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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dazed and Confused

 "The fact the word lovesick exists, that the simple absence of a person can make you feel physically ill, says a great deal about the terrible power of the human heart." ~Beau Taplin, poet

   Les has been dead a month today. I don't know how the time passed me by so quickly. I live in a grief-spun fog. I cocoon myself in the boat because it is our lovely home and the place that holds the most of what is left of Les. I can only do that for so long and then I need to get out. Family and friends have been so kind, taking me to stay at their homes for a couple of days at a time. They spoil me with their company. They feed me with good food because I am not cooking for myself. They make me laugh. They bless me with their help. They call and email me to check in. They even grieve with me because they too loved Les and miss him. Our daughter in law Ozlem told me Les called her days before he died and asked her to look after me. "Call her Ozlem. Don't let her sit on the boat all alone." Right to the very end Les was looking for every possible means to take care of me after he was gone. Ozlem does check in with me frequently and I know she does this out of love and not out of duty so I am doubly blessed by them both.
   Sometimes I venture out on my own. I went to a movie at the Rex cinema two weeks ago. Les loved the Rex. We saw five movies there together. I kept expecting Les to slip into the seat next me and slide his fingers through mine as he always did.
   Today I ventured out again with a long list of things to do: Buy a parcel box for a return item; return the item to Amazon via the Post Office. Mail some thank you cards. Pick up an item at Fatface that was on order. Buy a frame and get some pictures and a return address label printed at the Imaging Centre. Stop at Vah Hardware store in Berkhamsted and get a sponge mop, a brass fixing to close the cabinet Les made which now houses my new stereo. 
   In my current state of bewilderment and distraction I forgot to get the return address label printed at the Imaging Centre and I had to return there. I also forgot to write an address on one of the thank you cards so it didn't get mailed. To top things off I misplaced the large bag with the picture frame and scarf from Fatface. I got off the bus in Cowroast and suddenly realized I didn't have the bag with me. I felt utter despair. I had no idea where I left it. I was planning to work on it tonight and hang it on the wall across from the dinette so I could see my Best Beloved smiling at me each day.
   Instead I trudged back home to our boat, revived the fire, made a cup of Seattle Market Spice tea with Manuka honey to soothe the sore throat, swollen glands, and claggy sinuses that thirty days of insomnia have gifted me. I spent an hour looking for a contact number for Arriva as I thought I had left my bag on the bus. Let me tell you companies don't make it easy over here to get in contact for something outside the general FAQ's.
   After finally getting through and being told it would take a minimum of 48 hours for someone to contact me once my bag was reported and turned in to the bus driver (if it was turned in), I decided I needed to do something positive with all my despair. I got out my collapsible silicone bucket, filled it with hot water and sugar soap and went to work cleaning a year of grime and coal smoke from the ceiling and walls. Three buckets and two hours later, everything from the bow doors to the dinette was scrubbed clean and shining. That is about one fourth of the entire boat so there is still more to do, which is good because now that Les is not here I have a lot of time on my hands until his memorial service and my flight back to the States. Then it hit me that I had just spent two hours scrubbing not only coal smoke and old spider webbing from the boat--I was also removing the last of Les' hair, skin cells, and the detritus of his physical life from my midst which sent me into chest racking sobs followed by hysterical laughter when I realized I was crying over dust. I knew Les would be crying and laughing with me.
   I logged in to FaceBook tonight to check in with friends and family. I found a message on Instant Messenger waiting for me. It was from a man named Naresh Govindia. His family owns Vah Hardware in Berkhamsted and he messaged me to say he found my bag at the store and he would put it away safe until I could pick it up. I messaged back to thank Naresh, explaining that my husband had recently died and I was easily distracted and having a difficult time without him; that he had been my touchstone for our life in this country and without him I felt even more like a foreigner in a foreign country. He replied:
   "I am saddened to hear of your loss. My sympathy and condolences to you. Life's realities are this unfortunately. But please be strong. Live with happy memories which will give you strength. Land may be foreign but people are still the same. Feel free to communicate if I can be of moral support at all. Regards Naresh"
Image result for grief quotes   This is above and beyond basic customer service which is usually lacking in most commercial encounters over here. Naresh's listening ear and his kindness in reaching out to me touched me deeply. He could easily have blown me off with a trite one liner which some folks have done when they have no clue what to say and they realize that nothing they can say will likely help me anyway. I want to share with everyone what does help: actions which always speak louder than words. Sometimes just a hug or a pat on the arm is enough to let someone who is deep in grief know you care and you are there.
   For me it is the boaters who stop by to say hello and ask if I need anything. Mike Wall texting me to tell me the power had gone off during the storm yesterday, and then texting me when it came back on; Mike Griffin stopping by each time he visits the moorings, to have a chat with me about any old thing; Sue and Jim Hutchinson stopping by with a card and a gift, and their willingness to stand by patiently while my face leaks because mornings are the hardest time for me when I get up to face yet another day without Les. Carol and George Palin who came and spent a day and half working together to install a new stereo and ceiling speakers so I no longer sat in the boat alone and talked to myself to hear another voice, and Ken and Sue Deveson who have made three separate trips to deliver a stereo, speakers, an antennae and then the missing parts as they arrived, or Chris and Jennie Gash who came by to take me out to lunch, knowing I cannot instigate a conversation; I feel I can barely hold up my end of one. Andy and Tina Elford who check in regularly despite their crazy busy schedules to make sure I know they are thinking of me. My daughters instant messaging me and calling me from the States to check in and touch bases with me. Cousin Kindheart in Canada who calls and emails frequently to share his day, his thoughts, and ask how I am doing and whose generosity has underwritten my trip back to Washington to be with our American family. Our dear friend Robert Rogers who followed his own heart from a wide beam on the cut to a new life with his Best Beloved in Brazil and who sent me the most beautiful meme on FaceBook he created for me from a picture off our blog.The old and dear friend from my University days who deposited money into our American account to help defray the huge expense of a rental car. Our grandchildren in two countries who IM me on FaceBook just to let me know they are thinking about me. Or the friends whose boat and job are fifty miles or eighty miles away but who are coming to Les' memorial service to help me and our family to share our grief, celebrate Les' life and have some closure. Friends of my daughter Sparky back in the States--all young people who think of me as "mom"--who are pausing in their lives to make a trip to Spokane to see me.  
   Those who of us who grieve don't need special words or fancy sentiments. We need the kindness of friends, family, and yes even strangers, implicit in everyday deeds that help us to function when we really just want to lie down and die. It is those simple acts that help those lost in grief to put one foot forward and keep living.
   So tomorrow I will go into Vah Hardware and pick up my lost parcel and purchase three bottles of sugar soap, turpentine, and two tubes of wood filler. I am going to make my own wood polish with lemon oil to scent our home and make the wood shine again. 
   Les loved Vah Hardware. They have everything and I do mean everything. And if Vah doesn't have it they will order it for you. If you are boaters passing through the area I strongly recommend you stop into Vah for all your hardware needs first before considering B & Q. They sell timber cut to order and they cut keys. They even dispense kindness to the lost and forlorn.

Meme by Robert Rogers, © 2017; picture of Les at Linford Manor Park, looking at NBV moored in the distance. Picture taken by Jaqueline Biggs, 2014.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

One More Sad Goodbye

"Death ends a life, not a relationship." ~Jack Lemmon, American actor

The earliest cremation slot available after Les' death on January 24th was Tuesday, February 14th. It is yet one more sad and painful goodbye. Yes, I know Les' soul is no longer with his body, but I knew every inch of his body intimately and I loved it. His lovely brown eyes flecked with green. I've never seen anyone else with eyes the same color as Les'. The laugh lines radiating out from the corners of his eyes and mouth, etched deeply into his cheeks by a lifetime of laughter. His beautiful smile that lit up my heart. His lovely, large, warm hands, which always reached out for my small ones as we walked, lacing his fingers through mine. Those same hands that touched me with such love and tenderness. How I loved to watch Les' hands at work, making things. He so enjoyed every project he completed on NB Valerie--all built with his wonderful hands filled with love. Les' long, strong arms which continued to have great strength to the very end; those same arms hugged me hello and goodbye a thousand thousand times.Those loving arms pulled me tightly into his chest next to his warrior heart so strong until death stole its final beat. The way Les moved and walked--I could spot him walking towards me from a half mile because I knew his gait as well as I know my own face. Those strong lovely legs of his which carried Les through this lifetime and decades of hard graft as a courier, getting in and out of his van 70-80 times a day, delivering parcels across greater London, up and down stairs and across roads; those same legs sauntered the tow-path in joy wherever his feet took him. So many, many small details wrapped up in Les' lovely flesh...all gone now, melted away to ash.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The New Normal

"Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is in re-making a life." ~Anne Roiphe, American writer and journalist

The official number--Tell Us Once--has been called. When one registers a death at the local council registry office, one is given a set of paper instructions with a reference number. One may either use the website or call 0800 085 7308. The reference number provided by the council registrar is required.

A Scottish woman with a fairly thick accent helped me through the maze of questions, giving me space to sob and breathe when she asked for my husband's phone number and I suddenly went blank. She was kind, gentle, and patient. This one number turns off Les' State Pension, his driver's license, notifies the council and cancels his bus pass, library cards, and all the myriad other official public connections he might have had in life such as council taxes, etc. It also activates bereavement payments through the DWP for one year. To be honest it is such a brilliant, well organized and un-bureaucratic idea I nearly forgot I was in England for a mo. 

The drawers and cupboards have been emptied of Les' clothes, shoes and coats, and a dear friend has taken them to a local charity except a few things I kept for sentimental value and as a deterrent against toe-rag harrassment when I begin cruising again. We discussed this some months ago and Les told me to keep a pair of his boots out on the bow when I moored up. When I hang wash out to dry in the summer I will also hang a few of his clothes as well. The trick is not to act like a woman living on her own. 

I wear Les' green down jacket now as my winter cruising coat. It still has his scent on the collar. I always loved the way Les smelled; clean and warm like green wheat fields on a sunny summer's day. One of Les' Oxford shirts is scented with his Joop! afershave which he always bathed liberally in, rather than sprinkling it lightly. Holding it in my hands I closed my eyes and inhaled. It took me back instantaneously to that moment back at Cloudhouse in Pullman, when I returned from taking him to the airport after his initial week's visit with me. I unlocked my front door, stepped inside and the scent of his cologne rolled over my senses, urging me to send Les an email that said amongst other things, "I think I fancy you..."  

I've had family aboard to feed them up with good food and love. We talked, cried, shared memories, and I began the process of giving each grandchild an item of their granddad's to offer them comfort and keep his memory close. I will work my way around to each group in our family for time together, to do a bit of healing, and offer them up love and memories to cherish.

I am sleeping a little better, using Kalms Night, an herbal preperation of Valerian root. It works well and has no side effects. Still I am only managing four hours a night. Up at 4:30 Sunday morning, I put a load of bedding on to wash and forced myself to eat more than two mouthfulls, having a mid day meal. I filled the water tank and took care of some boat chores.

It rained all day, the sky grey and gloomy. Boats which had previously been frozen in are now on the move and they piled up at the service point above the lock opposite me. I watched them come and go all day, and I thought about how Les never cruised in the rain. We only ever did so once, and that was from Rugely to Fradley in June when we had turned around to head back this way, his back hurting too much to sit at the tiller. I sat in the pouring rain and icy winds as I cruised, tears mingling with precipitation as I acknowledged that the next time I cruised along that particular part of the cut Les would no longer be with me; it left me sobbing in the sodden cold while my Best Beloved rested quietly below on the bed in the warmth.  
Jules and Richard wave as they come along side.

A text message from Jules and Richard on Jules Fuels boat informed me they had broken free of the ice in Marsworth after five days and were on the move at last. They expected to reach me early in the afternoon, and sure enough I could see thier breasted bows slowly making thier way towards me as they serviced the fuel needs of all the boaters moored in along line behind me. 

While I waited for their approach I saw that the water point was overcome by boaters waiting in line with several boats breasted up to fill. I overheard a young man in front who decided he would go on down the lock and head for Berko and the waterpoint there. He was single handing his boat in the cold rain. I threw on Les' down jacket, grabbed gloves and a windlass and set off for the lock. He had brought his boat in and closed the top gates, opening the bottom gate paddles to let the water and his boat down. I approached the lock and hailed him, "Mate you get on and I will lock you through." His face lit up like Chrsitmas! On he jumped, I went 'round to the other side and when the lock was empty I strained and struggled but managed to heave the huge gate open. As he sailed out he said, "Thank you! That was a very nice thing you did." I replied, "It's my pleasure.  I am a single handed boater now too." I chose to help him because it was something Les would have done in his days of good health. He always extended a helping hand to others and he never forgot what it was like doing it all on one's own. 

Soon enough Jules and Richard approached NB Valerie and came alongside. We hugged, I cried and we had a few words of remembrance about Les. I managed to get the lock off the gas cap without falling into the cut or dropping my keys in. Tank filled, and eight bags of coal on board, I handed over a bag of freshly baked Brownies to Richard. I have always baked something for them whenever I knew they were coming. The pair of the them work so hard in all weathers to provide some of the best service on the cut to boaters and it is little to do as a thank you for their care. 

I have had a long hard thought about my future and a break from the adminstrative severing of my life from Les' in such things as re-licensing the boat to a single owner, re-insuring it the same way, and changing bank accounts from joint to my name only. At one point in the hours before Les died I simply could not reconsile living on the boat without him. I was ready to sell it and move back to the States. Two days in the care of Ken and Sue Deveson (NB Cleddau) in which I was loved, cared for, fed, pampered, and we discussed and debated a wide range of topics have helped me find my bearings again. My deepest thanks to you both.

Common sense and loved have now prevailed.  As my daughter Jesseca said to me, "Momma you wanted to live in Britain on a narrowboat and cruise the canals before you ever met Les. It was your dream. And he tricked the boat out for you because he loved you so and he knew what you wanted to do." 

My baby last August, working on a project, love shining in his eyes.
Yes it's terribly hard and painful each day without Les, but if that man and his love for me are still located anywhere in this world besides my heart, it is in this boat. There isn't an inch of NB Valerie that Les didn't change or adapt for my comfort and he spent the final six months of his life working on boat projects to ensure I could continue to cruise without him by my side. 

Finally there is simply no way I could ever live onder a dictatorship which is what is happening to my country under Trump. I believe a non-military coup has begun and I am frightened for my family back in Washington and Oregon. Living here I may offer them a place of refuge should it become necessary, as life grows ever more intolerable for those who refuse to share the Trump agenda.

The funeral director rang me today. In a moment that felt like cruel irony, I was told Les' body is scheduled to be cremated on February 14th. A memorial service will be held sometime around the beginning of March (still working out the details) and I will fly back to the States to spend six weeks with my family there.    

We will mourn for Les together and scatter some of his ashes at Kamiak Butte where we were married and then I will come home to NB Valerie and commence cruising, stopping to scatter Les' ashes at each place on the cut that he loved and which brought us such joy. I will plant flower bulbs with his ashes so he lives on in their beauty for others to enjoy

If, at the end of a year when widow's benefits run out, I have to take a permanant mooring somewhere and get a land based job then I will do so. I will write, work on finishing my book manuscript and getting it published and live in a narrowboat which holds the sweat, heart, and soul of my Best Beloved in all the projects he completed for me to make this floating home a paradise on the cut. He is here all around me everywhere I look, watching over me still.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs