This Christmas for me, like so many other people has been one of the strangest. Apart from Christmas 2016, just after my husband passed away, which even now I have little memory of, this holiday has been incredibly difficult. I am so used to having a house full of family and friends at Christmas, it really hasn't felt the same. I was not able to spend Christmas Day with my daughter and her partner as planned and this affected me badly. They did however drop my present round which left me speechless and made me cry. It is quite honestly the best present I have ever had. I have always preferred personal gifts to any other. They had been through my photos on facebook and had a selection of them printed on canvas. Some of my best memories. It really is the most personal and thoughtful gift and something I will always treasure. It also made me think of things that have happened this year.
As we approach the end of what I can only describe as the most bizarre year I've known, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what has happened since last Christmas. Christmas Day 2019 was so full of fun. I'd recently entered a new relationship the month before, my first since losing my husband, which was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I usually spend both Christmas and Boxing Day cooking for everyone and end up eating far too much, and regretting it, but last year I broke from tradition, the first time in 20 years and went to the football with my friend. It turned out to be the most fun Boxing Day I'd had in years. I spoke to my friend the other day about it, and we laughed at the memory but were also both sad as we knew this year wouldn't be the same.
The New Year held so much promise. I was the happiest I'd been in a long time as I saw in 2020, all seemed perfect, and I was so optimistic at what was ahead. The months that followed saw me the most content, happy and relaxed. Even with the outbreak of COVID-19 and a national lockdown, which no one had ever seen before and the challenges that brought, I was happy in my personal life. I took a huge risk and allowed myself to fall in love. Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be. Whilst I have been incredibly sad things didn't work out I can look back on that brief encounter and be grateful. I have many happy memories and I discovered a lot of new things and have learnt a lot about myself, about what I want, what I like and what I need. I've met new people, and I've found the courage to write.
The ending of my relationship, contributed somewhat to me hitting the low point at the beginning of November. I felt very lost and made some poor decisions. Several weeks back I was asked out by a guy. I really wasn't in the right place but agreed even though I knew it was for the wrong reasons. We went out on several socially distanced dates. I guess I was enjoying the company and attention I was receiving, but I knew in my heart it wasn't right. I have never been one to jump from relationship to relationship. He was keen for us to progress from dating. I wasn't as I'm still trying to put back together my heart and my head. I withdrew and became quite cold and distant, something that is the total opposite to how I am normally. He was very persistent and started to send me gifts which just freaked me out even more. I asked advice from one of my closest friends, and he told me quite bluntly I was being an idiot and that I was just going to hurt a decent guy and end up making myself feel worse in the process. He of course was right. I did the right thing and ended it.
Whilst I cannot undo what has been done I can accept I need time. Love is not an emotion that can be switched on and off. I have only been in love twice in my life. As my husband died that love hasn't disappeared, it's just different. Having a relationship end is not the same. For me there's regret, hurt and unanswered questions. There is also the sadness thinking of the fun times and also an element of what if.
This New Year's Eve I won't be surrounded by people I love and care about. The first time in my life. I doubt I'll sit up to see the new year in, but I shall raise a glass and say goodbye to 2020. It's been a rollercoaster ride. I will also raise a glass to my ex to thank him for the good times and for giving me something that I am very grateful for, and to silently wish him the best for the new year.
I have one wish for 2021 and that is it will be a happier and healthy year for all. I hope we can reunite with loved ones and friends soon. I hope that everybody can look back this time next year and reflect on happier and fun times. Like the song by Soft Cell Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, I shall be doing just that. Saying hello to 2021 and looking forward to what it brings and wave goodbye to a year like no other, it's not all been bad!
I've thought long and hard about posting this but I've decided to be braver going forward, so here goes.
Last night I struggled to sleep. I'd had a busy day but just could not switch my head off. Words just kept going round and round. No matter which way I laid in my bed nothing was comfortable. The frustration of wanting sleep kept me awake even more. I got up, went downstairs, made a drink, anything to occupy my mind from the words that were bugging me beyond belief. I've had this many times over the years and never found a solution until this morning.
At 2:58 I decided to write the words down. I've said writing has really helped me and I hoped by putting the words down on paper they would get out of my head and let me find sleep. Below is what came out and the funny thing is as soon as I had written it I went to bed and slept like a baby. So here it is, the rambling words that had plagued me for hours but fell on to the paper within a matter of minutes.
WORDS IN THE NIGHT
How can the person you knew so well leave you lying damaged and broken, living in hell?
Was it all a lie I need answers, I do.
Was anything that was said honest and true?
Ice cold heart, dead inside, pulled along with the moving tide.
Eyes wide shut to see no more, the pain I was in on the floor.
An emotionless void the tears have run dry, there's nothing left to make me cry.
Dazed and confused.
I really had to say goodbye.
A life to live, my love to give.
Maybe another time.
The smile I wear shows no care, pretending I am fine.
I'm not sure you can call it poetry, to me, they are just my words and I'm finding it is so much healthier to get them out.
Well it's been 10 days since I put fingers to keys and thank you if you took time out to read it.
When I wrote that first piece I was back to my lowest. I felt very despondent and alone. My thoughts were extremely dark and unhealthy. No matter what life has thrown at me I have always had my humour but even that abandoned me. Laughter is so important and I seemed to have forgotten what mine sounds like.
November always used to be such a fun month for me. Bonfire night, birthday celebrations and Christmas not far away. I was always like an excitable child at this time of year. We would have Bonfire parties with our neighbours and good friends. They were always so much fun for the children and grown ups. We would BBQ, the children would play and the adults would talk, laugh and sing badly. The guys would sort the bonfire and let off the fireworks (apparently that's a man's job along with the BBQ 🙄) - very happy times indeed!
My husband always had a thing for fire and fireworks. He wasn't a pyromaniac or an arsonist (although he was caught as a child trying to build a bonfire in his Nan's front room). Normally so chilled out, relaxed and quite reserved, he wasn't one for getting excited about Christmas or birthdays but he did love Bonfire night. So it's quite ironic that this is the day he passed away.
He became ill in February 2016. Just pain in the right side of his chest he didn't grumble or complain but he did take himself off to the doctor which was unheard of for him.
He was given an x-ray, painkillers and sent home. As the weeks went by he was getting worse, the painkillers did nothing to ease him. Back to the doctors, stronger pain killers, still they didn't help. More weeks went by, I was incredibly worried he was getting worse. One night at the beginning of April the pain was unbearable for him, his skin was grey and his lips were going blue. I called 999.
He had 12 further emergency admittances by ambulance from April until the end of May. He was initially told he had an infection and was given co-codamol. He was mis-diagnosed again in the beginning of April.
I went into fight mode. I knew this man better than anyone. He was ill and in so much pain, he was on a morphine driver and about to be discharged from hospital with no answers. I logged a formal complaint with the CEO of the hospital. (I also refused to leave the hospital until I was heard). It worked! They phoned the following day. There had been an oversight, somebody had not read his x ray correctly. An emergency same day appointment given. After numerous scans and tests we saw a Respiratory consultant who finally gave an opinion on what it could be. Cancer!
A shock but finally we were getting somewhere. He could beat this. I had 3 years previously and he was much stronger than me. We just needed to get results and get a plan of action.
Again the weeks went past, the pain couldn't be managed at home so at the beginning of May he was admitted yet again. He came home for our son's 12th birthday then back in hospital the next day. They had him on some pretty heavy pain killers, morphine and ketamine yet nothing was giving him relief. Things got so bad I moved into the hospital. A camp bed in his room was where I slept for nearly a month.
Why is it the worst memories are the ones you can recount second by second, blow by devastating blow? I can remember every detail of that day. The day we were told he had Mesothelioma (a terminal asbestos caused cancer). The day my world changed forever.
We had met 22 years earlier. I was a guarded 20 year old who had been through an extremely abusive relationship for 7 years and was in no way looking for a new one. He was gorgeous! Tall, dark, handsome and oblivious to it. He had no idea of the reaction he would get from women when he walked in a room. He had the most beautiful blue eyes and his smile could make my insides turn to jelly (really cheesy I know, but so true). We got on amazingly. We would sit talking all through the night. Laugh, joke and wind each other up in the funniest ways. Every night after work for about 3 months he would ask to take me out. Every night I said no. On December 8th 1995 that changed and we decided to give it a try.
It worked! We were just a normal couple. Happy, in love and having fun. He proposed about 9 months later. I said yes but we never set a date. We didn't need to. We loved each other. We were happy as we were. The kids came along, we owned a house, we both had good jobs. Life was good.
I loved our little family. I also looked forward to the future when the kids were grown and we could enjoy time together again. In the blink of an eye all of that was taken away. In the length of time it took for the consultant to give the diagnosis, our future vanished. I was destroyed. My strong fit gorgeous man was dying.
I don't think I've ever talked to anyone about how I felt that day. So many feelings and emotions. I felt that I had been picked up, spun round and dropped on my head. I didn't cry at first. I think I was numb with disbelief. In total denial. I was not ready to accept there was nothing they could do for him. I was not prepared to lose the man I loved, the father of my children, a man who still had so much life to live. I had never given up or quit on anything before and I certainly wasn't going to now. Fight mode kicked in again.
I didn't know what to do. All I could do was hope. Hope for a miracle, a chance, anything. The consultant mentioned a trial, yes, hope! It was being run by Guys and St Thomas hospital in London. I would have to move up there for the duration (several months) but that was ok. He was from London. All his family were there. Yes! Finally a solution. My mind was running at a million miles per hour. (I cannot even comprehend what was going through his head). Before we left the hospital that day I had already mentally packed and had it straight in my head what we were going to do. That was so much easier than trying to process the other outcome.
This was going to work! We were going to beat this!
He needed chemotherapy to slow down the disease as they wouldn't accept him on the trial if it got beyond a certain point. We just had to be patient and wait. And wait! And wait! The weeks dragged on. He was in so much pain. It had already broken 2 of his ribs. He was on so many heavy duty drugs but nothing touched that pain.
We were advised by the hospital that if we wanted to get married we needed to do it ASAP. A special licence was granted and in June we were married in his room at the hospital in our jeans and T-shirts, with our children, family and my best friend there. It was perfect! The nurses had put banners up and came in and threw confetti. The dinner ladies bought us a cake and a bottle of wine and the consultant bought us our only wedding present. A set of Mr and Mrs mugs. It didn't matter that I didn't have a dress or a party. All that mattered was us. We spent our first night as man and wife in separate beds which did make us laugh. Despite what was happening we somehow managed to keep our sense of humour although it got more warped than usual on occasion.
He was finally allowed to come home with The Rowans Hospice taking over his pain management. They were amazing. I can honestly say I would not have survived without them.
Chemo started at the beginning of July the first of 6 doses. I still don't know why it took so long to start. If only they had started it straight away.! We knew the trial was our only hope and even if accepted there was no guarantee of success. But hope kept us going. He was taken in to The Rowans for pain management. It was during the second stay he had his third round of Chemo and was sent for a CT scan. The results were devastating. He could not be accepted for the trial. They wanted to try radiotherapy to give us time but all hope had gone. After I left him at the hospice that night I cried like I have never cried before. I felt physical pain and was violently sick. I wanted to scream but the children were in bed, I couldn't wake them. Oh no! How on earth do we tell them? I have never before or since been so scared. I was sitting alone in our house. Everything looked normal but nothing was. The next morning I opened a letter. It was dated the day before the scan. He had been accepted on the trial. I tore that damn letter to tiny pieces, burnt it and never spoke of it to him.
He had radiotherapy several times. Another scan confirmed it hadn't worked and I think that was the point when he accepted what was happening to him. This strong, beautiful courageous man broke down and sobbed. Not for himself but for our children, his mum, our family and for me and all I could do was hold him. I felt utterly useless. After that he declined quickly. He went back to The Rowans and on the day of our eldest child's 18th birthday he begged the doctors to end it. He couldn't take the pain anymore. He was exhausted. With no hope he had nothing left.
They sedated him just under 2 weeks later and on Saturday 5th November 2016 just as the fireworks started the man I loved passed peacefully away.
We have just had the fourth anniversary. So why after four years has this year been so hard? My daughter said it was harder for her this year than any other due to what is happening in the world and in part I have to agree. Since last November I have had my first relationship since losing my husband, it started so well and recently ended so badly. I've been through a change in my work environment (like many others) to a complete change of job and with a few hiccups in my home, health and family, everything has snowballed. I cannot wait to see the back of 2020.
After sending my first ramblings I opened up to a friend, I held nothing back (this is still new to me, telling people how I honestly feel, not just pretending to be ok). He was shocked and saddened to know I had been feeling this way. Even when he last saw me two days before lockdown when we were drunk dancing in my kitchen he had no idea. I hid it well. I guess I am tired of hiding it now. It's exhausting pretending you are ok when you really are not. I'm a pleaser and a fixer by nature and I don't want to worry people or make them miserable with my troubles which is why I keep it in and let it fester. Although very unhealthy.
I have made a plan for the next two weeks. I am lucky enough to still be working so keeping busy isn't an issue. I am getting my daughter's old bike and this weekend I will be wobbling around the local parks and cycle tracks (I may need stabilizers, it's been about 28 years since I last rode a bike). I have lost nearly a stone in weight in the past month, not through diet, and I am determined it will stay off.
I have also started to write down everyday 2 positive things from what has happened that day and when I feel low I look at those as a reminder life is not all negative.
One of my favourite songs is November Rain. It played on the radio today whilst it was extremely miserable outside. The song holds many good memories for me, as well as being played at my husband's funeral. In many ways it's such a sad song but there are two lines, 'Cause nothin' lasts forever. Even cold November rain. I smiled as it played thinking of good times and the irony of how cold and wet it was outside. I am taking the positive from those lines. The bad times won't last forever and the weather will eventually improve.