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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.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to read this post. I think your plan is good. You can do it and can always come back when we slay the dragon if you decide to! Love you.


Arthur said...

Jaq, you are at the beginning of a huge adjustment in your life. Take your time, as it looks like you are doing, and do what is in your heart. Les is there for you.

Jo Lodge said...

My dearest Jaq.

Reading your posts of late have reduced me to tears, amongst the tears today are smiles, because you are one of the strongest women I know and if anyone can single hand it is you. Les has given you everything you need to live on your boat, he like my beloved was gentle in his teaching and he would be so very proud of you.
Having a Permanant mooring, gives you the reassurance that you have a place to call home, but also the opportunity to go cruising when you feel able or want too. We look forward to seeing you on the cut somewhere. Keep smiling and look after yourself. I always found Kalms wonderful when I could not sleep, when Keith was poorly.
The joy of living on the cut, is you know anyone will give you a hand if you need it.
All our very best xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jennie said...

What a clever man he was, Jaq - I would never have thought of keeping his shoes and hanging some of his clothes on the line for your security. Such a good idea. I am glad you enjoyed your stay with Sue and Ken - we hope to see you soon. Take care. Love Jennie and Chris xx

Anonymous said...

Oh Jaq your voice is so loud and clear even through your tears and wailing. I too have found out that you can cry and function at the same time. Let em roll lady, you have much grief (and fear for the future) to wash out.

Oh Yea! Kamiak Butte. When in March? I'm going on a Road Scholar/Elderhostel trip to Sedona 3/11-21. Sure hope it isn't then. I can Still make it to the top of the beautiful butte and I'll join in the celebration and rememberance of your wonderful wedding up there.

Another poem for reflection


At the rising of the sun and at its going down
I remember him.

At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter
I remember him.

At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring
I remember him.

At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer
I remember him.

At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn
I remember him

At the beginning of the year and when it ends
I remember him.

As long as I live, he too will live;
for his is now a part of me,
as I remember him.

When I am weary and in need of strength
I remember him.

When I am lost and sick at heart
I remember him.

When I have joy I crave to share
I remember him.

When I have decisions that are difficult to make
I remember him.

When I have achievements that are based on his
I remember him.

As long as I live, he too will live;
for he is now a part of me,
and I remember him.

Les Bigs

love and hugs

Brass said...

Glad no one can hear the man crying in the middle of the woods. Les is a man I greatly admire and strive to emulate. Your post is so beautiful Jac,

Donna said...

Hi Jaq, I hope you are keeping well. Les was like a grandad to me. As a kid he would take me and my siblings to a park,zoo or the cinema because my parents were unable too. When his late wife valerie died we all lost contact. It has taken me somewhat years to actually find out where les was. I tried searching facebook, other sites etc. I even tried to email you and message you on facebook but you did not respond..I managed to reconnect with Les via email which was heartfelt and full of compassion..I am heartbroken that les has passed as he was a big part of my childhood. If it is okay with yourself I would like it if me and my family are able to celebrate his life with you at his memorial service? I do wish you all the best and if I could I would provide you with a great big hug so that I could comfort you. Les will be truley missed but has left a great legacy in all of the hearts that he touched on a daily basis. I love reading yours and les blogg since I have came across it on the internet. Such a wonderful thing to read. Please get some rest Jaw and let the spirit of Les guide you everyday. Lots of love Donna.

Dragontatoo said...

I had no idea no one had told you that yet. It was common sense to me, I figured someone would have pointed it out before me! Love you 1000 Swedish Fish ❤

Unknown said...

So glad you have decided to stay on, Jaq. Your exploration of boatlife was how it all got started, heh? We look forward to seeing you with big hugs in March!xxxxxxx

Judith nb Serena said...

Beautiful blog. Love and hugs. XXX Judith nb Serena.

Mike & Phill Muir, nb GARNET. said...

Very moving, Jaq, I do not think I could have told the world as you have done.
Good luck, see you on the cut.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thank you Sally. I deeply appreciate your confidence in me and my plan. It will be wonderful to see you and Joe again--a real balm to my heart. I love you both.
Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Arthur I cannot thank you enough for all your support lo these many months. Your words resonate with me and alwasy have.

Love to you and Jen,
Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thank you Jo. I appreciate the wisdom of your words, and the kindness, friendship, and support both you and Keith have offered to me and Les over the years. It really calms my heart to know that Les will be remembered in such good hearts as the two of you.

May our bows meet soon,
Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Jennie,
Yes Les was a very cloever man. Sadly he didn't have the opportunity to be well schooled and that was one of his regrets in later life, but Oh! Les' mind was curious, facile, and he could think out of the box brilliantly.

It will be wonderful to spend some time with you and Chris,

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Oh Karen my dear friend! How muchjoy you have brought into our lives. If not for meeting you, I would never have hiked Kamiak Butte and our marriage would have taken place somewhere else les perfect for our love.

Dates are tentative but looks like March 7th-April 10th. I will do my utmost to make it down to Pullman when you andJim are around. It would break my heart to come back to the States and not see you both.

Thank you for the poem. It resonantes perfectly.

Love to you both,
Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Jaybird (Brass),

My dear, dear, wonderful friend! Thank you for taking the time to cry over my loss and post a comment to me. Les would have liked you and I have no doubt the feeling would have been mutual--two good men.

Stay strong and remember I love you.

Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Donna,
I am so glad you posted your comment. Please send me another friend request on FB right away and now that I know who you are, I will be happy to Friend you.

Of course you can come to Les' memorial service. I just need your email please as I cannot post the details on the blog--too public and there are those who would see it and attend; they would not be welcome and I have to protect my family right now so please, please email me. My email is on the left margin of the blog.

Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Where did you come by all that grounded common sense?! Thank for remiinding me of what I really knew deep in my heart. I just couldn't wade through the depths of my grief to get there just yet. This is why wods are so important and reaching out to those we love is worth the effort.

Skyping with you, Ben and the boys has been a healing balm for my aching heart.
Love Momma xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thank you Sandy and I too look forward to seeing you and the Kincaid clan. You were such a lovely part of our brief life in Pullman and Les adored you--as do I.

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thank you Judith. May our bows meet soon!
Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Mike and Phil,

Telling and sharing in words is the affliction of the writer which is what I am. My truest voice is not spoken but written. When I need to figure something out I write about it. It has always been so with me. It is the risk a writer takes--sharing personal details with the world. Hopefully, others find meaning in my words and perhaps sometime down the road or the cut, something I have written will lift them with joy and laughter, or provide information that may be useful. The ability to move people emotionally with words is the great satisfaction of writing. To connect with others at such a deep level brings such joy to me.

May our paths cross soon mate.
Love to you both,
Jaq xxx

Carol said...

Hi Jaq,

So pleased that your time with Sue and Ken enabled you to think about your future without your lovely man and your plan sounds just right.

We will be thinking of you both on 14th February and are looking forward to celebrating Less' life at his memorial sometime in March, I think it's a wonderful idea.

You must be so looking forward to your trip back to the States and hope that you have the strength to return to us and nb Valerie. As has already been said cruising the canals on a narrowboat was what you wished for before Less and you've both had such a wonderful time doing just that together and we know in our hearts and souls that you are now well prepared to single hand or moor up if necessary.

I'm sure that all your boating and non-boating friends in the UK will be there always to support you in any way they can.

Love you Jaq. xx

Anonymous said...

On the subject of safety for singles, another idea is to set up two chairs if you are sitting along the canal. It immediately looks like you are not alone. This idea of the two chairs came from a lady in the US traveling alone in her RV:

Unknown said...

as I said in a previous post - if there is anything, anything we can do please ask
Chris & Andy
nb Ceiriog
we met briefly a few yaears back on the Leek branch of the Caldon - we were flying the white rose of Yorkshire and you noticed & commented 'the house of York'
came across Les' blog 2 years before we took to the water and a few years before you came along
what else can I say right now?

Anonymous said...

I wish you all the best I have always enjoyed reading your blog and was in tears when I read your recent one Les must have been a wonderful man Keep strong

Nev Wells said...


Hard times covered in love. The preparation you both made are a testament to the love you shared. I got to the end of the comments and looked at the photo of NB Valarie on the Caldon with the steam train and the Black Lion pub in the background. We walked over that bridge on Sunday and thought of Les and you. I know Les will be talked about and fondly remembered for a very very long time. Now you take care of yourself and if I am able I'll accompany you next time you cruise from Rugely to Fradley. One thing for sure you are never really alone on the cut.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...


Your words ring true and I will find the strength to return because onw can only go froward in life--it isn'possible to backwards, sadly, becasue if it was ther are so many things I would have done differently; love Les, marryng him, and moving to Britain to live on our boat are the exceptions of course. Those are a few thngs I did do right.

Our American family supports my decisoin, though they love me and miss me. And as you say the boating community is a supportive one, reaching out to help all across the cut. I look forward to spending time with two of mine and Les' favorite friends--you and George. Thank you always, to the both of you for your ongoing encouragement, love and support.

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Dear Chris and Andy (NB Ceriog),
I do remember you both and your wonderful boat with the rose of York flying. thankyou for reaching out to me. I so, so apprecaite it. I willbehading for the narrow northern canals over the late spring and summer. OUr hearts are there, although family is located along the southern Grand Union. There are too many painful memories for me down here and both Les and I longed to get back to het narrow canals and cruise again to the places we loved like the Caldon, the Shroppie, the Maccelsfied, the Peak Forest, and the LLangollen. I will keep my eyes peeld for you both and we can finally meet in person.

Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Nev,

You are right about one thing: Les will be remebered fondly all across the cut for many, many, many years to come. As long as he is remembered, Les lives on in all of us, so thanks mate for bringing him to mind on your walk, and for the offer of cruising along from Fradley to Rugely. Thank you Nev for reaching out to us both and bringing your friendship into our lives.

May our bows meet soon,
Love Jaq xxx

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs