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A Farewell to the Thief and the Bike

sdsI am moving on.  The thief is no longer cursed with every breath and the bike is doing its job. So I am moving on. I can’t write here any more because if I do I am locking myself into a story that is simply about recovering from the past. It’s not about the future.

I am moving on.  This doesn’t mean that the past is forgotten, or that Nicky is replaced. On the contrary the happier I become the easier it is for me to see beyond the fact and manner of her death and celebrate the wonderfulness of the years we had together.  It’s a fact, the happier I am the happier my memories become, the more grateful I am to have known and loved Nicky. This is good.

The girls are moving on. There are occasional night time wobbles still. There’s no getting away from it, they have lost their Mum. That is that.  But gradually I begin to understand what Mum is. Whilst Mum is gone it doesn’t mean that there in’t any Mumishness, or Mumliness around us. There’s lots of it. The girls are lucky that their Mum did have such good friends who have been and are still gentle, wise and kind, and that their Dad has found a girlfriend who likes to shop, go to hair dressers, and paint toe nails….that is, by the way, doing Rona a great disservice. These are qualities that matter though.

I am moving on. We are moving on. This is the end of a chapter. There is a new one starting here: www.leveloetlevol.co.uk please join me there.

On becoming a funeral celebrant

Here’s the second update.

There’s no doubt that the death of a loved one, and particularly one as loved as Nicky was,  changes everything. I have written a lot about the family and our grief, about sadness and in recent times our gentle rehabilitation but I haven’t talked about about the wider impact of her death on our lives. I haven’t once mentioned work. Practically too her death changed everything.  I could no longer commute daily to London, I could no longer find (much) meaning in (much of) the media work I have done.  When our lives were eviscerated by Nick’s death all my established perspectives on personal ambition, professional achievement and the pursuit of wealth became like strange derangements. So for both practical and personal reasons I could no longer do what I did.

I should say at this stage that I am grateful to old friends and colleagues who have helped me out with offers of work over the last few months, it’s kept me afloat. Thankyou.

But I needed to find a new thing.  Something that I believed in, and genuinely believed I could be good at. Something that was important, meaningful, and that was inherently of value. Something that employed my love of people, of listening to them and writing about them. Something that deployed my skills and pleasure in recounting stories and my aptitude for organising events. Critically too it had to be something that acknowledged and responded to the events of the last year.  I had to find a positive in something so negative and do something creative and useful with that experience, Nicky asked me to do as much as she died, but at the time I didn’t know what it was.

Simon Smith, Humanist Funeral celebrant, in his suit, in the park.

Simon Smith, Humanist Funeral celebrant, in his suit, in the park.

So, over the last six months then I have been in training to become a Humanist Funeral celebrant and I am now qualified as one of Brighton and Hove’s two funeral celebrants accredited by the British Humanist association.

WTF?

Yes, it’s a strange thing I know, and I am sure there are some raised eyebrows out there,  but believe me, this is the best thing I have ever done. Humanism has for a long time provided a philosophical framework for my beliefs, and when Nicky was dying it was a source of great comfort for both of us.

As a funeral celebrant I will create non religious services for cremations and burials. The training has been brilliant and has allowed me to face up to and understand more about my own and others’ bereavement and grief. I am not troubled by other’s grief, it’s not mine, but it is an honour and a privilege to make my experience of use to others, and to perform the simple and meaningful task of organising a funeral service that celebrates the life of their loved one.  Rituals or  rites of passage are fundamental to our ability to face transitional moments in our lives, they are for the living, not the dead and they should be beautiful, memorable and meaningful. That’s my job. This is part of recovery, to face up to death with a life that acknowledges death for what it is, and makes the best of it.

I am freelance, to get work I am on the BHA website and market myself to Funeral directors as a celebrant. Brighton is of course knee deep in celebrants of one flavour or another, but I am very happy to be specifically  a Humanist one and will I hope, be able to do this until someone is around to provide the same service for me.

In due course I’ll be doing weddings too, that’ll be more fun.

The Cycle magazine article.

14893945667_c330eb3b15_zI wrote an article that appeared in Cycle in 2004 about our ride around India. When I returned from France with the girls I wrote to Dan Joyce the editor of Cycle to see if he would like another article. He did. So I  cobbled together an edited highlights from our blog. For ‘regular readers’ a lot of the content of this story will be very familiar. It’s been edited…and here for you to read  is the proof copy he sent to me prior to publication. It has minor errors, but you’ll get the gist.

In other news….life rushes in. It’s a principle of science that nature abhors a void, vacuums are there to be filled. More on that later.

 

Stretchy Fabrics – anniversaries and memories

What were you doing this time last year. Think back. Remember. It’s hard, isn’t it? To place an event in a specific time or place. The stretchy fabric of time gets a bit saggy as we get older. We lose the detail of our memories. Islands of Meaning become lost in the Sea of Insignificance.  Unless of course an event is so meaningful that the stretchy fabric of our memory becomes in some way ossified, brittled, fixed, unwilling to let its charge be returned to the miasma of everyday recollection.

Tree planting

Tree planting

Betsy reminded me this week of the day that Mum ‘got ill’. “You remember Dad. Your back was bad so you went to the back doctor, and then Mum and Tilly and me drove to pick you up, it was sunny and we were on Harrington Road.” She continued filling in the detail for me. “Mum parked the car but she couldn’t do the gears properly and then she couldn’t  put the brake on and the car rolled back and hit another car and Mum said “Don’t tell Dad”‘.

It’s all in there. Everything. Crystal clear.  I didn’t know about the car rolling until this very week. Maybe Betsy has realised that Mum’s not going to mind if I know or not now. Closure brings relief.

The anniversary of Nick’s death was brutally and unexpectedly hard. Subliminal triggers that cast me back to that three weeks in February last year are everywhere. Crocus, snowdrops, early daffs, the first warmth in the thin sun, and birdsong bounce me back , and forever will, to that terrible time.

 

We all need... something to lean on.

We all need… something to lean on.

On the 2nd of March 2014 our world changed forever. Three hundred and sixty five days and a few hours later we got together to give the remains of her body back to the universe. The earth had travelled around the sun.  The planting was haphazard and socially clumsy; she’d have loved it and laughed. The tree in Blaker’s Park is a fitting and delightful place for her ashes to be reabsorbed into living things.

This simple act has brought some closure. It’s as if the final ceremonial part of our process has been done.  Indeed it probably has. Never again will so many people who knew and loved her will be in one place. Thankyou for coming and bringing your wonderful collective memory bank of Nicky. Would that science fiction had allowed me to suck in all your memories, I’d love to see her now again through your eyes and see what it was that made her shine for each of you who came. Today, right now, I’d escape this world and wrap my self up in the fabric of your recollections. Just for a while, just to say goodbye, because I can’t have her back.

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Memory planting.

Closure is a good thing.  Tilly is better, moving on, getting stronger (if not Stringer – for the locals, that one) by the day. Betsy is talking more, remembering and asking questions, she’s funny. They both are, like their Mum. For me it brings relief. Whilst her remains remained nothing was complete. Now,  it’s done. It feels like the morning after the mourning. We’ve got through the year.

The future is not the one we all imagined, but I can’t  stay wrapped up in the fabric of  the past.  I really can’t. I am going to turn that blanket into a sail. Head up, Smith, shoulders back. We can start to build from here, and besides, there are some cycling trips to plan.

Thanks to Cath Newell for the pix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simpler if Sadder

Families have tensions. What’s interesting about our family is that
we seem now to have fewer. Let me get this straight before I go any further. I would not wish this to have happened, not ever. But it has, and now we’re a few months down the road. I have some new perspectives. Perhaps for the first time there’s something positive in what is coming out.

So, tensions.Take the members of a normal, functioning family. They love each other and are connected by that gossamer like bond of family. That gossamer cord. Parent to child, parent to parent, mother to father, sister to brother, sibling to step parent; these many and various bonds form the intricate web of familiar interconnectedness. Each and every day brings stresses and strains and each and every day those bonds may stretched til taut by dispute and equally they might be be slackened flaccid by lack of attention. Family life is the edd and flow of tensions in our web as we divide our energies between those we love around us. 

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I was a father and a husband, now I am just a father. The web is simpler now.

Whilst I think of her all the time I don’t need to think of her needs anymore.  It’s just the girls’ and mine.  I’m just a dad.

The bonds between me and the girls grow thicker.  And sure, in time, there’ll be tensions new between us.  But in the meantime I find that life is less complicated than it was.  I wouldn’t have asked for it, I don’t care for it, I’d switch back in a breath. But now it’s here I’ll try to embrace it. Simpler,  and sadder.

And in that instant I’m instantly aware of the severed cord that trails behind me. Ah well.  It was pretty good up until then.

GSOH

7 months. Seven months. People who know of these things from their own bitter experience warned me about now. “Watch out” they said, “At seven or so months you’ll really be on your own”. They were right. Forgive this indulgence.

I’m irrational, alone, chaotic, scared, impulsive, and volatile. Last week in a single day I signed up for four separate dating websites. Ludicrous but illuminating.

Have a  fun profile picture that demonstrates your personality!

Have a fun profile picture that demonstrates your personality!

When Nicky died the lights went out. I was left standing in the dark. Despite cycling across France I stood still for a long time. I’ve now become fully accustomed to the darkness, and over time, started to explore around me. This new world is similar to the old one. Gravity remains, objects and people are familiar. Relationships with friends and family endure. Up is up. Down is down. I can cope with this I think. And so I can and so I must. Fact is, I have I believe become used to her not being around. I have become used to sleeping alone, to clarks shoes, dentists appointments, impromptu play dates and rifling through school lost property bags in search of discardigans. Seven months on I am still standing in the dark but I know where I am.

And then. And then. And then in an instant the familiar becomes distant and I find myself somewhere totally terrifying because of its strangeness. Because, simply, she is not here. Or there. I guess I am now beginning to explore the even deeper darker corners of this new world without her. Deeper and darker. And it’s in the detail. What will the rest of my life really be like without her? Whose hand can I hold?

Hey, Simon 47 in Brighton!
Describe yourself to your prospective dates!
Tell them about what you like!
Describe your perfect date!

“I’m a sad widower before my time, hollowed out by grief, missing love and laughter, broken, lonely, scared of the future, living mostly in the past, besotted with my dead wife. Two kids at home. GSOH”

Seven months brings change. It’s easier for those around us if we’re ok. I know. We all know it. The kids as well. So we repair on the outside faster than on the in.
And we are all getting better at hiding him and his work, even from each other, but we all know he’s still around. The Grief spectre. He still saunters through the house from room to room, hiding notes, letters, cards, gloves and old diaries in drawers and behind books. Some of these mementoes can raise a smile now which is good I guess, others remind us as viscerally as ever that the life and the love, the stories we shared, and the experiences we all built together, have gone. And nothing, and no one, not one even amongst the many millions of love seekers currently online out there, can do anything to change that.

I’ve deleted the Accounts.

Bench

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Nick’s bench. It’s overlooking the west pier, sea and the kitchen extractor vents from Al Fresco. I don’t know how I feel about this. She always liked the place and  I guess visitors to the bench will at least have good smells while they sit.

It doesn’t seem connected to Nicky.  It’s nice though.  It’s a place to sit and think about her. And the more we do that the more it will become connected to her.  In the meantime.  Inhale Exhale Inhale Exhale.  Mmmmm.  Life and oregano.

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The Poulpe Pummelling

Our last  day of the holiday was spent on the beach.  The sea, despite its recent dusty addition, was clear and blue.  We swam in it.

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Our neighbours,  the ones I think I flooded, compounded my guilty conscience by turning out to be amazingly generous divers.  Gilles,  a rugged rocket engineer (really) and his lovely extended family introduced Tilly and Betsy to the wonders of the deep.

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Gilles Scaph. A new hero.

He took them snorkeling and then with a tank took them deeper to discover octopus,  dogfish and a myriad other creatures. It was wonderful.   

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Gilles and his family are opposed to any hunting or damaging the seabed. They collect plastic and other human detritus that litters it. This area of the med is benefitting from a nearby protected marine reserve and flora a fauna is abundant.  Gilles produced an octopus from under a rock for the girls to hold and stroke. Betsy in particular was enchanted. Involuntary clapping and skipping gave it away. The Octopus was allowed to slip away under its rock.
Later on that afternoon another family appeared.  Dad and son donned snorkels and with sticks went in. A while later they found an octopus,  maybe the same maybe not, it was dragged out of its hole and bludgeoned to death on the rocks. The teenage daughters of the man squealed their admiration.  Tilly was indignant and made her displeasure clear.

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I want to be the father that finds and marvels at the beauty of the world’s wonders, there was after all no heroism in the poulpe pummelling.  But the delight of the men’s sisters and daughters in their hunter gatherer machismo  made me wonder about the value of some hardcore Darwinian life lessons.  I guess it’s the curse of 1st world problem parenting. Explain and illustrate the realities of the world’s inequalities or protect, nurture and leave life’s lessons for later on?

Maybe the girls have had the biggest lesson in life they’ll ever need. Anyway,  fact is they’ve got enough to cope in terms of life’s challenging inequalities while I am wearing these budgie snatchers.

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She wasn’t here. But she is now.

One of the hardest things to endure about losing a partner is the sudden disappearance of any intimate (or otherwise) physical presence.  Since Nicky died I have looked for and found her manifest in many strange and wonderful ways. She was the most graceful creature I’d ever met. Perfect.  Often while she slept before she was ill, and even when she was dying I’d lie beside her scrutinising the rise and fall of her body.  Now when I walk or ride the south downs I see in every hill and Vale a shape that reminds me of her. The small of her back, her neck, her hips and bum.  It pleases and saddens me.

She’s not been here though. The craggy rocks of the Pyrenees don’t in any way remind me of her. So I am pleased we decided to sprinkle of  her ashes on the rocks here. In the evening sun in the stretching shadows of the church of notre dames des anges we stood and watched as a set of waves washed up and took them away. She’s here now, as she and I wanted.  A part of the sea.

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So, this part of our recovery is done. I’ve come to realise that it’s not the destination but the journey that matters.  I, we, will always grieve for her. It will not end. The bike is a way for us to share that experience as a team. Moreover we celebrate the present as we discover more about each other as nick and I did in India. I get the feeling we are building foundations for their future relationship on love and shared experience. The girls (who have been nothing short of wonderful) have already committed to the next part of the journey. 

As we walked back to the bike I turned and looked around the remarkably pretty town of Couliorre. I noticed that the spire of the church is highly reminiscent of a big phallus.

“Tut” she’d say, “Now is not the time for dick jokes.”

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We had an ice cream.

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and cycled back to the campsite. The sun was setting.  Red sky. Set fair for the morning.

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