Month: June 2015

Finding a ‘new normal’

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So, there I was, a widowed, single mum of an 8 year old son (and I’ve got MS too, surely there’s a reality tv show waiting to give my house a makeover??) This was not what I’d sign up for! This wasn’t the plan! Things couldn’t carry on as before, because everything had changed. Yes, routine was important, but we had to try and find our ‘new normal’.

For starters, I had to learn to cook. I hated cooking! My hubby loved to cook and I most definitely did not. One of my son’s greatest concerns in the early days was…who is going to cook tea? (His second was, who’s going to drive us on holiday?) I wrote down a list of 7 meals I could ‘cook’ (arranging salad on a plate and putting frozen chips in the oven count as cooking don’t they?!) to prove to him we would not starve! It’s been a bit hit and miss, and I still don’t enjoy it, but I’m definitely better than I was. I’m trying to be healthier and a bit more adventurous. I have discovered kale! Not adventurous, but healthy as it’s some kind of superfood apparently (and it just needs rinsing and sticking in the steamer…my kind of cooking!)

There were other household responsibilities I had to get to grips with though.  Fortunately I’d always managed the finances, so that bit was ok. Tesco still deliver and we are fortunate to have good local shops, so shopping was ok too. The other household things have been a bit more challenging.  I have successfully changed light bulbs, installed a carbon monoxide detector and built 2 flat pack chests of drawers. The wardrobe assembly was less successful…but luckily my lovely neighbourly joiner came to the rescue! 

And this is the tough bit, I have had to swallow my pride and accept and ask for help. This doesn’t come easy to me. In the first few weeks after my husband died I was inundated with offers of ‘If you ever need anything, just let me know’ which is lovely, but when you really do need help it’s incredibly difficult to actually ask someone. (Especially if you’re still having trouble making decisions!!) Who do you choose? Did they really mean it? And many of those offers did disappear and those people faded into the background, but a small amazing group of friends and family have absolutely been there. Some offering to help with lifts, childcare and cutting the grass, while others have brought chocolate, a listening ear and a hug. All hugely appreciated, but I have found it is much easier to accept help if it is a specific offer. For example if someone asks ‘Would you like me to cut the grass?’ or ‘Let me know if you need a lift somewhere’ or ‘Would you like me to do the school run?’ I know that even if I don’t need the help at that precise moment, I know who to ask when I do. 

I don’t know why I find it so hard to ask for help, as I would be the first to help someone if they asked me! I will often look after friends children if they need it, or pick up shopping for someone while I’m out or give them a lift somewhere if I can. ‘It’s no problem’ I say. And I mean it! So why do I find it so difficult to do the asking? I guess maybe I see it as a sign of not coping, not wanting to put people out, rather than seeing it as just what friends do. We help each other out. I want to be an independent superwoman doing it all, but I am learning that isn’t actually possible!

So, my cooking is improving, my diy skills are a bit iffy and I have a volunteer grass cutter (and a now nearly 10 year old who is getting rather good at it!) I am also learning that accepting help is not a sign of weakness and I don’t have to do it all myself. In fact, there are lots of wonderful people just waiting to be asked.

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Reflections

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Following on from the amazingly positive feedback I received from my first blog post, I am approaching my second attempt with some trepidation. It’s like that tricky second album after the debut one goes platinum!

So here goes! Please be gentle. 

Just as I hadn’t anticipated retiring from work at 28, neither had I expected to become a widow at 39! My husband sadly died of a heart attack in September 2013 aged 51.

I know it sounds a bit of a morbid topic, but hopefully it will give a bit of an insight into what it’s like when widowhood is thrust upon you, especially at a relatively young (!) age. These are a few of my reflections on those early days. 

I couldn’t make a decision

My husband died suddenly and I was in shock, getting by on not much sleep and quite a lot of adrenaline and caffeine and had the daunting task of organising a funeral for what turned out to be nearly 300 people. You only get one shot at getting it right and I wanted it to be so right, but in the midst of the shock and grief I seemed to lose the ability to make a decision! Which is a bit of a problem when there are so many decisions to be made! My dad suggested I try and make decisions in the mornings when I was less tired. It was good advice, so I tried to make sure I left decisions until the morning where possible.  Wise man, my dad. 

You’re so young

Everyone is always surprised I am a widow, even the funeral service providers. My amazing mum and dad came to stay in the early days after my hubby died and one or both of them would come to appointments with me. Whoever I met with always assumed it was my mum or dad they should be dealing with. The best example was when me and mum were called in for our appointment with the registrar early, while dad parked the car, and mum asked the receptionist if she could tell her husband where we were, when he arrived. There was a brief look of horror on her face as she assumed it was mum’s appointment, not mine! A reoccurring theme that people are always surprised by a young widow! I understand why, but it can lead to some difficult and sometimes upsetting conversations.

Have plenty of tissues 

I ended up with a box of tissues in every room of the house. The tears would come frequently and without warning. My son, who was 8 at the time, would bring me a box of tissues whenever the phone rang! Every time I opened a card with kind words in, read a nice email or a friend called, that would set me off! Or an overwhelming wave of sadness would just hit me. It’s so tiring! The grief. The tears. It was a milestone when I realised I’d got through a whole day without crying! It’s a perfectly ‘normal’ reaction, but exhausting. 

Get a good filing system

It’s boring and practical but the amount of paperwork that you have to deal with is immense! It is the strangest thing. You experience this hugely traumatic life event…the death if your husband, and then you are plunged into this world of registrars, funeral directors, cemeteries , death certificates and paperwork that you are completely unprepared for. Yet you’re kind of expected to know what to do. There are the endless phone calls to companies, financial institutions and government departments explaining over and over again what’s happened. It makes it much easier to deal with if you can keep it all in order. 

Beware the postie

In those very early days, the post would often bring beautiful cards, bouquets of flowers…and brown envelopes with windows! I dreaded those ones! One day a letter would say how much I would be getting and next day there would be another saying how much I owed them! The tax credit system is no more gentle to widows than anyone else! My particular favourite phone call to the tax office was when I rang to repay an overpayment (a joint claim cannot convert to a single claim apparently and they were quick to ask for their money back!) and the chap said, did I just want to pay half and they would get the rest from my ex husband. I explained they’d have trouble as he was my late husband not my ex! A minor detail for them, but a huge detail for me. 

Choose the music wisely 

My husband had always referred to ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd as his funeral song. Every time we heard it he would say ‘This is my funeral song. I want this played at my funeral’. I have no idea why! Anyway, the only thing I knew for sure when arranging his funeral was that this song had to feature. So it was played at the end if the service. I’m sure many of the congregation probably don’t remember, but I do. And as an avid listener of Radio 2 most days, that blooming song gets played loads! I must hear it at least once a week! (You can guarentee at least every couple of weeks someone requests it on Simon Mayo’s show on a Friday!) Music can be so evocative and I only have to hear the opening bars and I automatically think of him. In the early days, weeks and months it would make me cry and I would have to turn it off, but I’m getting braver these days…most of the time!

What now?

So, what now? The funeral was over, but my whole world had changed forever. I was now a widow and a single mum. This wasn’t the plan! My son and I had to begin to try and find our ‘new normal’…