4 months and a nod to Neil Bartlett

I’ve been to hell and I haven’t yet come back but I have at least turned round. I know this is nowhere near “coming to terms with” or “accepting”. I know I will always love Carol, and Chris. A cloud has lifted with my increasing return to mobility.

Hell was thinking about things that I can’t write here. Hell was that I haven’t yet worked out what the point is. Maybe I never will, maybe the point is not something I can hold in my hand.

Well Frankie I don’t know what I’m gonna find
Maybe nothing at all, maybe a world I can call mine
Shining like these streetlights down here on the strand
Bright as the rain in the palm of your hand

Bruce Springsteen

Take everything away and what is left? I started to count my blessings. I have a beautiful home, Carol and I made it beautiful with a great deal of help from Paul who knows our house and especially the boiler better than me. I live in a nice area with great views and it’s really quiet. There are goats in the field next to the house and sometimes a cat comes to visit. There are birds and owls and bats. And then there are my friends.

I have one friend who came every week, she put the recycling out, brought me a Costa espresso, odd items of shopping and posted my mail. And she hates driving up the big hill to Blackstone Edge.

One friend took me to A&E and stayed with me whilst I got fixed up in the first plaster cast. Two friends took me to the GP and kept me company, another picked up drugs at a moment’s notice. Two friends came and cooked me lunch. Seven friends took me out to pubs and restaurants where we had lunches and a taster dinner, one of them also brought me supplies of meals she had cooked to go in the freezer. I now have a good knowledge of most of the pubs within a 4 mile radius. The Moorcock was amazing and I’m thinking of walking there for a beer one evening when I can.

I was brought brownies, daffodils, deluxe chocolates and biscuits. I was sent books and a jigsaw, still working on that one! I had face to face visits, one a complete surprise which was totally delightful (we hadn’t seen each other for a long while), video calls and phone calls. One friend rang me every week and got me through the shittiest bits. One friend stayed with me and took me out and helped me to get used to life on the hop, including how to make real coffee easily. And one friend came every week and worked on the house, tiling the bathroom, rehanging doors and shifting a tree’s worth of logs. He is now repairing and sorting the windows.

Then there are the Facebook friends who have helped to keep me up and made me laugh even when I’ve been very down.

Some friends are family and many of my family are friends. The best thing is that I’ve found out who my friends are and my friends are just exactly who I thought they were.

Carol and Chris are no longer here to “catch me should I fall“. I did just that, and found out what I needed to know. Thank you so much.

Here’s Liz reading Neil Bartlett’s That’s What Friends are For.

Standing is good but not the same as walking!

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3 months in

I didn’t lose Carol, I didn’t carelessly forget where I had put her. She didn’t pass away or pass, to where? The words around death smooth and soften the unpalatable. Is death so frightening we can’t talk about it for what it is? Well, it’s certainly not a picnic in the park.

Today I’ve been musing on how long we had to get used to the idea that Carol was dying, it was about 6 days. Some don’t get that long and there is no better or worse. We all knew she had a shorter life expectancy than most but that didn’t actually make it better. We all knew she’d been on a downward trajectory since having to stop dialysing at home and the subsequent loss of her independence. But the days before her brain haemorrhage she and I had been out on a day trip, we’d had a friend round for a meal, we’d planned what we’d like to do in my new life of redundancy (now retirement, bugger working again).

So looking back 3 months it was a shock. We had to implement Carol’s decision about what she wanted her end to be and that was the hardest and the easiest thing ever. Easy because she was so clear about what she wanted and what she definitely didn’t want. Easy because I didn’t want her not to have the life she wanted. Hard because I love her and have loved her for so long.

Carol’s death was peaceful and it also had a beauty. I feel privileged to have held her hand as her bodily systems closed down and stopped. She came awake for the last minute before death. She looked a bit surprised but in a good way. A bit like when I’d given her a surprise present that she really hadn’t been expecting. And then, Carol definitely wasn’t there anymore.

I didn’t lose Carol but I have lost the daily momentum of our life together. There’s no longer anyone to talk rubbish to or to deal with the random irritations (like power cuts) of daily life. The trivia, the stupid jokes. She gave me a fridge magnet that reads “My husband gives me sound advice, 99% sound and 1% advice!” I don’t miss the relentless tedium of kidney disease and all the associated admin and clutter and medical appointments, but I miss the games we played to soften the hardness of our life.

I’m a bit unsure what my safety net consists of now. Counselling has helped me for the last 5 years but surely at some point I must stand on my own 2 feet. Literally. Breaking my leg has shown me so many lovely friends and family who have stepped up and helped me practically, each in ways that made sense for them and for me. Brilliant.

Rules for a new life

Widowhood is throwing up unforseen aspects for my consideration.

Loneliness. I’d read about the lonely husbands and wives deserted by their friends, especially their friends in couples. And it’s ok, that’s not an issue. The friends I want and need are those who have stepped up and some are indeed in couples. At the moment what I’m missing is someone with whom to share the trivia of my life. Well, hello Facebook!

Dog. I need a dog. Even my GP suggested a dog. What you have to know is that I don’t like dogs. I don’t want to be face licked or jumped on (by a dog) and I want to be able to come and go according to me. I’m happy for you to have a dog or even dogs. That’s not the issue.

Work. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Work mates are great, especially the ones you still really want to see when you’re not working. But driving in the dark, 4 hour meetings, endless emails about blah blah blah. I have too much to do for me and I am my own boss now.

Angels. These are vital. R said he has 2 angels who look out for him and who are there when he needs them. I have my own 2 angels.

Birthday. I worried about having a first (61st) birthday with no gifts on the day. L said “No problem, Carol will still give you a gift, just you have to buy it”. Perfect. So I have a dvd to watch, new Levi 501s and some CKs.

I can break the patterns. F said I can do just what I want. I can change my mind. F said “don’t do anything you don’t want to do”.

And that’s what friends are for. Here’s Liz reading Neil Bartlett on that very topic.

Bereft

Bereaved, bereft. Cast adrift. The weft (and the fairly warped) are untangling.

28 days after Carol has died and of course I’m still walking around the too quiet house weeping and wailing, talking to him, he’s not saying anything, talking to the stuffed toys who talk back.

Officially this trip started on January 14th. It had already started when I didn’t know if I was coming home to dead Carol or sleeping Carol and that was back near the end of 2017. We were no longer 2 individuals but joined differently with a radically altered connection, skewed, warped.

Today I thought about baking bread, tears because I’d said I would make more bread as he liked the Christmas bread so much. And this is how it works.

Mostly my thoughts are back to the beginning, when we were young and good looking and full of life and sex.

I’m full up of labels, I became a widow(er) when I registered the death. On the same day my job ended and I became what? retired? not by choice. Unemployed? yes, but I do still have part time work. Cast adrift, in no man’s land. The space is immense. The vastness overwhelming. During the 2 weeks of Carol’s unconsciousness before he died, I became a wife and so did he. We’d never been wives before in our marriage. It wasn’t the right time to have a discussion about the labels, I was glad to be a wife that was fine in those moments. After Carol died in the hospital bed, immediately after, I was excommunicated entirely when the senior sister nominated Carol’s best friend Dave as his/her partner. And failed to apologise profusely, or even just a tiny little bit. Written out completely, no label at all. I so needed that label, just at that moment.

North Ballachulish 2

Wednesday 7th November

Fruit and yoghurt. Poached egg and beans. And a croissant. Not quite low cholesterol.

Met up with Karl Griffin who owns the Ballachulish Information Centre, the fish and chip shop and the hardware shop and is a professional photographer. It was very wet and windy. We went to 3 different locations and I learnt a few things but now feel I’ve got lots more to learn and need to keep practising.

After the session I went to the Onich red squirrel feeding post and watched squirrels for ages. I took some awful photos and then something clicked and I managed to get some half decent shots.

Back at Alltshellach, I dried off and then went out again with a view to taking more photos but it rained so hard I gave in and returned for a very hot shower and a cup of tea.

Dinner of pate, goats cheese tarts with green veg and potatoes, lemon pie with ice cream.

The HF quiz. The team I was in came second.

I’ve managed not to think too much about work today. If I’m not working there will be more time for doing all the boring domestic things and not having to cram them all into 1 day, taking photos, going hiking, hopefully leading for HF.

Thursday 8th November

Another wet looking morning. But then it cleared so I drove to Oban and had a look round. I went there on a family road trip back in 1970. It was very wet then and we went to pictures and saw Waterloo which at the age of 12 was extremely boring. Now I’d just have a nice sleep but then it seemed pointless. I looked for the cinema but it was demolished in the 70s and is now shops and flats.

I got diesel in Tescos for £1.34 a litre, better than the eye watering £1.39 elsewhere. Went to Sutherland’s Grove at Barcaldine. It has lots of Douglas firs. I walked around and went up to a reservoir – Glen Dubh Lochan, it’s quite big and has a great sluice.

Then I went to Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve and had another little walk round there. This was enough for me, I’m so tired still and Ben Nevis will have to wait for another day if at all, there are lots of lovely walks in this area.

Dinner of apple juice, braised beef, mash and veg, Scottish cheese and biscuits.

Oban

Alltshellach
Connell bridge

From Glen Dubh

Sluice at Glen Dubh. Do NOT swim here.

North Ballachulish November 2018

5th November

7 hour journey including 4 stops. It took 2 hours (usually just 1) to get to Lancaster services where I had double espresso and granola yoghurt breakfast. Then another double espresso at Abington services. A woman tapped on my car door and asked if I liked my car! Once I’d recovered from the shock she was very friendly if a bit odd. Stopped for lunch somewhere on the side of Loch Lomond and then the loo at Tyndrum. Arrived at HF Glen Coe at 14.45.

Huge room with en suite bathroom. Tea and small piece of cake and one small shortbread. Out for little walk around the grounds and Loch Leven with Steve (leader, but everyone is doing self guided).

Back to house. I am now officially at risk of redundancy. Past caring.

Dinner: apple juice, grilled chicken salad, cheese and oatcakes.

Quiz but didn’t win.

Not one firework to be heard, bliss!

Tuesday 6th

Muesli, apple and yoghurt. Sausage, poached egg and beans.

Drove back along the A82 and parked up. I cut the walk route by not walking along the side of the A82, saved lots of kilometres. Walked up the West Highland Way about 350m to a col, this is part of the old military road network made by General Wade, although this section was done by his successor. The road is over 250 years old and was part of the Brits exerting control over the pesky highlanders. I turned right at the col onto a less distinct path to the summit of Beinn Bheag. Good views although a lot of low cloud around. Back down and then an espresso in the Clachaig Inn which is/was used by mountaineers. Drove through old Glencoe village, and Ballachulish village. I now know where the diesel and the Coop are. Then a scenic drive along and around Loch Leven and through Kinlochleven (another Coop and a leisure centre with a climbing wall and an ice wall).

I’ve seen more about the restructures at work and am cross. 15 years of loyal service and now I’m surplus to requirements. It’s not personal, of course it bloody is.

The house has an indoor pool so I popped in for a swim. It was nearly dark and there was a man in the pool. He told me he was naked and asked if I minded and I said I didn’t so we just chatted away. It was nice of him to tell me, I can’t actually see much without my specs on so I probably wouldn’t have noticed unless I’d seen him get out with his dingly dangly bits.

Missing Chris as much as ever. It’s when I’m out in the mountains that I feel it a lot. She would have gone a bit quiet over the boggy bits though, she hated bog and boy did we get in a lot of bogs.

Dinner of Scotch broth, sausages with veg and mash, hot plums and berries with a tiny bit of a sort of custard.

Quiz, the group I was in didn’t win again.

Looking back up towards Rannoch Moor

Footpath to Beinn Bheag

Loch Leven, towards Kinlochleven

Loch Leven looking towards Ballachulish

Loch Leven

GPS Training 13/10/2018

Carol was in hospital waiting for surgery to repair her failed new fistula graft. Storm Callum and I was on my way to the Lake District after work. On the way I passed a tree that had fallen and squashed a car, miraculously no-one was hurt. Because I had to pass Tebay services, I also had to get out in the teeming rain and buy provisions for the next day. And also because it was a ritual that Chris and I stopped at Tebay whenever we could.

I got to Mosedale End Farm B&B just after 6. It’s beyond Mungrisdale (pronounced mung as in bean and Grizedale as in Grizedale). There is more road beyond the farm but it felt like the end of the line. The farm backs onto Carrock Fell which looms steeply over it. I’d like to return to climb the fell especially as the B&B is fully geared up for walkers with an honesty fridge full of sandwiches and various other snacks, and a boot room.

I rang Carol who had finally had the surgery. After settling in, I drove the 2 km back to Mungrisdale. It was very dark by then and very wet. The Mill Inn was quiet. Chris and I came here back in 2011 but it felt like yesterday despite the weather being totally different. And that time we stopped at Tebay on the way home after summitting Grisedale (with an s) Pike! I had a chicken curry which was fine and some Cumbria Way beer, very good beer. Carol and I came to Bowscale Tarn in 2010 but not the pub.

Back to the B&B to watch Never Say Never Again. And never watch it again either. Twice is too many times.

Good breakfast is somewhat dark and gloomy room. Lots to eat, homemade bread. I had a poached egg and baked beans. JoAnne was a good hostess and let me get on with what I needed to do, i.e. get to the course on time.

It was still raining very heavily but I only had to go the 2km to Mungrisdale Village Hall. There were 6 of us on the course, run by Andy of GPS Training. I’d recently bought a Satmap GPS device and the course was just for Satmap GPS units. Andy was excellent and knew his way round the 3 different models. It was raining so much the river rose during the day so we only went out briefly a couple of times. I can’t fault the training and now feel much more in command of the unit and what it can do. There’s also a year of access to an online resource. Andy has done loads of video resources to answer any possible question you might have!!

I had a short chat with Carol before leaving for home. It had been a good use of my time as she was out of action, but I was nagged by the underlying anxiety of the surgery.

I got home Saturday evening and then broke Carol out the next day. Surgery successful.

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.
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