Springtime, sunshine and the Big Apple

Is it just me, or has spring felt like it’s been a long time coming this year? The oppressively dark days of winter seem to have dragged as I’ve moved from house to car to train to office and back again, rarely glimpsing daylight. Work has been so busy that my regular lunchtime walks around St James’ Park have taken a hit and the crappy weather has meant that weekend walks have been replaced by fireside reading; not at all unpleasant but I do feel as though my skin is crying out for some vitamin D.

And then yesterday we woke up to sunshine! Sunshine, blue sky and birdsong. It wasn’t the deceptive British sunshine that has you hurriedly donning your flip flops only to step outside to find you have to de-ice the car…it was actually warm. So of course Claudia and I did what all good British people do in that situation and spent an hour in a pub garden, with soft drinks, obvs. And while we were there, it dawned on us just how challenging spring is going to be.

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Joe, 2010

Joe died in June. The day of his death, the days after his death, the day of his funeral, and the day we buried his ashes were all warm and sunny, and the feelings that simply sitting outside in the sunshine yesterday provoked were visceral.

I think about Joe every day, hour, minute – it’s like there’s a part of my brain that’s been hardwired just to him. He creeps into my dreams at night, often so vividly that I’m discombobulated for days. So the sunshine isn’t making me think of him more, but it is taking me back to that weird, surreal time of visiting churches, making arrangements, standing in his empty bedroom, sitting in his car for the first time, choosing his coffin… I feel like I floated through those months in a dreamlike state and so spring, with all its wonder and beauty and hope, is going to be especially tough this year.

That said, I do want to focus on some positives.

I’ll start with the fact that I’ve now got through 105 days sans booze. Hurrah! It’s beginning to feel normal now, which I guess is good. A colleague was talking about alcohol the other day and without even thinking I said: “Oh, I don’t drink” – and it felt fine. Actually, it felt really bloody good.

I visited my parents at Easter for the first time since I stopped drinking, and was a tad anxious as we always crack open the wine at lunchtime, and again in the evening, the three of us setting the world to rights over a few glasses (or bottles). But it was fine. No cravings at all. It helped that they’d stocked up on de-alcoholised wine which I sipped as they enjoyed the proper stuff. But even a cheeky sniff (oh alright, a long, slow inhale) of my Mum’s New Zealand Sauvignon wasn’t enough to make me cave.

Claudia and I have also had a really good couple of weeks commuting into London together where she’s been doing work experience. I’m so proud of her for pressing ahead with the commitment she made and not letting her state of mind discourage her from doing what has turned out to be 2 weeks of real positivity and confidence-building. Hearing her talk about what she’s been doing every day has been brilliant, especially given the very difficult and upsetting conversations we’ve been having over the past few weeks.

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Commuting!

She’s joined editorial meetings, been to her first conference (free pastries!), written a blog, met all sorts of new people and learned a huge amount about working life. I’ve always imagined Claudia living and working in London, enjoying everything it has to offer, and it’s so good to hear her talking about her future. A huge shout out to my dear friend Joanna for helping her out.  Fingers crossed the positivity continues…

I must also mention the brilliant mental health team from the Herts Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust who have been coming to talk to Claudia – as well as David and I – on an almost daily basis since she came home from Nottingham. Knowing they are available 24 hours if Claudia wants to talk or if we have concerns about her, is a real comfort.

Sadly, there do seem to be some discrepancies between the fantastic level of care Claudia is receiving and the care that Joe received from the equivalent team in Exeter, particularly around the issue of confidentiality. There was an interesting article in the Guardian last week that asks “Is confidentiality more important than helping someone at risk to stay alive?” as well as a shocking story from the BBC around student suicide stats. We simply have to do more to keep our young people safe.

Back to the positivity. We’ve booked a family holiday! For the past few years, David and I have made an annual trip to our favourite resort in Greece for a couple of weeks of serious relaxation and awesome cocktails, but that seems like a lifetime ago now and I can’t imagine a holiday like it again. In fact we haven’t wanted to go abroad at all since Joe died. I was trying to pinpoint what it was about going away that felt wrong and realised that it was being so far away from Connor and Claudia. The thought of putting thousands of miles between us, and not being able to be with them quickly if they needed us, wasn’t right, so we’re taking them on their first trip to New York.

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Rees-Anderson mantra: avoid the tourist traps

For years, I promised to take Claudia when she was 21 so we could have cocktails together, and of course the irony is that I’ll be having all the prohibition ones while she tucks into the gin… Holidaying without alcohol will definitely be a challenge and I’m interested to see how I manage the cravings, and whether listening to live jazz in New York with a mocktail will tip me over the edge… But of course it’s holidaying without Joe that will be the strangest thing of all.

I’ll leave you with a passage from an incredible a book I’ve just finished – A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara:

“Or maybe he is closer still; maybe he is that grey cat that has begun to sit outside our neighbour’s house, purring when I reach out my hand to it; maybe he is that new puppy I see tugging at the end of my other neighbour’s leash; maybe he is that toddler I saw running through the square a few months ago, shrieking with joy, his parents huffing after him; maybe he is that flower that suddenly bloomed on the rhododendron bush I thought had died long ago; maybe he is that cloud, that wave, that rain, that mist. It isn’t only that he died, or how he died; it is what he died believing. And so I try to be kind to everything I see, and in everything I see, I see him.”

 

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Regret, tolerance and porridge

It’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks at work so this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write something that isn’t related to net debt, EBITDA and share prices. Praise the lord. It’s early on Saturday morning, Abigail (cat) and I are in the study. She’s washing after a particularly satisfying chicken breakfast and I’m mainlining tea. This is my favourite time of day, when David and Claudia are sleeping upstairs, the house is quiet, the sun is coming up and, for a short time, life seems calm and manageable.

Most of the time it feels as though losing Joe has sucked all the joy out of life and replaced it with dull, sad, monotony. But on mornings like this, and increasingly at random times throughout the day, a chink of light gets through and I remember there’s much to be grateful for. It’s the simple things that strike me; the things that money can’t buy. Yesterday, I was grateful for the trains that ran on time, my fabulously supportive colleagues, the hug I got from Claudia when I met her at the station, and porridge. You’ve gotta love porridge.

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The difference now is that I stop to appreciate these things instead of bowling through my day at a million miles an hour, head down, always thinking about the next thing, the next thing, the next thing… Now I don’t care what ‘stuff’ I have because I know I’d give it all up in an instant to have Joe back, so it becomes insignificant. (I can almost hear my friends yelling – “I bet you couldn’t give up candles!”)

I’m also more tolerant. On my commute, I used to be quick to get cross with people who invaded my space, had the nerve to sit next to me or played their music too loud. But now I think: ‘I don’t know what you’re going through’. If you saw me on the train, you wouldn’t know I was grieving – except maybe when I’m having a quiet cry – so by the same token, I don’t know what anyone else is going through.

Maybe they’re playing their music loud because they’re trying to block something out, maybe they’re sitting next to me, despite there being lots of empty seats, because they need the silent companionship of a stranger. And maybe they’re sniffing repeatedly because…no! That’s the one thing I still can’t abide – I don’t care what you’re going through, get a tissue!

Still a little way to go on the tolerance thing perhaps…

I wish I could turn back time (cue Cher) to when Joe was here so I could be more tolerant with him. I talk to him all the time, telling him how sorry I am for all the nagging and the arguments. Telling him that if I’d known how much he was suffering, I would have driven to Exeter, manhandled him into the car, brought him home and looked after him for as long as he needed me to. But I can’t, and it breaks my heart every single day.

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I miss Joe. I miss his voice, his laugh, and the perfect ability only he had to wind me up. I miss his joy in messing with my very ordered, slightly OCD brain, by subtly moving something and watching with glee until I noticed it. I miss his crazy mind, so full of ideas and thoughts and questions.

I miss the times we used to spend on our own together, when we weren’t stepmum and stepson, we were just Joe and Kit. We’d watch Masterchef, cook, discuss the universe and yell ‘Fish Skin!’ at each other (don’t ask). I miss hearing him play the flute. I miss his smile, his frown, his unfailing generosity and his joy at spending hours fussing a purring and dribbling Abigail. And I miss his future. I miss seeing what he would have done with his life; all that potential…

I read a tweet from Alison Moyet that really struck me: “People. Stop dying before your time. Don’t opt out. Your world will change its shape so many times. What is bleak today becomes wondrous and stupid and brilliant. All these things. Wait and see.”

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The problem with depression is that it can give you such a warped sense of reality that you just don’t believe this. You don’t believe that life can ever get better. Feeling suicidal is considered a medical emergency. Not a cry for help, an emotion or a feeling – A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Depression kills people, it robs them of their light and their hope. It killed Joe, the brightest of them all, and we have to do everything we can to stop it killing more people, young and old, male and female.

Gosh, I’ve just realised that in a blog about giving up alcohol, I haven’t mentioned it once. I’m 54 days sans booze and feeling pretty good about it. I was given a bottle of wine at work this week and promptly gave it to a colleague, I shared a lift with a drunk person on Wednesday night and felt very smug that I could walk in a straight line, and I helped to deliver a cracking set of financial results at work without the need to self-medicate with Sauvignon Blanc.

As I said, it’s the simple things…

Don’t order the wine!

41 days with no alcohol. Hurrah!

I think I may have finally broken the habit that characterised my relationship with white wine. My stepdaughter, Claudia, was home from uni last weekend and we drove to Reading to meet up with my stepson, Connor, and have a family lunch. Sunday lunches for me would always – without fail – include as many large glasses of Sauvignon as I could justify, but I now realise I was on auto-pilot. I drank wine, it’s what I did. Everyone would expect Kit to go straight to the wine menu, find the New Zealand Sauvignon, complain if there wasn’t one, and then proceed to drink the best part of a bottle.

But now I’m THINKING. So effing simple but something I just hadn’t beunnameden doing where alcohol was concerned. I ordered wine, I bought wine, I drank wine. And now I don’t. I order sparkling water, alcohol free lager or tea. Yup, instead of my usual glass of wine for dessert, I now have tea (pictured, vying for attention with Claudia’s picture-hogging G&T). And I drive home so my partner can rest his eyes and not spend the weekend driving his tipsy girlfriend around when he drives so much during the week.

Do I find it hard? Sure I do. I miss the taste of a good white wine and that lovely fuzzy feeling you get after a glass or two. But I don’t miss the bad sleep, the alcohol-fuelled anxiety and the lethargy. The only time I felt like reaching for a bottle during lunch was when the children (24 and 21, but still children to me) started pestering David and I to get married…

Grief is different without alcohol as well. Oddly, I’m feeling more emotional despite being calmer and less anxious. The calmness is probably down to the fact that my anti-depressants are working more effectively without having to battle for bloodstream space with a very pushy Sauv Blanc, but I had thought giving up the booze might help me control my emotions. Apparently not. I suppose it was a big ask and that my grief wasn’t going to disappear along with my hangovers, but not being able to numb the emptiness, the loss, the regret and the despair with a few drinks is definitely one of the things I miss. Reality, sober, is a bitch.

On the flipside, I’m able to be more present for David, Connor and Claudia who all need sober Kit to help them navigate their grief. A lot of people tell us we’re coping really well but I think we’ve just learned how to keep the mask up for longer at work or when we’re going about our days. What people don’t see is the sadness that envelops us so often. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still able to laugh and joke, but we just need to be together – a lot – talking, hugging, crying and remembering.

Anyhoo, 41 days with no booze and I’m more than a little chuffed with myself.

I’m pretty sure Joe would be too.