Grief, little folk and 2020: a brief history so far

At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, I remember saying that the new year couldn’t be any worse than the last.

Ha bloody ha. If only I had known, eh?

So the bad stuff first:

Just a month after my last blog post, and almost a year to the day since losing my Mum, we lost my beautiful Nan to pneumonia.

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She’d been ill for months and her quality of life was non-existent, reliant on carers to do everything for her – I know that she absolutely hated it. The last time I saw her was a few weeks before she passed, as we had been instructed to shield the vulnerable at that point, and the only contact we had with her after that was via telephone. She was taken into Leicester Royal Infirmary on the Sunday afternoon and died a few hours later, with no family by her side as Covid restrictions meant no-one could go with her. It took almost two weeks for the death certificate to be issued, with a doctor apologetically informing me via telephone that Covid-19 was being put on the certificate, even though she never had symptoms and tested negative for it at the hospital (don’t get me started).

As per my experience when Mum died, those who could have assisted chose not to, and I was left to administer the estate and organise the funeral on my own. We were only allowed to have ten people at her funeral, which was a bizarre socially-distanced affair at the local crematorium. I can only imagine what she’d have thought of it!

Meanwhile, in the world of the day job, myself and my only remaining colleague were dismantling the fixtures and fittings & closing accounts ahead of the company’s relocation two hundred miles north. We had been made aware of the move around Christmas but it all got very real when colleagues I had worked with for years found new jobs and the building started emptying around me. All this during lockdown too (we’re classed as an essential service). What fun, eh?

Along came June and another blow: my beloved cat Welford, who had been poorly for some time, became so ill that I took him to the vet for the very last time. Blood tests suggested leukemia and the vet advised it would be the kindest thing to let him go (oh man, I’m crying as I write this!) He went to sleep on June 18th and is buried in the garden beneath a plaque that bears his name.

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I go out to see him every day and say hello, and I still haven’t stopped expecting to see him when I get up in a morning. Maybe I never will. Love you Mr Man! Until we meet again.

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July arrives. We hand over the keys to the office building and I am now officially working from home on a permanent basis. It has its pros and cons but I’m making the most of it. Meanwhile, my other cat Voldemort (Mort, Mortus Tortoise, Morty-Fa-Torty, Fatty, Fat Bum, Fluff Mort, Grump Mort, Pasty Cat – she is a cat of many names but answers to none lol) had been losing weight for no obvious reason. Blood tests diagnosed an overactive thyroid, which we’re managing now with medication and she’s back to her roly-poly self, if not quite so hyperactive!

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August brought us more awful news. My better half’s sister-in-law passed away after a brief battle with cancer. We then discovered that his brother in the US had contracted Covid, although I’m glad to say he appears to be over the worst of it, if not thoroughly exhausted.

Oh, and I qualified as an Achology Counselling Practitioner at some point in all of this!

So that’s my year so far. I’ve somehow managed to keep on writing through it, editing / revising / rewriting the WIP when the mind and body would allow. I’ve tried to write a couple of short stories in between but I’m sorry to say I didn’t get very far. Thanks to the lockdown, I went without my maintenance massage for my dodgy neck / shoulder for nearly five months and ended up in permanent pain again. Life has gotten back to some semblance of normal, and two treatments in I’m getting better and am able to spend more time at the laptop.

According to Goodreads I’ve read nearly 50 books this year so far! I’ve recently been reading up on Leicestershire folklore and legend. I’ve just finished Stephen King’s Elevation (still not sure what to make of it tbh), with The Institute and If It Bleeds to follow. Bill Bryson’s The Body is also on my TBR pile, along with a couple of occult titles on spells and witchcraft.

Speaking of esoterica, there was a wonderful article in a recent copy of the Fortean Times on the pixie-hunting videos of Edwin Saunders. Nobody knows who Edwin is, why he made the videos or where he is now, but they’re utterly fascinating and I can’t urge you enough to watch them! Here’s a link to the first one. Enjoy!

Keep on keeping on, folks, and remember: don’t look back because you’re not going that way.

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Breaking radio silence

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MISERY

I felt the need to break radio silence as it’s been a while since my last blog post. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to write anything.

The novel I completed last October got a handful of rejections from agents & publishers, most of them generic, a couple with feedback that I ought to try elsewhere. I contemplated sending it out to more agents as it was, but realised that if it wasn’t even generating the tiniest spark of enthusiasm from any of the six that I’d selected then I ought to revisit it and see what needed polishing.

Soon after making said decision, and as per my last post, I lost my Mum to cancer. The days and weeks that followed were a learning curve, an endless stream of form-filling, phone calls and funeral plans. Already both mentally and physically exhausted, I had to pick up her things from the hospital, sign my name in triplicate on this form and that form, dig out her proof of ID so I could register the death, let a million different government organisations know, make an appointment with the bank to close her bank account, visit the funeral home and pick out some flowers and a coffin and a gown and some words for the notice in the paper and some twee little anecdotes the lay preacher could recount at the funeral…

When all you really want is five minutes where you don’t have to think about what happened, in the absence of a person who is willing to share the load, you’re not allowed to think about a single thing else.

I didn’t have a clue how I would make it through the funeral, not because of how I would be feeling on the day but I hate being (excuse the crass phrasing) the ‘centre of attention’. To sit in the back of a big flashy car and have to walk behind Mum’s coffin into a church full of people, to do the same again at the crematorium and then have to be sociable at the funeral… it really was all my worst nightmares combined.  I’m sure that my Mum, being just as shy as me, would’ve sympathised.

It’s weird when the funeral of a loved one is over. You’re glad you got through it, but then, what happens next? Well you go back to living life as normal, apparently. You work and you eat and you sleep and you don’t ever talk about THE THING because it’s over now, isn’t it, and nobody wants you to talk about THE THING because it makes them uncomfortable.

I’ve discovered this is common to the recently bereaved, that you’re more than aware that there’s nothing can be done, no words to be said that can make it all better, so you go out of your way to make sure that other people aren’t uncomfortable around you. It’s bizarre!

A few weeks after the funeral, another immediate family member fell ill and was taken into hospital. Between then and now they have been in and out of various hospitals three times for different reasons. All have been extended stays, all have required regular visits. For weeks on end I was getting up early, doing an eight hour shift at a job that is doing nothing to help my mental health AT ALL, then driving an hour-or-more round trip to whichever hospital they were in. I was getting little time to myself. I was stressed. I was exhausted. I was worried about said relative. Every time I approached the hospital, I started to feel panicky. A hospital was the last place I wanted to be so soon after losing Mum, but there was no way of avoiding it. Even in the short periods when they were back at home, we were receiving regular calls for assistance. They are now at home and doing much better but I’m constantly on edge and I dread the phone ringing. Add to this the various stages of grief that I’m trying to process.

Anyway, and probably inevitably, I’ve become ill myself and have been referred for tests. The doctor thinks it’s stress-related (surprise surprise) but the tests are to rule out other nasties that I can’t even begin to think about. I’m tired, uncomfortable, on the verge of tears ALL THE F***ING TIME and quite royally fed up. I’ve forgotten what happy and healthy feels like. I keep seeing all of these productive writers sharing their stories and successes on Twitter and it makes me want to scream. I feel like I’ve forgotten how to write!  My current output is one evening a week spent editing the never-ending WIP, I spend the rest of my free time sleeping or reading (at least I’m keeping up with that — Kinsey Millhone is my new fictional heroine!). In an attempt to complete a piece of writing, I composed a few drabbles last week and submitted them to the good people at Black Hare Press for anthology consideration (yet to get any feedback so watch this space). I have never written a drabble in my life and to be honest, I don’t enjoy reading them myself, so I’ve no idea if they’re any good or not. I think I managed to convey an idea / concept in each, so fingers crossed. On the plus side, the tablets I’ve been put on seem to be helping and it’s been weeks since I’ve thrown something across the house in a rage or curled into a ball and sobbed. It’s also Gothtober and Whitby beckons, hurrah!

So that’s where I’m at. I hope normal service will resume shortly. In the meantime, here’s a picture of Tom Hardy overprinted with some well-meaning words.

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Writing on in spite of it all

It’s fair to say this has possibly been the worst month of my life.

My previous blog post began with some ramblings about this being a year of change. Little did I know how much it would change for me when on April 11th I lost my Mum to cancer.

She had been feeling ill for a few weeks but only received her cancer diagnosis 6 days before she passed away. It’s an understatement to say it was a shock and it all still feels surreal to me. Due to reasons I shan’t go in to, I have had to (again) be the responsible, level-headed one of my very small family, balancing the grief of watching Mum slip away with the handling of the practical arrangements that follow a sudden death.

We are now in the lull between the death and the funeral, in which time me and the better half are going on our pre-planned holiday to Whitby for the Tomorrow’s Ghost Spring Goth Festival. I am of course looking forwards to the break and to catch up with friends but as the main point of contact for everyone, from family to funeral directors, I will no doubt be called (or called upon) at some point over the extended weekend to answer some question or finalise some detail or other. Needless to say, my writing effort over this period has dwindled.

I did find time to do a little editing over the weekend and am pleased with the rewrite of what was previously called Chasing Shadows (new title pending, shortlist being compiled as inspiration strikes me). I also received a rejection from Jo Fletcher Books but they did include an encouraging note that the market was tough at the moment and that I may find success with other publishers. In between this post and the last one I have written and submitted a short story to Writing Magazine for their character-driven short story competition, and I’ve also done a lot of reading (and some reluctant savaging of bestsellers on Goodreads – if A Discovery of Witches can sell in the millions then there’s hope for us all!)

Prior to April descending on my head like a ton of bricks, I had started work on a writing-related non-fiction project that I’ll be self-publishing later in the year. I’m also currently studying to become a certified Counselling Practitioner, partly because I’ve a massive interest in psychology and counselling, but also because the protagonist in my Hexen series (of which not-called-Chasing-Shadows-anymore will be the first novel) will eventually be going down that route herself.

So that’s it for now folks. I shall endeavour to enjoy my break in Whitby (weather forecast: rain and wind for the entire time we’re there – surprise), and tackle my writing afresh next month.

TTFN     )O(