Thursday, 28 April 2016

Day 25 - In response to For Grief by John O'Donohue

I am yet to wake up happy. Mornings still feel unbearably hard. I get that tense, sick, nervous feeling that you get on the day of an exam, or a long journey. or the day of a funeral, every day.

I remember waking with you on the day of my mum's funeral, feeling myself curled tight, eyes squeezed shut, hoping to block out the day, not sure if I could face it. I managed to shuffle myself across the bed and snuffle my head onto your chest. 'I don't want to go,' I said. You wrapped me up in your warmth and at some point we emerged, donned the uniform of grief and prepared ourselves to face it.

On the morning of your funeral, I woke alone, got the kids to school and then got ready to say goodbye again to your body, although I had said goodbye in person the day before. I had sat with your coffin, grateful for a moment to know where you were and to have you next to me, returned from hospitals and post-mortems, even though you were in a wooden box. I had talked to you and cried on that wooden box. When I had my head on that box, close perhaps to where your head might have been, when I was saying how sorry I was that you had been all alone and that I hadn't got to you sooner, I felt your coffin lurch. I thought it was going to fall off its stand. I felt you were trying to reach me. I was frightened for a moment but figured it was probably in my mind, or my body, that I had seen you dead and you had been through numerous tests in search of a cause. There was no way you were alive in there. If you were trying to reach me, I knew you would be telling me not to blame myself. There was nothing I could have done. I sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It's the song I sing to my children, the one I sang to you on your microphone in your music studio the weekend before you died. It seems like an odd thing to do but it felt right at the time.

I wore a dress that I thought you would like, collected my notes and put the yin yang ball that you gave me on my birthday in my pocket. It seemed like a strange present at the time but I have carried it with me ever since. It jangles when I walk, keeps you close.

Speaking at your funeral was probably the hardest thing I've ever done. I was speaking to a congregation of people that I had never met. But I had to do it. I had to tell the world what you meant to me, couldn't bear to have you summed up like a mediocre cv by someone in a suit who didn't know you. I was scared that people would view me as an impostor. What could a relative newcomer tell all those people who had been in your life for the 52 years when we weren't together? But in the end I felt embraced by the warmth and gratitude of those people. They loved you too.

The weather of grief is as turbulent as the weather outside my window. On Tuesday night, I thought the grief might kill me. I was crying so hard that I couldn't breathe. And then, yesterday I wrote about that feeling, the feeling of the waves and the water, and then I wrote some more about the signs that you are around, l led my writing group and only cried at the end when someone asked me how I was, I played with the children. And last night I slept a peaceful sleep and woke with that same lurching feeling, that same desire to roll back over into your arms, back into the duvet. But I dragged myself from the bed and I feel sort of normal again. The sun came out while I walked the dog. I looked up into the clouds and felt its warmth. Then I picked up a pure white, baby-soft feather from the path. I can go on.

I know the grief will come again. I know I can't predict when. I know that it will probably be in a matter of hours rather than days. But I know that after every storm, there is calm. I hope that one day I will sit in that calm with you alongside me and know that it will be ok. It makes me think of the yin yang ball. Without darkness, there can be no light. Everything is interdependent. Our love and my grief are fire and water at the same time.

I  know I will never get over it. I know I will never forget. I'm not sure I want to wake up happy without you. But I would like the last lines of the poem: to be able to enter the hearth in my soul where my loved one has awaited my return all the time. I know that you are there. I hope you will wait for me to return.

For Grief
When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.
Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.
There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto that black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.
Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed,
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Day 24 Part 2 - What happened after

I suppose the first thing was also the last thing. That conversation about clouds. It was like you gave me a place to look for you when you were gone and, when I'm mired in grief, I try to remember to look up occasionally and I smile. There is always something beautiful to see when you look up. You showed me that; you always stopped to notice the beauty in the world. Two weeks before you died, we were walking in the park and you stopped in the middle of the path and squeezed my hand, told me to pause. You looked up then with your eyes shut and your arms open and said, "feel the sun." It's a lasting image in my mind.

The weather has been crazy since you left, or maybe I just notice it more - the prevalence of rainbows at key moments, the beautiful sunsets, the incongruence of hail in April. It is easy for me to imagine you're behind it all. If there were a God and he were a man, he would be a man like you. There was something truly larger than life, elemental, about you.

And then, things started to happen. I was searching through the rubble in your house and started to find things. First I found loving descriptions of our times together in scrappy notebooks. After the first day we spent together you wrote that you were 'strangely smitten by this intelligent, proudly beautiful woman'. You said, 'I yearn for her completely, physically and emotionally'. It was nothing I didn't know but so comforting to read. And then I found a dusty bag of runes. I remembered the time on the beach when you were collecting smooth round pebbles to make your own runes and I thought about picking them up. But I hesitated and left them sitting on your living room floor. When I got home, my daughter was reading a book by Rick Riordan. She started talking to me and showing me pictures of runes in the book. I didn't know she knew anything about runes. I told her that you had some and she was wild with excitement. So I went back to fetch them for her. She was fascinated by them, picked one out, said, 'this is Perthrow. It's my favourite.' I asked her if she knew its meaning and she shook her head so we Googled it on my phone. I have memorised what it said because it felt like you were sending me a message: The beginning and the ending are fixed. What's in between is yours. Nothing is in vain. All is remembered.

At the bonfire that we held after the funeral I found another piece of paper in the bathroom. It had scribbled phone numbers and dates and lists of jobs on it, but amongst the practical notes there was a poem you had written, years ago, I guess. It said these words:

Rain falling on glass,
The white sky is over my head, 
winds across my mind. 
My body is thought.
In time I will be stretched across space and fill the void.
Is this not our reason?

Skies, winds, thoughts. They are the places I feel you close. You have left a space and a massive void in my life but these memories and strange synchronicities, sometimes, temporarily patch up the hole. 

But I'm going too fast. I was always going too fast. You helped to slow me down. 

A couple of weeks after you died, I was due to run a writing retreat in Wales. In the end I didn't run it but I went anyway because what else was I supposed to do? The children were with their dad and this was my one opportunity in the year to go to my favourite place on earth with friends who promised to look after me. And they did. One day I went for a walk down to the beach. I was looking at clouds again at the water's edge and crying my heart out. I was thinking about the beautiful photograph that you would have taken if you were there. Eventually, I dried my eyes and walked back to join my friends on the path, where a man with the largest camera I've ever seen, found me. 'My lady on the beach,' he said. 'I didn't expect to find you.' He told me that he had just taken the most beautiful picture of me sitting on the pebbles. He showed me the photo. I cried and told him what it meant to me and he said he would send it. It felt like you were looking out for me through the kindness of strangers. 

Back in the kitchen in Wales, a friend asked me how I was doing with the arrangements for your funeral. It was a stressful business planning your funeral with a family that I had only just met, from a remote part of Wales with barely a phone signal. I was having trouble organising the readings. 'Well,' said my fellow writer, 'just keep buggering on.' It was the phrase that you used all the time - KBO for short. It was like you were speaking through her voice. I feel like I really smiled then for the first time since you died. It gave me the strength to keep going. 

Back home, I had a message from a friend. She had had a dream about you. She said you were in your own artists' studio, looking young and healthy. She had spoken to you. You'd told her that you really happy with me and that things were going well. She said you had a crown of purple and yellow flowers around your head and that you told her that we shouldn't let our days and nights be mountains to climb but that we should enjoy life. She woke up crying. The next day, she came to my house. I had the funeral celebrant's card on the kitchen table. She looked surprised. 'What's that card?' she said. 'Those were the flowers on his head.' The motif on the business card was of tiny purple and yellow flowers. 

And so it has carried on. One night I was lying in bed crying and I felt movement in my hair. Immediately I thought it was you. I had a shivery sensation. But then the pragmatist in me took over and thought it might just be nits or a breeze, although the window was shut. When I saw your mum she asked me if I'd had any signs that you might be around. She told me that she'd spoken to friends who had had the same sensation after loved ones had passed, of movement in their hair. I found myself looking up common signs from spirits and found it was at the top of the list. I made note of the others. 

The next day, I was sitting in a playground while my children played. I was talking to a friend about you when a beautiful butterfly landed on my hand. It rested there for ages and children came over to look. It was one of the signs on my list. 

And then I started finding coins, pennies. I picked them up, figuring I needed good luck. I found one every day for a week. It was on the list. 

So I thought I'd set you a challenge. If this is you, I said, show me something else. And a feather floated down in front of me. Feathers are on the list. Though not so strange in the circumstance; I was in the Botanical Gardens. I got up and started to walk towards home along the busy high street. There was a trail of feathers all the way along it. It led me into the park. I needed to get to school to pick up my children but I followed them anyway. The previous day (the day of the butterfly) my daughter had lost her school bag in the park along with her most precious cuddly panda toy which I needed to find. Help me find him, I asked you. I followed the feathers all the way to the cafe and went to the lost property box hoping to find Pandie. Instead I found a book called 'Revelations of Divine Love'. I'm not normally a thief but I picked it up and took it with me. I felt it was for me. When I finally got to school my daughter emerged with Pandie in her arms. Someone had found her bag while they were walking their dog and they happened to be a friend of a teacher from school who, on her day off, had gone specially to return Edie's panda. It felt beautiful. 

I feel a calmness when these things happen and when I go to the places we went and when I am alone in nature. Last Saturday I took a trip to Redmires where we first walked. Just as I was arriving your mum phoned. She was pleased I was going there. She said you'd spent many happy days there as a family. We were talking about memorial benches and how she couldn't get in touch with the right department by the beach where we have discussed scattering your ashes. It's a long way for her to go and a big job. I said I'd have a look online when I got home. I got lost on my walk, didn't find the place I was looking for but as I was walking back along the road, I saw a man. He was about your age, sitting on a bench surrounded by daffodils, his head upturned to feel the spring sunshine, eyes shut. We should put a bench here, I thought, so that your mum, who can't walk far, can come and sit on it and feel the sun. I phoned her and she thought it was a wonderful idea. I felt happy and I felt your happiness radiating down on me as if you were pleased that you had set me a treasure hunt and I had succeeded. 

There has been a lot of synchronicity. And synchronicity is on the list. 

Day 24 - the space between breaths




It's true that it is mostly waves: brutal, battering, crashing waves that leave me winded. But sometimes there is a space between the waves, when the sun comes out and the water laps gently at my feet and there is peace. In the peace I know that you are still there and that the love we shared has not diminished but brightened in the darkness of loss.

It is at those times that I feel myself weaving some kind of comforting narrative from what happened before and what happened after. Synchronicity is strong in this story. Synchronicity brings some kind of order in chaos, just like writing. Words moved around on a page distract my mind from the enormity of it all, make it temporarily more manageable, give a form to this amorphous pain. It helps a little to create something from this absence. Although the writing doesn't change anything. I didn't want a plot for another novel. I wasn't hoping for material for poems. I wanted the man I loved to stay here with me. Writing doesn't change that.

This is what happened before.

Looking back it seems that there were portents all along the way. It is in the films we watched together: Truly Madly Deeply, It's a Wonderful Life, Finding Neverland and in the poems that I wrote. I wrote about journeys taken in which we didn't know where we we're going, spoke of doors that we would never walk through, described us as 'racing time around the bend'. We didn't know how little time we had but somehow it feels like it was there in the way we cherished every single moment that we were together. In the moment, we were always so very happy. We only got confused when we tried to talk of the future. It was like we couldn't see it somehow. It didn't exist.

Once when we were lying in bed together I asked you what you were thinking. You said that you were thinking that if I ever left you, you would have to join the foreign legion. "You're the woman I want to die with," you said.

The week before you died, we were discussing whether to introduce you properly to my children. You wanted them to come to your bonfire so that you could show me what fun you were with kids, what a great stepdad you might become. I had been ready to do it but suddenly I couldn't. You were always scatty but that week you were extra forgetful and it was worrying me. I asked you if there was something wrong with your brain. You laughed it off. That week I met a woman whose husband had just suffered from a brain injury and my daughter wouldn't stop talking about my own brain-injured ex - it was the anniversary of his leaving. It was my first mother's day without a mum. And suddenly it was all too much.

"There's no rush," you said. But that evening, the neighbours had a bonfire and I told the children about yours. They were excited and asked if we could light the paper lanterns you had brought. And I found myself sending you a text and asking if you wanted to come and meet them and let off the lanterns, all the while wondering what I was doing. And you came straight round and made offerings to the gods with my children and they loved you, of course. You wrote on the lanterns with them. One for my deceased parents and one to the Greek gods. You wrote a message to Hephaestus, the blacksmith god, and you sent them up into the sky. "Can Paul stay?" my daughter asked. So you stayed with her for a while and watched a film and when she was in bed, we hugged. "I love you," I said. "I love you too," you replied, holding me close. And that was the last time I saw you.

But not the last time we spoke. The night before you died, I sent you a poem that I had written about clouds. You sent me a beautiful photo you had taken. Something about its beauty made me cry. We talked on messenger about doing something with my writing and your photographs. We talked of coffee table books, fridge magnets, greetings cards. "We must do something," I said. "We will," you said. And then I lectured you. "You're hugely talented," I said, "and hiding your light under a pile of other people's cast-off junk. Break free blacksmith." I didn't mean you to take me literally.

I asked you if you liked my poem and you said you did. "I love the poem, I love clouds and I love you," you said. And that was the last time we spoke. Poignant, poetic, the end of a beautiful love story. And the beginning of grief and a life without you.






The weight of grief

The weight of Grief - Celeste Roberge

Sometimes, I guess, it does feel like this. Heavy, like it could bring you to your knees right there in the middle of whatever you're doing. Like your whole body is made of stones that rub painfully together if you try to move. The weight is too much and movement becomes impossible.

But, mostly, I still think it is waves, invisible waves that seem to bypass everyone else, but target only you and knock you over with their force, until you can't breathe and all you can see is blackness. And if there are stones, they are being hurled at your head.

Sometimes I have an image of the sea with a walkway reaching out into the ocean. If I look back to the beach, that is where I see my parents and my past. They waved me off to make my own way in the world. And then there were the people who walked alongside me for a while but they took a different turning. They preferred to walk on the cliff path or stayed safely on the promenade. But you were walking alongside me and walking with me into the future and suddenly you are gone. And the walkway stops abruptly at the edge of an unforgiving sea and I am left screaming into the darkness. There is nothing to hold onto out there. There is no desert island to swim to. There is no boat to rescue me and the walkway behind me has crumbled into the sea. There is nowhere left to go. I feel completely lost and alone, unanchored with nothing in the distance to reach for.

Frantically, I search for something to build a future from, weaving sticks and seaweed together, hoping to make a raft. But it is futile because sticks remind me of you and seaweed reminds me of you and you have the string.

I need someone to hold onto, someone who can hold me through this pain and torment, someone who can make this bearable. But that person is gone too. There is no harbour in your arms anymore. All is sea and darkness, and, yes, sometimes, the weight of rocks.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Day 23 - How would you love me in this?

You wouldn't tell me to hold it in, this pain, this love. Big emotions didn't frighten you. You would open up your arms like a harbour to hold the swirling waters, stay present while I cried. When I cried about my mum's death or the past or the contents of my mangled brain, you would hold it all. 'I've got you,' you would say. Perhaps you've still got me, now. When it felt like everything might fall apart, I would say, 'keep hanging in there' and you'd mimic hanging from a cliff by the tips of your fingers with mock-terror on your face. You would make me laugh and feel grateful at the same time. I couldn't scare you away. You weren't going anywhere.

Anything I needed was ok by you. If I needed to talk, you would stay up all night listening and if I needed space and rest, you would happily make yourself scarce. Too scarce that last week as it happened. Why did it have to be that week that you went?

But you'd tell me not to torture myself about that as well. You wouldn't want me to make things worse with all these what ifs. Things are bad enough without me heaping guilt onto the fire. You were always so kind. You would want me to be kind too.

You would tell me to get some sleep and to eat properly. You would ask me to bake some flapjack even though you can't eat it anymore. 'Don't stop eating your delicious flapjack just because I died,' you would say. 'It's so nutritious. It will keep you going.' You would send me soothing music to listen to and tell me to watch Neighbours even though it's a ridiculous habit. You would, of course, tell me to 'keep buggering on' or KBO for short. You would bring me a crossword to do to stop my mind from going down unhelpful roads and you would write me messages saying, 'send me a poem, Writer Beverley'. You would love that I'm writing my way through this.

You wouldn't mind that I'm blurting out the contents of my soul on the internet. It wasn't your style but you loved my writing and you would be touched by the comments of support, pleased that through my words, I can reach out to others and touch their hearts as well.

You would take me for walks in beautiful places that soothe my soul and you would tell me to spend time with the people who make me feel better, who make me feel good about myself. And you would tell me to have no care for people who upset me. At the funeral, one of your friends told me that something he'd learned from you is that you always left the party without saying goodbye. He liked the way you did your own thing. You left this earth in the same way, completely unexpectedly, with no warning, no goodbyes. You would encourage me to do what I need to do to feel ok. To be on my own if I want to and to duck out of social engagements if I can't handle them.

The last time we went out you made up a hand signal. Four finger taps on your palm meant 'I need to go now,' three taps was 'let's go soon,', two taps was 'let's make love'. I did two taps just for fun and you pulled me to you at the party and said, 'Really? Right now?' And then we left. We could only do so much socialising. We went home to be alone together with our love.

I will remember that when I'm out and it all gets too much now, to say to myself, 'I've done well, but it's time to go home now, back to the harbour of my memories of your love.' And you will welcome me home and make me turmeric tonic and tuck me up in bed.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Day 22 - the other side

At the end of life there was a door.
It's a cliche I know, but that's how it was
and you know me, I love a door,
can't resist the allure of hardwood and sturdy hinges,
will always want to know what's on the other side.
I am "insatiably curious,"
you said so yourself in the eulogy,
(beautiful words, by the way. And, thank you.)
I went through that door before I realised
that I couldn't get back to the life I loved
on the other side.

It hurts to see how you have cried, my darling.
"May I call you darling?" I once said.
Hurting you was the last thing on earth I wanted to do
but it was the last thing on earth I did.
I never meant to cause you any sorrow,
never meant to cause you any pain.
Of course, Prince and Bowie are here with me
and we party like it's 1999 again
but I hate to see you lost down there
in the purple rain.

Yes, we still have feelings on the other side.

It broke my heart to leave you.
Did you feel me trying to reach you
as you cried on the coffin that you'd helped to choose -
it was a good one, by the way, and the flowers,
I can see why you picked them.
Lovely message too. So perfect.
You always were so perfect
for me.

It was agony to feel you on the other side
of that heavy door of wood,
unable to put my arms around you and tell you,
"It's ok. I understand. There was nothing you could have done."
I couldn't get to you just as you couldn't have got to me.
I know you felt the jolt of my soul straining for yours -
I'm sorry that I scared you.
Thank you for the comfort of the things you sent me,
the things they slipped through that wooden door,
that I have taken with me,
although, in reality, I took it all.

I'm so pleased you see my messages.
It's as much of a mystery to me as it is to you,
how somehow both of us knew
that this was where we were going to end up.
We couldn't see the future and yet we laid a trail
that I see you following now
like a puzzle or a treasure hunt.
We loved that kind of stuff.

Yes, the words on the collage are for you
and the words on the paper in the bathroom -
thanks for sharing them.
I'm so glad you found the ones I wrote about you
though there are other things I wish you hadn't found
and I really am sorry about the mess.
You know I was trying to clean up my act.
I thought I had more time.

I'm doing fine though, rest assured.
I miss you of course but I'm the lucky one, I know
because I can follow you everywhere you go.
I still touch your hair as you lay sleeping
and I watch you as you swim and walk.
I listen to you talk, so much of it about me.
I read your beautiful words
and hear your beautiful voice.
If I had a choice, I would hold you still
but some things are out of my control.
I am just a soul.

I can't hold your body but I'm by your side and in your heart.
It's that quantum superposition that I wrote about.
I can be in more than one place simultaneously,
both alive and dead at the same time;
Schrodinger didn't know quite what he was onto with that cat.
I am everywhere and with everyone
if they take the time to look.
I'm in the starry skies and in the dark blue sea.
I am part of you and still somewhat me.

Keep your eyes open, darling -
I will call you darling, if that's ok -
and please don't shut down your heart.
I know there is no bright side to look on
but walk on the sunny side of the street when you can
and follow the feathers and coins that I leave
like a path into the future -
I know you don't want to go there but you must.
Keep the collage, it's yours now and my words are yours too:
remember to explore,
keep on keeping on,
you were my inspiration, let me be yours
and most of all,
love.

p.s
Sorry, again, about the mess.

Day 21 - I remember

Mostly I remember the way you made me feel. "You have warm feelings for the blacksmith," she said.
"Oh yes," I said. "I have very warm feelings for the blacksmith."

I had always had warm feelings for the blacksmith. I just didn't know what they were. When you phoned that day, last August, on Ed's phone, I felt joy bubbling up like a spring inside me. Like I was more excited to hear from you than from him, even though he was one of my oldest friends whose presence in my life, I had missed. But I had missed your presence even more. I just didn't know it. I miss your presence now more than I could ever have imagined.

I remember seeing you a few years ago, outside Ian's party. You were helping to move the PA for the  band. I felt it then, that feeling, the warmth, the way I lit up around you. You told me that Ed had divorced, sowed the seed, I guess, which would lead me to get back in touch last year. I remember saying that I had no idea how anyone stayed married. I was tied up in the rope of my own unravelling relationship, unable to break free, unable to breathe. You said later that you felt so sad for me and so sorry. You didn't understand how anyone could make me feel that way. How anyone could allow me to be so unhappy. You cherished me. You cared for me like I was a rare and protected species.  "You're special," you used to say. Not in the way any old boyfriend might say it but in the manner of someone who was an authority on the subject, like it was an inarguable truth. And yet, even though you held me so close, I could still fly. You were a free spirit too.
"I know my heart will soar with yours," you said. And it did.

I remember seeing you at the pub on that night back in August. It was August 10th, I looked it up. You were wearing a brown patterned shirt that was shiny and didn't fit you. It was a truly terrible shirt. I remember taking it in and wondering if I could fall for a man in such a bad shirt. I knew I was halfway there already. Turns out I could. It worried you, that maybe I didn't fancy you as much as you fancied me because I'd said I wasn't bothered if you cut your hair or not. The point was, not that I didn't think you were attractive, it was that how you looked was pretty much irrelevant to me. I was in love with your soul and your mind. You were the most beautiful man in the world to me regardless of your wonky teeth or your holey t-shirts. You can buy a man new shirts and I did. But you can't renovate a man's soul. And yours was perfect.

You used to call me perfect. I didn't like it.
"I'm not perfect," I used to say. "I'm flawed like everybody."
"Well, you're perfect for me," you qualified.
I couldn't argue with that.

I remember sitting in my living room. I was writing letters telling people that my mum had died, inviting them to her funeral. You had come late-night Christmas shopping with me. I had to buy presents for my children even though my mum had just died. You were assembling her Christmas tree for me. I remember looking up and smiling at you. You smiled back. We had these moments often. Where it seemed we were wondering what strange domestic idyll we had wandered into. Like the time when you sat by my side threading my needle while I sewed my daughter a mermaid costume, or that last perfect Saturday when we danced around each other in my kitchen, concocting recipes from my allergy-friendly cookbook - me making sweet potato brownies, you making turmeric tonic. We were completely content in each other's company, whatever we were doing. It's not a feeling I've had very often in my life.

I can't remember what I said while I was writing and you were arranging fake fern fronds around the metal stand, but I remember your response.
"Even if I wasn't completely besotted with you, I would still think you were special," you said. And then you looked away. "Anyhoo," you said, with mock embarrassment, returning to your task, both of us radiating with the warmth of it all.

I remember the way you made me feel. Special, perfect, cherished. I will keep that feeling with me now.

Paul - pausing for refreshments during the xmas shopping trip to Meadowhall. A very unusual setting for the Blacksmith.


Saturday, 23 April 2016

Day 20 - the fear of forgetting


I went out last night. In public. I wasn't sure if I was 'ready' but it felt worth a try. I'd got my crying over in my bereavement counselling in the morning and I'd done my writing prompt for the day so I thought I might be safe from public displays of grief. Thought I might be able to handle it. I went to an outdoor screening of Baz Lurhmann's Romeo and Juliet and sat on striped deckchairs in the freezing cold April night. It was kind of fun for a while. I had nice chats with friends, drank a glass of prosecco, ate vegan nachos and watched a tragic love story unfold. I can relate to tragic love stories. It was fitting. I felt ok.

But then, when things feel ok for a while, suddenly, I don't feel ok anymore. I start to panic. I start to worry that I might be 'getting over' it, getting over you. I don't want to get over you. I don't ever want to get over you. When you really love someone, there's an urge to want that love to last forever. That's why people get married. That's why Romeo and Juliet got married. I want my love to last forever too.

It seemed so unlikely at first, that our love could last the distance. We had what you referred to as 'the lifestyle conundrum'. You lived in a shack in a field with no responsibilities while I was drowning in the responsibilities of single parenthood, living in a 'proper' house. You tried to end things before they'd begun. You were frightened of losing me. I was frightened of losing you too. We were middle-aged. We knew that life is not a fairy tale. We knew that things go wrong. Things had always gone wrong. But sometimes, we allowed ourselves to dream. I know you dreamed of marrying me. You said so. I felt it too. Not long ago we were standing hugging in my kitchen and I said, "shall we just get married and live happily ever after instead of splitting up? I think it might be nicer." And you said, "yes, let's do that. It sounds much better." Till death us do part. Death us did part. Way too soon.

And then, suddenly it happened. The man on the deck chairs in front of me leaned over and kissed the woman sitting next to him. And tears started spilling over my eyelids. I curled up in my blanket and let them stream down my cheeks. I will never sit next to you like that. Never hold your hand. Never feel you lean over to kiss me. I am alone, longing to hold onto the past, not wanting to ever love again. But not wanting this to be the end of love for me. In limbo. Unable to go back. Not wanting to go forward.

It might seem strange in this culture where we want to avoid pain, hold it together, keep moving, but I welcome the tears. The tears make me feel close to you. The pain is a reminder of how deeply I have loved. I don't want to forget my love. I don't want to move on.

So, I stay in the moment, as we always did. In some moments, I can smile. I had some of those today. I sat with a friend outside a coffee shop and talked of the future. I even laughed. I thought I was doing ok again. Five minutes later, I burst into tears on a relative stranger. It's just the way it is. I haven't forgotten. I haven't moved on. But maybe, gradually there are more moments where I smile.

It reminds me of a poem I wrote some time after my dad died.

Warm front

The sun came out today.
It was an hour before I noticed
the warm rays rattling my surface,
the forced eviction of the clouds.
There was blue sky for the first time,
a contented sigh nestled in cream sheets,
warm, sleep-softened skin
and thoughts shimmering like
sharp-edged boats on a lustrous sea.

I played with them for a while,
Rearranging white sails, painting the
decks in rainbow hues.
Then I conjured a little breeze
and watched them race
surprised to see my own joy
out there in the lead.

I cheered her on and smiled,
picked daisies by the water’s side,
crowned myself the Queen of content
and lolloped in grass-stained diamond dew.
It was then that again, I thought of you.

I looked for your boat on the horizon,
scanned the sky for the familiar grey,
closed my eyes to conjure blackness,
but when I opened them I knew
you’d gone.

The blue was too blue and the light was startling.
I turned to roll back into cradling fog,
went to pack up your memory in cottonwool clouds and
label it ‘Fragile’ leaving sadness etched
like your epitaph on my face.
But the sun kept on shining
And the boats still shimmered on the lustrous sea.

The sun came out today
And I,

I missed the rain.

Friday, 22 April 2016

I want to remember - I need to forget

It's the little things that set me off. Like, I'm in Marks and Spencers buying school uniforms and I find myself walking past the men's underpants and I feel this crushing weight descend on me. I have no-one to buy men's pants for. I never bought you pants. I never will buy you pants. Maybe I never would have bought you pants. Maybe you weren't that kind of man. Maybe we would never have had that kind of relationship. But it makes me sad anyway. For the rest of the day, I am trying to remember what you told me about the kind of pants you liked. You'd found a shop that had the perfect fit and you'd bought a load of them. But I can't remember which shop. I want to remember the name of the shop. Even though I will never go there to buy you pants. Even though, I feel now, that I will never buy men's pants again. I want to remember it because it is a tiny memory and I feel them slipping away. I only had eight months of you. I want to remember every detail, right down to the pants. The pants that I will never ever buy.

I need to forget the way you looked when I last saw you, lying three days dead on your bed but I remember every detail of it. I could describe it with great precision, twist my words and wring my heart out to convey the exact hue of your skin, work out the perfect simile for the smell. But I won't. Because I don't want to remember you like that. I don't want other people to see you like that.

This morning, for some reason, I woke up trying to remember where we had been on the first day that we kissed. Before the walk. Before the walk that I do remember. The walk where we kissed. I asked you in my head. I find myself doing that these days. I find you answering me. It makes me happy that I can still hear your voice. But you couldn't tell me where we'd been. You just told me how nervous you were that day. We'd been sending each other messages that week, both of us wondering separately where this thing between us was going. And then you said that if I came out to see you that weekend, you would wear your blacksmithing smock. I challenged you, said I didn't believe you had a blacksmithing smock and that if you dressed up I would come as Heidi - we'd talked about making a shepherd's crook in your new forge. I remember that you sent me this picture. I remember how it made me smile. I remember thinking, yes, this is a man that I can love. I remember showing it to friends and the excitement, waiting for Saturday to come. I remember wavering. Wondering if it was too much to dress up as Heidi. Would it seem kinky somehow? Was it too soon? And then, at the last minute, I did it, because this was how we were together. Playful. I loved your playfulness.

I remember that when I arrived, shaking with excitement, you were round the back of your house playing the trumpet. You called it your alpenhorn. You were rehearsing. Didn't realise I was there. You came out into the garden, if you can call it a garden, laughing. Your face lit up when you saw me in my straw hat and petticoat. I said the dog was my goat. You took a picture. I wish I could find that picture. I wish I could find your phone. I can't remember if we hugged.
I do remember the walk though. I'd changed in your forge. I wish I could remember what I was wearing. We walked up a soggy path under a canopy of trees, nervously, sometimes alongside each other, sometimes single file. We slipped and tripped. We were both clumsy, both extra clumsy that day. When the woods gave way to a grassy hill, you held out your hand to me and I took it. On our first walk together, we let go, but this time we held on. 
"Do you mind me holding your hand?" you asked. 
"No," I said, my heart jittering in my rib cage. 
"Good," you said. 
You gave my hand a squeeze and I could feel you shaking. You stopped under a tree. Did you plan it down to the last degree? I'd asked you before: if you were a tree, what kind of tree you would be and you had pondered, waited, said that you needed to give it proper thought. I liked that you gave it proper thought. I imagined you would be an oak and so did you but, no, you said, you were an ash. I can't remember why but I know that you said something about healing properties and that you weren't sure you could claim to have them. I wish I could remember the whole conversation but all I can remember is standing beneath that tree, I presume it was an ash, and me saying that perhaps, I thought, you might have healing properties. I needed healing. And we hugged. Or did we kiss first? I can't remember. But we definitely kissed and we were definitely shaking, like we were fourteen years old again and this was our first kiss. Yes, I remember that kiss.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Day 18 - A blessing to the grieving hearts

I see you standing there trying to look normal,
see the grieving heart that you hold
like a rock or a marble,
a bleeding tree or a sodden sponge.
Don't hide it.
It tells me of your love.
It is beating still and it is keeping you alive.

Cradle it like a tender creature in the rock pool of your soul.
Feed it with memories and tell stories about where it has been,
the way it has been battered and torn, the beauty it has seen.
Sing it soothing songs at night-time when you can
so that it can sleep in peace.

And, when it comes, this thing called grief
and threatens to overpower you with its force
I wish you a soft patch of grass to lie on
where the pain can wash over you like waves
and the sun can warm your shivering skin.

When you want to be cocooned in it,
I hope the past may be a soft blanket around you
hugging you close and keeping you safe.
And when you're ready to emerge,
let there be a hand reaching out to take yours,
saying, 'yes, you can go on'.

And one day, may the seeping colours of your love,
make patterns on your wings,
and may your memories be the breeze that lifts you,
may you be able to carry your heart lightly in your breast
as you take flight again, transformed by grief
but fully alive.

Without love there would be no pain,
without pain, there would be no love,
without love there would be no life.
May you find a way to feel the pain,
to hold onto the love
and to keep living.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Day 17 - Grief is everywhere

Grief is everywhere.

In the awful realisation of awakening and  the curling back into night-time in search of lost dreams.
In the smell of your empty fleece, the small comfort of familiar fabric without the solidity of a body.
In the space at your side of the bed where I will you to appear as if I can conjure you by love alone.
It's in reaching out hopelessly to pat duvet furrows in search of limbs that I know are not there.

Grief is the card you gave me at New Year, wishing that all my dreams would come true.

Grief is in the view from the bedroom window,
in the city lights that you loved to watch when you couldn't sleep. And in the morning sky.
Grief is played in the song on the radio as I make breakfast.
Grief is dragged like the weight of the bin that I bring to the side of the curb,
knowing that this, like everything, is my job and my job alone.

Grief is every white van that drives by and every couple that walk hand in hand.

Grief is there when I gaze down my street and know that I will never,
ever see you walking towards me again.
Grief is at the door when I open it and know that you will never be the guest knocking loudly,
waiting to come in.
I let grief in instead.

Grief is there in the quiet, momentary forgetting and the loud remembering that follows.

Grief is in the playground at school where other mums
share normal information and smiles as if nothing has changed;
where I am the only one who knows that the whole world has been
rearranged and all its parts put back in the wrong place.

Grief is knowing all of your hopes and plans that will never be.

Grief is every time I walk away from a friend,
knowing that I am walking back to an empty space,
to a life where you are not there. Where you will never be.
Grief is sobbing my way towards home because I cannot tell you about my day.

Grief is trying to build your Meccano with my son and not knowing how it works.

Grief is looking at photos from all of the years that I didn't know you.
Grief is knowing that you wished I had been there.
Grief is feeling memories slipping away already and trying to hold onto them.
Grief is the limbo of knowing that there is no way back and no desire for the future.

Grief is your mum who rocks your t-shirt in arms where her baby once lay.

Grief is walking where we once walked, remembering how we talked.
A film, played backwards, snapshots of time being erased until we are at the start and you don't exist.
Grief is the inappropriateness of sunshine, the horror of spring.
Grief is everywhere. And everything.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Day 16 - What is the condition of my heart?

I search for an image, struggle to see it clearly.

At first I think it might be a peanut but it looks too malleable. Then, just for a moment, in the background, I see a river. But the river rushes past and there it is again, this soft amorphous blob. I breathe deep and zoom in and then I see it. It is a sponge, one of those natural sponges that you buy on the promenade on Spanish holidays. It is pale brown or goldish, with wibbly edges, like a cloud. It is full of holes.

I think about my heart full of holes and I see blood, spilling from pores. I cannot survive with a heart that is punctured in so many places. Plug up one hole and the blood will just divert and spill from another ruptured place. I can't cover them fast enough. Maybe I should stop trying.

It is absorbent though, this sponge heart of mine. It can hold a lot. It sucks up all the damp pain of the world and sits, sodden and heavy at the centre of things. It is a cushion full of tears.

I will cry until it is wrung out, until it is transformed, light and airy as the clouds where I see you now. Not all holes need to be repaired. Holes let in the sun. They let us breathe. There are cracks in everything. That's how the light gets in.



Monday, 18 April 2016

Day 15 - the halfway point - what I expected?

I didn't know what to expect when I started writing. I followed the advice of a widow and a writer that I know and signed up without questioning my motives. I didn't know her very well. Just knew those two things about her. Just knew that she was probably the same kind of person as me and that she found it helpful. And I knew that writing would be the only handrail in the darkness, the only way out of the swirling waters of grief.

I didn't know the waters would be so deep or so violent. I thought I'd be pretty expert at this grieving lark by now. I am very experienced, skilled, surely, in the art of losing gracefully. But this grief has surprised me. The force of it. The rage of it. Like the time I got caught in a riptide in California and was pulled out to sea. Even me, the strongest swimmer I knew, who thought I was invincible, was powerless against its force. Or in New Zealand where the waves pulled me with them and tumbled me over and over like I was so much washing in the machine, dumping me on the sand and dragging me backwards so that my knees bled. I learned afterwards that you can't swim against those kinds of currents. You have to swim sideways if you want to get out of them, or else you are pulled out to sea, dragged by the undertow.

I  haven't been able to swim against this tide of grief either, have had to succumb to the force of the water, allowing it to pull me way out where the life rafts can't reach me, succumbing to the waves, emerging exhausted and bleeding. Writing is a way of surrendering, whilst not quite drowning. Sharing is a way of waving to the people back there on the shore.

I suppose, in the end, what I didn't realise was just how much I loved you. I had downplayed it, kept it quiet, thought that shouting about it might jinx it. I had learned the lessons of experience and waded in gently this time, letting the water creep up slowly around me rather than diving in headfirst. You were doing the same. Love swelled between us and then crashed, subsided like waves on the beach and we retreated, regrouped and came back together, over and over again. We would always have returned. The pull between us was like gravity. Hopeless trying to resist that force. We knew deep down that we were destined to be. Now I am all at sea. No-one really knew what you meant to me.  I didn't quite know it myself. I hope perhaps you did. I hope you know it now. I do.


Prompt 14 - the new landscape

Dear Blacksmith Paul,

If you look at the photos, you might wonder why they seem dark and smudged, even though it's spring. It's a new kind of filter on the lens. Called grief. It's a bit like looking through the rain all the time, or maybe that's the tears. Hard to tell sometimes.

You'll notice though the buds on the trees. It's April now and the magnolia tree outside my window is flowering. I don't think you ever saw it flower. My daughter doesn't want to leave the magnolia tree and move house but I can't live here anymore. Too many things have happened here. I need a fresh start.

Don't worry, I will take you with me. I'm collecting things slowly that remind me of you, to incorporate into this new life that I have been catapulted into. The one where all our hopes and dreams have been obliterated and I am left with fragments of memories. I will find a space where I can put the half-finished lamp that you were making. Someone will know how to wire it, I'm sure. The new place will have a log-burning stove - your family said maybe I can have yours. I know, you told me about the regulations, I'll work it out, make sure it's safe.   I will prod the embers at night with the poker we made and look at the book of photos and words that I will make just like we planned. I'll find someone else to take down your beautiful hooks and find a new wall to fix them onto. I'll bring some things from my mother's house too, find a way to make them scenery to some kind of new life that I can't envisage. Her house is on the market now you know. I would take you there one more time and show you around properly. You could help me pack things away.You would like to see the family albums. I've seen yours now, you know. Your mum and I sit and look at them.You were cute. But I'm not surprised. I'll bring the clock too. The one my father gave me. You took the mechanism to fix so it has no hands at the moment but that suits me fine. There is no time anymore, or too much time.

I would take you to the park but I see you there anyway. And I would take you back to the house at Redmires where we first walked. But maybe it won't be the same without the heather. I know it won't be the same without you. In the summer, we will go to Flamborough - me and your family. That is somewhere we will definitely take you. We will free you to the wind and sea and you can sail like you always wanted to. In time, there will be a bench there wit
h your name on. We will sit and remember you there, my love, and here, and everywhere. I will take you with me this summer and ever after to the places that we went, the places that you have never been. You are a part of me now.

I miss you and love you,

Beverley Writer

x


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Prompt 13 - the thirteenth guest

The truth is, I didn't really want to be invited to the christening anyway. All those fairies in pink and lilac, twirling their glittering wands, making airy wishes that won't come true. Too much hope can make a person sick - and I should know.

May she be pretty and kind and wise. And then what? She'll meet Prince Charming and live happily ever after? Are those guys for real. You know what, I was pretty and kind and wise (still am some might say) and look where I ended up. Alone, that's where. That's where we all end up. It all ends in death and darkness and oblivion. But they don't want to know that, do they? No-one wants to know that. No-one wants this much reality at the party.

They think that they can protect her, keep her in a sweet rural idyll, away from the harsh reality of life. But wherever she goes, it will find her. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day. She can sing to the birds and pick flowers in the forest all day long but no-one can stay there forever.

I wasn't going to curse her, not at first, I just wanted to tell the truth. But who wants to hear the truth?  Forewarned is forearmed, surely, but still they shut the door in my face, blocked their ears and shut their eyes. And this was all I wanted to say:

Don't listen to them Aurora.
Bad things happen to good people.
You can play by the rules and still lose.
You can do unto others as you would have
them do unto you and still get hurt.
By all means fall in love but just know that
you risk losing more than you can bear.
You can try to stay away from spinning wheels
but you will prick your finger anyway.
There is no safe path through the woods.
Spread breadcrumbs where you walk
and the birds will just eat them -
there is no way back.
Even if you're home before midnight
it can all still turn to dust.
An apple a day might keep the doctor away
or it might kill you. It's pot luck really.
Long blonde tresses are no protection
from blindness and a life in the wilderness.
Your romance might blossom on the land
or end up as foam on the sea.
Keep your eyes open.
Watch your back.
Love doesn't conquer all.
There is no happy ever after.


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Rant: Things not to say - part 2

How are you?

Why do we say this every time we see someone? It begs only one response. Fine. Or other pointless rejoinders. And how many of us are really fine? When someone stops me at the school gates and says 'how are you?' as they're pushing a buggy with one hand and looking over their shoulder at a toddler, what do they want me to say? That I am desolate today, thank you. That I'm struggling. That my eyelids are a fragile dam barely holding back the torrent of tears that are waiting to fall as soon as they turn their back.

Unable to say fine, I sometimes say "up and down" and immediately find myself wondering where exactly the 'up' has been. I'm a writer and a pedant. Inaccurate words won't do. Rough to putrid my dad used to say. Maybe that would work. Down to desperate, maybe? Or perhaps I should say that I'm swimming on, but that there's an undercurrent of sadness pulling me under from time to time. Or maybe I should try a meteorological reply. Say that, at the moment, it's mostly clouds with occasional downpours and the threat of thunder.

I know they mean well and that I am bitter and unforgiving. That, if everyone ignored me, I'd feel worse. That it's just a British custom, like talking about the weather. But at least the weather is something we could agree on.
"Nice day for the time of year."
"Yes indeed it is. Horrible time I'm having but at least the sun is shining."

His mum understands. She phones me every day or two and says "I won't ask you how you are. We don't do that do we, you and me." We know that we are not ok and that the passing of another 24 hours or 72 hours has not moved us into a new zone where everything is better now.

I wonder what the right question is. A friend asked me today what the right thing would be. I'm still not sure. I said maybe "what's happening?" might be better, though that sounds a bit too hip and happy. But it feels more like an open question that invites a response: I'm feeling blue or, this week I've been sorting through his things. Or, as a friend said tonight, "how has this week been?" At least it's a question that suggests that this week has probably been tricky and full of complexity and that maybe she has time to wait for a lengthy reply.

If there isn't time, I don't know, maybe let me just get the child to school without asking how I am. Observe the clouds and the thunder on my face and steer clear. Let me settle him on his carpet space with a smile and let the dam burst when he's gone. And maybe later, when you have time, I'll tell you what's happening and how I'm feeling and that today, it rained again.

Prompt 12 - Turning towards the smouldering ache of loss

You were a man of fire and the flames of love were strong. From the first date when we made a poker together on your anvil, hammering red hot metal, bodies close together, feeling the heat rising between us. You were overwhelmed by your passion. Almost ran away. For all the pain your death has caused me, I'm so glad that you didn't, so glad we shared what we shared together. You built me bonfires on the moors and stoked the flames of log burning fires in holiday cottages. There was fire in our hearts from the moment we met. In the last poem I wrote about you, I wrote of sparks turning into flames. And then, suddenly, just when the fire was blazing, someone put it out. Smouldering is the right word for this loss.

Last week we held a bonfire in your memory. I was so numb, I stood in the embers of the fire, melted the soles of my boots until the stones from your yard were embedded like jewels in metal. I take those stones with me now, feel their imprint as they dig into the soles of my feet. It feels fitting to carry that pain as I walk.

The truth is, it is easy for me to turn towards this pain. The pain is comforting. Because the pain speaks of love. I feel close to you, lying here, feeling this searing, smouldering heartbreak. It brands me with the knowledge of how deeply I loved. How much I have lost.  Easier to feel it than to turn away, to enter into the cool worlds where the fire has gone out, where eyes glaze like pale marbles in artificial light. Stay here with me where the flames are still bright.  They say that if you play with fire you will get burned. I played. It burnt. It hurts. But it is real.

Prompt 11 - Death has torn up my roots



These days I notice that I wake up shivering. It's like the fear has set in before daybreak. Consciousness shaking me out of the protective darkness of sleep. I curl foetal around the soft comfort of your clothes and shudder, wondering how to face the day. And then my little boy's face appears at the bedside and I shove your clothes behind me and reach out for his morning softness and the shivers gradually cease. For him and his sister I will get out of bed. I will smile. I will go on. I am their roots and their strength. From me they grow. 
Death has torn up my roots. My parents are gone and I stand alone, wobbly, unanchored and without you by my side. You were the one I held onto. You held me firm, kept me upright. With you I was starting to grow. And you were growing too in symbiosis. But you were cut down overnight, in your prime with no warning and now my nourishment is gone. My parents were my roots, my past, you were the blossom of my future. I'm not sure I can grow without you. I'm not sure I want to. I'm not sure I can love a world that can be so cruel. But I love them. The little boy and the little girl. For them I live.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Prompt 10: What I have loved I cannot hold.

Your hands were soft and strong.
No, you had working hands, with rough nubs and edges.
But they were tender hands, kind hands, warm hands.
These adjectives aren't enough.
I search for the right words to describe your hands
and wonder why I didn't make notes sooner.
Why I didn't ask you to sit like a model in a life drawing class,
while I took in every detail of you so that I could recreate it now.
Why I didn't photograph your hands,
draw your hands,
imprint them in clay,
the way parents preserve the tiny hands of babies.
Why is it only newborn fingers we immortalise?

I didn't fully know you,
hadn't yet explored the back of your hand or the palm.
I hadn't made a map of hairs and freckles and.veins.
I hadn't traced your lifeline with my finger,
didn't realise it was short,
just knew that your love line was strong.
What I do know is that you had big hands,
good hands,
hands that held mine snug and tight.
"Your tiny hand is freezing," you said
as you sandwiched it between yours.
You were a furnace warming me from the
outside in, inside out.

I cannot hold your body next to mine,
cannot feel the flood of calm as you wrap yourself around me.
I cannot describe the exact feeling of your skin on my skin
or find the right expression for the way we touched.
I never stopped mid-embrace to write down exactly
how you tasted when we kissed,
but I can say this:

you felt like home.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Prompt 9 - Writing from colour

I see him in rainbows.
I see him in clouds.
I see him in big skies and bright stars.
I see him in shafts of light and pouring rain.
He is elemental now.
He always was elemental.

Red. For the blood. That is all.

Yellow like the daffodils in the poem I wrote on our last weekend away together. The hopefulness in that poem is like a smack in the face now. It feels like some malevolent force was listening to all my talk of spring and newness and rebirth and decided to come with a cleaver and chop down all the daffodils and take you with them. Not for me, the optimism of yellow. The hope of spring.

Pink, like the fleece I wore in the photos you took. The one where I am all woodland sprite on an autumn walk, climbing down from a tree with that beaming smile that only you seemed to captu
re, that only you gave rise to. We went looking for a highwayman's cave. Never found it but didn't care. Instead we found a patch of grass on a hillside and called it home. We lay down and watched the sun slowly slip out of the sky. I shuffled backwards and felt your arms around me. A priceless moment, bathed in the pink light of dusk, perched on the edge of love.

There was so much green. Green fields around your house on the day we first sat together on your porch. Green grass in the park as we walked the dog. Green trees on woodland walks. Even though we mostly loved in winter, we lived in green on those magical days. Now I am green. Sick with horror and green with envy for the people who loved you for longer than I did and the people who hold their loved ones close at night. Green is sprouting out all over now, like a reminder of a love that was just beginning to truly blossom. A love that will never ever see the summer.

Purple for the heather on that first September walk we took together. The joy of boundless discovery, rampaging across the moors, conversation never faltering, being completely present and yet aware that there was just the faintest purple tinge of forever in the air. There has never been a more perfect day. I'm so glad I spent with you. I'm so sad that we will never do it again.

Orange for a man of fire. The flames of the bonfire you built for me on New Year's Eve. You carried the wood and an axe up the hill, breathed life into sticks just as you breathed life in to me. Sat between your legs, feeling my shins burning, watching fireworks exploding over the city that was home to both of us for our whole lives, lives which were spent at less than half a degree of separation until last year. Flames of passion burning bright. Snuffed out, without warning, overnight.

It was always going to be blue. The colour for you. The blue of your eyes meeting mine in disbelief. Your eyes look sad, you said, the first time that we kissed. I said I was terrified, of risking my heart again. That malevolent force was watching then too, urging me on, telling me to take a chance. What could go wrong? Everything as it happens. Blue for the shirt you wore every time we went out. I know you still think it was black, but I'm telling you it was dark blue. I bought you a new one at Christmas, light blue this time. It goes with your eyes, your mum said. The blue of the sea at Flamborough and the blue of the skies. I see you in skies now. And in clouds. Love for us was fleeting and rare as the rainbows you leave as messages now you're gone. You are elemental now. You always were elemental.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Where is my mentor in this world of grief?

Where is my mentor in this world of grief? Where is the person who has gone before, who has seen what I have seen, lived through the things I've lived through and survived to tell the tale? It feels like it's getting ridiculous now.

I'm 45 and have peers who seem to have their whole families in tact, people who haven't lost more than a tenner at the races. And I feel like I have lost so much.

I lost my innocence in a difficult childhood and the stability of a family when my parents divorced. I lost my first love when I divorced in my twenties. I was divorced before other people had even started to get married. Lost other loves along the way. I had no map for how to make things work. No solid foundations on which to build.

I lost my father when I was thirty, watched him lose his faculties and his grip on life for years. Watched him lose the love he thought he had when his wife betrayed him, lost my inheritance in a courtroom battle with the woman who stole everything he owned. I lost my chance to say goodbye at the funeral she orchestrated and my chance to hold onto his memory when she took all his possessions, buried his ashes behind locked gates, went off down south with the family photos.

I lost my second baby in the womb. Watched it fall away in blood and pain, staining the sheets. 

I lost my little one's babyhood. Watched him turn limp and grey in my arms. Nearly lost him for good but he was saved to scream through the next year or two of hospital stays and diagnoses of rare diseases. 

I lost his father in those years. He couldn't hack it. Why would he? Who would want to have to deal with all those sleepless nights, all those worries, with a partner who was shaken to the very core. 

And then I met a man. A man I loved. And he left too. He took a piece of my heart with him when he left. I felt broken. 

And then, who would believe it? There was some justice. He came into my life like some kind of knight to rescue me. He showed  me how to live and how to love again. He brought sunshine and laughter into my rain-filled existence, made me believe that somewhere, there was hope, that maybe, just maybe I was allowed some joy. He told me I was perfect, that I was everything, that he wanted a future with me, that it would all be ok. 

And then she died. My mum. The person who had always been there. Who gave birth to me and gave me roots. Suddenly she could hold on no longer. She filled up with liquid and cancer crept up through her body, strangling her until she could no longer speak or look me in the eye. She turned away and left the room, left me an orphan with just him to hold onto, my anchor in this alien world. Just him and me and the children and a hope for a future. It kept me going.

And then he went quiet, didn't reply to my messages. I thought he was letting me down, like men do. And then I found him, inflated like a black balloon on his bed, with blood seeping out of his body and everything was torn apart.

Who has been here before me? Who else has witnessed so many shades of death so young? Who has lost parents and lovers in such succession? Had the carpet pulled from under their feet every time they find the strength to stand? Where is the person who can give me a map for how to carry on in the face of such ridiculousness? How can there be anything left to hope for? Any way to salvage something good from this utter devastation?

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Found poem - from the Weekend Guardian

This is what has been written,
words scattered, evading capture.
We were being kids
a woman and a man in the park.
I walked towards your place,
felt fear and excitement in your touch,
eyes closed, I was blindfolded, all sensation.
Sun lit up the willow trees.
We kissed, encountered each other
through touch and conversation.
Former identities dissolved.

Now I sit alone.
I remember your voice.
The noise of birdsong overpowers me:
grief, anguish, devastation and bone-crushing pain
come up like a flood.
It wasn't your heart that exploded,
it was mine.



Rant - Things not to say

The angels must have needed him they say. But why would the angels need a blacksmith? Sure he could fix gates but he didn't work with pearls. Did they need him to be one of them? He'd look stupid with wings, in a floaty white gown. It just wasn't his style. And anyway, he didn't want to be an angel. He wanted earthly pleasures. He wanted to stay here with me. He wanted to spend the summer cavorting on hillsides and beaches with his sweetheart, making love in meadows and woods. He had plans. Big plans. Don't tell me that the angels needed him. I don't care how rusty their gates are. They could have found someone else to oil their hinges, taught someone else to polish their halos, someone older maybe, someone who was tired and done with living, someone who had no-one to love. And please don't tell me this happened for a reason, that this is for the greater good because what you're telling me is that he and I deserved this shit and that it will all work out better in the end. There is no happy ever after in this narrative. This narrative is fucked. And I should know, I'm a writer for Godsake. No-one would tell this story to make any kind of higher moral point. It's a horror story and a bad one at that. I'm not normally an angry person but if the angels come near me, I will tear their wings to shreds and twist their halos out of shape. Sure, the angels might have needed him but nobody needed him more than me.

'Let me be to my sad self hereafter kind'

Let me be to my sad self hereafter kind.
When she needs to cry, let her;
there's no shame in weeping for all she has lost.
When she needs to be alone, make her a comfortable
nest and let her hibernate in it.
Play her soft music or let her hear the peace in silence.
Protect her from harsh voices and cold wake-up calls.
Give her the strength to say no, again and again
and nudge her occasionally, when she's ready, to say yes.
Let her stare at photographs and write endless words of love
and pain if this is what she needs to do.
Take her for walks in the places he loved
and let her feel the sun on her skin,
the wind in her hair,
the cool caress of water.
And, when she feels she can't go on,
remind her to reach out to people who love her and say:
'this is too much for me to bear alone.'

Saturday, 9 April 2016

If grief had a voice

I come like a black cloud on a sunny day. 
But i'm a cloud with teeth, big teeth -
all the better to eat you with my dear. 
I chew you up, grind your memories between molars, 
hold you tight in my grip. 
I tumble you on my tongue, 
churn up all the what-ifs of your broken world 
until you don't know truth from lies, 
up from down. 

Sometimes, at night, I take my teeth out and 
then I swallow you whole into the damp cavity of my blackness. 
You like it then, you know you do. 
It is safe there where pain is the truth, 
the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 
There you feel alive. 

Just when you're comfortable, settling in,
I spit you back out, still wet, to stumble blindly into sunlight. 
I leave you numb with no compass in a foreign land, 
frozen in the glare of another day. 
Don't worry. I will come again soon. 
When you least expect me. 
When you don't want me. 
I like to keep you on your toes.