Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas Everyone!

No snow here this Christmas, but a picture of a cloudy Christmas scene doesn't work so well, does it?

Happy Christmas, Yule, Winter Solstice or Midwinter to you all. If you are on your own, please accept a hug from me and know that you are in my thoughts.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Four (Or More) Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

My little trip to friends was the final piece in a puzzle I've been, well, puzzling over for many years - what is the vital ingredient in a happy life?

I had always been a town girl and reasonably happy to be so, I thought. So when we came here ten years ago and found ourselves living in the country it was quite a change - no pub or Indian carry-out within walking distance for a start! I found it very hard. The Golfer was away on business a lot and the neighbours completely ignored us - avoided us in fact. I found, during that first winter, my bubbly personality fizzling out and I was bitterly unhappy. But at the same time, I was entranced by my surroundings. Deer would appear at dusk and we would rush to the window and watch them till they moved on. An occasional hare would melt into view and then magically melt away again. Every time I heard a buzzard cry overhead I would dash out to watch it wheel far above. I began to feel truly in touch with, and not just sympathetic to, nature.

I began to pity people who had to live in town. True, we had new worries - the constant dread of a huge tree falling, a septic tank to grapple with, and the isolation - but every time I stepped outside I felt nourished. The Golfer, after a doubtful start, began to relax too. He loved coming back here after a long and tiring business trip and would feel his bones relax as he drew near the peace of home. It was a bit like being on holiday.

After he died, it was the land that kept me going. No matter how bad I felt, a walk round the wood would refresh me, even if it made me feel all the lonelier. Living here, there wasn't anything else to cheer me up, with neighbours who avoided me and the nearest Starbucks ten miles away. I felt completely alone but at peace, if that makes sense. I began to despair of ever being part of a community of any kind again. I tried new things but it never seemed to last beyond the event itself. No matter how adventurous I was, I still landed up back at home alone in the dark at the end of it. But my garden was always there for me to remind me that even if humanity didn't want me, I was part of nature. In those early dark days of widowhood I didn't much care if humanity didn't want me anyway. I felt more like 87 than 47 and tried to be brave in the face of the certainty that the best of my life was over.

A few months ago I was surprised to find that I ached when it was time to leave a friend's house, leaving behind all that normality. I had thought that I had toughened myself sufficiently not to need other people - like them of course, and meet friends but not need them - couldn't afford to need them, they might leave me or let me down and I didn't want to feel that bad again.

At the same time I was finding that my two and a half acres wasn't giving me quite the pleasure it had before. I'd see a new flower and think - "that's all very well but you can't talk to me, or share a joke, or tell me I exist". This was new. Home, which had been a haven for me in the first months, now felt like a prison. I wanted to be out there amongst humanity. But who would choose to leave this place of tranquillity and head back to town, where you have to fight for a parking space, and it's noisy and polluted, and you don't have deer gambolling past your window as you type on your computer? As I've written here before, I was caught in a dilemma that seemed to have no solution - too lonely to stay, too scared to leave. Part of that was the fear of losing that very special daily connection to nature that I've had for ten years.

But this visit to my friends has decided me. Friendship, love and human company come first. If I ever find myself at the heart of a family again, then I might be lucky enough to live once again amongst the rest of nature. But living alone in the country, especially in this unfriendly place, deprives me of the most vital thing that surely all humans require - contact with our own species. I think it's all very Darwinian - the need to be amongst other people; the herd instinct which brings mutual protection and support is, I have found, very deep within me and is even more fundamental than the desire to be amongst the natural world. So I will head back to civilization. I just wish I could go right now.

Moving On?

I'm just back from spending a few days with old friends. I had a great time and now I feel like crap. Being alone in this house has become unbearable and I am on the verge of deciding to move away from this unfriendly and unhappy place.

I've been widowed, and therefore living alone, for three years now, and a change has been working in me this last year. For the first couple of years I still felt linked to the Golfer and so, although I missed him and felt lonely without him, I also still felt like part of something - he might not be around any more but I was still his wife. At least, that's what kept me going through those awful months. But actually I lost more than my husband when he died. I lost the connection to the exciting world he inhabited, all the vicarious thrills of his international travel - the crises, the late-night phone calls and emails, the hastily arranged travel plans. My life might have been pretty dull and quiet but I was only a step away from a busy and exciting life, populated by hundreds of people that I never met but that I felt as if I knew.

When he died, inevitably all that disappeared too. I was concentrating so hard on being brave those first two years after his death that I didn't have time to notice how very different, how sparse, my life was now. Part of it was of our own doing - we had always been a pretty private couple - he didn't like to mix business and home life, home was the place he came to recuperate - so we didn't have many friends, only colleagues. Luckily, I had a couple of friends of my own, otherwise I wouldn't have got this far but, as almost all my family and his too, were dead, when he died I was left practically alone in the world. Just me and my son and my little dog. The son had, by a cruel coincidence, gone off to University the same month that the Golfer died so, when I woke up from my stupor of grief a year ago, I was appalled at what my life was now. I went from living in a house with a family and two businesses being run from it, to living alone with just an old dog for company, almost overnight.

So this last year has felt worse than anything that preceded it. I will even admit that I have felt almost suicidal at times. I can now at least bear to be around married friends, I can go to their houses and see their normal lives without wanting to stab myself in the eyes. But I want to live it again, desperately. I might never marry again - who'd put up with a book-collecting aspiring intellectual who never wants to cook another meal but loves playing WOrld of Warcraft? Not an enticing prospect to your average middle-aged guy, you'll agree. But I can at least live amongst friends, and in a neighbourhood where people talk to you and aren't afraid to offer a helping hand.

The friends I was visiting last week live in the town I used to live in before we came to the wild and woolly Highlands. I love going back. People look you in the eye and they love to talk. It's partly nosiness of course, but oh! how I long for that nosiness after ten years of being blanked by the people here.

When I was staying there, at one point we had two new mums, a new dad, and two babies in the house as well as the three of us and my little dog. It was bliss and I wanted it never to stop. I could hardly bear to drag myself back here. But I checked out a house for sale while I was there, and I loved it, and I think, I really think that I am going to do it. I just need to talk to my son and then I think I'm actually going to put my house on the market (and stuff the credit crunch) and that means I could soon be living amongst normal people again, with a social life, and company, and a new life. I cannot wait!

Friday, October 24, 2008

I Am a Glorious Chicken...?

I've been (and still am)suffering from a really irritating old woman's problem which I won't go into here - nothing serious but chronic and distracting. I was in a bookshop yesterday, feeling sorry for myself and pretty desperate about the future when a card in the Edward Monkton section caught my eye:

And it really inspired me. I love Edward Monkton's work. He's done the Madness Hamsters, the Handbag of Glory and the Shoe of Salvation, amongst others. My favourite is my fridge magnet that has the question Are You Normal? and a little person shouting at the top of their voice NO! Pretty much summed up how I've been feeling this last few years and curiously comforting every time I open the door.

And he's done it again. When you've hit fifty and it really really feels as if it's downhill from here, no matter how optimistic and Pollyanna-ish you try to be, the thought that each year you live adds a glorious feather to the Chicken of your Life really bucks you up.

I now have an image of myself as a fabulous mythical phoenix-chicken, with many feathers. Some are long and silky and multi-hued. Some are, frankly, a bit straggly and hardly worthy of the title feather. But each one adds to the unique creation that is me.

It's a helluva better thought than the old one of bits falling off, drooping and breaking down!

(You can buy Edward Monkton stuff here or in loads of shops - I see a lot of them in Waterstones.)

Altogether now...


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nothing Like a Bit of Support

Hello fellow Rosehips

I've been having one or two menopausal irritations recently which have rather spoiled my summer, but I think I am on the mend at last, having had a proper diagnosis at last (only took four goes!).

As you do, I was madly searching the internet for information and support and came across this great website. All the information seems to be good but I am finding the forum particularly useful. I really felt as if I was the only one suffering with these symptoms and all of a sudden I have found dozens of other women who are not just suffering with them but some who have actually recovered and are feeling well again - the joy!

I'm going to put a banner at the top of the page too, so you'll always have somewhere quick to click but here's a link too:

Menopause Matters

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I'm Back

Hi all

I've been away, I am rather horrified to discover, for two months. The good news is that it has been, on the whole, for positive reasons. I've been sort of building a bit of a new life for myself, or at least, the foundations of one, and I guess I didn't want to risk jinxing it by writing about it here.

Now, don't get too excited, my little rosehips/prunes, I haven't taken any huge leaps. I just kept on taking the baby steps that I've been taking for the last three years. It's just that I found that the last few baby steps took me out of the shadows and into the sunshine.

Grief is a process, the experts tell us. I didn't understand that until recently, when I found that I was moving along this conveyor belt, almost despite myself. Despite myself, because the further you move along it, the further behind you leave the dead person that you loved. But you can't move back, you have to go with it and, at last, after three horrible years, I can say that I feel almost whole.

Things started moving fast forward when I decided to have a go at dating. Not that I have actually succeeded in dating anyone yet but at least the willingness is there. The only thing I was brave enough to try at first was an introduction agency. Felt very brave, and nervous, signing on with them but found pretty quickly that it was too conservative and slow-moving for me. I began to fancy speed dating, and wondered if they did it for old people like me. I was amazed to discover that they did and signed up for an evening before I had time to change my mind.

I was nervous when I went along but amazed to discover when I got there that there were other people much more nervous than I was. I had a great night. I didn't meet the man of my dreams, and I didn't meet anyone I really wanted to date, but I did talk to a dozen guys without sending them screaming from the room. When I drove home the next day (having had to drive south for the event - the Highlands are a dating dead zone) I felt like a new woman. I'd also spent a night in the big city and was impatient at the thought of coming back to the isolation and boredom of life here. By the time I got home I realised that I wanted to work again - now that was a surprise!

So now, a month later, I am working towards opening my own business. When I stop and take a breath, I can scarcely believe that I'm doing it. Back in January, when I was almost suicidal with loneliness and desperation, I couldn't have dreamt that I would be where I am today. It's not perfect, of course. I'm still too isolated. I still panic when something goes wrong round the house. But I have plans now, and modest ambitions. I am living again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Talking to Strangers

I'm just back from seeing my counsellor. This is the third time since the Golfer died that I have consulted a counsellor. Each time I went for several months then thought I was fixed and left. Then, a few months further on, I would find myself crawling back. It's very dispiriting. When I was 'normal' - i.e. married, I would have had very little sympathy for someone who still needed help THREE YEARS after their husband had died. I'd have thought they were malingering.

From this side of the fence I (obviously) see it very differently. For whatever reason (and there are a few), I find that I need that extra person to talk things through with, and I am very glad indeed that my counsellor is there. I can say things to her that I cannot say to my son or my friends. I still don't dig down too far, and I don't cry, but I find the sessions a useful safety valve, a place to be honest instead of putting on a brave face, and it is great simply to talk for an hour to a sympathetic listener.

But of course, the very fact that I need to use a stranger as that sympathetic listener highlights my situation all the more. When I was 'normal', and in a relatively happy marriage, I talked things through with my husband. I didn't need to pay someone to listen to me.Even though we argued a lot in the later days, when the chips were down he was always there for me. HE WAS PART OF MY TRIBE. It isn't just that he knew me better than anyone else alive, he cared about me more than anyone else in the world.

It is humiliating to have to go to outsiders for help, whether it's because I can't clear the block in my drains, or I've bumped my head and I'm worried that I'll have a haemorrhage in the night and no-one will know, or because I am simply lonely and I've talked to all my friends and I'm still lonely. It was a standing joke between us that when the Golfer came back from a long business trip he had to be ready to sit down with a big mug of tea (or a large glass of wine) because I was going to have two weeks' worth of conversation and gossip to get out. And he always did it, sometimes even willingly! Now I have to spread those conversations out amongst friends and professionals, and I understand how those little old ladies feel that you see in town talking at length to shop assistants. It isn't just that they are lonely. They are trying to replace the aching gaps in their lives left by family who have died or gone away.

So I go every week to my counsellor. And I'm very glad that she is available to me. But I wish more than anything that I didn't need her, that I was normal again.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The (Not Quite) Agony and the (Nowhere Near) Ecstasy

I haven't blogged here much the last month. I have been so miserable I haven't wanted to inflict it on anyone. I would never have believed that I could still be feeling this screwed up nearly three years after the Golfer's death, but I am. In fact, I feel worse now than I did at the beginning. But that is a good sign, at least I hope it is.

In the first couple of years, I was focussed on surviving, proving to myself and the world that I could manage on my own. There were lots of new things to learn, new challenges and also, let's be honest, the novelty of having no-one to answer to. I didn't have time to think about the reality of it all. Hell, I didn't let myself think about the reality of it all. Now I find I am beginning to thaw out, I'm raising my head for the first time in three years and I'm saying "Shit! How the hell did I get here? I don't like this. Can I go back now please?"

In this respect, I don't think my situation is much different from people who have been through divorce. It's the same feeling (I would think) of a life plan torn up and of the unpalatable choice of starting out all over again or of clinging to what is left of the old life. Neither is appealing.

For the first time since he died, I have been ill. That doesn't help the mood but, more importantly, it feels as if my body is telling me that it's had enough of all this bravery and stiff-upper-lippedness and that it wants to have a damn good tantrum.

All this seems to be heralding a new phase in my life. I am, for the first time, unbearably lonely. After two years of my house being my safe haven, now it feels like a prison, and a pretty sad one at that. I'm only really happy when I'm with other people. I even found myself crying when friends went away this weekend. (I have rarely cried since he died.) And I'm back with a counsellor - mainly because I'm scared that I'll cover up all this new pain as I am used to doing, and I don't think I should be doing that. But this is all good, I am certain. I think it marks the end of my grief process (or at least the beginning of the end) and the re-emergence of a Puddock, blinking as she steps back out into the sunlit lanes of society. I hope so!

I'm still not at all certain that I want to leave behind those thirty years that I spent with the Golfer. I'm not sure how you move ahead into another path, into new relationships without nullifying the past. It's going to be an interesting next few steps, that's for sure.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Taking the Plunge

Well, after nearly three years of widowhood, I have finally snapped. I seem to be a different person. I am fed up being lonely and cannot bear the thought of another thirty years of isolation and ever-increasing loopiness. I WANT TO BE NORMAL AGAIN!!

So I have taken the plunge and joined a dating agency. Who'd have thought it? I certainly wouldn't until last week.

I think (I hope) that it's a good and normal thing to want to do though. All I know is that I don't want to spend another day, never mind the rest of my life, alone. So what happened?

For the first two and a half years after the Golfer died, the grief was all about him. It was a mixture of sadness at the life he wouldn't have; and guilt that I would carry on living; it was partly a kind of loyalty to the Puddock/Golfer tribe - he might be gone but we'd keep things going; and there was an overwhelming feeling that I had had my go at love - I had had my throw of the dice at 18, fallen in love, filled a house, I had done the raising kids bit, it was just bad luck that our go had run out early but I just had to accept it and live with the consequences. I don't know where this thought came from but it was at the bottom of everything I did these last thirty-odd months. I behaved, I guess, as if he had gone away on a particularly long business trip, and I had done what I usually did when he went away - I had done my best to be brave and fill my time productively. Then - bam! - out of nowhere a voice in my head began yelling - "This is not enough! I'm drowning here. I'm invisible and I'm drowning."

It is as if my body has got fed up waiting for my brain to come to its senses and is giving me permission to risk being happy again. I'm feeling grotty and I know it's down to stress and loneliness and frustration. All my symptoms disappear when I'm with friends or busy. The house, which was a refuge for me in the early days, I never felt lonely here, now feels like a prison. Yet all the time my brain was plodding along with the plan. But the body has won out - it made me feel so ill and so depressed that I knew I had to do something. And first order of the day seemed to be to at least meet some men. Second order of the day is to move away from this unhappy place and third order is to find a new career but first things first...

So I've done it! I don't expect to meet the second love of my life but it will be lovely to have male company again, even if it's just coffee and a chat. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Two Paths in a Wood

I've been reviewing my situation, as Fagin said in the movie, and I've come to the conclusion that I have a choice to make. I've been dashing around in ever diminishing circles with one mad idea after another and, frankly, I'm dizzy.

As I've written about here before, when the Golfer died, it happened at practically the same time as my only child trundled off to University. Shortly after, I closed down my little business for various reasons but mainly because it chained me to the house answering the telephone, which isolated me even more than I already was. Consequently I became a widow, an empty-nester and unemployed pretty much all in one fell swoop. I was so busy being brave about it all that it's only now, nearly three years later, that the whole hideous truth is beginning to dawn on me - hence the dizziness.

As I've also written about here recently, I have suddenly begun to want to be in male company again. As I've thawed out, I've realised all the normality of everyday family life that I've lost, and I miss it terribly. I can scarcely bear to be in the house now because it reminds me how alone I am.

Obviously this cannot go on, so I've been trying to think of the best way forward. I've had a brilliant and dynamic new idea every day, and every day the previous one has looked ridiculous. I am now a very confused Puddock.

I realised today that part of the confusion stems from trying to achieve two totally different things - following both the paths in the wood, in fact. Part of me wants, more than anything, to share my daily life with someone again. But I also want to find a new purpose in my life. Living in the middle of nowhere, in a part of the country famed for its reserved people, makes it kinda difficult even to meet people, never mind find a twin soul. So plans to cope with this have included moving to a city - Edinburgh, say, going on a course that will get me meeting interesting people, or finding a job that will do the same.

But is that all I'm looking for in life - a bloke to make it all better?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Not All Bad

Sorry all, that I haven't posted here for a while. Do you know, I think it's because I've actually had a life! Okay, it's only been gardening and meeting friends, and doing the odd arty course, but it has felt great. After nearly three years of living unwillingly alone, I think I am getting the hang of it.

So this article that I bumped into online, via the Daily Mail website, seemed just the thing to share - The Joys of Living Alone. Here are some of the best bits -

We are the ones who know the bliss of waking on a weekday morning to a calm and clutter-free home, with time to grind the coffee beans, bathe to the sound of Bach and perhaps do a few yoga stretches before setting off for work - pretty well impossible if you share your home with others.

Living alone allows creativity to flourish.
Author Frances Fyfield, in her 50s, believes solitude permits her to be more herself and even helps her relationships more than marriage.
"I have had fewer but more sustainable relationships since my marriage," she says. "There are all sorts of ways to live and love."

This is a new phenomenon made possible by the fact that women can now afford to do what they want - and increasingly, what they want is to live alone.

One of them is 58-year-old Lucy Austin.
"My children don't know what's wrong with me," she says.
"They really like Tom, my partner of the past few years.
"I was nervous of telling them about my new relationship, but it's a long time since their father died and they were delighted for me.
"They are anxious for us to get married or move in together.
"I know it's what Tom would like, and I think my daughters are worried that if I don't marry him, he will go off with someone else!"

But that is a risk Lucy is willing to take: "I am very happy and it is lovely to have a companion to go to the theatre or dinner with on a Saturday night.
"It's great to have someone to go on holiday with. But I am quite adamant that we live apart: I love living alone and don't want to live with anyone else again."

Donna Baxter, 50, who has lived alone happily for four years since her divorce, says, "It may be different now for women who spend decades partying and being single when they're young.

"But for those of us who spent our 20s and 30s either bringing up children or, like me, working and bringing up children, the joy I get from the extra hours I seem to have gained by living on my own just cannot be overemphasised.
"My husband would grouch if I had the bedside light on to read after he wanted to sleep.
"Now I read until four in the morning, munching digestives in bed with the World Service on the radio.
"Sometimes I laugh out loud because I'm so happy!
"I have met a kind man whose company I enjoy, but I honestly can't see myself ever giving up the freedom I now have to do exactly what I want, when I want."

I wonder what are the best bits of living alone for you? (let's not think about the bad stuff today)

For me, it would have to be:

The freedom to eat what and when I want, and ESPECIALLY, not having to cook for anyone else, after more than thirty years of it.

The calmness. No arguments, Radio 3 with my breakfast if I want it or - sheer decadence - The Rockford Files...

Dressing to please myself. I really, really don't care what anyone thinks about how I look and for the first time in my life I find I am developing my own style - Annie Oakley meets Worzel Gummidge...

Making and maintaining friendships. When I was one of the smug married brigade, we didn't need friends, we had each other. Now I find that, although obviously I need friends more than I did, I also am available for them and their problems more than I ever was before. I've strengthened some wonderful friendships in the last three years, with benefits on both sides.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Feeling Disorientated Can Be Good For Your Health - Honest!

One of the worst things about being me at the moment is the feeling of being adrift - cut off from so much of my past, all that youthful optimism squished and, despite my best efforts and for the first time in my life, apparently incapable of jollying myself out of it.

But you don't have to be widowed to be in this state. People find themselves alone or cut off in middle life for all sorts of reasons. I've talked to many fellow bloggers who feel the same as I do - people in all sorts of situations. What links us is the sensation that we have fallen off the life path we thought we were on and we are having difficulty finding a new purpose to our lives.

It's an extremely scary feeling. I was always an upbeat kind of Puddock and I am used to making the best of what life throws at me. It is a new sensation not to be able to roll up my sleeves what? That is the point of course - there is no point at the moment. For twenty years or so, I've known exactly what was required of me every day. [It wasn't necessarily what I would have chosen to be doing with my day but I had responsibilities to people (and dogs) that I loved and I was generally speaking, glad to be mum and cook, secretary and housemaid (okay - not so keen on the last one.) I didn't have time to think about what I would do if I was free of the responsibility. I bought into the get married, have kids, then sit back and be surrounded by family for the rest of your life thing, only to find myself kicked off that particular ocean liner and cast adrift three years ago. But that's just my story. Everyone has their own.

I came across a great book called Navigating Midlife: women becoming themselves by Robyn Vickers-Willis. I think I may even have bought it before the Golfer died (that's what I mean about it not being an exclusively widow issue) and there was one section that struck a particular chord with me, becasue it told me that all that pain and disorientation I was suffering could have a useful purpose. That thought got me through some tough times before and so, hitting a major trough these last few days, I searched out the book again and, lo, it was still useful! She describes it as a normal phase of our lives and calls it liminality. It is one of three phases in the transformation that takes place in midlife - separation, liminality and reintegration. Here's what she says:

There are strong feelings of confusion, bewilderment, disorientation, alienation, fragmentation and drift as we let go of our old self and personal world and float towards the not yet known more complete Self and newly created personal world.

In liminality we are like the migrants on board their boat on the way to Australia. They know they have left behind their old identity and their old life. They are not sure what it is like where they are going. Many find this time terrifying. Some start doubting that they can create a new life and wonder whether they could return to the old.

During this time we come closer to our unconscious. At this stage dreams, inner images, daydreams and writing helped me identify new parts of my Self and new directions for my life. I was also becoming more authentic in my relationships. Questions passing through my mind at liminality were:
If I am not the person I thought I was, who am I?
What is me and what is not me?
Am I ever going to feel 'normal' again?
What is the right direction for me?
What's important to me? What do I want to make time for?
How can I create what I want?

Later, she talks about moving into the reintegration phase but sometimes slipping back into liminality (and this is the bit that helped me.) She says:
Now when I am in liminality I remind myself to feel excited, rather than scared, as I know that I am likely to bring to consciousness another part of my Self. My reward is a more complete feeling of Self. other words, all that disorientation probably means that you are making progress towards something better, stronger and on firmer ground.

I've highlighted the bits that really struck me. I'd also use a different metaphor. My feeling is more one of being kicked off the sunny path through the forest, full of bustling, noisy families and golden people and left with a dark and scary path through the wild wood, with no idea of where it's going. The thing that Robyn tells us is that that thorny path could well be leading to a wonderful sunlit glade, with deer and fluffy rabbits, and that we would never have got to that sunlit spot if we hadn't taken that dark and thorny road. Onwards and upwards people!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Making The Cat Laugh

When I first realised that I was not just widowed, but that I now qualified as single again, I thought I'd better brush up on what it meant to be single these days. So when I found Making the Cat Laugh - one woman's journal of single life on the margins by Lynne Truss on the shelves of my local Waterstones, I grabbed it and headed to the nearest cafe straight away.

Five minutes later I was laughing like a drain and thinking there might be hope for me after all. Here are a couple of quotes:

One of the more difficult things to accept about being newly single is that there is no one to strike chore-bargains with. You know the sort of thing: 'If you do the breakfast, I'll take the bin out'; 'I'll get the milk, you get the papers.' Make such fair's-fair suggestions to the cat, I find, and it will just look preoccupied, and suddenly remember an urgent appointment outside.

Looking on the bright side, however, there is great consolation in the knowledge that the Mr Nobody who takes out the bin is also the Mr Nobody who moves things around so that you can't find them. Take the TV remote control, for example. In my old co-habiting days, how many times did I search frantically among sofa cushions for it, knowing in my heavy heart that it was probably travelling anti-clockwise on the M25 by now, snug in a coat pocket on the back seat of the boyfriend's car? Living alone, then, it is no wonder you rejoice that things remain precisely where you left them. You feel a great warmth inside on the day you realize that if you haven't finished the marmalade, there is still some marmalade left. The only interference I have experienced since living alone was when I emerged from the bath one day to discover the word 'trhjwqxz' on my otherwise blank word-processor screen. I gulped, and stood stock still for a minute, feeling the pulse race in my neck. And then I realized that a cat had made a dash across the keyboard.

And this is the one that made me nearly fall off my chair. A male friend had dropped into conversation that she reminded him of the Michelle Pfeiffer character in Batman Returns. She was extremely chuffed until she saw the film and realized that he meant the Michelle Pfeiffer frumpy librarian before she becomes Catwoman:
No wonder Selina escapes this paltry existence by assuming the identity of Catwoman ('I am Catwoman, hear me roar'). The only problem is that, before it can happen, she must suffer a brutal death from defenestration - which gives pause to all the would-be Catwomen in the audience who are fed up shouting 'Honey I'm home' to an empty flat. I mean, is it worth chucking yourself off the Shell building on the remote chance it might turn you into Catwoman? I'm still weighing it up.

But if it boils down to clothes, I am sunk. You see, in order to become Catwoman it is important that you can rummage in your wardrobe for an old patent-leather coat; you then rip its seams and magically re-fashion it into the appropriate figure-hugging costume. Imagine your disappointment, then, if having flung yourself from a high roof (and become a glassy-eyed un-dead) you opened your closet, snapping your expectant pinking shears, to find only a brown calf-length fun-fur, with no patent leather in sight. You would have to become Teddywoman instead, and it would not be the same. 'I am Teddywoman, hear me not make any aggressive noise', you would say lamely, as you sat with your arms out in front of you, unable to bend your elbows.

Fab stuff.

Not Doing What It Says On The Tin

Hi all

I haven't blogged much here this week - I've been far too fed up, which isn't much use in a blog that's supposed to be supportive and inspiring, is it? It reminds me of a funny (and true) exchange I had a few years ago when I was looking for some support.

My first winter up here in the chilly north was a real culture shock, and I suffered badly for the first time from Seasonal Affective Disorder. I found on the internet that there was a local support group for sufferers and phoned the local organiser to find out about events and meetings, only to be told that he, the organiser, was a bit down just now and that he might organise something when he felt a bit better!

Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, I decided to laugh, and found, not for the last time in my life, that support networks sometimes have bloody great big holes in them.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Squish And Release

Morning all!

Thought I'd share with you the latest armament in my battle against the demons of middle-age angst - isn't he jolly?

I was buying t-shirts (seeing as it looks like summer might be coming this year after all) when I saw a tub full of these stress balls near the till. Feeling particularly stressed as it was Monday morning and the first coach load of tourists had already disgorged grannies from the North of England onto the streets of Inverness to wreak havoc, I had to have one.

He's been my faithful companion ever since. I love his cheery little face and his determined message - life is good (say it often enough and you will believe it.)
I squish him when I'm angry and throw him up and down when I'm happy, so if nothing else I'm exercising my arm.

You can check out the company and especially their cheery t-shirts here.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Maw Not Yaw

So, why is this blog all about being middle-aged and widowed? Well, as I looked around for support groups when my husband died, the ones I found all seemed to be aimed at those widowed young. Luckily for me, I just about qualified as young, so I was able to use three excellent sites: The WAY Foundation - aimed at the Widowed And Young, Merry Widow, originally aimed at the young widowed, though now claiming to be for everyone, and YWBB - Young Widow Bulletin Board. But it struck me as unfair and a bit mean to exclude the older widowed, either actively, by the membership rules, or in more subtle ways.

I fell, as I so often seem to do, between the categories. I was classified as young when the Golfer died, but my family had left home, so I had little in common with the young mums on the message boards. More than that though, I felt that somehow older widows and widowers were being told - well, you've had your life - you should think yourself lucky. And of course, that is true, to an extent. It's one of the many glib truths we all say to ourselves, if not to the people concerned.

But have you thought about what that actually means? I didn't, until I experienced widowhood myself, and wondered what it must be like for people older than myself, unlikely to have time to 'make a new life for themselves', as we are constantly being exhorted to do. You may, like me, have been in a very longterm relationship (married 24 years, together since we were 18), or you may have been on a second or third marriage. It doesn't really matter. The difficulty for the older widowed person is that, in a way, your life is over. Your children, if you had them, have left home and are making their own lives. You may be retired, or you may have been deep in retirement plans with your spouse. It is not only hard to start over again when you are older, you actually can't start over in the important things - you've had your family, you've had your career. I think this makes being widowed after your mid-forties hard in ways that are quite different from the challenges of being widowed young.

For another thing, you probably don't have parents around for support. That was, and still is, one of the most difficult things for me. My parents have been dead for ten years, my in-laws are dead, there is no-one to lean on.

One of the other problems of a long marriage (it certainly was in my case) is that you haven't spent a lot of time cultivating your own friendships. You may have married couples as friends but they melt away like snow in Spring when you are alone, as if being widowed might be contagious. Can't blame anyone for that of course - it's my own fault that I didn't keep up my own friendships - but that doesn't alter the situation one finds oneself in.

So if your husband, wife or partner dies after the age of 45 or so, you can find yourself more alone than you have ever been in your life, and with no obvious way of making things better. That is why this blog is dedicated to older people who find themselves unwillingly alone. I hope lots of you will comment on and add to my stories and experience here. Maybe we can help and inspire others out there as lonely as me!

Dating (or not)

When you've been widowed you do, after a time, and rather to your amazement, begin to think about dating again. Some people seem to get back on the horse, so to speak, quite quickly. Bereavement, like the relationship it comes from, is complex and although the general experience might tend to follow a certain course, the detail of each person's grief process is as unique as the marriage they were once part of.

So when I write here about getting used to being a middle-aged singleton, I am writing from my one unique perspective. I know other people have a very different tale to tell - because they are older or younger than I am, because they were newly married or married for forty years, because they were in a happy or an unhappy marriage.

For the first eighteen months or so after the Golfer died, I was not the slightest bit interested in getting hooked up with another man, for a variety of reasons, not all of them commendable.

I felt tremendous guilt for surviving and it would have felt disloyal even to think about "replacing" him.

For that first year and a half, it felt as though he had just gone on a particularly long business trip. I still felt married to him, so the question of finding another man did not occur to me.

I felt as if I had had my 'go' at marriage. The fact that it was over at the age of 47 was tough but I just had to accept it. (I think this might be a difference between being divorced and being widowed - when a marriage ends in divorce I think it might feel as if the marriage got broken and so there is more of an inclination to go out and have another go. Anyone agree with this?)

And now for the guilty secret - I found, even in the early days, moments of delight in the freedom I now had. No more need to check before I moved the furniture round, I could eat when and what I wanted, get up and go to bed when I fancied. Blissfully happy through most of our marriage, in the later years things had started to go downhill and we had found ourselves bickering over the smallest domestic trivia. The release from that was a guilty pleasure, and when I did begin to realise that there might be life after the Golfer, I was damned if I was going to give up all these new freedoms just as I had found them. Unattractive isn't it? But true.

So now, getting on for three years after his death, I pretty much accept and believe that he is dead, and I find myself hankering (sometimes) to have a close and symbiotic relationship again in my life (assuming you don't count the one I have with my dog.) It's hard to be single for the first time in your life, approaching fifty. So far I have been far too cowardly to do anything more than skulk on the internet dating sites - and a very scary experience that is too. But I'm in a quandary, because I really, really, do not want to give up the control I have over my life, and I'm not sure there is a man out there who is capable of dealing with that.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sartre Says...

While browsing wise quotes for my Monday Bit of Wisdom spot on another blog of mine, The View From the Pond, I came across this one from Jean-Paul Sartre, and thought it would do nicely for here:
"If you are lonely when you're alone, you are in bad company."

I think that's a good target for anyone who finds themselves having to get used to being alone after sharing their lives with someone for a long time - to be content in one's own company.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Samaritans - Not Just For Suicide

By the way, I must recommend the Samaritans. I've called them twice since the Golfer died - most embarrassed the first time, as I am used to coping on my own. Also, I had assumed that they were there just for people thinking of killing themselves and, at least the first time I called, I wasn't near that stage, I was just desperately lonely.

But I had seen a leaflet in my local supermarket, aimed at farmers who might be feeling isolated, and it struck me then that the Samaritans weren't just for the suicidal. I kept that at the back of my mind and, when a few months later I got really desperate to talk to someone, I called.

There's a quote from a caller on their website:

"There's very few places you can go to in the world where you can pick up a telephone and another human being, no matter why they're doing it, will listen to you unconditionally. If you want to pour out in a phonecall, they will listen for hours, for as long as you need them to."

Samaritans caller

- that sums up how I feel about the Samaritans. I've used them twice, I don't know if I'll ever need to use them again, but it is comforting to know that there will be a friendly ear at the other end of the phone if I do feel lonely, isolated or suicidal in the future.

Getting Used To It

Okay, it's time for another Puddock ramble. I'm still not sure which direction this blog is going to head in, so forgive me if I plunge one way, then change my mind in a week or two.

I've had a pretty good week. Widowed now for more than two and a half years, I find that I am definitely through the grief process. How do I define that? Well, in my experience at least, I knew I was through it when I became comfortable with myself as a single unit, instead of as part of a couple.

I reached this point by way of baby steps, and the occasional grazed knee. In fact, it's been after some of my worst moments that I have really begun to make progress - it really has been a case of 'always darkest before the dawn'. January 1st was a horrendous day for me - a drain-centred domestic crisis, with no-one to call on as all my friends were off doing nice normal family things with their nice normal families, being in the midst of a dark and gloomy winter, and the feeling that things were never going to get any better, had me calling the Samaritans after really beginning to think that suicide might become an option for me.

After talking myself out for half an hour, I felt a bit better, and found I had regained some of my old resilience and defiance. I got the big gloves on, screwed up the drain rods, and set to work on my drains again - this time not thinking poor little me (well - a bit) but instead - brave, clever me and stuff the rest of the world. I still had to get the professionals in the next day but I was so proud of myself for attempting the job myself. No-one could take that away from me. Ever since that low point, life has been steadily improving. And somewhere along the line, I stopped feeling like a wife left to cope while her husband was away on some (extremely) long business trip and began to feel like my own person. There is nothing like being up to your elbows in shit (literally) for giving you credibility as a real, genuine grown-up.

With that new-found self-belief, I began to really believe that I had a right to exist. I began to stand up for myself. And I stopped feeling guilty for being alive, when my lovely husband was dead.

So now, three months on, how am I doing? I still get depressed from time to time - sometimes unexpectedly and inexplicably. I still think about the pain of the Golfer's illness and his anger at dying before he was ready, but it doesn't crack me up the way it used to. And at last, after thirty years of being entwined with another human being, I feel that I am standing straight on my own - I am going to be okay.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Old Lady Bites Back

This blog isn't going to be all gloom and despondency about living alone and getting older - oh no! Every so often (or maybe very often) there will be inspiring and sustaining posts like this one. Here is my first Rosehip or Prune heroine, courtesy of Archie's Archive- watch and enjoy:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Borg, alone

It's two and a half years since my husband died and I've done a lot of growing in that time. I hope in this blog both to describe my experience of the process of getting through the grief process and also the baffling (and sometimes hilarious) experience of being single in middle-age. Hmm - awkward balance, that. But then so is life. I'm hoping that loads of people in similar positions will comment and add their experience to the blog. It's always good to know that you aren't alone when you discover that you have forgotten where the stop cock is (surely you used to know. It can't be in that many places. Where the hell is it?, you yell, as water gushes from that burst pipe), or that you have absolutely no idea how to get a date, never mind how to behave on one, you've been out of practice for so many years.

So I thought today I'd kick off with a simple thing. As I was packing up my bottles and paper to take to the recycling depot this morning, I remembered that doing this chore was an event worthy of a diary entry and a big gold star in the first months after the Golfer (my late husband) died. Seems daft now, and the job is (almost) routine now, but I wondered why I could possibly have found it challenging in the early days.

I think I've figured it out. When he was still alive, whenever I did a job like that - filling up the car with petrol, doing the recycling, going on a long journey - simple, routine things, I always knew that if anything went wrong - if I got to the garage and I had forgotten my purse, if I leaned too far and fell into the recycling bin, if a got a flat tyre - then he, the wonderful man, would be there to get me out of my pickle (or my recycling bin.) That is why the smallest, most trivial task becomes a worry and a trial once you are widowed (or divorced, I guess) - there is no longer anyone there to pick you up if you fall on your face.

And that is one of the biggest and most fundamental tasks of the grief process - learning to survive being separated from the entity that was you-and-your-husband. I felt like Seven of Nine (though without the skintight suit) separated from the Borg. It is hard

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rosehip or prune?

The title of the blog was inspired by something I read a few years ago in a book for older women, in which the author, to make us feel good about ourselves as we age, said that if young women were rosbuds, then women in their middle age should see themselves as beautiful rosehips. I rather liked that analogy. It stuck with me, and I am desperately trying to ignore the wrinkles and see the rosehip that I truly am. But sometimes I feel more like a prune...

Surviving alone?

This is a blog dedicated to those of us trying to make sense of lives changed by death or divorce, especially those of us who are in our forties or older. It came about from my own experience of being widowed at 47, in the same month that my only child left home to go to University. It has been difficult - still is - to find a new purpose to my life.

I've been blogging - The View From the Pond, where I muse about living in an existentialist Universe and Two and a Half Acres, where I blog about the nature around me here in the Highlands of Scotland - for nine months and have met many people in the same boat as I am - widowed or divorced, middle-aged, and trying really hard to get on with their lives. Our experiences filter through into our posts on other topics and I thought it would be nice to have a dedicated blog for us to share our problems and our good news, our fears, frustrations and hopes.