29 October 2023

Navigating Grief

Grief is a strange bedfellow.

One minute you are overcome.  The loss of the person taken from you seems overwhelming and you don't know how you will get through it.  The next, you have to rally, organise, be strong and somehow; you manage it.

Grief ebbs and flows.  There is no constant.  It a wave that you have to ride until you can find a calm again, some peace.  Whenever that may be.  There is no timeframe.

Death, whether expected or not, is always a shock.   You can, as we all can, only hope for the kind of death that is the best that you can hope for.  No suffering.  Your family around you.  Given a chance to say goodbye.  A quick death, not long and drawn out.  While you still have dignity.

There is no one way to deal with grief.  But the most important thing to do is allow yourself to feel when you need to.  Do not bottle it up.  Do not busy yourself in an attempt to hide from it.  Because it will find you.

That is the thing about grief and loss.  It hurts.  A lot.  But running away from that hurt will only ensure that it finds you at the worst time, the worst moment.  Or will manifest in other destructive ways.

I lost a close family member to me this week.  Having lost my dad and my step already, he became like a father figure to me.  He was always there.  Ready to help.  Always showed love to my mum and I.  Someone that you could always turn to.  I loved him very much.

Having already lost two major people in my life, I know how this grief thing works now, sadly.  Which I why I share my thoughts and words with you today.

I find myself committing the sins of what you should not do and had to check myself.  Because self care when you are grieving is extremely important.  Especially when you have others who you need to be strong for.

I found myself asking for more time.  The thing is, you are always going to wish for that.  Because there is never enough time.  You can always think of things you wished that you had said or things that you had done.  

While at the hospital I chose to give my time to those that needed to see him more than I.  His sons, my mother.  By the time it was my turn to see him, things had turned for the worse and my time was missed.  So no, I did not get to say goodbye, but I did the right thing and importantly, he knew that I was there.  I wonder if he understood that. 

I also found myself wondering if he knew how much I cared, how much I loved him.  It only struck me after he died, I had never thought about it previously, that if I had ever got married to my partner, it would have been him that I would have asked to walk me down the aisle.  He was proud of me and I think that he would have loved to do it.    

All of these go round in my head and by doing so, they make the grief worse.  Questions that can never be answered.  Actions that can never be carried out.  They torment you.

As I said however, I have been down the winding path of grief before.  So when I start to question, when I start to worry about what ifs and what could have been, then I know I need to go back and remember the important things.  

I know that he loved me and he knew that I loved him.   He, my mum and I went through some tough times together and it created a bond with the three of us.  We were family.  We would always be there for each other.

I am currently writing something to say at his funeral.  I want to celebrate the man that he was.  A good man.  A kind man.  There will be many there to say goodbye to him and I confess that I am nervous to stand up and speak.  Public speaking is not my forte.  

But I will do this and hopefully do him proud and do him justice.  My wonderful Uncle Jack.

Year Round Ways to Save for Christmas

We have reached the middle of October now so it is perhaps safe to start to use the C word?
  Combing the C word and the P word often strikes fear and terror into the eyes of people you talk to at this time of year, but I am going to say the words.  Christmas presents.

Christmas is a time of year that I love.  Finding the right gift for people is something that I enjoy and I take as much pleasure in locating the perfect gift (hopefully) as when it is received.  But presents take planning, not just the planning of what to buy for your loved ones, but also making sure that you can afford them and not break your budget.

With food costs and energy prices soaring in the last year(s), it is more important that ever to plan ahead for Christmas.  There are various ways that I plan for Christmas presents and making sure that I can afford to buy what I want.  So here are my tips for things that I do throughout the year:

Getting Your Cash, Back

It is something that can be easy to forget, but one thing that I do year round is use a cashback site.  As this is not a sponsored post, I won’t give you a link, but the one that I use is Topcashback.

I use this site as much as possible for my spending as well as searching out the best deals for home insurance, car insurance, vehicle insurance, travel insurance etc etc.  You can easy use it for things like food delivery, Ebay, there is much more on there that you realise and even the smaller amounts add up.  By doing this I usually manage to get £200 in my account by the end of the year.

It should be noted that you need to do this intelligently.  If you are using a discount code on the website you are buying from, then you generally will not also be given cashback.   So clothes shopping etc will generally not track for me as I usually only buy when I have a discount code that I can use.  

Keep Your Receipts

I also use a receipt scanning app where you scan in your receipts for points.  It only takes a couple of minutes to scan your receipts in for the day and by the end of the year I usually have £40-45 which can be transferred to my bank account, used as an Amazon voucher to buy gifts with etc.

Save Your Points 

One thing that most people have is a Boots card.  But there are definitely ways that you can use your Boots card intelligently in order to stack up points.  I keep an eye on the offers and try to buy in bulk when there are offers on for a few hundred points when you spend X amount.  I also buy my lunch there and all my beauty and hair products.  By the end of the year I usually have around £50 - £60 worth of points, which comes in handy for gifts and stocking fillers.

Double up on Rewards

Although this one only applies for people who are with EE, not many people seem to know about this (or use it), but EE have a rewards programme.

I have linked my current account and my credit card to the Rewards programme which gives you a percentage of what you spend.  Greggs at the moment for example gives you 10% back on what you spend there, places like Boots generally gives you 5%.

So by using this programme, I not only gain Boots points and points back on uploading my receipt (as discussed), but I also get cashback which turns into money that I can knock off my phone bill.

I have been using the rewards programme since January and I have been knocking £10 from my bill every other money, which equates to £50 - £60 per year which I save towards my Christmas shopping.

 By using the above and integratiing them into my daily life, overall by the end of the year, I have managed to save around £350, simply by making some small changes to the way that I shop and scanning receipts.

What ways do you save for Christmas throughout the year?

13 October 2023

Creative Corner 4 - It Started with Humming

Another short story for you today!

It started with humming.  The beginning of what I thought was the end of my engagement.

The way I met the man I am going to marry was the kind of meeting that you see in the typical romantic comedy film.  A “meet cute” I believe they call it.

We were both in the food court of the shopping centre, me trying to balance my food tray, my handbag and my ringing mobile phone and him with his tray full of food and drink in one hand and a book in the other.  Both preoccupied with our distractions, we crashed into one another.  Our eyes met as drinks and food flew into the air and that, as they say, was that.  Fate.  Love over spilled food and flying coca cola.

After mopping up the spills, numbers were exchanged; something that I had never done before.  Giving my number to a stranger?  Never!  Yet I looked into this man’s eyes and somehow, I had never felt safer in my life.

From the start I felt like I was on a rollercoaster with this man.  Adam.  And my name?  Eve.  You can imagine the jokes that we get.  A rollercoaster where it started with food flying at our faces and ended, far, far faster than we anticipated, with him asking me to marry him a year later.

Adam and I are polar opposites in many ways.  They say that opposites attract.  Well that seems to be the case with us.  Where he yings, I yang and yet somehow, we always end up in the middle.  Together.  I am the romantic, he is the pragmatic one.  I live my life by whimsy, he leaves nothing to chance.  He is a gamer, I am a film addict.  He is serious, I am undoubtedly the silly one of the two of us.

Adam is not a romantic.  But he shows his love in other ways.  He wants to make me happy and he does.  The way he makes sure my car is running properly, the way he walks next to the road when we walk along the street.  The fact that although he hates the smell of coffee, he went out and bought an expensive coffee machine for his house because I love the stuff.  But you hate coffee?  I said to him.  But I love you, was his answer.

Unfortunately, as it happens in the films where you get a meet cute moment, there is inevitably the point where an unexpected twist occurs and the relationship that you were so sure about hangs in the balance.

As I told you at the start of tale, the beginning of what I thought was the end of our engagement, was humming.  Adam didn’t hum.  Didn’t sing.  Yet suddenly, out of the blue one day, he started humming.  In the kitchen, when working on his car.  What he was humming I could not tell, although it seemed to have a melody of some description.  He also seemed to have no idea that he was humming.  I mentioned it to him a couple of times when I walked in on him humming a nameless tune and he would immediately deny it.  Odd.

Then his gaming, which I enjoyed watching, suddenly increased from playing at home, to going to gaming nights with friends.  Sorry baby, boys only he said.  The host of the gaming nights he claimed was an old friend that I had never met and "I don't think he is your sort".  

I tried to be supportive but couldn't understand why suddenly one, which then turned into two nights a week, were unavailable now.  Tuesdays and Thursdays were now off limits.  No questions.  This had now been going on for two months.

Then one night when we were cuddled up on the sofa watching a film, he went to the kitchen to grab some snacks and his phone pinged.  Not intentionally (she says) but I looked over to his screen which had flashed up with a message.  

Sarah.  "Sorry, I can't do tomorrow now, my parents are coming to town, shall we raincheck till our Thursday session?"

Tomorrow was Tuesday.  His gaming night with his friends, he said.  Thursday was the other night.  So who was Sarah?  My heart sank and I feared the worst, yet when he returned to the room laden with Doritos and dip, I said nothing.  

Some time later he checked his phone and said "Oh gaming is off tomorrow, Dan has his parents visiting, do you fancy going for dinner?"  Lying, right to my face.  I lied right back to him about a meet up with a friend and said I couldn't change my plans.  

Unable to look at him and feeling completely overwhelmed I then faked a migraine and insisted that I wanted a night in my own bed when he offered to put me to bed and look after me.  I could not understand it.  This man, who looked after me, cared for me, loved me, or so I believed; was cheating on me?

When I got home I went over everything in my head.  Maybe I had read the message wrong, maybe the name was not Sarah.  And talking about a "session"??  Was that a gaming session?  God.  I hoped so.  A session with another woman meant only one thing that I could think of in that moment.

I couldn't quite believe that a man who had planned for me to move in with him next month, ready for our marriage two months later, would do this to me.  Redecorated his whole place in a way that suited both of us.  Put me on his car insurance.  This man who planned everything in his life wouldn't do all that, just to cheat.  Surely?

The next night I decided to make my lie into the truth and got my best friend to meet me at a bar.  After a bottle of wine and a chaser of sambuca (or five) had passed my lips, a plan was made.  I would follow him on Thursday.  See where he going.  If he was meeting with a woman, then at least I would know and could confront him.  It neither occurred to Jess and I to simply ask him.  The sambuca said "follow him".  So follow him I would.

In the cold light of day in the morning, a hangover brewing, I started to question my decision.  Why not just ask about the text?  But, I could not get past the fact that he had lied to me.  I wondered if I did ask him, if he would lie again?  I was certain now of what I saw.  I resolved to carry out with my plan.

After I finished work I parked up my car near to Adam's place, out of sight and positioned myself in the alley where I could clearly see him leave the house.  Hangover gone and adrenalin pumping, I was ready now.  For whatever I may see.  I just hoped that he had not already left.

At 6.30pm I saw Adam leaving the house but instead of getting into his car, he started to walk down the road, towards the high street.  I started to follow him.  I felt at this point that I was betraying his trust, but he had betrayed mine and I had to know.

After a few minutes walking down the high street, with me ducking and diving into shop doors to avoid being seen (I just pray no one was watching me), he disappeared down a side road.  When I reached the beginning of the street, he was nowhere in sight. I had lost him.

I scanned the buildings on each side of the street.  A combination of shops, a restaurant, some flats.  Dare I risk looking in the windows?  Had he gone to the restaurant?  This was getting ridiculous and I contemplated going home.

As I lingered at the corner of the street, about to leave, suddenly I heard music.  It was muffled like it was coming from a building, but I could hear it.  And it sounded a little like Adam's humming.  Listening further, the song sounded familiar.

Unable to stop myself I started walking down the street, trying to find the source of the music.  After passing a few shops, I came towards what looks like some sort of studio.  The sign above me read "Sarah McCarthy Dance".  

Sarah.  Sarah.  The name from the text message.  

The music from the studio was now clear as day and I did know the song.  Jackie DeShannon - What the World Needs Now.  

I noticed that there was a window to the side of the ground floor studio and moved around to see if I could look in. There, dancing a waltz with an instructor, Sarah, of course, was Adam.

I had talked with him many times about wanting to do a first dance together at our wedding.  He had always shied away from it because he said that he couldn't dance.  "I can only drunk dance darling and you don't want that".

This man, who cared for me and always wanted to ensure that I was the happiest I could be, was learning to dance.  For me.  For our wedding.  

I quickly moved away from the window.  I felt like the luckiest person in the world.  Because I get to spend the rest of my life with this man.  I will never tell him what I did.

I will forever be grateful that I did not spoil the surprise of this wonderful thing he was doing for me.  I vowed then and there to make sure that I made him as happy as he made me.

I walked back down the high street away from the studio.  Humming.