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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…..