Death cleaning

I’ve got a lot of experience of doing this and I want to try to get my own house in order so that those who have to do my death cleaning don’t get too hard or long winded a job to do.

When mum died in 2000, it coincided with Carol being in hospital having had a brain haemorrhage the month before and the subsequent brain surgery. She was very poorly indeed and managed to contract an e coli infection just to add to the mix. Carol was in Salford Hope and Oldham hospitals. She was in Oldham when mum died. I went straight to Suffolk the moment I heard, the news very kindly and carefully delivered to me by my lovely boss, Clem.

Because mum’s landlord was the Church of England Clergy Pensions Board, they very generously gave us 2 weeks to get out of the house. My brother was about as useful as a chocolate teapot so I ended up clearing the house, he did work with me on the funeral. Her house was a 3 bed modern house but mum still lived with lots of dad’s things from when he died 10 and a bit years before. It was a big job with the pressure from the CoECPB adding their stress and wanting the central heating system draining. Wait till I tell you the story about disconnecting the phone!

Mum only had 2 pianos by this time, lots of heavy old furniture and a stair lift. It was also a lovely in other circumstances hot July. I hired a transit van and spent my days going to the tip, to charity shops. I slept in mum’s bed. Some people came and took away a piano that mum had bequeathed to them and they never even thanked us for it, can you believe it, getting something worth thousands of pounds and no f***ing thanks.

I got it all done. I had my laptop and a daily list. I worked hard. I was very hot most of the time. We got through the funeral, Chris was a rock. Carol couldn’t be even though she wanted to be, it was unimaginable that Carol deal with any of it, she could hardly walk.

On the last day before handing the keys in, the brother had turned up for once. We got the central heating drained as requested and the last job was to disconnect the phone. I’d already rung BT and they’d said to ring when we were leaving. It turned out that my mum hadn’t ever the changed the account name from my dad’s to hers when he died. BT would only close the account on the say so of the account holder! I actually had to say “do you want me to go and dig him up?”!! It got sorted eventually and I did complain but don’t remember getting any recompense for the hassle and distress. I drove back north to Chris’s house with mum’s cat Kedi singing in the transit van for the whole 5 hours.

I then moved into Chris’s attic a few weeks later because whilst all my mum’s and Carol’s stuff was going on, my flat in Salford had sold and I had nowhere to live. I decided at this point to stop smoking. I’ve never looked back on that decision, 20 years ago this coming September.

The next clearance was my maiden aunt, my dad’s sister, who I didn’t particularly like and who didn’t particularly like me. She had been a very active woman, she’d worked in GCHQ, she flew planes and drove round in an orange MG. A character. Iona did some voluntary work in a monastery, to change the clock in the library she had got onto a chair which she put on a table and then fell off and had a stroke. She spent some time in hospital, then in a residential home while we, the brother, Iona’s solicitor friend and I tried to get her to understand that she wasn’t going to be driving the car home and wasn’t in fact going to be going home. It wasn’t easy and sometimes she thought I was my mum and she was basically suffering from brain damage.

Once we’d got her safely in the residential home, we decided to start clearing her rented house, fortunately rented from a very nice kind man who was extremely helpful. Surprise, my brother was again pretty useless. However my cousin Sophy, who was no blood relation of my aunt, lived nearby and between us, over what felt like months of weekends, we cleared Iona’s little house which was rammed to the gills and totally totally filthy. We needed biohazard suits. There were moments of hilarity, the clothes which were more suited to a drag queen, the photos which confirmed my suspicions about her single status being related to her sexual preferences. Although sexual is not a word I can equate with my aunt. Iona was very concerned that we get the valuable rug out of the loft. I did all the things you’re not supposed to do with a table and a chair (the very things that Iona had done which led to the fall which gave her the stroke) and hefted myself into the loft space. It was easy to see that the only item related to a rug was a roll of pink foam backed carpet. At least I got the relatively small amount of rubbish out of the loft. I didn’t fall down either.

Chris left Todmorden for Borth in April 2014 and never returned. She had fully intended to do so but the onset of illness was so rapid she never got well enough to travel that sort of distance again, other than to the National Amyloidosis Centre in London. Chris owned her house in Tod and first moved into her friend’s house, then to a flat in the same house, then to a rented flat of her own and finally to a rented bungalow of her own. So many moves because she needed accommodation to fit her changing abilities and worsening condition.

She moved into the bungalow in December 2015/January 2016. She knew she wasn’t going to get better and at some point she decided that I could clear the Todmorden house and get the contents to her and then get that house on the market. She lived long enough to know that the house was going to sell. Nancy and I worked on clearing the Tod house together. Chris was also not great on the cleaning side of things but nowhere near as bad as my aunt! And when it came down to it it didn’t take that long to do. We had a few tip runs and we sold some furniture then the rest went down to Borth in a removal van. We then arranged for a full clean, sorted some minor electrics and plumbing and got the house redecorated from top to bottom. Then it was ready to go on the market and it was bought by a lesbian couple who were delighted that Chris had been the previous owner.

When Chris died in October 2016, Andy, Gerry, Kate and I cleared the little bungalow which now had all the stuff Chris had been shifting around Borth, all the stuff from the Tod house and a huge amount of dialysis supplies. 60 boxes of it. I rang Baxters the suppliers to ask them to come and take it away. They kept stalling me. In the end I said that either they come and take it away or we would destroy the supplies, they said that’s all they were going to do anyway because once these valuable medical things have left the depot they cannot be reused. Some things we were able to recycle via the local health visitors.

Peritoneal dialysis is a less invasive treatment than haemo but because it’s done 3x a day for half an hour a time, it needs lots and lots of dialysate fluid. Having lived with a renal clinic in my home I know this stuff rather too well, Carol did haemodialysis which is 3x a week for 5 hours each time. Gerry and I spent a mad number of hours with me breaking down the boxes, him breaking down the plastic bladders of fluid and sending them down the toilet (this is fine, this is where it is supposed to go). We did 600 bags of fluid. We put all the plastic and cardboard out for the recycling and congratulations to Ceredigion council because they took the lot. I did complain to Baxters and they apologised.

Carol had done a lot of sorting and hadn’t hoarded much at all compared with all the other people I’d done death cleaning for. Apart from books and her NHS files and the litter files. But these were all pretty organised. I burnt the paperwork, I even bought a garden incinerator to do the job. I sold a good lot of the books and took lots of things to charity.

Carol’s death has been an opportunity for me to rationalise living in what is now a big house for one person. I’ve organised my bed linen, towels, kitchen equipment, some of the books. There’s still a bit to do. I kept busy sorting things apart from the time my leg was in plaster up until the end of last August and then I just stopped and haven’t resumed until now.

Paul emptied out my loft space over the summer, so I also have 12 boxes or so of my family papers to go through. You could argue that as I haven’t seen inside the boxes for 14 plus years, that it can all be chucked out fairly easily, however I do want to check through it as I can see there are letters from my grandmother and my mother.

When mum, Chris and Carol died, the first things to get rid of were the medical bits. I personally didn’t want to be reminded of their frailties. Carol had a renal unit with plumbing and electrics in 2/3 of what is now the house bathroom. She had a shed outside for her supplies. All of this went early on and I had the bathroom slightly remodelled and decorated.

I got shot of Carol’s clothes early on because she had a lot of battered old clothes, and some nice ones but being so thin, none of them were going to fit me. I also got rid of the personal hygiene things quite quickly.

Carol had her own kitchenette, she didn’t actually do cooking but she heated up nicely! I think I’ve borrowed that from Graham Norton. She had a Baby Belling, kettle, toaster and sink. I dealt with Carol’s food, a lot of which went to the food bank as it was all in date. She and I had totally different tastes so there wasn’t much I ate apart from her Christmas chocolate. Then I got rid of her knackered old fridge and freezer and Paul took the plumbing out and this room was redecorated. When Carol set it up as a kitchen she always wanted it to be easy to take down when we moved to the next house and it was. Obviously we never got to do that move. It’s now my outdoor kit room. I’ve got a spare toaster and kettle for when mine give up the ghost.

I turned Carol’s bedroom into a guest bedroom, easy peasy. This also got a bit of paint.

I bought new lampshades and brought colour, turquoise blue, what else! into the accessories around the house. I got myself a new bed and a new sofa to replace the ancient ones I had.

I like being tidy and organised. I’ve got boxes of photos from Chris, from Carol, my own. These will take a long time to go through and to digitise some of them. I recently got rid of my filing cabinet, I only need to keep some of the papers. I’m soon going to be stopping my OU work and that can then all go. It’s feeling therapeutic and because I’m doing things at the right time and speed for me I’m not chucking things out and regretting it.

I look forward to a time when everything is where I want it to be and I know what I’ve got and where it is. There is more decorating to do and I will be happy when I’ve worked out which pictures to put on the walls. This whole project will have an end and there will be good systems in place to make things easier for my death cleaners.

I have a will, a power of attorney (so that if I lose my mental capacity tomorrow, my attorney can then make sure my bills are paid etc.) and an Advance Decision. Both Chris and Carol had Advance Decisions which are legally binding documents and certainly in Carol’s case, this was a key document that determined how we reached the end of her life according to her wishes. Chris died very quickly within 24 hours of a stroke and it was not really needed although her medical advisors were fully aware that she had it. I hope if you’ve read through to here that you can see the sense of providing for your loved ones and not putting your head in the sand! I haven’t always been able to look the harsh realities of life head on but I’ve learnt to do it and I believe it’s part of loving. Shit happens but we can make it as smooth to deal with as possible and I thank both Chris and Carol for being so brave and strong.

Northbound on the Hurtigruten January 2020

Friday 10th January

Got up at 5. A sniffer next to me on first flight to Copenhagen. Whilst sitting on the plane about to take off for Bergen I saw my suitcase on the luggage wagon approaching the hold. Good. It’s a lovely colour, turquoise.

Weather dull in Manchester, drizzly in Copenhagen and gorgeous over southern Norway. Snowy, icy rivers, lakes and mountains.

Arrived Bergen, straight onto bus to Hurtigruten terminal. Lovely clean roads and streets, so relaxing. Quite a slow check in queue because only one operator. Then another wait to embark. Eventually got on boat. My cabin is aft and my porthole looks onto the muster area. I’m next to the life equipment. That’s all my nautical lingo done.
I attended a safety demo about how to get into the thermal suit and then add the bouyancy aid.

I have a tea and coffee package included which means as many as I like all through the voyage. Off to dinner for a hot and cold buffet, all very nice, lots of salads. I pretty much had a little of everything. And a beer at £7.70 so not quite as bad as expected.

My cabin is a good size for one person. I think 2 would find it a bit tight. It’s definitely better than when Chris and I came to Norway in early September 2004. We had a disappointing cruise, tiny cabin, no room to move in the shower room and no space between the beds. Poor Chris was seasick, she was not a good sailor despite her love of water. Then we got to Bergen and loved it, we loved the fjords and all the places we stopped at just not the cruising itself. The next time we came was late April 2013 for Bruce. We went to Bergen by train from Oslo first and we really loved that trip. Plus Bruce sang just for us.
So this is my first time to Bergen by air and now I am at sea on a nice boat, not too big and not crowded, enough seats and places with WiFi.

My angels are with me, Chris who wanted to do the Hurtigruten boat trip, Carol who just liked the idea of a litter free country and beautiful scenery (she would have preferred I called her a ghost, given her desire to see one!) and me because I don’t want to be at home on Tuesday.

I attended an introduction to the boat with the manager and el capitan rocked up.
We left a bit late because the lift was being repaired. The lights went off at dinner and later in my cabin. The wireless is new today so the instructions didn’t work.

Cabin review

On this day a year ago we waited for Liz to join us before Carol’s life support was removed. I guess we made the decision to take it off the day before. Once all the tubes were out Carol was instantly more comfortable, unconscious and waving. She was paralyzed down her right side but her left hand was making up for it by waving, waving, waving. It was endearing and funny amidst the awfulness.

Leaving Bergen
I know it’s blurry but I liked the blurring on the sea

Saturday 11th January

On this day a year ago the bastards I used to work for forced me to take my redundancy papers by hand to HR. Liz and I had spent the night with Carol in the ICU so I had to leave her to drive to Bradford very early and fart around with the photocopier. Steve then took the paperwork in and did the by hand bit. I drove back to Leeds thankful that it was rush hour so the traffic was not at all rushing.

It took a while to settle to the rhythm of the ship. I quite like the rolling. My suitcase escaped noisily from the cupboard in the night. There’s a bit of vibration when we pull into ports but mainly it’s quiet.

164 people on board so the ship is comfortable and not crowded. Germans, French, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans plus assorted Scandinavians and Europeans.

After a long breakfast of fruit then some cheese and salad, chatting to 2 gay men, Philippe (French) and Alistair, who both live in Australia, I togged up well and set off into Ålesund. Chris and I came here on the cruise of doom. We stopped somewhere else and took the bus much to the consternation of our fellow passengers, the cruise staff said it wasn’t possible so we defied their nonsense and got the bus. I can’t remember much else other than we were glad to escape from them all. We had a coffee.

Today I went straight up Aksla viewpoint which is 418 steps. It was extremely windy so I held on to the rail. The cafe at the top was shut. Terrific views even on such a wet day. Back down I did the Art Nouveau circuit. Bumped into David and Jackie from Hong Kong. I went and dripped in Raccoon coffee shop, excellent coffee.

Lunch of salads with delicious salmon followed by a small plate of hot veggie pasta and a cheese and grain mix followed by berry compote. Getting more than my 5 a day.

Watched a Northern Lights film. Docked at Molde, quick whiz round with Lynn and Jan from Kent. Still wet.

Dinner of slither of salty cod with tiny veg, salty lamb in mustard sauce with tiny potatoes, tiny cinnamon apple with ice cream. Too much salt for my no salt diet. Sitting with Glenda from NZ, Jan and Marj from Oz and Martin from Switzerland.

The MS Nordlys passed us to lots of tooting, must be terrible for the neighbours.

MS Lofoten passing us
Art Nouveau in Âlesund
The MS Vesterålen
Sea view

Sunday 12th January

£2.76 for each hot drink. I’m on at least 8 a day so the hot drinks package is excellent.

After breakfast with the boys, we docked at Trondheim, I walked into town. Noticeably colder here and the pavements were slippery in places. After my leg experience I am very cautious on slippery surfaces. A nice walk round the town, not raining and some light. After passing the old church and the cathedral, I crossed the old bridge to Bakklandet old warehouse area and went in the first good looking coffee shop, probably also old. A&P were in it too. An excellent espresso then back to the ship for lunch of salmon salad plate, hot plate, caramel dessert with berries, cheese and crackers.

Bimbled about on board, sun and dry ish so stayed out a while, found a spot with shelter from the wind and hot air on my legs! Drank tea in several different lounges. The further up we go, the fewer hours of light.

Dinner thin vegetable soup, poached salmon on mash with fennel and roast veg, berries with soured milk dessert, all very good.

Attended talk by the hotel manager which was informative on the mechanics of how Hurtigruten run the ships.

More wet
The old church in Trondheim
Trondheim cathedral
Bakklandet area
Bakklandet
Great coffee shop
Bakklandet
Tricky entrance
Bakklandet
Munkholmen (Monk’s Island) near Trondheim

Monday 13th January

Breakfast, then we docked at Ørnes, ice on deck. Watched the loading/unloading. Nice spot.

Midday almost dark!

On the way to Bodø

Arrived Bodø at 12.40, Inger picked me up in the red Nissan. 5 minutes later we were at her home with Steve who had come home for lunch to see me. Bouncy little dog, Rosy and later big fluffy cat. Lovely home and good soup and great to see them both. It’s about 16 years since we had the App Soc Psy reunion.
2 hours was a bit too short so I will simply have to return! Very impressed they’ve been together for 46 years.

Back on the boat. Read my Patrick Gale. Vegetarian dinner this evening. Beets with goats’ cheese, mushroom burger with bell pepper sauce, lingon berries with oaty cream and a flower on top. All quite tasty, but the oaty cream was a bit strange and overall there wasn’t enough quantity.

Talked with G over dinner, she is the same age as me and a year further into her widowhood. Other widows totally get it. And also parents whose children have died. I’m not saying they’re the same thing.

Tried to disembark at Stamsund but they wouldn’t let me off the ship because it was rolling too much. Those returning had to jump on carefully gauging the right moment. Reminded me of doing this with my car going from Islay to Jura. Chris was driving and did it perfectly.

Farewells to Philippe and Alistair, lovely boys who made me laugh. They are off at Svolvaer and then to further adventures with dogs.

Alistair had found a recommendation in Lonely Planet for the Styrhuset pub, the oldest in Svolvaer. So I trotted about on the grit and ice, turned out it was pretty much next door to the Hurtigruten terminal. I knew I remembered the name from the year before last. Anyway it was not old either externally or internally. It reminded me of a 1980s gay bar but sadly lacking the customers. It was the sort of bar Carol would have loved. I had a beer and slithered back to the boat.

The boat stopped at the Trollfjord in the dark, no spotlights. They dished out hot sweet tea with a tiny tot of rum in a souvenir mug. Then they turned the music off and we took in the view as our eyes adjusted. Magical spot. Water flat as a pond.

Ørnes
Ørnes
At sea
More at sea
Inger
Steve with fluffy cat, they weren’t actually doing this when I was there!
Return to Svolvaer
Svolvaer
The old bar, Styrhuset!

Tuesday 14th January

Carol up a mountain in Naxos
Chris and Carol in Milton Keynes before going to see Bruce

This is the day at last. I drank some Jura whisky to take away the taste of the tea. Carol didn’t die until 5.45 in the evening so now it’s time to sleep. I need to get this day done. I’ve almost learnt that it’s possible to introduce myself to people without saying as the first thing that Carol is dead.

After breakfast we docked at Finnsnes, a nice little place. Much colder up here.

I deliberately missed the crossing the Arctic circle ceremony. Involves getting ice down your neck and castor oil, horrible ideas.

Lunch then out at Tromsø where it was only light for a hour and a half.

With my grippers on I walked over thick ice to the Polar museum in the dark at 2.30, that’s 1.30 UK time. Took them off for the museum. Exhibits were a lot about seal and polar bear killing. I found them upsetting and not very respectful. Next was a floor about Roald Amundsen, then one about Fridtjof Nansen. Interesting because Chris and I went on the actual Fram ship in Oslo.

I wanted to look round the shops but the grippers are not good on hard floors because they damage them. By then I was getting tired and scratchy and irritable because too many layers, too hot. Wanted a beer but settled for a nice coffee.

It was seafood buffet night so I had cauliflower soup, salmon with veg and rice and a little reindeer with potato followed by small spoons of 3 desserts.

Sat up with Marj and Jan laughing away about snores and farts. Just what the doctor ordered.

A funny day. Not marked it as such except for photos and Bruce and music on Facebook. I finished the L’Occitane perfume Carol gave me and wore my Born to Run shirt.

Drinking whisky.

Finnsnes
Finnsnes
Gisund bridge
Tromsø
Polarmuseet (Polar museum) Tromsø

Wednesday 15th January

Docked Havøysund. Stepped out briefly, dark, cold and windy. It was so windy this morning I thought the deck door would take my arm off.

Timetable today is packed. It would be possible to eat breakfast up to 9.45 and start lunch at 10.30! I got up early to try to have a longer gap between meals. Especially as I have to do the late sitting for dinner today.

It turned out the trip for those going to the North Cape, a whole 2 km away got cancelled because the North Cape complex was snowed in. This reverted the lunch times for everyone.

Upon arrival in Honningsvåg I went to find the Honni cafe but despite an open door and lights on, was not serving coffee. I went to the very good museum and learnt about the Nazi occupation and destruction of the town. Also a good Sami exhibit.

I found another cafe with no proper coffee, another slightly strange place so I had a quick drink, no espresso today.

I had a late lunch on the boat then watched a film about the North Cape peninsula.

I was nearly ready for my snowmobile trip, long John’s and various other layers on when there was a call to reception. The trip was cancelled because a car accompanies the snowmobiles on the road and the snow plough was busy clearing snow in the mountains and not where we would be. I was a bit relieved as it was cold and snowing quite a lot then. Instead I did my packing.

At about 5pm I was standing up and the boat appeared to run into something. There was a loud bang and I fell into the mirror. Titanic!

Dinner was celery soup, Arctic char, choc mousse, berry sorbet and soft meringue. I had a Trollfjord beer. It was fun to be with the dinner crew after all. I would have missed them if I’d gone on the snowmobile trip.

Chatted with Marj and Jan. Early to bed, no aurora. Lots and lots of roll and roll. I don’t get queasy but just can’t sleep. Did eventually.

Havøysund
Honningsvåg
Honningsvåg

Thursday 16th January

Breakfast with the girls. Vacated cabin. Sat in front lounge. One moment full dark, the next dawn. Started to see sunlight bouncing off the edge of the world so the light will soon be back. Arrived Kirkenes, located suitcase, located airport bus. 20 minutes drive in the countryside to tiny airport. It has 4 gates, numbered 21-24!
Farted about with luggage, farted about with electronic baggage check in.
Delay leaving supposedly while they got the bags on and removed the something and the mice! So curious as to what the something was. Runway sweeping and de-icing. ICE IT WAS ICE! Tired is my excuse!
A blizzard before we set off. Short runway.
Flight 1/3. Kirkenes to Oslo. Middle seat, both sides hogging arm rest. Right wearing thick wool making me itch, left synthetic making me hot.
Oslo to Copenhagen was easy. Sat with a man in the wrong seat but he was moved so I was able to stretch out. Only an hour, got in early, just as well because it was a long way to the gate, nearly 15 minutes walk.
Copenhagen to Manchester. One of the cabin crew walked down the aisle bent over saying “seat belts” reminiscent of Two Soups! Why is there always a group of tossers on every flight to Manchester?

I waited for the suitcase to come round the carousel but it had decided to stop over in Copenhagen. I reported this to Global Baggage Solutions and filled in a form by hand. The boy then typed this into his computer. He said the case was trolling about in Copenhagen and would return the next day.

Kirkenes
Bye bye boaty
It really was this colour, from the bus on the way to the airport

Friday 17th January

I waited all day for the suitcase, received 7 emails about it. Found out the boy had mistyped my postcode and not typed in my village so pretty much no chance of the case ever reaching me. I sorted that bit out. Despite it having arrived in Manchester at 9.30 am, it took until 8.30 pm to get to me. It came home very grubby and with one lock and zip opened. However all the contents are ok. Meanwhile I have no fresh veg because of having to stay home all day.

Nearly a year

Three

The light has gone out big time. My chosen family all gone in just over 2 years. When my dad died, of course I was sad, but not devastated, I loved him but he was always quite remote to me. Mum’s death was different because then I became an orphan and it opened a rift elsewhere that is still gaping. My grief at that time was compounded by Carol being ill from her first brain haemorrhage just a month before mum died. Chris was there for all of that. Carol was there for me during Chris’s illness and death.

Those first few months of this year I was mad. I can barely remember them now thank god. Two people stand out for sticking with me like superglue, they picked me up and carried me. I would not have got through without Paul and Liz. I still have days where I don’t know how or if or why. Lots of friends and family did lovely things when I needed them and are still being amazing. Don’t stop.

Waiting for Bruce, Manchester

Two

Carol died just 2 years after Chris. Chris now 3 years dead. Often the sheer knife twisting of pain is about them both together. I don’t believe in an afterlife although Carol did but I do think of them not wanting me to hurt so much. It doesn’t stop. Carol told me to live for her. That’s given me some solace. They both loved me so much and I them.

One

Becoming a single person has been interesting. I haven’t really ever been single. Not exactly serial monogamy but almost. I’ve hardly ever lived on my own and when I did I still had a partner. It’s ok some of the time. It is nice not having to compromise and making my own decisions has been powerful. I do feel better for not living in a state of constant anxiety. That started the moment Chris got ill in 2014. Physically I feel better but I still eat too much, don’t sleep that well and don’t exercise enough but I am doing some of it right some of the time! I do get to chat and laugh a little and my friends are good at supplying hugs. However loneliness is pants. I would like to touch and hold someone occasionally. I had some good advice to accept all invitations and then decide what I do or don’t want to continue doing. Mostly I did want to do things. Doing is good. Festering not good. It’s been a dance where you have to learn the steps but no-one’s told you what they are. There are oceans of difference between going for a meal in a restaurant or going away on holiday on your own when there’s someone at home to come back to and when the house is empty on your return. And I’m still open to offers.

Meeting new people has been quite weird because the main things people use to oil the wheels are where do you live? are you working? I’ve felt the urge to tell people that I’m widowed and redundant and then worry that it’s all too much for them. That’s without going down the path of multiple bereavements, I’ve barely mentioned Mandy in all of this. I’m not sure how to navigate this part of social interactions, I know I don’t need to tell everyone everything but it’s the most important thing about me right now. Facebook has been a very kind environment for me. I used to think honesty was all that mattered, it is still important when done with kindness. Kindness is now at the top of my list. The kindness of strangers, the man who said he was 4 years into widowhood and only just beginning to feel ok.

A pint of beer and a new tattoo

I’m celebrating my love for you with a pint of beer and a new tattoo

Billy Bragg

I don’t know what my new rituals are. It was nearly half my life with these 2 people who filled my world. Both Carol and I and Chris and I had various things we did through the year for anniversaries and birthdays and holidays. The hole is still so very large. I want to reach a place where I’m completely comfortable with being alone and enjoying it. I get a bit fed up with myself feeling so sad all the time. Someone said it was good that I’m doing a lot and getting out and about. I’m doing that so that I don’t have to be with myself. I still do a lot of the things I used to do. Still get up pretty early. Have routines. Watch a lot more telly. Get scared. Worry about what if I get sick. I want to travel. I want to see Bruce all round the world. I want to wake up in the mountains, by the sea. Espresso. Lager. Toast. New things are eating fish and drinking decaf coffee, ground of course.

Three; past present future; Chris Carol Jak

One, two, three things for the new year from me to you

  1. Get a pension and get it as early as you possibly can.
  2. Never go to sleep on an argument, ever.
  3. When you part from them, always tell them that you love them. Always.

Half a year

Bruce is singing Living in the Future, from 2009, about what was going on in the USA then. Catchy song, good for dancing.

I started dancing then remembered and felt guilty. I thought about dancing outside, dancing on the beach. The final scene of Longtime Companion. I’ve also been singing but the guilt rushes in, I shouldn’t be singing and dancing. I don’t want the pain, I want the pain. I’m messy, confused. Longtime Companion caused buckets of tears when I first saw it in the 90s. I still think it’s a good movie and was needed then and no not perfect but what is?

I’m grateful for the love of family and friends that has kept me alive, literally. It feels odd that I am alive and Carol is not. I still have not really got used to this truth. It jars.

I took my first multi day trip away. Bathed in the loving kindness of Sophy, Jo, Liz, Ariel and Tracey. I can do this. It was good to be away from the house which is so bound up with Carol, how could it not be? Coming home and she was neither with me nor waiting for me. I had 6 days with few tears but they didn’t take long to reappear. Home is also full of Chris so it’s quite a sad place to be. I wouldn’t want them not to be here.

Now I’m almost bored with bereavement blues blog. Not sure I have anything much more to say. Time to ease off a bit. Maybe.

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!

Why does Jak keep going on about Bruce Springsteen?

Or Chris, Carol, Bruce and me; a story of heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, love-making, earth-quaking, Viagra-taking, justifying, death-defying, legendary Springsteen fans

As much as we could

I want all the time, all that heaven will allow

All That Heaven Will Allow

Bruce has been the soundtrack to half my life and it’s been and continues to be a love affair sans pareil. It’s always been just me and him, 1 on 1, oh and Chris and Carol.

1975. The first song I remember hearing was Born to Run. Released August 25th. Bruce was nearly 26, Chris was just turned 22, I was 17 and Carol 14.

Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul
Oh, someday, girl, I don’t know when 
We’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go 

And we’ll walk in the sun
But ’til then tramps like us
Baby, we were born to run

Born To Run

1981. The River. Carol saw Bruce on The River tour on 20th May 1981 at New Bingley Hall near Stafford. She was 20. Setlist

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true? 

The River

1984. I danced in the dark to Dancing in the Dark in the Scarlet Coat in Bristol. The Coat was a lesbian disco, with a tiny dancefloor and it was very dark. I used to drink far too much beer and was pretty stupid.

1985. Bruce released Born in the USA. I was living in a shared house in Bristol when Bruce played Roundhay Park in Leeds but that day I was on the M62 which was full of fans. Carol was at that gig with Dave on 7th July. Setlist. To my shame I joined in with my housemates’ dissing of Bruce because he was so macho. I knew nothing. There were some clips of the tour on TV which stayed in my mind mainly because they were not at all macho and I thought maybe I had been wrong, lesson learned – make your own mind up: Growin’ Up part 1 Los Angeles 1985 Growin’ Up part 2 Los Angeles 1985 I was just about to convert to the majesty and mystery of rock and roll, Bruce style.

1986. I met Chris and she performed that magic trick. She introduced me to Bruce and as quickly as I fell in love with her, I fell in love with him. I wore that cassette tape of BitUSA out.

1988. Chris and I finally got to actually see Bruce live for the first time in Sheffield, at Bramall Lane on 10th July. This was the Tunnel of Love tour, still my favourite album. The atmosphere was electric, the show thundering and left us wanting more. The band opened to the title song, this video is from the Barcelona show. Nine days after our gig, Bruce played to 300,000 people in East Berlin and the gig was broadcast live on GDR state TV and radio. This resonated for me because my parents took me to GDR Berlin in 1973 when I was 15. Mum was on a JS Bach pilgrimage, one of the things I remember was the border control confiscating a rock magazine that I had. Setlist

Then the lights go out and it’s just the three of us 
You me and all that stuff we’re so scared of

Tunnel of Love

Just as I had become completely and irrevocably hooked, Bruce broke up the band, ending his first marriage, embarking on his second with band member Patti Scialfa and starting a family.

1993. 22nd May. By this time, Chris and I had changed the texture of our relationship and I had met Carol. Carol made me mixtapes with Hungry Heart and Out in the Street. All 3 of us went to Milton Keynes to see Bruce with the “other band”. I was sporting a lovely stars and stripes nylon flag and Carol and I got really close to the stage. Setlist

That flag
Not posing or anything. Nice boots, what happened to them?
Not very pleasing whatever Chris was eating. We’d struggled to find anything to eat in MK at all that day. The brown car was later stolen (and torched) from the car park opposite the police station in Leeds while I was at Pride in London

We swore we’d travel darlin’ side by side 
We’d help each other stay in stride 
But each lover’s steps fall so differently 
But I’ll wait for you 
And if I should fall behind 
Wait for me 

If I Should Fall Behind

Tonight I can feel the cold wind at my back
I’m flyin’ high over gray fields my feathers long and black
Down along the river’s silent edge I soar
Searching for my beautiful reward

My Beautiful Reward

What is it about Bruce? I’ve not even got to that part. He’s sexy, he’s funny, he’s real (I don’t personally know that but there are no bad stories about him). He’s a multi millionaire but still has time to talk to his fans, he’s acutely conscious of how he’s got to have his wealth and fame. He has a big ego but isn’t afraid to show his soft side. He’s generous with his bandmates, many of whom have been with him for 40+ years and with other musicians. His politics are left, he has an unpublicised charitable foundation, he gave money to the miners’ wives during the strike. He regularly does fundraisers. He’s withstood depression. He reinvents his music, turning the solid rockers like Born in the USA and Born to Run into acoustic ballads, singing falsetto, switching seamlessly across musical genres. He’s always been a friend to the LGBT community right from the get go and more recently speaking out for gay marriage and for trans rights, actually cancelling a show in North Carolina to show solidarity with those affected by anti trans laws.

1996. Bruce’s solo acoustic Ghost of Tom Joad tour. I failed miserably to get tickets for Manchester Apollo. Chris and I had one of our very rare fallings out over this, I can only remember 3 quarrels in 30 years. On the day of the gig, 28th February, I was to be found standing outside the back gates of the Apollo, for hours and hours in sub zero temperatures in an attempt to get Bruce’s autograph. Because I thought I was still young (I wasn’t) and was definitely still stupid, I wasn’t wearing sufficient clothes. The ground frosted up beneath me. I heard the gig as the amplified acoustic songs seeped through the walls, whilst I waited for Bruce to appear. I waited with a strange bunch of folk. They were the obsessed and the dangerously insane, they made me look like a puppy. I bought an old Born in the USA poster off one of them for £1 so I could be ready for the autograph. This was then sneered at for being out of date. One guy was getting ready to have his arm tattooed once Bruce had written on it. And then, after about 6 hours of freezing to the ground, Bruce was there and I was next to him. I managed to say something on the lines of “I think you’re really great”, he signed my poster, giving me a very deep intense look and that was that. Of course, the poster has pride of place in my bedroom and Chris and I made up very quickly. Setlist

Them smokestacks reachin’ like the arms of God 
Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay

Youngstown
The autograph

1999. Bruce got the E Street Band back together on the Reunion tour. Carol, Chris and I saw the band back on form in the MEN Arena on 1st May. They opened with My Love Will Not Let You Down, which Carol and I played at our civil partnership in 2008. Bruce reinvented The River with a haunting sax intro from Clarence. Setlist

I see you standin’ across the room watchin’ me without a sound
But I’m gonna push my way through that crowd, I’m gonna tear your holy walls down
Tear all your walls down

My love, love, love, love, love, love, will not let you down

My Love Will Not Let You Down

2003. Bruce played the Lancashire County Cricket ground at Old Trafford on 29th May. Carol, Chris and I were in attendance for this gig of The Rising tour. A great gig with some great songs. This was the only time we heard Bruce and Danny play Sandy, a breathtakingly beautiful song. Setlist

Now, the greasers, ah, they tramp the streets or get busted for sleeping on the beach all night
Them boys in their high heels, ah, Sandy, their skins are so white

4th July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

I got seven pictures of Buddha, the prophet’s on my tongue
Eleven angels of mercy sighing over that black hole in the sun

Mary’s Place

2005. Bruce released Devils and Dust, or Drivel and Dirt as Chris and I called it. We weren’t happy with it but still went to see him at the Royal Albert Hall on 27th May. He played some songs I really wanted to hear but I didn’t much like the solo arrangements then, strangely they’ve improved with time. We hung around at the back door for ages but he didn’t come out or rather he’d probably left before we got there. It was steaming hot inside and outside the RAH. Setlist

Out ‘neath the arms of Cassiopeia
Where the sword of Orion sweeps
It’s me and you, Rosie, we’re crackling like crossed wires
You breathing in your sleep

Long Time Coming

2006. Boss time was ramping up. Bruce released the Seeger Sessions folk album. Chris and I loved it. We saw it at the start of the tour at the MEN Arena on 7th May, it was a very intimate show, rough and ready. Setlist

Then we went again to Sheffield 6 months later on 14th November, with Carol, after a rather exciting drive in the rain to the venue. By then the show was much more polished. The band opened with a stunning electrifying version of Blinded by the Light. Setlist

2007. The Magic album and tour. December 12th. Chris and I travelled outside the UK for the first time to see Bruce in Antwerp. A great gig with a real calliope on the stage. The Sportpaleis was a dark venue, like going back to the 70s. The staircases were dark, the seating was in darkness. We had a fun December trip together drinking late in bars. I wrote it up and this blog was born. The blog was a love letter. Now that Chris and Carol have both gone, I don’t really know what it is anymore, or even whether to continue with it. Setlist

2008. We all three went to Old Trafford football ground on 28th May for the Magic tour. Danny Federici had died a few weeks earlier. Setlist

11th October, Carol and I were married (civil partnership which we later backdated and upgraded to a marriage). Dave and his mother Joyce, spoke for Carol, Chris for me. We played My Love Will Not Let You Down.

2009. 3rd July Chris and I travelled to Frankfurt for the Working on a Dream tour. A great show, Chris had brought an inflatable guitar and a sax which we waved around. On the way out, we and the crowd sang the Badlands refrain all the way round the stadium. We then had a fun holiday in the hills, Chris attracting several old men. Setlist. Chris also saw Bruce in London on 28th June. Setlist

Chris in Frankfurt
These got waved a lot

2012. Since the previous tour, Clarence Clemons had died. 27th May, Chris and I were in Cologne for the first of many Wrecking Ball shows. We had a great trip. Chris was very keen to go on a cable car so we bought our tickets and then when we got into it she was less keen. It was a small 2 person car and I was told not to speak. I was quite surprised when it took us over the dual carriageway but we arrived safe and sound. Lucky for us because 5 years later the same cable car system collapsed into the Rhine. Chris was never to know that. Setlist

Cologne
The teeth have closed up now.

Back in 2012 on 22nd June, Carol, Chris and I were in the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Carol was starting to not be well and was heading towards complete loss of kidney function. It was amazingly wet, rained so hard I could hardly see the M62. I’d got together a picnic which we ate in the car. It was a good show and the last time that Carol got to see Bruce. Setlist

Chris, Jak and Carol. I’m wearing a hat I bought in Koln.
That’s my jacket and my hat, Carol!

2013. Chris and I travelled to Oslo and then Bergen on the mountain railway. We returned to Oslo and arrived early at the Telenor Arena on 29th April. We managed to get into the arena very quickly. As we mounted the stairs, I said “I don’t recognise this version of This Hard Land” and as I said it we realised that Bruce was in the arena playing a warm up. We raced as far as we could get and he played a “pre-show” set just for us and a few hundred others. One of the 4 songs was All That Heaven Will Allow which was prescient for us, he’d also played it the first time we saw him in 1988. Setlist

After the gig
In Bergen

Back in the UK, Chris and I went to Coventry on 20th June for what was to be Chris’s final show. She wasn’t very well that day and it wasn’t the best gig we’d been to, the sound was poor. He started with The Ghost of Tom Joad. Setlist. On 24th July, Bruce opened up the new Leeds Arena and I’d managed to get just one ticket. I went to my first Bruce gig alone and made some friends in the queue. It was good seeing him in a smaller venue. He finished up with a solo Thunder Road. Setlist

Now some may wanna die young man 
Young and gloriously 
Get it straight now mister 
Hey buddy that ain’t me 
‘Cause I got something on my mind 
That sets me straight and walkin’ proud 
And I want all the time 
All that heaven will allow

All That Heaven Will Allow

2014. This was the year Chris got sick.

2016. Bruce was due to play the Etihad in Manchester as part of The River 2016 tour on 25th May. I got tickets and then Andy and I mapped out how to get Chris to the show from Borth. In the end Chris decided not to go because she was too sick. She’d worried about letting me down and she had really wanted to go but I was just sad that she was so ill. I went to the show and cried a lot. Setlist. 23rd July saw me in Gothenburg at the Ullevi stadium on my own, I liked Gothenburg a lot and saw Little Steven from a tram. Setlist. I gave Chris Bruce’s autobiography and it’s the last book she read. Chris knew she was dying and knew she wasn’t going to make it till Christmas.

October 27th, Chris died. She was 63. She requested that we play Bruce at her funeral. We chose Thunder Road, Lift Me Up and Born to Run. At the crematorium we all turned round and asked the man controlling the music to “turn it up” for Born to Run.

Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

Thunder Road

2017. Chris’s birthday. We commissioned Marc Treanor to do a sand drawing on Mwnt beach on 22nd August, the drawing was based on Chris’s tattoo. He did and he made a video of the day which he set to Lift Me Up.

Your skin, your hand upon my neck
This skin, your fingers on my skin
This kiss, this heartbeat, this breath
This heart, this heart, this wilderness

Lift me up, darling
Lift me up and I’ll fall with you lift me up
Let your love lift me up

Lift Me Up

2019. 14th January Carol died. She was 58. Although not totally unexpected it was still a shock. She and we were not thinking she would die just when she did. She was still future planning including wanting to see Bruce again. All she’d wanted for her funeral was for it not to be costly. We managed that. We finished up with Out in the Street, which along with Hungry Heart was part of how Carol wooed me. It’s May now and Bruce has released a new single Hello Sunshine (makes me think of Morecambe and Wise and Round the Horne) which I think Chris would have loved and perhaps Carol less so. Carol liked the 3 minute rockers more though she’d always stop and listen when I was playing Bruce. Bruce is still managing to say things that have meaning for me. And now it is just me and him.

When I’m out in the street, oh oh oh oh oh, I walk the way I wanna walk
When I’m out in the street, oh oh oh oh oh, I talk the way I wanna talk

Out In The Street

Pillar 1st April 2018

This trip had been a long time coming. In 2010 Chris and I had a Lakeland Adventure around Ennerdale Water where we wild camped then stayed in Ennerdale YH and finished up in the Castle Inn on Bassenthwaite Lake for a proper treat. We discussed climbing Pillar and how we would do it.

In 2014, we returned to Ennerdale and walked to Black Sail YH and then Chris got sick. It was very sudden and very clear that we were not going to climb Pillar that day. So we changed our plans and did some other things. She was such a tough woman that she did go up Catbells the next day albeit very very slowly but she was so determined to do it. That was the last mountain she climbed.

I went to Wasdale in 2015 and tried to ascend from the other side. I hadn’t allowed enough time and my boot lace disintegrated and although I had a good walk that day, Pillar was just a stretch too far.

Easter 2018: I booked a break on Derwent Water. I set it up so that I had a choice of 3 possible days to walk and I would just take the best of the 3 from the weather forecasts. The first day had very limited visibility on the tops, day 2 was looking good and day 3 looking very pants. I opted for the Sunday.

I drove round from Portinscale where I was staying to Wasdale Head, an hour’s drive. Parked up with no problems near the campsite. And then just walked. You have to go quite a long way in what feels like and is completely the wrong direction but that’s so as to avoid things like the screes. So it’s up to the Black Sail Pass and then basically back along and up and up, including a sort of knarly, knobbly knot which was hands on and fun. It’s a good long walk and always another bit to do but after 3 hours I got to the top and just the top plateau was snow covered, I knew it was a plateau but with the name Pillar you are expecting something else! There is Pillar Rock which is a climbing challenge and why the place is called Pillar. Fantastic 360 views of the sea, Ennerdale Water and Sellafield!

The last of Chris’s ashes are now scattered on the top of the mountain she didn’t reach in life.

I had planned to do a circuit but it looked a lot more snowy ahead so I returned via the same route because I was on my own.

Derwent Water

Derwent Water

Pillar

Ennerdale Water from Pillar

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