The First Noel and Beyond

I survived my first Christmas without Terry. Survived is the only word to describe the experience, as I found myself unable to celebrate. I spent the day with Terry’s family, just as we would have done when Terry was live, but his absence overwhelmed me. Over Christmas I did everything that Terry and I would have done, but it was so lonely doing it alone. I spent hours thinking of what we did this time last year and the year before and wishing that it could ever happen again. It was lonely and sad, but I survived it and am hopeful that next year I may find the strength to celebrate.

Tonight is New Year’s Eve, a time when everyone celebrates the past year and looks forward to the next. I find myself torn. 2014 has brought me more heartache than I had ever thought possible, 2014 took my husband away and ruined my life, but 2014 also was also the best year that Terry and I had ever had. I passed my NQT year, spent time with friends in Northern France, had fish and chips on the south coast, which Terry had been promising me since we met. In 2014 Terry and I realized all of our financial problems and began to change them resulting in us paying of £10,000 of our debt in only 7 months. There are so many happy memories in 2014, but they are often overshadowed by the last three months. I don’t want Terry’s death to overshadow our wonderful life together and all of the happy memories we made over the last decade.

Many have said to me that I should be happy for 2015 to arrive; ‘it can’t possibly be any worse than this year, right?’ They say it to cheer me up, but I know that 2015 could get worse than 2014 and I find myself fearful at times, counting all of the things that I still have that I could lose: my health, my family, my cat, my resilience. In spite of this fear, I find myself cautiously optimistic about the new year. Not excited, but hopeful that 2015 might bring me something nice.

My counsellor says that it is important for me not to focus on what I’ve lost, but on creating a new life for myself, and so I am beginning my new life in 2015. Within the next week I will move into a room in a house a mile and a half from school. I am moving in with roommates that I haven’t met. Part of me is sad that I can’t afford to live on my own, but the other part of me is happy that there will be company for the lonely nights. Most importantly, the room is affordable and will enable me to begin to repay my debts again. Financial stability is at the top of my New Year Wishlist. I will also begin work again – two huge steps in a relatively short amount of time.

I’d be lying if I said that I was excited for these changes and the new year; I’m not. But I am positive that these are two important steps in building a new life for myself and I am am hopeful that this new life will bring me happiness and stability.

I wish you all a happy 2015, may it bring nothing but good things.

Happy HarryPottermas

It should come as no surprise that I am not looking forward to Christmas this year. Most days I just wrap myself in a blanket and pretend that it’s not Christmas-time. When I do leave my fortress of solitude home, I am sometimes surprised that there is so much Christmas cheer everywhere. Bah humbug is probably the most accurate expression of my sentiments this holiday season.

And so I’ve decided to not celebrate Christmas. This time of year Chez Benbow I will be celebrating HarryPottermas. Not heard of it? Let me explain my newly invented holiday and how I will be celebrating this year:

The first rule of HarryPottermas is wine. It can be mulled, rosy or white, HarryPottermas does not discriminate. Drinking from the bottle is not discouraged, but is considered an efficient way of reducing the pesky task of washing up. Secondly, while drinking wine, one watches the entire Harry Potter collection that you always meant to watch with your husband, but never got around to. You can watch them all back to back or one at a time, depending on whether or not you can get to sleep. If you’ve watched them all and Christmas still isn’t over, put them on again. HarryPottermas Tip: An extra bottle of wine helps you to forget that you’ve already watched the film.

HarryPottermas is a celebration of all emotions: want to yell boo at Dobby? Tis the season. Help yourself to sweets while watching the characters buy chocolate frogs? Wouldn’t expect anything less. Moved to tears while Harry Potter cries over Cedric Diggery’s body? Let them flow. Not feeling any emotions at all? Better pour yourself another glass of wine.

And so, with only 4 days left until the-holiday-who-shall-not -be-named you can find me on my couch celebrating HarryPottermas in a pair of sweatpants until the rest of it has blown over. There is no dress code to my holiday, but I find that it is most comfortable celebrated in whatever you slept in last night. Anyone care to join me?

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From my family to yours on this HarryPottermas
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Ninja’s drunk

Back to School

My Head of Department suggested that I come into school for a day before the Christmas holidays to see how it felt being there with students before I committed to begin teaching again in the new year. I nervously agreed to come in yesterday afternoon to meet with my form. I didn’t have any pressure to plan a lesson, just to pop in and say hello. I agree with my boss that this was a good idea, but I was really nervous pulling up to the school. I hadn’t seen my students in almost three months! A colleague met me in the front office and walked me over to the building that I teach in where I had cup of coffee with a few teachers before going into my classroom for the first time since Terry died.

If I didn’t have someone else to open the door, I think I might have hid in the hallway forever, but the door was opened and before I knew it I had 29 smiling faces waving at me and screaming ‘Ms Kimberly!!!’ (I’m kind of a big deal in 8AKY) As nervous as I was entering the room, it was really nice to see my girls. I brought them some American goodies that I passed out. They nibbled on them and we went around the classroom so that everyone could tell me one nice thing that happened since I’ve been gone. I heard about new pets, new braces, the hottest movies, the school’s new gym and it was such a positive environment to be in that I couldn’t help but smile with them.

I spent about 20 minutes with the girls before I had to leave to see the deputy head about my timetable coming back in January. As I was leaving, the girls presented me with this beautiful card:

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The class made me a BEAUTIFUL Christmas card
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The card was a pop-up card with beautiful presents!

They also piled presents and cards on top of me – so many that I had to ask some of them to help me carry them to my office! I was so overwhelmed by their presents that I nearly wept. In that moment I felt so very loved. I thanked them for the lovely presents and cards and most of all for the beautiful book that they had made for me.

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Check out all of this Christmas cheer!

I was feeling sad a few days ago because I wouldn’t have a stocking from Terry to open on Christmas Day this year, but now I have all of these lovely gifts to open and I couldn’t be any happier.

I have decided with my bosses to begin teaching 2 hours a week in January – teaching French to my form – to get my feet wet again and then to add classes as I feel able. I cannot begin to thank my school for being so accommodating as I return to work and knowing that I don’t have to return to my original timetable right away takes a huge burden off of my shoulders.

I went out to dinner with a friend after school and as we were walking out one of my Year 11s, who was never very nice to me in lessons, saw me and fist-pumped saying Yes! Ms Kimberly’s back! I had an excellent dinner and when I came home I read some of my students’ Christmas cards that they had written to me. Here are a few of my favourites:

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Some students took the opportunity to show off their improved French skills

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I know that going back to work is a big step moving forward and I am really nervous about it, but I also know that my colleagues will support me in whatever I need and that my Year 8s love and miss me and that makes me really look forward to getting back into work in the new year, in a nervous sort of way.

I Hate The Word Widow

There, I’ve said it.  I hate that word. Sometimes I catch myself looking at my reflection in the mirror and saying the words “I am a 29 year old widow’ out loud to myself and I can’t quite manage to make the picture of myself coincide with that word even though I am, in fact, a widow. Then I notice the gray hairs and the faint wrinkles at the corner of my eyes and I think, maybe I am a widow after all.

I went to a widows christmas party last night. There, without even a moment’s hesitation you’ve thought to yourself a widows christmas party? That sounds so depressing! You didn’t mean anything by it, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind. How could you put widows and a party together? Surely not. To be honest, I had the same thoughts even while I was looking forward to attending it! When I arrived, I met a variety of people who have found themselves in the same situation I have through no fault of their own. I met them and we chatted over bottles of wine and we all thought the same thing: you don’t really look like a widow. You’re too young. These thoughts are as ridiculous as they are natural. We all have them, but they’re illogical. Have you ever actually thought about what a widow looks like? I hadn’t before Terry died. Google image searching widow is depressing and, now that I am one, far from the truth. None of the widows last night were dressed head to toe in black with mourning veils on, we were dressed in Christmas party attire. What’s really scary is that we looked like every other table in the hotel. We look normal, because we are normal. We are normal people who have been dealt some very unfortunate hands.

As a society, we don’t like to think of widows as they remind us that life is fragile, that one day we might survive the one we love. CS Lewis in A Grief Observed writes bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. You may be one of the lucky ones whose marriage doesn’t end in divorce, but if not divorce, one of you will likely survive the other. That thought is painful to anyone who loves another as spouses do and widows remind us of that horrible possibility. I am a visual reminder that your husband could die without a moment’s notice. Did you hear about Mandi’s husband? Bacterial meningitis, he was a perfectly healthy 30 year old man when he died. Tragic. I remember thinking that Terry couldn’t have died because that doesn’t happen to people like us. But then it did.

For awhile, I didn’t relate to the word widow because I didn’t like it. The reason I didn’t like it is because even though my status had changed my preconceived ideas of what being a widow meant hadn’t and they were upsetting to me. How very wrong I was and how lucky to not know any better. I find myself gradually embracing the term widow, even as I still struggle with my hatred of the word. I am a widow, and there is nothing wrong with that. There should be no shame in being a widow, and yet we all have shame attached to it, if not by ourselves then by others who are lucky enough to still not know any better. And really, what all widows desperately want is to go back to a time when we were happy and loved and didn’t know that everything we thought about widows was wrong.

Wedding Cake Conundrum

Wedding Cake

This is Terry and I cutting our UK wedding cake. For those of you who may not know me well, Terry and I were married in Las Vegas with only a few people in attendance before a 6 month honeymoon throughout Southeast Asia and the States. We held a backyard BBQ in Nashville for family and friends in the states and a garden party in the UK for family and friends in England as opposed to a traditional wedding party. This is the wedding cake lovingly made for our English garden party. In UK tradition, the top tier of your wedding cake is saved and eaten at the christening of your firstborn child.

I had completely forgotten that this cake existed until my father in law brought it over yesterday. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of things that need to be taken care of in the wake of Terry’s death but this cake knocked the wind out of me. Not only will Terry and I never have children, we will never have another wedding anniversary to reminisce about our honeymoon and multiple wedding adventures that seemed so wacky, but felt so right to us at the time. Our wedding was perfect for us, as was our marriage. Now all I have left is this cake that had been saved for one of the happiest times in our lives, and is now with me for the worst.

What am I going to do with this cake? I’ve asked myself this question multiple times, staring at that stupid box, unable to open it. Eventually, I shoved it in a drawer, where it is now out of sight but nowhere near out of mind – my father in law tells me it doesn’t need to be frozen, but to be honest if it just sat there and rotted I don’t think I would mind. With the move it can’t stay hidden for too long. What am I going to do with this cake?

December

It’s December. Although I don’t want it to be, December has come along just as quickly as October and November did; the third month since Terry died. Happiness doesn’t come naturally anymore. I never knew quite how naturally, effortlessly happy I was in my previous life, I took it for granted as many do. I floated along carefree and content until suddenly I wasn’t. I don’t mean to imply that happiness is impossible, but nowadays it takes effort on my part to search for it, grab it and hold on to the few moments of happiness that I can find. Fortunately, I’m a planner by nature. This December I am planning things that will make me happy.

The first thing I did was buy myself an advent calendar full of beauty products from You Beauty Discovery. Chocolate, I’ve got, but I can never have enough beauty products. The advent calendar is sizable:

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The advent calender proved a good investment when the first of December gave me a sample of my favorite cleanser by Liz Earle:

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Since then, I’ve received Laura Mercier foundation primer, Molton Brown shower gel, a full size Essie nail polish and today a Caudalie body lotion. The product sizes are generous and I look forward to the surprises every day.

Terry loved decorating our home for Christmas, so I thought that it might be nice to decorate our house in his honor. My father in law helped me get the Christmas decorations down, but as I opened the box and took them out I was overwhelmed by nostalgia and memories and sadness. The only decoration I could manage to put up was this one, ironically Terry’s least favorite, but one that I love:

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And so my house wine is decorated, I have a beauty surprise (and chocolate) every day to give me something nice and I will be attending two Christmas parties hosted by Widowed and Young locally to celebrate the best I can with others who are in the same position. I am ever so lucky that a friend from the states will be in town on business a few days next week and I will be able to catch up and have some good company to enjoy. And boy do I enjoy good company these days.

I do not expect December to be a happy month  and I do not expect to really celebrate anything much this holiday season, but I am giving myself every chance to have a few moments of happiness before I begin 2015: the first year without Terry in a decade. If you have any excellent ideas that I can adapt to add to my happiness this December, please share.