I have always disliked sunglasses. I don’t like the barrier on my face - the separation between you and whatever you are looking at. And despite many scoldings from my walking friends about the dangers of sun exposure, wrinkles and I am not sure what else, I usually never wear them. It may have something to do with wearing glasses as a child, I just don’t like them - full stop. But these days, my sunglasses are the accessory du jour. They create exactly the barrier I need, and they mask the unexpected tears that seem to arrive from nowhere.
Today it is exactly a month since Brian died. A long month but it seems also so short. I sometimes almost forget, feel as though he is just in hospital or away somewhere and then I remember, it is over, there is no going back. No making up for lost time, no fixing anything undone or unsaid. This is it. And we are sick of it, the sorrow, the loneliness and the unreality. We just want our old life back, with all its flaws. So, the sunglasses help but they don’t really change anything.
And what a month it has been. So much to take in, to take up and to try to come to terms with. I feel completely inadequate for the task, so weak and so small and so diminished. And meanwhile, the two young Trojans face every day, calmly and with such courage. While I am cowering in the house and hiding behind my glasses, Reuben and Laura step out each day with equanimity and spirit, working on. I think that every single bit of backbone that Brian and I had between us has been vested into these children. I don’t know how they do it really.
And for all of you, life has moved on and taken you over again but I feel like a piece of bleached out driftwood left lying on the shore as the tide moves, just a small and inconsequential piece of flotsam. I hope it gets better soon but in the meantime, I will keep on walking round in my sunglasses. They serve a purpose and are not designed just to give the impression that I am trying to impersonate Anna Wintour.
But in case you think the old me is truly gone and replaced by this spineless weakling, here’s something that made me laugh out loud. I heard it on the radio during one of my sleepless nights but was read from the DomPost, apparently a quote from Bill Cosby.
‘Women don’t want to hear what you think, they just want to hear what they think in a deeper voice.’ Too funny – I guess I will recover eventually.
I have written about the unexpected kindness of people around us before, often ordinary people doing their job in an extraordinary way but I thought that you might like to hear about what happened to me last week, a bright moment in a very dark week.
Contrary to popular opinion, Brian did not leave me with heaps of dough, in fact the opposite is true. He had just turned 65 and was getting the pension, so I rang to say he had died and a very polite person told me that the pension stops on the day you die (of course). “So what do I do now?”- “Well, I am very sorry to hear about your loss, but what you have to do now is you need to come down and take our Jobs Seeker’s Course and then we can see what jobs would be available for you.”- “But I can’t even get dressed.” –“Well do you have any disabilities that would prevent you from working?” – “How about grief?” It turns out that the brutal truth is that there is no cushion, no "widows benefit " or any provision for time to collect yourself before you are up against the window with your nose squashed flat.
So, trembling and rigid, I turned up at the Work and Income office in Willis Street, feeling so weak and so sad and so beaten. The office itself was challenge enough; guards outside, bleak, utilitarian and filled with odd and shabby people. I felt like a specimen. And so I sat and waited, avoiding any eye contact and wishing I was dead too.
By the time I even got to my interview I was already crying and have never felt worse in my life. And there she was, Tash King, sitting not behind her desk but beside it. She is as young as Laura, pretty, and pregnant but somehow turns out to be wise beyond her years. She didn’t falter or hesitate, she got it immediately, amazed that I had actually managed to turn up and listened, empathised and turned everything around immediately. The first thing she said was, “Well, you won’t be going to a job training course, it’s ridiculous”, which of course it is. We talked, I talked mostly and she listened, and listened and listened and heard me.
At the end of it, I felt like someone else, someone better and someone with a future, and as I was driving away thought, how can it be that someone so young in a deadly job with parades of misery in front of her every day, is able to instantly change pace and move into understanding me and my life, just like that? A little miracle for me to treasure. So I am thankful and regardless of what happens, I am glad I met her.
PS I have decided to keep writing this blog. I like it and it seems many other people do too. In due course I will change the name but not yet, it seems too final. L
A lot of people have said to me –“I don’t know what to say”. And of course you don’t, what can you say?
I thought for future reference, some of you might like know what I think about that, a kind of little briefing – “What to say to grieving people”, key messages and all that. Not that people are all the same or that there are any universal truths here but right now, it seems that for a lot of people saying the right thing matters. But here in the eye of the storm, you will be pleased to know that it doesn’t matter after all, you can’t get it wrong. Whatever you say is fine, just so long as you say something.
We are already well used to the supermarket sliding away eyes and the stare in the shop window technique, it has been going on for two years but I sympathise - really. It is all so hard and I am sure there are many people who get home and think, whatever did I say that for? There are some funny and amazing gaffes to drop in, don’t worry -it will be over soon, when are you getting a job, I am sure you will meet someone else, I hope he left you well provided for (not). However, it seems to me that no one means to be mean, in fact the opposite is hugely true and it is like Basil Faulty’s “Don’t talk about the war”. Whatever you think you shouldn’t say, somehow sometimes, it just comes out. But for me on the receiving end, I don’t care. In fact, it seems fabulous, a moment of levity and anything goes. So don’t worry, you can’t get it wrong and I know that every exchange I have, no matter how difficult, has sympathy and caring behind it.
We feel numb, we feel shaky, we feel removed from reality, like aliens. How come everyone is still walking around, talking about meta-data and drinking coffee in cafes in their lycra and bike shoes? There is no place for me, everywhere is new and foreign and uncomfortable. It is a kind of hazy nightmare. I have, of course, been here before and many of you have too. We know it passes, we know that all the clichés are true, that’s why they become clichés and time actually does heal, impossible though it seems right now.
So thank you again, for your help, your support and for your care and feel free to say anything you like – almost. Just the one thing you shouldn’t say to me is: “You are so skinny, you should eat something”. After a lifetime of diets, this is Brian’s last gift to me – “the trauma diet” and it sure works.
I am going to try to write about Brian’s funeral. I hope I can do it, and I hope those of you who were not able to be there will get a small sense of it from this.
We held Brian’s funeral at the very beautiful Old Saint Paul’s cathedral exactly a week after he died. We wanted to wait long enough to be really ready, since after that, he is gone.
It was a blur of a week, so many people, so much to do, so much love and care wrapped around us. The house filled and filled and filled with the most fabulous flowers. They are so beautiful and in our big house, each bouquet has a place of its own to stand. Also, an avalanche of beautiful and sincere cards, many from people that I do not know, who knew and cared about Brian. And people and food, and someone lovely just popping in with the coffees, and someone else with a basket of scones, three hand-made chocolate mousses or a just-cooked casserole. It was overwhelming but wonderful.
The day of the funeral was cold - really cold. I felt chilled beforehand and somehow, it seemed to take me over. The funeral was very big, many hundreds of people filling the church to the gunnels but not leaving anyone outside in that freezing weather. So many people who had taken time from their day to struggle in Wellington’s worst; it seemed to me to be extraordinary. There were also people from far away, a large number who had made the long trek from the south of the South to be there.
Our son, Reuben, had made the finest, most beautiful coffin for his father of Walnut and White Ash. He had been working on it all week and it was magnificent and unique. The Minister, David Newton, set a gentle tone of respect and care and each person that spoke about Brian rose to the occasion with such courage. There were lots of funny stories to tell about his life and Reuben, Laura and I spoke about our life with him. I think it was OK; I can’t really remember but I hope I do later.
Afterwards, maybe two or three hundred people came back to our house and celebrated Brian in fine style, many contributing in generous and unexpected ways. I believe it finished at 5.30AM!!! He would have loved it. So any people helped, made food, brought drinks or helped out on the day. We could not have done it without you, including my cousin Gaye who immediately flew down from Auckland, positioned herself at the kitchen bench, rolled up her sleeves and worked without stopping for a week. She even managed to get flowers on the plates of food she kept rolling out of that kitchen.
Writing this is harder than I thought. I want to say thank you to everyone, I want to convey how wonderful and sad it felt to me – somehow. I know this is not cutting it really, but I hope you get a small sense of how it felt to me, knowing so many people were able to show they cared and to know that while we are all very sad, we all said good-bye together. It was right.