I was very tempted to call this chapter "Surviving" as that is what Widowhood currently means to me. I can't comprehend the word Widow. For me, the image of a Widow is a lady dressed in black, looking forlorn and lost. I also picture the lady in the Scottish Widows advert (perhaps a sign of watching too much TV). I am not any of these people. True, I look at my reflection in the mirror and often wince at the image looking back at me; the dark rings and ever apparent wrinkles that are growing in numbers. However on the whole, my reflection is that of a early 40's, working Mummy who likes nothing better than a glass of wine and catch up with friends. I am not a "woman in black" but that is how I am labelled when filling out paperwork. I still initially mark my status as "married" as that is what I feel I am. I look further down the form and realise thats not me anymore. I am now classified as a "Widow" - as if I ever needed reminding of this fact.
So, surviving. Yes that is what I do on a daily basis. I get up, feed the kids, go to work, collect the kids from various childcare arrangements, tend to the usual bath and bedtime battles, sink into the sofa with a glass of wine and celebrate that I have survived another day as a widowed parent. Sometimes I wish I had more "me time". However when I do get this, I realise it is not "me time" that I want. What I am actually craving for is "us time". Time away from the kids but to spend with my husband, doing couple things. "Me time" just gives me more time to dwell on the fact that I am now on my own and that society now sees me as that "woman in black". It is times like this that the silent tears begin to flow. Perhaps on the outside I'm strong and doing well. In reality, I am just surviving.
The first month after Gary's death is a bit of a blur. From what I recall, I was in a haze of surrealism, not really understanding or indeed having the strength to accept what was happening.
Grief is difficult to explain. Every experience is different. As all the self help books and counselling sessions tell you, no two experiences are the same. For me, grief didn't hit me head on, it was (and still remains) a slow process, slapping you in the face when you least expect it. It drags you down to the sea bed when you are running out of air in your scuba tank, just when you think it is safe to bob up to the surface.
There is no perfect way to describe grief. However, from my view point, imagine being stuck in a jar of thick dark treacle, trying to wade through to get to the door on the other side of the jar. You can see the soft outline of people outside the jar and can hear muffled noises. You are therefore aware that life is going on outside of your situation but it is very difficult to comprehend or get involved in what is happening.
Wading through the treacle is very tiring, causing every muscle to ache continuously. Your eyes constantly smart from the sweet liquid which you can not avoid, thus there is a contant flow of tears. Despite your best efforts, reaching the door on the otherside of the jar is just impossible. You are so tired trying to reach the outside 'normality' that you wonder if giving up and letting the thick dark substance engulf you until you no longer feel the pain, is the easiest option. Then in the distance you see your own children, they too are struggling with the weight of the treacle around them. The youngest is confused not understanding what is going on. The eldest knows why he is here but does not know why it all happened. He too is getting tired from wading through. It takes all your strength but you reach them and slowly lift them out so they can breathe and relax their shaking bodies. They slip in and out of the dark liquid but for most parts you carry them through. This adds to your own weight, causing even more difficulty for you to wade on. With your body taking the full force you continue, for you have no real choice.
One day you know you will reach the door but you're not there yet and with each step it gets more and more difficult. However as the months continue, the dark sticky treacle turns more into an amber shade of golden syrup. It is still heavy to walk through with the golden substance still sticking to every part of your body. However the images of the outside normality are clearer and wading through is getting slightly easier.
I'm writing this 16 months in and although I'm still struggling, it is getting clearer. I can see that time does help to heal but memories will never fade. Will I ever find a clear sugar syrup making me transparent to the outside world and within touching distance of normality or am I destined for a life of cloudy sugar just before it turns to a deep caramel? Who knows? I do hope that I will reach the door on the otherside of the jar but whatever happens I know I will always have grief stuck to every part of my body. This I will never get rid of, no matter how hard I scrub. All I can hope is that the colour of my sugar syrup gets lighter and I learn to live with my new sugar coating.
An Empty Home
Whilst in the Hospice, there was the slight luxury that you do not have to face the outside world. The atmosphere is different. There is an understanding that people here will die and family and friends will be sad. Everyone walks around with a certain dignity and there is a level of silence that is quite comforting. The minutes after Gary had died, were strangly calm. I'm shocked to find myself saying that initially I was relieved that Gary had died. The last day of his life was tough. We were just sat waiting for the inevitable so when it finally happened, I breathed a large sigh of relief. Gary had crossed over and was in the peaceful place where he should now be. I was pleased that he would have no more pain and although I have not admitted this previously, for those few moments after Gary's death I was also thinking that finally my life would be less hectic. I wouldn't have to juggle child care, work and being a personal carer to my husband. This sense of calm and pleasure lasted for just a few minutes. The reality of what had actually happened, came crashing down on me like a ton of bricks.
I walked out of the hospice and very slowly walked towards the car. These were my first footsteps of the rest of my life. A life that I had never planned for and certainly never wanted to experience. I was now a single mother and would now be known as a Widow and was now heading home to have a conversation that nobody would ever want to have. Strangley the tears had dried up. I had shed a fair few in the last few months so perhaps I had no more inside me to disperse. Either that, or even my bodily functions were in shock of what had just happened and scared of the conversations that were about to come.
I drove away from the hospice, my place of comfort, and headed back down the drive into reality. A song was playing on the radio as I waited at the traffic lights. This song, Bryan Adams "You Belong to me", will forever take me back to that day. The lyrics fitted me just right and still do
"While you're out there, remember I'm right here
And you belong to me.
I only wanna hold you
I just wanna hold you
C'mon let me hold you
C'mon let me hold you
Ironically, on News Years Eve a couple of weeks after Gary died, Bryan Adams was the main guest on the TV show I was watching and his latest song, one of the main tunes played. Was it a sign from Gary? Who knows, but it encouraged me to drink a little more than I should as I marked the end of one of the most surreal years I had experienced. From the joys of welcoming our daughter into the word to the extreme low of saying goodbye to her Daddy just 7 months later. Is it possible to have the best and also worst year of your life at the same time?? Well yes, as it happens, it is.
Back to informing the children, I drove up to the house and took a deep breath. I had phoned ahead to my brother to ensure Nathan was in the house and his friend had gone home. Nathan must have know what I was about to say but didn't say anything. The Pastor from our local church had volunterred to come with me when I spoke with Nathan. He had come to the hospice shortly after Gary had died and offered much needed support to Niki and myself. Nathan was therefore surprised to see a new visitor to our house. Although Nathan was aware who Mr Pattison is, as he is a regular at school, it was not usual for him to be in our house, especially on a Saturday. I can not recall what words I used but I vividly remember sitting in the lounge next to Nathan on the sofa. "I need to talk to you about Daddy". Nathan looked at me and must have known what I was about to say. I had after all taken Nathan to say goodbye to Daddy just the day before. "Can you tell me upstairs please, in my bedroom" came a small voice. So in the end, after requesting Mr Pattison to be with me, I ended up using all my strength and compassion that God had provided me as a Mother and I relayed the message myself. "Daddy has died".
Straight to the point, no fancy words, just the bare facts. I hadn't really thought about how I would tell Nathan what had happened. I hope this was the right thing to do. We talk now about Daddy being in heaven and we have discussed in great depth how his body was cremated as it is just his soul that goes up to heaven. Your soul is what makes you the person that you are. It is your soul that becomes a star and the brightest star in the sky is Daddy, letting us know that he is still with us and always watching over us. However at that time, I didn't go into where Daddy was or what he would be doing, it was just straight to the point in those three little words.
Isn't is amazing how three little words can change the lives of so many? "I Love You". "Let's get married" "It's a Girl" "It's a Boy". "Red or White?" I've spoken three little words so often but never did I think I would be saying these three words, to my 6 year old son.
I have no idea what registered with Nathan. Did he understand what I had just said? His response threw me slightly. "Ok, can I go back and play with my friend now?" "Yes, of course" and off he went next door, leaving me sitting on his bed wondering what do I do now?
It's a bit of a blur about what we did do next. I did give Darcey an enormous cuddle, breathing in her innocent baby smell whilst holding back the tears as reality hit me that Gary would never be able to do this again. Once the chidlren were in bed that night, Niki, my brother and I sat drinking and reminiscing about the past. Social media was covered with well wishers and sympathy from all Gary's friends as news filtered across the globe that he had passed away. That night I snuggled up close to Nathan who was sharing my bed, and as I looked around my bedroom, the tears I had held back for so long, came flooding out. That night was the first of many, where I cried myself to sleep. Trying desperately to muffle the cries, I hid under the duvet, curled up in a ball, clutching at my chest as if I was trying to rescue my heart from breaking free. They say your heart breaks when you loose a loved one and to me, that is true. Over the following few months I would experience sharp pains intermittantly in my chest, an experience I can only put down as a broken heart.
Living in a Bubble
Those early days can only be described as living in a bubble. The outside world continued but I was living in my own little world, constantly spinning around and floating along with my own agenda. As with a bubble floating in the air, I just went with the flow. I couldn't guide my own way and went where ever the wind took me. I ended up where I needed to go but this was not through trying, I just floated along, did what I needed and had no desire or ability to make any change. Life just floated on by and I was very happy to let it.
As Gary died so close to Christmas, the whirlwind of the festive period was actually a god send. Rather than think about traumatic events that had just happened, I just floated along, pasted a smile on my face and tried to concentrate on the festivities that were happening all around. Although friends and family and even those I had never met, must have thought how horrid, loosing your loved one so near to Christmas, I actually thought of it as a blessing. I didn't have to think about what I had just witnessed or the new life I had to live, I could think about christmas presents and introducing Darcey to the madness of Father Christmas and the magical elves.
In the bubble of grief and not really wanting to face reality, the day after Gary died, I informed everyone that were were continuing with our plans and heading to the nearby castle to join in with the Christmas market. I had promised Nathan we would go at some stage before Christmas and therefore that Sunday, seemed quite appropriate. One of the not so wise decisions from those early days. As soon as the brass band started with "Away in a Manager" I was a sobbing mess. Christmas carols always pull on my heart strings at the best of times but now all I could think of was the baby Jesus starting his life with his loving parents and all the other families in the world who were full of joy and goodwill at this special time of the year. A moment of anger suddenly flashed infront of my eyes as I thought how unfair life was and why was everyone here so happy when I was in floods of tears. I ran out of the market and towards the castle moat. Looking over at the calm waters I looked up to the sky and wondered if Gary was in Heaven already. Probably not, as I knew he was in the hospice waiting for me to visit him on Monday. I looked back towards the market and realised I had to go back. After all, it wasn't just me who was going through pain, Nathan and Darcey needed me. I therefore wiped back the tears and continued what I would do for the next few months (and even today), slap on the fake smile and pretent all is OK.
The Final Goodbye
Writing this story is cathartic in a way but it is also bringing back the harsh reality of what I went through. As I write each chapter, I think to myself, wow that was a tough moment, nothing was harder than going through that. I guess, very much like when you have a baby, each moment in time seems difficult but when you look back, you think, that was easy compared to what you are coping with now. I keep getting told, "you think you have difficulty now, wait until they are teenagers!" I remember when Nathan had just started to walk I said to Gary "it was so much easier when he was a baby". Whereas when he was a baby and waking through the night, screaming the place down for milk, I though nothing could get harder than this.
This is what I think about Gary's journey. The initial diagnosis was the worst situation ever, then being told the chemo was not working (could life get any worse?). We then faced the moment that "it's a mess inside, it is not looking good". Then the "it's time to go into the Hospice", followed by advising Nathan that he had to say goodbye, to cuddling up to Gary that Saturday morning and inbetween the kisses, telling him it was OK for him to go and cross over into Heaven. At each stage, I though life could not get any worse. At each stage I was wrong. Despite everything I had just gone through, saying my final goodbye to Gary on the Monday morning in the Hospice chapel has to be the worst thing I will ever do.
My Father came with me as did Nikki. I walked into the hospice feeling numb. The last time I was here, I would walk through the cafe around the corner to Gary's room. This time, I could only walk as far as the cafe. I was no longer allowed to go to the "ward". A couple of the nurses came with us and guided us to the chapel where Gary was laid to rest. It was just a small room with a couple of comfy chairs and the ever familiar box of tissues on the coffee table. We had a stilted conversation about how we needed to register the death and I was given a copy of the death confirmation that I needed to give to the registrar. I was then invited to see Gary. There was no rush, I could stay there as long as I needed. I went in alone, the room was a very small rectangular room with just enough space for the small bed that Gary laid on a room either side for a relative to stand. There was a small bunch of flowers in the corner and the room was cold and silent. This was extremely surreal. My husband who I had danced the night away with, who I had stayed up until 7am drinking and dancing under the stars, who had witnessed me push two children into this world, who I had stood next to at the altar and to who I made a solomon vow to honour and respect him and to love him unto death do us part. Here he was now, lying motionless in a cold room, a banket covering his body until his chest. His eyes were now closed and his mouth no longer open and he looked like he was sleeping. He looked angelic. He looked like the man I fell in love with all those years ago. He looked like the man that I want to cuddle and hold on to forever. He is the man I want to cuddle and hold on to forever. He is my husband, he is my rock, my best friend, my soul mate, my everything. SO WHY AM I HERE LOOKING AT HIM IN THE HOSPICE CHAPEL????????????? I looked up to the ceiling in the hope that God could see the pain I was in and wave his magic wand to make Gary come back to life. I didn't work, I looked back down at Gary and crumbled. This wasn't a dream or a part in a film. This was really happening. This was time to say my final goodbye.
I held Gary's face in my hands, my wedding ring shining in the late winter sun. I was shocked at how cold he was. Part of me found this amusing as Gary was always moaning about how hot he was. Goodness knows how we survived so many years living in Spain, experiencing summer days of 40 degrees plus. I pulled the blanket further up Gary's body to try and keep him warm. I have no idea why I did this. After all, he was dead and could not feel anything. However I wanted to make sure he was comfortable and being able to do this, even though it made no difference to Gary, I felt that I was still caring for him. I closed my eyes, not through tiredness but because by closing my eyes, I could stop the tears from sneaking out. I was not able to comprehend this situation that I suddenly found myself in. Here I was, resting my head on a dead body, trying not to cry and at the same time trying to keep this dead body warm. This was certainly a surreal moment and definetly not what I thought I would be doing four days before celebrating my daughters first Christmas.
As I lay with my head resting on Gary's head, my mind wandered off to the the many memories that Gary and I had shared.
Back in 2003, Gary and I celebrated our engagement in Bangkok. We had announced our engagment a few days earlier on Gary's 40th birthday and decided to buy the engagement ring whilst on holiday in Thailand. We went to a lovely little jewellers in a shopping centre in Bangkok centre. I vivdly remember that we had our photo taken as proof for the shop that two white westerners has purchased a diamond in their shop. The shop was called Diamond Shine and for several years afterwards we received a Christmas card from them each year. We went off to the Hard Rock Cafe to celebrate our purchase over burgers and cocktails and then went in search of an Irish bar to celebrate further. Those who know Gary will remember that Gary had to search for an Irish bar wherever we travelled. Needless to say, I have frequented Irish bars in Bangkok, Krabi, Phuket, Chang Mai, Hong Kong, San Francisco, several in various resorts within Spain and for authenticity quite a few in both Belfast and Dublin. Back to our engagment; three things stick in my mind. Firstly, I somehow managed to get locked in the toilet at the Hard Rock Cafe. Whilst fumbling around with the lock, I recall thinking this will be a great story to share with the Grand kids in later life. Looks like I'll be sharing that story on my own now. The second event was how proud I was to be engaged. I was chatted up at the bar by two young men whilst Gary had popped off to the loo. Being the polite person that I am (and spurred on by the third glass of wine I was now drinking) I engaged in conversation but with each word that I spoke I made sure that my engagment ring was clearly on display. It obviously worked and very shortly the men disappeared (either that or I was boring them with conversation). After our few days in Bangkok we headed off to the beach resort of Krabi to continue our engagment celebrations. I was so scared that I would lose my engagment ring, we decided to lock it in the hotel safe. These days, it never leaves my finger.
Another memory is from our days living in Menorca, when Nathan was just a twinkle in our eyes and I was still known as Miss Bonney. Gary and I stagged home after a night in the Port, frequenting a few trendy bars. It was 7am as we literally fell through the door. I pulled Gary out of the way so I could shut the door (no mean feat, I can tell you) and in my ineibriated state I decided it was time to have an inpromtu kareoke session. Putting on the "The Best Irish Album in the World" CD (no Spotify or Ipods in those days), I started to sing along.
"Her eyes, they shone like the diamonds.
You'd think she was queen of the land,
And her hair hung over her shoulders,
Tied up with a black velvet band."
I was obviously destined to become a Molloy. A few months later, we got engaged. My singing must have done the trick.
It wasn't just the party and social activities that remain in my memory. I saw the Gary that nobody else saw, the caring, emotional side which was usually well hidden behind the social exterior. The evening of Nathan's birth, when I was taken away in an ambulance to be transferred to the other side of Menorca to a hospital with a better IC unit. There was talk that due to the early arrival of Nathan he would need to be air lifted to Majorca to a better equipped hospital for premature births. Nathan was 6 weeks early and what we thought was a quick pop to the hospital just to be on the safe side, turned out to be an emergency dash with blue lights and sirens. Whilst I was in the care of the paramedic (who frustratingly kept calling me Nicole) Gary was left alone, battling against the pouring rain and trying to keep up with the ambulance. Once we reached the hospital, I was wheeled down the corridor into the delivery suite. I later found out that Gary was left on own trying to work out where I was. Quite difficult when Gary's spanish vocab stretched at most to "Baileys por favour. Un vaso grande con mucho hielo, gracias" I later learnt he had been sent up to the post birth and was walking up and down the corridor trying to peer into each private room trying to locate me. He did however find me and the image of him walking through the door looking like an extra from Casualty will stay with me forever. So too will the smell of his feet. It's amazing what you remember. Gary was still in his work clothes and the woolley socks that kept him warm during the cold April days in the office were now over heating in the warmth of the delivery suite.
I giggled to myself at this image and in doing do, opened my eyes and my current situation hit me head on. Just like waking from a lovely dream, the return to earth was shattering. I lifted my head from Gary's chest and stared at his face. I knew I had to leave but my feet had suddenly become disconnected with the rest of my body. It was only a couple of meters away but I couldn't walk to the door. I knew that as soon as I left this room, I would never see Gary again. The tears started to fall again as I thought what this really meant. I would never see Gary again. His body had changed beyond recognition in the final days but he was still my husband and his body was the same that I had clung to on so many nights. I kissed his forehead, his closed eyelids, his nose and finally his lips. They were the same smooth lips I had caressed so many times before but on each kiss, I knew it would be my last. I said my final goodbye and with all my strength I willed my feet to connect with the rest of my body. I reached the door and very nearly opened it but I couldn't. I rushed back to Gary and fell on top of his chest. I know I have to do this, but I just couldn't. I closed my eyes again, stroked his face and then with my hands gently cupping his face I gave the longest, lingering kiss I could muster. Was this enough to see him through his journey up to heaven? All I could do was pray that it was. I looked up to the ceiling and had a secret conversation with God. I will never divulge to anyone what this consisted of. I know and Gary will know once he reaches his final destination. That is all that matters. I took a very large breath, and very slowly walked towards the door. I didn't look back, I wanted my last memory of Gary to be my slow lingering kiss.
I walked out of the door and fell into my Fathers arms. My sobs were probably heard in Gary's home town in Northern Ireland. I have no idea what my Dad was thinking. As a Father you want to protect your child no matter what their age but what could he do to protect his daughter now. I could hear his distress in amongst my sobs and the two of us stayed there, locked together in grief in a situation that neither could ever of imagined. Eventually I came up for air, composed myself and sat down on the sofa. We thanked the nurses for looking after Gary so well and their support to both myself and Niki and we then left the hospice.
Niki went back to the airport for her flight back home and I found myself in the back of my parents car, squeezed inbetween Nathan and Darcey's car seats as they drove us back to their house for Christmas.
Welcome to Widowhood Mrs Molloy. Your life does not get any worse than this!
There is always a lull between Christmas and New Years Eve. Most years, it is spent playing with the toys that Father Christmas had bought, spending your hard earned cash in the sales or eating yet another Turkey sandwich even though you couldn't manage anything else. (not even a wafer thin mint! as Gary would always say when some one mentioned they were full). For me and my father, the final days of December 2015 were spent planning the funeral of my husband. Leaving the children with my Mum, my Dad and I drove home to complete various paperwork and meet the funeral director to discuss service arrangements.
Now, this may be inappropriate, but when I met up with the funeral director, I had to hold back laughter. It was nothing against her, she was extremely professional and very down to earth, Exactly what you need in this situation. It was the whole surreal experience that I could not comprehend. I am comforted that Gary would no doubt be laughing his socks off at the situation I was now in. We were sat around a round table, drinking luke warm milky tea discussing flowers, coffin designs and if Gary wanted a horse drawn carriage or perhaps a hearse would be more Gary. Well, I just couldn't keep a straight face. There is no way Gary would have wanted a horse drawn carriage showered with flowers spelling out the word "Dad" or perhaps "Gaz". We had joked about this early on in his illness when we thought death would not be on the agenda. It was a conversation over a couple of glasses of wine but I did reassure Gary that I would not go down that route, so he didn't have to worry.
So, after confirming that we wouldn't need a horse and carriage, just a straightforward Hearse please. The type of coffin was next to be discussed. Again, I know discussing funeral arrangements is a very sombre affair but I really did have to hide back a smile that was starting to form on my face. Gary was very well known for his story telling and one particular favourite of mine was his renactment of "Fernando" the Portuguese Undertaker. When the subject of coffin design came up, I immedately thought of this story.
Gary was Repping in a hotel in Portugal in the winter months when the hotels were very popular with the retired and shall we say "Older Generation". Unfortunately, Gary was advised one afternoon that a guest had passed away in the bathroom of the hotel. The guests travelling companions were obviously very traumatised, so Gary went to the room to assess the situation. The man was dead and so an Undertaker was called. Apparently he appeared in the hotel cellar and travelled up to the floor in the customer lift. Gary opened the door to him and was faced with a pointy looking narrow face, wearing back clothes and a shory black cape. "My name is Fernando" the man said in broken english with a heavy accent. Next to him was a very small, rounded man who was the assistant. Between Gary, the Undertaker and the assistant, the man was put into an open coffin and taken to the lift. Gary had instructed other Reps in the hotel to monitor the lift so nobody called the lift, leaving the path clear to carry the coffin to the cellar and into the waiting hearse. Unfortunately this did not go to plan. An old lady called the lift without the Rep knowing. Meanwhile Gary and Undertaker weretrying to get the coffin into the lift. The only way was to stand the coffin upright but unfortunately rigamortis had set in and this caused difficulty in closing the coffin lid. The poor old lady was faced with a dreadful sight when the lift reached her floor. There was Gary in his Airtours blue uniform with fetching yellow shirt and multicoloured tie, trying to hold down a coffin lid. Next to him dressed head to toe in black with a floating black cape was Fernando also trying to hold in a stray arm that kept poking out. Next to Fernando and no taller than knee height was the round little assistant. Gary mumbled something along the lines of "Good Afternoon" and the lift doors closed and off they went down to the cellar.
This story always makes me laugh. I always think of it as a mix between a scene in Fawlty Towers and The Adams Family. Anyway, as soon as the coffin discussion started, my mind wondered to when Gary used to tell this story. I lost track of what the undertaker was telling me but came back in focus just as she was explaining the benefits of a wicker coffin. Gary is more traditional, I explained. "We'll go with the rectangular box shape". There was no way I could have Gary rest in a coffin shape after the story of "Fernando" and it didn't seem right, Gary having his final resting place in a wicker basket. That was like putting Gary in a laundry basket.
We were in the undertakers for over an hour, discussing flower arrangements, coffin designs, type of wood, type of handles and finally where the service would take place and what music we wanted. Once again, I found myself in a very surreal situation and it was so surreal that I found myself laughing. As they say, you either laugh or your cry. If I really thought about what I was doing (discussing my husband's funeral) I would have broken down there and then. If truth be known, I never ever want to be in that situation again. Not for my parents, in-laws or anybody. Once that discussion starts, it signifies that the end is real. My husband was really dead and now I had to face facts and somehow celebrate his life. Once again, I found myself looking up to the skies above as if to have a quiet word with with the big man upstairs. I needed his guidance more than anything in the next few days. He helped me out when Nathan was born 6 weeks early and he had answered my prayers to let Nathan live a full and happy life. I still don't know what his plans were when he allowed Gary to die so young but I hoped he would be there for me now & to support me as best he could. I surely needed it now.
With all plans in place for the funeral, my Father and I headed back to my parents to celebrate (if you can call it that) the end of 2015 and the start of 2016. Before that however, we had to register the death.
The Registery office for births and deaths in Maidstone is in the middle of the library. I was expecting a small office instead I was welcomed into a "pod" in the centre of the reference section of the library. It reminded me of the individual toilet blocks that you see in London, where the door opens 5mins or so automatically after you have entered. The "pod" was a cross between these toilets and the new toilets you get on the train. Whatever the image, it was not the venue I was expecting to register my husband's death. To make matters worse, the Registrar was busy when we first arrived so we were offered a seat in the reference library in amongst the plumbing and how to write your family tree research books.
A happy couple with a new born appeared from the pod and then my Father and I were invited in. To be fair the Registrar apologised for us waiting amongst the plumbing books and also acknoweledged that this was not the ideal place to register a death. I explained that it was myself who was registering the death and that it was my husband who had passed away. I'm sure the lady had seen many different people pass through her doors but I did notice a flicker of sadness as she looked me up and down. I held back the tears very well but my voice was a bit on the wobbly side. It was even more difficult when I realised that only 8 months previous, Gary had been in the very same place to register the birth of our daughter. I had not attended as it was 2 days after Darcey's birth and I was still a bit sore. I'm glad now that I did not attend and it would have been even more difficult to comprehend that I was back so soon under such dreadful circumstances. The Registrar was very professional and made a very difficult event, relatively stress free. We left the "pod" with several death certificates all ready to post off to the various utility and bank companies so we could cancel Gary off their books. Yet another horrendous series of events that has to be done following a death. I won't even go into the detail of how upsetting it is to phone strangers who (in the majority) have the least concern for your current situation. True, they will utter "oh, I'm sorry to hear this" but they're not really. As soon as they put the phone down, they will be back gossiping with their telesales colleagues and stressing how bad that call was as they were talking about a dead person. Welcome to my life. I have lost count on the number of times I have had to relay the same story. Most of my phone calls went along the lines of:
Me "Oh, hello, I'm phoning regarding my Husband"
Them "I'm sorry I can not talk to you I need to talk to your husband".
Me "Yes, that's the thing, I need to report that my husband has died"
Them" Oh.......um.....OK...right...I'll need to pass you to somebody else"
Them (new person) "hello, how can I help"
Me" hello, I'm phoning regarding my Husband"
Them"I'm sorry I can not talk to you I need to talk to your husband, is he there?"
Me "Er no, that's why I am phoning, my husband has died"
Them "OK, I'm sorry to hear that. Do you have his death certificate? You will need to send that to us as proof he has died. Once we have recieved that, we can cancel his account (or whatever it was I was phoning about)
Me "Yes, I have many copies of the certificate, I will post to you".
Them "That's great. Thank you, have a nice day".
To be fair, not all were that cold, but the vast majority were certainly in need of a refresher course in customer services and empathy. The sad thing is, I am not and will not be the last person who has to go through such events. One of the worst experiences was a couple of months after Gary's death when I sent o advise our rental company that Gary had died and I need to change the rental agreement into just one name. Not only did this cost me over £500 (plus a very large amount of stress) I almost lost my cool and calm exterior when the girl in the office (she was no older than 20yrs) asked me, when I informed that Gary had died, if I wanted to take Gary completly off the rental papers or just for the moment. "Errr, I would take him off permenantly, I stuttered" under my breath muttering, he won't be coming back but I wish he would.
Gary's funeral took place on Thursday 7th January 2016. We held the service of remembrance at Jubilee Church, followed by a short service at the crematorium and finally a celebratory wake at a nearby hotel. Nathan and Darcey attended, I never had any doubt that they should not be there. Darcey, being only 8 months old would never remember but she will no doubt hear about the day and if she didn't go she would probably question why she wasn't able to go. For Nathan I wanted him to be part of the day. I completely understood that it would , be a strange and very sad day for Nathan to deal with but as his Mummy, I knew it was only right that he was able to say goodbye to his Daddy just as I would be doing. My only worry was how would I prepare Nathan for a funeral. As with everything since the day Gary was diagonosed, the only way was to tell the truth.
Leading up to the funeral, Nathan and I had several chats about what to expect. I made sure that I played the music that would be playing during the funeral and explained why we would play it. I explained that we would be celebrating Daddy's life because he had done so many amazing things and it was only right that we could share them with everyone who was coming to say goodbye. We had a slideshow with photos of Gary growing up and in his early days as a Club 18-30 Rep. I showed Nathan these photos so he could see what Daddy looked like when he was younger. The photos got just the right response (a fit of the giggles) and whan I explained that we would show these photos to everyone, Nathan thought that would be fun. I was determined that despite the sadness, the day had to have an element of laughter, not just for Nathan but for all of us to remember Gary as he was - a fun loving, often silly but most of all amazing man. As an extra bit of fun for Nathan, I invited several of his class friends to join the wake after school. This would give Nathan friends to play with and I hoped it would finish the day off on a high, leaving a lasting impression of Daddy's funeral of a day of remembering but also having fun.
The most difficult part was explaining to Nathan what would happen at the crematorium. It was important for me that Nathan understood as best he could what was happening. The internet was a saviour and enabled me to show Nathan photos of what the Hearse would look like with Daddy's coffin and also what the inside of the crematorium would look like. I also explained that when it was time for Daddy to go, the curtains would close around the coffin and that would be the last time we would see him. I did not go into great depth of what happened behind the curtain as even for me, this was too much to take in. Instead I focused on the fact that now that Daddy had died, he no longer needed his skin and bones as it was only his soul, the part of a person that makes you who you are, that goes up to Heaven and becomes a star. As I explained to Nathan, the reason for the crematorium is for Daddy's skin and bones, to turn to ashes and to let his soul be free to rise up to the sky. Nathan never questioned how his bones would turn into ashes and I never voluntered this information. For us both, it was adequate info to know that Daddy had what he needed for his new adventure and the remains were turned to dust. We would then scatter the ashes somewhere in Northern Ireland, in a place that would be nice for Daddy to look at from the sky. The reason for scattering the ashes is so that the parts of Daddy that do not go up to the sky can float around in the air and be with us where ever we are. I hoped this explanation would provide the information that was needed but in a gentle way that a 6 year old could understand and comprehend.
The day itself was another surreal day in my widowhood journey. My parents were staying with us and the five of us climbed into the awaiting limo. I did not dress Nathan and Darcey in black. I myself wore a charcol grey dress with a green scarf. Black was too final and although I quite often wear black, I couldn't bring myself to go all out black for the funeral. Nathan wore his new black and red shirt I had bought him for Christmas and a pair of black jeans. Darcey wore her red and green Christmas party dress and a new red coat to keep her warm. We arrived at Jubilee Church just after Gary's parents. I waited until everyone else had walked in and then holding Nathan's hand in my left hand and carrying Darcey on my right side, I quickly looked up to the sky, told Gary I loved him, took a deep breath and then walked in to say my final farewell.
Attending your own husband's funeral is a strange occurance. I am a self professed wall flower and being the centre of attention is something that I dread. For that split second of walking into church, I had a flashback to my wedding day, where despite everyone knowing that very soon I would be walking into church, when that moment happened, a silence descended and all eyes turned to look at me. I really didn't know where to look. The polite side of me acknowledged that all these people had travelled a fair distance to pay their respects and to offer their condolences to me. I therefore knew that it was only polite to thank them and make eye contact. The wall flower part of me, was telling me to look at the ground, focus on Darcey or Nathan, anything other than acknowledge that the whole room was now looking at this 41 year old lady and her two children who were embarking on a new and very different life to the one they had planned. Whilst battling these two thoughts, I had various people come up to me in their own grief, giving me a big hug or breaking down in tears. I tried to smile at those that I had made eye contact with, whilst guiding Nathan to his seat and desperately trying not to drop Darcey. At this point, I had still not said hello to Gary's family and to be fair, I didn't really want to as this to me would be acknowledging that Gary was no longer here. After all, he was always the one who would go to his family first, I would hover in the background until called over. Eventually I found my seat at the front, settled Darcey on my lap and tried to get Nathan to sit still so the service could begin.
The service itself was beautiful and just as I had planned. There were tears, there was laughter but more importantly it was a celebration that Gary asked for. Nothing too fancy, traditional but with a twist (hence the slideshow and Club 18-30 photos). I knew that I wouldn't be able to speak at the funeral, firstly, my aversion to public speaking but also I knew that tear would ruin what I really wanted to say. I therefore wrote an open letter which was put in the order of service.
"An Open Letter to my Wonderful Husband"
I have been thinking about what to write here for a while. It won’t be anything too sad, for you were never sad. I don’t want to cry, as in all honesty, my eyes are a little sore from the constant flow of tears that seems to appear quite regularly. So, I’ll try to be upbeat. Here goes......
You were always the optimist & joker in our relationship. We even joked when you were admitted to the Hospice. The room was nice but no sea view and when you were handed a questionnaire about the service, we both burst out laughing. (Our Repping friends amongst us will recall the fun times we had collating the CSQ results). I’m not sure what the nurse thought of the two of us. We did get a strange look and that just made us giggle even more.
Your final days in the Hospice were special times for us. Just me and you reminiscing about our time together......and what a time we have had.
I know we never did reach South Africa, that was penciled in for January. You were going to have a quiet word with Anne so I could get some time off and we were going to travel for our final holiday together. Don’t worry, one day Nathan, Darcey & I will go for you. I’m sure Nathan & Darcey will want to go on a safari, but you know what Nathan’s like, he would want to touch everything and definitely wouldn’t sit still. Not sure the Lions & Tigers would appreciate that.
Aside, from South Africa, there are not many countries in the world untouched by Gary Molloy. We were very privileged that working in the travel industry enabled us to visit many different places both through pleasure and work. Thailand, Dubai, Mauritius, America, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Italy, Portugal, Spain (almost every region here) and of course France. France is where we spent our last family holiday together. Nathan had to complete a diary for school and I’m sure you remember very well the fun it was trying to get him to do this every day. However, this is now a very special memento for us all as it details our last great holiday together as a family of 4. We will have many more holidays but now it will be just the 3 of us. We did promise Nathan that when you were better we would take him on the "Mickey Mouse" plane to Disneyworld, Florida. I hope in time I will be able to do this and we will think of you when we are there.
I do hope you will enjoy your day today. You didn’t want anything too "posh" but I know you would want everything organised and precise. So don’t worry, we have dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s for you. Music is important too and you had a diverse range of song choices. For your love of Rugby, there is "World in Union". I have included our favourite from Christy Moore, as this always reminds me of our time in Menorca before the kiddies came along. We used to sing along to the words on our way to work and hope that one day we would have our own crew around us. Well they are here with me today and I know you will always be with them too. You always dreamt of the chilled out days in Ibiza, when you pretended to party hard, so I’ve also chosen your favourite Ibiza tune. Just promise me one thing, you won’t join in and start singing - you know that always annoys me.
I so wish I was not writing this. I’m being as strong as I can but it is really hard.
I keep rushing to my phone to give you a call to update you on what we are up to. I have to stop myself as I suddenly realise you are not working away on business, or having a networking night. Similarly, I am taking loads of photos as I used to when you worked away all ready to make a photo album for your return. I don’t need to do that now.
I am blessed in the knowledge that our two wonderful children will grow up with fantastic memories of their Daddy. Darcey will know you from all the photos and the memories that both Nathan and I will share with her. Nathan will have his own special thoughts, particularly your love of Rugby. One day we will make a trip to Twickenham to watch England v Ireland just as you said you would do. I can’t guarantee which team he will support though, although I suspect he will go for green and I will choose white.
I do feel sad when I think you will miss out on all the future things we will do together as a family. You will miss Darcey’s first steps and her first birthday celebration. Neither will you be there when she has her first day at school. You will not be at Nathan’s side as he starts Secondary school or takes his first driving lesson. However, don’t worry as I will always be there for them and we know that you are always watching over us.
Before I go, I just want to say thank you for everything you did for us as a family. You always put us first and even in your last few weeks you wanted to make sure that we would be OK. I also want to thank you for my very special last cuddle we had together at the Hospice. The nurses made sure you were comfy and there was room for me on your single bed and we laid there in peace. I take comfort knowing I was with you when you passed. Your last touch was the feel of my fingers entwined with yours. Your last smell was my newly washed hair as I bent over to give you a cuddle. Your last sight, was my tear stained face, looking at your gorgeous blue eyes and your last taste, was my lips on yours as I gave you a final kiss.
I won’t say goodbye as I know we will meet up again. Until that time, enjoy your new adventure, I can’t wait to hear about it. No doubt, you have already found an Irish Bar and are sitting there now with a pint of Guinness, enjoying watching us all.
Take care, my wonderful man.
I love you forever