Tag Archives: loss

The Confluence of Chance

At the time of writing this post, five months have passed since I lost my wife to cancer. Rather annoyingly I’ve discovered that I’m no nearer getting over her death today than I was at the time it happened. Then I had so much to do – all the legalities and stuff – that my mind was completely occupied. Most of every day my mind is still occupied. Thank goodness for my writing and photography: I can escape into those slightly off-beat worlds. But today (like every day) something from the real world – from the past – impinged itself upon my cocoon: in this case a letter from The Tax Man, stating that she had over-paid income tax during 2020, and that, as her ‘legal personal representative’ (read; grieving husband), I am entitled to the rebate. My initial reaction was ‘Oh, that’s good; I’ll use that to buy a get-you-home spare wheel for the Skoda.’ Then it struck me that even now she is still helping me provide for our Special Needs daughter – which is what she would have wanted – in the form of her company pension; discounted food at my favourite supermarket; and now this. But rather than bouy me up, this thought just reminded me of my loss. But then I made a poor decision: I sat down at my computer to take my mind off the subject. Automatically I reached across to the stereo and switched it on. It auto-played Michael Buble’s ‘Home’, which is a sad song about how his career took him away from the woman he loved. Being in a heightened emotional state I found the song depressingly sad, but I was determined to sing along – until the line ‘And I feel like I’m living someone else’s life; it’s like I just stepped outside’, when I went into meltdown –  slapping at the OFF button in desperation. I never really understood grief before – despite losing both parents and two brothers. I wonder if I’ve been storing  it up all these years: it certainly feels like it. But at least I have a release valve: it’s called The Earplug Adventures; and right now I’m going to pour myself a coffee; sit myself down; and write the next episode. It won’t be poignant: it will be funny. I’m determined.

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.