Month 8 Totals

Although Terry died in September, the payments kept coming out until I could contact the companies to cancel his accounts. Although we only managed to pay the minimum due this month, it is the last month that Terry was able to contribute financially and so I am posting our Month 8 totals for October:

Terry’s Credit Card: £111.49

Mandi’s Car: £214.85

Mandi’s Student Loans: £336.87 ($538.84)

Month 8 Total: £663.21 ($1060.84)

YTD: £10,551.85/$16,878.21

Today hasn’t been happy adding all of that up although it has highlighted just how much extra Terry and I were able to pay off of our debts each month. With minimal effort, we were able to pay over £1,000 above the minimum payments each and every month, and we loved doing it. I tended to get really frustrated with our debt towards the middle of every month, but Terry was always there to cheer me on and carry me to the end of the month where, upon seeing how much we had paid off, I would feel better. Now I just feel sad thinking of what could have been.

I feel a strong desire to continue to pay off my debt and to be debt free as a way to honor the hard work that Terry and I put into it for those short seven months. It’s now a lot farther down the road than I had envisioned, but I can do it and I know that Terry is still cheering me on each and every day. He remains my biggest supporter and I know that he is proud of me and everything that I will achieve to become debt free in the future.

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One Month Today

Today is the one month anniversary of Terry’s death and it was a bad day. Not because it’s the one month anniversary of his death, just in addition to it.

I need to move out of our home for financial reasons and have agreed to move in with Terry’s sister. Today I went and looked at a house, which was nice, and as soon as I left the house the first person I wanted to call and tell about it was Terry. I had the phone in my hand before I realized that I can no longer call Terry on the phone. I called and told my sister about it, but I was really sad. Then, when I phoned the estate agents to enquire about renting the house, I was told it had already been rented. In my previous life, this would be a minor blow, but today I was gutted.

When I got home, the vets called to say that they had finally figured out what was wrong with Ninja’s tummy – alhumdulillah – and asked me to swing by to pick up meds. As he is difficult to give pills to, they gave me a liquid form of the medication that is actually intended for use in children, which explains the fact that it is banana flavored. In the past, Terry held the cat while I gave it medication, but now it’s just me. I wrapped Ninja in a towel and tried to give him the medication and he freaked out, running around the house foaming at the mouth and heaving. I couldn’t catch him and just collapsed in tears. He has to have medication twice a day for 14 days. I can’t give him this medication on my own and the entire situation just defeated me. It is one of a million things that if only Terry were still here would be ok. But it’s not ok. I will call the vet in the morning for advice.

On a positive note: I have gone from being unable to find a counsellor to having two. I signed up for a private counselor here in England through my GP. I am hesitant to spend money at the moment, especially with a move upcoming, but I know that this is important so I signed up. A day after I signed up with that counselor, my mom put me in touch with a counselor that works through her church and offers free counseling. I had my first session with my private counselor yesterday and she was so lovely. I just sat and cried, but I really like her and have scheduled another appointment for next week. I had my first phone counseling session tonight with the counselor from my mom’s church and I really liked him, too. Originally I thought that I would have one session with each and then decide which one to proceed with, but I like them both and think I will attend both sessions next week.

It’s nice to talk to someone. That’s not to say that I can’t talk to my friends and family, I can and I do, but it’s different talking to a counsellor about Terry and I think it’s a really important step as I deal with my grief.

Books on Grief

I’m a voracious reader, as many of you already know. So naturally when I began my journey of grief I looked into books on Bereavement. Luckily, the Oxford library has a good selection and I popped in while my family was in town to pick out a few or myself with the help of my sister. I’d never given any thoughts to bereavement books before and was surprised at the variety of them: books for those who’ve lost their parents, for parents who’ve lost children, for loss by suicide, by car crash and, most appropriately, for those mourning the loss of their spouse. I chose four books and headed home.

They sat on my nightstand for awhile before I could stand the thought of picking them up, but eventually I was able to open the cover, and then to turn one page at a time. I started with Living With Loss: A Guide for the Recently Widowed. I chose this book because although I found the title depressing, it was the most appropriate to my needs. Ironically, I found this book the least helpful. It documents the author, Liz McNeill Taylor’s journey through widowhood, which was interesting, but offered little practical guidance for those in my situation. I know they don’t write books for those of us who moved to a new country to be with the love of our life only to find that tragedy strikes and we are alone in a foreign land, but the author’s story was so different from my own having lost her husband of over 20 years in the seventies and being left alone with three young children, that I struggled to relate.

I then moved on to Surviving Your Partner: Living with the Death of the Person Closest to you, by Sylvia Murphy. I found this book extremely helpful. It offered advice on a variety of situations that I had already considered such as dealing with financial changes and breaking the bad news to family and friends, but also discussed some changes that hadn’t even occurred to me such as adjusting to living alone. The chapter on restructuring your life discussed different ways to plan for your new life, and it encouraged me to actually visualize my life without Terry for the first time since he died. The future is by no means clear, but I found that although the thought of a future without Terry is the most horrible thing that I could ever imagine, it will happen whether I like it or not and I am not doing myself any favors by burying my head in the sand and pretending that everything will be OK. Everything is not OK, but that doesn’t mean that my life is over. It just means that my life will never be the same.

My next book was called Solace: Finding Your Way Through Grief and Learning to Live Again, by Roberta Temes. This book was about bereavement in general, as opposed to the specific loss of one’s spouse. This book was by far the most helpful to me at the moment. It may not always remain that way, but it is helping me to begin to process it all. There are loads of different theories about grieving, most popularly the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Dr. Temes introduced me to her three stages of grief which I much prefer: initial numbness, disorganization and reorganization. This book was written by an American author, but applied itself well to my life in the UK nonetheless. I hate the thought of being angry before bargaining with God to get Terry back before I even have the chance to hit depression. No thank you. It may well happen that way, but I don’t embrace those stages so easily as I am able to accept the fact that yes I am numb at the moment, and when I regain my feelings I will be in a state of disorganized chaos, but at some point that will end and I will reorganize a new life for myself and I will create a new identity that I will carry on. If you know anyone who is mourning, I highly recommend this book.

Last night I finished the last of my bereavement books: Life After Bereavement: Beyond Tomorrow by Judy Carole Kauffman and Mary Jordan. This book encompasses some very specific situations including breaking bad news to children, people with intellectual disabilities and dementia, families in conflict after loss and guilt associated with death, none of which apply to me at the moment, thank goodness, but may be helpful if you know someone struggling with any of those. The chapters on dealing with personal effects and anniversaries were particularly helpful as I deal with the first week, then month and so one without Terry. I have my first Thanksgiving and Christmas without Terry soon and eventually his 31st birthday and our 5th wedding anniversary, all of which I am dreading. The authors advised me that the best way to deal with the pain is to plan something on those days and to perhaps begin a new tradition to help get through. No plans yet, but I like the idea of planning special things to remember Terry on special days.

So I’ve done a lot of reading that has focused my attention on dealing with my grief instead of wallowing in it and I have been presented with the opinions of hundreds of bereaved people through a variety of authors. I would love any recommendations on bereavement books that anyone else has found helpful? Feel free to leave a comment and I will be more than happy to check them out.

Progress?

I hate to call it progress, as it doesn’t feel that way. Perhaps update is a more appropriate title? At any rate, here is what I have been up to Chez Benbow:

I get out of bed every day. This in itself takes a lot of effort. But I do it every day even though I don’t see the point. Add showering and eating to things I do that I don’t really care about, but feel I must do. I leave my house every day if only to necessitate the aforementioned showering. It’s bad enough being a 29 year old widow without looking homeless. So at least once a day I change out of my cat leggings and into something that is socially acceptable and walk out my front door and I face the outside world. I hate to do this as every time I open that door, I flash back to when I had to run outside to meet the ambulance as the paramedics tried to resuscitate Terry, and it serves as a visual reminder that the rest of the world keeps moving on, while I feel trapped in my grief. Sometimes I wonder as I walk through town if others look at me and know. Can they see that I’m a widow or do I just look sad? Am I putting on a normal face for the world? Doesn’t everyone walk through town crying? No?

Ninja does his best to keep me busy. His latest accomplishment is standing in the litter box and pooping outside of it – which serves as a momentary distraction and also a visual reminder that my life is, quite literally, shit. Ninja obviously has a deep grasp on his emotions, I only wish that he had a deep grasp on his upset stomach.

I am actively seeking out counseling. I have just gotten off of the phone with the last County organization that I have been referred to, to no avail. My last option is to seek out private therapy, which I am uncomfortable with for financial reasons – I hate to spend money right now until everything is sorted, but I can rest easy knowing that the Go Fund Me can help to cover the cost of therapy. Once again, thank you to everyone who has contributed. You are perhaps paying to help me keep my sanity. I will post updates when I find a bereavement counsellor. Soon, I hope.

Other than that, I spend a lot of time reading. Some books on bereavement, some not. I have watched the entire first season of The Blacklist, which is really good. There is a beautiful moment between Red, who has lost his family, and a character that has just lost someone they loved and Red says ‘It will be the first thing that you think about every morning when you wake up, until one day it’s the second thing you think about.’ I found this really moving. Strange that one of the best pieces of advice that I have received has come from a fictional character, but I find myself repeating it to myself most mornings when I wake up from nightmares having ripped the bed sheets off again. Seriously getting sick of remaking my bed each morning. I also listen to Kodaline’s All I Want while drinking either coffee or wine and cry. Such beauty to be found in music.

I went to school on Tuesday to meet with my head teacher, who recommended coming into school after hours to get the first trip back over and done with. It was really difficult, I found myself shaking on the drive in, but I did it. I caught up with some colleagues and even went out for a cup of coffee, which felt like such a normal thing to do. It made me hope that normal could be possible again. Even if I do cry into a cup of hot chocolate. I am grateful that they took me out. They said I was brave to come in to school again. I don’t feel brave. I feel very un-brave. I feel like a mess.

And so I am taking this day by day, although some days have to broken down into minute by minute just to get through. If this is progress, than I am making progress. It feels very much like survival at the moment. I have survived three weeks longer than I thought possible when Terry died. Surely that calls for celebratory chocolate? I agree completely.

One Day at a Time

I remember in the hospital asking my mother in law what I was supposed to do now – how was I supposed to get through this? Her answer to me: one day at a time.

My family flew back to the states on Monday, leaving me alone in my home – a welcome change from the constant business after Terry’s death. The space has allowed me to begin to grieve properly. It is painful, yet cathartic at the same time. In order to get through each day – which often feels like too much – I give myself one reason to get out of the house each day. Some reasons come up naturally – last Monday I had to go to the bank to close some accounts, Friday I had to go to the vet, etc. Today – a lazy Sunday – my goal for the day was to walk across town to Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte.

PSL
photo credit: julochka via photopin cc

I can happily say that today I’ve met my goal. While a pumpkin spice latte might not sound like much, it is a huge ordeal to walk through town these days. It’s an absolute minefield walking through town on my own, but something that I feel needs to be done. I don’t know why. It’s an experience similar to Frogger wherein I have to avoid happy couples who remind me of what I once had, families with children who remind me of what I will never get to have with Terry, elderly couples out for walks that Terry and I used to aspire to be like, people that I know who I desperately want to talk to, but can’t think of anything to say so I just look down and walk past, previous students who knew me when I was happily married, etc. The only people I can pass without wincing are single women like myself and people who are already sitting outside of bars at 10:00 on a Sunday morning.

I did it. Today I experienced all of the hurt that comes with walking through town and I got myself a cup of coffee. While at Starbucks, I bumped into a previous acquaintance who asked what I was doing these days. I smiled and talked about teaching French and Spanish and lied and said that I was doing well. It was nice to pretend to be my normal self, if only for a moment. It gives me hope that someday I will be able to say that I am doing well and not be lying.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

It’s hard to get out of bed these days. Today I was forced out of bed by the postman, delivering a letter that had to be signed for. It was from the Organ Transplant Team at the John Radcliffe Hospital, where Terry died. It reads:

Dear Amanda,

We are writing to thank you for your kindness and compassion in making the decision to allow Terrence to be an organ donor. We would like to take the opportunity to offer you our condolences for your sudden and tragic loss and thank you for taking the time to speak with us about organ donation. With this letter we are now able to give you some information about the recipients who have been helped as a direct result of Terrence’s gift of life to others.

One kidney was transplanted into a teenage girl, she is making slow progress. It is hoped that this progress will continue. She is not requiring any dialysis and will hopefully not require dialysis in the future. She had been on the transplant waiting list for nearly a month.

The other kidney was transplanted into a gentleman in his 60s. He is making excellent progress and is about to go home from hospital. He had been on the transplant waiting list for over 4 years. He is single and is a very keen walker. 

A section of the liver was transplanted into a gentleman in his 50s. He is making good progress. he had been on the transplant waiting list for 3 months and is married with 2 grown up children. He is about to be a granddad or the first time.

The other section of the liver was transplanted into a toddler who is making good progress. It is expected that she will be in hospital for 3 weeks before going home. 

The pancreas was retrieved for the purpose of transplantation however was not able to be used at the transplanting centre so has been used for valuable research.

The heart was transplanted into a lady in her 30s. She is making excellent progress on the ward. 

The corneas were successfully retrieved and will undergo a screening process then stored until requested. Once matched the survival of the graft is almost 99%, with the potential to restore the sight of two individuals literally overnight. We will write to you when we have received the outcome. 

We hope the information in this letter reinforces the impact of Terrence’s generosity on the lives of those people fortunate enough to receive such a special gift. We hope that you find this information useful. 

I have read this letter a hundred times today, devouring the details. I have wept tears of sadness mixed with tears of joy for those whose lives will improve as a result of my loss and tears of pride for the generosity of my husband which continues on even in the face of his untimely death.

To those of you who have not yet done so, I ask that you register as an organ donor sooner rather than later. If Terry’s death proves nothing else, it proves that life is short and unpredictable and that death does not discriminate between the old and the young. The thought that Terry’s heart is still beating and that his beautiful blue eyes might yet see brings me more hope and comfort than I can describe. When I die, I hope to bestow the same gift upon others.

I hope that you will consider making the same gift so that your death can provide a gift to others, just like Terry’s has.

How to Help

I suppose since the year of no spending is on hold, this blog will now evolve into an outlet for my grief as I grieve for the loss of my husband and the beautiful future that we had planned together. There are several websites that have been helpful for me as I begin to deal with my feelings and one of them has been Merry Widow. There is a forum, where widows can post and discuss their grief and their words have given me comfort on days when I have needed it. On their forums, I found the following letter:

HOW YOU CAN HELP ME

Please talk about my loved one, even though he is gone. It is more
comforting to cry than to pretend that he never existed. I need to talk
about him, and I need to do it over and over.

Be patient with my agitation. Nothing feels secure in my world. Get
comfortable with my crying. Sadness hits me in waves, and I never know
when my tears may flow. Just sit with me in silence and hold my hand.

Don’t abandon me with the excuse that you don’t want to upset me. You
can’t catch my grief. My world is painful, and when you are too afraid
to call me or visit or say anything, you isolate me at a time when I
most need to be cared about. If you don’t know what to say, just come
over, give me a hug or touch my arm, and gently say, “I’m sorry.” You
can even say, “I just don’t know what to say, but I care, and want you
to know that.”

Just because I look good does not mean that I feel good. Ask me how I
feel only if you really have time to find out.

I am not strong. I’m just numb. When you tell me I am strong, I feel
that you don’t see me.

I will not recover. This is not a cold or the flu. I’m not sick. I’m
grieving and that’s different. My grieving may only begin 6 months after
my loved one’s death. Don’t think that I will be over it in a year. For
I am not only grieving his death, but also the person I was when I was
with him, the life that we shared, the plans we had for watching our
children and grandchildren grow, the places we will never get to go together, and the
hopes and dreams that will never come true. My whole world has crumbled
and I will never be the same.

I will not always be grieving as intensely, but I will never forget my
loved one and rather than recover, I want to incorporate his life and
love into the rest of my life. He is a part of me and always will be,
and sometimes I will remember him with joy and other times with a tear.
Both are okay.

I don’t have to accept the death. Yes, I have to understand that it has
happened and it is real, but there are some things in life that are just
not acceptable.

When you tell me what I should be doing, then I feel even more lost and
alone. I feel badly enough that my loved one is dead, so please don’t
make it worse by telling me I’m not doing this right.

Please don’t tell me I can find someone else or that I need to start
dating again. I’m not ready. And maybe I don’t want to. And besides,
what makes you think people are replaceable? They aren’t. Whoever comes
after will always be someone different.

I don’t even understand what you mean when you say, “You’ve got to get
on with your life.” My life is going on, I’ve been forced to take on
many new responsibilities and roles. It may not look the way you think
it should. This will take time and I will never be my old self again. So
please, just love me as I am today, and know that with your love and
support, the joy will slowly return to my life. But I will never forget
and there will always be times that I cry.

Please don’t say, “Call me if you need anything.” I’ll never call you
because I have no idea what I need. Trying to figure out what you could
do for me takes more energy than I have. So, in advance, let me give you
some ideas:

Send me a card on special holidays, his birthday, and the
anniversary of his death, and be sure to mention his name. You can’t
make me cry. The tears are here and I will love you for giving me the
opportunity to shed them because someone cared enough about me to reach
out on this difficult day.
Ask me more than once to join you at a movie or lunch or dinner. I
may so no at first or even for a while, but please don’t give up on me
because somewhere down the line, I may be ready, and if you’ve given up
then I really will be alone.
Understand how difficult it is for me to be surrounded by couples,
to walk into events alone, to go home alone, to feel out of place in the same situations
where I used to feel so comfortable.

Please don’t judge me now – or think that I’m behaving strangely.
Remember I’m grieving. I may even be in shock. I am afraid. I may feel
deep rage. I may even feel guilty. But above all, I hurt. I’m
experiencing a pain unlike any I’ve ever felt before and one that can’t
be imagined by anyone who has not walked in my shoes.

Don’t worry if you think I’m getting better and then suddenly I seem to
slip backward. Grief makes me behave this way at times. And please don’t
tell me you know how I feel, or that it’s time for me to get on with my
life. What I need now is time to grieve.

Most of all thank you for being my friend. Thank you for your patience.
Thank you for caring. Thank you for helping, for understanding. Thank
you for praying for me.

And remember in the days or years ahead, after your loss – when you need
me as I have needed you – I will understand. And then I will come and be with you.

While I have not yet experienced all of the emotions in this letter, it sums up so accurately what I am beginning to go through in words that I could never have found to express myself. I do feel very loved and grateful for the cards and responses and support and prayers, but at the same time I feel so very alone. I received an invitation to the cinema last weekend and although I couldn’t accept it due to other commitments, it meant a lot to me. I received a care package in the mail that filled my home and my heart with love. The cards displayed in my home are a great visual reminder of the love that is being sent my way. As I don’t know what I need, I thought I would post this poem so that that author – although I do not know who that is – could express to you all the feelings that I am just beginning to deal with.

The End of the Year of No Spending

Two days after my last entry my husband died suddenly of bacterial meningitis. He was 30 years old and in perfect health. Things haven’t been the same since and will never be the same again. These last two weeks have been an absolute whirlwind of funeral planning and shock and a million other things, and it is only now that I find myself with a brief moment to think about our finances, which have now become my finances.

Instead of two incomes, it is just mine now and I find myself left with £5,000 of credit card debt, £6,800 car loan and $59,000 of student loans in addition to the household bills. Because we have no children, it never occurred to either of us to take out life insurance. We always talked about taking it out when we had children, but I can now see the error of that decision. Overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel. I am currently attempting to reduce the £2,000 monthly bills that Terry and I could comfortably pay into something that my £1,500 monthly salary can cover.

The silver lining is that people’s generosity since my husband’s death has been amazing. Truly I am touched by the kind words, actions and donations that have poured in. Some of my best friends from the Peace Corps – and many others – helped to set up a Go Fund Me account that will help to bridge the financial gap left in Terry’s sudden absence. These kind donations will buy me some time to figure out what the next step is and to prepare myself for it. I don’t know what I would do without it, quite frankly. Thank you to all who have donated.

Sadly, with this sudden financial crisis, I find that the Year of No Spending must come to a pause, if not the end. I hope to be able to continue to pay off my debts and still dream of being debt free one day however that, like many other dreams, has been crushed by my immediate circumstances. There are expenses that must be paid and money that must be spent as I transition from the happiest days I’ve ever known to the darkest.

I will attempt to continue to post about my debt reduction and would welcome prayers, kind thoughts, words and any support you have to offer. Until then, thank you all for the kindness.