2. Baby steps..

I’ve always thought of myself as a shy person. Not everyone agrees with me when I say that, because once I am comfortable I am the complete opposite. I can be loud, opinionated and stubborn. I don’t really have a filter and usually say much more than I intend to…. But it takes a while to feel comfortable, and on the inside I am shy. Clayton let me be brave. He was my buffer and made me feel safe, always. He was the one that people were drawn to and was incredibly easy with his interactions, where I have always felt awkward. He made it ok to be me – and now that he is gone I have to be me on my own…. I have to be brave.

That’s a pretty steep learning curve at 47… because while I can pretend, on the inside I still feel like that shy person. I tend to overanalyse situations and conversations, and second guess myself often. I’m pretty lucky though, and incredibly grateful that I have some fabulous people around me that are so confident in themselves that it’s ok for me to be too. – it’s a strange feeling learning to re-like, and trust who I am at this stage in my life. A place I never imagined I would find myself!

And right now I can hear my mum’s voice telling me that I need to change the tone… this is supposed to be lighthearted, maybe even funny and definitely not crude! … I can’t promise any of those things….everyone knows I swear like a sailor, and I am in uncharted waters searching for whatever comes next, and not all of that will be PG rated! – in fact a lot of it won’t be PG… but here we go!

At the start of this year, I was able to rotate into a different position at work. It’s in an area that I am incredibly passionate about, and with a team of ladies that have been exactly what I needed around me. It has been an absolute safe space, and the conversations have been enlightening! No subject is off limits…. Nothing!! I am receiving an education that I wasn’t expecting, and I’m loving it!

I have lost/been let go by people who I thought were friends. I have joined support groups for widowed people – The Echo-chamber of Misery as my kids call us, and I have made some incredible new friends this way. I have been added to a tribe of women (and some men) who happily dive right in the deep end of the conversations and have filled a void in me. I have spent fabulous amounts of time with people that I otherwise wouldn’t have, which has been enlightened, rewarding and uplifting. The conversations are deep and varied. Often I cry, but I’m accepted as me, and now we just try to get the tears out of the way so we can go back to laughing and sorting out world issues!

It’s liberating having conversations that have always felt a bit taboo, and more appropriate over some serious drinks late at night – and even then, I never have! I love their confidence and joy and their openness, and I love being part of that and feeling it rub off onto me … as I said, it has been an education!

I was super excited not too long ago to be invited to my first Hens party, and can not wait for the wedding, that has now been postponed twice thanks to covid. I made the cake – appropriately (or not so much) decorated – I actually had to tell the kids ‘not to eat the dick in the fridge’! – a sentence I never thought would come out of my mouth! I have a charge on my credit card for ‘Hunks for hire’ reference – stripper! – He was fabulous, had every right to brag and smelled like a god!!… all new experiences for me, and each with its own delight.

Then there has been the shopping… I recently made some online purchases, supporting my favourite charity Love your Sister, with the fervent hope that the packaging would be as discreet as was advertised! – When you live with Boys who all online shop, questions get asked about parcels that arrive! It was absolutely as advertised and this one slid past as a ‘Christmas present’ and has been a gift for myself that I have enjoyed (another learning curve!) … I’m sure it won’t be my last purchase!

I am not alone in venturing into new territories. I had a conversation with a widdowed friend not so long ago about my above mentioned purchase and my worries about the packaging… She assured me that it is actually very discreet – unless damaged during transportation; and then went on to tell me about the embarrassment caused by said damage when her parcel was handed to her with a wink by the concierge at her apartment buiding! Her adventure resulted in needing to go to the local shopping centre to dispose of packaging, worrying about identifying markers, and the ownership of “Craig”…. a monster of enormous lenght and girth that could cause major damage if used as intended! – I have seen Craig, and laughed until crying at the story being told…. I’ve also seen a video, and the mind boggles!

So many new and different experiences that have come my way… I am living each day on the roller coaster, with all the ups and downs, and the occasional sharp curve that is the ride. I’m finding lots of positives to hang onto, and it’s been an education! It’s a whole new world for me, and all part of the next that is now.

6. Finding people

Something that catches you kind of by surprise – even though it shouldn’t, is just how lonely you are as a widow. It’s so obvious when you say it, of course you will be lonely, your favourite person is no longer there – but it is so all encompassing, so huge that it takes your breath away!

People tell you all sorts of things in the immediate days after it happens, when you are still in such a foggy, shocked state that nothing makes sense. With all good intention, they tell you that they are there for you, to call if they can do anything for you, anything you need…. And in those first few days and weeks they are; but then life gets in the way of good intentions. People are busy in their own worlds – and they absolutely should be! It’s not someone else’s job (and it would be impossible in any case) to fill the gaping void in your life that is left after death. So you improvise… it’s kind of all or nothing, curled up alone at home or you try to fill your days as much as possible if you’re a social person, a people person like I am. Realistically though, there are only so many times you can invite yourself into someone else’s world, interrupting time with their favourite people before it feels desperate, and intrusive… but doing things on your own is really hard.

There is also a real envy of their situation. I want what they still have. I want my person to be here with me! I don’t want to be the odd one out in a group, feeling awkward and not quite fitting in anymore because my person is gone. I too want to hold hands and touch, I want to share looks that speak volumes, I want lazy days and date nights… I want what I used to have!

The best person in my world is gone. I can never have him back, except in my dreams. But if I’m lucky – and I have been so incredibly lucky, maybe there is another person out there for me!? It would never be the same. It can’t and shouldn’t be – that would take away from what I had, and I don’t ever want that! But potentially I have a long time left ahead of me, and I don’t want to spend that time alone.

So what are your choices!? It’s hard meeting new people… where do you go to find them? If you’re lucky, it might be a friend of a friend, an introduction at work, joining a social group or a spark with someone you already know. But that, these days seems to be a rarity. Your other option, and something I have recently delved into, is the weird world of online dating.

The sites that I have looked at vary wildly in terms of their approach. Everyone knows that Tinder is only for hook-ups (hey let’s f@&$) – this one is not for me and was never a consideration! Bumble was slightly more friendly, with a hello offered before the hook-up invitation. The prospects on Plenty of Fish will tell you that you’re pretty and then tell you why you should join them for a good time. Hinge has involved actual conversations, and Eharmony requires cash before they will let you look.

I have found the experience to be incredibly shallow…. You are forming an opinion about a person based on a very brief look at a photo. If that appeals, then you might look at the information people give about themselves, which will determine whether you swipe left or right. Too short, too tall, fat, thin, ugly, handsome- swipe, decision made.

A left swipe – you’re not my type. But a ‘right swipe’ (fingers crossed they also chose you) will lead to conversation…. Sometimes enjoyable, but a real struggle for others! Spelling and punctuation are suggestions rather than rules, questions are fired off to get the ‘getting to know you’ stuff out of the way and then suggestions are made to continue the conversation on other messaging platforms. This comes with its own risk… names and contact information are exchanged, and then there is a freedom to be shown more – confronting if you’re not expecting it!! Conversations I have had with girlfriends indicate that one should keep a picture gallery of such treats (??) to show off to them….! Dick pics for the uninitiated are a very real thing!

The first time I joined one of the sites, I freaked out pretty quickly. It was all a bit too much, too soon – but loneliness makes you do strange things! Then there is the stuff in your head… the feelings of judgement, whether real or imagined… is it too soon to be doing this, should I wait longer, what will people think, and in my case, how will the boys cope!? People will say that everyone’s grief journey is different, and they are absolutely! There is no right or wrong, only the things that feel right for you… but I am still conscious of how that looks to other people!

I have been on and off the sites a few times, and have had all sorts of conversations with different people. I met one very nice fellow fairly early in the piece and have had some really lovely conversations with him- both in person and online, but have been told he doesn’t do proper relationships because they hurt too much, but is keen on FWB (friends with benefits) – and while I know it has a place, it’s not for me in the long run. – short term maybe !?

What I have discovered, is that you have to chat with – or kiss if you so choose, a lot of toads, frogs and other reptiles to try and find a prince! …. My search continues, (and I will have more stories to share!) but let me tell you, it’s a very strange thing navigating the next that is now!

1. Chapter One….

I know this blog is called Chapter Two, but it probably helps to know what chapter one was about.

Chapter one started on the 20th of September 1991, on a bus returning from a week in the snow fields of Perisher-Smiggins.

The protagonist – yours truly – 47year old mother of 4 Fabulous Young men, sat next to the person that would change her life! Clayton Thomas James. I knew who he was – everyone at the school we both went to did! He was handsome and charming and certainly one of the most popular people there. What I didn’t know at the time was that he had been aware of me for quite some time before this encounter, and was delighted to take the opportunity presented and run with it. We spent 8 hours sitting next to each other that day/night and the next 29 years together. It was the perfect love at first sight story. Highschool sweethearts properly in love until the very end.

We married in 1995 and had our first son that same year – and in short order (every two years) we added to our family. Four amazing boys, and the absolute apple of their fathers eye. Life was the usual crazy that you would expect… loud, messy, funny, crazy shenanigans with kids sports, family holidays and all the stuff that makes family fun.

We had the normal ups and downs that people do, but nothing that ever got in the way of who and how we were with each other. When hard words were spoken, they were smoothed over quickly and always forgiven. There was always more laughter than tears. We loved each other.

We were blissful in our bubble of normal. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary promising at least another 25years together, and joking about his old man status with his upcoming birthday a month later.

On Monday the 20th of July 2020, our world was ripped to shreds with the very sudden and unexpected death of Clayton, the love of my life. I came home from work to find that he had collapsed in the bathroom. CPR commenced, Paramedics were called, family and friends came to support us, but it was too late. A massive heart attack claimed the best person I have ever known. Devastated is not a big enough word to describe what that did to us, and the ongoing fallout that we now live with.

But in the shit show that all of this has been, we have also been lucky! Clayton had been out of work, and at home since February, and spent fabulous amounts of time with me and our boys. He and I had the trip of a lifetime just the year before – a reward for doing 5 years FIFO work in and out of Darwin. We had been to see his mum recently, and he had been spending hours talking with his sisters. His Dad and step-mum would pop in anytime and we all got to be with him right at the end. His funeral fell into a window between covid lock downs and we were able to share him with all of the important people in our world.

We were able to renovate our home, so that I can stay here forever if I want… I have a dream bathroom now (and anyone who knows me will tell you how much time I spend in the bath!) .. lucky!

It’s been a little over a year now, and we are adjusting to our new normal. Big things have happened for us in this year – both good and less good, but we’ve stuck together and are working through it. I have been amazed at my boys and their strength and resilience and love. It has been so much more than I ever thought it could have been – again, truly lucky!

Death is a funny thing. You absolutely and whole heartedly miss the person that is gone, but you also miss the future you were supposed to have. Friends change. Some leave because they don’t know how to be with the new you, and others that you though were gone, come back and are perfect. New people come into your circle, and it’s an adjustment knowing that they only know the you that now exists. They know the single you, not the you that you were.

Everyday for me is now a conscious choice to be grateful, and to find happiness. It’s a tough thing to do, but I don’t want to be unhappy for the rest of what might be a long life. I miss Clayton with every single fibre of my being, but I have his voice in my ear telling me ‘it is what it is, there is nothing you can do to change things now. You have to do what you can and get through it’ … so that’s what I am doing!

I am saying yes to things I never would have before. I have joined support groups and am meeting people that are filling my world with new happy moments. I have taken trips and had experiences that I might never have had otherwise.. and recently I have thought about what comes next.

Next is a pretty scary thought, and a huge unknown! Next means letting go of some things and starting again. Next is terrifying. Next is an adventure that I dont quite know how to feel about… but next is now.

So Chapter Two is next…. It’s new, it’s complicated and it’s kind of exciting as well…