About Me

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On the bright side of the road
Lover of words. Usually found with a book or a pen in my hand.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Three months later

When Lovely Daughter was very poorly, I befriended a very fat woodpigeon that visited our garden daily. In fact, I think she pretty much lived there. I called her Phyllis and while Lovely Daughter slept I would watch Phyllis, outcast by the other birds, unwanted by everyone. Lovely Hubby would join me and he would tell me if Phyllis was on the shed roof waiting for seed. All the other birds paired up and soon young families arrived but Phyllis was always alone. She seemed content, even happy - it's difficult to tell what a woodpigeon's feelings are, to be honest. Soon the whole family became attached to Phyllis - we all looked out for her and it was heart-warming to see her around the garden for so much of the day. She even watched as I put the seed out and would fly down as soon as I'd stepped away from the bird table.

That lasted a whole spring, summer and autumn. I'm not sure when I realised she wasn't there. Winter is full of cold snaps and I suppose she must have passed away - unless she found a tastier garden from which to feed!

I haven't thought much about Phyllis. I still feed the birds but it's a bit sporadic as I'm trying to find a new routine. But yesterday, on my early morning dog-walk I heard a bird in a tree and I looked up. It certainly wasn't Phyllis, but it took my mind back to the scary time when Lovely Daughter was so poorly and Lovely Hubby and I held each other tight trying to scare those worries away. Lovely Hubby's not here now but in so many ways he still is. Memories of these little snippets of our life take me by surprise sometimes and almost knock me down. But I'm so thankful that I have those memories and though remembering is comforting, the aftershock of loneliness is difficult to bear.

It's been three months now since Lovely Hubby passed away and it's hard to explain how I feel. The grief hasn't subsided - why would it when we were together for all my adult life? But I suppose I'm learning to manage it. It's rare to have a day when I stay in bed or on the sofa now - that might be partly because I took on a rescue dog who has a zest for life. But also I think it's due to the kindness that surrounds me - so many people show me they care, so many people want me to feel their love and to show me that I am not alone. I can't imagine what the next three months look like - sometimes it's all I can do to get through a day. But I am learning to accept that.

Other things I have learned:

  • Don't plan too much. Just as one swallow doesn't make a summer, one good day doesn't mean I've got a handle on this.
  • Find a moment of joy each day. Joy in the small things like watching the sun rise, or celebrating momentous occasions with friends.
  • Be prepared for careless words. Off-the-cuff remarks are just what they are. I'm reminded that Lovely Hubby used to say they are throw-away words, so do that, throw them away.
  • Avoid those who are unable or unwilling to try and understand. Expect nothing from them and then you won't be hurt. They don't understand that you are vulnerable and that you are adjusting.
  • Rejoice in friendships. Be with the people who just let you be you. They are your safety net and comfort blanket. They will laugh and cry with you and hold you tight.
  • Things will never be the same. Watching the sun set, Sunday morning tea in bed, watching the television, reading the weekend newspapers are solitary pastimes now. Loneliness is my companion and though the memories of our life comfort me, loneliness is always there waiting to choke and strangle the breath from me.
  • You can do this. You will do this. But it is so hard.


Thursday, 25 April 2019

It's not goodbye

And so tomorrow's the day we've been working towards. All the planning, as if it's been for an obscure sort of gathering, falls into place. I've not wanted to acknowledge that you'll never come home and for the past four weeks have been in a strange sort of hinterland. In some ways I want to stay like this, I don't want to face the facts tomorrow. I don't want to say goodbye.
You would have been chuffed with the outpouring of love we've received. And so pleased that so many people are helping us through this. You cared about people and tried to help where you could without ever expecting anything in return. Those you truly cared about are here for us now, gently holding us and walking by our side. I am so grateful. I have so much to be grateful for.
And so, my love, I don't want to say goodbye. I want to hope that one day I'll feel you hold me close and tell me that everything will be okay. I want to hope that I'll see you laugh at my tap dancing, and that we'll sit outside on a summer's evening sipping wine, not coming inside until we've the seen the bats dancing in the twilight. I want to see your face light up when you see me, I want to see the pride and love in your eyes when I've tried so hard and often failed.
How can I say goodbye when I feel you with me, whispering that I can do this when I can't breathe for crying? How can I say goodbye when I can feel your beard brushing against my cheek, feel the solidity of your chest and hear the strong beat of your heart? It's impossible. I can't do it.
And so, my love, I'm not going to say goodbye. Tomorrow I will honour you. Tomorrow I will cherish you and I will love you. But most of all, tomorrow I will celebrate you. You will be with me every scary step of the way. Our love was never 'till death do us part'. Our love is forever.

Friday, 22 March 2019


Spring has arrived and normally I'd be rejoicing. I love the change of seasons: spring and autumn are my favourites. Normally at this time of year I'd be outside in the garden clearing away the winter debris and planning for summer. Usually it feels good to shake off the cold, dark winter days and stretch languorously in the fresh warm sunshine. I welcome the change from hot chocolates by the fire to light lunches in a sheltered spot outside. Spring is the bringer of hope and smiles. Spring marks a turning point when nature shines joyously and showily, glad to be alive.

You have always hated winter; spring and summer are the months you adore. You would be out on your motorbike, cleaning the cars, sorting out your garage. But now everything stands still. You haven't been in the garage for weeks. You haven't been in the garden for months.

I miss your spontaneity and how you would persuade me to down tools and spend the day at the coast, take a walk along the river or just sit wrapped in blankets, sipping wine.

This year spring brings fear and memories of what we had. It is a reminder of who we used to be and while I sit and look at the garden brimming with activity and bloom, and you sleep, wrapped in blankets despite the warm house, I realise that we are no longer participants in this spring, we have become spectators. Life goes on around us and we reach out to it, hoping to join in, but we can't. Life slips by too fast.

I'm trying hard to embrace spring. We've had a wheelchair ramp installed so I can take you outside and today we are hoping to leave the house for fun, rather than for a hospital appointment. It's not spontaneous, every detail must be planned, but just maybe we can be outside together and breathe in the fresh air and feel the spring breeze on our faces. We talked about this early this morning and it seems like a good plan. But you've fallen asleep again now and when you wake our plans will be uncertain and there's a chance you won't be well enough.

'The World at
the Palm of Your Hands.....'
Image courtesy of reddit.com
A lovely friend has been sending me images to brighten my day. And this one sums up my feelings perfectly. She said: 'I like the idea of being held even when you have to face the world.'

We make plans and they often don't work out. We're walking along a path we never expected to take and we are lucky, we have so many people who are with us. Some days I find it difficult to face all this but I know I have no choice. And despite all the people who care for us I still feel so alone. But in their own way they are holding me, holding us. They are a solid platform when our world is sliding and we feel as if we are falling. We are so lucky to have such kindness and strength in our lives.

I hope we make it outside today. I'd like to take you by the river near the saltmarshes to watch the birds and look at the old Thames Barges. It won't be spontaneous, and we may not make it today. But that's okay. We can always hope for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

A gentle reprieve

Last week was tricky. What should have been a simple tooth abscess turned into a huge problem resulting in a hospital stay of four days. You were so frail and poorly, and I felt helpless. Thankfully you were put in a side room so that I could stay with you to help with meals, getting out of bed and understanding what you need. We communicate in a strange sort of way which often doesn't work but where I used to be impatient and always in a hurry, I have intuitively learned to take each moment slowly and to focus on you. Time is strange. In some ways the clock hands creep round so slowly that it's a surprise to me when only an hour has passed when surely it must be three. But when I look at what has happened since your diagnosis, I am shaken by how fast time is moving. How little time we have left.

But before the hospital, we had a glorious time. Lovely old friends of ours had a collection for us and gave us some money. The card explained that it was 'a small gesture of our love for you guys. We have spoken about it and want you to use it how you see fit, whether a chance to get away and make some memories if Tim is well enough, a few things around the house or hold onto it for any unexpected costs that might occur'.

Needless to say, we both cried. It wasn't a small gesture at all. It was a beautifully kind and unselfish act and we were reminded of how lucky we are to have such a network of loving friends and family.

I'd been toying with the idea of taking us all to Sandbanks in Dorset. A place that
holds special memories for us, a place that we've visited many times over the years. And now I had the means to do it. I booked the weekend in an instant. This time we would make new memories with grown up kids and son-in-law-soon-to-be.

For a couple of days we forgot about hospital appointments and the nightmare that is now our life. Despite the forecast of rain, the sun shone and we took the chain-link ferry to Studland, then on to Swanage, Corfe and Lulworth Cove. Our room overlooked the sea and as I lay awake at night listening to the waves breaking gently on the sand, I pretended that this was our new normal and that everything was going to be okay.

That weekend we made new memories to meld to the old. The kids had fun exploring, now with grown-up eyes while we sat in the car eating ice-cream or looking at the view. We used to walk down along the shoreline and high up on the cliffs and although I am sad those days are gone, I am grateful for the memories, so grateful you were well enough that weekend, grateful to our lovely friends, and grateful that the kids have these memories, too.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Long shots and tying the knot

You asked for a second opinion. The engineer in you wanted to explore every possibility. If your body was malfunctioning, there had to be a way around it. Of course I went along with it; how could I deny you a chance to grasp more time? And yet the evidence had seemed conclusive, the doctor so sure.

Lovely Daughter's partner proposed on Valentine's Day. A wonderful surprise amid despair. Naturally she wants you to walk her down the aisle and so the wedding will be soon. There is much to do but her gown sits in her old bedroom and the invitations have been sent.

My thoughts turn to our wedding all those years ago. How we had time to plan, how we took so much for granted. How we didn't have to worry if my father would be there to give me away. We looked forward to the day, gleefully marking off days on the calendar. And while we look forward to Lovely Daughter's wedding, it's bittersweet. To look forward to something in the future means that the hands of time have clicked round further for you. And it's something I can't think about.

On Monday we went for your second opinion. Another day when I was taken by surprise. Genetic testing has shown that the tumours might just respond to chemotherapy. Without it your prognosis has now reduced to 3-6 months. These tumours have a grip and they are greedy. But you are so poorly and the risks of the treatment are high. If you become unwell, the doctor warned us that there will be nothing they can do. I don't know how to feel. In one breath we have lost months together: we thought we may have six months, now it may be three. If chemotherapy works, but more importantly if your body can take it, you may get another 3-6 months. It's a long shot and I'm not one to take risks.
You've decided to try chemotherapy, you want more, and I don't blame you. I want more too, and yet I am so afraid.

And so I think about our wedding day and how happy we were. And I think of Lovely Daughter's day and I hope. I hope that time will stay still for just a little while and that you will walk her down the aisle. I don't hope for much these days, but I hope for this with all my heart.

Friday, 15 February 2019

The Last Valentine

If I had words
To make a day for you
I sing you a morning golden and new
I would make this day
Last for all time
Give you a night
Deep in moonshine
If I had words
To make a day for you

A couple of weeks ago we were told to expect just a year. A year of last things. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. A year was too soon and yet a year seemed to be way off on the horizon. A year seemed hopeful.

Two days ago we were told to hope for six months. There is nothing to be done. Scary words like hospice, aggressive, and - it's hard to say the words that are being said the most - cancer, tumours, were thrown into the air. I try to picture what they look like, these words that shouldn't be attached to us.

'The hospice is very supportive and they'll come to do a home assessment.'

The nurse is kind. Her smile reassuring. And yet she's speaking an alien language. She has the wrong people. She's muddled. She has to be. And we are sent home with a plastic  wallet full of helpful information. It still sits unopened on the kitchen countertop. I ignore its bright yellow shoutiness, the yellow of sunshine and smiles that contains a parcel of horror. It's best to keep everything contained so I can believe that there is still hope.

Paradoxically, while you sleep for up to sixteen hours a day, I'm getting by on four with added catnaps. You are bone weary from the disease that sends out creeping tendrils through your brain, gradually, inexorably laying claim to it. I am exhausted by helplessness and a swollen heart. I didn't think it possible for a heart to break so many times in one day, every day.

My dreams are muddled and terrifying and it's a relief to wake. I lay in the darkness, listening to the soft rhythm of your breathing and remembering our life together. Mostly I think about when we first met: I was eighteen and you were nineteen. And this year, if we make it, we'll have been married for thirty-four years. I'm so lucky to have had this time, I know that. And yet I am greedy for more. I am ungrateful and selfish. And frightened.

I want to share these memories with you but you struggle to find words and communicating tires you. And so our conversations are scattered affairs: bits of words here and there which put together add up to a sort of meaning deduced by a lifetime together. Sometimes I get it wrong and sometimes you give up, and I try so hard to understand and I long for us to talk like we used to.

But that's gone. Now I show my love in other ways. I bake you cakes, hold your hand and hold your fragile head in my hands, wishing the tumours were mine, willing them to leave you and take root in me.

If I had words to make a day for you..........

Lyrics by Jonathan Hodge

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Writing Social

Writing can be a lonely business - that's not news. But for the last week or so I've been combining writing with social events with fabulous results.

Last Saturday I attended my first round table event with Estuary Writers. This new group was formed after a week long residency at Culture Lab as part of the Essex Book Festival programme in March this year. I was one of eleven writers chosen to attend and I blogged about it at the time. It was a wonderful week of writing, listening to authors and spending time with one another. We were all working on different things but it was invigorating to get together and share our experiences and our work. Not wanting to let this vibe go, Maria Solecki (@Maria Solecki) and Kelly Buckley (@KellyBuckley6), formed Estuary Writers. The first meet up was in the summer but I was unable to attend and so I was really excited to go to the meeting on Saturday.

Duncan Paveling (@Bostondunk) talked about his career and his script for the film My Feral Heart. It's a beautiful film and tells a wonderful story. I bet you can't watch it without shedding a tear or two! Duncan was really helpful and he showed us sections of his script against film captions so we could see what the two looked like against each other. Script writing has always scared me as it's not something I have ever tried, however, I think I may try writing a short script just to shake my writing up a bit. I certainly won't be submitting it anywhere - I just think it will be interesting to write a story in a filmatic way.

Following the talk we had an hour of free-writing which I found useful - it helped me to focus on something completely different and I produced a first draft of a short story which I will polish later. This is a really great group and I'm looking forward to their winter meeting in the New Year.

On Monday evening I attended my first Colchester Write Night meeting. I've  been trying to get to this for over a year, but those of you who know me, know  that my role of full-time carer changed my priorities and often I substituted going out, for the television with Lovely Daughter (who is now much recovered, completed her degree and is now a full-time nurse - but that's another story!).

This meeting was dedicated to novel planning as NaNoWriMo is around the corner. I did Nano some years ago and I learned the hard way that planning is an essential part of writing. I did get 50,000 words down but they were in such a muddle that I'm not sure I can ever untangle them. But, I wanted to go to the meeting because I wanted to hear Sarah Armstrong (@sarahsiobhana) talk about how she planned her novel The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt which is out in hardback in January 2019, published by Sandstone Press (@sandstonepress). Sarah shared lots of useful tips; her book sounds fascinating and I've added it to my TBR list.

After Sarah's talk, we carried out some writing exercises which looked at setting, our main character's journey and then the blurb of our story. I enjoyed this as I'm planning to start on book number two in December and I will add my notes to my new book's folder which is already beginning to fill.

So although I've been a bit of a social butterfly I've learned a lot and been inspired to write some new things. Now all I have to do write - easy!?!

Estuary Writers (@EstuaryWriters) meet every 2-3 months (Saturday afternoons at The Railway Tavern in Southend.

Colchester Write Night (@ColWriteNight) meet on the fourth Monday of each month (evenings at Firstsite in Colchester).