Sunday, 8 September 2013

Home alone

Sunday morning and I'm awake before the kids....
We're on the final straight of Andy's trip to Tennessee and although its been hard to be home alone for the last 10days, I feel that I've done more than just survive it!
I knew some stuff would be hard - the twilight zone of 4-7pm every day, fitting everything in when so many things just 'get done' when Andy is around (lunches, dishwasher, tidying, cooking, resolving squabbles!), keeping them entertained and happy with just little old me! But honestly, those things have been ok as I think I predicted them and prepared for them. It has made me realise how much Andy does too! We've always had a very equal approach to running the house and family stuff - although Andy, as tradition dictates, does the recycling and the bins!! ;-) but cooking, washing, cleaning, childcare etc has always been shared at different levels depending on who is working when.

But I hadn't anticipated that I would find the stretch of evenings on my own so hard. I certainly haven't used those evenings as well as I could have done, partly because I have been so tired by that point in the day and because the interaction has suddenly gone. I know something that full time Mums at home often say is that conversation with adults can be the thing you miss - but as I have been working as usual I have got that balance. There has been this almost eerie silence after the full on interaction from the early hours. Some of those evenings were interrupted by Matilda this week who found the while back to school experience a bit over stimulating! 
It was great to have an evening with some of our bessties last night, all cooking Mexican and having a laugh. 

In it all, I prepared for the practical implications and arrangements needed for the kids and I to function and do what we needed to do. But I hadn't really thought about my emotional needs. I'll never know whether that felt more acute on this occasion because of all the feelings and sadness around Grandad's death as well as the extra arrangements to be made which felt difficult on my own. 

So, I'm looking forward to church today and hanging out with some people and then an afternoon with the kids and doing some blackberry picking, school reading and general prep for the week. Working Monday, Funeral on Tuesday, working on Wednesday as well as youth group in the evening then ANDY RETURNS IN THURSDAY! 

Thursday, 5 September 2013


I'm sitting at home in my lounge, kids fed, bathed and in bed and watching an old episode of 24 hours in A&E. And as I sit here, watching the stories unfold, I'm remembering being by a hospital bed only a few short days ago and saying goodbye to my Grandad. After 6 years of extra time, post diagnosis of cancer, he was clearly in his final days or hours and my mum and I were sitting by his bedside, chatting to him and to each other although he wasn't conscious and his eyes were unseeing.
My parents had taken the phone call earlier on Bank Holiday Monday evening to say he was on his way to hospital at the insistence of the Carers who came 4 times each day. They had first been concerned on Sunday and the GP had visited in the early hours of Monday. My dad met my Grandma at the hospital and stayed a few hours. When he returned home, Grandad was sleeping quite peacefully, but by the time my mum and I arrived, prompted by a phone call to say Grandad's blood gas results were very poor, he had deteriorated quite rapidly.  In the end, he lasted another 12 hours before passing away around 4pm Tuesday, just after Grandma and my mum and dad had been in to say their final goodbyes.

I began writing this postt about 4 months ago, when Grandad was admitted to the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice in Farnham, receiving end of life care. It's 6 years since he was first diagnosed with the carcinoma tumor near his kidney and I remember being sat down at my parents home in Surrey to be given the news by my dad after diagnosis had been confirmed at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
At that point we had no idea what it would mean and I suppose I assumed that this was it, never imagining that we'd have so much more time with him. Since then we've gone through a few near misses, with chest infections, hospital admissions for stomach problems, fractures after a fall and various infections giving cause for alarm and palliative care in various forms. So right now I feel very fortunate that he stuck around as long as he did and I hope we've made the most of that.

This post is just a way to make sense of some of my thoughts, which always come thick and fast when you face losing someone, and now that he has gone, I want to write them down for my own benefit, for the benefit of Matilda and Isaac and also to pay tribute to a wonderful man who has always been supportive, interested and just delightful to be around.

In no particular order, here are some of my memories and thoughts:

Playing the boat game in bed at G&G's when we used to stay over. Grandad would be sitting up in bed with the duvet over his knees and me and Ellie would sit in between his legs and he would rock us side to side until inevitably, one of us would fall off! It was always a highlight of staying at Windermere Way to be in G&G's bed. 

Ice cream - Vienetta, massive tubs of Neapolitan or Vanilla with every pudding. We'd always have an ice cream on a day out too. Matilda has taken on that legacy with gusto!

Doughnuts & milk shakes at Forest Lodge on a Saturday morning. Are you seeing the sweet tooth theme here?! 

20p's by our bedside as pocket money - £1 per week so the piles of money would vary in size depending on when we'd last seen G&G. I always spent mine quickly, Ellie would save more frugally!

Playing shops in the study, flour and rice and scales. Using the desk paper pad (green leather) for scribbling, adding up, folding....

Cartons of juice, cans of pop in the garage. We never got Lilt anywhere else!

As we got older, the time with Grandad and Grandma changed but was always fun, interesting and generous.
In 1998, they visited me at University in Leeds - coming for a weekend in my first year, sitting in the parlour at Charles Morris Hall with my flat mates and inviting various people to join us for meals over the course of the weekend. They just absorbed everything I was doing, loved meeting people and being given a tour. I took them to the Royal Armouries in Leeds and to the Jazz Cat cafe for dinner.

They also visited in my 3rd year along with my parents and came to see me in a Revelation Choir concert where I sang a solo. They popped in to see me on their way home the following morning and I'll never know whether they realised how hung over I was! 

Later on, after I was married, they came even further north to visit Andy and I in Gateshead - we took them to Cragside National Trust, Beamish, all the Quayside attractions and a fantastic lobster meal!

The arrival of great grandchildren also coincided with both Grandma and Grandad becoming more elderly, struggling with stairs particularly. They enjoyed coming to Heybridge on a couple of occasions when Matilda was little and I remember Grandad being a little startled on the landing in the night when I was feeding Matilda in the rocking chair in her room with the door open! As Matilda grew up, she adopted her own name for them - Big Grandma and Big Grandad.

Alongside all these events, activities, visits, there was just a consistency to Grandad and Grandma's approach. They always encouraged us both to do well, to do our best and to succeed in all ways. Financial reward was often a carrot, but always alongside a wider interest too, in subjects, my opinions, what I was reading, where I had travelled. One of Grandad's phrases which I always giggle at is "going back to..." if we'd moved on too quickly from a subject he found interesting or didn't want to finish discussing!

Grandad was so interested in people - he would always enjoy chatting to my friends when I was at home and they would cross paths. He always remember details and ask after them weeks later. I always remember how delighted he was when my friend Yousef from Uni finally passed his medical exams!

I am sad to be writing this post, but I am relieved for Grandad, that he is no longer in pain and that we are able to look back on a life well lived. A fantastic legacy has been left to us - both in generations of people and in the character and values he has passed to us. He and Grandma epitomise what marriage is all about - journeying together through tragedy, heartache, every challenge and opportunity being something to embrace and learn from. I hope that we can have half as good a marriage as they have.

I miss him but am so grateful for him, so grateful that both my children got to meet him, particularly that Matilda will remember him as time goes on. I remember my Grandad - outgoing, supportive, fun, determined, loving. My Grandad.

At his funeral on 10th September, I am reciting a poem by Joyce Grenfell:

If I should go before the rest of you

Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone

Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice

But be the usual selves that I have known

Weep if you must

Parting is hell

But life goes on

So sing as well.

Rest in Peace Grandad. I love you.