Done & Dusted


So, how was it for you?

Christmas, that is.

Mine was nothing like I predicted, ie, constant wailing; a desire to hurl sprouts at anyone who wished me Merry Christmas; having to be physically restrained from trashing the nativity scene outside the local church. No, on balance and given the circumstances, I actually had quite a reasonable Christmas. And I feel slightly guilty admitting it.

Before you deck me for seeming to trip gaily through the festive season whilst you were gnawing your own hands off with grief, getting smashed on Widows Cocktails (a mix of everything in the drinks cupboard, including liqueurs that should have stayed in the Duty Free shop on that Greek Island fifteen years ago, all watered down with salty tears), I should point out that Christmas wasn’t quite as carefree as I’ve made it sound. 

Post-lunch (two slices of toast and peanut butter) on Christmas Eve, saw me sobbing for England, St George and any other European country David Cameron hasn’t alienated yet. Tears and tantrums were pretty much the form for the rest of Christmas Eve. Tears wrapping up presents; tears listening to the carols from Kings College Cambridge; tears on the phone to friends and family. The entire world seemed to be preparing for a fun loved-up family Christmas.

Except me.

Yeah, yeah, I know that all over the country there were couples in kitchens hissing at each other over inlaws who were already doing their head in, even though said relations had only just arrived, but still, it hurt. They were couples in kitchens. Me and The Hound standing waiting for the toaster to pop-up doesn’t count as a couple.

Instead of my usual Christmas Eve fayre of champagne and smoked salmon blinis whilst wearing something nice, I ordered a takeaway from the local Curry House. Already in my nightclothes, I rang them 6:25pm as they quote at least an hour for delivery.

A man on a moped turned up at 6:45pm.

Clearly, I was the only saddo in my area of North London who was ordering a curry for one on Christmas Eve, something which added to my sense of isolation as I watched a programme I’d recorded about a man in Surrey who was an obsessive compulsive hoarder. He slept, worked and ate in the same chair surrounded by newspapers, and said he went downhill after his mother died six years ago. Ramming poppadums and garlic naan in my mouth, sluttishly ignoring the crumbs and curry dropping on my nightwear, and reflecting that most days I eat all my meals (such as they are) sitting at my desk in the study, I knew the feeling of going downhill, even if I stick all my newspapers in the recycling bin rather than up against a window.

I expected to wake up on Christmas morning wanting to tie a string of tinsel around my neck and sky-dive over the bannisters, but I didn’t because firstly I couldn’t leave The Hound to fend for himself, not on Christmas Day anyway, and secondly, our bannisters are not very high. Knowing my luck, instead of sudden death resulting in me hammering on the gates of Heaven demanding to see JS to wish him Happy Christmas, I’d probably end up in a hospital bed with a male nurse called Moses wiping my butt.

I woke up early and dry-eyed and thought, “How weird that this is Christmas Day.” It could have been any day. I felt totally disconnected from everyone and everything.

I got up and (more slutty confessions) threw yesterday’s clothes on and without even washing or flashing a toothbrush over my gnashers (I have no proof, but I believe the dead don’t care about parrot-cage breath), chucked The Hound in the little Fiat and drove to the Crematorium. JS’s ashes are still there. We know where we want to scatter his ashes, but there are logistical problems as vitally important family members live on the other side of the world, so at the moment, my husband is on a shelf. As the lady behind the desk in the office said as I sobbed over her counter a few months ago, “He’s got plenty of company.”

As I drove through Finchley, an ambulance came up behind me at speed, sirens wailing, lights flashing. I pulled over. It brought back memories and brought on tears as I thought of the terrifying high-speed blue-light dash we had in Barbados, a journey where we were all thrown around so badly (think transit van with a trolley – no restraints), I ended up terribly bruised. With my back to the driver and in The Bikini of Death, I hauled my husband back onto the trolley whilst the technician carried on the CPR. To think, I’m such a poor traveller I used to have to take travel sickness tablets when we drove to Kent. I was sick after that ambulance journey, but it wasn’t the drive that had me retching on the grass verge in the blazing sunshine. That happened after I walked out of the hospital, and every morning for months afterwards.

As I sat on the side of the road, I wondered who was waiting for that ambulance to arrive, whose Christmas morning was ruined; whether it would be more than just a day that was in tatters.

At the Crem, I found I wasn’t alone. Dotted around the vast site, visitors were tying wreaths to a fence; laying flowers and cards; sitting on benches, reflecting. I got out of the car and with The Hound, began to walk around, sobbing, whilst trying to stop him cocking his leg against gravestones (no respect these young dogs). No one wished each other Merry Christmas, but we nodded, a nod of grief and understanding. A man who looked in his late sixties had set up a table groaning with flowers. He had a vase with foam in it, and was cutting the stems off flowers and making an elaborate arrangement. A taxi driver arrived in a smart suit and took a bouquet of flowers to a grave. Families arrived en masse; toddlers holding balloons tottered between gravestones, laughing. Balloons were tied to rose trees, to benches, to tiny memorial plaques.

I had taken a pink flower with me intending to put it on the memorial to the Tauber family I wrote about in the post Spirits in the Sky. Obviously, being Jewish and not celebrating Christmas, the Taubers hid from my festive flower, as despite walking and driving around for ages, I couldn’t find their stone. I put the flower I’d brought at the door of the Chapel, as near to the office where JS sits on a shelf with other departed souls as I could find.

Back in the car, I sobbed, I wailed, I upset The Hound, I read a touching and timely message on my phone from a widow in Kent who had been thinking of me, and then I drove home, had breakfast, took The Hound on the Heath for a long walk and drove a few miles to my family for lunch. There were four of us; I had a good time, a really good time with people I love. There was great food, lively conversation and lots of silliness. The Hound stayed in Highgate as my hosts were looking after a dog for a friend. The two dogs don’t fight, they get on well – too well!

I was home by five. To avoid the delivery charge (never an issue when I was married and ordering for two), I over ordered the Christmas Eve takeaway, and ate the leftovers (curried chickpeas) in my dressing gown on Christmas night. I didn’t laugh at Ab Fab. I wondered if my sense of humour had deserted me once and for all, but Big Bird (a woman with a first-class sense of humour) told me she didn’t laugh once either, so it was Jennifer Saunders’ below-par writing, not my grief that had me granite-faced on the sofa.

Like I say, I had a good first Christmas Day without JS, but on balance, I was glad it was over.

A last minute decision to visit friends on Boxing Day turned into a lovely day with dog walking, lunch and laughter.

Tuesday saw me restless again, desperate to escape the black cloud chasing me, searching the internet, looking at places I could move to as far apart as Northumberland and Kent. I learnt that Karen’s husband has had a baby with his partner. Karen would have loved a child; she had two miscarriages before she died. She would have been thrilled for her husband, I know she would. So was I, but I wept buckets for what might have been, for all of us.

So there we are, Christmas 2011; not as I expected either a year ago or a week ago. Life continues to surprise me and drag me along at a rate I sometimes feel unprepared for.

Reading some of the posts on the Facebook sites I contribute to, it seems as if many of you have also been surprised (and guilty) that your day was not the endless stream of grief that you imagined, that you were able to find some light in the darkness. Good for you I say. To those that had a black day, others further along this terrible path promise us that it won’t always be this black. They said that to me in those early terrible days when it felt as if I was burning with acid, such was my pain. I didn’t believe them then, that things do (gradually, almost imperceptibly) get easier, but they were right. They had walked through the fire too.

It was ten months on the 27th of December that I hauled my husband’s body back onto the trolley in that ambulance, sometimes screaming at the driver, begging him to get us to the hospital, sometimes chanting, “What will be will be.” Christmas will never be the same again, I know that, and yes, it makes me sad, but different can be good. This Christmas showed me that.

The other thing that showed me different can be good, in fact, very good, was a kiss from a tall, dark (well, greying) and handsome widower.

Now there is New Year to face…

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17 Comments

Deena
Reply December 29, 2011

Dear P G
So glad it was not as bad as anticipated, I also got through it far better than I thought, I would.
Tuesday onwards has been tough, almost an anticlimax, been festering in grief and longing for days gone by, playing sad songs and generally being a pain in the a*** to myself !!!
Not worried about New Year's Eve, as in recent years we had just stayed in and often were in bed before midnight (the slippers and pipe age we had reached)
xxxxx Deena

    Planet Grief
    Reply January 3, 2012

    Deena: I do hope you weren't wearing slippers and smoking a pipe in bed though. xxx

Jane
Reply December 29, 2011

Glad it was 'ok' for you xxx
Agree with you about 'different' xxx
I'm going to bed early on Saturday , after writing to him and me then
to wake in an apparently new year and do it all again.
Same but different xxx

    Planet Grief
    Reply January 3, 2012

    Jane: Same, but different. Know what you mean. Love your blog. xx

Barb
Reply December 29, 2011

xxx

Linz
Reply December 29, 2011

I'm glad it wasn't so bad for you, it was the same for me. I am glad it is over, but the build up was worse than Christmas itself. I did my major sobbing at work on Wednesday.. Who knows why that day was worse than the rest?! I am lucky that I work with great people who look after me, bring me cups of tea, chocolate and take me for walks round the block.
I feel the same as you about ambulances - I wasn't in the ambulance with James, but I know the rush they were in. Yesterday I went to the cemetery and they were digging a new grave near James. I feel so sorry for those poor people who are just starting on this journey and have lost their loved one.
I have friends and family coming for New Year and am planning some fireworks.. Want 2011 to go out with a bang, blow it away and start 2012. Off on holiday (again!) on 2nd Jan, skiing with my sis so that will get me through and start the year well.
Lots of love to everyone. xx

    Planet Grief
    Reply January 3, 2012

    Linz: You know when you see an ambulance, a grave or like I did the other day, a family going into an undertakers, this isn't the end of their journey, it is just the start.

    You will be skiing by now. Hope you are having a wonderful time. xxx

Colin
Reply December 29, 2011

As I have said before Helen you paint a picture so well with words.
Yeah, I got through it too and it wasn't as hard as I expected, just a few tears when I got back here after spending the day next door.
Think if I had spent the day alone as I had planned initially and cried and sobbed off and on all day, it would have made more sense to me, instead the day was good and I know Aly would have been happy for that.

XX

    Planet Grief
    Reply January 3, 2012

    Colin: Would you want Aly to be happy if the tables were turned? I know that it would be what I want for JS. However, the reality of trying to live a happy life, of moving forward (NOT on - I hate the phrase moving on) is harder to do than to type.

    xxx

Angela
Reply December 29, 2011

You're gettting stronger, I can see this in your blog, and I applaud you P.G.

I had truly hoped that our second Christmas as with most things along this terrible path we are forced to tread would be easier. Sadly it wasn't. The kids truly pushed the boat out and spent a fortune on me as did my neices and nephews (who are also like my kids to me). They did it in the effort to make me truly happy, buying me things I love but would never go to the expense of buying for myself. I was overwhelmed, and felt really guilty because their efforts and the money they had spent did not have the desired effect. As with last Christmas, I kept the smile on my face for them until I had fed them and packed them all off to the party they were attending in the evening, then I sat and cried, and cried, and cried.

I have come to realise that because Malc first got ill at Christmas, then got admitted to hospital New Year's Day. These two events will always be horrendous, and what I have to do is physically change the dynamics of Christmas and New Year by getting away for the whole thing in the future. The boys will be fine, my eldest is buying his first home with his partner and by next Christmas will be having his own Christmas in his new home, and my youngest will be more than happy to go there and have Christmas with his brother (they are very close as brothers), but I NEED to go somewhere far, far away from it all.

On a final note, you have piqued my interest...and I want to know more about this tall, dark handsome widower!! xx

    Planet Grief
    Reply January 3, 2012

    Angela: I have found myself saying: "Well, next Christmas..." which of course annoys the hell out of me because I said after last year that I wouldn't look too far ahead.

    Re handsome widower: we both (you and me) will have to wait and see. Many fires to walk through first. xxx

Samantha
Reply December 29, 2011

Good to hear it wasn't too bad for you PG. And like Angela, you have piqued my interest with your final words! It reminds me of one of your posts, the one I found most poignant and reread the most times, about your friend CC and Rob, where she found a new man and you were so happy for her but so envious. I am delighted for you if you've had even the first frisson of something exciting.
At 4.5 months, I too can't believe I will find love again. I am only 32 so fervently hope I do sometime in the future, but at the moment I am completely one half of 'Sam and Phil' and in my eyes noone could match up to him. I am scared I will either settle for second best or never find anyone again, but I do try to remind myself that the future isn't necessarily awful, it's just become an unknown quantity. Something amazing could be around the corner - god knows, we all deserve something amazing.
First I have to successfully bring Phil's child into the world in February as job number one. A terrifying responsibility. I found your post last week so moving, the subject of children is such a difficult one. I was furious on your behalf at that ghastly self-righteous sea woman with her 4 offspring - it's not remotely selfish to not have children, there's already too many people on this earth for the resources. I can't stand people passing judgement on either side, it's such a personal thing. Plus if you did want a daughter but it didn't work out, then that is even more painful - I am sorry. I agree on these forums where people say they have no reason to continue but for their children. I am very careful to avoid saying it, even though our little son in my belly has been my lifeline, everyone finds something which motivates them to claw through the darkest days.
Please tell us more about your mysterious widower...
Sam

    Deena
    Reply December 30, 2011

    Dear Sam,
    You have a future with your baby, please let us know when he arrives, into this world. I and I am sure all will be thinking of you, there is nothing like a baby to heal so very much, Phil's genes live on for ever in your son. So very sad for you that you will not share the moment of his birth, with Phil, but he will be with you looking down xxxx

      Samantha
      Reply December 30, 2011

      Thank you so much Deena. I am so desperately grateful for his son, but so terrified and paranoid in case he dies too. 5 weeks and 6 days until he is here, unless he gets impatient and comes early. He is part of Phil to love and Phil's only chance for children, and the responsibility is overwhelming. But he is a resilient little guy, having survived the last 4 months, so all I can do is hope. Thanks again for your kind words, and I will definitely let you all know once he's (hopefully) here alive and well.
      Sam x

        Planet Grief
        Reply January 3, 2012

        Sam: We'll all be rooting for you and the little lad. Deena says it all so well.

        February was when JS died: It would be lovely to have some good news during that dark month.

        Much love to you both. xxx

Sophie Day
Reply January 1, 2012

Well done well done well done!!! xx

    Planet Grief
    Reply January 3, 2012

    Sophie: Merci! xx