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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Ground Control to Major Tom

"They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity. Death cannot kill what never dies." ~William Penn, 1644-1718; English nobleman, writer, early Quaker, and founder of the English North American colony the Province of Pennsylvania.

     The 24th of August marked 18 months since Les died. Even if I forget for a moment that Les died on the 24th of January, it still registers deep in my subconscious on the 24th of every month. I find myself depressed and listless all day until I realize some internal marker is registering the moment Les died. Death is a date on the calendar, but grief is the calendar. 
     August has been a tough and grueling month. I applied for a job with a village Post Office. The owner contacted via email and asked if I was still interested and if so, what days/times would I be available to work? I replied immediately that I needed 25 hours ideally but 20 is my minimum and I would work as many hours over 25 as was needed, every day but Sunday because the bus doesn't run to the village on Sunday. Two days later the owner called me to schedule an interview. I was really excited because I could cruise right up to this village and moor up. And the position paid £8.50 which is a good wage for this country. We discussed my traveling by bus and he said I would need to look at the bus schedule and figure out the earliest I could arrive and the latest I could work in the evenings.  I replied that I had already done so and I could be there as early as 8:05 and work until 5:30 PM six days a week. He sounded duly impressed and made me think that barring any unforeseen issue which might pop up in my face-to-face interview which was scheduled for a Wednesday afternoon, the job was mine. Wednesday arrived and I was heading out the door for the bus when the phone rang. It was the owner of the village Post Office. After a long discussion with his wife they decided to cancel my interview because I relied on the bus. As far as she was concerned that me an unreliable employee. I was gutted! I have filled out and submitted thirty eight job applications since last November and I've heard back on two of them. I sat down and sobbed. Then I picked  myself up and kept on moving forward...
     I was offered the opportunity of receiving a free three month pass to the Nantwich Leisure Centre. I was looking forward to swimming in the outdoor brine pool several times a week. I grew up swimming in Alaskan lakes and I am very strong swimmer. I put my left shoulder out of place and I have been seeing a local osteopath. She agreed that swimming would be good to build up my muscle strength. I went swimming for the first time last Tuesday and sadly it will be my last time. Sarcoidosis has scarred my lungs, making them far more brittle than I realized. I could not get my breath while swimming laps, even slowly. It is a terrible feeling, struggling for a breath. All of my life I have had very strong lungs owing to seven years of choir participation in junior high and high school.  
     Last week I lost Les' boat keys. I use his keys as my duplicate set and I keep them clipped to the curtain rod by the back steps. But for some reason the day I went swimming I decided to bring them with me in my back pack.  My keys are on a blue carabiner clip and clipped to my back pack. I didn't even realize I had lost his keys until the entire week had passed that is how out of it I was. I was truly destroyed by the thought I had lost Les' keys and didn't even realize it. He died with those keys in his hands and they are precious to me. He carried them in his right trouser pocket everywhere--even to America. I spent all weekend trudging back through Nantwich to every place I had been, asking if anyone had found a set of keys on a purple carbiner clip. Nope. I wracked my brain trying to remember exactly the last time I saw Les' keys. It all seemed blurry to me because after two months of feeling better, the Crohns disease flared up again after I ate one gluten free brown rice and black sesame seed cracker with soy. Apparently the soy sauce used in the crackers was NOT gluten free and that is all it took to send me right back to dysfunctional colon and pain so intense I wanted to lie down and die. 
     Meanwhile between bouts of vomiting and sleeping, I tore the boat apart looking for Les' keys. He always said "Look in all the usual places and if you don't find what you are looking for then look everywhere else." So I did. The boat looked like a hurricane went through it. I looked in every pair of trousers, socks. coat and sweater pocket; every drawer, bag, box, and cupboard was emptied. I even looked in the fridge and freezer. Nothing. Between feeling ill enough to die, and depressed over losing Les' keys, I have been a basket case and I gave up and spent two days in bed. I also did a lot of looking back at my life for the past two years. I have been drowning in guilt at not saving Les' life. I felt as though I gave up on trying to save him once we were given the diagnosis of terminal bone sarcoma. I think if I hadn't been so overwhelmed and exhausted by fighting for his life for three years without a break, combined with recovering from one knee replacement surgery and going in to a second surgery and the meds required for the pain, which shut me off emotionally, I would have fought harder to keep Les alive. As I laid in our bed I realized that Les loved me totally, deeply, completely, and he would never have countenanced my feelings of guilt or inadequacy. He knew I loved him deeply, totally and completely too and I did the best I could at the time; I would have given my life for his in a heartbeat. All that guilt gilded mourning drained away and I was left with a sense of profound peace. 
     This morning I slowly put the boat back together. As I was looking through the wardrobe I found a large framed picture of Les that friends had given me at Les' memorial service. I decided to hang it on the wall at the end of our bed. After a cup of chamomile tea for breakfast I checked in with family on FaceBook and posted a remembrance to Valerie, whose birthday was yesterday. I grew cold this evening and I decided to get a bag of coal down off the roof. I haven't done that since March. I always wear the same gloves and Les' grey zip front sweatshirt cardigan when dealing with coal bags as they are dirty. I dug into the very back of the coat cupboard by the front door for Les' cardigan and removed it from its hook...and inside one of the pockets I had already checked, were his keys. 
     All this time I have been waiting for a sign from Les; a sound, a song, a symbol, a dream, but I got nothing. The lack of a sign from Les has tested my personal belief system deeply. I have known since I was a small child that there is more on either side of our lives on earth because I have memories from before I was born and my own mother confirmed this for me much to her own shock. I am the weird one in the family who hears the voices of the deceased at the moment they pass, or I meet them in my dreams and then learn when I wake that they have died. I have had my own close meetings with death in this life so for there to be silence from Les' soul has been yet another trial to endure as I relentlessly questioned everything I believe, my past experiences surrounding death, and the depth of Les' love for me.
     I realize now that the profound intensity of my grief formed a wall between his soul and mine. Yes, I still grieve for him and I always will, but now I can remember him with joy. I can talk to him and say his name and not feel like someone is cutting out my heart without anesthetic. Now, our relationship is similar to that which we had before Les died. I know without doubt that this is what we have both been waiting for.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs