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

Thank you for being here

on December 8, 2017

This morning I spent a lovely two hours getting to know a new friend. It seems hard to imagine that I am only three months into being a new resident to the area. The one still introduced at the school gates as having just moved this summer from Singapore with three children and whose Husband is working abroad.

I was wondering whether it would be difficult breaking into established circles. Whether people would feel they already had enough in their networks and not need any more. The advice given is always just to get out there. And getting out there is something I’m plenty experienced in.

At first, getting out there was about helping the children feel settled. It has been a huge change for them. Lining up play dates with new friends in the park and at home has really helped them and it’s reassuring to see them make new friends so you know they’re not alone at school.

Who my new friends were going to be remained to be seen. It’s not as tragic as it sounds, trust me. But I have to say, I’ve been very lucky many times over at key stages in my life where I’ve been starting over. I think back to meeting E on the steps outside Maxwell Building during my first week at Uni. To meeting G at Harry’s, Dempsey Hill, Singapore just before becoming a new parent. To K reaching out over Facebook and inviting me to coffee on the first day of this new school year.

One simple Hello that defines a pivotal moment and shifts you towards a positive direction.

I’ve spent the mornings this week on my own. Again, not as tragic as it sounds. I just felt like it and because I figured I better tackle the clothing mountain blocking my way around the house. One is still functioning and feeding and keeping the children in clean clothing. This morning though, I enjoyed a really good laugh as we shared stories of our families and what brought us both to living in this town. We talked about her new business venture and I enjoyed the energy she gave off from the sheer enthusiasm she had for it. I left feeling lighter of heart following her warm and easy company.

Then I went on an impromptu two hour walk around The Stray. I’ve not been out running for over a month now, I don’t quite feel ready for that level of activity. Walking feels a more gentle way to move around for some fresh air and arrange my thoughts. And my thoughts invariably come back to the same point.

This morning I thought about all the many helping hands that have eased me through the past three weeks. And who will no doubt help me through many more weeks to come. I probably won’t even be able to articulate fully just how grateful I am for you. A simple Thank you doesn’t seem to do it justice. But it feels important to me that I try to say Thank you as best I can.

After I got home from my walk, I reread the bundle of cards I’d received. When the first one arrived I was almost surprised that it found its way to me at all. I’d just moved in not that long ago. Who knew my address? At the time reading the words inside were painful as it took me another step towards feeling the truth. But reading them all again today gave me a different perspective. Each message a gentle attempt to soothe some of the pain the sender knew I would be feeling. And physically taking the steps to send a card is so meaningful in an age when we all tend to text each other. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

And thank you also for the kind gifts. Completely unexpected. Tissues to dry my tears whilst I feed the children the chocolate for dinner. Lotions and potions to beautify my swollen eyed, aged self. Flowers to mask the smell in case I don’t feel up to washing or cleaning the house. A lovely new recipe book to inspire me to cook properly for the children to override the guilt for feeding them chocolate for dinner. Whisky because my Dad would be horrified at my consumption of hard liquor. It’s a difficult time Dad!

What I really want to acknowledge is that you are helping and you have helped. And I know you feel my position and desperately want to make it better. When I have been the one offering my own condolences, all I wanted to try and do is to help the person who is hurting as much as possible. But how. Much of what I need to do can only be done by me, that part is true. However, every message, every call, every touch point, every time you listen, it all helps.

I cried when my good friend V said, ‘It’s to remind you that you are not alone in your grief, that I am thinking of you and your family’ and that is very comforting to know. Sometimes you do feel alone and suddenly someone pops up and says ‘I’ve been thinking of you’ and it’s like a speck of blue sky breaking through on a cold day.

And what would I have done without the offer of practical help. Coming from people I had known less than two months. Less than a month even. When we lived in Singapore with home help, there was always someone there to support the home. Not just so that I could go back to work easily or have lunch with the ladies. When my Dad was in hospital in April, I stayed on in the UK for a while longer. It was still hard, especially for my Husband but it was do able. Moving back to the UK to a new town made us wonder ‘how do people do it?’ How do you arrange everything whilst trying to work as well. It seemed so other worldly and complex. And they would say, it’s different when you don’t have home help. You build your networks, you pull together and you support each other. But how? I’ve just moved here. And this is where I realise people are inherently good and kind. And they will help whenever they can because I think that’s what people do. It has been a very humbling experience.

Several times I was late back from Newcastle whilst discussing arrangements for my Dad, the children were already in After School Club but when it looked likely I wasn’t going to make it back for the end of that, I was able to call upon two new friends K and K to help pick them up for me. I am amazed by this.

And then there were the times when I didn’t have to do any planning at all. When A tells me to just drop the children with them and come back again tomorrow. Who spends the day before the funeral with me and allows me to just be. And who will continue to plan regular touch points like that because she’s itching to declutter my house.

When E, thinking ahead for me before I could think for myself, arranging to take care of the children so I could go ahead and do whatever it is that I needed to do on the day for my Dad. How can I ever say an adequate Thank You to her too. E’s modest reply was ‘you’d do the same for me.’ No, I don’t think I would. She laughed. But I bet she’s now not so sure.

And on the day itself. A difficult day. But made bearable because of family standing by your side. I definitely wasn’t on my own that day. Not in grief, not in company. Each step, whilst painful, was taken in exactly the way we wanted it. The day is not yet a blur, perhaps some day it will be. But I won’t forget that I couldn’t have managed it without the support of all my family. Those who drove me there and back. Those whose grief mirrored my own. For propping me up with love and giving me the time to let go of the physical only when I was ready. For my Uncle, my Dad’s younger brother, who gives my phone two rings so I’ll call him back to check that I’m doing ok and is promising to cook all sorts of good things to eat.

In the days since, I’m thankful for the company of B who I emotionally blackmailed into making me a batch of caramel squares and who walked miles in the frost and stamped through frozen puddles just because I needed it. For entertaining my Brother so he thought you were trustworthy enough for us to go out for one small cup of gin whilst he and my Nephew unsuccessfully put the children to bed. But most of all, for saying it’s ok to stop doing stuff. To stop keeping busy and feel the grief even if it means watching Elf and crying until it’s time for school pick up. I haven’t done it yet but it’s good to know I could.

During this time, described as my time of need, I have been left overwhelmed by the kindness of you. I thought about this a lot as I walked around this morning. Reflecting on the words you’ve written or spoken. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and that can be confusing as your emotions battle with your rational mind. But it’s good to be told that everything you feel is valid and is not to be dismissed.

I also value the messages wishing strength and peace. Both vital at this time. I’m already strong but wishing me a bit more power from the ceiling just gives that little extra oomph to the day.

My Dad knew some of you from our younger years, referring to E, B and F as the girl from Wales/Guildford/Middlesbrough even though that may not be accurate twenty years on but a minor detail to him. And some of you who may have only met him on occasion have shared some really lovely memories. Some that I had forgotten about. They will no doubt come back in time when I think of my Dad with only good memories and not just wanting to cry. And I laughed hearing you repeat back some of my Dad’s wise teachings that I’ve talked about in the past. One bag of crisps a day only.

It’s still tough of course. I’m kept busy with Christmas upon us and with three young children to take care of. They help keep you moving forward. They too have been so amazing and kind and surprising. So surprising in their perception of things. They still fight and bicker like usual which sends me over the edge into parent meltdown mode but we’re doing ok.

As I reached home at the end of my walk. Thinking through all these thoughts. I thought about what my Dad would make of it all. I wonder what he’d make of all you lovely people he’s not met before. You’d be on your best behaviour of course. Addressing Mr Li, a minute elderly Chinese gentleman that you’d tower over. Talking at him about all sorts that he may or may not understand whilst he would nod politely, give a little laugh and say Thank You. And after you’d turn away, he’d say something completely unrelated about what you’d spoken about and you would be forever identified as the tall one from York. Or the running one from Singapore. Then he’d probably tell me to tell you not to run with headphones on. It’s too dangerous. Someone could come up behind you without you knowing.

I find it a relief when my children come home from school pleading for play dates with a whole host of names. Every parent worries about whether their child has friends. (Then they worry some more about whether they are the right sort of friends.)

I suppose I’m wanting to reassure you Mr Li, that through this difficult time, although I am without you I am not alone. I have my Husband, my children, my family, my humongous family whose daily antics crack me up and make me despair in equal measure.

Then there’s you. (That also includes the you who can be found in the friends/family intersection of a Venn diagram.) A global network of love, friendship and support. Thank you for making me feel many a touch better and just letting me know that you are there in so many different ways.

Mr Li would be very proud to know this, if he doesn’t already.

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