I am in the process of selling two flats where Tom and I shared our lives, while clearing out the rental house where I am based just now - again a place we shared. You get the picture -a mammoth effort of admin, of planning, of logistics, of trips to charity shops. Another planned this afternoon.
The garage in the flat I am selling locally is currently awaiting clearance - loads of old tools, steps, garden equipment no longer needed - so I am using the opportunity to take a few bits and pieces of similar stuff from here.
I am using Tom’s huge Land Rover Discovery to get this done and tomorrow I am going to check out a new car as this old one has circumnavigated the world in terms of mileage and is gasping away.
So - it is a kind of repressed grief day. Trying not to think about it too much, that the flat will be sold, the garage cleared, the London flat gone and the car - and I will be moving on to a new home alone- all in the next 8/10 weeks or so. I am pedalling furiously on. At least, I was until I checked out under the bed upstairs. The big bed in the room where Tom spent his last night here - way back in August 2021.
He had the most terrible dizziness ( we found later arising from tiny bleeds on his brain and his ears), the attendant nausea and vomiting (sorry). He was sick several times, each time me running to the bathroom with the bowl to clean it ,ready to come back to try to do my best to reassure him. The ambulance finally came and Tom had to use all his strength to walk to the top of the stairs and then inch down on his bottom as for some reason they could not carry him. I can’t remember the reason now.
He was a brave, stoic, calm man - dignified even in this horrible situation. He made it to the front door, onto a trolley, into the ambulance and away. All this at 22:00, after a very long wait and a day of horror and illness. Here. Upstairs. In this house. I had blocked it out, smoothed off the rougher edges of the awfulness of it.
So, today. In my clearing mood, I look under the bed for the first time. I found more stuff to take the garage and then, hidden behind the last bag, the bowl. The grey bowl we used that night. Without a second thought, I pulled it out. There it was, a non-descript, plastic washing up bowl.
Immediately, it all came back. Tom sitting on the side of the bed, thin, pale, trembling, a sheen of sweat as he tried to stand. His attempts to reassure me, himself, us, both. As we were then - without realising it - in the final seconds of our time here together, before he left for hospital, never to come back.
Holding the bowl, I headed straight to the kitchen, literally saying out loud to myself “don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring” over and over again as I went down the stairs. I had to clean it, even though it was clean. Hot suds, soapy water, my repeating my mantra as I rinsed and rinsed. I am sure it was my way of trying to fix what can never be fixed.
In recent days and weeks, I have felt that everything that happened was unreal, that Tom was never here, that none of it took place. That bowl shook me awake and reminded me that it had, that we did go through that, that we did cling to hope, to each other, to life - and that we went through the whirlwind of treatment, of his suffering, of our loneliness apart, ultimately to his death together in the hospice and then onwards, in grief alone, for me.
This is a wake up call for me to take a moment, to take a breath, to be kind to myself and not driven on and on to the next charity shop run or the next corner in the house to clear. I must remember that I am still in grief, and that likely there is a storm in the wind as more endings come.
This comes with love to everyone today who is caught in the snare of grief today, those who have had flashbacks like mine, those wading on through the trauma, the loss, the loneliness, the silence.
My mantra, from Dad’s Army, helped me through. I didn’t panic - just remembered. Remembered my brave, brave man, the love of life.
Hold tight, everyone, we have got this, even me, even though it doesn’t always feel like it. Loads of love x