Sunday, 27 August 2017

Afterwards Part 2

You walk into the sitting room and your husband is lying on the floor. He is conscious but unable to get himself up; the first thing you do is fetch a pillow to place under his head and a blanket to cover him, then you call an ambulance. The paramedics arrive, switch on their monitors, get him upright, check him over. “We have to take him in”, they say. The last you see of him is the scared and confused look on his face as the gurney is wheeled out of your sitting room. It’s an image which is as clear today as it was then.

It is also the last time he is in his own home. The last day of normal life. For both of you.
That evil day now lies eight months in the past. Afterwards is truly here.

In her book “The Year of Magical Thinking” (one of the best non-fiction books ever written) Joan Didion says ‘Until now I had been able only to grieve, not mourn’. I hadn’t thought of it before, but it’s perfectly true and eminently logical: the two processes are entirely different. Grief happens to you, mourning is something you do. ‘Mourning, the act of dealing with grief, requires attention.’

I have been doing my very best to avoid ‘giving attention’ to grief, and thus mourn, by reading obsessively, often rubbish and light weight stuff, watching hours of meaningless TV, staring into space without focus, sleeping and/or dozing, with or without artificial aids, buying and drinking wine - the latter in moderation, it doesn’t take a lot before I feel sick - and eating chocolate.

Reading still figures high on my to-do list - that is if I had a to-do list - but I have turned to more satisfactory nourishment. (see my new ‘books I have read and enjoyed’ in the right hand margin). I am more selective in my TV watching too, choosing movies over sitcoms. At present I am working my way through the Tolkien range; enjoying the splendid special effects, magnificent landscapes and epic battles. Sometimes I find myself grinning at the plot, what little there is of it, and the grandiose dialogue. I also search out romcoms, a genre Beloved  and I simply never considered before.

I have been told to pursue anything that gives me pleasure by a professional who deals with people in distress. Now I ask myself how long can I go on doing this before the whole edifice of avoidance crashes down on me? Can one avoid mourning altogether? Will it catch up with me sooner or later?

I went to see my heart specialist for my annual check-up; he found me in perfect good heart health - amazingly - so we spent my allotted time comparing notes. He is a Dutchman, working in the NHS temporarily and we wondered how long before the dread hand of the Brexiteers comes knocking on our doors, showing us the way out. In his opinion mourning intensifies with time; by the end of the first year it is at its most acute. In particular the first anniversaries of any special days, like birthdays and Christmas. Wouldn’t these days have to have been special throughout your time together? We were always very restrained when it comes to special celebrations.

There is, however, something to celebrate: I have finally had the cataract in my seeing eye removed. For the last two years of Beloved’s life, while my time was taken up with increasingly needing to be his carer, my eyesight gradually deteriorated until the ophthalmologist pointed out that my driving days were over. In fact, had I been caught during my daily visits to the Nursing Home, the DVLA (Driver and Licensing Vehicle Agency) would have taken my licence away and I might have faced prosecution. The eye is healing nicely, my sight is restored and I am looking forward to going under the knife with the other, little-or-non-seeing-eye. A bit more light could make a difference there too, I am told. The operation was the most expensive half hour of my life but, had I chosen NHS treatment, I would have had to wait for up to nine months. Living where I do, being unable to drive is just not an option.

Every time I go out to the shops I practice reading number plates from a distance of 20.5 m. When out walking Millie I put down my cane at a spot I imagine to be 20.5 m away from a stationary vehicle and pace towards it. I am always highly delighted when I find that I’ve covered more than the requisite distance. A great improvement !

Guess what was the first thing I did when I realised that my ability to read had improved also? I ordered three books, real paper, printed, hold in your hand and turn pages books! For more than two years I could only read digitally! I still need reading glasses, but so what? Kindles will still be part of my life, but so will books again from now on.


  1. You are right, my friend. The mourning will catch up to you. And it won't be fun. But because you are in good form physically, making positive changes (good news on the cataract), venturing forward, bit by bit, you will be far more able to cope with it than during the throes of grief. It's terribly complicated and your Dutch doc is right about the first year. Every holiday, memorable day is tinged with difference from the year before. And then in the second year, there is a new yardstick. You know you can get through it, yet the loss still is so very significant. People call it a process, a journey, and it is. And it's a tough one.

    But I see light for you. Making wise choices, recognizing your accomplishments with a bit of pride, ordering those books. Finding yourself as an independent woman can be a challenge and not always a fun one but it can also be a liberation. When you said you felt delight on reading that plate well, I thought "well done, Friko. Find delight."

    I remember when they took my mum to the hospital for the last time -- forty years and it is as clear as the clearest day. There are things we never forget. We just learn how to turn the page, not close the book.

  2. A courageous post, and I am glad that you have your vision back, Ursula.

  3. You are doing well dear Frikko. The first year is hard, we walk around in what they call the 'widow's fog'. Years 2-3 are pretty rough too. Grieving was raw and could come out of nowhere at any time. Year four, reality really settles in as we settle into our life without our loved one and mourning is something we will deal with the rest of our lives. We just take life one day at a time.

    I have read a lot in these last 4 years and 8 months. Books for widows, books on gardening, the Bible, especially the Psalms, and encouraging and uplifting books too. I've also watched a lot of you tube movies, gardening shows, and other stuff to fill the void that's now part of my life. I've done a lot of needlework also, but that is good therapy. Gardening is also good therapy for me. Talking to God is an every day thing for me and is a tremendous help.

    I'm glad your eyesight is improving, that's a plus. There will be other pluses too.

    Love, hugs and prayers for you dear Frikko. FlowerLady

  4. I am so glad that you are reclaiming your vision (and books).
    I don't believe that we ever 'get over' grief. Mourning gives us time to incorporate it into ourselves and shapes the new person we become. A long process and sometimes a painful one. Good luck on your journey.

  5. This post has a more happy ending after a grim opening. You are taking care of you and it seems that you are well aware of facing a different future now. It is a bit distrubing to think Brexit could send you packing though. Did you never apply to be a permant resident?
    My eyes are too damaged from earlier traumas to get back sight. I thank Apple for zoom and my large iPad pro to see sort of. And I try to be greatful for it. Blindness may not be too far off somI try to see all I can for now.
    I spend time daily watching NDR TV on the tablet. And I am trying to learn a bit of Spanish on Bable .These distract me from the depression that keeps knocking at my senses as I deal with my rather bleak future.
    Do keep going forward. I think of you quite often. Chow

  6. Dear Friko, for the past months, I have become a more and more irregular blogger, and a very irregular visitor to blogs I enjoy. When I would click over to your page to see if I had perhaps missed a post from you, I would tell myself that I should email you.

    And then. I would not. My retired life seems to have kept me busier than ever. The current political reality that has taken over our country has definitely affected me. I spend more hours than ever before staying in contact with my elected governmental representatives.
    This summer I returned to oil painting after a gap of over 16 years and have been amazed at the pleasure I have found. Some of my family and friends have been encountering some very tough issues, and as I try to be helpful to them, I also count my blessings to have the health that I have.
    My good friend whom I have mentioned before as one who was widowed in the recent years is beginning to find it all right to enjoy some frivolity. She is still mourning, but she is allowing herself some lightness.
    Reading that you have had cataract procedures was very welcome news. Vision is probably my most treasured sense.
    I am now rambling, but trying to keep up a long overdue conversational tone. I Will email you soon, and it will be from a new email address, so hoping your computer won't label my message spam.
    Lots of love to you. xo

  7. coming to life albeit slowly. good that you are getting your eyesight corrected. good you are finding small pleasures, adjusting beyond numbness. they say it takes three years, my sister says more like 5.

  8. cataract surgery I had done 3 years ago.
    reading I do every evening, reading a lot about Italy
    a trip I wanted to take through the years.
    Olive oil, cheese, wine the way they cook is this one.
    I am independent, alone for almost 40 years after a horrible divorce.
    I made it and you will make it
    just takes time, take your time
    any thing that brings relaxation
    do it.

  9. I remember when my baby Jenny was taken away to the OR, never to return alive and how she turned her head towards me and she cried and I cried and we cried ... and the nurses cried ... I remember it like it was yesterday ... I haven't moved on since 1986 ... Am glad you are writing about your own experience, friend Friko ... Much love, cat.

  10. Your explanation of the difference between grieving and mourning was an eye-opener for me, thank you! I never saw the two as two distinct processes, but of course they are, now that I think thoroughly about the whole topic.

    Congratulations on the successful eye surgery! It is something that could be on the cards for me soon, too, but at the moment I am opting for the chicken way out - no OP until it is absolutely necessary (backed up by my eye doctor).

  11. I am going through a very difficult pre-mourning time in my life right now. Both hubby and I are in good health, but we have a loved one that has a tenuous time ahead and it weighs heavy on me every single day. No one reads about mourning until they actually go through it. My eyes are not as trustworthy and I wonder when my driving will be limited. I avoid night driving at all.

  12. Dear Friko - your thoughts bring out a wealth of emotion and thought - and it is interesting reading others' comments. Our last days are never known ... we know they are coming for our loved one ... we give to each day as much love as we are able for our loved one with the necessary practical help that goes along as the illness takes hold. Grief happens in those latter days too ... but the journey continues on, after the mourning itself has happened ... grief will always be there ...

    My thoughts - and I'm so glad you're able to read books again - enjoy them when they arrive ... and enjoy the parts of life that bring you pleasure ... then life will improve - you will always remember - he was your beloved.

    I hope you realise you bring us much pleasure by writing in your beautiful way ... it's a delight to read ... take care - Hilary

  13. I always say "one step at a time", until those steps are mine and I stumble and go backwards more than forward, or so it would seem in my own times of mourning. Your words on grief and mourning ring true, Friko. I often feel that we don't acknowledge and allow the time of mourning, which will come, of course, whether we acknowledge it or not. You are acknowledging it and I think that is good, and, as others have said, you are taking care of yourself.

    Love your recently read booklist. More for me to consider. :) Thank you.

  14. A very hopeful post, Friko. I know that anniversaries have been the hardest times for me, even today after fifteen years. But the mourning did eventually pass away and now I can think of my son with pleasure. I hope that will happen for you, too, someday.

  15. After my cataract surgeries I'm able to drive quite well, even decently well at night.

  16. They don't have to be special occasions that make us mourn, it is often the smaller, more intimate moments that bring upon the sadness. We all deal with them as best we can. Time is our best and worst enemy but eventually we do smile again.

    Cataract surgery makes a wonderful difference in quauity of life. I had mine done a few years ago and was shocked that white was so white. I had just accepted it as grey. I also opted for a more expensive lens so that I could see things at a distance better.

  17. I'm glad that you're legal once again, and appreciating the difference better vision makes. An excellent thing to have done, and good that you didn't choose economy over expediency.
    About mourning: I know little of it, and won't pretend to have anything profound to say. But I do wonder whether anyone is ever able to avoid it, even in the short term. Grief must surely settle into mourning, losing most of its shock but none of its acuteness. There is wailing and rending of clothes, and there is the quiet, ever-present pain of loss that no distraction can truly allay. I sympathize (very much) with you, but I'm not afraid for your future mental health.

  18. Degrees of sadness are my constant companions. Misting underneath even when I laugh. Cry we must. The penalty of living to old age. Books, movies, friends, distractions. But patiently it waits. Neither good, not bad. But there. Like love.


  19. I am glad you can see better! Grieving is a process, it isn't something that just goes away. Do what ever make you feel better:)

  20. Congratulation on having come through cataract surgery successfully. I am sure that being able to hold a book, turn the pages, and read the print was an event to celebrate. It is good that you now can drive legally - always a good thing. I'm sure I would have been doing the same thing if I had to do so. Also, I am so happy to read that your heart is doing so much better.

    I agree with you about the book "The Year of Magical Thinking." That book is full of such insight into the world of grief and loss. Mourning is has been described as hard work. It is that. Grief can be so scary, and constant, and seem so overwhelming. I found when I actively mourned by acknowledging all those complex emotions I felt as if my grief was resolving. Our society does not give us much space for mourning. The culture of today expects everything to be done quickly, cleanly, and without a lot of drama. Mourning takes time. It can be a beautiful experience. Confucius said, "It doesn't matter how slowly you go as long as you don't stop." Move through this "afterwards" at your pace. Also, look for those markers along the way just as you have done on your walks with your new sight. You will be surprised how far you have come. Blessings.

  21. My two cataract surgeries were over a decade apart, as one was a trauma induced cataract and the other just normal age deterioration. Both were so miraculous, although things changed between one procedure and the other. The improvements were noticable, almost hourly, as brain and nerves rebuilt trust and communication with eye.
    Humans can do amazing things.

  22. Dass Dein Mann gestorben ist wusste ich nicht. Ja, jeder Mensch trauert anders, ich wüsste nicht wie ich trauern werde, da mir das niemals passiert ist. Ich weiss nur dass meine Grossmutter die ich sehr liebte seit 30 Jahren immer noch bei mir ist und ich oft an sie denke. Ich glaube Du bist auf dem guten Weg, schon allein die Tatsache dass Du darüber schreibeen kannst finde ich gut. Ich weiss nicht ob ich das könnte. Ich wünsche Dir viel Glück zu Deinem neuen Lebensabschnitt !

  23. Thank you so much for sharing this most important subject matter

  24. My mother-in-law died this summer. In my head loop scenes from the hospital - what was she trying to say? Did we do all we could? - over and over. They are lessening now, but the weight of loss presses hard some days. It's a process. That's what everyone says.
    I'm so pleased to read of your improved vision and your ability to read "real" paper books once again.

  25. Congratulations on the surgery ; I'm still giving thanks daily for mine , as should all the people I haven't cycled into since my eyes have been done .

  26. I hope you have meaning and pleasure in the books. I hope they help.

  27. I'm so glad to see that your surgery went well and you can once again read and enjoy books. I too know the press of grief and mourning. Just take each day as it comes. What helped me most was writing and not giving a piss about what other people thought I should or should not be doing. It is good that you are seeing or have spoken to a "professional," as they can often be of great help and thank you for your honesty here. Peace and hugs!

  28. It's useful, I think, to put down these observations. It sounds as though you're working your way through a process, and doing so mindfully.
    And I noticed that as your post continued, it grew more and more upbeat.
    Having your eyesight so improved is huge!

  29. Thank goodness things are settling back into what's going to pass for a bit of routine now, and I can begin catching up with something more than the latest weather bulletins -- like your blog.

    I still remember the transformation my cataract and lens implantation surgery brought, and I'm thrilled for you. I was trying to remember how long ago that was. I think it might have been two years ago this past June or July, and I haven't had a problem in all that time. I was terrified by the thought of blindness. Being single and without family, independence is critical for me. Since dependence surely will arrive one day, I'll have to find ways to cope, but just now I cope by refusing to think about it.

    I haven't read Didion's book, but the distinction between grief and mourning made sudden sense. After all, we use grief as a noun, too, as in, "The hurricane's landfall was a grief to us all." There are a lot of people who aren't yet ready to mourn their losses in the storm. Honestly, I'm not sure most have been able to make an accounting of the losses yet.

    Aren't books wonderful? I bought a Kindle, and tried my very best to fall in love with it, but it never happened. I still like the action of turning a page -- in reading, as in life.

  30. My comment here seems to have gone walkabout -- perhaps it landed in spam or moderation.

  31. Glad you were able to have your cataract surgery and enjoy the pleasures of reading other than digitally again. My mourning could surface unexpectedly triggered by the most mundane circumstances more so than the traditional celebratory occasions -- it was the "little things". Thinking caring thoughts for you.


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