The light went out…

Suddenly all was quiet. No intake of breath, just stillness and silence. Not moving I let realisation sink in.

Slowly I pushed back my chair and stood up; the man to my right stood and moved to wrap his arms around my shoulders and he wept. He held me close and both our bodies shook with the depth of his sobbing. I was numb, unable to shed tears; it was not the time to give way to my emotions. There would be plenty of time for tears, a whole lifetime; I had work to do first.

Canon J released me from his grip and I realised he looked exhausted, a true friend and caring pastor who despite a busy parish and wider church commitments, found time for almost daily visits in the difficult days, months and years of illness. The door opened and a nurse stepped into the room. She touched my arm and spoke quietly for a few minutes. Her patient of nine weeks suffered no more.

Having almost lived at the Hospice for the nine weeks, the last three spent day and night in the chair beside Jack’s bed, I knew the routine. We moved to the room set aside for patient’s families and tea/coffee was brought to us. The phone was on the table waiting…..

I had to make the most difficult phone call of my lifetime, to tell Elly that her Dad the light of her life had died. Elly was at University in Scotland facing 2nd year exams. In the previous six months we had several scares that the end was close and she travelled forward and back across the Irish Sea. The last time she came and stayed three weeks but Jack, levelled and lingered. In his lucid moments he kept asking why she was not at school, and this distressed him. It was a very difficult time for her and we talked it through. It could go on for weeks, months even, or it might be a matter of days nobody knew. She wanted to be at home with her dad and me and yet if she missed any more time the year would have to be repeated. Elly made her decision and having said her goodbyes she returned to Scotland and study. We spoke twice a day but she knew I would not ask her to return until the funeral. That time was now.

In the previous weeks I spent long hours alone by the bedside as Jack slept. His only living blood relations apart from Elly were two cousins and their families in Co Durham in England and I had no relations in Northern Ireland, so visitors were few. Knowing I was facing the inevitable, I used my time to make preparations. One day I paid a visit to the undertaker and made all the arrangements for the funeral, leaving me with just a phone call to set things in motion when the time came.

I made lists.

I wrote down the name and telephone number of everyone that needed to be contacted. I sub-divided these and arranged with my siblings who they would contact for me.

I wrote a potted history of Jack’s life.

I wrote details for the funeral service, hymns and prayers and suggestions of who to ask to do the readings.

I wrote a non urgent list of people to be notified e.g. the GP, district nurse, the bank, pension providers, utility suppliers, and noted things to be cancelled like passport, driving licence etc.

I decided what clothes I would need for the funeral, polished my shoes and left them all ready in my wardrobe. I made up beds for whoever might be staying over and washed all the extra china in readiness for a houseful of callers.

Once the lists were completed the notebook was put away in the bedside locker and not touched again until needed.

Early that morning it was obvious I would not be staying in this room much longer, so I packed our few belongings into the fold up travel bag that I kept in the locker. The idea of walking out of the building with a plastic carrier marked Patients Belongings in bold print gave me the creeps.

The phone calls were made; I said my final farewell to Jack and had a quiet word of thanks to the staff, then out into cold sunshine to find my car at the door warmed up with the engine running. Working on automatic pilot not knowing how the remainder of the day would go I remembered thinking it was days since I had a proper meal, it was now lunchtime so I called at a restaurant on my way home and had a solid meal. That gave me the energy to keep going and deal with what ever the day threw at me.

When I pulled up in my drive the undertaker was waiting for me. He had all the details that I had given him. In Northern Ireland, unlike the South of Ireland, a death must be registered before a grave can be opened or a cremation booked. Since this was a Saturday we could only provisionally book the church etc. The Registrars office would not open until Monday morning and as next-of-kin, that visit was down to me.

Elly phoned with arrangements of her arrival and two of my brothers came to be here for her when she reached these shores.

The next couple of days were a blur of constant visitors. Someone did my food shopping for me and my good friend & neighbour Liz who, at that time was in remission from cancer, appeared in my kitchen a couple of minutes after any visitor crossed my threshold she made tea & coffee and cleared up after it, before disappearing the way she came. The funeral & cremation went as planned and everyone returned to get on with their lives.

Elly went back to face her exams and we continued to talk every day.

I had to learn to eat, sleep, grieve, talk and interact normally with people again. It was a slow process. Three weeks and the general phone calls stopped. It was not that people stopped caring, oh no, they were over the shock and getting on with their lives. My journey was only beginning….

I realised at noon one day that I was sitting tearful still in my Pj’s, I gave myself a severe lecture, weeping was doing me no good, it was wallowing and I was insulting Jack’s memory. Behaviour like this was not his way. No matter what life threw at him, he picked himself up, dusted himself down, and got on with life! I would learn to do the same. I had a shower, did the hair and put on a face. I set a goal to walk up the town and back. Alas, the first person I met was a vestry member of the church! “Look at you all dressed up!” she said. She made me feel like a painted Tart! Inside I was screaming – ‘Jack died not me’ – I ended the conversation as quickly and politely as I could and moved on.

You think that was bad! Within the first five weeks of widowhood I was asked or told:

“I suppose you will be going home now”? Yes in these parts that is a question! The questioner was not referring to the home I lived in with Jack for all our married life, No the ‘home’ referred to was DUBLIN!

“Will you get married again”? Come on! Jack’s ashes were hardly cooled.

You will need to go out to work now? I did go back to work, but that was for my sanity, to fill in hours and to have the opportunity to interact with people.

“I know exactly how you feel!” This came from a lady who while standing in front of me had her arm linked through her husbands!!!

“I know exactly how you feel, my dog died last week!” OK I understand that people become attached to their pets, but Jack was no dog, he was a wonderful caring and loving soul mate!

I slowly picked up the pieces and went back to work. Over time I became a charity volunteer, joined a rambling club, travelled and made new friends. I went to the theatre and Concerts I entertained and went out for meals, it was not the life I chose but I always wore a smile. Going home to an empty house is difficult, no welcoming voice or smile and no hug of welcome. I find it most difficult when I have happy news to share and nobody to share it with.

Alas the hand of fate struck once more, and my health problems prevent me from working. I am out of the flow so can easily be bypassed. My friends do still fit me in every couple of months, pity they all want to do something in the same week! I make the best of my lot because all around me are people with a bigger cross to bear.

1924 John Parker

Today on the tenth anniversary of Jacks death, I will raise a glass to his memory and count all the blessings that knowing and loving him brought to my life.

73 thoughts on “The light went out…

  1. steph

    Oh, Grannymar – what a beautifully written post! Very moving.

    By making those wonderful lists when you did, you had everything in order so that you could let your grief take it’s course naturally. There is a lesson in there for all of us.

    You express your initial raw grief so well. People mean well but often say all the wrong things. Good eye to eye contact and a warm hug/clasp of hands will usually communicate all that is needed. A grieving person does not need advice, practical help and a listening ear is much more beneficial.

    Grannymar – I too, shall raise my glass to Jack’s memory tonight. He would be so proud of you and Elly if he could see you now!

    (((hugs)))

    Reply
  2. Darren

    Oh my! You’ve just made me well up. That’s beautiful, tragic and also uplifting. I too will raise a glass to him tonight, and to you and Elly also.

    Reply
  3. Hails

    Your writing always conveys such depth of feeling and honesty. Thank you for letting us share these memories with you – this is a beautiful post. I’ll join the others in raising a glass to Jack tonight… and am sending a virtual hug to you, too! x

    Reply
  4. Ian

    Hello Grannymar,

    I’m just in from visiting a lady who has been told she has three months.
    It took me years to learn to shut up talking and just to be there.

    Blessings.

    Reply
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  6. Aisling

    Thank you for such a wonderful post. Having lost my dad 8 years ago last week it really touched me and I too will lift a glass to Jack and anyone else who is missing from someones life. Sending you and Elly big virtual hugs.xx

    Reply
  7. Maz

    Grannymar, what a wonderful post. I can hardly see what I’m typing with the teary eyes. This post gave me great perspective on a few things so thank you for that, and thank you for sharing such a personal memory.

    Reply
  8. Nancy

    Grannymar,

    I am proud of you for having the ability to put that sad day into words. I am sure it wasn’t easy for you and I admire you for doing it .

    I am still fortunate enough to have my husband so I want you to know that we will both raise a glass to your Jack tonight and then we will raise another glass to YOU…..

    Reply
  9. Grannymar

    I think I need a Tissue box on my blog!

    Thank you friends, I apologise for causing all those red eyes. There is no harm in tears, they are salty and salt is a healer.

    Tonight my first Toast will be to my Beloved Jack, and the second will be to absent loved ones! Please join me.

    Reply
  10. wisewebwoman

    Oh GM!
    I too was moved to tears. How brave you were and are to share it all.
    the insensitivity of people never fails to appal me. I find silence accompanied by a warm hug or handshake so much better and that is what I do. Sometimes words are unnecessary.
    Toast the fine years with Jack and much love to you and Elly.
    XO
    WWW

    Reply
  11. kenju

    How well you tell the story! This is a good lesson for those of us who have yet to experience the death of a spouse. Thanks, Grannymar.

    Reply
  12. Grannymar

    I drank my Toast and remembered happier days.

    Now I drink to all my good and faithful friends who visit daily and whose blogs give me smiles, food for thought and ideas to steal for blog posts! 😉

    Reply
  13. Jo

    I know that people are meant to go, and have to go but I don’t know how we’re meant to find peace with it. I really don’t.

    You are an inspiration, it’s true, your blog speaks of the pain od your loss but also so much of the joy you find in your life.

    How do you stop a death like this from tinting every happiness afterwards with a little sadness?

    Thinking of you tonight, on my birthday.

    Reply
  14. Baino

    A beautiful tribute GrannyMar . . . I was widowed 20 years ago on 28th March . . and still haven’t been able to write a post that would do him justice. You and Elly have managed to tackle that with grace and enormous love.

    To me, it seems like yesterday . . . I actually do know exactly how you felt and feel.

    Reply
  15. Kathleen

    I’m a new reader from the States and just wanted to let you know that I was so touched by this story. Wonderfully written and when I got to the end and saw the darling picture of young Jack, it brought the reality of all of our lives to the front. To truly appreciate every day we have on earth, it all goes too quickly.

    Reply
  16. Grannymar

    Thank you for the kind thoughts folks, and Welcome Kathleen to my gang!

    Baino, you do know how I feel, and unfortunately had to travel this road far longer and from a much younger age.

    Jo, finding peace and moving on is a slow process. I intend using your comment above as inspiration for a seperate post. It might be a few days but keep watching.

    Reply
  17. Magpie 11

    I’m sorry I wasn’t here yesterday.

    I will drink a toast tonight, Saturday, quietly and on my own, to you and yours and those like you who have lost so much but yet have so much to give.

    Reply
  18. Alice

    Oh my. What else can I add? It is a beautiful post, and I’ll bet it took all of those ten years in between in order to be able to do it. Don’t remember who mentioned the photo, but I echo her sentiments about the picture of Jack at the end. It was a wonderful capping.

    Reply
  19. Grannymar

    Alice

    It did take me quite a long time to commit this to the page. This seemed to be the right time.

    I was very fortunate to know the love of a wonderful man.

    Reply
  20. Deborah

    That was so moving Grannymar. I can’t believe the insensitivity of some people. Your attitude and outlook on life is inspirational. I’m not really good at saying stuff, but just know you and Elly are in my thoughts. I know I’m a few days behind.

    Reply
  21. Grannymar

    Deborah ~ thoughts are not confined to a particular time. Elly & I appreciate your thoughts.

    Reply
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  23. Charmed

    I’m new to blogging, so I’m late in here, and now I cant see my keyboard because there are tears on it. What a beautiful post. Grannymar, what a beautiful and lucky person you are to have love touch you life so much. I’m wowed.

    Reply
  24. Grannymar

    Thank you Charmed, I realise how fortunate I am. With Elly I have a constant reminder of her father, she is so like him in many ways.

    Reply
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  26. Nathalie

    Just read this. So, so moving and heartfelt and honest and lovely. So deserving of the blog post award, the fancy phone and so much more!
    Well done and thank you. X

    Reply
  27. Xbox4NappyRash

    Oh my, I wouldn’t have come across this only for the award notice, but I’m glad I did.

    It seems odd to say congratulations or well done.

    Honest and brave, wonderfully written.

    Reply
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  29. Susie

    This post is such a worthy winner of the Blog post of the month. I am so glad it won, but for purely selfish reasons…. I may not have gotten to read it otherwise. I am wiping away the tears as I write. Thank you for putting into words the feelings that are so universal, yet we all try to suppress as we grieve and move on. Crying as reading, has helped me release some important emotions that I have bottled up for a few months. Thanks again.

    Reply
  30. Grannymar

    Susie

    A comment like yours makes the effort of writing the post all the more worthwhile.

    Let the tears flow. Tears are salty and salt is healing!

    Reply

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