Crazy, Just Plain Crazy!

There have been some things I’ve done over the last 19 months that have been just plain crazy. I mean there is something almost certifiable about deliberately watching P.S. I Love You anywhere within five year period of losing a partner. There are a number of romcoms which fall into this category, the ones which had me teary at the best of times but since losing Chris have reduced me to an almost inconsolable blubbering mess. Those who know me well know that I am probably about eight percent emotional and only twenty percent rational. I have tried to fight this ratio all my life and even though it does fluctuate occasionally, it seems to be something that I can’t change even if I wanted to and so I have learned to live with it. I’m certain there were times when Chris and my kids must have thought I was crazy when they would find me crying like a baby over an advertisement on TV. I also have a policy, crazy or not, that no one cries alone in my presence.

It’s unrealistic to think you’ll never watch romantic movies again or that you’ll never watch TV again just in case you get triggered. That being said, I have avoided programs like Ambulance Australia, knowing that on most episodes there is at least one patient they treat for cardiac arrest and all of the usual questions of “why were those patients able to be brought back and Chris wasn’t?” or “why didn’t we know about the mild heart attack Chris had in the weeks leading up to his death?” are too much for me to bear. There have been times, today for example, when you are watching a totally innocuous TV program and smack bang in the middle of a great comedy is a totally unrelated storyline about a man who loses his wife and all of a sudden I have tears flooding my eyes and mascara running down my face like two black rapids. Crazy right? Just plain crazy!

P.S. I Love You

There is no doubt that in the days after Chris died that I know I did crazy things. Totally irrational, make no sense crazy things. The Sunday after Chris died I had a sudden urge to go to the Mall. It was partly an excuse to get out of the house and it was partly something I couldn’t articulate until I got there. When I got there I was a woman on a mission. I just wandered around the Mall desperately scanning the people there for the face of a woman who had become the only person I felt I could be justifiably angry at. She is a woman who has no moral compass at all and who had caused Chris and I a considerable amount of stress and had ripped us off for a huge amount of money. What I had also found out in the few days following Chris’ death is that she had also negligently not given us specific financial advice about life insurance which had put me in an untenable position on so many levels. Somehow, in my grief-pickled brain, I also blamed her for Chris’ death. I had planned what I would say to her if I saw her, even if the people around me thought I was crazy. Someone somehow had to pay for all this pain that had been so suddenly inflicted upon me and my family. Thankfully she wasn’t at the Mall that day because it is not in my character to behave in that way.

Subconsciously I was also looking for Chris. I was also scanning the sea of faces for his face, listening for his voice and his laugh. It was like my heart wouldn’t let my head believe that he had actually gone. Surely he was just out shopping for more fishing gear or was sitting in the food court eating his favourite Chinese food or ANYTHING that wasn’t what actually was. It would be months before my head actually caught up with my heart and I stopped waking up at 5:15am waiting for the familiar tickle of his beard on my forehead before he left for work for the day or stopped subconsciously putting his favourite food into my shopping basket when I did the grocery shopping. Crazy right, just plain crazy?

C2

I have had lots of time since Chris died, in some ways more time than I’ve ever had before. Time that was once spent sitting on the lounge watching the football together, or whatever silly redneck program Chris loved or even the occasional romcom is now spent, for the most part, sitting on my own, only half watching whatever it is that is on. Holidays that were once spent camping at the beach or exploring some part of Australia we hadn’t been to before are now mostly spent pottering around the house because the couple of times I have been back to our favourite haunts have always tinged with that familiar sadness that seems to be a permenant resident these days. Weekends which, even on the Saturdays he had to work, were still spent in each other’s company are now either one extreme or the other, looking for reasons to keep busy or sleeping the hours away so that his absence is not felt so acutely. Crazy right, just plain crazy.

Times

Craziest of all – thinking that life would ever be the same again. Crazy, just plain crazy!

Always & Forever…

 

Nobody Told Me…..

Nobody told me, maybe nobody knew, about this monster we call grief. It’s capacity to arrive unannounced in the first place and then continue to visit at any hour of the day or night, like an unwanted guest who lobs on your doorstep and refuses to leave. It mostly arrives without warning, and with no consideration to where you are, what time it is and it is always inconvenient. Sometimes you can see it coming, a specific date, an anniversary and you steel yourself and talk to yourself like some drill Sargeant. “You will not cave this time.” “This time you’ll be strong.” “No tears.” “No one can know the truth.” “You can’t let anyone see, especially not your kids.” And sometimes the pep-talk works and you maintain the Madagascar penguins routine of “smile and wave boys, smile and wave”. Nobody told me, maybe nobody knew, that sometimes when grief visits with all of its pernicious intentions, that self-control is impossible and all of those things that lay dormant for most of the time rise to the surface and have to be released in whatever form it takes. Silent tears, guttural scream, raging at the air, raging at God, withdrawn, on edge. Nobody told me…..

No_Surprise_Visits

Nobody told me, maybe nobody knew, how utterly exhausting grief is. It’s not just the fact that I can count on one hand the number of nights when I have slept straight through. It’s not just because the buck just stops with me now, that it’s me and me alone who bears the responsibility for the mortgage, the bills, decisions about Georgia and her education, her welfare, her well-being. The bins are my job, the lawns are my job, rates, school fees, house maintenance, all of those things are solely my responsibility. Even as I write this there is a nagging voice in the back of my head that tells me to harden up, that there are plenty of women out there who do it on their own and it wasn’t a life they chose either. It is what it is though, and I wonder whether they find it as exhausting as I do. It’s not just that I am hyper-sensitive at night because it’s now up to me to protect the girls from any potential intruders into our house. It doesn’t matter that we have never been broken into before, at least never at our current address and never overnight at any address. I am the only parent in the house now, and hyper-vigilance is my nighttime companion. Nobody told me, maybe nobody knew, that grief in of itself is just exhausting. Without rhyme or reason, it just is, overwhelmingly so. Maybe it’s shock, and believe me, the sudden death of someone you love puts you into a state of shock, and shock has a powerful effect on the body. I’m just tired of waking up tired. Nobody told me……

exhhausted

Nobody told me, maybe nobody knew, that grief makes you quite an accomplished actor and a very proficient liar. Before you think the worst of me, it’s only about grief that I lie about. I have been told that I have been so strong and brave, some have even said an inspiration. I play that role well. It’s easier to do that than to admit that the trauma of this is almost too much to physically and emotionally bear. It’s easier to smile and say “I’m doing well thank you” than to tell you how I really feel because by now I should be okay. By now I should be able to get through the day without crying. By now I should be adjusting to this strange life I involuntarily found myself in. By now the pain should be less. By now I should have been able to let all of the regrets go, all of our plans go. By now I shouldn’t still be agonising over the hurt and all of the things our daughter will miss out on because Chris isn’t here. By now I shouldn’t need you more than twelve months down the track.

But mostly the reason I lie is that I’m really scared. I’m scared that everyone will get sick of me not being “over it”, sick of me always being slightly stand-offish, slightly less bubbly or optimistic than I used to be. Scared that if you ask me how I am and I tell you the truth, the flood of tears will make you feel uncomfortable and put a strain on our relationship, and for a few it did. Scared that I have become a burden and a party-pooper and the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Scared that you’ll label me depressed instead of just grief-stricken. For all of those reasons and many more, when you ask me how I am I will smile and tell you I’m okay, as accomplished an actor and proficient a liar as the Oscar winners and the biggest conman. Nobody told me…..

liar

Nobody told me, maybe nobody knew that grief would give me an almost compulsive need to bring Chris’s name up in conversation. I am sure people think the opposite is true, that to speak about someone who has died would only cause more pain. The truth is that I want you to talk about him because rational or not I am scared that people will forget him but more than that I LOVE to hear your stories about him. It makes me smile, even laugh when I hear stories about the place he had in your life as well as mine. It’s the way I keep him present in my life even though he’s gone. It’s what makes life just a little bit easier, just a little less lonely. I know that everyone has to move on, myself included, but for me, moving on includes taking him with me, in whatever way I can. Nobody told me…..

chris word

Nobody told me, maybe nobody knew, that grief was a contradiction. On the one hand, I am so happy for friends and family who share happy news, a pregnancy announcement, an anniversary, a wedding, a new job, a new business opportunity. On the other hand, how does everyone else’s world keep turning and moving on when mine has been destroyed. On the one hand, there is so much to be grateful for. Wonderful family and friends, a job I love, a roof over my head and food in my belly. On the other hand, I hate this half-life I’m living. I know how bad and incredibly ungrateful that sounds but it is the new reality I find myself in. On the one hand, I try to maintain a busy life. I have deliberately started doing things I wouldn’t have otherwise done in a desperate attempt to give my brain and heart no room to feel the loss for too long. On the other hand, all I want to do is stay in bed and never face the world again. On the one hand, I have to be and have been there for my kids, help them through this in any way I can, not let them see me cry, not involve them in my issues and problems, be strong and consistent. On the other hand, I have been a terrible mother. Too many nights where takeaway was just the easier option. Too many times when my short fuse caused them hurt and pain. Too many times when I would just curl up on the lounge and not want to go anywhere or do anything or talk to anybody. Nobody told me……

contradiction

On the day of the anniversary of Chris’ death, I stood at his grave. I had written him a letter, something I did whenever I went to the cemetery. My son was there with me, one of Chris’ mates and a friend of mine. We toasted Chris and drank a beer in his honour. Just before we left I looked at my friend and said: “I’m scared, terrified even, that I will always be broken, that I’ll never get over this.” I also wondered if this pain would ever leave, or the grief would ever dissipate or if I would ever feel whole again. Nobody told me, maybe nobody knew about this monster we call grief. Nobody told me…..

Always and Forever…

The Albatross

I was never a fan of the classic poem “The Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner”. It wasn’t that I couldn’t appreciate all of the things that make it one of the greats, I just wasn’t a fan. It’s like asking me why I love The Beatles and not Elvis or Jane Austin and not Emily Bronte. I’m sure that when Samuel Taylor Coleridge put pen to paper he could not have known that his poem would go on to not only be studied by students worldwide but that his words would also go on to become a very powerful metaphor. According to Google (the all seeing, all knowing sage that it is) the word albatross is sometimes used metaphorically to mean a psychological burden that feels like a curse. This post is about my albatross!

L is for Loss. Yes, it’s the obvious, which has been spoken about before now and doesn’t need repeating. It’s more complicated than just that aspect of it. It’s a loss of identity. Of course, I’m still me, I’ll always be Rachel and I am who I am. But aspects of my have irrevocably changed. Let me give you an example. The majority of my friends are married. There’s nothing odd about that. You get to a certain time in your life when life becomes a comfortable pattern that you and your friends share. The kids are growing up and becoming more independent and your social life consists of rotating between houses, this week a BBQ at my place, next week dinner at yours. If the girls do a chick flick, the boys are fishing. The women good-naturedly complain about their husbands and the men roll their eyes when we nag them about something or other. There is an even number of places at the table.

So what happens when there is suddenly an empty chair? Well, there is more thrown off than just the aesthetics. You see, not only did I go from a “we” to a “me” but the way I relate to my friends changed too. It’s no longer “let’s have the Hornes over for dinner”, it’s now just Rachel. Our house is no longer “The Horne’s”, it’s just mine. And I feel these differences acutely. Whether it’s just perception or truly reality I have spent the last 18 months clinging to the hope that the loss of my identity as a couple will not adversely affect my friendship circle. Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed with absolutely wonderful friends and I am very grateful for them. I’m not in an unfamiliar place when I’m among them but I am different from them now in a way that makes me feel isolated. At the risk of using a cheesy but all too familiar saying, it’s not them, it’s me. They have been loving and kind and supportive. Nevertheless, my albatross has laid it’s stone eggs around my heart.

loss1

O is for One To be totally honest, the mystery about how marriage works doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s really two ones who became one. Yes, the math doesn’t add up I know but it is how a marriage works. It’s why in Wedding Ceremonies they quote the whole “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” We don’t have to understand it, it just is. So what happens when half of that “one” isn’t there anymore? I don’t think I’ll ever be”whole” again because Chris took my heart with him when he left but it’s not just that. When the two become one they take on a shared responsibility, you do this and I’ll do that. Dometic dullness is negotiated between the two, you cook tea and I’ll take the rubbish out. Decisions big and small are shared. Both are responsible for paying the mortgage, bills and a luxury or two here and there. Parenting is shared, even down to playing Rock, Scissors, Paper to decide who’s going to pick up kids from their extra-curricular activities. 

That has changed now. If I don’t take the bins out on Tuesday nights they don’t get emptied. The weight of every parenting decision is on me, from school parent/teacher interviews to wanting to fix all of the hurts and worrying that this new “one” that I’ve become will not come even close to being adequate enough to provide all of my kids with everything they need and deserve. Discipline and rules, all mine to implement and enforce. Every financial decision, big and small, from budgeting for bills and groceries to paying school fees and the mortgage is now mine on my own. It cannot be changed now, it is what it is and like it or not I will take hold of these responsibilities and fulfil them to the best of my ability. It is isolating though, my albatross continues to lay its stone eggs around my heart.

one1

N is for New Normal What is “normal” anyway? Some people shy away from normal and march to the beat of their own drum. But it’s not that sort of “normal” or “not normal” that I’m talking about. I’m talking about routine, ordinary, conventional, you know… Normal! It is the natural order of things that as your kids get older they will move out, get married etc. It is also the norm for two people to miss their kids not being at home and lament the title of “Empty Nesters” but at the same time enjoy couple time again. But my new normal is the picture of two who became one and then who prematurely became a new one and with it a future that sees an empty house and a very strong probability that I will become the “Cat Lady”!!!!

Convention dictates that there are certain rites of passage that belong to fathers and their daughters. Fathers are supposed to be the ones who joke about getting the shotgun out when new boyfriends come on the scene and put any prospective suitor through their paces before giving their approval. Fathers are supposed to be the ones who walk their daughters down the aisle, give the Father-of-the-Bride speech and do the Father and Daughter dance at their daughter’s wedding. Fathers are who girls learn from about how they should be treated by any boyfriend or husband. Georgia absolutely adored her father. You only had to look at her Instagram account to see how much they loved each other, so much that I told them I sometimes felt like a third wheel (jokingly of course). Georgia should have been able to enjoy all of that “normalness” and I should have looked on lovingly and only be concerned about my duties and obligations as a mother.

My new normal now is a place of having to be mum and dad. To worry about her and hope that the absence of her father will not impact her future too much. My new normal is trying to grapple with the fact that even though I am incredibly grateful for the amazing men, family and friends, who will love her and be there for her through all of her significant events, it is still amazingly unfair that she will not have her Dad there and that I will be there for all of those times and events on my own now.  And so my Albatross continues to lay it’s stone eggs around my heart.

normal

E is for Everything I know people think I’m exaggerating but it’s true EVERYTHING changes. Your whole world changes. There are terms I never knew before that are actually real and proven things that exist like “widow brain”. That term is for the phenomenon that happens to people after their spouse’s die, which affects their brain function. I would never profess to have been the sharpest tool in the shed but before Chris died I could go to the shops without a shopping list and remember exactly what I needed to get. Now I can’t even get out the door without leaving something behind and if it’s not on a list, it doesn’t happen. While we’re on the subject of all things neurological, it’s not just “widow brain”. Once a confident, go with the flow, glass half full type of person I find myself in a place of low self-esteem, low self-confidence and an almost incessant and irrational need to have a plan and know what’s happening at all times because my sense of security has been damaged too.

Please understand that this is not an exercise in self-deprecation, nor a fishing expedition for sympathy. It’s just the way it is. I know I can be prone to exaggeration at times but in this case, there is no exaggeration in this at all. My financial situation changed, my marital status changed (even though I still consider myself to be married, technically now I’m no longer married, I’m a widow!). My job didn’t change but my job situation did. That is, the way I now approach my job is different, the way I react to things at work is different. When Georgie is sick there is no negotiating who takes the day off to look after her, it’s me every time. I am incredibly blessed because I have a job which is flexible enough to allow for the times when I have to be away but it was never an issue before. But it’s so much more. It’s well… EVERYTHING! To quote a post I once read, “EVERY. SINGLE. THING. CHANGES. You are handed a new life that you don’t particularly want. It is the hardest, most gut-wrenching, horrific, life-altering of things to live with”. And so my Albatross continued to lay it’s stone eggs around my heart.

everything

 

L is for Let-down. I have been blessed in so many ways by so many people who I am so grateful for. My kids have been amazing, my immediate family on both sides have also been an incredible support and my friends and the communities I belong to continue to be there for me through thick and thin, for which I am and will always be eternally grateful. I have been blown away by the loving support and encouraging words by people who have gone out of their way to make sure I knew they were there for me and so, on the whole, there are lots to be thankful for. In fact, if it wasn’t for one person, in particular, I wouldn’t have anything to complain about on this front at all. The trouble is that this person is the person I thought who knew me best and would have had my back no matter what and I think that’s why it hurts the most.

It’s funny how situations like these either bring out the best or the worst in people and Chris’s death has certainly opened my eyes to things that should have been blindingly obvious for years but only became really apparent when the chips were really down. People had been telling me for years how one-sided this particular relationship was but I was too blind and too loyal to see otherwise. I remember saying to this person a couple of months after Chris died that one of the things that his death had done to me was that it had made me unable to deal with all sorts of emotional BS that I had put up with before, mostly because I just didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with it anymore. Little did I know that only a few months after that I would have to let go of that friendship, for my own mental health but also because I came to realise how much of a let-down it had been in at a time when I had needed it the most. I am the first person to admit that I am not perfect. I am skilled at reciting the inventory of my failings and flaws so I am not saying in any way shape or form that I never did anything wrong, I most certainly did at times. But I don’t think I have ever been let down by anyone ever in the way this person let me down. From the insensitive things they said to the utter selfishness of the things they did and didn’t do, for my own self-preservation I had to let the friendship go. The disappointment was acute because now, not only was I grieving the loss of my husband, but I was also grieving the loss of a person who I thought would always be in my life and who had once upon a time been what my daughter would have called my BFF. And so my Albatross continued to lay it’s stone eggs around my heart.

let down

I is for Insomnia. It is true that I have never been a very sound sleeper, it never took much to wake me up in the middle of the night but I truly believe that’s a mother’s lot in life. It is also true that I need a certain amount of sleep not just to function but to prevent the evil twin in me appearing when enough hours of good sleep haven’t been achieved overnight. I used to be an early morning person but as soon as I gave up shift work all of a sudden I became a night owl and sleep-ins became something that I loved! My Saturday mornings became sacred and heaven help anyone who dared to wake me before a reasonable mid-morning time!

Having said that, there is a big difference between needing a certain amount of sleep and having the odd night here and there and being chronically unable to sleep. It doesn’t matter how tired I am, how much I have or haven’t exercised during the day, how much coffee I’ve had (and after years of night duty I could have a triple shot long black and it wouldn’t make a speck of difference to how well I slept), what time I go to bed, what routines I follow, I have not had a full nights sleep since Chris died. I don’t know whether it’s because now that I’m the only adult in the house I’m hypervigilant about every bump in the night or whether it’s because I just can’t turn my brain off or whether it’s because I am caught between hoping I’ll meet Chris in my dreams but being terrified that I will meet him in my dreams and then wake up gutted by the reality that my dreams is the only place left to be with him earthside.

To say I’m exhausted is a huge understatement! As a result, everything is an effort. It is an effort to get out of bed every day, it’s an effort to go to work, it’s an effort to cook, clean, any of the normal activities of daily living. But it goes beyond that. Once I’m home for the day, I have no desire to leave the house at all and have become totally unsociable which is the total opposite of who I was before. I feel like I am a terrible mother because all I want to do is either sleep or hibernate in my room where I don’t have to interact with the world. What happened to the optimistic, outgoing extrovert? Insomnia happened! Oh, that and my husband dying. And so my Albatross continues to lay it’s stone eggs around my heart.

insomnia

N is for No. No can be just as much a good word as a bad word. If someone were to say “No school today” students everywhere would send up a collective yell of delight! If I told Georgia “No, we’re not having mashed potato for tea tonight” she would be seen dabbing and flossing her way around our unit! There are, of course, the much bigger “nos” which bring huge sighs of relief. “No, you don’t have cancer” or “No, there was nothing to worry about in your blood test” or “No, no one was injured in that car crash”.

For the purposes of this post though, no is definitely a bad word. NO, you will never feel the warm embrace of one of Chris’s hugs ever again. NO, you won’t grow old together. NO, Georgia will not have someone to celebrate Father’s Day with for the rest of her life. No, I will never be able to celebrate all of her achievements with the father who was absolutely crazy about her. NO, all those plans you made together will never be realised. NO, there is no more “us” now, only an “I” or “me”. NO, I will not be able to provide for my kids in the same way anymore. NO, I will not have someone to share the load with through life, physically, emotionally, financially and in every other way. NO, life will never be the same. NO, I will never be the same. NO! NO! NO! And just when you think you’ll be alright there’s even more “NO”! And so my Albatross continues to lay it’s stone eggs around my heart.

no

E is for Envious. I was never a jealous person, or at least it was never envious in a bad way. It was more along the lines of “Oh you’re going on a trip to Europe! I’ve always wanted to go there.” It was never vindictive or malicious and in that respect, nothing has changed. It’s just the subject matter. There was a time I was coming back from a work trip to Toowoomba. I had had a brilliant time and had learned so much and had been incredibly inspired. I was flying back into Canberra and I had arranged for my son to pick me up. I had told him not to worry about coming into the airport, I’d text him when I had landed and he could pick me up outside, later on, to save having to pay for parking. As I was waiting for my luggage to come around the baggage carousel I noticed an elderly couple. The wife had obviously been visiting somewhere warm and had come into a freezing Canberra with just a light jacket. I watched as the elderly gentleman hugged his wife close and lovely took off his jacket and wrapped her up tightly in his scarf and gloves. This gentleman fussed over his wife and even though I saw the wife good-naturedly roll her eyes the love between them was so obvious Blind Freddy could have seen it. And I was envious! Envious that my husband who would have equally fussed over me, while telling me I should have dressed warmer or I’d get cold wasn’t there to do the same. He would have come into the terminal, even though I would have told him the same thing as my son, which was to just wait until I had picked up my bags and pick me up outside so he didn’t have to pay for parking.

I was listening to a friend of mine talk about plans for a lovely romantic holiday overseas. It sounded absolutely perfect! Cocktails by the pool, beaches with water so blue you couldn’t tell where the sky ended and the water started, couple massages, jet skiing, sight-seeing, lots to do if you want to and lots of nothing if that’s your choice too. Heavenly, especially to someone who hasn’t had a proper holiday in a while. And I was envious! Not because I begrudged this person the holiday they no doubt deserved, but envious because that will never be my experience. Yes I can go to a tropical island, yes I can enjoy cocktails by the pool and sight-seeing etc but let’s be honest, whoever wants to do that on your own????? If this reeks of self-pity you have misunderstood my intent! I’m not envious because I feel like I need a man by my side to enjoy life or be fulfilled, I just want to enjoy those things with a man I will never get to experience those things with. And so my Albatross continues to lay it’s stone eggs around my heart.

envious word on concrette wall

 

S is for Sorry. I saw a picture someone had posted on Facebook which said: “An apology without change is just manipulation.” I always used to say a “Sorry, but…” wasn’t a sorry at all. There are no manipulations here, nor are there any “buts”, these are just sorry. I’m sorry for all of the times in the last twenty months when I have not been the mother my children needed or deserved because I was too overwhelmed by my grief to function properly. I am sorry for not being able to engage with life in the same way I had before Chris died. I am sorry that my enthusiasm for my job, which I love has waned. I am sorry for all of the times I have reacted badly or overreacted or my patience was short or I said or did something that was out of character because Chris’s death and my battle with grief has won the day.

I am sorry for all of the times I have dodged phone calls or events because I don’t want to be the party pooper. I am sorry that whoever I was before Chris died has gone for good. Most of all I am sorry that we didn’t see the signs that could have prevented all of this. Most of all I am sorry that our beautiful daughter will grow up without her father. Most of all I am sorry that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye. Most of all I am sorry that I didn’t get to tell you that I loved you and always will one last time. And so my Albatross continues to lay it’s stone eggs around my heart.

sorry handwritten

S is for Sensitive. I have said before that the ratio of emotional to rational has always been and will always be out of proportion. I have always reacted emotionally first and rationally second and I am hoping to get better at it but unfortunately, the last twenty months have made me more sensitive than ever! I can be in the middle of watching a comedy and something will trigger me and all of a sudden tears are welling up and I am drowning in grief again. A smell, a sound, a taste, something I see, the touch of one of his old shirts that I sentimentally kept because it was his favourite and I can still smell his aftershave on it. Situations that would never have bothered me before bugs the heck out of me now! I have become very accomplished at pretending that comments that people make about how I should or shouldn’t be feeling don’t hurt or make me angry or sad. The truth is that I hate who I have become, I hate how sensitive I am to things, like the almost compulsive need to know exactly what’s happening at all times, leaving nothing to chance because of one event I could never have seen coming or planned for. I hate that comments that would have and should be water off a duck’s back now cause a disproportionate amount of pain. I hate that this new sensitivity sees things that are not there and misses things that are. I am sensitive to those who think I am depressed rather than just grieving or grieving too long or too much or the wrong way. What I would give to experience, just one more time; to feel that incredible sensation, when he looked at me, or smiled at me or told me that he loved me, to hear his laugh, watch through tears of laughter as he did the “rooster dance” (his dancing speciality) or sing the wrong lyrics to songs. You could be forgiven for thinking that maybe “S” should stand for Self-pity, and maybe you’d be right but it is what it is and as hard as I’ve tried to fight it, I’m circling the drain and it’s far more exhausting trying to fight it rather than to just go with it. And so my Albatross continues to lay it’s stone eggs around my heart.

sensitiveword

So what is my Albatross? Look carefully and you’ll find it but to quote the poem I am not fond of but can relate to “Alone, alone, all, all alone, Alone on a wide wide sea, my soul in agony.”

Always and forever…..

 

Till Death Do Us Part

“I, Rachel, take you, Chris, to be my lawfully wedded husband. To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part. This is my solemn vow.”

Chris & I

I, Rachel, take you, Chris. People say you can’t help who you fall in love with. I don’t agree. You can’t help who you’re attracted to, but you make a choice to invest in a relationship which eventually leads to love. That being said, I didn’t go looking for Chris. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, and even though I thought he was gorgeous, I had sworn off any and all relationships. But he swept me off my feet. I couldn’t tell you whether it was his cheeky smile, the way my head fit so perfectly on his shoulder, the way he made me feel fiercely protected or his little idiosyncrasies, like the way he had to have the volume in the car on an even number or it would drive him nuts. It was despite the fact that he was a morning person and I was a night owl, despite him being one of the most impatient people I had ever met and me being perfectly content to sit in traffic or line up at the supermarket, despite the fact that he was a creature of habit and I was probably far too relaxed about most things. Because of and in spite of all of those things there was no going back. He would never have admitted it, but he was a softie and a closet romantic and before I knew I was head over heels.

Chris & Me

To be my lawfully wedded husband. When we first started seeing each other I had made it very clear that I never wanted to get married again. He said he didn’t care and, at the time it made me love him even more because it spoke volumes about his character. Considering patience was never his strong suit, he never put any pressure on me and considering the fact that if nagging was an Olympic sport Chris would have won the Gold medal every time he was never the one to bring it up in conversation. I did hear, much later down the track, that the very first night we met, he told his mate that he was going to marry me, and imagine my surprise when I realised that somehow or another he had slowly changed my mind. It certainly wasn’t the most romantic of proposals, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he loved me and without hesitation, I said yes. He did pick my engagement ring (albeit with a little bit of help from his mum) and I loved it. On the 18th November 2006, I married my best friend and partner for life. The date had no sentimental reason, we actually just chose it because it was one of the only dates the guy we wanted to do our music was free for. It was a great day and the cherry on top was Chris serenading me with “Angels” by Robbie Williams, changing the lyrics from “I’m loving angels instead” to “I’m loving Rachie instead”.

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To have and to hold from this day forward. I am a naturally affectionate person, I like public displays of affection (within reason of course). For all of his tough guy image, Chris was really a big softie and was just as affectionate as I was. No matter where we were he would reach for my hand or drape his arm across my shoulder. As sappy as it sounds I always felt 100% protected and safe in his arms. There were times when, being the emotional, heart on my sleeve person that I am, I would be sobbing and those same arms would say so much without saying anything at all. Annoyingly, those same “safe” arms would grab me and cuddle me so I couldn’t escape when he had done something to tick me off, knowing that I could never stay angry at him for long. On the rare occasion when that didn’t work he would use a quote from a movie which was a great Plam B. The one he quoted the most was from one of his favourite movies, “Once Were Warriors” and with his cheeky grin he would say “you love me” to which I would quote back (with a touch of poetic licence) “that’s the problem Chris, I do”. On the rare occasions when Chris was as upset about something as I was, I hope that he felt the same comfort I felt when he held me.

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For better, for worse. There is no doubt that we had lots of “for better” times, in fact, I would go as far as to say the “for better” times were as numerous as the stars in the sky. There were a few major things, the birth of our beautiful daughter Georgia and our wedding just to name a few. There were also the hundreds of seemingly simple times which made up our “for better”. The times when we would laugh till we cried over something silly one or other of us had done. The times when I would laugh watching him laughing at one of his stupid redneck shows like Swamp Rats or Jackass. The camping holidays we took together, even the home projects that we started but got in way over our heads and had to pay someone to come and fix. The date nights which included the night my big spender bought us $2 hot dogs from Costco. It was all the times we sat around the dinner table together for tea, the birthday celebrations, the BBQs we had with friends.

Of course, life would not be life if we didn’t have our share of “for worse” as well. There is no doubt that the worst of “for worse” was Chris’ mum’s illness and death. I have never met anyone who loved and protected her family as fiercely as mum did. She was the glue that pulled everyone together and to say we were devastated when Mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour would be a huge understatement. There were days when “for worse” meant forgiving the hurtful things we said to each other or the clashes we had over differing opinions about things but all of those paled in comparison to the day we lost mum, followed quickly by the day of her funeral. There was also the time when a plumbing company that Chris was working for called him in with no notice and told him they were laying him off due to no work. My hard-working, first there and last to leave, always willing to put his hand up to help when needed husband was gutted when he got the news. It was a pathetic move on their part and if it sounds like I still harbour a grudge against them, I do! Such was the work ethic of my amazing man, he quickly found work doing odd jobs until our “for worse” turned into a “for better” when he landed a job at Geocon, a job he loved. At the end of the day, the “for better” days far outweighed the “for worse” days and that is something to be very grateful for.

Date night

For richer, for poorer. Chris and I had two totally different views about money. I was the one who looked after the finances in our relationship because Chris, by his own admission, was hopeless and would have had our bank account cleaned out in two seconds given the chance. Having said that, one of his favourite catch-phrases was “just another excuse to take a man’s money”. It was more bluff than anything else because if any one of his friends needed help Chris would always do what he could to help. There were definitely times when things were really tight, and we were living payday to payday but Chris had an amazing work ethic and he always prided himself on providing for his family and I loved him for it.

There were always two things that he NEVER complained about spending money on, anything to do with fishing and upgrades to the camper. We would good-naturedly argue about the camper trailer because of the way he talked me into it in the first place. It didn’t take much persuading really because we both loved camping. We had always talked about travelling up through the centre of Australia and around Tasmania and this camper was the perfect fit for us. We had to finance it though and I was more cautious about it than Chris was. So Chris struck a deal with me. He would sacrifice the money he spent on smoko each week and that would be enough to cover the weekly repayments for the camper. I had a healthy scepticism about this deal, but the excitement about the advantages of the new camper drowned out any doubts I had about Chris’ commitment to sacrificing coffee money. It will probably come as no surprise that the deal was broken in less than a month! With the cheeky grin that he knew I was a sucker for, the familiar catch-phrases I knew so well became a part of our weekly routine. “Can I have coffee monies, Friday buy day, Saturday big breakfast” I heard them all, and when I would remind him about our deal he would just kiss me on the cheek and not say a word knowing the money he wanted would be waiting by his keys ready for work the next day. We never had millions in the bank but our life together was rich in ways money could never buy and I was grateful for everything we did have.

Camper

In sickness and in health. Chris found out he was a type two diabetic by accident really. His mum had type two diabetes too and one morning we checked Chris’ blood sugar level at the same time. It was one of the highest readings I had ever seen and I couldn’t believe that Chris had been walking around with such a high reading, practically symptom-free. As a typical male, it still took some considerable nagging to get Chris to the doctor but it was just as well we did because he had high blood pressure which needed looking after as well. Ironically, the man who had pestered his mum when she had a fifty cent soft serve cone from Maccas, all of a sudden became the most non-compliant diabetic I had ever known. I’m certain Chris thought he had lucked out having a wife who was also a nurse and I tried my best to keep him on the straight and narrow. It wasn’t until some new work boots caused a pesky blister which led to a massive infection that I realised how uncompliant he had been.

After weeks of having the blister on his toe cleaned and dressed daily a very on the ball doctor took one look at Chris’ toe and sent him straight to the Canberra Hospital for a specialist consult. Even then I don’t think we knew how serious it was but in the long run, it was the huge wake-up call Chris needed. The Vascular Surgeon who saw Chris told him he would have to amputate his big toe but told him he was lucky they caught it when they did because if they had left it any longer he could have lost half his foot. It was at this time that Chris admitted he wasn’t taking his medication regularly. The sheepish look he shot me while making this confession told me he knew he’d been sprung and that he knew I’d be riding his butt from then on. If he was nervous about going into surgery he didn’t show it, cracking jokes with the nurses right up until they wheeled him into theatre. My ten foot tall and bulletproof husband was not going to let something like a toe amputation slow him down and after two weeks at home on the couch, he was chomping at the bit to get back to work. When he was fully back on his feet (pun intended), for the most part he really did look after himself. He lost a stack of weight and looked better than ever.

Apart from this major event, for the most part, we had more health than sickness, until the day that took Chris from us. The thing I don’t think I will ever get over, or stop being angry about is the fact that Chris’ death could have and should have been preventable. The coroner’s report, which arrived about eight months after Chris died showed that he had had a minor heart attack two or so weeks before. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that Chris probably didn’t even know he had had a heart attack or that if he did, the outcome would have been different. It doesn’t matter that I KNOW that playing the “what if” game will do more harm than good. I will always wish that our “in sickness” had not been so devastating and life-changing.

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To love and to cherish until death do us part. This is my solemn vow. I know some people have a tendency to put people who have died on a pedestal. It’s almost like people take the whole “don’t speak ill of the dead” to the extreme and the loved one they have lost all of a sudden become saints. I am fully aware of Chris’ faults, which, like me are too numerous to list here. Despite or in spite of each other’s faults we loved each other. I used to tell him the song “True Love” by Pink could have been our theme song. He frustrated the hell out of me at times (and no doubt I bugged the heck out of him too). He had a number of idiosyncrasies that drove me nuts but he was my best friend, my protector, my cheer squad, he would even give me a kick up the backside when I needed it. He made me laugh and even though I would never have admitted it to him when he said it, he really was the funniest man I knew. I did love and cherish him. Even on the days when we were frustrated with each other, I still adored him. Here’s the thing about those vows we took on 18th November all those years ago, it didn’t all of a sudden stop when “death us do part”. I will always love Chris, I will always cherish him. Very well-meaning people have said that I am young enough and will find someone when the time is right but that’s an impossibility because Chris has my heart with him. The inscription on his wedding ring, which I now wear says “always and forever”. It’s the way I end all of my blog posts. It’s just the way it is, because even though “death do us part” I will love and miss Chris forever, this is my solemn vow.

Always and forever.

 

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Almost Twelve Months On…..

I promised myself there would be no more macabre posts. I mean, in two short days it will be twelve months right. No more weepy tales. At least that’s what I told myself, and if you can bear to indulge me, I will make this promise – no more public posts about my grief save this last one.  There is no doubt that writing has helped me over the last twelve months, but I know that my journey is just that, mine. Sometimes that journey can take on a life of its own but in all of this I really just wanted to assure myself that, while there was nothing ‘normal’ about losing your husband when he was only 40 years old, that my journey was normal. Through all of the ups and downs, the rivers I’ve cried, all of the pain and all of the associated behaviour I wanted to make sure that my journey was just that, a journey and not a place to get stuck in.

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There is no doubt that grief can be self-centred, maybe even self-indulgent but by its nature, there is really no way around that. While two people can grieve the same person, no two people grieve in the same way, and neither way is wrong, it’s just different. Before this, I was the fix-it girl. The one who wanted to look at others and their needs and help them plough through. I never liked to burden others with my “stuff” or put others out. But losing someone takes you from a place where it is totally possible to hide how you’re truly feeling to a place where people will ask you how you’re doing or if you’re okay because grief is a badge you wear by virtue of the fact that someone you loved is no longer there and there is just no hiding from it. It’s loneliness because no one else understands or gets it, and try as people might they have no answers to your questions which no doubt causes frustration for them too. It tears you up inside. It has the capacity to make you mad at everyone, everything and every situation. It’s bitter. You can go from zero to resentful, annoyed and ticked off at the world in 0.01 seconds. It’s certainly not passive or patient and it IS debilitating, intensely emotional and incredibly painful.

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There have been times over this last twelve months when the pain was so overwhelming I wondered how I was ever going to get through it. Beautiful, loving, well-intentioned people would tell me that time would make it better and I would feel like screaming “WHEN”? When would I stop missing Chris? When would all of those wonderful memories of him stop being too painful to remember? When would that song he would rooster dance to bring more pleasure than pain? When would I stop thinking I see or hear him in a crowd and be bitterly disappointed when reality stopped me in my tracks like an almost physical blow to my stomach? When will the night time once again become my friend and not my enemy as I lie awake and stare at the ceiling with the weight of the household responsibilities very firmly on my shoulders alone now? When will the anger reside? When will the regret disappear? When will the fear of never really being completely happy again fade? When will I stop just existing and really live? When will the resentment for all of those unfulfilled dreams and plans, not only for myself but for Georgie as well, dissipate? When will I be me again? When will the pre-Chris’s death happy, spontaneous, Que sera, sera me return? When will the plans to prosper and not harm be fulfilled, the plans that offer hope and future be realised? When? When? When? WHEN????????

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The answer is that there is no answer. I read an article that said that grief is an attachment. The attachment is a way of holding onto our idea of what was. We want the person we lost to match what we thought would always be, or at least be there longer than they were. When a person dies we are grief-stricken for a few basic reasons, we weren’t ready for them to die and we wanted them to stay alive, so we can continue to feel better (which we say is because we love them). I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason (there’s a song in there somewhere!). I don’t think I’ll ever fully know all the ins and outs of the reasons why Chris came into my life and then left way too soon, but here’s what I do know. There is no way through grief but through it. The only cure for grief is to grieve. And the only way to survive this process is by having people help you through it, to remind you that there is life after someone dies, however painful that may be. The only way to survive is to have people around you who love you unconditionally, even when they don’t know what to say or do. The truth is that most of the time I just want someone to put their arm around me and tell me they love me big, big (like my Grandma used to say) or to hold me up, support me, carry me until I’m ready to live the life I know Chris would want me to live. Sometimes I need someone to tell me I’m not a crappy mother (even though I know deep down I am and have been through this) for all of those times I’ve been less than patient, said things that hurt because I was angry at this horrible place I find myself in or bought takeaway because the thought of having to cook was just too much. Sometimes I need someone to just be there while I cry for the billionth time this year.

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So I have come to the conclusion that I may not ever be who I used to be. It may mean I might forever be just a little bit broken, I don’t know? What I am one hundred percent certain of is that I have a broken heart and shattered dreams and a whole lot of questions with no answers (yet). Grief is what it is, there is no way around it and sometimes all I see is my pain, all I see is the loss. But I am still here somewhere. Somewhere behind everything that makes up this strange creature we call grief I am still there. I have no idea how long this journey will take, I just know that I am meant to go through it, not stay in it forever. For this moment grief is something that I have to live with and hope others can too. I can’t say how long this season will last (and there’s a time for every season under heaven right?) but just know that even on my worst days (and I’m certain there are still many to come) underneath it all I am fighting to get out the other side.

Always and forever……

Me & Chris

 

Just Breathe

On the whole, I think I am a pretty patient person. Long queues at the shops don’t worry me, red lights – not a problem. Kettle boiling, boil away. It is the things that are of the more emotional kind that I find harder to handle. For example, Georgia’s bedroom looks like a bomb’s gone off in it most of the time. As a result, Saturdays are spent throwing tantrums, arguing, crying rivers of tears, shouting, and that’s just me! I have tried telling her that if she did a little bit each day she would have nothing to do by the weekend to no avail so far. Even with all of those times I have gently reassured her that mum does have her head screwed on right (most of the time at least), she would still rather spend her Saturdays arguing and WISHING she’d done what I had done what I suggested in the first place. I live in the hope that one day the light will go on and it will be something we no longer argue about.

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As hard as it might be to believe, I do have other weaknesses, all of which err on the side of the emotional rather than rational. One of my other weaknesses is never wanting to ask anyone to do something I am capable of myself, which means that I delegate nothing. I have learned that I do a disservice to myself by doing too much, and to others by denying them the opportunity to do something they are able to do and would probably do better. Sometimes it might take people a while to get it, and it’s in cases like that I have had to breathe and be patient and not rush in and do it for them.

I am a very emotional person. I wear my heart on my sleeve, you know exactly what I’m feeling every second that I’m feeling it. As ironic as it sounds since Chris died I have become much more adept at hiding how I’m feeling but I also think that I will always be emotional first and rational second. I wish like crazy sometimes that I would slow down and NOT say those things that are both unbecoming to me and hurtful to others or NOT press the send button with that less than conciliatory message about something that had ticked me off. Sometimes I wish I had just breathed, taken a second instead of charging in like a bull at a gate and reaping the consequences of hyper-emotionalism!

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Of all of the times I wish I took the time to breathe, it’s at home with my family. I need to give them the chance to do what I hope they will, and usually do even if it doesn’t happen exactly when and how I think it should. For example, I was in the kitchen one night getting tea ready. I was madly peeling, chopping, mixing, and Chris was on the lounge. There was still washing to be brought in, recycling to be taken out, and I thought the least Chris could do was ask if there was anything that needed doing, or heaven forbid show some initiative. Just a side note – all of that seems so ridiculous now and I would move heaven and earth to still have Chris lounging on the couch. Having said that, the crankier I got the fiercer the chopping got. The more frustrated I became the more banging and clanging came from the kitchen. Sure, I could have asked Chris to do those things but it bugged me that I had to ask for something that Chris should have known to do by looking into his crystal ball!!!! At the time I had no doubt that if I had complained the reaction would not have been good so I took a deep breath and said nothing.

Imagine my surprise and delight when two minutes after I had decided not to say anything, Chris took the rubbish out and brought the washing in! Just breathe!

Chris & Me

 

So I am emotional, complicated, simple & hard work. And I have learned that life is emotional and complicated and simple and hard work. There is a saying that lots of people have framed and hang on their walls – “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” So it’s not just a matter of having the patience to breathe but it’s also the ability to recognise the moments that take our breath away. Here’s the thing, it’s the very simple that costs nothing in terms of monetary value but are invaluable in terms of the way they add to my life by filling my heart to capacity with joy and hope and peace and love. And once there, in that place where my simple heart feels happy, the capacity of my heart expands. Where do those simple places exist?

It’s my eldest son curled up on my lounge cackling to some of our favourite sit-coms after our family tea together. It’s the big arms of my second son draped over my shoulder and the quietly spoken “yeah I can do that” when I need his help with something. It’s my girls who with a flurry of activity rush out of the house to get ice-cream together  “just because”. It’s the lame family joke which is repeatedly shared but which always results in everyone dissolving into laughter and tears. It’s the sound of plates and glasses clinking, and the noise of conversation over meals shared with extended family and friends, which is a symphony to my ears. It’s the banter of friends which to anyone else would sound like we don’t like each other at all, not knowing that insults are our love language. It is celebrating wins, big or small, like a role in a musical production or starting a course someone had always wanted to do but had never had the chance to do before now. It is those moments that fill my heart to overflowing – my emotional, complicated, simple, and sometimes hard work heart.

So I am going to try and do two things – just breathe AND wait for those moments which take my breath away.  Always and forever……..

What Should Be

I’ve always said that too much time on my hands is dangerous. It leaves me with time to think about things I successfully avoid when my mind is otherwise occupied. For the last ten weeks, for the most part, life has been busy with the Bella Course and a few other bits and pieces which has helped to fill my thoughts. The trouble with some, probably much-needed downtime, is that those things which have been successfully buried for a short time bubble to the surface again. I don’t know who coined the phrase “this too shall pass”, but right now I feel like slapping them up the side of the face with a wet fish, and I’m a pacifist! Why? Because even though things have been meant to get better with time, it has not been my experience at all. I say this reluctantly for two reasons. The first is because somehow, having so much support, it seems ungrateful to be still puddling around in my grief, but more than that is the fear that I have become that one person in people’s lives who is never quite right, always sad, no matter how hard I try to hide it. Today is ten months since Chris died, and it’s been hard not to think about what should have been.

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Of course, there are the blatantly obvious things which I have mentioned in my previous posts but I have discovered that it is not necessarily the big things that bring me undone in the worst way. Tonight is the second game of this year’s Rugby League State of Origin series. Here’s what SHOULD be………

It’s a Sunday night so tea should be something light, which nine out of ten Sundays Chris would offer to cook. I should have been nagged incessantly all day long about making sure I had sufficiently stocked the cupboard with things like “chippies and dip” or cheese and crackers etc to “mung” on while we watch the footy. We should be having the same argument we have had every year since we met about which team Chris follows in this series and I should be trotting out the same line about it being almost grounds for divorce, having a husband who is NSW born and bred who supports QLD in the SOO. Chris should give me the mischievous grin I fell in love with and then mutter “what a load of rubbish”. I should be able to tell exactly what’s happening on TV, whether I’m in the room or not because my passionate football loving husband would always leave no doubt about how things were going in his running commentary. Depending on the result I should be showing a modicum of restraint by telling Chris there was always next time or he showing no restraint whatsoever and totally giving it to me for at least a week. That’s what should be.

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In a few weeks, it will be Opening Night for the 2018 ACT Guide and Scout Gang Show. This will be the third year Georgie has participated in Gang Show and she really, really loves it. It has done wonders for her self-esteem, and even though it is a lot of work I love how much fun she has. I am very proud to say she has four solos this year, no mean feat for a twelve-year-old. Here’s what SHOULD be……..

Chris should be commenting on what a big commitment it is and wondering whether every second year might be a better deal, knowing full well that when Georgie asks us next year if she can participate he’ll say yes. Both Chris and Georgia should be nagging me about buying tickets for both Opening Night AND Closing Night and Chris should be nagging me (see a theme here??) about making sure the seats are good. I should be waiting for the inevitable suggestion that Chris take me out to tea knowing that I would actually be the one to organise and book it, knowing afterwards he would take the credit for it being a great idea. Georgia should be warning her dad NOT to embarrass her by shouting out “go Georgie” at the end of every scene she performs in and Chris should be ignoring her warnings by yelling with great gusto, so loud that we see Georgie smile and slightly shake her head, not really embarrassed, secretly pleased. After the show, we should both be telling Georgia how well she did and how proud we are of her. When we get home, despite the fact that she is twelve Chris should be tucking her into bed because it was always their special time of the day. That’s what should be.

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In two short months it will be the anniversary of the worst day of my life, the day Chris died. In two months I will make my way to Boorowa Cemetary, not for the first time and not without crying another river of tears. I will be joined by family and friends who love him and miss him. We will swap Chris stories, laugh together, cry together and wonder for the millionth time how someone who was so full of life could have been snatched from our lives so young, too soon. Here’s what SHOULD be……….

The 24tth of August 2018 should be only what it will be, my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary. It should be just another work day, ordinary, normal. It should be a day where, once again, I am nagged to the point of almost committing acts of violence to ensure the cupboard is adequately stocked for Friday night football. Before kick-off, Chris should be scurrying around, packing and repacking the bag we take to the football so he won’t have to do it tomorrow after work before the final home game of the season. I should be reminded for the umpteenth time about plans for the next day. Before bed, I should see that cheeky grin as he asks me AGAIN for “coffee monies” for Saturday big breakfast at work and then watch as he winks at Georgie when I blow up about being nagged. That’s what should be, ordinary, normal, familiar, loving.

If only……

Always & forever.

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P.S. By the time I finished writing this post the mighty Blues have taken out the series by winning the first two games. So my love, all I have to say is – YES! The better team has won the day!!!!!!!!