Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Thought

I hope you're all having a good day, and if you are alone or unhappy, I'm sending you some positive thoughts. It is only a day, even if it feels like the world revolves around the 25th of December, and things will all get back to normal very soon.

I'm not alone this year - my son and his significant other are here - but I expect to be next year, when they will go to the in-laws, and I've been wondering what it will be like to be alone on Christmas Day. I've been used to a houseful of guests all my married life and it will be strange to be alone, but I will not become someone else's waif and stray - I am determined about that. I'll still decorate a tree, I'll still have a special meal and, in fact, I'm quite excited about that because I will be able to do a vegetarian lunch for the first time - grumpy meat-eating men have prevented this up till now. Pulling crackers might be hard, unless the dog takes the other end in her teeth. I think I'll concentrate on feeding the birds, and take a long walk with the dog.

I will shun the usual ghastly Christmas TV, except Doctor Who, of course, and instead I will put on my extended Lord of the Rings trilogy, close the curtains, snuggle up by the fire with a hot chocolate and a warm dog. When it's really dark, I will go out and wave to the Moon, and blow a kiss to Orion the Hunter as he marches across the sky - I've got a bit of a crush on him - and I will go to bed and dream of Aragorn and Orion, and heroic times.

And then on Boxing Day I will rejoin normal society and go sale-shopping!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Paired for Life? Part 1

I have recently dipped the very tip of a toe into the world of internet dating. You know what it's like - you begin to fill in one of these questionnaires for a bit of fun and, before you know it, you're on the front page of Guardian Soulmates with a glass in your hand and a party grin on your blotchy face.

Thus I found myself listed on two dating websites (not on the front page though - I had the sense to untick that particular permission box) and within the day I was getting smiley faces and thumbs up and even a message or two. And that's when the cold feet began to throb.

They try to tell you there's a world of men out there waiting for you in the internet pond but really, when it comes down to it, by the time you've whittled down the age and the location to the right parameters, you find there are only a dozen guys to sort through. And I'm afraid to say I wasn't the slightest bit intrigued by any of them. It didn't look as though I was going to find my next soulmate here.

And if I wasn't going to do that, then why bother? What was it I was looking for? Someone to go to the theatre with? Sex with more than one person involved? A bloke handy with a screwdriver and a spirit level? That last one is not related to the previous one, though it could be I suppose...

The point is, faced with the reality of an actual man on the other end of the internet connection, I wasn't sure that I wanted to get involved again. I thought at first that this was just nervousness but I think there's more to it than that. I was with the Golfer for thirty years. I felt as if I was joined to him for life. Even though our marriage was not happy in later years, he was still the person who knew me best in the world. We had grown up as adults together - through university, becoming parents, getting the first grey hairs, and beginning our midlife crises. We'd been through redundancy, the death of our parents, the care of relatives. My whole adult life was entwined with this man and I'm not sure I can start again with someone else. I'm not sure I want to.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not clinging to the past and, as an atheist, I don't believe that the Golfer is still somehow here with me, nor that I will meet him again in the hereafter. I know that he is gone and that I am alone. And there is nothing I would like better than to find another soulmate, someone to love and to be cherished by. But I feel as if I have had my go at marriage. We were happy for a while and then he died. If it doesn't sound too obvious a thing to say, if he was still alive we would still be married. The fact that he is dead doesn't change my side of the equation, so to speak. It's just that it's an unbalanced equation. On the one side there is Puddock - wife, mother, dog-carer and aspiring writer; on the other side there is a photograph of a man who used to exist. I still look after a dog and have a son; I still try to write; I still hate washing dishes and resent cooking; it's just that he isn't there. I feel as if I have had my go at the bran-tub of marriage; it's just that my prize didn't last its lifetime guarantee. I'm not sure I get a second go. No refunds, no replacements.

I know there are many people out there who have happily remarried after death or divorce. I know it can be wonderful. I think maybe the life stage you are at makes a difference. I had had my family. I had, almost literally, just waved my only child off to University when my husband died. We were beginning to think about early retirement to the country - him to grow apples and play golf, me to write and sell books. We had known each other since we were twelve and been together since we were eighteen. A thirty year relationship is a very different thing from a five or a ten or even a fifteen year relationship. There's so much damn history, apart from anything else.

When he died, I was on the cusp of middle age, and now feel resolutely so. If I had been younger, there might still have been a drive to have another child, and that might have made a difference. In fact, when he was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, that was one of my first thoughts - that we could make a baby - some biological imperative kicking in, no doubt. But he was too ill and the fantasy melted away. Now I am too old, biologically. If he'd died at 40, I'd have still had a family to care for, and that would have made a difference. If he'd died at 30, I think my need for sex would have had me looking for a man PDQ. But he died at 47, just too late for either of those to be relevant.

So, though it makes me very sad to think it, and feel as if I might as well be 81, instead of 51, I don't think I am going to go looking for love. If it happens by chance, unexpectedly and out of the blue, then wonderful. But in the meantime, and not expecting it to happen, I have to adapt to a life alone.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The (Non) Joys of Dining Alone

My fellow Prunes,

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman dining alone will always be given the worst table in the restaurant. I've had plenty of experience of eating out alone since I came here - partly the novelty of simply being able to walk out for food, after being a 20 minute drive from the nearest takeaway before, partly because I've been so busy sorting the house out that I couldn't lift a saucepan.

It's my own fault for choosing a holiday town. Everywhere there are noisy family groups or hand-holding couples. I can just about cope with it when I walk my mad old dog along the prom. We make an interesting little group of our own and people talk to us. I don't think I'll walk along the seashore on my own very often, though. You get fed up looking either brave or enigmatic. Sometimes you just want to look normal.

Dinner last night though was the first time I was offered the classic worst table in the room. I was proud of myself for saying "hey, what about something a bit more in the body of the kirk?" but it didn't make any difference. "I can't put a single diner at a table for four", he said, and I could sort of see his point. But I had been looking forward all day to going out and being amongst people and instead I found myself perched at a little table next to the proverbial kitchen door, with an unsmiling couple on the other side. Luckily I had brought plenty to read with me and I set about looking interesting and enigmatic. J.K. Rowling has done a great service to lone diners. Get out a notebook and begin writing and you can be sure people will notice. And suddenly you turn from a figure of pity to, at least, a figure of curiosity. You look, suddenly, more interesting than they do. I've even had people ask me if I'm writing a novel.

But still, I am fed up being the odd one out. I WANT TO BE NORMAL! I had a friend staying with me for a few nights last week and it was great to gossip over a coffee and a cake in places where I had days before been the sad lone woman. Of course, I'm back to that now. The question I want to ask is "where are all the single people?" I know there are millions of us out there. I can only assume that they are sitting at home alone in the dark. Come on, guys and girls, get out there. If I see you sitting in a restaurant I'll give you a sisterly smile of encouragement.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Progress Report

I thought I'd better update you, my fellow Prunes, on progress in the new house. The dizziness has abated considerably and I only feel it now if I am feeling stressed or unhappy. I had a friend staying last week, and that was great because I could be relatively normal for a while - eating out with a person instead of a book, getting a reply from another human being when I spoke, instead of having to fill in the gaps myself and, best of all, someone to help with the washing-up. One of the most wearing things I have found since my husband had the bad taste to die on me has been the grinding, never-ending list of jobs to be tackled alone. I can put them off but I know that I will need, at some point, to decorate, cut the grass, fix the washing machine, get the window leak fixed, decorate, do the ironing, buy, and worst of all construct, Ikea storage units, decorate, did I say decorate... Every time something has to be done I know I'm the one that has to do it. For those of us spoiled by long marriages to DIY-competent men, this is one of the hardest things to accept as a side-effect of widowhood.

Of course, I feel a sense of achievement when I tackle a new job successfully, and I have awarded myself many invisible gold stars. Maybe we middle-aged and alone women should set up a network of gold star awards - where, if any one of us feels she (or he!) has done a particularly brave thing, we are automatically granted a gold star by our fellows. But I still resent having to do it all, and it doesn't half wear me down. I recognise the same feeling in the eyes of widowed friends that I meet - that weariness.

Anyway, I am continuing to settle in. Feeling a bit better physically but just as lonely as ever, so far. I think I thought that I'd be inundated with company somehow, simply by moving back to town - I was wrong. But I am getting there and, girls, for any of you out there thinking about moving house - it can be done - if I did it, you can do it!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I Got the Shakes...

...but not, sadly, the Hippy Hippy Shakes.

A day or two after I moved in, I started feeling faint or dizzy when I was walking out and about in my new home town. A few years ago I would have been straight down to the doctor's, demanding tests, but I'm older and wiser now and I am pretty certain that it's all to do with moving house, so I thought I'd talk about it here a bit, in case it helps anyone else.

It only happens when I am out walking, rarely in the house. Sometimes I feel as if I'm about to faint, sometimes I just get dizzy, sometimes my legs feel heavy and about to give way - not nice! Worrying about it, of course, only makes it worse. I realised, after a day or two of the symptoms, that what I am probably having are little teeny mini panic attacks. I am furious with myself for being so weak but, as so often has happened in the four years since the Golfer died, my body deals with the grief and the stress in its own way, even while my brain is fixing a determined smile on my face, making lists of things-to-do and stating in a loud and clear voice that it will be conquering all challenges in a forthright and no-nonsense manner.

And that's just what has happened this last four years. My brain has got on with living, making plans, working hard, being brave; meanwhile my body has often gone its own way, with me feeling unaccountably sad, even though I had DECIDED NOT to be feeling that way, or having physical symptoms that brought me to my knees last year - very annoying, inconvenient and instructive.

Before I was widowed, I would have had little sympathy with a woman who was still struggling or feeling incomplete four whole years after the death of her husband - I blush to think of how insensitive I must have been. And if it was not for hearing the experience of fellow widows, I would be certain that it was just me being a wimp. But over and over, when I talk to friends who are widows (some of them who read this blog!), we find that our experiences are incredibly similar and we are all shocked that we can still be feeling so bad all this time after the death.

I remembered yesterday, as the knees gave way again, that the first time I went to Tesco after the Golfer died, I had had a similar feeling - that my legs simply would not carry me the short distance from the car to the supermarket; I felt simultaneously frozen to the spot and giddy from the sheer unbelievability that he might no longer exist - how could Tesco continue to function when he didn't exist? The thing yesterday was that I felt worse then than I did that day back in Tesco, and that was what I wanted to share with you - that you can actually feel worse years after the trauma that occurred, but not to be frightened by it. I take it, in my case, as a sign that my body is relaxing sufficiently in this new place, after four years of being ridiculously brave, to weaken a bit and exhibit these symptoms, and that must be (eventually!) a good thing. Live long and prosper, my fellow rosehips and prunes!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Moving House - Moving on?

Hello my fellow rosehips and/or prunes. It's a while since I blogged here, mainly because I was getting ready to move house and didn't want to jinx anything by talking about it here. Well, I have now moved house and am more or less installed in a lovely house on the sunny Clyde Coast. I've been here a week and am, despite the unseasonably good weather, feeling ghastly.

The thing is, what you forget, at least, what I forgot, is that it's not the moving house itself that is the third most stressful thing you can do in your life, it's the settling in afterwards. It's like having a baby - people tell you how difficult it's going to be and what you, in your innocent ignorance do not realise, is that what they mean is the months and years (and years!) after the birth. You get home from the hospital feeling very proud of yourself and you think - "Right, can I have my gold star now please, and then we'll get back to normal" and you discover that, instead of being treated like a princess for being so brave and so clever, you are up to your neck in extremely smelly nappies and baby sick and are so sleep-deprived that you are beginning to understand why it is used so frequently as a successful method of torture.

It's the same with moving house. You get the damn thing sold, despite the financial slump, you find a pleasant house with a great view, you get your removal men sorted and you think, "Great, this is going to be lovely. I am on top of things. It's going to be like being on holiday when I get there." And you arrive and discover that, though the house is indeed lovely, you can't get a TV picture, you can't get digital radio an ony of your half dozen DAB radios (no signal, it turns out), the nearest Homebase is a 40 minute drive away and the house so jollily situated on the seafront is a goldfish bowl into which every pedestrian, every passing coach party and every seagull feels quite free to stare and, on occasion, point.

Ah, you see, I've come not only from living in the countryside, where a car passed my windows once every 20 minutes or so, and a walker about twice a day, but the neighbours were so private/self-sufficient/unfriendly that you could have died and they wouldn't have noticed. Actually, you could probably have run an Al-Quaida training camp and they wouldn't have noticed. This was one of the reasons I moved away - I was SO lonely. Well, there's no need to be lonely here! You could stand at your gate and you'd be talking all day. It's great but it's different - hence the stress.

Moving house (and I SHOULD have known this because I have done it before) is about more than boxes, mortgages and removal men. It's about new neighbours, new parking arrangements, new shops and routines. It's also about missing your friends and wondering if you have made a hideous mistake. This is, of course, the first time I have moved on my own. I was straight from parental home to marital home and then always had the Golfer, let's be honest, in charge with me more as camp follower. Now I get to make all the decisions which is sometimes great - yes, I AM going to have the biggest room to store all my books in and I AM going to dig up all the grass and plant a wildlife garden - but it also INCREDIBLY lonely - there's no-one to share the triumphs with - look, I've found the computer cable after only a week of searching! - and there's no-one to share the burden with. If I decide to sit down and admire the view for a while I know that, when I get up, the heating will still need to be programmed, the operating of the gas fires understood and the remaining hundred boxes unpacked, flat-folded and disposed of. It makes me sigh, I have to admit.

So I am excited to be in my new house, and I am certain that I did the right thing in moving. But I miss my friends and my routine and I miss having the Golfer around to share it with. He would have loved this house - it would have been his dream retirement home, and I'm not sure if I should therefore be happy to be living here or if it just makes it sadder.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Things Change...

I haven't written much over the summer here on Rosehip or Prune but I have a good excuse - I've been selling my house!

At last, I am moving on. Moving's a strange phrase. When you lose someone you love, it isn't long before a well-meaning friend will talk about 'moving on'. "Time to move on", they say to you, placing a kind hand on your arm, "your dead loved one wouldn't want you to stay sad for too long. Time to start looking forward again".

But moving on isn't something you can will to happen. Relationships are complicated things and bereavement is no less a complicated business. When your partner dies, you have to disentangle yourself from them and become a single unit again, and that takes time.

Since I've been widowed, and have talked to people who really know what it's like - that is, other widowed people and not so-called experts, I've heard of it taking five years, or even ten, to adapt to life without a husband or wife. In my case, it has taken four years to feel like an individual instead of half of a ripped-apart unit. And now I do feel like an individual, ready to start a new life in a new town.

When I showed the first couple (it's all couples) round my house and tried to explain my situation, I struggled to explain why I was moving now. The woman gently interrupted and said "you're moving on." I was initially horrified and literally stepped back at the thought that I might be moving on from my husband and thus leaving him behind. But I realised that she was quite right and I found myself nodding and smiling and saying, "yes, you're right. I AM moving on."

And so I am. The process of selling the house has moved me further on - all those new people to meet, all those decisions to make - and I am certain that I am doing the right thing. I will shed a few tears but I will not have any regrets when I walk out of the house in a couple of months time, because I will be moving on - on to Life 2.0.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Small Incidents Post

One of the small but wearing things about living alone is when something happens - a small thing - and you have no-one to share it with.. All you can do with it is tuck it away in your memory and hope one day to have someone to share it with again.

Officially the Cutest Thing on the Web Today

I posted this over on The View From the Pond but I just have to share it with you over here too. If you are having a grumpy, sad or just plain down day, this WILL make you smile - guaranteed!

My friend Lianne tells me that the otters live in her home town, Vancouver, at the Aquarium. Enjoy!

Back in the Swim

Hi girls (and guys). I must apologise for being away so long. When I started this blog it was supposed to be a support for anyone out there feeling lost and alone after death or divorce - buggering off for five months wasn't very supportive of me, was it?

After a foray into the real world, I'M BACK! And I hope to get Rosehip or Prune going on a more regular basis, with fun things as well as all that meaningful stuff.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Year Non-resolutions

I don't make new year resolutions - far too guilt-ridden for my liking - but I do have 2 personal hopes for 2009.

The first is to get into University. I've decided to give it a go and see if any University will take a fading intellectual-manque. I've bumbled around for three years trying to decide what to do with the life I find myself in since the Golfer died. Thought about a bookshop - too risky financially; thought about charity work - I'm not charitable enough; and then I thought "I want to do something completely different". I find that I am almost allergic to anything to do with my old life. Clinging to the wreckage of it makes me feel sad. So I'm madly trying to get my UCAS form sorted and submitted and then I just have to sit back and wait for the offers to come flooding in, or not.

The other objective I have is much more personal, and too personal to reveal here. Let me say only that being widowed has physical repercussions which I intend to rectify this year!

To be absolutely honest, I have more hope that the first will happen than the second. After dipping my toe into the baffling world of dating last year, I have come to the conclusion that I may have had my one shot at love. Now that I've hit the 50 mark I seem to have crossed some invisible line that has relegated me from the first team and put me firmly onto the substitutes bench. A bloke of my age is, more than ever, going to look for someone younger than me - why have a woman of 50 when you can have a woman in her forties?

To reinforce this point, I got a letter from an old friend just before Christmas. I'd contacted him because, many years ago, we had both fancied each other but had done nothing about it. I thought - nothing ventured, nothing gained - and emailed him to say hello. I got a lovely letter back from him. He's married, which was not unexpected, but the thing I really picked up on was that this chap, who is the same age as me, now had two young children. Contrasting that with my own situation, my son is grown up and left home and I am certainly no longer able to produce a child. It was a perfect illustration of the option open to an older man. Who'd choose a dried-up old widow when they could have a fertile younger woman?

I think that is one of the reasons I have decided to try for University instead. It's a way of turning my back on the rules prescribed for my age-group and my station. I may never have sex again but I am determined to have some fun!