Highs and Lows

I used to be a really stable person. I didn’t know it at the time because stable was my normal, but on this young widow ride my emotions are absolutely all over the place. This month has been a difficult one and I was really pleased when I had some good moments earlier in this week. This is a turning point! I think to myself hoping for days and days of goodness, but then the sadness finds me again. That’s how I talk to my students about my good and bad days; my newfound highs and lows. Some afternoons I come back into the classroom with red-rimmed eyes from crying during my lunch break and they know that the sadness has gotten to me, so they sit in their seats and try not to make too much trouble for me. Often, after the sadness visits I find bars of chocolate or cookies on my desk, as if the sadness is repelled by sugary treats. It’s the only way they know to try and make me happy again and it always makes me smile. This week has brought me the first highs in almost a month and they feel oh so sweet, but there have also been some lows involved Here is how my week has progressed so far:

High: My school paid for me to attend and annual language teachers conference in Newcastle at the weekend and it was AWESOME! I got on my train so excited about teaching languages and having met some amazing people.

Low: The only person that I really want to tell about my conference is Terry. So I write to him and tell him all about it, crying as I remember how excited he was to see me become a teacher.

High: At work on Monday I was offered a promotion – a HUGE compliment as I am only in my second year of teaching and I was offered it over several more experienced teachers. I turned down the promotion for several well thought out reasons, but I was really flattered and still am at the thought of it.

Low: At a work lunch, a colleague announces excitedly that she is pregnant. Everyone in the office starts gushing over babies and discussing their pregnancies and children. My heart breaks that some people get to start families while my family was taken away from me. I lock myself in a bathroom stall and cry.

High: My students, seeing my red eyes behave perfectly so I can get through the afternoon until I can go home, curl up in a ball and be miserable.

Low: While picking up ice cream to eat my feelings at the grocery store I am greeted by a friendly parent who, in spite of my red rimmed eyes and excessive amount of ice cream in my basket, decides to take the opportunity to discuss her daughter’s progress in school.

High: My school accepted a proposal that i put together to run a craft afternoon with cupcakes for some Year 8s (7th graders) in July. I am literally going to get paid to decorate cupcakes and paint cards.

Low: One of my student’s grandmother died last night. I receive the email and feel so very sad for that whole family that I begin crying at work for the third day in a row.

High: I remember that another student has also just lost a grandparent. I ask her to look out for the student when she comes back to school and she is proud to be able to use her new superpower as I used mine.

Low: I get a call from my old energy suppliers saying that I owe money for the property I moved out of in January. I explain that I moved out 5 January, but they say that the letting agents have informed them that my tenancy was until 31 January. I signed a legally binding tenancy agreement and I owe £120 in utilities for the property while I was no longer living there.

High: I managed to pay off some of my student loans this month

Low: With the new utility bills, I worry that I won’t ever get my debt paid off and I miss having Terry to cheer me on. I miss hearing him say that everything will be ok so long as we have each other.

As you can gather, there are good things that are happening leading to some highs, which is a welcome break from this horrible month. I wish that they would last longer, but I try to be grateful that there are any highs at all. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

One Year Later

March has brought me a lot of things to think about and, quite frankly, a lot of pain. WordPress reminded me at the beginning of the month that it has been one year since I started Modest Mandi. One year since I got my paycheck, spent it all by the next day and then spent the rest of the month broke and unhappy, wanting things I couldn’t afford. One year since I made my student loan payments, looked at the balance and cried, feeling like I would never be out of debt. One year since I discovered Anna at And Then We Saved. One year since Terry came home from work to find me crying and I told him ‘this has to stop.’ One year since we put our debt free plan into action and stopped living the life we thought we needed so that we could build the future we dreamed of for our family.

The thought of this evokes a mixture of emotions: happiness at all of the memories we made, pride at paying off £10,000 in seven months on our modest salaries and incredible sadness that things ended the way they did; that all of our amazing plans shattered one day in September of last year.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this month reflecting on the past year and it’s only today that I have gathered the strength to write down these thoughts. So much has changed in this past year, much of it thanks to Terry and my decision to become debt free. So here, in a nutshell, are my thoughts on the matter:

1. My entire relationship with money has changed. I remember walking with Terry through Bicester Village in the early days, weeks after we decided to stop spending any money, and telling him how I couldn’t wait for this time next year so I could finally begin shopping again. I had assumed that my shopping habits and desires would remain unchanged and I would suppress them for a year until I could finally pick up where I left off. In truth, not buying things for a year has changed my desires. I no longer convince myself that I cannot live without those shoes, that dress. I know that I can live just fine without them. Sure, I would look awesome in that dress, but buying it once I am debt free would make me feel and look awesome, and that’s what I want. That right there is actually amazing.

2. I haven’t been broke in a year. Yep, that’s one whole year that I haven’t been broke at the end of the month. In fact, most months there is money left in my account at the end of the month, which is a HUGE change from my previous lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, there are months where I only have £10 in my bank account, but even when that’s true I don’t feel broke as I know I won’t spend it. I can remember what it’s like to be stressed, to not have enough money in my account to buy what I wanted until payday, but I don’t miss that. Instead, I know I have enough money to buy what I need and I feel contentment.

3. Because I buy so few things, I can buy what I want, when I want. I don’t have to deprive myself. Sure, I would love to go on a big holiday, or buy a nice new dress, but I know that those things will come when I am debt free (2019 is going to be my year – mark my words). Until then, if I want a Frappucino or the occasional item of clothing that’s on sale, I buy it. I stopped the year of no spending after Terry died and now I indulge myself when I feel like it. For example, I bought a few Clinique products the other day instead of their drugstore equivalents. By changing my spending habits, I can now afford to splurge every now and then (within reason) while still paying off my debt.

4. Having changed my overspending lifestyle I can now afford to live on my income without Terry’s. I hate to say it, but if I had been widowed in my previous lifestyle, money would be at the top of my list of problems. I actually can’t even bear to think of what would have happened. As a result of the year of no spending, when Terry died suddenly I knew our exact financial situation. There were no hidden surprises and I was as well prepared as wife could be. I knew exactly how much money we earned and how much we spent every month. This is how I knew that I couldn’t stay in our home in Bicester. I knew the day he died that our house was out of my budget and I began immediately planning to move to somewhere more affordable. It hurt to leave that house, but it would have hurt a lot more to have it taken from me when I could no longer pay the bills that amounted to more than I make in a month.

If you had asked me last year where I would be in March of 2015 I would have pictured Terry and I celebrating paying off our credit card debts with a weekend away. For whatever reason, or perhaps no reason at all, those dreams were taken from me. One year after deciding to stop spending money unnecessarily and to become debt free I am so proud of how far I’ve come financially. Paying off debt and continuing to work towards my dream of being debt free is now one of the many ways that I use my life to honor my husband.

The Word is Out

March has been a pretty rubbish month, to be honest, and I’ll be happy when April arrives to save the day and hopefully bring me nice things. In March so far I have had to survive my husband’s thirty-first birthday, my fifth wedding anniversary and UK Mother’s Day. It seems like every time my heart begins to think about putting itself back together again after a difficult event the next one arrives and rips it apart again. March has been exhausting and the most difficult month since my husband died.

Luckily, one good thing did manage to happen in this most hideous of months: my monthly My Little Box that my sister bought for me for Christmas arrived and they appear to have been reading my blog, because this month’s theme was My Little Superbox. That’s right, I received a superhero themed box in the mail to supplement my new superpowers that I wrote about here.

What’s in a superpower themed box, you ask? Feast your eyes upon this awesomeness. I think I actually let out a little squeal of glee as I opened the box to reveal this:

Check out these goodies!

Inside is the monthly magazine, a tee-shirt that says I Believe I Can Fly (I haven’t quite gone that far yet, but I dig the sentiment), some Wonder Woman themed stickers,  a coral lip and cheek crayon, some Caudalie hand lotion and some Kersastase deep conditioner. Motivational tee shirt? Check. Bright lipstick? Check, check. Two of my favourite French beauty brands to pamper myself after a good sob session? It’s almost enough to make March ok. Almost.

My best Wonder Woman pose in my new tee shirt

A Very Unhappy Mother’s Day

On March 2 I survived my husband’s thirty-first birthday, a week later I survived our fifth wedding anniversary and now the week after that the UK is celebrating Mother’s Day. I feel like just screaming at the universe anything else you want to throw at me???!!! but I’m too scared that the universe might accept my challenge and things might yet get worse.

In the past, Mother’s Day has always been about others: Terry’s mother on the UK Mother’s Day and mine on the US Mother’s Day in May. Today, I find myself looking inward and I am acutely aware of the fact that I may never get to be a mother. I know what you’re thinking: ‘you’re young, you can still be a mother’ but being a mother isn’t good enough for me just now. I want to be the mother of Terry’s children and that can never happen for me. ‘Even with Terry you weren’t guaranteed to have children,’ you’re thinking, and you’re right, but with Terry, I could have handled anything. Without him I feel vulnerable and frightened about the future, rather than looking forward to it.

Today I baked Terry’s family’s favourite chocolate chip cookies and I took a box to his mother, because I know that he is sad that he can’t give her a gift this year. Last year we baked her scones with earl grey milk jam, having just started paying off our debts we worked really hard to find the perfect gift that we could afford to give her. Last year we sat around the table, eating delicious scones and smiling and laughing. On the drive home we debated whether or not we were capable of actually paying off all of our debts and becoming debt free; if our crazy plan would work.

This year on the drive home I cried and I cried, changing the radio station anytime anyone wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, which seemed to be every thirty seconds. Today I spent time with Terry’s mother and then made time for myself to mourn the children that Terry and I will never have. To keep my mind occupied, I am spending time working on a cross-stitch project that we had picked out for our firstborn’s nursery, knowing that there will now never be a nursery.

Today is not a happy Mother’s Day, and quite frankly this has been the most difficult month since Terry died. I am forced to mark event after event that I should be spending with my husband all by myself and I am surprised that my body is capable of producing the tears that keep on flowing.

And so on this very unhappy mother’s day, I will spend the day mourning, thankful that I left a few chocolate chip cookies at home for myself in the end. Tomorrow I am hoping that the universe might send something nice my way or, at the very least, that my students will be distracting enough so that for a few hours i can forget about this whole rubbish month until I feel some relief from the crushing weight of missing my husband.

A Very Unhappy Anniversary: The Day After

On really bad days, the grief doesn’t end and often carries on to the next day. Thus, I woke up this morning with a grief hangover, if you will. My head hurt from crying myself to sleep and yesterday’s sadness had not yet lifted. I went in to school with a heavy heart. I noticed a pregnant coworker excitedly talking about her upcoming maternity leave and my heart hurt. Why do her and her husband get to start a family while Terry and I were denied that opportunity?, I wondered.  Another coworker expressed her frustration at trying to save up for a deposit for a house with her husband and again I found myself bitter and upset that all of my financial dreams came crashing down when Terry died while others get to carry on as normal.

I was unable to shake the grief off long enough to teach and I’m afraid I was more short with my students than normal today. I left soon after my lessons were over so I could feel rotten at home rather than at school. I decided to drive to Starbucks for a venti peppermint mocha – it was a bad day, ok? – and remembered my thoughts from yesterday about buying myself an anniversary present from my husband. I popped into TK Maxx where I found a bottle of my favourite lotion marked down to £3 from £20 because the lid had broken. I bought it without a moment’s hesitation. This is exactly what Terry would have bought me for our anniversary and he couldn’t have asked for a better price. Ok, we both know that Terry would have never actually gone shopping without knowing exactly what he wanted to buy me, but if I had asked for the lotion he would have suffered the crowds of Bicester Village to make me happy. I paid for my treat and continued to walk through town to see if anything else might pop out. I’ll be honest, I was looking pretty heavily at some diamond earrings, but couldn’t find the perfect pair and it seemed silly to spend money just for the sake of spending it – after all, that’s what Terry and I had been working so hard to change. I did buy myself this month’s issue of Glamour which has a generous sized sample of face wash, which I am almost out of, for a total of £5 on my anniversary gift to myself. 

Diamond earrings it ain’t, but my heart feels a little less heavy with my two new gifts and I can now make myself a cup of hot chocolate and curl up with a new magazine, which should prevent any violent outbursts for the rest of the day. And on days like today while I’m still riding out a pretty massive griefburst from the day before, that has to be enough.

A Very Unhappy Anniversary

Terry and I on our wedding day in Las Vegas 8 March, 2010

Less than a week after surviving my husband’s 31st birthday, today is my fifth wedding anniversary. Today should be spent cuddled up to my husband in some European city that we were planning on spending the weekend in to celebrate. We had discussed Berlin, Madrid, Dublin, Rome and a few others, but hadn’t actually decided on which one to spend our anniversary in before he died. Today we should be digging out our wedding DVD and reliving that glorious day five years ago where I was walked down the aisle in Las Vegas’s Little Chapel of the Flowers to All Shook Up and I told my husband that I would love and honour him until death do us part, with no real understanding of what that meant.

Instead today I am spending my anniversary in Northampton, my new home town, telling my husband that ’til death do us part no longer seems sufficient and knowing that I will love him until the day that I die. I can honestly say that I have upheld every single one of my marriage vows, up to and including until death do us part, and I wonder how many others can say that.

Terry and my marriage was perfect. Perhaps not for everyone, but we were so very happy together. Just as on Valentine’s Day, Terry loved to spoil me on our anniversary every year, and I wonder how he would have spoiled me today had he been alive to celebrate it with me. I went out to lunch with a friend who bought me an anniversary present and I realized that would be the only one I would get this year. I bought myself a Valentine’s Day present from Terry this year and am now tempted to buy myself an anniversary present, but nothing comes to mind that I want. What I want is my husband back, and that I cannot have. Perhaps tomorrow when I am feeling a bit stronger I will take a stroll into town to see if anything catches my eye. Until then, I am spending the night in, wishing the time away until I have survived my first wedding anniversary without my husband and wishing desperately that today was spent celebrating instead of surviving.

I Am a Superhero

I know what you’re thinking: the grief of Terry’s birthday has pushed her over the edge, but hear me out.

In my previous life, when asked what superpower I would want my answer was always the ability to read minds. Terry used to joke that if I could turn adopting cats from whatever country I was living in or visiting into a superpower I would. He was right, as always. Upon the advice of a friend, I looked into Second Firsts, a book written by a woman who lost her husband to cancer at the age of 35 and then went through hell to build a life full of second firsts for herself and her children. I liked the theme of the book very much and often reflect upon its message that I have the power to build a new life for myself that can include happiness. I watched an interview by the author, Christina Rasmussen, in which she refers to grief being a superpower. I think at the time I was having a bad day and straight up laughed at the woman. Grief, as a superpower? Yeah, right! But today I had a eureka! moment and I used my new superpower for the first time. Let me explain:

During a one-to-one mentoring session with one of my Year 8 (7th Grade) students today she burst into tears and told me that she couldn’t focus in her lessons since her granddad passed away recently. She loved him so much and missed him. Occasionally teachers would make comments about families, or something would remind her of him and she would burst into tears in lessons. She was too embarrassed to ask the teacher to leave and so often she would just sit in class crying. Her mom and her grandmother cry all the time and she doesn’t feel like she can tell them about her sadness, because they have their own sadness to deal with and none of her friends could possibly understand. I know exactly how she feels – and that is my superpower. In my previous life, I would have thought that her story was really sad, told her I was sorry about her grandfather and then sent her on her way thinking oh, she’ll get over it, she’s only 12.

When she told me about her grief I told her about mine. I told her about how occasionally students say things that make me sad and I need to step out into the hallway to have a quick cry, but I always come back in and that there was nothing wrong with needing time to cry before I can get back to being a good teacher. I told her that being sad didn’t stop me from being a good teacher, just like it didn’t stop her from being a brilliant student, but that it made it more difficult at times. I told her that sometimes I, too, didn’t want to burden my friends and family with my sad thoughts so that I saw a counsellor and that it was ok to do so. It would also be ok if I chose to talk to my friends and family instead of seeing a counsellor. I asked if she would be interested in talking to the school counsellor and she said yes, so I mad a referral. I told her that I kept a picture of my gorgeous husband on my desk and I showed it to her – the first time I have ever shown him to any of my students. She says that she has a framed photo of her grandfather next to her bed. I asked her if she thought her parents could make a copy to keep in her school planner if she wanted to carry him with her at school, and she said that she would ask them tonight. I told her that she would probably be sad for awhile, just like I would, but that I hoped in time we would both begin smiling more. I pulled out a box of tissues for us both, as we were both crying while we talked about our loss.

Here’s what I didn’t tell her: I didn’t tell her that it would all be ok, because I have no way of knowing if that is true. I didn’t tell her that she would get over it, because i don’t think that one ever does. I think that she will always miss her grandfather just like I will always miss my husband. I didn’t tell her that she shouldn’t be sad, because I think that her sadness is a measure of the love she had for her grandfather, and that is a beautiful thing. I didn’t tell her that she had to talk to me, but I did tell her that if she ever wanted to she could.

In the five months since I lost my husband it has required superhuman strength on some days to just get out of bed in the morning, but I do it. It is superhuman that my body continued to function after my heart and soul had been viciously ripped out of my chest. That life kept moving once Terry died was horrifying for me to watch, but I watched it until I was ready to begin to think about re-entering it. And throughout all of this my grief has developed into a somewhat superhuman power and today is the first day that I have been able to find a use for this new, unwanted change in myself.

Catwoman
photo credit: 1966 Batman Card Game via photopin (license)

Very few good things have happened since Terry died, but until the job of Catwoman opens up, this new superpower of mine will just have to do.

A Very Unhappy Birthday

Today is my husband’s 31st birthday. Today I should be celebrating with him, baking him a cake, giving him a handmade 40th birthday card like I did last year because I know it irritates him that I never let him forget that he is 18 months older than me. Today we should have gone out for a meal with his family after a long hard day at work and afterwards I should give him whatever present I had decided to make for him this year. Today we should be talking about what we will do next year, and perhaps the year after, because we should both still be assuming that we will spend the rest of our lives together, happily married and raising a beautiful family.

Instead, today I asked for the day off of work and drove to the funeral director’s to pick up my husband’s ashes, which have been stored there since he was cremated shortly after passing away at the age of 30. Today, instead of cuddling up to my husband on the sofa, I cuddled up to the only physical piece of him that is left as I carried his ashes to my car and collapsed in tears in the parking lot behind the house that we had once shared in Bicester, now inhabited by another happy couple who are perhaps young and in love and believe that they will get to spend together forever, just like we once did. I hope that they are right, but I hate that we were so very wrong about our future. I hate that my husband is forever 30 years old, forever so young and so very beautiful. I hate that my husband will never have the opportunity to be a father and I think of what an amazing father he would have been. I hate that there is no cake this year, and no celebrating to be done, for I cannot push the grief far enough aside to find any happiness at all today. Today the grief has overwhelmed me and I feel as if I am drowning in my sorrows.

I have cried almost all of today. I have pictured the celebration that we would have had if Terry had lived to be 31 years old and I weep for all of the future birthdays that I will be forced to celebrate without him, while also hoping that I will one day be able to celebrate his birthday again. I hate that his birthday reminds me of everything that I have lost and it crumbles my heart into such tiny pieces that it feels like it can never be put back together again.

I drove Terry – securely buckled into the passenger seat (safety first, my boy scout) – to his sister’s farm where we mixed some of his ashes in with a Norwegian Acer tree as a family. His sister poured some sloe gin – Terry’s favourite – at the base of the tree, so he couldn’t be any happier. This is the result:

When he blooms, Terry’s tree will look like this:

Terry's Tree
photo credit: Greenbank, Nov 2011 via photopin (license)

Terry’s tree will be a beautiful place to go and to remember him for years to come, something that I know that we will all appreciate. After the tree was planted, we drove to a local pub and had a delicious lunch. Terry had never been to this pub and with every bite I wished that I could bring him there, as he would have loved it. I ordered a pint of Terry’s favourite beer and we toasted to him. His mother helped his nephew to sing Happy Birthday to Uncle T. Throughout all of this all I could feel was his absence, which overwhelmed the presence of everyone else and I was so very sad for Terry, missing out on so many things. My sadness often alternates between being sad for myself at surviving Terry and sadness for Terry and everything that he will miss out on, having left us so young. Today the combination of the both was very powerful and it has been a difficult day, to say the least.

Thank you to all of you who have sent kind words and messages, the warm wishes are of some comfort on this most difficult of days. I ask that tonight you pour yourself a drink and raise a glass to my husband, who is unable to celebrate with us this year. May his spirit and his zest for life encourage you to live your life to the fullest each and every day and may his sudden and tragic death remind you of how fragile this life is.

Happy birthday, my gorgeous man. I hope that you are happy and at peace and I hope that if you see me crying today you know that it is only because I love you so very much. I hope that in heaven my grandma can bake you the chocolate chip cooke recipe that she passed on to me as a girl and that you love hers as much as you loved mine. My gift to you is to try and live my life in a way that will honour you and make you proud. I love you so much, my darling. xxx