Thursday, 31 March 2011

Mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.

Yep, that's me. Pile on the cliches. I'd like to cheer up, but it won't happen for some time to come.

I am not very good at being depressed. Usually I can't stand it, so I have to cheer up.

But this is different.

Of course it is different. And the prospect of it going on and on, with a whole lot of unpleasantness from the other side, and having to counter it, and, one hopes, to be able to sing We shall Overcome in triumph and conviction, is somehow incredibly daunting.

Pile on the cliches. Fling self on bed and burst into wild sobs. Sit on bus while tears trickle down face. Listen to music, much of which has the same effect. Buy shares in tissue companies? Buy black clothes and appear sombrely dressed? Take used spectacles into shop, and say brightly husband won't be needing them any more?

It can indeed be very tedious. Yesterday it was my turn to present the argomento at the Italian class. It took me forever to write it, and much re-writing as well. It was to have been last week, but another of the class could not come for the next two weeks, and so she jumped the queue. I had done some of the re-writing, and then went to print it out, so that everyone could follow it, and note the inevitable and numerous corrections. The printer went a bit haywire and page 3 came out blank. I fiddled with the layout, and then the colour ink tank ran dry. I did not realise that colour was needed in order to print black. The argomento had to be emailed to my newer computer, so that I could print out from that one. And after all that, I did not need it that day.

Never mind. The argomento was too long, so I had the chance to edit, correct and rewrite. It all went quite well. The major errors we all make are in the use of prepositions. Some verbs take a preposition if an infinitive verb follows. Some don't. But which verbs, and which prepositions?

Just as the class was finishing, my eyes went wonky and a migraine came upon me. That put paid to my vague plan to go and see a film on the way home. I did go to choir for a while, as the conductor wanted to 'voice' us all, to place us in what she considers to be the best possible position for the overall sound. Once that was done, I went home.

The migraine persisted, so I missed the day's activities, instead spending much time in bed, taking painkillers, trying to sleep, while feeling very extremely sorry for myself. Eventually I went out and bought some food, and have been sitting around watching crap TV - the sort which enables you to sit back and wonder how some people can be so idiotic.  (Feed the inner grump. Not so inner, either.) Wondering why idiot females put their two to five year old daughters into beauty pageants, with teased, curled and back-combed hair, replete with tiaras, spangles, frills, bows, ribbons and flounces and MAKEUP, and then get all hostile and bitchy because the ill-begotten judges gave the top prizes to other children. (I can tolerate only ten minutes of such a programme, then I have to find some other sort of mindless junk.)

Thoughts to cheer myself up:

I don't have to buy daggy shorts, t-shirts and underpants any more.
Nor do we need copious quantities of orange juice.
Shopping takes much less time, and weighs much less.
Trips to the pharmacy have become much less frequent.
There is considerably less housework and washing to do.
The physical burden is much less.
Bathrooms and toilets stay clean.
I don't have to hurry home any more.
I can make lengthy telephone calls without being harassed.
All the worry, anxiety and grief, have made me lose a lot of weight. I don't recommend this as a technique, mind.


He was lucky not to live on getting worse and worse. He really was.

On the other hand:

He is dead.
I miss him.
We cannot hold each other any more.
The house feels so empty.
We can't discuss politics any more.
Election night was much worse than it would have been had we watched together.
My mind keeps going into What If mode.
There are so many decisions to be made.
The year ahead of me will probably be quite atrocious.
I have to write another letter to my BIL giving details of all the bills and checking which ones I need to pay.
A reminder came for the funeral bill.

Reality stares me in the face. And bites and mauls me.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The little things

At Casa P there is still much to do. One thing leads to another. Having disposed of many books, I have been reorganising the whole book collection. This takes time and much thought, and as it is not possible to carry many books in an armful, there has been much going up and down the stairs. Books can be sorted according to subject, and also according to size, and it was not possible to get it right straight away. It is nearly all done now.

The biographies are mostly together, but about half are upstairs, and the rest downstairs. The art, gardening and music books have all been moved around, and the children's books are now in what used to be Dr P's study. It does not sound very logical, but I think the grandchildren will get used to it. Fiction is here, there and everywhere. Somehow fiction seems to need to be organised by size of book, as well as by author. Much arrangement is determined by the height of the shelves.

Years ago I had shelves made which are quite deep. This was to accommodate the fabric, sewing and craft collection, which all live in plastic boxes. Some of these have been moved to the hall cupboards, thus tacitly acknowledging that they will be infrequently used. The occasional peep, and the wistful thought that I really should do something about all of these things...Then there is all the wool, but it seems that using the wool is more likely that using up all the fabric. Now that Stomper is sewing, perhaps more fabric can go her way.

Anyway, the point about the deep shelves is that a lot of the fiction is shelved therein. Actually it is shelved three rows deep, which means finding anything is far from easy.

Sometimes I get waylaid by looking at the books. One such book is a volume of English constitutional documents, which was Dr P's, not mine. I have kept it, as it has some very fundamental documents. One such was the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. George IV had fits about assenting to this, thinking it breached his Coronation Oath. I'd always thought it rectified a most unjust and discriminatory legal situation, but when I flicked through it quickly, I found that it contained all sorts of qualifications, and required various oaths to be sworn for this, that, or the other thing. The attainment of equal rights in our societies has been a long and arduous process, and we should hang on to them fiercely and proudly.

(There is a state election tomorrow, at which the government is certain to be almost totally defeated and is likely to lose practically all its seats. Dr P and I used to watch the TV all night as the results came in, being election junkies from way back. We watched the British election all day, and then our own federal election in August. We watched with a friend who was staying overnight.  Dr P, who was very good with election statistics, stayed on the ball all night, while we watched this absolute cliffhanger. An election night all by myself will be difficult.)

Reorganising the books led to the tidying of the CD collection. This meant going out and buying more plastic boxes. Somehow I came home with a box for DVDs and had to go back today to change it. More hassle. I have also been going through all my own documents, so that they are better organised, and this, I fervently hope, will enable me to find things and not to get disorganised EVER AGAIN.

But as I remarked at the start, it is the little things that can get to you. I sent all the unpaid bills across to the solicitor/executors, and have not so far heard about the payment of the bills. Yesterday a reminder notice for the electricity bill arrived, and my BIL recommended I pay it, so as to ensure that the power stayed connected. I telephoned this morning to pay the bill and to try to get the account transferred to my name, for whatever period remains to me in this house. I have no legal standing to change the account, and the executors must do it - but of course no one has contacted me to organise anything like this. Then I tried to pay the bill and it would not accept my credit card. I wound up in floods of tears. I then telephoned to see whether there was a problem with the credit card. There was no problem, so I walked up to the post office and paid it there by cheque. Fortunately, I found my chequebook, which was with Dr P's credit card. I need to know whether Dr P's credit card has been cancelled and what will happen to the bills he paid by direct debit. It seems that banks will release money to pay the funeral parlour, but not money for the other bills incurred before death.

My computer went off line yesterday and I spent a lot of time trying to work out why. Apple told me my settings were fine, and told me to check with the ISP. It took four transfers before I got to the appropriate  part of the company. More tears. At least telling them you have recently been widowed softens their attitudes somewhat. Evidently you have to make the system work for you. Finally I was told there was a lot of interference on the telephone line. I went and unplugged a few of the telephones, and this apparently fixed it - or perhaps a miracle was worked from On High. If so, intervention could have occurred slightly earlier, so as to spare me this particular stress. Whatever. Perhaps someone needs to come and check all the telephone connections.

On the positive side, the first payment of my spouse's pension was made.

Let me recommend to the world in general that joint bank accounts make life much easier for the surviving spouse.

Saturday, 19 March 2011


Possibly the sheer number of necessary things to do after a death keeps the adrenalin up, but eventually the adrenalin wears out, and exhaustion sets in. As do many other emotions.

I have been going through all Dr P's files to find all the documents which must be handed over to the executors. This has been a most laborious process. It was also something of a start-stop process, as eyes start standing out on stalks, and the tired mind starts bounding straight off the matter being dealt with, and confusion sets in. It was also essential to take copies of anything that might possibly affect me.

As things were cleared out and shelving spaces freed, I moved things around and rearranged books and other things. It has been exhausting work, and emotionally draining.

We had separate finances, so essentially his affairs were his business, and I neither interfered nor pried.
His records did not go back many years, as when he moved to this house he chucked out heaps of his documents and records. I saw him do so. I know that there are no records of some things.

On Thursday a courier came to take the files and documents away. There had been intimations from the other side that I was not being sufficiently expeditious. After all, it was almost three weeks since the funeral.  I have had other, doubtless far more trivial, things to attend to, such as replying to condolence letters and other correspondence, spending a couple of hours on the telephone to find out why my keyboard would not let me type anything, sorting out some of my own affairs, getting certified copies of the death certificate and sending them to whomsoever needed copies, returning the disabled parking sticker, and the panic button equipment, and even doing such frivolous and unnecessary things like going to choir and to classes, and talking to family and friends.

The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages sends one copy of the death certificate, and does not bother enclosing a leaflet explaining how to get certified copies done. Why can't they just provide you with a few spares? I had to ring up and find out what to do, and go through one of these dreadful phone menu systems. I have yet to do anything about arranging for the placement of Dr P's ashes. They will keep, it seems.

My solicitor, my BIL, has given notice that a claim will be made against the estate, on the grounds that Dr P did not provide appropriately for me. It is inappropriate to go into the details and circumstances here, but according to a legal opinion provided last year there are good grounds for contesting the will.

Unsurprisingly, the notice given met with an immediate hostile, indeed a vicious, response. Having been told within two days of the funeral that the WSDs intended to sell the house as soon as possible, I was very upset, as I did not feel it was possible for me to decide on my future so quickly - where to live and in which city. The immediate response was to enquire whether I intended to pay a commercial rent if I stayed in the house in the interim?

After a response by my BIL, a further letter arrived, intimating I may have removed or discarded documents. This inference is grossly offensive as well as absolutely false, so a withdrawal and apology have been requested.

I would have thought that the past year had been sad and stressful enough, but evidently, and as expected, things can always get worse. If only I could be left to grieve, and to sort out my emotions, to recover physically, it would not be exactly easier, but it would not be as bad.

I know it will all take time, and that I am doing all the 'right' and sensible things, and that healing and recovery will be gradual. This knowledge does not take away the pain, the bereavement, the conflicting emotions, the stresses, and the feeling sick all day and night long. It will be a long haul.

Perhaps this is why, in fantasy land, people fall into magical sleeps for three hundred years or so? It does not sound all bad to me.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Bereavement and its aftermath

Where to start?

It has been a period of such conflicting emotions, constant work, much talking, and cannot be readily or easily categorised.

I have woken to find myself weeping, morning after morning. Mourning and mourning. About all the good things and all the bad things. While much was good, and while the love endured, there were many times when I did not think I could see it through. Partly I did because we did love each other, and wanted to be together. Partly I did because my options were limited, once I  resigned from my job and moved here to live with him. And that meant there really was no going back. And, in truth, I was the one who made the compromises and the sacrifices. He was not a man to compromise or to change his mind. It took years for me to rebuild my life, to make friends and to make a life of my own. Because we were very different in interests and personality, I had to do things on my own. I did things with him, but he did not do things with me. It was necessary to struggle in order to maintain friendships and family connections. As time passed it became more and more difficult to keep up those friendships, and the visits to other cities became infrequent. He was afraid of flying, and so was reluctant to travel with me. And as real old age set in, he lost the energy and the interest. He became very deaf, and social occasions eventually  became rare events. Apart from the love, there was pity and sympathy. As well as aggravation and annoyance. I am no saint.

The last year was very difficult indeed, and as his physical and mental decline increased, with substantial memory loss and confusion, it was easy to lose sight of the man he had been. He became incapable of managing his affairs. While I grieved for this, and mourned the loss of the man I had married, the practical difficulties, and the need to make all the decisions about his care meant that I bore this burden substantially alone. Somehow I had to find the strength, and to become assertive towards a man who had mostly overridden my opinions and preferences, and who did not understand the meaning of compromise. I did find the strength, but it was not easy, and I doubted myself continually. It was always easy for him to browbeat me, but I did learn, needs must, to resist and to persist, to initiate and to make decisions, and eventually I became capable of withstanding the pressure and the disagreements.

In his last year, in many ways I think he did come to understand my true nature better, and to appreciate the care I gave him. This is a consolation. I think he was a person who found it difficult to feel and express emotion. This dated from his boyhood, when he arrived in Australia at the age of fourteen and was promptly put into boarding school, while his parents established their business. When war broke out they became enemy aliens. I always thought it was significant that he retained so few memories of his childhood before arriving in Australia, and think that perhaps the change in languages somehow shut off his early memories. I think he thought you could buy love, and did not understand that while temptation could be aroused it was in truth no substitute for the real thing, for the giving of self and the acting of love. He meant well, but money was very important to him, and I think he never did understand that money and love are not synonymous.

It is necessary to do many things after a death, but I won't describe this process now. Suffice to say that it is nearly all done, after much hard work, and what happens next seems sure to be an epic. I will need all my strength and that of other people too.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Dr P's funeral was held last Friday.

Because as a family we are not keen on pomp and circumstance, and because I like plain speaking, truth telling, honesty, facing facts, and evocative, expressive language which does honour and justice to reality, I wanted a plain and simple funeral service, with eloquent speakers. All these things we achieved.

Helping me with the arrangements with the funeral director were my second daughter and my second youngest sister. Two of Dr P's daughters also contributed. Fortunately we agreed on most things: a secular service, a plain coffin, flowers on the coffin but not elsewhere, the coffin being in place and not carried in, and no button-pushing or curtain covering at the conclusion. Dr P wanted to be cremated, but his ashes will not be scattered. The celebrant visited me to find out more about Dr P, and I set about choosing the funeral music.

Music is an essential part of my life, and Dr P was constantly bombarded with my choices, and he got to like quite a lot of it. Because I am a chorister, I do sing a great deal of sacred music, and when I am dead, I want some of it at my funeral. There was some debate about the musical choices, and a compromise was reached. I will say only that even atheists can display a remarkable degree of bigotry.

But most important was the choice of speakers. I chose his oldest friend (another doctor), a distinguished academic friend, and an eminent friend. His second daughter spoke last of all.

All spoke well, and truly evoked the man, his qualities, personality, achievements and warts. And all. One friend commented to me that she could see from those speeches why I fell for him. I first met him in 1970 and always liked him.

We had a good wake, at the house of true and good friends, and we organised and catered for it between ourselves. I believe in wakes: like funerals, they help people come to terms with the reality of death, with grieving and with acceptance. They are cathartic.

My sisters, daughters, son and friends were magnificent, and an enormous comfort and support to me.  Dr P got quite a good turnout, from all walks of life.

Some family had to leave that evening, but two sisters stayed on, as did my son, who stayed until Sunday, and did much to help me. He has untangled all my electric cables, and done many other filial things.

There is much to be done and I am working very hard at everything. I am sad, feel heavy and leaden, sick and tense, and somewhat beset by fate, circumstances, the step-family and the will.

But I know I did what should have been done, cared for him as best I could, met the challenges, and loved him, despite many things and vicissitudes. I hope I can continue to be resolute and honourable, and not lose myself. The next months will certainly be difficult, and not merely because of bereavement and grieving. My life will change, and not all choices will depend on my wishes and preferences.

Nonetheless, I have a sense, like the American slaves after emancipation, of being 'Free at Last'.