can announce that I have just completed the 66th and final episode of A Tale of Three Museums. It may not be a great work, but I dedicate this story to her: she who named me Tooty and who has always supported my writing. I hope it’s my best Earplug Adventure. She will never get the opportunity to read it.

Thank you for reading my indulgence,

Tooty.

The extracts will continue to appear on a pre-scheduled basis until the story is complete.