Two years, three months

For some reason it’s doing the shopping that gets me a lot, walking through the supermarket getting stuff for the weekend, nobody to take into consideration but the cats and myself. It’s been two years and three months since I last had to shop for anybody but me, and actually the two years before that saw me not needing to more often than not too. Sometimes that gets to me and I feel myself getting maudlin over by the sausage rolls.

Sandra’s toothbrushes are still in the cup on top of the sink in our bathroom. “Our” bathroom; I still find myself talking that way, or mentioning Sandra and then having to decide about to explain or keep sthum about the whole dead wife thing to coworkers when you’re just talking about Devon or whatever.

Keepsakes and reminders of her are everywhere of course, but you slowly see the character of our house change now she’s no longer here to put her stamp on it. It’s half in stasis, half turning into a slightly bigger version of my old student flat. I keep oscillating between wanting to keep everything as it was and wanting to change everything, in the end doing neither but letting entropy do its work for me.

To be honest, I’ve been running in stationary myself as well. The days go by and things change, but I’m just going along with the flow, no clear goals in mind. Living with somebody for so long, having been so focused on getting Sand better for the last five years, then having all that effort be for nothing, these past two years just have left me goalless. Living alone again after so long isn’t getting any easier. Not even after two years.

Two years

sandra watering the garden

Today it’s two years ago that Sandra died. Not a day has gone by that she hasn’t been in my thoughts. So much of who I am has been shaped by living with her, so much of my daily routine has its origins in hers. A part of her will always be with me.

The picture above was taking at my brother’s birthday in 2008. He has a gorgeous, large garden and Sandra was always a gardening enthusiast, so no wonder she took it on herself to water the plants. That year was the last year she was in anything resembling good health; she would get ill at the end of the year and start dialysis the next. This is how I like to remember her.

Sandra wouldn’t have liked this

Spider in front of our front room window

Big fuckoff spider hanging in front of our front window, bold as you please. There are plenty of spiders in the garden too, spinning webs between the washing lines and the small table or chair outside. I don’t mind them there, but they can’t come in. Sandra of course was a dedicated arachnophobeand hated seeing any spider in the house, though not so much outside.

(Dreamed of her incidently, one of those dreams where you know she’s dead, but there’s a perfectly logical explenation for why she’s now alive again. Maudlin, more than upsetting.)

One year, nine months

As she herself put it, one of the few benefits of having terminal cancer for Jane Catherine Lotter was the chance to write her own obituary:

I was given the gift of life, and now I have to give it back. This is hard. But I was a lucky woman, who led a lucky existence, and for this I am grateful. I first got sick in January 2010. When the cancer recurred last year and was terminal, I decided to be joyful about having had a full life, rather than sad about having to die. Amazingly, this outlook worked for me

Which is one thing I wish we could’ve done when Sandra was dying. We did do something similar to what Jay Lake did recently, when he held his own wake, by doing a proper Sunday roast with the entire family before Sandra stopped her treatment, as a way to say goodbye to everyone so Sandra could withdraw from life and prepare for death.

These rituals, these ways to say goodbye and sum up your life, to mark the transition between living and preparing to die, are important. Sandra in the end died as good a death as she may have wished for, even if it came way too early for us, was such a bitter disappoint following on our dreams of giving her a more normal life again through the kidney transplant. Those last couple of weeks as she was slowly slipping towards death were both stressfull and yet incredibly peaceful. The worst had happened, we were as prepared as we could be and didn’t need to do anything anymore.

Almost two years on, some three weeks before the anniversary of our wedding, she’s still never far from my thoughts, still present in most everything I do. I don’t think that will ever change.

Eighteen months

Time flies even when you’re not having fun. This time last year it had been half a year since Sandra died and I’d just come back from Plymouth to scatter her ashes. My youngest nephew was still a couple of days from being born; he’ll be one next Sunday, coincidently being born on the same day as his aunt’s birthday and a week after his daddy’s. It’s a cliche, but the world moves on even when you stand on top of it screaming for it to stop.

Grief lessens over time of course and eighteen months of being alone is starting to feel normal. To be honest, the two years before that, which Sandra mostly spent in hospital, didn’t feel like a normal relationship anymore either, but more as if everything was on hold until she got better, or not. It’s hard to get out from under that holding pattern. Not sure I quite want to yet either.

And I can’t remember the sound that you made for me

In a Metafilter thread about losing cats and other pets, somebody linked to the above Weakerthans song about the death of a cat, as sung from the cat’s perspective. Hence “and I can’t remember the sound that you made for me” as she no longer recalls the name her owner called her. It goes to the heart of what makes dealing with the death of a loved pet so different from dealing with losing people. Pets can’t understand what’s happening to them, not like humans can and it feels more like you are abandoning them, than that they’re leaving you.

There’s this dream I have occasionally, where Sandra turns up still alive and I accept in the dream, though at the same time in the dream I still know she died, but something happened that had made it all a misunderstanding, she was alive all that time, I just had not been seeing here. That’s that same feeling of abandonment, of having let her down.

Sixteen months on

Sandra smoking in bed outside the main entrance of VUMC

That photo right there sums Sandra up to a t. Stubborn enough, determined enough that she would go and get a fag even if it meant getting wheeled outside in her bed to the small smoker’s cubicle next to the main entrance of the VUMC hospital she stayed in. That picture was taking just a month before she would die, roughly around the time that she had decided she was going to die and I was going to have to come to terms with that. It’s how I want to remember her, as somebody who always stayed true to herself, who kept trying to lead her own life as well as could, until she could no more.


Up was actually the last movie Sandra and I saw together in the cinema, back in 2009, for her birthday. Even then this sequence was moving; more so now. What with the barely past Christmas season, I saw parts of it several times in the past few weeks, as various channels broadcast the movie again. Which may be why I was dreaming about Sandra last night. One of those dreams where you know she’s dead, but you accept that she got better for some reason and just do mundane stuff. It’s one of those dreams that you wake up from both happy and sad.

Same procedure as last year

I don’t like New Year’s Eve; never have. It’s a holiday that always puts you in a melancholy mood as you’re supposed to reflect on the past year and get swallowed up in all the instant nostalgia television and the news media bombard you with. Not to mention all the obligatory partying on the night, which always seems to be going on somewhere else than where I’m at. It all puts me in a maudlin mood and I can’t stand that. then again I’m somebody who can get wistful because the novel I’m reading is almost finished…

2012 has been a strange year anyway, it would’ve been a good year if not for one little thing: the job went well after a bit of a hiccup in 2011 (switching assignments), financially everything’s alright, the cats are in good health, it’s just that this has been the first year without Sandra. And when you’ve been with somebody for eleven years it’s very strange to not have them around anymore. Very strange and painful. Not a day that hasn’t gone by without me being reminded of her not being here. Especially today.

Sandra always liked New Years eve and the crazy fireworks the Dutch get up to tonight (and in the runup to tonight and for several days afterwards (the cats are less impressed)) and always wanted to be in the thick of it, while my first instinct had always been to hide away from it. Despite this mismatch, we had some good New Years’ Eves together, going out to Nieuwmarkt to watch the mobsters, the Chinese kids and the students competing with each other as to who could light the biggest bang, as well as that New Year’s party back in Plymouth, the last year she lived there, that had been just perfect. Without her? Eh, what’s the point.