Thursday, December 29, 2011

What I Learned This Christmas



It was a good Christmas but also a painful one. Who would have thought that, six years on, I could still be upset by my situation? The answer to that question, I suspect is - anyone who's been widowed. And anyone who hasn't been widowed will be tapping their feet in irritation by now, baffled at how a competent woman isn't back to normal yet.

Christmas was jolly enough. I went to my son and his boyfriend's flat and they were great. Santa even paid a visit and left a stocking for the oldest resident (me!) On Boxing Day, I found myself in the back of my son's car, as he drove me to his in-laws for the afternoon. It was a very curious feeling, sitting there on my own, looking at the scenery passing, with no responsibility and (more to the point for me) no control. I found that I had crossed a threshold - from the generation that is in charge to one that, at best, has to share control. This, I realise, isn't linked particularly to being widowed. If the Golfer had still been alive, then we might well have both been in the back of the car, being driven to the inlaws (though I doubt it - we would have done our own thing and let the kids go on their own). But, even so, it felt like a rite of passage, and it made me feel a lot older than I normally do.

The second seismic event of the afternoon was a long drawn-out affair. I arrived into a maelstrom of people - grown-up children and partners, babies, and a big black dog, and this, I knew, was only half of the people, as the remainder were at a pantomime. When they arrived back there were ten family members in the house, plus us visitors. The contrast between this big, bustling extended family - my son's in-laws - and me, his only surviving family, couldn't have been better demonstrated.

How could we have got to this place? How could I have ended up the only surviving member of a normal family, endlessly trying to fill in all the gaps for my son? It wasn't until I was sitting in that crowded front room that I really saw where my life had brought me. It was rather painful. There's nothing like seeing how your life could have turned out acted out before you to make you face the reality of how it has actually gone.

Having said all that, the in-laws were very welcoming and I enjoyed being amongst babies and dogs for a while. I watched my equivalents in the other family - granny and grandad, at the heart of it all - and it occurred to me that they were only at the heart of it all because they were a couple. If one of them sadly died, I am certain that the remaining spouse would not be entertaining the entire family the next Christmas, or any other Christmas after that. One of the grown-up children would take over and granny or grandad would become a guest, an add-on, instead of the head of the family. It is so cruel and so unfair...and so inevitable. There is something Darwinian about it. I see the younger me in the grownup children around me, impatient with their parents and desperate to be in charge. I can see both sides of what is happening. But, boy, does it hurt to be on the receiving end of it. If my parents were still alive I'd want to apologise to them.

So, an enjoyable Christmas, but an educational one. I have had to face my situation, and my future, more honestly and squarely, and that is probably a good thing. I actually feel freer now. I don't have to be Mum any more, I don't have to protect my son's feelings so much - I can be more myself. I don't have to accept the role of granny/maiden aunt in the corner, at least, not for a few years yet. Who knows, next year I might let them have Christmas on their own and go off and do something different and even a little bit exciting.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Christmas, if That's What You're Hoping For...



Hello Gang. I hope that the 25th of December is passing well for you all. In case it isn't, and even if it is, I thought I'd describe how I'm feeling today.

I'm at my son's, being well looked after by him and his boyfriend. We had great fun yesterday wandering round the German market here in Edinburgh, and today there's been a wonderful meal, with even a veggie option for me. So why have I been tearful for most of the day? And why do I even feel a little suicidal as darkness falls?

I continue to be horrified (and disappointed in myself) that, six years on from the death of the Golfer, I still feel lonely, abnormal and sorry for myself. At the same time, the thought of the rest of my life being like this but with the added delight of getting older every year, makes me feel even worse. I went for a walk on my own while the boys slept off lunch and had a bit of a think...well, actually, I used my little dictaphone-thingy and had a bit of a chat to myself, but I'm embarrassed to admit that in case it makes me look mad - call it an audio diary and I think we can just about get away with it...)

Why can't I 'move on'? I HAVE moved on, generally speaking. I think I have accepted the death of the Golfer. He seems a long time in the past now. And I have worked hard at building a new, albeit single, life - I really have. But, every day, even if only for a few minutes, I feel desperately, wearily sad about my lot. Am I stuck with this feeling for ever?

Actually, I think that this current wave of unhappiness might be a good thing, because it is a real, genuine, honest feeling after years of being brave. I feel as if I am thawing out at last. And, as anyone who has got very cold knows, thawing out is painful.

I really, really believe that next year is going to be the breakthrough year for me. I know I am on the verge of new exciting things - I just am not sre what they are yet.

And I also know that at least part of the reason that I am tearful today is that I have had a bad cold which has left me weak and also I miss my old Jack Russell, who died only a month ago. I miss her warmth and her smell, and I miss doing all the things I had to do for her - she was my little family and now I am alone.

So, a good day at the heart of my shrinking family but a painful one too. Let's hope the pain is a sign of healing. Wherever you are, and however lonely you are, you are always welcome here at Rosehip or Prune.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Still Wading Through It All



I intended to move on from this blog to a, perhaps, more forward-looking one, still about being alone and middle-aged but not so tied to the past and not so achingly sad. But I find that I still have things to say here and, in any case, I haven't had time to set up a new blog. So here will have to do for a little longer. I hope you're all still reading and that you might still get something out of hearing about one ordinary woman's experiences.

I was watching an episode of Poirot on the telly yesterday, cuddled up with a blanket and fighting a bug. I've watched the episode before, probably many times. In it, Poirot is called in by the widow of an English lord and Egyptologist. She fears that a curse brought about the death of her husband and that her son, who wants to go out to Egypt and take over the excavation, will suffer the same fate.

I watched her sitting on an elegant sofa in her ancestral home, dignified as she pled with Poirot to intervene. And I knew, suddenly, all the pain she was feeling. As sometimes happens with these lightest of entertainments, suddenly a profound truth is illuminated (testament to some fine writing and some fab acting). More than that, though: more than empathy with a fellow widow at the beginning of her journey, I suddenly saw the enormity of how her life had been changed by this event. A short time ago, she had been a wife, half of a great partnership. She would have arranged grand parties, entertained famous and interesting people; supported her husband in his endeavours. She would have had the respect of other people; other people might even have envied her her life. A week ago, if you saw her sitting on the same sofa, she would have produced a certain set of emotions in you. You would have accepted her grace and self-possession as a natural reflection of her life. Now, when I looked at her, that same grace and self-possession looked like bravery and a small defiance. I imagined her looking physically smaller than before, and her aloneness on the sofa looked like a metaphor for her aloneness now in her life.

Thus, I thought, is a life obliterated by the death of a spouse. You can look just the same, do the same things, but EVERYTHING has changed and no-one will ever treat you the same again. You are no longer normal. You are no longer mainstream. You are, at best, an object of pity but, generally, suddenly irrelevant to the rest of the world.

I am surprised to find that, six years after the death of my husband, I am still in this position. I'm a fighter, I'm a positive person but I still am unhappy every day, thousands of days after being widowed. I sometimes wonder if everything would suddenly be okay if I remarried. But I have blogging friends who would probably tell me that that is not always the answer. It's a mystery. Anyone have the answer?