Peace or Pain?

martha-and-merlin_115Whats that all about then?

Tattoos, that’s what!

Folk seem to either love having them done or hate them but grin and bear it. I’m a lover. Thankfully I don’t find them painful. I actually enjoy the sensation, the scratching. Maybe I’m just weird.

The reference to tattoos though is a real-time analogy of sorts. An analogy in reference to today. Mair’s anniversary! (and as my sister will tell you, I love a good analogy. I’m full of them to the point I’ve just used the word three times in quick succession),

No I don’t love Mair’s anniversary. Of course I don’t! But my focus on the day itself is perhaps unusual….just as is my take of getting a tattoo done.

It’s about those dates. Those key ones in the calendar. The spiky ones that you can see a mile off and they roll round each year bringing with them new-found surprises. How are they going the bite us in the arse this year.

On the 19 November I had a wobble. A right bloody wobble too!

I had spent the day with my fab sister, watching the rugby (autumn internationals), Martha pottering around with her Lego and Merlin being especially cuddly as he had come down with something. We were all relaxed though.

In the midst of one conversation it became apparent that this was the time! We had entered the period of time that was the beginning of the end 4 years ago. The three weeks spanning 19 November to 6 December which saw Mair go from seemingly recovering from her chemotherapy session in the usual manner, to the realisation that something else was happening and her health was actually declining rapidly before our eyes. A period of time that would ultimately end with Mair tragically being taken from us by a rare, vicious, rapid secondary cancer, the likes of which left her medical team bereft, stunned and heartbroken in equal measure.

I went home leaving the children at Verna’s as i had a race the next day and as the evening wore on I realised the similarities to today.

Back then in 2012 Merlin had been very sick with broncholitis. I was looking after him downstairs, propped up on my lap trying to console him and keep him settled. I had the rugby on. Again the autumn internationals. Wales were losing to Fiji. A game Mair should have been watching next to me, screaming at the ineptitude of her players….but instead she was upstairs, bed ridden.

I cried a lot on Saturday evening at the similarity of the circumstances to this day compared to 4 years prior. How do these things come together. Just bizarre.

And this isn’t the first time that a date in this period has caused understandable pain at the recollection of events.

Bizarrely though it’s never actually today!! Never the 6 December! Never the day she actually died! Why?

Well I guess a day such as an anniversary can be seen as one of a person, in our case Mair, either being taken, robbed…..etc from us. Or as I see it, the day they ceased being in pain. The day they were at peace finally. No one ever wants to see the person they love suffer, least of all over a long period of time, so in my eyes she wasn’t suffering any longer.

Anniversaries can be filled with pain, with a feeling of injustice, with an overwhelming sense of loss. I think I find these emotions in the build up. The points where the bad news came, or where a little hope crept in only to then be dashed and the reality of her decline came smashing back in.

Today though is a day I am thankful that she suffered no longer. In her words as she said when she knew she would die “If it was my purpose in life to have two wonderful children then so be it and I will die happy”.

Today was Mair’s ‘so be it’ and I over the 4 years I think have slipped into that focus

So back to where I started. That peace or pain again – I’ll be spending today, her fourth anniversary, being tattooed! Continuing work on two sleeves symbolising  places that bring me peace and balance – The Isles of Arran and Skye. Skye on the left where Martha’s bumblebee is and Arran on the right, beneath Merlin’s dragon!

Today is peace for me, for Mair but I recognise too that today won’t be for everyone else. It will represent pain just like the tattoo would to others.

The 6th December!!!

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That Happy Day :)

11323594105_4f13bf21a5_bToday marks Mair and my 9th wedding anniversary, and I am once again in the beautiful Lake District surrounded by the fells, the water, the inevitable cloud and everything that makes this place so special.

I say marks rather than marked because ever since she died I have always found myself in the habit speaking in the present rather than past tense and despite her tragically no longer being here on this earth, the 27 October will still always be that day of ours. It will never cease to be.

Understandably I know many people, my fellow widowers included struggle with wedding anniversaries and the loss it reminds people of. The days that should have continued, the further memories that would have been created.

That my way is different is not a criticism. Its just my way with this date.

I struggle to see that day in 2007 and each anniversary since, even those without Mair as anything other than that it was awesome. A casual feel to a special day surrounded by friends, scattered around the lawn of Briery Wood Hotel as we made our vows, the eerie yet beautiful sound of ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ on the garden speakers. In the midst of that still autumnal day, a solitary gust of wind brought golden leaves down on us which was Mairs Daddy silently blessing us with a whisper 🙂 No pomp and ceremony. no stress or worry in planning the day. Just our day 🙂

Yesterday as I stood on the pier in Bowness with Martha and Merlin we looked across the water and out of nowhere  a sudden gust of wind brought a scattering of little golden yellow and brown leaves onto the water surface and my mind was instantly taken back to that moment 9 years before. I smiled so much I had tears in my eyes and I then explained to them as they watched it, that just the same happened to us. They both looked out at the water in wonderment and it was yet another magical moment shared.

A year ago, as much as I again focused on the memories of a fabulous day, I otherwise was not in a very good place at all. I was beginning to feel very lost, unfocused and really just unsure about a lot of things. Amongst other things, the Lakes had become a place I couldn’t bear to step foot in because it was simply too painful. It held too much time spent there for it to be shaken off and become bearable again.

Here I am though in my hotel room in Newby Bridge, the children fast asleep in the bed behind me and we’re looking forward to a lovely day. I just booked it without much thought and maybe there in lies the secret. To not think too long or hard but just do what my gut says.

A year has made a huge difference. It has brought clarity of mind, a realisation that living in the here and now doesn’t mean forgetting. I have the most incredible love in my life who has made anything feel possible again where once things were ruled out. Overall an outlook of positivity and excitement in regards to everything. A perfect balance between remembering and treasuring what Mair and I had, and at the same time looking forward to what the future holds in store 🙂

Maybe it was just that small steps were needed in order to for me to feel able to venture back here, maybe it was an open mind, maybe an amount of hurt was actually needed in order to aid the healing. Who knows.

What I do know is that even though I don’t spend an awful lot of time here anymore, the Lakes will always hold a very very special place in my heart ❤

Today we will go to the Manjushri Buddist Centre at Coniston Priory, a place that brings so much peace and balance during the difficult times but also where in happy moments of relfection it brings a closeness.

Afterwards we’ll have a day of exploring museums and maybe seeek out a stone circle or semething. Whatever we do, we’re enjoying the day today

Happy 9th Anniversary Mair.

Pottery for 9 🙂 xx

A Key Unlocks!

IMAG4265Its Summer time and I’ve just returned from yet another wonderful visit to Scotland with my two children. Not the islands this time but the coast still in Dumfries and Galloway.

I remember a time, after Mair passed away where the mere thought of a whole weekend on my own with the kids filled me with dread as I found it all so tiring from the emotional onslaught that had been recently experienced. Now though I treasure that time. The exploring we do, the places we find, the almost spiritual connection we make with places. That fine balance of having Mair in mind and in reflection but at the same time focussing on the moment that this is us, our little team and we’re doing pretty well in the grand scheme of things. It was wonderful to be joined by my sister Verna for the latter couple of days and for her too to share in the joy that is the kids on holiday and them wanting to show her places such as the

The build up to the holiday, the weeks prior, had seen a number of very significant changes in our life which, while some had been coming for a while, had a real impact when they did.

The house that Mair and I had was on the market for some time. The children and I had moved in October 2014 to a new place as I needed to be away from the constant reminders of the decline in Mair’s health. I felt it important that the children and I started a fresh, without forgetting. We were a little team of three and we needeed new roots. The positive memories came with us in droves because it was after all the wonderful home we had made out near the peaks and begun making so many fabulous friendships.

So we moved……and I promptly began a complete delayed meltdown. Grief came rushing forward, which I wrote about in the The Lead Cloak . It was relentless and what then became a saga of a house sale lent to exacerbating this feeling. I felt trapped in a past that I wanted gone. My memories of Mair of a happy, caring and truly amazing person, full of life, zest, giving and compassion. I didn’t want my memories to be those of illness and ultimately her death in respect of that house.

Life generally was full of ups and downs, stops and starts, it’s on, its off, happy, sad. enthusiastic, bored, understood, insulted. The ups bizarrely seemed to coincide an offer on the house being made and accepted, the downs with that offer or sale falling through. The Autumn/Winter period last year especially I was up and down like a yo-yo, sparked by a sale falling through weeks before completion. It impacted me so much to the point I stopped looking after my own mental health. When something fell through I felt I was fish hooked back into that place again that I wanted to get away from. The bright point in amongst this time was a trip to Arran with the children which just melted my heart and reminded me of what was really important. Happy doesn’t always hide the sad tough moments through.

Thankfully a bit of a reality check and some harsh words helped snap me out of it and I began the year with a new zest, having started getting some professional support again. I started running again, having completely lost my enjoyment of it 9 months earlier, and this gave me back my clarity of mind that I had missed so much.

The advent of Merlin beginning nursery earlier this year could have signalled another meltdown, but as I stood there in tears watching him walking off, wishing Mair was there to see him, a friend covered me in a hug, took me for coffee and then shared some words with me that would ultimately put so much unexpected spring in my step.

052Another offer came in, it all looked good, the price was good, they wanted it to happen quickly and then bang. Fallen through again. Arrrgggghhhh. As if it wasn’t bad enough already some fucking genius then decided to put Mothers Day on Mair’s birthday. Both of those days tough enough as it is without combining them both. So there it was. Dragged back again just as I was able to see light and a new chapter beckoning.

Thankfully the running continued and I had a good outlet, achieving plenty, feeling healthy, eating healthily and above all relishing the time with the kids.

Finally it happened. The offer came in. It was good. Then another offer came in. They were competing and finally I accepted. This was it. The house was going to go.

The chapter was coming to an end, mirroring some other events too.

And there it was! The children finished school and nursery for the summer, the inevitable happened and the house sale was finally complete. The house was gone! It was no longer ours.

I expected to hand the keys in, walk out of the estate agents and go buy some prosecco and feel huge relief.

Instead I felt sombre, reflective, even slightly cross with myself for willing the house away so much when it had at one point been so filled with joy.

This though quickly turned to happy thoughts as I remembered that all those memories have come with us and I spent the afternoon looking through images of that time, of Martha so young, of Mair happy and healthy and not to forget Angus the cat who joined us in that home and was glued to Mair.

As the house sale completed on the 17/18 July I felt a sea change in me. I had built up so IMAG4289many walls,barriers, doors around me since Mair’s death, albeit subtly. Created places where I would hide away  and shield myself from the world almost saying “NO. You can’t come in here. I’m not sharing this with you. My safe place”

But a key had been found in the midst of this event. A key which will become more clear in the fulness of time. In an instant those walls and barriers crumbled around me and those doors that seemed locked forevermore suddenly swung open again. I feel freer, more open and safe than I have felt in longer than I can remember and I find myself smiling to myself on reflection of this on a daily basis. Life feels balanced again

A Chapter has closed but just like a book, you don’t forget what you’ve read before when you begin the next one; That new chapter which a key has unlocked 🙂 xxx

 

s-INDIA-PREGNANT-WOMAN-small

Recent blog I wrote for Mummy’s Star #CancerandPregnancy Awareness Week which was featured in Huffington Post:

The 18th June! A day which is forever embedded in my memory.

 

The day I dropped my wife off for a routine antenatal appointment, thinking she’d only be a couple of hours. The day I went to the park with our daughter Martha while Mair was in hospital only for the world to stop at 10:28am. Mair rang and said she’d just been told she had cancer!!

 

“What??” was my response at the time and I still find myself astounded now thinking back to what became a blur of a day.

 

Four years on this week and I have found myself reflecting a lot. I always do this time of year for obvious reasons but this week I guess more so than previous at it sees the annual awareness week take place of the charity Mummy’s Star which I founded in Mair’s memory, to support pregnant women with cancer.

 

We’ve focused this year on how to maintain normality for women and I think its vitally important to highlight the huge amount of positives in our journey, despite the tragic outcome that was to come in the following months.

 

When Mair was diagnosed our world fell apart because of the uncertainty that this threw up. Having never heard of anyone being diagnosed with cancer in pregnancy before, let alone be treated for it, we were worried. Would it affect the baby? Could we even continue with the pregnancy?

 

Despite these worries the team were quick to provide the reassurances and the plan for treatment proceeded.

 

The bigger impact at this stage however was that Mair suddenly felt robbed of her pregnancy, her experience that suddenly wasn’t going to be as it had been with Martha 3 years earlier. She didn’t think she could enjoy the pregnancy as she has previously. Ongoing chemo was to interupt this on a regular cycle, the prospect of not being able to have a home birth and of course the hammer blow to her of not being able to breast feed again.

 

Step forward, our midwife Helen Howard!

We sat in a nice cool room, were given sandwiches and a cup of tea and were asked the simple question…”So, what would you like?”

 

Cue the reaction…”What? There’s Choices? She’s Got Cancer!!” In one simple question the world seemed to tip back in our favour. We suddenly had choices again that a week before felt like they’d been ripped away.

 

As I type this there are tears rolling down my face because I remember that meeting so clearly. I remember seeing Mair for the first time1 hour before birth since her diagnosis with a smile on her face. This lady had just handed control back. Something that is deeply underestimated in this situation but is absolutely priceless.

 

We actually could have had a homebirth however in the end we decided to have a hospital birth due to early induction to be able to recommence treatment, but the point is that it was on the table as an option. That is so important. Don’t make decisions for people. Make the decisions with them, inform them and the best solution will prevail.

The next thing was breast feeding. Having breastfed Martha for over a year, the possibility of Mair not being able to breastfeed again was almost as devastating as the cancer diagnosis itself. Nothing could replace that for her however suddenly a magic alternative was available.

Helen talked to us and explained about donor breast milk and that we might be able to get it for our baby. We’d never heard of this before, knew nothing of milk banks and all the rest but by the end of that conversation it was the best thing ever. Our little baby was going to be able to get the same start in life as his big sister and that meant the world to us both. Again, it was that bit more control coming back our way.

 

The final piece, but I would say the most significant was the regular monitoring of Merlin!

Every third Thursday was going to be chemo day, beginning on Thursday 28 June and that first trip to the hospital I remember stopping countless time on the drive there because she was so sick from fear, but we went in, had her treatment and were done. In advance of the next session though, the Helen and the team at Tameside Hospital arranged for us to come in earlier. There they had Mair lie on a bed, hooked her up to the baby monitor and there we stayed for an hour if not more to listen to his heartbeat. I cannot put into words fully how big an impact this had on Mair. It was like she was given her whole pregnancy back in an instant. There we were listening to our baby boy, his heart beating away happily. We knew he was doing well.

 

On the way out of the hospital then on each of the remaining sessions, after listening to our baby first, we ‘popped in to have chemo’! Those Thursdays were no longer about cancer, drugs, side effects….they were now about our baby! We were once again excited expectant parents and we were looking forward to the arrival of our baby boy and Martha’s little brother.

 

The remainder of the pregnancy went very smoothly, Mair’s induction all went to plan and she delivered to the minute, at 8pm exactly on Monday 24 September 2012, just as Helen had predicted only a few hours before.

 

In the upcoming months after this, our world would once again be turned upside down, never to be the same again following the sudden loss of Mair from a rare secondary cancer spread, but I would ask that the positives be remembered here;

Of how a simple meeting and a simple question from a truly wonderful midwife gave Mair her pregnancy and her enjoyment and focus on it back and firmly placed cancer in the background.

 

The charity was originally launched in 2013, a year to the day she was diagnosed in because I wanted the day to eventually figure for a positive reason rather than that day that began to take away.

 

It’s slowly becoming a good day.

Letter to…..

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On 6 December 2013, Mairs first anniversary, I wrote this rather defiant letter.

A lovely friend reminded me about it last night so I read it again to see whether it still rang true and largely it does.

There have been many ups and downs in the last two years, I’ve wavered several times from my positive, glass half full perspective on things and have dwelt a bit more than I would have liked but it’s all part of the complexity of grief.

So as we arrive at her third anniversary today I say again:

“Dear 6th December,

Today you took our beautiful Mair from us, my wife, best friend, soul mate and wonderful mummy to our children.

You may be expecting hatred and anger from me/us or that you broke and crushed us but sadly for you, you are mistaken and I will tell you why!

You took Mair from us but you forgot in your naivity that you can never take away our memories or the wonderful traits that she instilled in us, in me and most importantly in our children.

You made us stronger and more determined than ever. You made medical staff, colleagues and strangers become friends, you turned friends into practically family. This saw us wrapped up in a blanket of warmth, care and love, the like of which I have never known

We are forever scarred by what you did, but in time we will heal!
We will cry at the loss, but we will smile and be happy thinking about her and the wonderful time we all had with her!
Our lives will have to move on but we will never ever forget her especially that glinting, mischievous smile.
We have changed forever

She is everywhere we look!
In the sands of Dinas Dinlle,
soaring high above the Cuillin of Skye, drifting in a snow flurry in Edale,
floating at the feet of the Buddhas on Holy Isle in Arran,
in the grounds of Briery Wood,
sitting look out over the beautiful Longdendale Valley,
and always always in our hearts.

I have nothing but compassion for you. Compassion because you cannot change who you are no matter how hard you try. You will always be known as this day, the day you took her away.

We on the other hand, have changed because we somehow summoned an inner strength to cope with the tragic devastation you inflicted on us last year. An inner strength that Mair gave us by being the person she was; compassionate, selfless and determined and positive amongst much much more.

Sorry if all comes as a bitter disappointment to you but its the truth and I felt like you needed to know now more than ever.

You are but one day! Memories last a lifetime 

Thanks for reading

“Rise and Rise Again, Until Lambs Become Lions”

Back Amongst The Buddhas

1654054_10153372828668992_5810583865479891078_nThis last week, Martha, Merlin and I took a trip up to one of our more treasured places; The Isle of Arran.

The stunning little “Gem of the Clyde” as Billy Connoly refers or “Scotland in miniature” by many many others.

It holds many memories for us and this was actually my sixth visit. First with Mum and Dad as a teenager, then with Mair as one of our first weekends away together and then once Martha had arrived we returned as a little family in 2011 and 2012, when Mair was pregnant with Merlin and undergoing treatment

Tragically, despite having booked the same cottage again for the following summer as we left in 2012, little did we know that Mair would be taken from us 4 months later.

We did return in 2013, this time with Auntie Lou and an 11 month old Merlin, Martha and I. That visit was a time of deep reflection for all of us. Merlins first visit, Martha returning to a place she spent two wonderful summers with Mair and for Lou, the chance to see and feel the magic of this little place that had so touched Mair’s soul.

This visit came about at quite short notice as Martha simply asked one morning as we drove over Snake Pass “Daddy can we go back to the place with the Buddhas? I want to see Green Tara again” A reference to Holy Isle which sits just off the coast at Lamlash on the main Island

For some reason I had never been away with just the kids and me. I don’t really know why. Maybe the length of the journey with Merlin so young or something else I don’t know, but needless to say I said yes immediately and promptly booked our holiday.

Arriving at Ardrossan last Wednesday to get the ferry over, its hard to describe the feeling I experienced when I once again saw the skyline of Arran. Its misty peaks trying to hide from view, almost like a place you are not allowed to see fully until you are on water and away from the mainland. The rolling lowland and forest covered south of the island, the almost volcano like peak of Goatfell rising up from the coast flanked by the rest of the Arran Cuillin. A simply stunning place and one I couldn’t wait for Martha to see again and for Merlin to be able to run around on now he was older.

It is difficult to fully explain my connection to the Islands of Scotland, the feeling of overwhelming peace I feel when I am there, whether it be Skye, Mull or Arran, there is simply something there that I seldom feel anywhere else I have been.

Of course there are the reams of wonderful memories that these places hold for the children and me, but its more than that.

Its a sense of belonging and spiritual connection to the land, its stark wildness, its line sculpted by fire and ice. Its just incredible. I feel re-energised when I come to these places. Refuelled! I just feel home!

This visit though reminded me of something more and that was how wonderful the people of the island are, whether they have grown up there or whether they have moved there in later life.

Everywhere we went, we were remembered, whether it was making soap at Arran 12191956_10153372793163992_5145375815196043368_nAromatics, painting porcelain at Pots N Pieces or the Ferry Man to Holy Isle. And I don’t mean tourist swarm. I mean genuinely remembered. They remembered Merlin being on my back in the little life last time we were there, they remembered Martha and Mair going pottery painting while I took a walk up to Castail Abhail on the Cuillin, they remembered specific parts of conversations with Mair and yes, they remembered her passing from conversations with Lou and I on our return in 2013. That is special to feel from strangers, very special and only reinforces that feeling of home.

We went swimming, we spent a lovely morning on the beach at Blackwaterfoot, we had a stunning evening drive around the coast to Catacol, Pirnmill and Lochranza (where I nipped into the Arran distillery 😉 ) and of course, we went back to see the Buddhas.

12187795_10153372825403992_1752516613852887987_nHoly Isle, as I said earlier, sits just off the coast at Lamlash. It it home to the World Centre for Peace and Health, a Buddist residence which welcomes visitors to stay for a day, a week, a month or much longer. One Finnish lady we spoke to had been there 17 years. On the north of the Island there is a closed womens retreat (4 years) and on the main isle of Arran there is a mens retreat (7 years).

Now we are not buddists in the truest sense by any means but it is fair to say that we hold a lot of what it shows us very closely. Mair had attended classes for nearly three years and thus I gained interest in it as she became unwell. It helped her hugely to deal with her diagnosis and even her death, and it has helped me in no small part in the last three years to learn to cope with life without her. We don’t neccesarily talk about it very openly but it influences us in a very un-pious way.

Martha was aware of Mairs interest in Buddism, in fact to the point where she would readily take the mickey of how sometimes when she went to meditate, Mair would fall asleep, but joking aside, it clearly touched her.

My mum, when talking about Martha, has often said “that little girl has lived before” and there have been several little things that have happened over the six young years that have displayed an almost sixth sense emotionally.

She was once talking loudly at the beach at the Manjushri Centre in Ulverston about how “you must not knock my Daddy’s stack over, its precious and so are the stones”. A Buddist nun nearby, Gen La Dekyong responded and smiled saying “oh don’t worry, we’ll sit and look at it” Martha responded with (and not in a rude way) “Oh I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to the wind”

This same nun, at a later private meeting following Mairs passing, had picked out the card of the green tara 12189000_10153372828908992_4940458818208532269_n as a gift for Martha and explained its connection to weather and natural force. She remembered what Martha had said to her on the beach that day. I don’t believe in coincidence!

Going back to Arran, when we first visited Holy Isle, Martha wanted to leave an offering for Green Tara, a green jellybean. This was quite a selfless act for a 26 month old but so a connection with Green Tara was there.

Returning to the Isle in 2013, she chose to leave a headband, that Lou had just bought her, on the offering stone for Green Tara…and I left a bracelet I had got there the previous year. We also scattered Mair’s fairy dust off the coast. A kind of pilgimage some might say.

On our visit this year, we were not supposed to go over. Visiting to the island purely for walking tends to stop at the end of the season i.e. October but this year it had ended early due to poor weather.

But again, this is where the kindness of local people showed its true heart. Talking to the ferryman, I explained the reason for our visit and he took no time at all to come up with a solution. He needed to take supplies to the isle so would take us over too.

12065937_10153372826783992_522860426747071670_nStepping off the boat, I could just feel it all over again. That surge of tranquility to be there once again. I don’t think I have ever felt so much overwhelming love for my children as I did at that moment, seeing them tottering off, Martha explaining to Merlin that they were off to see the Buddhas. The bond between them is incredible, again spiritual.

We took a lovely walk down the coast, first coming to St Molaises Cave, then to the healing spring which they both took great pleasure in drinking from and feeling the various precious stones in its water bed through their hands, before we came to the first of the 8 buddha paintings.

Photos cannot do justice to the beauty of these rock paintings, their detail, their vibrant colour, sitting against the autumnal heather. They feel like friends. White Tara, Green Tara, Marpa, Milerapa, Gampopo, Karmapa and others. We found all of them along with the rock on which has the Tibetan symbols for Om Mane Pame Hun, the mantra Mair used when meditating and more, and which I subsequently had tattoed across my shoulders after coming in 2013.

We sat and had lunch beneath this rock, we scattered some more of Mair’s fairy dust and then returned to Green Tara.

Martha not only found the headband that she had left 2 years previous, but my bracelet was also there 🙂 The joy on her face when she found it made me well up

We all held each other tightly, closed our eyes and had a quiet moment together. In reality it was about 2 minutes but it felt like hours. Stillness around us and no sound but that of waves softly lapping against the stones beneath us. We opened our eyes again and felt free in this place.

Out came the jellybabies again and Green Tara was given a green one for each of us before we headed off again back to the boathouse.

We played on the beach, making pretend fires, stacking stones and awaited our boat back home

We had been able to do what we had travelled north for. We played, we remembered, we created memories and we bonded like never before.

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What this visit to Arran has reminded me of it that we have these places. We have a wonderful, loving group of friends, family and more around us at home, and we also have these memory locked places to come to, to re-energise, to remember. The memories are here forever and again Martha coined in perfectly when she said as we left Arran, “I think I’ll be coming here when I’m a grown up Daddy” and I have no doubt she will 🙂

We don’t ever forget, we always remember. These places are in our hearts and minds for all time. Going back to our daily lives does not mean we leave anything behind, but I think there is something about a visit like this that reminds us that despite the tragedy we have been through, we are also incredible fortunate. We have a good life, we are surrounded by love.

Martha asked me a question the other night randomly. She asked whether we were rich, poor or somewhere in the middle. I just responded with instinct and said “We are rich in everything that you cannot but with money” She looked at me puzzled, but then smiled and placed her head on her pillow 🙂

As we left on the ferry on Saturday to journey home, the cloak of mist once again descended around the island, its mysterious looking peaks, its rolling landscape locked away once again 🙂 A secret Isle 🙂

Om Mane Pame Hun – Avalokiteshvara please bestow upon me the attainment of complete purity, Enlightenment

Huffington Post – #BuildingModernMen piece

10384909_747557621973900_2035316805887569711_nThis is the full version of the blog piece I wrote recently for the Huffington Post as part of their #BuildingModernMen series:

I think over the last few years it’s fair to say I have had a very heightened awareness of October coming up in the calendar. October, Pinktober, whatever you refer to it as, it is without doubt the cancer awareness month that stands out the most….and rightly so because it focusses on the type of cancer that is most common; Breast Cancer.

It also however brings with it that stark reminder that this is the cancer that took my beautiful wife Mair from me at the young age of 41, when I was 32 and our children Martha and Merlin were just 3 and 10 weeks respectively, in 2012. Gone less than 6 months after diagnosis…a diagnosis that took place when she was 24 weeks pregnant!

October has many happy connotations for me too though so please don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. It marks our wedding anniversary on the 27th, a day filled with wonderful memories of a stunning autumnal day in The Lakes surrounded by family and friends, the vast majority of which I am surrounded by today.

I was writing recently about life after cancer for the Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign’s book ‘Afterwards: Reflections in Life Beyond Breast Cancer’ and I found myself in quite an odd place. A place where I was reflecting positively on what had been the most traumatic time in my wife’s life and also mine. How can you reflect positively on trauma? Well because in the midst of the worst thing you can ever go though as a family, as a couple, as parents, you see the true meaning of ‘in sickness and in health’ and we did. Love conquered all.

I reflected on the tender intimate moments that we shared in those 6 fateful months. The shaving of her head, the birth of our second child Merlin (so named due to being that bit of magic in the midst of the terror unfolding around us, The nights of us simply holding each other tight, crying. The conversations in which she feared not being here for the children and for me.

I had got used to looking after my children on my own a few months before my wife actually passed away due to her ongoing treatment and the need for her to get much needed rest after chemotherapy as well as the emotional impact it was having on her. I did the night feeds when Merlin arrived so she wasn’t disturbed although she did very often come upstairs to sit with me and to hold him in the night. Precious moments that I hold so dear as more time passes. I would be playing with them both downstairs on a Saturday or Sunday morning while she slept, watching Martha holding her baby brother as she gazed upon him with so much love. So when the ultimate tragedy hit our family and Mair passed away following a secondary cancer to her brain with Merlin only ten weeks old, I guess while I had fantastic support around me from family and friends, I knew that was I thought had been temporary suddenly became permanent. My wife, my best friend and my children’s mother was ripped out of our lives and we had to somehow carry on.

I don’t know why but I never got angry about what happened…..or I did but the anger was constructively ploughed in making a difference to others in my wife’s position by setting up the charity Mummy’s Star.

Through the work of the charity though I have met many many people going through treatment. Perspectives range widely and no perspective is right or wrong. Your cancer is your cancer, no one else’s and thus people find their own path to walk through it.

I now arguably know more people with cancer than those who don’t; a strange position to place myself in in many people’s eyes however I find that helping and supporting others has been a huge help in my own recovery from loss. To have confronted cancer rather than hiding from it until another person I know is diagnosed.

A cancer diagnosis, going through treatment, going through a loss changes your perspective on absolutely everything and I think I can confidently say you will seldom find anyone who will disagree with that statement. There is a fine line though between it changing your perspective and it restricting you. I commented recently on my vehement dislike of the phrase “oh you will get back to normal after everything….it’ll just be a new type of normal” I dislike this phrase because I find it limits people either when they are diagnosed with cancer or in my case when they are widowed.

I haven’t got used to a new type of normal. I have learned about a completely different life to the one I had before, when my wife was alive, when we parented together, when we holidayed together…everything.

It has to be said at this point that I have had an incredible source of support through my ongoing journey by having been able to connect with other widowed men through an online forum. Being widowed is isolating to say the least no matter how many people you physically have around you, but for a widowed man there was very very little at the time of my loss. That was until I was introduced to this group, many of whom I have since become very good friends with, who I have had meet ups with, play dates with our children and next year a weekend residential.

Being a widowed dad if I am honest was a very daunting prospect, but not because I didn’t think I could do it. Millions of people are bringing children up on their own…single parents, whether it be through loss, through personal choice or due to a relationship breakdown. You crack on and you do the best you can for your children. I have had many people say to me, in the loveliest way possible over the last three years, “I don’t know how you do it” or “You’re an incredible dad” or “you’re an inspiration to do what you’ve done after everything” To truth is I am doing the same as the girl or guy up the road whose husband or wife left them! I am bringing up my children with all the love and support I find in me, I try my best to give them a strong example to look up to, to take comfort from and someone they know they can talk to about anything at all.

Yes there is a subtle difference and that is the emotion of the loss that I and my children have experienced. My children cry and miss their mum and I cry and miss my wife. We have cried together, we have cried in silence, we have cried to other people but we seem to use that to pick each other up and know that Mum is a constant figure in their lives; theirs and mine. I try and dual parent in a way to a degree. When it comes to making decisions about the children I try and think of what my wife would have done, I combine it with what I think I should do and then I try and combine the two and reach a happy medium. Sometimes I do what she would have done and others I go with my gut instinct. My way hasn’t always been the way some others think it should have been done but at the end of the day they aren’t the ones doing it on a day to day basis.

Going back to how others do it, they are also dealing with a kind of grief; the grief of a broken relationship and that brings a number of challenges much like my own situation. In fact I actually think that in that situation it is sometimes harder than mine because there is a constant in their lives which needs to be maintained for the good or the bad of the person and their children.

It has to be said though that society has a strange view on men bringing up their children. I guess the presumption it that a woman generally takes the lead in parenting and then if she is not there, the other female figures in that relationship/family will intervene and become the female go to. And so a presumption creeps in that the man is somehow not capable of doing what a woman can.

I agree to a point with this in that no I don’t think I can give the children cuddles the same reassuring way my wife did when she was here. I feel utterly useless when my children are ill because I always think “Mair would know what to do” and that I bumble around trying to find a solution. I don’t think I am as fun with the children as my wife was. I think I am too serious.

At this point though I will turn my attention to a blog I wrote a couple of years ago about being a single, widowed dad which will hopefully better illustrate what I mean:

Don’t mention #WClub whatever you do!

A dishevelled man in his mid-thirties skulks across a car park with his two children under his arms, nods at the hulk on the door and slowly descends the stairs into a basement.

The room is lit only by a buzzing flickering fluorescent light ready to spark and go out completely.
In the flickers he can see other men cowering in the shadows, tears rolling down their cheeks, with their children. A few discarded attempts at making up SMA formula for the few babies in the room lie scattered. They look scared with no idea what the future holds.

As he finds a place amongst them, a lone voice sternly states
“The First rule of Widowers Club is……you do not talk about Widowers Club!”

Then he steps into the light and says “The Second rule of Widowers Club is…… (but this time bellows) YOU DO NOT ……TALK………. ABOUT WIDOWERS CLUB!

————————————

Okay so yes I have blatantly ripped off a scene from Fight Club but the point to a degree in my mind remains or remained the same for a short while.

Before becoming one of those rarest of breeds that you never hear of i.e. a Widower, I never knew any others. I knew grandparents who’d lost their other half but I took that as natural. Part of the progression of life into old age. People my age do not die and therefore people of my age do not become widowed and certainly not men.

I guess though when something like this happens, an extra sensory part of us is released that we never even knew existed. You hear people joke about having a gaydar! Well once you become a widower I think something similar happens and we are drawn to them. Is it because they can empathise fully?, is it because they have young children too?, is it because they are of similar age? Whatever the reason we suddenly know other people who have lost whether it is through a tragic accident, through a complication in a birth or a routine operation or due to cancer as was mine! Yes Cancer…..again. Rears its head every fucking time doesn’t it. That extra sensory part kicks in with that too. Before my wife had it, I only knew one person with cancer. Now I know more people with than without!

I remember the first time I met another male widower face to face and it was a strange experience. A mirror! So many similarities with a complete and utter stranger yet there is a silent bond that ensues. Following that first meeting, I now know tons of male widowers. Some well, some through social media and some more peripherally. None the less though it’s a bond.
We share all sorts together. The trials and tribulations of day to day life, bringing up the kids, wanting to try and do things the way Mum did them but knowing you’ll never reach that enviable mark because…..well you’re a Dad duh! We’re clumsy! We can’t do girls hair can we! We don’t toast the bread just right like she did! We can’t offer that cosy cuddle in the way that Mum used to!

But wooooaaaaahhhh! We aren’t inept human beings. We are DADS! We can do anything we put our mind to. We can learn in time, we can do the girls hair and we can pick the kids up high on our shoulders where my own children say “wow I can see the whole world from here” (and I’m not that tall by the way).

So we’ve got the parenting bit cracked now, it’s been a few months if not longer and purely by chance we meet someone. Another woman! OMG! This has the word taboo written all over it and you can hear the mind gremlins telling you that all the people you can’t see or hear are saying “ooh so he’s moving on is he…..he’s forgotten already! That didn’t take him long did it” You even question it yourself. Am I a complete an utter rat because I have dared meet someone who makes me smile?

No! No! and No! again!

No he is not moving on! He is getting on with life as opposed to accepting a life ahead of loneliness. He had a soul mate and she was taken away from him and their children through no fault of their own. There was no choice. He is not replacing someone. He is at a different stage in his life to the one he was at 6 months, 12 months or two years ago.

He has not forgotten either. Far from it. How can you forget such happiness and so many memories?

And no it didn’t take him long! It didn’t take him short either! He wasn’t out there trying desperately to find someone because there was a massive gaping hole in his life. That would have been replacing.

No he has met someone by chance, possible another single parent even who will understand the challenges of bringing children up on their own, even though their own reasons for singledom might be similar or very different to his. A person who makes him smile effortlessly.

If it works so be it and be happy for that strange beast that you don’t understand. The curiosity that is the Widower. Because he is a friend of yours, or a brother, or a son, or a cousin, or an uncle or a work colleague.

Now go forth, throw off the shackles and shout as loud as you can “I WILL TALK ABOUT WIDOWERS CLUB AND YOU SHALL NOT JUDGE ME FOR BEING A BUMBLING DAD!”