27. A plan gets actioned

So a couple of weeks ago I wrote about my anxiety, and how it was particularly bad because of changes at work. My job, one that I have enjoyed for the last 12 months was going to change, and I was going to be put into a role that I was 1) not going to enjoy, and 2) I know would be detrimental to my mental health… both issues that I raised in conversation several times with the person making the changes, indicating that I would happily cover any other position within the department except for that one. It is quite a difficult thing, when concerns raised are not respected, or acknowledged, given the vulnerability that there is in having this kind of conversation to start with. In the end, my worries were not taken into account which is disappointing and the one role I had asked not to do is the one I was going to have to do for the foreseeable future.

I decided that if things were going to change regardless, then I would control what that looked like. I have felt very much out of control in so many ways since Claytie died, and this has felt quite empowering to do. I applied for several roles in a bunch of different departments, and I’m happy to say that I will be starting a new position (temporarily at this stage, but with the prospects of longer term) on Monday. I’m still working for the same employer, just in a new department with different people who at this stage, seem very happy to have me on board.

It feels good to be the one making the change for myself. Everyone that knows me, knows that I am the queen of complaining – pretty much about anything, but I like to think usually in a self deprecating sort of way. This has been a complaint I have been bitching about for quite a while now, and I’m pretty sick of myself with it; I can only imagine how the poor people around me have been feeling every time I bring it up! There is only so much whinging that you can do before it becomes ridiculous and something needs to change… this is that something for me! Hopefully the right decision, and one I don’t immediately regret! Haha

I’m sad to be leaving the fabulous ladies that have been my colleagues, confidants, advisors, shoulders to cry on and friends for the last little while – 12 months or so. The office I have been working in has been a safe haven since coming back to work after Claytie died, and I am going to miss the laughs and crazy, often inappropriate conversations that we have had. I have been roundly educated in all manner of subjects by these very patient ladies. I am sure I have asked at least a million questions, interrupting their conversations to clarify the medical things that I have heard. I almost feel like I could step in and cover their jobs (but only the easy ones, and not really!). I’m pretty sure that no other group of colleagues will live up to the awesomeness that this team has been for me – and I know that if given the opportunity I would go back to them in a heartbeat!

So now I have to get my head around this next change. I’m looking forward to meeting new people and learning the processes for my new role. I’m also keen to broaden my ‘medical’ knowledge and add Theatre/ surgical things to my list of topics I’ll be an expert in haha! Don’t get me wrong… I’m still terrified by change! My nerves are through the roof and my anxiety levels are high! But it definitely feels a whole lot better taking control of that, rather than going along with something that was not going to be healthy for me. Cross your fingers that its a soft landing and I don’t freak out too much x

26. Another loop around the sun…

So this week is/ was Birthday week, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I have always loved birthdays – and usually I like to milk it as long as I can, but since Claytie died everything is different.

Last years birthday was really, really hard and my anxiety leading up to it was horrendous! I was going to be older than Claytie ever could be and it absolutely messed with my head. I took myself to Uluru and had an incredible, and quite spiritual time that was just right. Every birthday from now on will widen that age gap, and that’s hard, but not quite as hard as the first one was.

This year turned out to be a whole week of birthday delights! Trivia Tuesday was a heap of fun! I was spoilt with balloons and flowers and gifts! My dogs Nikko and DaisyMay were less excited about the balloons than I was, and cause quite the ruckus when I tried very quietly to bring them into the house! The Black Widows Peaks have a reputation for doing crazy things almost every week. We love a theme or cause or just a party, and I’m convinced some of the other teams are almost disappointed if we’re not doing something wild!

Wednesday I left the house quite early and headed up the coast to Caloundra! It’s always a good start to the day, if you can put your feet in the sand and listen to the waves. That was not the whole purpose of the trip tho. I had myself booked in for a tattoo. It’s one I have been thinking of doing for ages, each element has a meaning for me and as a whole it represents my family. The artist is someone I’ve followed on facebook for a long time, and her work is beautiful! Initially I wanted someone to come with me for company, but I’m actually glad that I did this on my own. It felt powerful, and I love the finished product!

Not quite healed yet, but I think it’s beautiful!

Thursday, my actual birthday was a day off work- I refuse to work on my birthday, and think I have only ever done it a couple of times! I had loads of lovely phone calls and messages and felt quite warm and fuzzy from all the love coming my way! I did go with a bit of indulgence and took myself off for a massage and facial which I thoroughly enjoyed. We also had family dinner that night which I always like.

Friday was back at work, although I did ponder the idea of a having a sicky if I’m honest! But the day passed quickly and finished in a spectacular way…. Dinner and then Karaoke with a whole lot of my favourite people! It was a fabulous night of laughing, drinking, singing – from our spot at the table, did I mention the drinking, and just spending a fun night with the best!

A very, very quiet day on Saturday to recover, and a reflection on Birthday week. I wish Claytie was here to laugh at me and enjoy the good times – nothing is the same without him, but I did thoroughly enjoyed myself, and am once again grateful to be as lucky as I am! Thank you to all of you who made me feel special! I love that you are part of my world xx

25. Happiness, joy and love

So Happy Easter to all of you that are part of my world! I hope the bunny found you and chocolate has been part of every meal this weekend! I’m a bit late to publishing this week because big things have happened!

Two of my very, very dear friends got married this weekend! A wedding that has been a long time coming for them, they have been together for 25years, and it was postponed twice thanks to Covid….. but in the end it was an absolutely perfect day!

I have known the family for a long time now- at least 15 years I think. We have kids that went to school and played sport together. It’s been one of those friendships that has simmered quietly in the background for years and then became something huge and super important for me after Claytie died.

We have laughed, cried and talked shit together any number of times. She comes to Karaoke with me when I can talk her into it, and any number of wine times wouldn’t have been the same without her. I’ve been accepted into their tribe and have felt so lucky to have met incredible people through them. He is an artist and made one of my very favourite pieces in memory of Claytie . Their boys are amazing and I love them like mine! – They are the best kind of good people and they deserve all the happiness in the world! Their wedding was just as unique and amazing as they are! One of the least conventional weddings I have been to and certainly one of the most fun!!

It started with drinks and wandering through an art field – with all of the pieces made by them! We had a beautifully spoken acknowledgment of country that raised goosebumps for me. The homeowners- brother and sister in law to the couple, were so gracious with their hospitality, and their property was the perfect setting!

The actual ceremony began with gorgeous nieces walking the aged Aunty (and flower girl) down to the ceremony space, while the groom played the wedding March on his guitar. The bride not very far behind with her mum and brother… so much love! The brides sister was our celebrant, so the words spoken meant much more than if a stranger were delivering them. The vows were beautiful, the bride speaking hers in Māori and then english, with not a dry eye in the place! A hand fasting completed the ceremony, and was magical.

Our Wonderland Wedding spectacular was rounded out with a jumping castle (yes I did it, no I didn’t break anything, it was sooooo much fun, although at my age you do need to be mindful of the old pelvic floor!!) we had live music – two bands (the groom and one of their boys in the first one!) an emotional acoustic performance by one of the kids friends, and a fabulous DJ. We had a burning-man bonfire, and fabulous wood fired pizza, all with the brightest, fullest moon shining down on us!

It was bittersweet going to a wedding without Claytie – and my tears at some points through the day were closer to ugly crying than just welling up! But I’m so very glad that I was able to be part of such an amazing love-filled, magical day! I wish my beautiful friends at least another 25 years of love and happiness together.. they deserve every minute!

24. Schadenfreude

The title of this weeks blog is a German word that means ‘to take delight in someone else’s misfortune’ – and before you all get upset with me, I have this persons full permission to share their stories and laugh with them about their online dating adventures. (They did ask not to be named tho!)

MK is someone I have met through one of the widow support groups, and we clicked right from our first meeting – although she claims not to have even noticed me that day! – RUDE! We were at a coffee catch up and her story struck me immediately. It has been a very different experience for her to the one I am living; and while that is true for all of us in the group, it is something that absolutely struck me about her. I am very aware of how lucky the boys and I have been with our journey, and that it is much more difficult for some other people.

From the first time meeting, an amazing friendship has grown. We are now at a point where we will talk several times a day about all sorts of things, often laughing hysterically at the various things that happen to us; and when we are not talking we are messaging. She has followed along with a huge amount of interest as I’ve delved into the world of dating and given advice or just a running commentary on the things that I’ve encountered. She has now started her own foray into the weird world of online dating, and it has been just as crazy as I warned her it would be!

MK has been on far more dates than me – I think she is a much braver person than I am, and although she is constantly saying that she has no confidence, she is always in conversations with several people. She has had the usual assortment of nice, weird and a couple of not so nice, but so far no one has clicked for her.

I was fascinated recently to see just how many messages she receives from her profile – her phone would not stop pinging in the time we were together. I asked to have a look at what she had written about herself, and to look at her pictures. We both had a huge belly laugh when we discovered that the way her pictures had been cropped (automatically) made her look naked! The poor thing was mortified (but laughing until she cried) and immediately updated the pictures to more appropriate ones. Amazingly, the phone notifications slowed down almost immediately!

She has tried several of the usual online sites – the consensus being that they are pretty well all the same, and often with the same people on them! Funnily enough, she also been rejected from a paid site that told her politely via email that they have no one suitable for her at this time, to come back in six months and in the mean time to follow the helpfully attached advice for online dating!

We have almost decided that between the two of us, and others we have met along the way, there might be a book in all of the funny dating stories we have encountered! It is certainly an adventure into a world that is far from normal!

23. Opinions

Isn’t it funny how much faith we all put into other peoples opinions of us, even when we know we shouldn’t. From asking about our fashion choices to life advice, we put so much value on the things people tell us; and we often change what we think or know based on what they have said. Sometimes it works out for the better, sometimes not, and if it’s unsolicited advice and you don’t take it, it can sometimes cause huge conflict!

I had a conversation about this subject just the other day with a friend, who had a huge argument with her parents about her grieving process and life choices following the death of her person. They are convinced that the suggestions they are making are the best ones for her, and while their ideas are not without merit, they don’t match at all the way my friend is feeling or how she sees her life going on from here. As she said, ‘until you find yourself in this very position, you don’t get a say on how I live my life’. Absolutely the right message, but still hard to take when it’s your parents that you’re fighting with.

I want to think that I try to be someone that listens to advice and opinions, without giving them too much weight. I absorb them and then filter them to see what fits for me. I like to believe that I’m strong enough that I don’t take it overly personally when someone’s opinion of me is not what I think of myself, but that can be easier said than done depending on the person and the opinion, and the day that I’m having! Some people and opinions matter a whole lot more than others.

For the most part I think I’m doing ok with the choices I am making and the things I am doing. Usually I go with my gut – if it feels good and makes me happy – why not! .. But then again, as I’m typing this I think what a liar I am, because how many times have I written about all of the second guessing that I do!? … I guess I’m just as complicated as everyone else!

In the spirit of being complicated, I did have a moment this week where I called my mum after I had been to their house. I wanted to ask what my German Aunt and Uncle thought or had said about the idea of me dating after a passing comment in a conversation. I shocked myself with the phone call because I really thought that it didn’t matter to me what other people think. I’m doing the best I can – the things that feel ok on any given day. I don’t know what’s right or wrong- only that people say there is no right or wrong! I’m not sure exactly what my mum made of the phone call, but almost before I finished asking she said that she had made a comment to them at an earlier time, about not wanting me to be alone forever, and as long as I was happy so was she. I know this is what she truly thinks, she has said it to me quite a few times, but that day, it was exactly what I needed to hear.

I’m not sure that there was a follow up conversation about the lovely fellow I’ve been seeing, or what any of them thought. Right now I’m ok with it, because their opinion wouldn’t change things for me anyway.

22. Anxiety

Oh boy… what a fun thing to live with! I feel like I’ve had anxiety on and off for a long time. For the most part it has been manageable and I’ve been ok. Usually for me, talking about what is making me anxious is really helpful and things settle down. Every now and again tho, it becomes a much bigger thing, and much harder to work around.

I have never been great with change – and while I know a lot of people aren’t, I really struggle with it. The first big change in my life that I can remember was moving from Germany to Australia. It was the first – and probably only time I have seen my dad cry. I was 10 (nearly 11) years old and saying good bye to my grandparents at the train station, en route to the airport, was super hard. That was 37 years ago.

We lived with my other grandparents for the first few months here in Australia, and settled into the small town they lived in. We stayed for a year and then came to Brisbane. Another big change… new house, new school, new friends. Another 12 months later we did it again, and then another new school the year after that going into high school. Its really hard being the new kid all the time. I always felt like an outsider and never settled with one group of friends, or had a best friend.

Getting married and having my kids helped a whole lot, you kind of have to deal with stuff when you’re responsible for other people, and I also had Claytie there to keep me steady whenever I needed. Every new job I have ever had, has involved a whole lot of gut churning and tears for weeks, before I have felt comfortable enough to relax into being myself. I’ve stayed in situations much longer than I should have, because leaving caused such huge anxiety for me.

It’s a funny feeling. Rationally you know that it will be ok – mostly even really good for you. But the irrational side catastrophises everything and makes you feel sick. Every situation I go into has been analysed from front to back and inside out, with contingencies planned for just about everything. As I’m going through all of this stuff in my head I know it’s silly, but I can’t help it. Since Claytie died, my anxiety has been next level. My brain no longer has an off switch and I worry about absolutely every single thing. The boys have been really good and understanding, but I can see that they get frustrated with me… just like Claytie often did. It’s hard understanding something if you have never experienced it, and it’s hard to explain how it feels.

This weeks anxiety is raging about work. I have been super happy in my role for the last 12 months. The people I am working with have been amazing. It’s a small team in a small office away from the crowd. I have felt safe, included and accepted. It’s been a god send, and without it I’m not sure how I would have coped being back at work without Claytie to support me. But it seems this security is coming to an end. My boss – who I have a tenuous relationship with, has decided that it’s someone else turn in this role. I have not been told what I will be doing instead, or when the change will happen… both issues that are not very helpful with this level of anxiety. I’m incredibly nervous that I will be put into the one role in the department that I absolutely don’t want to do…Guess the contingency planning needs to start again. Some new nexts are really really hard!

21. Echo Chamber

Since Claytie died, I have done a million things that I have never done before. I have dealt with things on my own that I never imagined, and the boys and I have been through a bunch of stuff that we didn’t see coming. I have had to manage all of it, because now I am it. I don’t have Claytie to back me up, to counsel me, to be my driver, my confidant, my financial advisor – my everything. I have had to learn to rely on myself for a thousand things a day that he was always there for. Of course I have my boys, and all sorts of support.. but it’s not the same. How can it be!?

One thing that has been a god send, has been ‘The Echo Chamber of Misery’ (not it’s actual name!) or ‘Sad, Weird Widow People’ as the boys call it! – one of the widow support groups that I joined about 4 months, in the middle of the night, after my world imploded. There was definite trepidation when I first joined… who were these people and what could they possibly know about my world!? Would it be helpful or just a waste of time?! But I have to say, it has been absolutely one of the very best things I have ever done.

There is always someone online – any time of the day or night, that you can vent to. I can say things to this group that I couldn’t say to anyone else, because they understand. I don’t have to censor myself incase I hurt the feelings of one of my loved ones when complaining about their foot-in-mouth commentary on a public platform. These people are also living what I’m living. They don’t sugar coat answers, and chances are they have felt the same way in a similar situation. There is good advice, virtual hugs, and in the case of the local group, actual hugs from people I now consider some of my closest friends.

The local group have been perfect for me. I have met people one-on-one and spent hours longer chatting than I could ever plan for. We have been to coffee catch ups, Axe throwing (not my sport!), Christmas catch ups, very drunk sleep overs, drag shows, brunch and lunch. Each time I have been to a get together I have had to put my anxiety to the side and be brave. It’s really hard putting yourself out there but I have absolutely benefited from the challenge. I have met a whole lot of new people that I otherwise would not have. Some I have quite liked, others that are not my cup of tea, but there is now a core group that are MY people. Between us we have daily conversations about all kinds of things and I love them!

There is also my Tuesday Trivia Crew – an ongoing weekly thing that I have written about before. I look forward to Tuesdays in a way I never thought I would. It’s one of my very favourite things and I drive an hour each way to get there without any hesitation – others in the group drive even longer! We are the ‘naughty table’ in the pub, and spend almost the entire time laughing and being inappropriate. Not all of us in this group are widowed- we adopted two awesome fellows in about week two or three of going, and they are now very much part of the group. All people I wouldn’t have met had it not been for the support group.

I keep coming back to how lucky I/we have been. Even though our world has changed so devastatingly and completely, the people around us have made all the difference… especially for me! I am so very grateful to have so much love and support in my crazy new world xx

19. Flood

Dejavu anyone? In the last week or so Brisbane and parts of NSW and Sydney, have gone through a repeat of the 2011 floods. A one-in-one hundred year event that happened only 11 years since the last time – did someone say climate change!? It’s been a super challenging time for so many people, and my heart breaks for those who have lost everything again. We have been challenged by it too.

Last time, in 2011, most of our belongings were moved to the homes of about 5 of our friends, and we evacuated our house for 3-4 days. We were incredibly lucky to only have water in our yard and none in the house. The flood peaked at least 1m lower than had been predicted, which is what spared us. Stress levels were incredibly high, but we had Claytie to keep us calm and be a voice of reason.

This time, my oldest son and his fiancé live on the other side of the river, and were cut off very early in the piece. They had a knock on the door at 5am from police telling them to move theirs cars as the water was already there. They live in a small unit with their two dogs and decided to settle in for the day, with plenty of messaging between us checking in with each other and photos and videos being shared.

At our place, for some of us (not me) there was almost a sense of excitement. The last flood was a long time ago and the boys were very young then. Surely it couldn’t happen again, and certainly not as bad!? My stress levels were on a reasonable simmering high, and I did a lot of walking backwards and forwards to the river checking the rising water levels, trying to work out at which point things needed to be moved. Eventually I did manage to convince the boys that taking their belongings upstairs – at least those that would be impossible or just too difficult to replace, would not be an over reaction but rather a sensible precaution.

The pool needed to be emptied at least 5 times, and sandbags readied at the back door. I was also very worried about my mother-in-law being on her own – while my Father-in-law was away in Wollongong with Clayties sister, and not able to drive home. There was a small window of being able to get her to our place, before roads became flooded and no way in to get her, but she decided to wait it out at home, Clayties sister having booked my FIL to fly home early the next morning.

At about 7pm my son messaged to say they were evacuating. It was a case of now or not at all, the difficulty being their dogs. Apparently SES will not take pets when evacuating people – especially not 2x 45kg. My son had to wade through waist high water with suitcases, and then each dog – one at a time- over his shoulders. They then had to find somewhere to stay with the dogs. It was super stressful for everyone, with a huge sense of helplessness from me… they physically couldn’t get to us with all of the road closures. At this point my anxiety went into overdrive and the unfairness of Claytie not being there hit home. He would have known what to do, and he would have calmed me down. He would have made it ok for me. Eventually they found someone to take them in for the night and we could all breathe again.

It’s definitely been an adventure no one needed! Road closures meant either very very long and convoluted travel into work, or not being able to get there at all. The aftermath of wading through flood water meant a trip to the hospital for my daughter-in-law and antibiotics for both her and my son (both are fine now!). On the upside, moving stuff from downstairs to up and then back again, has meant that the boys bedrooms have all had a proper tidy up, without my having to nag about it! A silver lining for sure.

There is more bad weather predicted, and my heart goes out to all of those people whose worlds have been turned upside down from this. With the mess in our corner of the universe, and all of the other horrible things happening in the world, I can’t help but to wonder what else is in store for us, what comes next… locusts!?

20. Family

As most of you who know me know, I come from a big family. I have three siblings, Claytie has two sisters and we have our four boys. There are plenty of cousins and aunts and uncles in our world as well. There are always people in and out of our house and the grapevine is very alive in terms of everyone knowing the big stuff in each other’s life. I love it! I love having these amazing people in our world, and I love that I can rely on all of them without question!

The other day I was listening to the radio, and one of the announcers made a comment that had me thinking again about how lucky I am. She mentioned almost in passing that members of her late husbands family have not been supportive of her and her children since he died. This same kind of commentary happens a lot in the support groups that I am in. For a whole lot of people almost as soon as their loved ones funeral has taken place the family is divided and in some cases all contact is stopped. There is often nasty fighting about money and possessions and hard, hard words get spoken.

I can’t imagine that loss on top of the grief that you’re already feeling. Not once has it occurred to me that my relationship with Clayties family would ever change, and I am so incredibly happy and lucky that it hasn’t! My in-laws are just as much a part of our world as they ever were. The boys will call their grandfather for advice about all sorts of things, and at least once a year usually Father’s Day, they go out for a beer together. Grandmothers get phone calls to check in on them and family BBQs are just as fun as ever. I couldn’t imagine not having Clayties sisters to talk to and spend time with, and I see my parents in law just about weekly.

I’m also incredibly lucky to have some amazing friends that in my world count as family! Some have been friends forever – at least 20 years or more, others were friends in a more peripheral way and are now integral to our world, and then there are new friends that feel like forever friends. There is always someone around for a chat, laugh or cry – or to come to Karaoke with me, and I love them all for it! They more than make up for those that have chosen to distance themselves from us since Claytie died, another common thing that seems to happen.

I’m super excited this week, because my Aunt and Uncle are coming over from Germany. I haven’t seen them since Covid hit and Claytie died. It’s times like these that make you realise that although the world is small in so many ways… when you’re far apart, it’s really really far! It will be so lovely to have them here, but it will also be strange . It will be another first without Claytie and that hurts. On the upside, I have been able to use the impending visit to get the boys into the garden to do a big tidy up, and hopefully their rooms will follow! – wish me luck!

18. Rings

So very recently I did kind of a big thing… I have been thinking for some time now of getting my wedding ring resized to move to my middle finger. I still want to wear it, I love it, it is beautiful, it is part of our story and I love every minute of my life that it represents… but it feels like the right time to change it, and now that I have started seeing someone it doesn’t feel right anymore on my ring finger. The poor lady in the jewellery shop probably wasn’t expecting the huge tears from me when it came time to actually hand it over, I wasn’t expecting them either!! It was the thought of not having it with me for the next two weeks that broke me.

I have spoken to a lot of widowed friends about their decision with wearing their rings, when/ if they chose to stop wearing them and what prompted the decision. I have found that its really hard to define your status as a widowed person especially when you start to date again. Are you still married, are you single… technically you are both, but its hard to know how to feel it and how to say it; and wearing a ring on a date can make it awkward, especially if your status hasn’t been talked about prior to meeting.

Its also a very personal decision. Some people have taken their rings off almost immediately and some are still wearing them years later. Some have changed their rings and had pendants or other jewellery made from them, others have them tucked away in a jewellery box ready to pass on to one of their children to inherit. There is no right or wrong way of getting through this part of grieving, it is just another step in the process, and when ever you do it its hard.

All of the big things are hard… some of them you expect to challenge you and others come as a complete surprise and come out of no where. There is no way to predict which is which. Valentines day also hit hard for me this year! I desperately missed getting my nasty clearance flowers from Coles – Claytie hated to buy flowers, even though I love them. He objected to spending money on something that would sit in a vase in the loungeroom for a week and then make a mess and need cleaning; but he loved me, and was well aware of how much I love to get them and would buy them for me anyway. – Mostly the nasty marked down ones, that were pretty much at the end of their beauty, but the thought was there! For some reason, this year I missed not getting them so much more than last year. It might have been a combination of the day and not having my wedding rings with me that did it, but who knows why some days hurt more than others.

I decided that these big things deserved a reset… I spent the day after my ‘ring decision’ sitting on the edge of a cliff – literally. I went to the beach, my calming place that always makes me feel better – instantly! I can feel the tension leave my shoulders almost from the minute I see the water, definitely when my feet hit the sand. It was a bit of a weird morning. The weather didn’t know which way it wanted to go… sunshine between rain showers and the ocean was wild. There was no one near me, and all I could hear were the waves. It was incredibly peaceful, and calming and exactly the right thing. I love that we live close enough to the beach that I can just hop in the car at 5am on a Sunday morning and give myself the best sort of therapy… how lucky am I!?