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Saturday, 6 December 2014

A Light in the Darkness

The evenings are long and dark, there is a distinctly wintry chill in the air, and reminders that Christmas is imminent seem to bombard us at every turn. There's no doubt that this time of year holds a particular challenge for many of us. Facing my first Christmas without Suzie was never going to be easy.
Over the last couple of weeks I've tried to gradually face some degree of exposure to our local festive events.... sometimes more successfully than others. On one occasion I didn't even get as far as parking the car as my emotions engulfed me at the first sight of the festive stalls and the brass band by the roadside. Determined not to be defeated I did venture out again that evening and went with my Dad to see the Christmas lights being switched on. That was a better experience. 
Today I attended the 'Light up a Life' service at our local church, organised by Rowcroft Hospice. It consisted of a few Christmas carols, a time of remembrance and the lighting of candles for our loved ones, and a most inspirational and encouraging message given by the preacher. He focused on the subject of 'Light' and talked about a ship's light that might be seen out at sea on a dark night. Living by the sea, we've seen such lights many times. We were reminded that, although we may only see a tiny light in the distance, that light indicates the presence and reality of a ship and its crew. However small the light may appear to us, the substance of what it represents is real and significant, even though we can't see it. The same is true of our departed loved ones. Our memories may seem like a distant flickering light, but the very essence and truth of the person, and the love we share, is as bright and real as it ever was. 
I found great comfort, and even a deep sense of joy, from that message. It brought home to me the assurance that my Suzie is alive and vibrant and happy, and, most of all, free from the constraints and restrictions of this earthly life. Christmas is all about the birth of our Lord Jesus, who came to this earth to shine His light into our darkness and to pay the price for our eternal joy and peace. He is the Light of the world, and I sensed a glimpse of that light this afternoon. It was a significant turning point for me as I continue to prepare myself for the Christmas season. I really believe that I will now be able to face this very difficult time of year with a deep sense of peace.
Tonight, as I looked out of the window before pulling the curtains, I was greeted by an amazingly bright full moon. Its light shined across the sky, dispelling the darkness of the night. It was another beautiful reminder of the light that Jesus shines into our world.
As I settled into bed and reached for my nighttime devotional reading I found these words waiting for me:
"You are being led forth. Your wilderness wanderings are nearly over. Behold I make all things new. A new birth, a new heart, a new life, a new song. Let this time be to you a time of renewal."
I trust God for that 'new song' as He continues to shine His light into my darkness.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Surviving the Setbacks

I've been trying to write this update for a few days now, but I'm having difficulty finding the right words. I want my blog to reassure my friends that I'm doing ok, and offer hope and encouragement to other readers who are facing similar challenges. But I'm just not sure that I can achieve any of that right now.
The last few months have been a steep uphill climb as I've not only had to face the daily heart wrenching sadness of missing Suzie's presence, but as I've also had to learn how to live a kind of life that is alien to me. These months have consisted of a series of steps, some forwards and some backwards, separated only by periods where time just seems to hang motionless, without any purpose or meaning. Generally I would like to think that I'm in a better place emotionally than I was a few months ago. But, as I discovered last week, progress can't be measured on a neat linear scale. One isolated but significant setback had a dreadful impact on any sense of progress that I'd thought I'd made, and threatened to destroy my confidence completely. 
I've been trying hard to get some degree of interest and social contact into my life, which has been hugely challenging for me as I deal with ongoing anxiety issues, and infinitely more difficult as I face these issues without Suzie beside me. It was a great achievement for me to be able to resume a hobby that Suzie and I had previously enjoyed together for many years. But during last week's practice evening I had a severe panic attack and, although this was caused by the claustrophobic nature of the venue, it has triggered a more widespread and destructive effect on other areas of my day to day life. I've had to curtail my involvement in this hobby, and the social contact that comes with it, which is a great disappointment to me, and I'm now trying to work through the knock-on effect that this setback has had on my depression and anxiety.
For a few days after this experience I was in a really dark place. I felt utterly defeated. I felt like I was right back where I'd been a few months ago, unable to stop crying and feeling totally lost and hopeless. My overwhelming sense of fear and dread as I face each new day has hit an all time peak. My desperate yearning to reach out and feel Suzie's arms around me is almost unbearable. Suddenly I just need her so very much. The heartache of her absence has reached a whole new level. Maybe the reality of it has finally hit me.
Somehow, though, I know I have to carry on. So many of my daily Bible verses recently have reminded me that God promises to give us strength to cope with the setbacks of life. I know that He has all the resources I need, and He loves me enough to help me one step at a time. A familiar quote has also been at the forefront of my mind.... 'This, too, will pass'. 
I continue to face each day, each hour, each minute, at a time, thanking God for the many blessings that I know are still mine, even on my lowest and darkest days. There's no doubt that I've had a huge setback, but I'm trying to see it as a 'step back' rather than a total defeat. That is easy to say and infinitely harder to do! But what's the alternative? Giving up simply isn't a viable option. I may need to retreat a little for a while, but only enough for healing to resume and for some degree of strength to begin to return. I'm sure that will happen in time.
Meanwhile I'm learning to be a bit more gentle with myself, more tolerant of my failings, more aware of any achievements, and infinitely more dependant on the unfailing love of our faithful God whose grace is always sufficient for all I could ever need. I'm down but I'm not out! 

Psalm 73 v.26
I admit how broken I am in body and spirit, 
but God is my strength and He will be mine forever.

Psalm 31 v.24
Be strong and He will strengthen your heart, all you who wait for the Lord.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

This, too, will become a memory.

During the last few months I've spent a lot of time remembering. At first I found that all of my memories seemed to focus on the last days and weeks of Suzie's life. Everything I did at home made me think of things we had done together, especially during the time that I was caring for her during her illness. Gradually I've been able to stretch my mind back to the happier days when Suzie was well and full of life and laughter. Memories were, and still are, intensely painful, or sometimes gently heartwarming, depending on how I feel at the time. My heart aches with the longing to be 'back there' again, but sometimes I'm able to smile and, just for one brief moment, feel the joy of what I'm remembering.
As the recent weeks and months have passed by I've gradually become aware that this awful time will, itself, become a memory that I will, one day, look back on. Even now, when I think of times and events that have happened since Suzie passed away, it feels strange that I can be 'looking back' on things that are part of my life without her. 
This morning my Bible 'Verse of the Day' was the familiar verse from Psalm 23 that says 'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil'. I've always thought of this verse as referring to one's own death, but this morning I saw it in a different light. Going through bereavement is, indeed, like walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I am living in a 'shadow' that casts darkness on my world. It diminishes any perception of light and it creates a bitter chill in even the warmest of days. But shadows fade. Shadows are only temporary. Dare I begin to hope that this darkness in which I currently live will, one day, be just a memory? I have to believe that it will. 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Awareness and Acceptance

There are times when to surrender is the only way forward. Sometimes there comes a point when neither 'fight' or 'flight' are viable options any longer. A few weeks ago I felt like I had come to the end of my resources and all I could do was to surrender. I was not succumbing to an attitude of defeat and I was most certainly not giving up. I was simply acknowledging the truth of where I was. This was a very dark place.... I couldn't change it, I couldn't escape from it, and to fight against it was futile and exhausting. In some ways it was like crashing into a brick wall, but, with hindsight, it was also a significant milestone.
Unable to fight my situation and my emotional response to it, I found myself becoming increasingly aware of my feelings in a more passive way. I was able to acknowledge the sadness, despair, depression, anxiety, and much more, and simply allow them to be there. No matter how unbearably awful these emotions are, I've found that it's possible to acknowledge their existence whilst resisting the instinct to respond. I accept that this is the way it is for now. I don't like it, but I can't change it, so I choose not to waste my energy trying to fight it. 
Obviously I miss Suzie as much as ever. I cherish every precious memory of her and of the life we shared. But I have to accept that it is now in the past. The life we loved so much is now a memory. For a long time it felt rather disrespectful to even want to accept that Suzie is no longer here, and it seemed like I was diminishing her significance by accepting that she's gone. But wishing that she was still here isn't going to change anything. My world is a very different and unfamiliar place now, but it is what it is, and I have to believe that it will be ok.
Each morning I still awake with an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and panic, but that, too, is something I have learnt to accept. I take some slow, deep breaths and sit up in bed quietly acknowledging everything I have to be thankful for. I take each day as it comes, focussing only on what actually matters for that day. During recent weeks I have become aware of things that trigger a sense of personal well being. Sometimes I may not feel like I want to go out, meet with people, tend the garden, go for a walk, or whatever.... but I am aware that such activities have a positive effect on my state of mind. My daughter very wisely advised me to see such things as medicine.... It may not taste great at the time, but it's worth taking because I know it will make me feel better. 
During the last couple of weeks two of my dear friends have also lost their loved ones. My heart goes out to them. I have shared their sense of loss, and I feel humbled to be able to reach out to them, knowing something of what they are experiencing. Re-living that initial rawness of grief and desolation through their loss has also made me realise that my own experience has moved on. Take courage my friends (you know who you are). 
I also have exchanged messages with two other friends, one of whom has just passed the first anniversary of his wife's death, and another who is approaching the first anniversary of her husband's. Both of you are a great sense of support and inspiration to me. Again, you know who you are. 
So.... Life goes on. This isn't the life I would have chosen, but it is the life God has chosen for me. My faith remains steadfast and I know that, in His will, there is fullness of joy, and life in all its abundance. I may not feel particularly joyful right now, but what I do feel is a tremendous sense of peace and hope. I thank God for precious friends and family who share love and practical support with me. May God bless you all.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

An Uncomfortable Plateau....

Looking back over my last few blog posts I realise that they don't even come close to expressing what it's really been like to live through these past weeks and months. The sheer enormity of this experience just doesn't seem to be reflected in the inadequate words on the page. Throughout these recent entries I notice some degree of repetition, as familiar feelings and thought patterns recur from one post to the next, and yet there are other aspects of this journey that have been missed, or brushed over, without any recognition of their significance. There are only so many adjectives one can use to try to describe such a profound sense of utter desolation and the roller coaster of emotions that goes with it. My world has been shattered into a million pieces, and I feel like I'm sitting among the rubble, not knowing how I can ever find a way to put it back together.
During the weeks that have passed I have made every effort possible to keep going.... to take each new day as it comes and to try to bring normal activities back into my life. I've engaged in some social contact, I've achieved the occasional brief trip to the local grocery shop, I've kept the garden tidy, and I'm gradually sorting through things in the house. All this time I've been driven by the realisation that 'everyday life' is now down to me.... Suzie is no longer here to give me motivation, encouragement, or even a purpose for doing any of these things, so I either get on with life for myself or I go under.
A couple of weeks ago I even dared to believe all this was getting easier. I was getting used to the unpredictable rhythm of emotions and I'd learnt to accept the low days, knowing that I could 'try again tomorrow'. Suddenly, though, I feel like I've come to a grinding halt, and I just don't have the strength to carry on. I'm so physically and mentally exhausted that, some mornings, it takes every ounce of energy I can muster just to get out of bed. I heave myself through the day like I'm wading through treacle, feeling constantly tired and drained, unwell and in pain. My appetite also seems to have deserted me, taking with it any motivation or previous good intentions to cook a 'proper meal' each day. For those of you who've never had to do it, trust me.... there's no pleasure at all in cooking a meal for one and staring at the wall while you eat it alone.
These last few weeks and months have been like climbing a mountain in a storm. At times I've made progress, other times I've lost my footing and slipped backwards, often I've been knocked off my feet by an unexpected side wind, but all the time I've tried hard to keep climbing. Right now I've simply run out of energy. I've slipped down onto an uncomfortable ledge, from which and I have neither the strength nor the will to get back up again. 
So, what now? My body is quite blatantly crying out for rest, and I have no choice but to give in to it, however lazy that might feel. Despite my constant exhaustion I seem to wake up ridiculously early each morning.... much too tired to get up but usually unable to go back to sleep either. So I drink coffee in bed whilst looking through the window at the various birds outside on the feeder, and I read the morning news on my iPad. I check my emails and any recent Facebook activity, as if to grasp hold of some degree of connection with the outside world. Eventually, sometimes two or three hours later, I find the strength to begin my day, to get up and face the void that awaits me, and to endure the increasing realisation that this is the way it is now. In the blink of an eye the last 20 years have gone forever, and any previously familiar structure or purpose has disintegrated around me. This is my new 'normal', and it's not a comfortable place to be. I feel inadequate, scared, lonely and unhappy, and I miss Suzie more each day. 
One might ask where God is in all this? I'm sure He is as close as ever, but I will admit that many of my prayers consist of gazing at Suzie's photo, whilst repeatedly saying to God in a bewildered whisper, "I just don't get it''. Other prayers take the form of a more desperate "Please help me God. I can't do this any more". I cling on to my faith though, and, each morning, even before I open my eyes, I bring to mind some of the many things I have to be thankful for. I just couldn't face the day at all if I didn't. I know I will come through this awful time, and, with the benefit of hindsight, maybe I will have a better understanding of it, but for now I just surrender.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Solace and Solitude

Those of you who know me will know that I've never been a gardener. That was always Suzie's joy and passion, and I just helped her with the manual jobs like lawn mowing and hedge cutting. But during the last few weeks I've found myself being curiously drawn to the garden. 
At first it was a purely a compulsion to 'tidy things up a bit'. The garden had been rather neglected since last Autumn and everything was growing so rapidly that some of the plants seemed to be taking over. I started by going around the garden tentatively wielding a pair of secateurs and praying that I wouldn't do irreparable damage to any of the plants. Trying to regain some sense of neatness and order felt like an overwhelming and daunting task. 
As I persevered I found my mind straying back to last year when Suzie and I were tending the garden together. It was a great sadness for her to be unable to do it herself, and directing me as a rather less enthusiastic apprentice was a poor substitute. Ironically, now, as I tackle this task without her, I find a calming sense of solace and peace. 

Suzie created this beautiful garden, and my heart's desire is to honour her memory by keeping it looking as lovely as she did. I'm gradually becoming a little more confident, and I'm beginning to learn which plants I can cut back, knowing that they will continue to grow. I have discovered hidden gems among the bushes which has given me an unexpected sense of joy. I've even found myself going out to smell the roses, or looking expectantly to see if any more Passion Flower buds have opened up. Each time I discover a new plant, or a new flower blooms, it feels like a gift from Suzie, as though she has left hidden treasures for me to find.

I don't really have a clue what I'm doing, and I will never have the creative passion for gardening that Suzie had, but there have been times when I have 'engaged' with it in such a way that I have become totally disengaged with life and all its heartache and pain. I'm told that there is a scientific explanation for this, based on the different parts of the brain that are being used, but I won't go into that now. All I know is that I'm able to feel 'connected' to Suzie in a way that is more positive and less painful.

It's now four months since Suzie passed away. I can't help thinking it must be significant that I now find myself counting the time in months rather than weeks. During that time I've had days when I've really thought I'd turned a corner, only to face other days where the sadness and despair has been almost unbearable. I'm beginning to realise that this is how it is likely to be for a long time. I've been blessed with a loving family and some very dear friends, without whom I would find this journey so much more difficult. They love me, pray for me, share my pain, help me in practical ways, and they give me hope.

Interestingly, I've also found solace in the quiet times of solitude. I've always been comfortable with my own company, even when I was younger, often avoiding parties and night clubs in favour of a walk on the beach or a drive across the moors. Now that I find myself alone much of the time I am learning to embrace that solitude and sometimes even find comfort in it. During a recent trip to our beautiful moors I found I was able to breathe in the peace and gentle tranquillity of the fresh air and silence. I was able to revisit places that Suzie and I used to go to together, and somehow feel calmly connected to her spirit. Her memory and her love will always be in my heart, and I cherish all my precious memories of the wonderful life we shared. I long to go back and relive those years, but I know I can't. My life has to go on now without Suzie beside me, and I know it will never be the same again. 
The future, and everything that it holds, is a road that I must face with courage and faith. I feel a profound sense of peace embracing me as I learn to release my fears, and to rest in the love and prayers of family and friends. I hold on to the comfort of knowing that Suzie is safe for eternity, and I find joy in the assurance that, however long my own road may be, it will ultimately lead me to where she is now.  

Monday, 16 June 2014

In a different place

Some weeks ago a dear friend of mine told me that, although I may not feel like I'm making any progress, there would come a time when I would look back and realise that I'm not in the same place as I had been. I'm beginning understand what he meant. My heart aches for Suzie every day, and the sadness of being without her is sometimes even more intense than ever, but other times there's a kind of numbness, as though the pain is enfolded in a protective cocoon.
I do feel I'm in a different place, emotionally, to where I was.... not an easier or more comfortable place, just different. I still get tearful every day, though not quite so frequently, but often with an even greater sense of desolation as the permanence of Suzie's absence really begins to hit home. My focus seems to be shifting slightly more towards 'what do I do now?' rather than being constantly engulfed by painful memories of Suzie's last days. Obviously those memories are never far away, but I try to think beyond them to memories of the many happy times we shared when Suzie was well. I also make a conscious point of smiling when I look at her photo, even if tears still well up too. We had more than 20 happy years together and I hold on to the blessing of the precious love we shared and the many joys that love gave to us both.
If I put my mind to it I am able to recognise a few very small steps of progress that I've made during the last few weeks. It may be just going for a short walk with my dog, or being able to do something useful to help a friend, but these small achievements give me momentary glimpses of hope which help to get me through the dark days when I'm barely able to function at all. I continue to face many days like that, but I'm learning to accept them for what they are, and to trust that the next day may be better.
So, back to the question 'what do I do now?'.... I don't have a clue. When Suzie was here, attending to her needs was an all-consuming way of life. I didn't have to think about me because my sole focus and desire was to care for Suzie. It was the very essence of every minute of every day. Now it's gone, leaving a huge chasm of emptiness that I am gazing into, as if from the edge of a cliff. I'm scared. I feel incomplete, vulnerable, and totally lost. I don't know how to begin to build a new life for myself.
Eventually I think the answers will come little by little as God gently and lovingly reveals the path that He has planned for me. We have the promise that God's grace is sufficient for today.... I remember my Mum telling me many years ago "Don't try to face tomorrow's problems using today's grace". Never in my life have I felt the need to heed that advice more than I do now. The future is far too big, too overwhelming, too scary. It is an enormous open space that has no recognisable landmark to walk towards. I am a lone traveller, lost in the middle of the bleak, mist-shrouded moors, unable to see any path or any way forward. 
Then I hear the words 'Be still, and know that I am God'.
In today's society 'being still' doesn't come naturally. We seem to be wired to be always on the go. I feel that I should be doing something useful, though I don't know what. I equate inactivity with idleness, which is to be avoided and despised. But I'm beginning to see that there is a time for inactivity and rest that is necessary for healing and wholeness. If I can't see any way forward maybe it's because God actually wants me to stay just where I am for the time being. Maybe I need time to recover physically and emotionally. Maybe I'm just not ready to continue my journey yet. When I am, and when the time is right, I believe that the next step of my life's path will be revealed. I await that day with an open heart and mind, aware that God's plans for me may be unlike anything I could ever imagine. 
Meanwhile I find hope in the words on a birthday card Suzie once gave me that I came across when I was sorting through some things a few days ago. 
Thank you Suzie. Love you always and forever.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Timelessness and Fading Horizons

Ten weeks ago, though we didn't know it at the time, Suzie and I were sharing our very last precious day together. In my mind I try to replay every detail of that day, but it seems more distant now and increasingly hazy. It was a Spiritual day during which we shared a very special bedside Holy Communion, Suzie received anointing, and prayers were offered for her by two of our lovely Priest friends. I wonder if Suzie knew that she was so close to death, and whether she sensed it as a day of preparation for that next step of her journey into eternity. I try so hard to to hold on to my precious memories of those last few days but it's like peering at them through a descending sea mist. 
Now, as I type this, I'm conscious that yet another week is unfolding, and is relentlessly increasing the distance between then and now, yet any concept of a meaningful future is becoming ever more elusive and intangible. I feel like I'm lost in a void of timelessness.... My life with Suzie is slipping further and further into the past, and my future without her is on a distant horizon that is increasingly beyond my reach. I'm somewhere between the two, as though trapped in a timeless bubble, watching helplessly as the horizons on either side of me gradually fade into the distance.
Anxiety and panic attacks continue to be a severely debilitating issue, and tears are still a frequent daily occurrence. Although I'm weary of it all, I think it's getting more bearable when I'm at home on my own. These things often take me by surprise as they seem to start so suddenly and unexpectedly. I get very frustrated by my inability to control my emotions in company, and I often find myself avoiding social contact because I don't want to face crying in front of people. My family, and a couple of very special friends have been a great blessing though, and during the last few weeks I've shared some very enriching times with them over a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a meal. 
Yesterday morning I went to Church with my Auntie B and then back to hers for lunch. The Church service opened up my emotions again, and the music and prayers made me particularly tearful, but I did sense that it was very slightly less daunting than the last time. I'm hoping I will soon feel able to face going back to the Church where Suzie and I worshipped together. I tried attending a service there a few weeks ago but it was just too painful. Suzie was such an integral part of the church, and everywhere I looked I was hit by images and memories of her previous presence there. As I walked up the aisle to receive Holy Communion my mind was taken back to the last time I'd walked up that aisle following Suzie's coffin at her funeral. It was unbearable. My tears flowed silently and uncontrollably throughout the whole service, and I made a discreet exit during the last hymn. I haven't been back since, for which I feel rather guilty because it feels like I'm somehow letting people down and failing to show my appreciation for all the prayers and support they offered throughout Suzie's illness. I will keep trying.
In fact, I'm constantly trying to stretch my comfort zone and push my boundaries, gently but with determination. I make myself go out on the days that I feel able to, and if I can do something for someone else's benefit I find that the greatest motivation of all. 

The most precious gift that sustains me through these days is the knowledge that I am not alone, that God is with me and has already made plans for me. Even whilst I was typing this I received a most beautiful message of encouragement from my friend Sheryl who always seems to have just the right words for me, as if sent directly from God Himself. Her message from Him today said:
"I want you to know how safe and secure you are in My Presence. That is a fact, totally independent of your feelings. You are on your way to Heaven; nothing can prevent you from reaching that destination. There you will see Me face to Face, and your Joy will be off the charts by any earthly standards. Even now, you are never separated from Me, though you must see Me through eyes of faith. I will walk with you till the end of time, and onward into eternity."

I can't really add anything to that. Thank you God for such precious friends.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Waiting for the cloud to lift.

What is 'normal' when it comes to grief? It's now eight weeks since my precious Suzie passed away, yet the aching sadness that greets me as I awake each morning seems more intense than ever. Some people tell me I'm expecting too much of myself and I should be more gentle with myself.... others have said things that make me think I should be 'getting over it' by now.
I'm trying to 'do' all the right things and I'm certainly not just sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. I'm spending a lot of time with my family and with one or two close friends, and I'm trying to push myself to go out, however difficult it may be. Some days I succeed, other days I don't. Sometimes it feels like I'm just filling my days with distractions while I wait for the black cloud to eventually begin to lift, and for me to feel able to get on with the next chapter of my life. Occasionally I get a glimpse of hope that I have 'moved forward' and that it's getting easier, but those moments always seem to be followed by an ever more intensified sense of increasing desolation and sadness.
Crying in front of other people is something I've never been comfortable with, so it's very hard to cope with the uncontrollable tears that seem to come so readily these days. I have yet to get through a church service without spending most of it crying, and conversations with friends usually trigger the same response. When I'm alone I am often overwhelmed and totally exhausted by the constant stream of tears that I just can't seem to control. Should I even try to do so? Is this a normal reaction?
Having suffered from clinical depression for many years it's difficult to know how much of what I'm facing now is part of the normal grieving process and how much is an exacerbation of my ongoing depressive illness. I'm grateful for the counselling and the various therapies that I've undergone in the past because they have certainly given me techniques that help me cope with these intense feelings.  I've been advised to accept some form of bereavement counselling, so I am looking into various ways of accessing this. The closeness that Suzie and I shared, both emotionally and on a practical level, must surely add to the sense of emptiness and the lack of purpose or direction that engulfs me now. Every single aspect of my life was integral with Suzie, indeed, motivated and driven by her, so I shouldn't really be surprised that I don't know who I am or how to move forward without her. Sometimes I look at her photo and I just can't take in the fact that she has gone and she's not going to be coming back.
But, however much I wish it weren't true, I know that it is, and I know that I have to continue to try to live some kind of meaningful life without her. I am certain that God allowed things to happen in the way they did in order to accomplish His plan and purpose, and that I am seeing only a small part of His perfect picture. I constantly draw on His grace and strength to get me through each new day, and I trust in His unfailing love as He gradually allows the future to unfold. I thank Him for the precious love of my family and true friends, and for the understanding and support that they offer. I continue to make it my conscious decision to look beyond the pain and try to focus on all the good things that I know are still there.
One day the tears will begin to lessen and I will be able to embrace the beauty of the wonderful life Suzie and I shared. One day my thoughts and memories of her will be able to stretch beyond her illness and her final weeks and days. One day a warm glow of love will replace the ache in my heart when I think of her. One day........

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The New Life of Easter unites Sadness and Joy

I've been trying to write another blog entry for days but I've been unable to find the words to write. Family and friends are being so supportive, yet life without Suzie is unbearably bleak, and I feel totally lost and bereft. I find it so difficult to know what to say when people ask how I am because I'm unable to respond truthfully without getting upset, and I feel so embarrassed for them as they struggle to find the right words to say. Yet I know the day will come when people will no longer ask, and I wonder if that will hurt even more. The simple fact is that this is an incredibly painful and distressing journey that has to be endured by anyone who has lost someone they love as much as I love Suzie. There are no short cuts, no easy answers, and nothing can take away the pain.
Tears are frequent and anxiety is a constant battle. Each morning I awake to the crushing pain and tightness in my chest, followed by a surge in my heart rate, sweating, shaking and the realisation that another day without Suzie has begun. I make a point of thanking God for each new day, I consciously take some slow deep breaths, and I have a diazepam or two. (This is an anti-anxiety medication that I've been on for years). I sit in bed with my coffee, watching out of the window for the occasional bird to hop onto the feeder outside, and I have a flick through Facebook, emails and the news on my iPad, until I feel able to get up and face the day. I wander round, looking at the various things that need to be done, but rarely have the energy or the motivation to accomplish anything. Interestingly, the only thing I have felt any motivation to do is to go out in the garden and pull up a few weeds and generally keep things looking nice.... Gardening had always been Suzie's passion and joy but was something I disliked intensely, and I'd only started doing it out of my devotion to Suzie when she was no longer able to do it herself.
Yesterday I made the decision to take down all of the condolence cards that I'd received and put them away somewhere safe. It was a hugely emotional experience for me, but, with Easter upon us, it seemed a good time to start focussing on new life.... the new life that Suzie has now begun, and the new chapter of my own life, whatever that might be. My hope is that this will help to turn my focus away from the sorrow of loss, and enable me to embrace the beauty of Suzie's living presence and love within me, and focus on all the happy memories that we shared during our lifetime together. 
I haven't yet been able to cope with going back to our church for a service. I've been into the church building once but the panic attack and depth of emotion that it caused was too much for me and I had to leave. That church was the focal point of our life together and meant everything to us, so I shouldn't be surprised that it will take time to be able to face being there without her. Suzie especially loved this season of Easter.
Throughout this 'Holy Week' I've found that the truth and meaning of Christ's suffering and death has taken on a profound significance as I recognise that Suzie has now received that gift of new life and eternal salvation joy for which Jesus paid so dearly. As I anticipate Easter Sunday tomorrow, and all that it offers as we are drawn to celebrate Christ's victory over sin and death, I can't help but thank God that Suzie is already experiencing the joy and peace of that victory. She has been made new, pure and whole, and she's been set free from the bondage of this world. Despite my ongoing and intense sadness as I so desperately miss her physical presence in my life, and even now as tears begin to fall yet again as I type, there is a faint glow of warmth and peace in my heart as I embrace the truth and reality of what the death of Suzie's physical body means for her. Her pain and tears are gone for ever. She has been made new. She is experiencing a level of joy, peace and happiness that is beyond anything we could ever imagine. That is what Jesus bought for us by His immense suffering, His agonising death and His victorious resurrection. That is what we celebrate on Easter Sunday. That is the free gift He offers to all who will accept it. 
hold on to the comfort that, one day, I will share that experience with my Suzie.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Weight of Grief

Two weeks ago today family and friends were meeting together with us for Suzie's funeral. I can't believe how very quickly the time seems to have gone by, and yet it feels like a lifetime ago that Suzie and I were together. I would love to write an encouraging blog about how time is healing, but, right now, it isn't. Life without Suzie is just about as bleak and unbearable as it can be. When I wake up each morning the increasingly familiar surge of pain rips through my very being, and sometimes the tears are falling before I've even opened my eyes. Each day that passes feels like it's taking her further and further away from me, and it tears me apart. I try to recapture memories of our final days together, but they're hazy and I sometimes fear that even the memories will fade away. 
I've heard people talk about the 'weight' of grief, and that's exactly what it is. It's an extreme heaviness that bears down on me, crushing me to the ground and paralysing me. I can't function properly and sometimes I can't even move. Everything is such a huge effort and so exhausting. I stand for ages, staring blankly at things that need to be done, but I don't have the physical or mental capacity to do them. 
Everything around me seems trivial and pointless. Without Suzie there just doesn't seem to be any reason or purpose in anything. I can't engage in conversations about normal everyday things without feeling like it is all just meaningless words. Most of the time I can't converse at all because any attempt at talking becomes incoherent as the emotions overcome me. I have yet to be able to answer the question 'How are you?' without totally breaking down and becoming a sobbing wreck.
Before Suzie was ill I already suffered anxiety and mental health problems, particularly when having to go out. I was better if Suzie was with me, but going out without her was a real challenge. This has become exacerbated in recent weeks, and most days I find it almost impossible to leave the house. It seems crazy that one of the greatest joys that Suzie and I shared was going for trips out and walking for miles with her in her wheelchair. Holding on to Suzie I could walk for hours and enjoy every minute of it. Without her I struggle to even get through the front door to put the rubbish out into the bin.
I miss her so much it feels like a physical pain in my chest as though someone has ripped out my heart. She was my life for over 20 years, and particularly during the last couple of years I barely left her side. I have lost everything that made each day what it was, and I have lost the very essence of who I was. I just don't know how to move on from here.
I can only come back to my knowledge that, just as God put me here to care for Suzie, so, too, does He have plans for the rest of my life. Sometimes I can't feel the reality of that, but that is where faith comes into its own. The Bible reminds us that 'Faith is believing in things that we can't see'. I will never stop believing. I will never stop thanking God for the blessings He has given me. I will always thank Him for the many wonderful years Suzie and I shared together, and I will certainly always thank Him for my amazing family. Today I thank God especially for the precious weekend I've just spent with my daughter who is a real treasure, and for the quality time we spent as a family celebrating my Dad's birthday. 
Right now I can't actually feel the joy of such things in a tangible way, but I hold on to the knowledge that they are there. In the Bible's Old Testament the prophet Habakkuk lists  a whole string of disasters where everything fails or is taken away from him, but he concludes with the words, 'Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord'...... I'm not sure how to 'rejoice' right now, but as an act of will and of obedience to God I'm certainly going to try.
I leave you with some images that help to remind me of God's blessings....

This year's blossom brings back memories of Suzie gazing at the tree she loved so much.
These Greenfinches that Suzie loved to watch have started coming back again.
Memories of happier times....

Sunday, 30 March 2014

We were never going to be ready for this.

On Monday 24th March well over 250 people attended our local Parish Church to say their final farewell to my precious Suzie. She was so well loved by people of all ages and backgrounds, and the church was packed. As my family and I arrived with Suzie's hearse our vicar greeted us at the church gate. Our tears were already flowing and he looked at me with deep compassion in his eyes and said, 'Nick, we were never going to be ready for this day.' He was right. Whilst I felt that everything had happened so quickly towards the end, and that we had hoped so much to have one more summer together, and that other people had nursed their loved ones for so much longer than the two years that we'd spent facing Suzie's illness.... actually, this day was always going to come, and, no matter when it did, it was always going to feel far too soon.
The church service was perfect, the Bible passage was read beautifully by Suzie's cousin, and the tribute was delivered tenderly and eloquently by our lovely Reverend Graham. 
The music and the Hymns seemed to fit perfectly and the whole occasion was flawless. As Suzie's coffin was carried out of church and she made her final exit there was a spontaneous round of applause from the whole congregation. Suzie had been a great theatrical performer for most of her life and she would have been thrilled by this.
After the service our immediate family accompanied us to the Crematorium to say our more intimate farewell at a private committal service, whilst other friends made their way to the local Theatre where my daughter and some dear friends had spent the whole morning laying out tables full of food for a 'Farewell Party' to celebrate Suzie's life. 
For my family and me the day passed by in a bit of a blur. I had expected the music to touch me in a deeply emotional way, but, in reality, my kids and I were already in such a profound depth of grief by the time we arrived at the church that I don't think anything could have moved us any deeper. Part of me feels like I 'missed out' because it all seemed to pass by so quickly. Part of me wanted to hold on to that final 'goodbye' and make it last for ever. I look at Suzie's photo now and feel totally engulfed by the desolation of knowing that it's all over. She's gone, and my life will never be the same again.
So where do I go from here? At the moment I feel like I'm stuck in a time warp and I'm trapped in a moment in time that has no beginning and no end. Over the last week I have been given a few distractions in the form of visits or invitations from family and a couple of close friends. I'm trying so hard to accept these times of contact with others, even though my nature and my desire is to retreat into myself. Socialising was never something that I was overly comfortable with even when Suzie was well, and it's a million times harder without her. I can't begin to imagine how I will ever be able to build a new life without Suzie. She was my life, and, without her, I feel like I've lost the very essence of who I am. I have also been thrown completely by the many unexpected facets of grief that have besieged me and have taken me by surprise. I have struggled with things that are totally contrary to my nature and my usual personality. I have felt like I simply can't function without Suzie. Even as I type, the tears, yet again, begin to fall, and my mind becomes foggy, so maybe I will share more about these things next time.
I have a most wonderful family and some very dear friends who, I'm sure, will walk this painful journey with me at my pace and with the love and prayerful support that will uphold me. I know that, however much it breaks my heart, I have to let Suzie go and I have to rejoice with her that she is now free and in the safe arms of her Saviour.
I leave you with the beautiful words that were written especially for Suzie by a dear friend when she heard that Suzie had reached the end of her life's journey.  

"And on the Wings of Angels shall I be lifted up into the realms of Heaven,
and placed gently into the arms of my Saviour, from where I shall never again part.
For now I have made my final Homecoming, and my soul doth rejoice,
For Jesus has answered the longing of my heart.
Weep not for me, dear loved ones yet remaining,
For to want me back is not truly living.
If tears shall fall, let there be no complaining.
Remember me with laughter, with joy and thanksgiving."
by Kathy Whitlatch Garrett

Rest in peace my precious angel. I love you to the moon and back, and I always will.xxxx

Friday, 21 March 2014

Admin and Emptiness

I'm sitting in bed with my iPad, still wide awake in the early hours of the morning, and as I gaze at the photo of Suzie that sits on my chest of drawers I'm engulfed by a sense of disbelief. These last ten days have passed by in a whirlwind of things to be done and arrangements to be made. At times I've been swept along by all of the planning and the preparations, but then, all of a sudden, it has felt like a knife through my heart as I'm unexpectedly hit by the painful reminder of why we're doing it all. 
It just seems so inconceivable that my precious Suzie has really gone and she won't be coming back. I talk to her all the time. I stroke her cheek on my photo and I whisper the words that I wish I could say to her. I look up to the sky and call her name.

My family and friends have been amazing. On that heartbreaking Tuesday morning last week I phoned my daughter at 6.30am and by 8am both she and my son were in the car and on their way here. They arrived less than two hours later and we spent the day together, talking, drinking wine, and trying to process the reality of it all. Suzie has always been like a second Mum to them ever since they were young children, and they both felt the sense of loss acutely. My special friend, Caz, was at my house almost as soon as I got home from the Hospice, and she came back again later to spend the evening with us. Our lovely 'nurse Mary' abandoned her day's schedule to be with us, Suzie's cousin and her husband joined us for a while in the afternoon, along with my parents.... and we also had telephone conversations with other family members and friends. There were a fair few tears shed that day.
The next day saw the start of what was to become the overwhelming task of dealing with all the legal requirements and 'admin'. My daughter, Bek, was amazing. She stayed here with me all week and we gradually started to work through all the things we had to do. The Funeral arrangements began to take shape and plans were discussed for a 'Farewell Party' for Suzie after the Church service to celebrate her life. Medical papers had to be collected from the Hospice and the legal registration had to be made at the Registrar's office ten miles away. Banks and Solicitors had to be visited and numerous official phone calls had to be made. During all this time Bek kept me going throughout. She helped me to deal with all the official requirements and took a constructive role in our meetings with both the Funeral Director and the Vicar, both of whom are very special friends of ours and loved Suzie dearly. Bek also provided hot chocolate croissants and coffee each morning for breakfast and she cooked a proper meal for us both at some point each day. Throughout all of the essential and unavoidable activity that dominated those days Bek somehow managed to create spaces for us to periodically step back from the official stuff and just remember Suzie.
When Bek had to go home the emptiness I felt was eased a little by visits from other dear friends who came to spend time with me, and by my parents, my sister, and my Auntie B who added their love and support, and, of course, made sure I was eating properly. Bek has also called me and 'Face-Timed' me every day. She's an absolute diamond.
I went to see Suzie in the Chapel of Rest on Monday. I wasn't going to because I'd said my goodbye at the Hospice, but I gradually became more and more certain that it was something I had to do and that I would regret it if I didn't. It was a hugely significant experience. She looked beautiful without a doubt, but there was an overwhelming realisation that she wasn't there. Her wonderful and precious body that she had inhabited for over 70 years was now just an empty shell. It was like looking at a caterpillar's discarded chrysalis, knowing that the beautiful butterfly it had become was now flying freely through the air. The real Suzie was no longer trapped inside this frail human body that was failing and deteriorating. I knew without doubt that she was now free for ever.
Even as I type this I'm hit again by the heart wrenching thud of reality. I can't allow myself to even wish that she was still here because that would be wishing her back into the sheer awfulness of her illness from which she has now been released. But neither can I begin to imagine a future without her. Everything that made my life what it was, every hour of every day, has been swept away and is gone forever. But Suzie's love will always be within me and the memories that we shared will never be taken away. She has left me a wonderful legacy of friendships that I would never have had were it not for her, and I owe it to her to nurture those friendships and to get on with living my life. Quite how I will ever be able to do that without her I just don't know, but, with God's help, I will find a way. I do believe His promise that He knows the plans He has for me and that they are plans for good and to give me hope. Maybe, in time, the tears will fade and the heartache I feel now will ease. May God give me courage and strength to face each new day as He gradually reveals His plans to me. 
I will continue with my blog for anyone who wants to walk with me in this next stage of my life's journey.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Journey's End

This time last week I was in the middle of what was to become a truly memorable weekend with Suzie in Rowcroft Hospice. Saturday was a day filled with the love of family and friends who came to visit us. Suzie was weak and tired, and it was all a bit much for her in some ways, but she delighted in the knowledge of how very much she was loved.
She was becoming increasingly frustrated and distressed by being confined to her bed, and she kept begging me to get her up. Of course, I couldn't, and it broke my heart to see her so disturbed and yet be unable to 'make it better'. We had a chat with the nurses and they said that the following day they would get her into a wheelchair and help me to take her outside. Suzie went to sleep with this hope in her mind, and, by about 5.30am, she was totally focused on the thought of going outside in the sunshine. The next few hours were dominated by her increasingly impatient anticipation of this. Anyone who knows Suzie will know that she's never coped well with having to wait for things! Her speech was very difficult to understand by this point, but she certainly tried that morning. Phrases such as 'Come on then, let's get on with it', and, 'What are we waiting for?' flowed relentlessly from Suzie's lips. Eventually the time came and the nurses carefully hoisted Suzie into their most comfortable wheelchair, wrapped her gently and snugly in a warm fleece blanket, and helped us outside into the stunning gardens. It was a most beautiful sunny Sunday morning and the air was filled with birdsong and the fragrance of spring flowers. A gentle breeze kissed Suzie's cheeks, and her face shone with a radiant beauty and peace. Words could never describe the wonder of that morning. 
That afternoon we were visited by my daughter and a very dear friend. I will cherish the memory of that time for ever. Suzie has always loved taking centre stage and entertaining people, and that's what she did that afternoon. It was as though someone had switched a spotlight on her and she suddenly realised she had an audience! Her speech was very difficult to understand, but her gestures, her expressions, and the rolling of her eyes as she 'played to the gallery', were sheer eloquence. She had us all laughing and smiling, and it was so lovely to see her true personality shining through. That night Suzie slept peacefully all night, for the first time in many months.
On Monday we had a very different kind of day. This would be Suzie's 'spiritual' day. A very dear friend of ours is part of the Chaplaincy Team at Rowcroft and he came to visit us. He was so incredibly sensitive and gentle as he administered Holy Communion to us, and then gave Suzie the sacrament of anointing. There was a wonderful sense of calm and peace after this Holy time. Later that day we were also visited by our own lovely Priest. By that time Suzie was rarely opening her eyes but she managed to do so that that afternoon, making sure we could both see the twinkle in her eyes for the Vicar! More prayers and anointing left Suzie in no doubt that she was at peace with God. Later that day she began to get a little restless again so the nurses wheeled her bed down to the Hospice Chapel and I played some worship songs on the piano there. She settled into a peaceful sleep early that evening.
It was soon after 4am on Tuesday morning, as I lay sleeping next to Suzie, that a nurse gently woke me up. They had been observing Suzie's breathing and had recognised signs that suggested she was slipping away. I sat calmly beside her bed gazing at my precious Suzie, holding her hand and gently stroking her cheek, quietly whispering words of love and encouragement as her journey on this earth came to an end. She was so very peaceful and she looked incredibly serene and beautiful. For a moment time stood still.
The hours, and, indeed, days, that followed have been a bit of a blur. Maybe I will share more about that in my next entry. For now though, I just remember my wonderful Suzie with a huge sense of gratitude that I was privileged to share 20 years of my life with her. Suzie made me who I am today, and I'm sure that the legacy of her love will continue to shine her light into the dark days that I now face. Suzie is at peace now in the loving arms of her Saviour Jesus, and our loss is Heaven's gain. Rest in Peace my angel. 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

When Time Stood Still

As I settle down for our second night at Rowcroft Hospice I reflect on the journey that has brought us here. Suddenly it feels like time has stopped, and everything that has led us to this point is now irrelevant. During these past few days I've seen occasional glimmers of hope. Sometimes Suzie has caught my eye and winked at me with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes and a beautiful smile on her face, and it's been hard to believe she's ill at all. But other times I've looked at her poor frail body and wondered just how much more can she endure. Each time we've had a setback we've never quite come back to where we were. Each ability lost for even a day has become lost for ever.
The staff here at Rowcroft are amazing. They are so caring and compassionate, and they have made Suzie feel very comfortable and peaceful. They're taking very good care of me too, and nothing is too much trouble for them. In some ways it has been very hard for me to let go of my role as Suzie's sole carer. Caring for her has always been a huge privilege and it has taken our relationship to a profound and unprecedented depth of love and oneness. It sounds strange but, as Suzie's care needs have gradually become ever more intimately personal and potentially demeaning, so my love and respect for her has increased. Reaching the stage now where I realise I will never again be able to give her the level of care she needs is like losing a part who I am.
The staff here are making this transition as easy as they can for me, both by including me in some aspects of Suzie's care, and also by showing such tenderness and respect to Suzie as they undertake the tasks that I can't do. In some ways it has released me to simply love her and be here for her.
As I sit here listening to Suzie's gentle breathing as she sleeps beside me I can't help but wonder what the coming days and weeks will be like. Having spoken alone with the Doctor this morning I realise it's looking increasingly unlikely that Suzie and I will be going home from here together.
Home.... Our bungalow feels like it's a million miles away. This is our home at the moment, and it's like the rest of the world just doesn't exist. Maybe Suzie will rally and we may yet have some time at home together. Maybe I need to set her free to move on to the new home that has been prepared for her by God - her eternal home where we will one day live together. We know that this world is not our home, and it's the hope of our ultimate eternal home with our loving Saviour that sustains us now. May it continue to do so as we travel ever nearer the end of our journey.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Trying to keep up!

I'm aware that changes to our situation are occurring in rapid succession, and that a number of our friends rely on my blog for information on Suzie's progress, so I will try to summarise the last few days and bring you all up to date.
I can't believe my last blog entry was only four days ago as there seems to be so much to share since I wrote that! After I'd left that night Suzie was particularly poorly and anxious, and by the time I arrived the next morning she was exhausted and extremely fretful. She was pretty much 'out of it' most of the day, except when she had to endure the very unpleasant procedure of having a nasal-gastric tube inserted in order to drain her digestive system. The nurse carefully inserted the tube into Suzie's nose and, with a little bit of prompting from me, Suzie managed to swallow at all the right times, and it was successfully put in place and doing its job.
At this point Suzie was still on a drip and IV antibiotics, in addition to oxygen, so having yet another tube connected to her was very difficult for her to deal with. She looked and felt so very ill, and when she did manage to regain some degree of awareness, she was very disturbed by what was happening to her, and kept asking me if she was going to die. It broke my heart as I tried to try to answer that question as reassuringly as I could, but with sufficient honesty to allow her to express the fears that she needed to share. Only 24 hours after the conversation I'd had with the nurses the previous evening, that night it was agreed by all, not least Suzie and myself, that I should stay with her overnight. 
The following morning it was noted by all of the staff involved how much better Suzie had settled with me being right next to her, and it soon became clear that we'd made the right decision. I have to say, it was equally beneficial for me. So this has become my home ever since, and I am being made to feel very well cared for and supported by all of the staff. They are all being extremely kind, without exception, and I'm being offered everything I need, and more besides, including use of shower facilities, access to the hot chocolate machine, and more food than I could ever eat!!
We have had a long chat with the Oncologist who has made the decision to discontinue any further chemotherapy. It is just too much for Suzie's frail body to cope with, added to which her blood test results indicate that it wasn't even having any effect on the cancer anyway. The Palliative Care team are now involved and they are ensuring the best possible management of Suzie's symptoms.
Yesterday the IV antibiotics were discontinued, and today there seems to be some good indications that the infection has been eradicated. Suzie has also now had her gastric drain removed and she is able to have nutrient drinks, soup, and a few mouthfuls of jelly and ice cream. As long as I can keep her fluid levels up by encouraging her to drink she will no longer need the drip, which means all tubes have now been removed except for the oxygen and a very fine subcutaneous tube leading from her upper arm to a syringe driver which provides a continuous delivery of her medication. During the course of the last couple of days we have seen some positive signs, so we now wait to see if there is any improvement in her symptoms now that the infection and the chemotherapy have been removed from the equation. There is still an unresolved issue with Suzie's breathing due to a build up of secretions in her lungs, but this is being monitored and everything is being done to make her as comfortable as possible.
Although much improved from a week ago, Suzie remains very poorly and she isn't going to be strong enough to return home for a little while yet. The Palliative Care team have suggested a stay at Rowcroft Hospice would be beneficial in order to get Suzie's symptoms under control and to prepare a 'Hospice at home' package of care to enable her to be cared for at home when the time is right. Whilst we both deeply desire to be together in our own home, we are also aware that we have reached the stage in Suzie's illness where I need to share the responsibility of her well being with other people who are qualified in ways that I'm not. We have been assured that I will be able to be with her at Rowcroft Hospice in the same way that I am now, and that we will all be able to work together with the team in order to give Suzie the level of care that she needs and, indeed, deserves.
So, that brings us up to date. We feel very much as though we are entering uncharted water, and that the coming days and weeks will take us into new and unfamiliar places. This is more than a little scary, but there is a deep sense of peace in our hearts as we embark on this next stage of our journey. God has already planned our path and He is faithful to lead us and sustain us. We hold fast to His love and we rest in his peace.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Life continues to show us how unpredictable it can be.

We've had an eventful week. We were doing ok, adapting to Suzie's increased care needs and trying to bring some interest and activity into the rare occasions when Suzie wasn't too sleepy to cope with it. We'd managed a 'run out' in the car a couple of times to get a change of scene, and we'd had a couple of visitors.
Last Wednesday Suzie was a little more sleepy than usual, but not showing any indication that anything was particularly wrong. She's on a lot of medication, recovering from the very traumatic chest drain procedure, not to mention being less than three weeks into this course of chemotherapy, so when she asked me to put her to bed at 7.30pm we both thought she just needed all the rest she could get. I checked on her a few times and she was sleeping soundly and peacefully, so I decided to go to bed early with my iPad so that I could be next to her whilst I got some much needed rest too. It sounded good in theory!
Suzie has often talked in her sleep, and she began to do so that evening, but with a level of intensity that was rather more extreme than usual. It was as though every area of her past life was being unearthed and thrown ferociously into the room. I gently reassured and pacified her, and she would be calm for a few minutes, but then a different fear or 'rant' would erupt, and so it went on for quite some time. At one point she even demanded that I go to the shop to get her some cigarettes.... We gave up smoking a long time ago!! She was quite insistent on this one, and the only way I could stop it was to ask her 'Does your Dad allow you to smoke?' When she replied that he didn't I said that I couldn't possibly go against him. She accepted this, apologised and said good night! 
Things gradually settled down and I dozed off briefly, but I was awoken just after 1am by Suzie calling me to take her to the loo. I got her out of bed and quickly realised something was very wrong. She was quite hot and sweaty, and she wasn't with it at all. I did a few basic checks, the results of which prompted an immediate phone call for an ambulance. My call was answered swiftly and I explained my concerns and reported my observations - blood oxygen level under 80%, temperature 37.9 and pulse rate 150 beats per minute, plus other relevant info.... recent chest drain and current chemo status etc. I was put on hold for less than a minute, then told to put the lights on outside as the ambulance would be there very soon. It actually pulled up outside our house as we were speaking. The paramedics did their own checks, Suzie's temperature had increased to 39 degrees, her blood pressure was very low, and her breathing was getting worse so there was no doubt she was seriously ill. I had made the 999 call at 1.20am and we were in the Hospital A&E dept. by 2am. That was pretty impressive by anyone's standards!
During the hours that followed Suzie was given three lots of IV antibiotics, various other IV medications, she was put on a saline drip and she had a chest x-ray. There were Doctors and Consultants coming and going frequently as the day unfolded and we had some rather scary moments along the way. The hardest conversation we had was with a lovely Doctor who had the incredibly difficult and sensitive task of going through the 'What if' questions that they have to ask regarding resuscitation, CPR and life support options. God willing, we're nowhere near the point of making 'end of life' decisions yet, but it brought the reality of what we're facing into rather uncomfortably sharp focus.
At 7pm that evening a miracle happened and Suzie was moved to Turner Ward, which is a very calm and tranquil cancer ward where beds are like gold dust! She was put in a light and spacious side room which has its own en suite facilities and is very peaceful. I found out later that it is a 'Neutropenic' isolation room that is used for vulnerable patients in order to protect them from infection. Suzie is having regular treatment to help her breathing and she is still on antibiotics and a saline drip. She's had a CT scan and we will find out more about the results and treatment options next week. 
The last few days have been very 'up and down' with some very precious and beautifully peaceful moments of calm, and some less welcome times of extreme anxiety and distress. When I arrived this morning Suzie was particularly distressed and her breathing was alarmingly bad. As the day went on she became calmer, but this evening she was very unsettled. It took over two hours for me to get her comfortable in bed and settled enough to leave her. It was suggested by one of the staff that it might be beneficial for Suzie if I were to stay overnight, but after discussion with the senior nurse it was agreed that this wouldn't be sustainable for any length of time and maybe should be kept as a 'safety net' option, with the assurance that they could call me any time of the night and I would come straight over. I made it clear that I would be perfectly happy to stay with Suzie 24/7 if it would be beneficial, and both Suzie and the staff seemed to be reassured by that.
Amidst all the medical drama I did get to enjoy a lovely family occasion on Friday as we celebrated the Wedding of my darling little sister and her delightful fiancĂ©. We had previously arranged for a very dear friend to look after Suzie for the day, so she said she would pop in and spend a bit of time with Suzie at the hospital so that I could feel able to enjoy our family celebration. As it turned out, her 'pop in' was actually a 5 hour stay at Suzie's bedside, feeding her, attending to her personal care, accompanying her for a CT scan and generally doing everything I would have done. We are so blessed to have such a special friend. With the exchange of a few text messages and a phone call to the ward I was confident enough that Suzie was ok and I was able to relax and enjoy this important occasion with my wonderful family. It was a perfectly beautiful day. My sister and her new husband both looked gorgeous, and it was so lovely to share in their special day. I enjoyed some quality time with all my family and it was a truly blessed occasion. I arrived home soon after 9pm where I was joined by another very special friend who came round to have a nightcap with me...... Four and a half hours and a bottle or so of wine later she went home and I went to bed, where I slept soundly for over six hours. It was the perfect end to a special day.
With everything else going on I nearly forgot that, today (or should that be yesterday now?) I also celebrated my birthday! I was moved beyond words by the many cards, texts and Facebook messages I received, and I was delighted to see our Rowcroft Hospice fundraising get ever nearer our target. 
So now, as we look towards the coming week, with all its uncertainty and apprehension, we rely ever more fully on God's sustaining grace to give us the strength we need. We don't know what the coming weeks will bring, but we hold fast to the knowledge that our lives are safely held in the tender hands of our loving God.
Thank you to all my wonderful friends and family. I love you all so much. xxxx

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Milestones and Memorable Moments

It's amazing how some of the everyday things that we all take for granted can suddenly become huge milestone events when the ability to do them is withdrawn or suspended for a while. This morning we had one such 'milestone moment'. 
During the last few weeks we couldn't help but wonder how much of our life we would ever be able to regain. Some days Suzie has looked so very poorly, and her weakness and disability has become so much more profound than ever before. One of our biggest fears has been that I might lose the ability to take her out of the house independently. Not only does Suzie have necessary medical appointments to attend, but she also needs the joy and pleasure of having a change of scenery and a bit of 'interest' in her day. The local Council are in the process of liaising with our OT and some local builders to provide a solution to our access needs, but in the mean time we were prisoners in our own home.

Thank you Lisa, you're an angel!!
But we should have known that God would have a plan.... In response to a random comment that I posted on Facebook a dear friend of mine who has a disabled son came to our rescue with the loan of a 6' long wheelchair ramp which fits beautifully on our steps. Admittedly it's rather steeper than council's 'blanket' regulations might specify, and we still have one small step at the top to negotiate, but none of that matters to us. It suits my little 7 stone Suzie and me perfectly! We are just so grateful to have a safe way of getting in and out of the house and it has given us the precious gift of still being able to go out while we wait for the council to sort out a more permanent solution.

The smile says it all!

So, today we were able to go out for the first time in a month. It was an amazingly huge achievement and a wonderful joy for us both to get a glimpse of the life that is still out there and waiting to be enjoyed and appreciated! It was a very brief outing and Suzie has slept most of the day since we got home, but what a precious blessing!

As we move from February into March we will see another milestone.... My birthday!
I can't help but think back to my last birthday, which was a rather significant one. It was on my 50th birthday last year when we first met the Palliative Care Nurse from Rowcroft Hospice. That was the beginning of a connection that would provide a vital lifeline for Suzie and me as we have adjusted to the ever increasing difficulties that come with living with life-changing illnesses. In view of this I have decided to 'donate' my birthday this year to them.... I would like to ask anyone who would want to give me a card or a present to please make a donation to our fund raising effort for Rowcroft Hospice instead. I would be delighted to receive no cards or presents at all if it meant we could raise awareness and funds for this amazing charity. Please click here to find out more or to make a donation:
If all of my friends could save the money they might have spent on sending me a card or a present and donate just a few pounds each instead it would raise hundreds of pounds and would enable other people to benefit from the lifeline that Rowcroft have provided for us. If you're not comfortable with online transactions please just send cash or a cheque made out to Sue and I will transfer the gift directly from my own account. I do hope we can reach our target as it would make Suzie show up on the Rowcroft website as one of their top personal fundraisers. That would be such a special way for her to feel she was showing her appreciation to them. I do hope you will feel able to support us in this way. Thank you.

As a family we have another 'Milestone Moment' coming up next weekend as we celebrate a family wedding. It will be such a lovely opportunity for our family to get together and share in a happy occasion. Family members will be coming from as far afield as Lancashire and it will be the first time we have all been together for a very long time. A dear friend of ours is a very experienced HCA and has kindly agreed to care for Suzie for the day, so I will be able to relax, knowing that she's in safe hands and being well looked after.
We are seeing so much evidence of God's hand at work in our lives. Just as we get to the point when we feel we can't take any more He gives us some beautiful blessings and some positive 'Milestone memories' in the making. Here's hoping that this morning's fresh air will help Suzie to have a peaceful and refreshing night's sleep.
Please remember to have a look at our 'JustGiving' page.... 
Every little helps. 
God bless you.