The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

In one week…

Since I started writing my blog to embrace turning forty it has become something I enjoy doing very much. Just for myself. Sometimes it can be a struggle finding time to write and what to write about but it is always there, gently ticking along. 

And I have given this much thought. If I want to continue writing then I need to talk about this too. Right now. As I journey through this time that I can’t stop happening, yet which feels like it’s not happening. Or like it’s happening someplace over there in my periphery vision. 

So forgive me that I talk about this. Feel free to come back another time, I do understand. 

So here goes.

Grief, whilst intensely private, is also widely public too. There is no keeping it to yourself. It is news that has to be shared, even if you don’t want to share it. Even if you don’t share it yourself. Each new person that knows, only compounds what you don’t want to believe has happened. It is quite true that people know what you have to say before the words have even been spoken. The very first person I had to break the news to, spared me the pain of having to say it out loud. I only had to answer ‘yes’. The second person, unable to digest fast enough the look on my face, before realisation hit them. 

And then, like how people describe ripping off a bandaid, you want to get the news out there quickly to your people. Before you lose the nerve to talk about it again. Can I whisper to you my most painful secret. Will you listen to me as I tell you how my whole world has changed forever. Placing upon you the burden of my tears, my sorrow, your heart breaking for me too. 

I’m still not ready for this. I still don’t feel it is real. I’ve been saying this for a week now. All of a sudden a week has passed us by. I’m shaking my head as I write this. Weird I know.  

And yet, I’ve known this day would come. But somehow I also forgot too. That’s what I remember thinking in the hospital. Since I got that voicemail from the nurse looking after my Dad. Could I call them directly on the ward. They were concerned. So I did. Can you come into the hospital as soon as possible. So I did. Asking for a huge favour from someone I barely knew but remain forever grateful to. Going into school and having to tell my children that Mummy has to go and see Gung Gung and they will be staying with school friends overnight and what an exciting and unexpected adventure that was going to be. 

Driving up to the hospital in disbelief. Shock even. Messages from my cousin to hurry but also drive carefully. Seeing my Dad. How was this change even possible. I just spoke to you the evening before. You were you. Telling me not to worry. You were on antibiotics and felt fine. You sounded fine. Like normal. Giving me parenting advice. Like normal. Everything was like normal. Except for the hospital part. And that was far from normal. 

Is it possible to forget something as monumentally important as being told your Dad may not have long to live. This was back in April this year. My Dad was critically ill in hospital then. I had already sat in the same small Nurses office before. Being told exactly the same news. It wasn’t any easier the second time. Twice I did not tell my Dad what I knew. And he didn’t need to know. But I knew and carried it in my heart, devastated back then with this knowledge. Clearly remembering asking myself whether I would feel truly happy again. I thought I had started feeling my loss then but as the Dr told us again and again, when the time comes it will hit you afresh and to go easy on yourself.  

So how did I forget? Well, after five weeks in hospital he gradually got better. With the help from many others, my Uncle who cooked daily for him and my cousin who was there to look after him when I wasn’t. You could also hear it in his voice day by day in our phone calls. Then the phone calls were no longer daily as normal life resumed. It was at this time that our plans to relocate back to the UK were underway. And whilst of course it was sad to leave Singapore and all that was held there, and hard work to set up a new home over here in a new town knowing no one, I knew what else was there to be gained. 

I’ve only heard my Dad cry twice. Once at my Grandma’s funeral. The second time at the end of April when I called him from Heathrow Airport before my flight to Singapore. I said to him I would be back in three months. His voice broke at that point.

Even if it has only been for a few months. I would have preferred more. Just one more day I kept asking for. More time to see each other. More things to say. More photos to show you of what we have been up to. More of everything. And the terrible thing of knowing there will be no more, is that you start silently playing a warped game of ‘Have you ever…’ Which changes to ‘I will never…’

I will never be able to talk to you again. I will never be able to share this moment of your grandchildren’s day with you. I will never be making plans to see you. 

I will just never.

And understanding that is the hardest part of this journey. Because I am not ready for this. But who is. 

My Dad though, surprised the medical and nursing team. Several times they thought it wouldn’t be long. Including that day over two weeks ago. The Dr predicted just hours. So all the family came to see him. And just as they were about to leave, my Dad decides no one tells him when it is time. He came back to full consciousness. We had good conversations that night. With him asking me who had come to see him that day. So I listed everyone who came. He asked again several times that night. Almost incredulous that he missed it all. Just recalling this makes me smile. 

My Dad smiled a lot. He liked his photo taken. He smiled a lot for photos. 

That next day when his Consultant came to do the rounds, they told me that they were surprised to see the change in him because of his blood test results. They were not good. That part was not reversible. They made it very clear. I think back and wonder if I accepted this information too easily. But what else could I do. My whole focus was my Dad being comfortable. Making him aware that he was not alone. That he was loved. That he was safe and I would help him as much as I could. But on the ward he did feel safe and he did trust his Consultant. It was evident in the exchange they had that morning. And it was good to see this between them.

Doctors and Nurses must care for so many people day in and day out. But when they say they remember my Dad from his stay back in April, I believe them. And it comes as no surprise that they remember how polite he always was and how he liked to drink warm water and tea, no sugar. And he in turn appreciated the fact the staff looked after him so well. That the support staff remembered to fill his flask with hot water and cleaned his false teeth for him. 

My Dad always said thank you to everything with a smile. He is one of those rare types of gentlemen. 

We all underestimated him. Mistaking his small frame for a frail man. I mean he was physically quite frail from illness. Weak lungs and a few other things. Hence another chest infection could go either way. But the way he hung on for all those extra days. Showed a man of great strength. To the point where the Dr said they were giving up on predicting when, as he played to his own rules. Quite right. And he did. Choosing his moment exactly so. 

And even though I wasn’t there, I would like to believe that my Dad knew I was where he wanted me to be. With my own Husband and children. I had told my Dad all week that I had to go home and look after the children because my Husband had to return to Singapore for work. We were already lucky enough with how generous his work had been allowing me this time to spend with my Dad. So I left the hospital that afternoon, said Goodbye to my Dad and I’d see him tomorrow as I was coming  back up with the children so they could see their Uncle. But I knew any visit thereafter would be brief. Perhaps he knew it too. 

That Friday I got home and we took the children to our first proper Christmas market. Fairground rides. Mulled wine. Hot chocolate. I called my brother to say I was back safe.

In April and a few times before, my Dad had said if it was his time to go, it would be ok because my Brother and I were grown up with lives and families of our own. He worried most about leaving us too soon when we were children. Probably because that’s what happened to him and his siblings, but that’s another story. He was content. His job fulfilled. 

Even so Dad. I’m still not ready. A week on, I feel so sad but a little less like I can’t breath without crying. I still cry of course. I easily cry. Even before this. Let alone after this. But this is different. 

Right now I feel like the world and the way I move around in it has changed forever. I asked others if they felt that way too. 

Someone suggested I write through this. I can now see why it would be cathartic. By writing this down, it allows room to remember other parts that are not altogether sad. Some parts are even funny. Other parts poignant. Some parts belonged to the memories of others who have generously shared them with me so that I can collect double memories.

My Dad, my beloved Dad, Mr Li passed away peacefully a week ago Friday with my brother by his side. 

Saying it out loud here doesn’t make it feel any more real but it has helped. In the coming days and weeks perhaps there’s more I would like to say. But for now it’s enough. 

To my much loved Dad. I know you were tired. I could see it. And in that moment when I said to you it was ok to go because my heart knows one day I will see you again. Not just yet though but I definitely will. 

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made through this justgiving page to Ward 29, Freeman Hospital Newcastle. 

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mrscli

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With a fizz, pop and a whizz bang

I can hear the last few crackle and pops fading away. It’s been a decade since those familiar sounds signalled the start of shorter days and colder nights. Since the clocks went back an hour last weekend, there has been an unfamiliar drop in temperature outside. Oh my gosh! So much for acclimatasing gradually into a traditional northern English winter. 

I’ve gone from embracing this cooler weather to sporadically yelling ‘I’m bloody freezing!’ We’ve been going to the local park every day after school. In the early autumn days that was lovely. Sitting in the late afternoon sunshine, chatting to other parents over a coffee, only calling out home time when it was time for dinner. 

Now, now you’ll be lucky if I can manage 20 minutes of non body movement on a cold wooden bench whilst my ability to chat to other parents diminishes by the second as my face freezes up. I mean it’s possibly just me. I have seen some people still in shorts. And it is no use saying to me ‘But you’re from Newcastle!’ Do you know how many years, nay decades it has been since my proper north east of England days? I’ve just moved back from the tropics for goodness sake!

I AM FREEZING! 

And I am not the only one in this household who thinks the same. #2 was in tears last night after just two hours outdoors. Trussed up in multiple layers and a big thick winter coat, hat, scarf and gloves. I don’t know what else she can wear for when winter sets in proper. We had all been admiring the fireworks when suddenly, painful yelps could be heard from #2. Baffled as to what could have happened #2 woefully declares her fingers are not working and her toes have disappeared. 

And she was right. I couldn’t feel my toes on the walk home either. Nor was my mouth formulating the shapes to speak. But #2’s distress was too funny as you see unfurl before you the idealistic notions of playing in the snow to the reality of living in conditions for snow to happen. I’m sure in time, they will all acclimatise. Maybe I will too but until then it’s tempting to see sense in #2’s declaration that she was catching the next flight back to Singapore.

Bonfire Night. Guy Fawkes Night. Fireworks Night. It’s a brand new occasion for #1, 2 and 3. Who is this Guy Fawkes? Why do we burn him on a fire? Why was he naughty? These are quite terrifying concepts for young children. As we gloss over the story on our way to said Bonfire Night the local church are handing out free sugared doughnuts as a timely distraction. This will mark all that is good about Bonfire Night forever for #1, 2 and 3. 

Fireworks are one of my all time favourite things. The explosion of sound and colour against a clear night sky just makes me happy. In Singapore we were truly spoilt for magnificent fireworks displays. But I feel there is something more authentic just standing watching a frenzy of fizzing, popping, crackling fireworks going off in the freezing cold.  

There’s a proper massive bonfire, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was a teenager on a beach in Sunderland. And actually a house just down the road and around the corner from ours had their own mini bonfire going on in their front garden which concerned #1 no end. He was pleased to see just the embers were smouldering when we passed it again on our way home.

The other thing I did today was boil a lot of sugar. A lot of sugar. And syrup. For cinder toffee and toffee apples. I honestly don’t know why I felt the need to make my own. I mean when cooking for small people, homecooked from scratch is usually the better, healthier option. But sugar is just sugar. I could have just bought them from the shops. 

But then again, there is something soothing to be indoors on a FREEZING cold afternoon measuring sugar and syrup with #1. And I have to say, it is not so easy to make your own toffee apples. I’m not even sure the cinder toffee is right either but #1, 2 and 3 were more than happy.

And that is enough for me. For these occasions will come to mean something to #1, 2 and 3 as we add it to the other calendar of events. Creating new traditions as we embrace this new life and add some warmth in our hearts to defrost those fingers and toes so we will brave the cold outdoors again. 

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A proper cold Halloween

“I can’t wait for Halloween”, says #1.

“It’s today!”, replies #2.

“I know”, answers back #1.

I wasn’t sure whether we’d be out Trick or Treating tonight. Not just because I’m scared of all things spooky. I even couldn’t cope with #3 randomly “woo oohing” around the house this past week in a Casper the friendly ghost fashion. 

No, it’s more to do with being without a ready made condo community on our doorstep. It’s a bit tricky figuring out what’s the norm when you’re trying to create a whole new normal for yourself. This time last year, #1, 2 and 3 had wrapped up three Halloween events already. Which looking back now seems a bit excessive for Halloween but a lot of fun. So much fun for #1, 2 and 3. 

Without the security of a ready made condo community, Trick or Treating seems to hold many people in conflict about going knocking on the doors of (mostly) strangers to basically ask them for sweets. Of course we all get where the concern comes from. So what do you do in these different times to that of our childhood. Though I’m not sure it was considered that acceptable even back then when sweets were actually a proper treat. 

So I’m of sort giving up on the idea when a very kindly teacher sends a note home with every child, inviting them to come Trick or Treating at her house. Well at least there’s one house to visit and perhaps there’ll be a few more on the way. 

As it happens, there were whole streets festooned with cobwebs and pumpkins. The scary and the sweet were out in dedicated sugar harvesting mode. Cries of all 200 bags of sweets have gone could be heard from several doorways but by then #1, 2 and 3 plus their three friends have reached sugar saturation point. It’s so dark at 6pm that you can’t see the amount of sweets that have bypassed the Halloween bag! 

And it’s funny how when Trick or Treating there are no cries of “How much further do we have to walk?”, “I’m coooold!”, “Can we go home now?”. In fact I’m the one yelling how cold it is and I’ve got three layers on! With a long cloak not just for Halloween effect but in a bid to keep extra warm! I found myself admiring and nodding in approval at those wearing full on fleecy onesies as my next year’s Halloween outfit of choice. Makes a change from sweating it out in the tropics wearing 100% polyester.

As much as #1, 2 and 3 were keen on the haul, they were equally excited about giving out the treats too but we were out ourselves during prime time. Would we get any Trick or Treaters ourselves? They enthusiatically looked up and down the street. Practically wanting to open the front door and shout out to passersby to come knock on our door. And their yells of excitement when they heard the doorbell ring and proudly held out their cauldron of treats made me very happy for them. 

So that’s our first Halloween in our new town done. All that’s left is to remind myself I still have my Halloween face on before I head off to get ready for bed and scream at myself in the bathroom mirror. 

Happy Halloween!

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