Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Grief Monster

No one ever tells you how grief affects every minute of everyday.  Even in the moments when you’re not lying in a puddle of tears on the bathroom floor, when you seem to be functioning as normal, it’s there.  It permeates the mundane and it clouds the brain in a way that’s hard to understand if you’ve never experienced it.  It’s as though my brain is constantly full to the brim.  Thoughts of P are either flooding in, memories playing on in my imagination like a film; or I am desperately attempting to fill my mind with other things in order to push out the constant aching, longing, heart wrenching thoughts that repeatedly play like a broken record.  It’s as though grief is this big hairy monster lurking behind me and I keep trying to run away from it, hide from it, smile in its face or scare it off with my laugh.  But nothing works. So I attempt to drown it out with NOISE.  The noise of the TV, the radio, sounds from a busy city, cafĂ© or gym....

I have become overwhelmingly afraid of silence.  So much so that when any well-meaning person suggests that meditating might do me some good I become enraged.  ‘I don’t want silence! I can’t handle silence!’ and I feel myself tip dangerously close to a panic attack at the thought.  Even as I write this I have the TV on quietly.  Just loud enough to stop myself from engaging with my thoughts, but quiet enough to hear myself think.

This existence is frustrating though.  It stops me from being able to focus fully and I find myself making stupid, careless mistakes.  Like the other night, when I selected my on-line grocery order to arrive tonight.  I am going out of town tomorrow.  And I forgot to take off some of the items I had already managed to pick up in town.  So I will not only have one pack of baby plum tomatoes slowly going out of date, I will have TWO.  Not the end of the world, I hear you say.  And I hear P say ‘you used to make many more big mistakes when I was around’ (I routinely booked the wrong train home when we first started dating).  These little mistakes used to send me into a flood of tears in the early days, when I first began to realise that P was no longer around to fix my problems.  Now it surprises me.  I’m so busy running from the Grief Monster that everyday things catch me off guard, like being thumped over the head with a bat.  No matter how much I try to cram my brain full of other thoughts, grief will find a way to manifest itself somehow.  

What frustrates me most of all is that I have this desperate desire to change my life, to make something of myself, to make P proud.  But the Grief Monster seems to be holding me down, and I can’t seem to figure out how to move, how to make things happen.  It takes me hours to get out of the house and ages to make decisions.  After the sky dive I felt like I could do anything I wanted, but what do I want?  My brain is so full I can’t seem to hear my heart.  Or perhaps all my heart wants is P so it’s pretty hard to hear anything else.  

Whatever the answer may be, this week I am going to try to endure the silence a bit more.  That said, I’m turning the TV off now.  Or… in an hour or so….

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Skydiving for my Man

6:30 am: SHIT!!! 

It’s the morning of the sky dive and I’ve over slept.  Thank God for my mum who taught me to always lay my things out the night before for the next morning.  I throw on P’s tee shirt, a fleece, jeans, and gym shoes, grab my bag, food for the day, and slap on a tiny bit of makeup.  I’m out the door by 6:42am.  Sprinting nearly all the way to the bus stop (I had to walk a bit. Note to self – do more sprint training!).  And I make it, with 2 minutes to spare.

A friend picks me up from the bus stop for the commute to the airfield.  The ride there seems to take forever.  The rain continues to pelt down, and the clouds do not appear to be shifting…..Everyone says to remain positive, that we WILL get to jump that day but I have learned the hard way that the ‘power of positive thinking’ does not always work.  I now live by the mantra ‘expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when things DO go your way’.  

When we arrive the clouds seem to have parted just a bit.  An instructor gives us an abbreviated briefing as ‘the weather report is not good’ and they want to get as many people up as possible.  He is not optimistic.  He warns that some people might have to wait until 6pm to get up, some might not get up at all.  

Meanwhile, my only concern is NOT getting to jump!  The fear does not seem to have set in for anyone.  Everyone just wants to do it!  In total, there are 17 of us jumping in honour of P.  Only 2 can go up at a time.  

Finally at around 13:00 I get the call.  I do not feel nervous but my body is quivering with excitement and I find myself running to the loo a few times just to make sure.  My instructor is a tall ginger man who says he’s ‘not very good’.  He gets me suited and booted and I place P's photo safely in my pocket.  We drive out to the landing strip where the plane will pick us up and we wait, again.  I swear, the worst part is all the waiting!! I am NOT a patient person.  Then the videoing starts.  I have requested a video of my sky dive so a cameraman comes with us.  Before we get in the plane he asks me who I’m doing the jump for…..ugh, I wasn’t expecting this.  And I’m sure he was expecting to hear for ‘Leukaemia Research’.  ‘For my husband’ I say….in his memory.  Gulp.  

Going up in the plane was fantastic.  As we sat on the floor of the teeny tiny plane, my mouth dropped open as I sat in awe of the view that was unfolding outside.  As we climbed up and out of the clouds I felt a wave of calm wash over me as I said to P in my mind ‘be with me babe’.  Someone said to me ‘anyone who says he/she wasn’t afraid is a liar’.  I wasn’t really though.  Yes, my body was buzzing but there really wasn’t time to think about what I was doing and I knew he would be with me and he’d be taking care of me.  We scooted along the plane to get in position.  As soon as I was in the correct posture we were OUT!!!!!  And falling at 120mph!!! I couldn’t stop smiling or screaming!  The cold hit me like a ton of bricks.  It felt like I was flying through dry ice!  I smiled at the camera a few times and before I knew it the parachute had opened with a jolt and we were floating.  The ride down was so peaceful after the rush of the free fall.  As Al, my instructor whipped us around a bit, I held my arms out to the side and I felt like Rose in Titanic ‘I’m flying Jack! I’m flying!’ Ha-ha.  But really, I was.  I looked all around me and I thought ‘I can’t wait to do this again’.  Landing was the only time I got a bit nervous as I knew this is the part that can go horribly wrong very quickly.  I tucked my knees up and stuck my legs out as I had been instructed.  When told to stand up, I stumbled forward with the momentum, but stayed upright! Woo hoo.  Back on solid ground, mission complete. 

Now the adrenaline has worn off I keep thinking ‘I have to live on the ground now?’  Life is so much more exciting in the air! But more importantly, when things start to scare me, I now think ‘I jumped out of a plane! Why the hell am I scared? I have nothing to fear now.’  So thank you, P, for this gift.  I cannot fear death, for I know he is waiting for me on the other side, and I cannot fear the trials of everyday life because I jumped out of a plane and I loved every minute.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

6 months and Counting

Tomorrow I am hoping to tick off #1 on my list by completing a tandem skydive for charity. People keep asking me how I feel about it. (It's in honour of my husband) I never know how to answer. I often feel like I'm trying to souce out what answer people want to hear. Like the age old question 'how are you?' No one ever actually expects the person to say how they actually are. But when everyone seemingly KNOWS what you've been through it feels like lying to say 'I'm ok'. But at the same time if I say 'eh, hanging in there' I can see the other person crumple inside. Their minds start racing and I can almost hear them say 'shit, what do I say now?', wishing they'd never asked. People seem to find me crazy when I say I'm looking forward to throwing myself out of a plane. But when you lose someone part of you dies. I've spent the last 6 months numbly existing, getting out of bed, and attempting to the mark the day somehow. It's not unusual for people to make BIG changes to their lives after losing a spouse - it's the quest to feel alive again.

Saturday, 21 April 2012


Last week I went to see Titanic 3D, a film that seemed to define my generation. It was our classic, the masterpiece we ALL saw, some ten times or more, in the cinema no less. That night I watched it with new eyes. Not just as I marvelled at the underwater scenes that were purely magical in 3D, but in the story. Yes, it is somewhat overacted, clichĂ©, and it tries too hard at times to be artistic. BUT it does portray a time honoured message, and delivers a speech that will sit in my heart forever. Throughout the film Jack talks about ‘Making it Count’, making each day, each moment matter. This is the struggle for Rose. She feels she has yet to really live life. Jack offers her the opportunity to really embrace the here and now. And when it’s his turn to go, he says to her:

Jack: Listen, Rose. You're gonna get out of here, you're gonna go on and make lots of babies, and you're gonna watch them grow. You're gonna die an old... an old lady warm in her bed, but not here, not this night. Not like this, do you understand me? …
Jack: Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me... it brought me to you. And I'm thankful for that, Rose. I'm thankful. You must do me this honor, Rose. Promise me you'll survive. That you won't give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise.

I too have been forced to make that same promise. After watching my husband leave this earth too soon, I promised to live my life to the fullest. But what does that mean? How do we make each moment count? Each day matter? In the films they seem to say that only bohemians and vagabonds are able to live life to the fullest, with the freedom to go where they please, do what they like, when they want to. But that is a by-gone era. Or is it? And yet, celebrity culture (those who make the films that portray this message that ‘to be poor is to be happy’) seems to tell us that the only way to have a fulfilled life is through wealth. If you’ve got the celebrity and the cash, you have the freedom to do what you please (in exchange for privacy of course).

So how do we simpletons caught in the middle make the most of our time on earth? If we acquire a list of many things we’ve done, will that mean we’ve led a full life? If we fill our lives with loved ones but never leave our hometown, have we made the most of our time? There is no manual on how to live, how to forge a life you’re happy with and proud of. But it seems all that we all want is to make each day count. So I guess we’re all the same, when you get down to it.

It doesn’t make it any easier though. I find myself frustrated with the abundance of choices that lay before me. I no longer have any ties. I think about up-ing sticks and going travelling, or moving to South Korea and earning a good wage as an English teacher….but then I worry, will that ruin my chances at forging a long term career I find satisfying and enriching? People say ‘you can change your life at any time’ but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. There comes a time when you’ve amounted too much responsibility to be able to walk away from a steady pay check you’ve come to rely on. And let’s be honest, there are careers out there for which you simply grow too old to start out on the bottom rung as the newbie. So I feel like I’m up against the clock. And that’s not living. So how do I break out from the mould created by society? How do you find the strength to say ‘this is my life and this is how it’s going to be’ and frankly, how much choice do we get in the matter? I got married, my husband got sick, and I said ‘I’m going to get a good job and raise a family with you when you’re better’. And better never came. So what do you do when your choice is destroyed? You have to come up with new options, new choices, a new life and for me, that’s only just beginning.

That said, welcome to this blog. Here's to figuring out how to 'Make it Count'.