When Worlds Collide

Ever since Terry died I haven’t felt like myself, I’ve just felt like what’s left of me. Upon further reflection, I feel like Terry was my core, our relationship holding everything together and when he died things quite literally fell apart. I now see myself as a collection of parts, rather than a whole: my American part (which is further fragmented into my Harding self, my high school self, my Nashville self), my UK part (again fragmented into my Starbucks self, my Oxford self, my school self) and there’s a new fragmented piece of my identity as a young widow, mostly developed through the invaluable support I have received from Widowed and Young. Depending on the day I pick different parts of my identity up and think about them, acting as that part of me for the day, but in order to survive as one identity, I must first set down the previous one. I apologize if that’s confusing to you, but I assure you it is even more confusing for me!

On Saturday I met up with a fellow widower for a cup of coffee, having met through the local Widowed and Young support group. He was widowed only weeks before I was and has just joined the group. He is eager to meet others who understand what it’s like, just as I was in those early days. My work came up and he mentioned that his daughter attended my school and i made a quick connection: on the French trip last year, we were told that one of the students’ mothers had become gravely ill the week before and it was likely that she would pass away any day. Her daughter had decided to join her friends on the trip. She had a really good time, but we spent the entire trip waiting for a dreaded phone call that never came. I then returned to England and on with my happy little life and never thought of it again. The mother had survived that health scare but died during an operation in September on the very first day of the school year. We spent a few hours chatting over coffee and cake – I cried a lot as I told him about Terry and my new life here in the UK without him. Although twenty years older than I am he, too, lost the love of his life too soon and that shared pain is capable of forging incredibly strong bonds.

When I left, I felt a bit lighter, but I felt a bit strange as my widowed identity had just merged with my professional identity. Until that moment they had existed completely separately of one another but now they are forever, inextricably linked. At first I felt a bit confused that this had happened, I wanted to keep my identities separate, but the more I think of it the more I see it as a good thing. Having joined these two parts of myself up, I feel a little bit more whole. Not like my old self, that Mandi is gone and I’m afraid can never be again and I’m learning to accept that. It’s a bit like working on an old puzzle you picked up in a ziploc bag with no real idea of what it’s supposed to look like: I’m pleased that I’ve found two pieces that go together, but I’m still not sure what it’s supposed to look like and if I’ll like what I see when it’s done.

Advertisements

The New Me

I received a very welcome phone call from CRUSE (a national bereavement charity) yesterday that I was finally at the top of the waiting list and have been scheduled to start 6 sessions of free bereavement counseling soon. I mentioned this to my housemate last night and his response was do you think you still need it? I was confused that anyone could question my need for counselling after the sudden, unexpected death of my beloved husband six months ago. We were sitting in the back garden drinking a beer, BBQing dinner and generally chatting about the mundane things that housemates often do and I suddenly realised that I must look fine on the outside, which shocked me. I felt a sudden wave of emotion: should I look fine so soon after my husband’s death? Should I be crying more? How dare he think that I’m fine?! I’m not fine! Am I fine? These are just a few of the questions that ran through my head for the rest of last night and most of today as I continue to question how on earth I can possibly look fine to the outside world.

I wondered all day today as I taught my various classes and interacted with my colleagues; as I made myself yet another cup of coffee and laughed at my students’ ridiculous ideas about French grammar and I have come to the realization that truly I do look fine. I get up in the morning, I drive myself to work, I do my job – even doing it well on somedays – go home, cook dinner with my housemates, wash up, watch TV and then pack myself off to bed before repeating the same thing the next day. Surely nothing could be more normal.

But what is invisible to the naked eye is the reality of being a young widow: I wake up in the same bed that I shared with my husband, but in a different room. Most mornings I remember this but occasionally I wake up and feel a sudden wave of confusion before it hits: Terry is dead and I have moved to Northampton. I drive the short 5 minutes to work, grateful to be rid of my 50 minute commute and then feel guilty for enjoying my new commute because I would drive 50 minutes for the rest of my life if only I could have Terry back. Working with teenagers is brilliantly unpredictable and my students can be incredibly kind and thoughtful, even on the worst of days, but they can break my heart without meaning to. Today, while discussing the upcoming UK election, my students asked me who I was voting for. I explained that I wasn’t eligible to vote as I’m not a citizen. They asked me if I wanted to become a citizen and I told them that I had always planned to become a citizen when I had children, but that now I wasn’t sure if I would have children, or if they would be British, so I just don’t know anymore. After school I stayed to finish up some work and as I finished up I reached to text Terry before it hit me that I can’t text him anymore. I changed the radio station when a song that Terry used to sing to me comes on because I just don’t want to cry about it at the moment, so I push it to the back of my mind and think about what I have to do at work tomorrow. I think about him a million times a day, but no one knows unless I tell them.

To the naked eye I am upright, (mostly) dry-eyed and functioning as I used to do, so I must be the same person. Inside I don’t even recognize myself. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just to say that I remember how I was when I was married to Terry: blissfully happy and relatively emotionally stable, my perfect future all mapped out and just waiting to be lived. I remember her, but I am keenly aware that I am no longer her. I am no longer Terry’s wife, but Terry’s widow and I can never be that version of myself again after that one day in September. I am now the keeper of every single precious memory that I made with Terry, for there is no one else to remember them. I am now capable of happiness, but it is balanced with sorrow; they often co-exist in a way that confuses me and that i could have never comprehended in my previous life. I have taken on many of Terry’s traits that i loved best without even meaning to me, but such is the relationship between husband and wife that your souls intertwine so gradually that neither of you realizes it at the time. I am still a teacher, but I am no longer so concerned about things that I used to worry about. I have survived the worst thing that could ever have happened, so not marking a set of books for a few weeks doesn’t cause me much distress.

Please do not confuse the message of this post to be one of self-pity (although I do have a healthy amount of that). I am not a worse person for having loved Terry. Indeed I am the luckiest person in the world to have loved and been loved by my Terry. I am not entirely sure that I dislike the new me, on good days I find her brave and capable of things that the old me could never have fathomed. I am stronger than I ever wanted to be and although I am still very much finding my way down this new path, I can see that there is a path to be followed.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that although I look like the old me, I am not. I am unsure of who I will become, but I think I just might be fine in the end, which was unthinkable six months ago. I am very much looking forward to my bereavement counseling and i hope that it is helpful as I continue to discover the new me.

I Paid Off A Student Loan Today!!!

I continue to dream of being debt free, but most days it seems like just that: a dream. How will I ever get out of debt on my teacher’s salary I wonder? December 2018 is three years and eight months away meaning 44 payments stand between me and debt-free (if everything goes according to plan, which it normally doesn’t). On good days that seems like no time at all, but on bad days it seems like an eternity. I hear people discussing exciting holidays, new cars, new homes and I can’t have any of those things for 44 months. That’s not necessarily true: I am choosing not to have any of those things for 44 months, may the Lord be with me.

What I’m getting at is that motivation is often hard to find. In my previous life, when I got the mid-month blues Terry was always there to cheer me up and to remind me of how brilliantly we were doing and how amazing it would be when we were finally debt free. It’s really depressing to go from being able to overpay each month’s student loan payments by $600 to barely being able to afford the minimum payments, but this is the hand that life has dealt me. I haven’t been posting monthly updates on my debt because I’m not able to pay much more than my minimum payments at the moment. However, this month I was able to pay off one of my private student loans and it feels GREAT!!! One exclamation point doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel looking at those few small words telling me paid in full underneath a loan with an interest rate of 9.25%. If there was a way to bottle up this feeling, I would so that I could open it again on those dark days where 44 months seems like forever.

I did use some of the Just Giving money to pay it off, so thank you once again to those of you who donated. Paying off one of my 14 students loans is the tiniest of steps towards being debt free, but it’s a step that I am so happy to have taken! Next month the slight overpayment that I am able to make will go towards the next private loan, and the same the month after until that one too reads paid in full. And hopefully one day I won’t even have to log onto my Student Loan account at all because I won’t owe a penny.

Dino Cake
At the very least, I deserve cake photo credit: Congratulasaur via photopin (license)

Daring To Dream

 I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. When I was younger my grandparents taught me a love of reading stories that captured my imagination. Of faraway places that I longed to explore, of fascinating characters that I longed to befriend. I had the happiest of childhoods and yet when I graduated high school all I wanted was to move somewhere far away and four years later when I graduated from college I wanted to go further still. The first move would take me to Searcy, Arkansas and down a path that would lead me to study abroad in France whereafter I would meet my future husband while backpacking through Europe, and the latter would take me to Senegal, West Africa. I dreamed a thousand dreams as I was growing up and until last September, every single one of them had come true. I had everything I had ever wanted. I had spent years traveling and living in different countries before settling with my gorgeous husband here in the UK. We lived in a heartbreakingly beautiful home with our dysfunctional cat, we both worked in jobs that we enjoyed and were paying off the debt that we had acquired before starting a family of our own. I couldn’t have dreamed of anything more if I had tried and my heart was so full each and every day that I was fulfilling my dreams. 

But then life ripped my hard-earned dreams from me and tore them into a thousand tiny pieces, some of which were thrown so far away that they could never be found again. I clutched on to the pieces that I could find, but they were not enough. Not a one of my dreams remained in my fragile hands and all I could see was the memory of my once beautiful life. 

While picking up the pieces, my brilliant sister bought me a subscription to My Little Box. My Little Box has me figured out: in October, just as I was beginning to get out of the house after Terry’s death, they sent me a beautiful scarf by Diane von Furstenburg – one of my favourite designers. In November, right when I was beginning to smile again they sent me a mug with ‘happy’ emblazened on it. In December they sent me a box full of Christmas cheer (and the perfect red lipstick) to help me survive the not-so-festive season. In January they sent me some workout equipment – ok, maybe this month was meant for someone else. No one’s perfect. In February they sent me an eyeliner by the makeup brand By Terry and a necklace that said Smile, both of which made me feel loved on my very first Valentine’s day alone. Last month you might remember that they sent me a SuperHero box and today I got home from work to find this beauty had landed on my doorstep:

This month My Little Box is asking me to begin dreaming again. Ummmm, you know that they send those boxes to thousands of women and they aren’t customised for you, right? Bah humbug, I say! They are what I say they are and just as when I’m having a rough day and a song that Terry used to sing to me comes on the radio, I take these boxes as signs as I see fit. If the box is dream-themed than dream I shall. 

When I opened the box I was really pleased to find this:

Inside of this month’s box is a monthly magazine, a cloud shaped package with a sweet golden pendant to wear, a Cowshed bottle of lotion, a deep conditioner for dry hair and a pretty damn-near perfect red pot of lip gloss. 

I was also pleased to find this stamper that will enable to stamp French and English sayings all over my school paperwork. Seriously, I’m stamping everything that I can get my hands on tomorrow: memos, books, students, everything. 

When I opened up the monthly magazine there’s a blank page asking me to lay down my dreams, especially my wildest ones. Then I realized that I haven’t dreamed since that day in September. When Terry died I had stopped dreaming, for the first time in my entire life. All of my future dreams were so painful to think about that I pushed them to the back of my mind, banishing them from my consciousness. In the beginning of this new life, all of my waking hours were spent thinking of the past; the future ceased to exist for me without Terry. I spent hours reliving every second of my 9 happy years with Terry in excruciating detail, ignoring the future that I faced without him. 

It’s only recently that I’ve allowed myself to acknowledge that there will in fact be a future without Terry and here is a little box asking me to write down my wildest dreams. And so I put the box down, and I began dreaming again. 

Dreaming isn’t the same for me as it once was. When I used to dream I was invincible, immune to harm. Terry and I spent hours dreaming together of the future we had planned, it was one of our very favourite things to do. Now I know what can happen to dreams, I know that they are fragile and that I have no control over how they come to fruition and whether or not they will last for a minute or a lifetime. I am scared to dream because I am scared to have my dreams ripped away once more. I am fearful that dreaming will lead to more heartbreak and yet in the very back of my mind a part of me is whispering dreams for the future that I could never have imagined for myself. 

When I first started this blog I was too scared to write down exactly how much debt Terry and I were in. I was ashamed to put such information out for all to see. In a similar manner I am scared to write down my dreams for you all to read, for if they go wrong you will then all know that once again my dreams have failed. For some reason I feel compelled to share my dreams with you, dear readers. In spite of all of my fear that they will not come true: here are my new dreams:

I dream of being debt free. I dream of falling in love again, of getting married and of starting a family. I dream of becoming an amazing classroom teacher and eventually leading a department. I dream of traveling again once my debts are paid off: to take cooking classes in Italy, to wander around markets in Morocco, to see Orangoutangs in Borneo. I dream of smiling like I used to do when Terry was alive and I was the most loved woman on the face of the earth. I dream of happiness. Mostly I dream of Terry being so proud of how well I am doing in this new life. 

I don’t know if any of these dreams will become a reality, although secretly I hope that they all do. I have learned that dreams are fragile, perishable, destructible. And so I will pin this on the bulletin board above my desk so that every day I am reminded:

    

 

 
 
 
 

Sisters

I haven’t written in a few weeks for a very good reason: my older sister flew into town to visit and I have been playing tour guide and interpreter from British to American English. The past two weeks have been, as the Brits would say, BRILLIANT.

My previous post addressed the highs and lows that I have been dealing with in recent months and this trip gave me so many highs to counteract the lows that I have been going through. That’s not to say that there were no wobbles while my sister was here, but it was nice to have her with me when the sadness hit and I found them less profound while having so much fun. In short, grief had to take the back seat while joy took a test drive for a few weeks. It was nice to have so many shared laughs over dinner and drinks, even though there were also tears. It was nice to have someone around for the lows, a literal shoulder to cry on. It was nice to have an excuse to go and do fun things – all in the name of being a good host 🙂

We spent a few days in my new hometown of Northampton, walking around, exploring and trying out different restaurants and cafes. The weather was pretty rubbish while here, but that gave us a good opportunity to watch some quality British television and, as a result, my sister is now hooked on Come Dine With Me and First Dates.

We met up with a group of fellow widows and their children to take a tour of Cadbury World which was so much fun! The tour did a great job of discussing the history of the brand and chocolate as well as giving you the opportunity to see how the chocolates are made, packaged and distributed. Also, I got to meet a giant Creme Egg, hug him and tell him that I love him best. He then gave me two Creme Eggs and sent me on my way. It was magical. Outside of Cadbury World we had fun exploring Birmingham city centre.

The Creme Egg that stole my heart

We spent two days in my beloved Oxford, admiring it’s beauty and going to Terry and my favourite pubs. We stayed in the MalMaison Hotel, which is a reformed HM Prison and it was beautiful. Terry and I had always talked about staying there when we were debt free and it was bittersweet to be there without him, although I am happy to have had the opportunity at all.

A sunny day in my beloved Oxford

The last two days of her trip we spent down in London. My sister spent four months living in London (where she met Terry’s family through her husband and then would go on to introduce me to Terry while I was traveling through Europe the following year) and it was really fun for her to show me around her old neighborhood. I introduced her to Liberty of London and she introduced me to her favorite gelato restaurant. We had the most gorgeous (and posh) afternoon tea at the Kensington Hotel. The sun was out both days and we spent hours walking around, from Trafalgar Square to the West End and in the evenings we went to see Memphis and Billy Elliot. We couldn’t decide on one musical, so went to both and boy were they good!

Check out that sunshine at Piccadilly Circus!
Posh Afternoon Tea for Two
My fave cookie

This morning we went to Heathrow where we had a final cup of coffee before I hugged her goodbye. Last night I was really sad at the thought of her leaving, at having to come back to Northampton all alone and no Terry to come back to. I did have a little cry, but when the train pulled in to Northampton I felt an overwhelming sense or calm. I was simply coming home; no more, no less.

And so I am home, curled up with a good book, a cup of tea (how British, I know), my Ninja and some really great memories that will help me stay afloat when the sadness comes next. And in three and a half months I’m headed home to Nashville to see the rest of my family and to make even more amazing memories. I cannot wait.