Monday, 31 December 2018

New Years Eve


On one hand, saying goodbye to 2018 - the difficult year I lost Mr Duncan. 

On the other saying hello to a year in which he won't exist, except in our memories. 

When these milestones... holidays, birthdays, anniversaries come up, it's hard not to count...and compare  This is the first one without him.  Last year we did this, now he's not here.  It's like creating the illusion of his presence by recognising his absence.

Time is so surreal.  Sometimes I feel he's going to walk in the door in a couple of minutes and at other times it's like he's never been here at all.  And I don't want to lose hold of him in my memory.  As I've lost him.  And the me that I was before he died.

Not long before he died, Mr Duncan spent a month in the UK for work.  While he was away, I started a gratitude journal.  Something I've been starting and failing to keep up with for what seems like FOREVER.  Just like meditation. 

I did it every day for the month he was away and kept it up most days a week once he was back.  After his death and in the lead up to the funeral I felt all sorts of love and gratitude, in addition to shock.  I wasn't upset yet.

It's been a rough three and a half months.  People who I thought were close have faded away.  Others who offered their help found it too demanding.  Most people don't know what to say as its such an uncomfortable situation and just go back to their lives.  It's hard adjusting to being an only parent and the loss of the future you had planned and imagined.

So anyway, at home sitting by myself (as usual) with Pickle finally asleep in her room I thought for New Years Eve tonight I'd list all things I feel grateful for, despite the loss of my partner in crime and the massive change in my life.

I am thankful

1.  for our home where I feel safe and comfortable - we bought it 2 years to the day that Mr Duncan died.  Some people have asked if I'll sell and leave, thinking I'd feel the absence of him too acutely to stay.  But this is the house that we chose, in the place that we chose to raise our daughter.  Only days before his death, Mr Duncan and I were congratulating ourselves on building such a good life together (famous last words...).  It's my home, why would I want to leave?

2.  for the close-knit community we live in

3.  for freedom from financial pressure - life insurance will pay the mortgage and a bit which gives me time to figure out the next income stream

4.  for Mr Duncan being away for work Jul/Aug - it gave me a month's practice at holding down the fort by myself so I already had routines to put back in place once he was gone

5.  for my 5 days in Adelaide in June.  It gave me some much needed respite and Mr Duncan and Pickle 5 days of togetherness without me and hopefully Pickle experienced how much her Dad loved her.

6.  that so much of the stuff we wanted to do on the house is done - we now have solar power and blinds and the landscaping plan is done if not the actual landscaping itself.

for my many loving and supportive friends

7.  Jo, who came to the police station to get me, took me home and made me make the hard phone calls - to his family, to his job and to my family.  She came with me to identify the body and stayed the night those first few nights to make sure I was okay.

8.  Miranda, who left her family to jump on a plane and handle all the organisational details of the funeral, sort his piles of paperwork and play with and look after Pickle so I had no responsibility other than to make a choice when it was presented to me, and sleep.  Who continues to be a calm and loving source of support.

9.  Clare, who was a source of calm pragmatism having some similar experiences herself.  She took on liaising with Mr Duncan's family and helping them with their trip from the UK for the funeral.  She regularly checks in with me, especially on those special days, to make sure I'm doing okay.

10.  Helen, for showering love on Pickle and sharing with me her experience of having rose quartz stones cast at her from Mr Duncan.  For coming to visit on Christmas day to make sure we weren't all alone.

11.  Lee, for sorting out all the pictures for the funeral, and then framing some for our home.  For being a  non-judgemental companion over the ensuing months.  Able to listen and let me cry without expectation or discomfort.  For the many dinners and for joining us on our second traditional family Christmas trip to Brisbane

12.  Margaret, who took on the responsibility of communicating with my family when I couldn't actually get hold of anyone, serving as a single point of contact and protecting me from all the questions and chaos.  Who continues to call every few days to check in.

13.  Meg, who organised rose petals and rosemary as rememberances for the casket.  She apologises for not doing anything but her regular check-ins with concrete suggestions of meals or play-dates make life easier.

14.  Kirsty, for being willing to say the things I might not like to hear.  And for including us on Christmas Day.

15.  Chris, who lost his wife when their children were 7 and 9, for his thoughtful and caring email sharing his experience with me when I asked and for the book on helping the heart of a grieving child.

16.  Susan, for always listening and for sending me tea to help me sleep and a make-your-own book kit for Pickle.  Pickle LOVED it and immediately started making a scrap book about her dad.

17.  Rachael B, sending me a book called An Ordinary Day.  I heard about it the day after the funeral as it was about to be launched and thought I should read it.  Next thing it appeared in the mail.

18.  Miranda I for regularly checking in and making concrete suggestions to meet.

19.  Marina for regularly checking in and being her calm, methodical self.

20.  Danielle, for listening and always being able to give her thoughts in a gentle, constructive way that builds me up.  And for coming to visit and spend time with me over the l o o o n g school holidays.

21.  Tim for being such a great friend and male role model for Pickle.

22.  for my new yoga studio and teacher Brenda.  They say (whoever they are) when the student is ready the teacher appears.  I might live in the yoga-teacher capital of Australia but for whatever reason hadn't found a class that resonated with me at a time I could make it.  For some reason lots of the classes are at 9 which is the time I'm taking Pickle in to preschool or 6pm which is all about dinner and bed-time.  My new yoga class is at 10am, which gives me enough time to get there after dropoff and is a style of yoga that my body is familiar with - harking back to my days in New York.  It's been maybe 8 weeks and my body and mind are responding strongly. 

23.  that Mr Duncan died in his sleep after a fun evening.  I told him to have a good time with his new friends and he did.  There was no pain, or suffering, or drama, just joy.

24.  that he died at someone else's house.  I am so glad I didn't wake to him dead next to me, or Pickle find him unresponsive on the couch.  As someone whose lived in some of the most expensive cities in the world, I've always had a fold out couch for people to crash on if they'd missed public transport or whatever.  I've also always had an irrational fear of waking up to a dead body on my couch...

25.  that we had current wills and life insurance which makes the paperwork easier

26.  for Ian taking the responsibility for organising a memorial eve in the UK

27.  for Jess coming all the way from the UK for the funeral, for speaking and for coming over to hang out and share stories of Duncan before he had to catch his return flight

28.  for taking the trip Mr Duncan and I planned to show Pickle the snow and Canberra Zoo, even in his absence.  For Tim teaching Pickle to ski.

29.  for Oliver and it sounds silly but an ongoing, online game of scrabble which keeps us connected across the distance

30.  for all the people who came to his funeral, for all the people who have offered kind words or memories or hugs.  We are so loved, even in his absence.

So that's the last 3 months... what else..?

31.  for our amazing daughter Pickle.  She is such a ray of light... and stubborn determination.  She is so independent and just wants to do everything for herself.  She's loving and mostly thoughtful and I just hope I can give her what she deserves from her parents, even though her dad is no longer here

32.  that the painful lump I found in my breast was not found to be anything to worry about.  Still painful, but seems to be following a monthly pattern so putting that one down to hormones.

33.  for the chance to live in such a wonderful place.  I can hear the sea from my home, its a short walk to an amazing beach or if I want some shade an equally nice lake.  The sun shines most of the year.  It's warm, but only too warm for a few days a year, equally only too cold for a couple of weeks.  It's close enough to airports and cities to not feel like you're in the middle of nowhere, but far enough away to be truely relaxing

34.  for being fortunate enough to go camping in the Land Rover a couple of times this year.  Mylestom for Easter with a friend's family.  Tamsin LOVED it.   And Washpool National Park, required the 4WD but worth it to be in this ancient mostly untouched forest.  I feel like we went camping for Mr Duncan's birthday in January too - that is the 'tradition' such that it is but completely blanking on it...  I will be very sad to sell the Landy, we've had such adventures together.  But the fact of the matter is I cannot lift the spare tyres and am barely tall enough to put the tent up by myself.  I can't even figure out how to pop the bonnet.  And I know, if I really wanted to, I could overcome these sorts of things.  But I'm just not going to do that sort of camping with Pickle at her age, or probably ever.  Camping was Mr Duncan's thing, not mine.  And it seems such a waste to let the Landy just rust in the driveway.  I'm thinking Pickle and I can rent a camper-van when we want to go somewhere...

35.  for the luxury of not having to work.  I have really stepped back from my business, just fulfiling orders that come in.  The counsellor I am seeing asked me what was the worst that could happen - it dies a death and I have to close it despite the hard work I've put in - and could I live with that.  Short answer, yes.  Pickle is my priority.  And although she's exhausting, I am so glad we can spend this time together, she can rely on me and act out with me and know that I'm there for her and her feelings.  I couldn't even imagine if I'd had to put her in care and find full time work to pay the bills - my brain is still not working properly

I'm sure there are a million other things I should be thankful for.  These are the ones that have been coming up in my mind again and again over the last couple of months.  I've been starting to catch a glimpse, maybe of a pattern.  How things have sort of strung together over the course of my relationship with Mr Duncan.  I need to ruminate some more but I feel another sort of woo woo post coming.


Thursday, 15 November 2018

Everthing has changed. Nothing has changed.

Today it is two months since Mr Duncan died.  I'm still trying to process the enormity of his death.  And it's insignificance.

EVERYTHING has changed.

Mr Duncan is dead. 

The life we created together is gone, along with the future we planned for our little family.

How I see the world, how I feel, behave, think, and act has changed.  

I am not the me I’m used to being.

All of a sudden I have massive anxiety, and little things I would never have even noticed before trigger a sudden increase in heartbeat and difficulty breathing.   
The strangest little things can trigger a massive wave of hurt and bring on a jag of violent crying.  Every thing is a potential trigger.  From the halved laundry pile to the undone chores I’d been asking him to do for weeks.  And I do not know what will trigger me, until it is too late and I’m in a flood of tears.

I regularly forget things.  A planner by profession, I can barely think further than two days ahead and if I don’t put everything in my phone calendar, it’s as if I never even knew about it.  And at this time, I have more meetings than ever to remember - lawyers, banks, insurance companies, grief counsellors…

On top of all the essential form-filling, insurance claims, changes of name on accounts, you know, the  mass of bureaucratic paperwork a widowed person is required to deal with, because Mr Duncan was British, I also have British bureaucracy and UK inheritance tax to add to the mix.   Normally I’m a bureaucracy goddess, but my skills have deserted me.

I am no longer the person I was.

Everything has changed.

And yet...

NOTHING has changed.  

His clothes are still hanging in the wardrobe. 

The bills keep coming. 

I still have to drag myself out of bed every morning.  

Our daughter still needs me to do everything for her.  And it's harder.  She’s much more demanding and clingy now her dad is gone.

But for every single person I come into contact with, everything is the same. 

Their lives remain untouched, unaffected by Mr Duncan’s death.

I read recently that being widowed is like being in a car accident.  One minute you’re doing 100km along the highway like everyone else and the next you’re sitting, helpless, on the side of the road wondering what the %&£& just happened.

The other people slow down as they pass the accident site, to see what’s happened and check if you’re okay, but pretty soon they’re back up to highway speed on track for their destination.  

Weeks, months, later and you’re still on the side of the road hoping for an ambulance to help with the pain.  Or a tow truck to help you move forward.  Or…, on those really grim days, a hearse to take you away.

It feels surreal. 

And very isolating.

Everything has changed and nothing has changed.

Monday, 5 November 2018


I wrote this, and a close friend read it for me, at Mr Duncan's funeral.

I first met Mr Duncan when he shared his umbrella with me standing in line for the London Summer Proms.  That was Mr Duncan in a nutshell - thoughtful, kind, generous.  

We’d see each other socially at company events, but our friendship deepened when he was planning the trip of a lifetime - driving his Land Rover around the world, starting in Perth.

We stayed in touch as he travelled, messaging every few days as he related his exploits: escaping flash flooding in the Kimberleys, being best man at his friend’s wedding, learning to surf at Coolangatta and driving long distances to detour around bush-fires in Victoria.

One day Mr Duncan said ‘you’re more than welcome to join me at the ends of the earth if you want a break from London’. 

Famous last words.

So I found a cheap flight and joined Mr Duncan for what was intended to be a two week trip into the Australian Outback.  We ended up spending the next ten months travelling in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Cambodia and driving home overland from South Africa.

What we each recognised in the other was a love of adventure, and a partner in crime who could be relied upon.  Mr Duncan learned to dive in Thailand, trekked to see the gorillas in Rwanda and scared the living daylights out of me, driving down the ridiculously steep and snowy Sani Pass out of Lesotho.

We woke to elephants eating leaves from the tree we were camping under, white water rafted down the Nile, slept under the stars in the crater of an extinct volcano in Namibia and splurged on a luxury safari trip to the Okovango Delta.  

Together we dealt with flat tyres and busted shock absorbers in the middle-of-nowhere Tanzania, being held up by tribe members with AK47s in the badlands between Kenya and Ethiopia, and multiple attempted shakedowns by local officials everywhere.  

Hakuna Matata.

When we reached Khartoum, I flew back to the UK for Christmas.  It took Mr Duncan another six weeks to drive back to London.  By the time he was home we realised how much we missed each other and agreed to start “dating”.  

A little over a year later we’d moved in together and were trying for a baby.  Mr Duncan was confident he would be the father of a little girl.  This led to a conversation about where we’d want to raise our family and Australia offered the open spaces and outdoor lifestyle we wanted, along with satisfying work opportunities for us both.

Two weeks after Mr Duncan’s visa was granted and our flights were booked, I discovered I was pregnant with Pickle.  And thus started our most important and unpredictable adventure yet - parenthood.

Mr Duncan was an amazing Dad.  

He was hands-on from the start and it was his desire to be more present for his daughter that led to his working from home.

With Pickle, Mr Duncan's sense of adventure took a different path.  He always found the time to help her to explore the world around her and explain the little mysteries she uncovered.

He delighted in his daughter, as she did in him and they shared a very close relationship full of all sorts of Daddy-and-Pickle-only games and secrets.  

I miss Mr Duncan more than I can comprehend,
-his gentle strength,
-his depth of knowledge,
-his thoughtful opinion,
-his technical acumen,
-his sparkling wit

... and his unwavering faith in me.

I am heartbroken for Pickle, that she will grow up without him by her side. 

But I will remember Mr Duncan as someone who embraced life to it’s fullest and can only hope I raise Pickle to feel the same sense of optimism and adventure in life as her Dad.

Sunday, 28 October 2018


Near the end of last year, when she was three and a half, Pickle was having great success with cosmic ordering.  She wanted a pink, two wheel bike, with a basket on the front and training wheels.  Lo, the next day, the people around the corner put one that met her specification outside their house with a sign saying 'free' just as I was driving by.   She wanted a surfboard, with a legstrap - our neighbours got a new board for their daughter, would Pickle like the old one?  It was even her favourite colour pink! Yes please.

Pickle started preschool at the beginning of this year.  Whenever she was asked to draw a picture of her family it always included her Dad, me, herself and her little sister Annie.  The teachers thought she had a little sister and asked me about her.  But no, Annie only existed in Pickle's imagination. 

(Despite hoping for a sibling, I've had two miscarriages since her birth, and none in the past year. Our plan hasn't changed since we decided to try to have a family.  Keep healthy and keep enjoying each other without contraception, if it happens, it happens). 

Pickle asked me many times when she could have her little sister and I explained about how it wasn't that easy.  It's not like buying something in a shop.  It's more like gardening.  The Dad needed to plant a seed in the Mum and hopefully that seed might grow into a baby inside Mum and after lots of waiting that baby might be born.  But we couldn't choose if the baby would be a boy or a girl, and we couldn't make the seed grow into a baby.  We could just do our best and hope.

I also mentioned a seed was more likely to be planted if she stopped coming into our room at night and keeping us awake all night with her kicks and sleep talking.   I heard a good description of sleeping with a small person recently - they only do crucifix or swastika shapes and alternate between them.  In the last few months Mr Duncan and I were even taking turns sleeping in the spare room a couple of nights a week each so everyone got better rest.

When her Dad went to the UK for a month for work recently, Pickle slept all night in her own bed for the first time since she was 2.5 (and started having night terrors).  She breezed into our bedroom in the morning to wake me up. 

"So. Mum. I slept in my own bed ALL night.  Can I have my little sister Annie now?"  

I praised her for staying in her room all night and reminded her that Dad needed to be here to plant the seed.  That was nearly three months ago and her all-night trick has yet to be repeated.

Mr Duncan died six weeks and one day ago - less than four weeks after he came home from his work trip. 

Tonight, at dinner, Pickle said 

"So I guess we wont be having little sister Annie any more" (in a pretty upbeat manner).

 I asked her what made her say that (I find I get much better answers from 'what' questions than 'why' or 'how').

"Because Dad isn't here to plant the seed" (duh Mum).

I replied "Hmm, you're right (taking a deep breath and trying not to crack up and cry). No he isn't.  What do you think about that?"

She was quiet for a bit and answered uncertainly.

"Maybe.. one day.. we could have a new Dad?

I asked "would you like that?" but she had gone somewhere else in her mind, gazed out the window and never replied.

Thing is, I don't want a new Dad for her.  He is her Dad.  And he was amazing at it.

It's a big thing for me. 

My Dad has always been and continues to be a crap parent (he sent 'condolences' by text message ffs).  Fortunately I realised he was just too self involved in my teens, so it hasn't fucked me up too badly as an adult because I can manage my expectations.  Low.  Very low.

But I was 100% clear with Mr Duncan that were we to have any children, he'd have to actually be a parent.  Not technically, because of sperm, but practically, on a minute by minute basis.  That if I died, Pickle should never have to wonder who would look after her if I wasn't around.  There should be no question!  It would be her Dad, who had always looked after her.  So he had to be on board before we even started trying. 

And once she came into the world, he showed me how fully he was on-board. 

How could I possibly meet someone else that I wanted to be in a relationship with, that could Dad as well as Mr Duncan did with Pickle?

But I think it's the first time she's shown me that she misses him.

I know she's worried about me.   And, having two sisters of my own, I feel terrible that she doesn't have a little sister Annie to share it all with.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

I don't even know where to start...

I don't even know where to start...

More than two years later I find myself returning here, to this blog, where I felt so much safety and comfort while I was in pain...  and I'm thankful that here is still available to return to.

For the past couple of years I had little time between parenting and running my own biz to share my thoughts and feelings, but in addition to having less time, my life and heart were full.  I had less need.

That changed four weeks ago when the rug was pulled out from underneath my feet - Mr Duncan died unexpectedly at the age of 41. 

You don't fight so hard to have a child for that child to be deprived of her father at 4 years old!  I mean fine, sometimes relationships break down, but I was always confident that Mr Duncan would be a present dad, irrespective of our relationship status.  And he was a very present and loving father.  But even if we broke up, he would always be her dad, whether or not he was my husband.

And yet now he is her dad, but not present.  Except in our memories.

Pickle will now always be an only child.  I know the odds of her having a sibling were very low, but we've had a couple of positive pregnancy tests and subsequent early losses since she was born.  We weren't counting on it, but there was always a slight possibility of a sibling... until two weeks ago when my period finally came... late.  I know it was extremely unlikely, but now it's impossible.  And somehow,  the grief I already felt for Poppy and Pipkin, is joined by grief for their Dad, and grief for Pickle's never-going-to-exist potential sibling.  And grief for Pickle.

Now Pickle is the only child of a widowed and grieving mother.  People have been saying to her stupid shit like "take good care of your mummy" -  I practically snarl at them that its not her responsibility.  She's four.  She just lost her dad ffs.

I've written before about how I had a lot of responsibility as a child and how it's shaped my personality - not necessarily for the better.  I don't want that for her.  I just want Pickle to enjoy her childhood like a normal kid.  But now... how is that even possible?  I see her carefully watching my every move.  She tries to comfort me.  I forgot my watch the other day, she said 'That's okay mummy, you can look at the time on your phone".  She's also smart enough to try to parlay my weaknesses to her advantage.  Sometimes I feel so tired that I give in to her suggestions for the ipad simply so I can nap for an hour.

How unfair that at the same time you lose one of your parents,  the other parent starts acting extremely weird?  For the first week my phone did not stop.  There is a crapload of stuff that needs to be sorted out when someone dies.  Not just a funeral which is enough work.  Lots of stupid legal and financial and immigration stuff.  And my background is in project management so I used the adrenaline I was feeling to go into project management mode.  Yes I was sad.  But this was distracting and made me feel less helpless.  I feel lucky that a friend tentatively suggested Pickle had never seen me in professional mode and that it might be like she'd lost her dad AND her mum, because her mum wasn't acting anything like the mum she knew.  So I decided to become the mum and appointed a project manager friend to do all the organising.

And how weird is it that you're arranging an event, like a wedding or a big party, trying to honour your dead person's self and respect their families needs at the same time you're wondering how the hell you will be able parent successfully or make your next mortgage payment without the other member of your team!

Coping with death is stressful, whether it was expected or not.  I don't have a cause of death or death certificate, so I cannot start life insurance claims.  In the meantime I need to pay for a funeral and all normal living expenses while I can barely think in a straight line.  I've found myself doing stupid absent minded stuff like putting milk in the dishwasher instead of the fridge and last night I burned soup.  I need to be careful I don't end up burning down the whole house!

Anyway.  So I'm back.  Not sure for how long, maybe only this post, but I do know that this blog really helped me when I was struggling after losing Poppy and Pipkin.  I hope it will be able to help me again now.  And in helping me, help Pickle.

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