Life seemed simple when I was growing up, it was after the second World War. My Dad came back from Prisoner-of-War camp and failed to settle back into the world that emerged from that period. I guess today we would have called what he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we called it restlessness.Eventually we all emigrated to Australia and we started a new life. I went through school expecting to have a job for a while and then get married and that is what happened. I expected to have kids and we had three of them. I expected we would see the kids grow up and marry and we did, the grandchildren took a little while coming, we started our family early and our kids much later but by the time Ray died we had the six grandkids.
I always say I am a post-war baby brought up in a world where things really had changed very little in the ten years after the war finished. We were still strictly brought up and my mother did not "allow any nonsense" as she always told us. Ray was brought up the same but in a bigger family.We had a lot in common which probably explains why we had 44 years of married life together. We were more hands-on with our kids than our parents were I think. We enjoyed playing with them and seeing them have fun with their friends. We took them to play sport and do other activities, our parents did not have time for that, or the money either come to that. Things changed a lot while they were growing up and they didn't grow p with quite the same values.
Sometimes I sit and think about the past, about Ray and I raising our kids together. I think about the things we did and said, the feelings I had about Ray and the kids and family life. We did have a good life together most of the time. I knew I was lucky as I married a man who was handy around the house so we bought a tiny house and Ray built onto it. He had a job locally for the first few years and then joined Fisheries and we had three moves in 10 1/2 years. That gave us experience of three different rural regions and a lot of adventures. Eventually we moved back to the Coast, to where I live now.
I always imagined we would grow old together. I saw the funny old couples walking together, him with a stick, her with her arm linked to his and thought that would be Ray and I. But although he did live to be 70 the 13 years he had with deteriorating health, my caring years, before that meant that we didn't walk arm in arm, mostly I pushed him in a wheelchair. And we didn't laugh and joke and have crazy fun like some of the old folk we knew did, when you have a long term illness life can be pretty grim a lot of the time. But we did do some of the things on our bucket list and growing old together was there, just not for as long as I would have liked. He was taken from me too soon. We never got to be Grey Nomads, travelling around Australia with a car and caravan...I really feel sad about that.
Instead we lived our lives as fully as we could, I have always liked to keep busy and the doctors said to keep Ray's life as interesting as I could so between the falls and the hospitalizations with further strokes and other critical incidents we did manage to get out and about. We did go on bus trips, away for a week or ten days at a time, We had done a couple of overseas trips pre-1999 when the bad strokes started to happen. I have some good memories, memories that were sometimes shared by our family, sometimes with Ray and sometimes alone as when I started to have respite for him I still was able to go up to our daughter and her family when they lived in Northern Queensland for a while by myself. Looking back on all of that I can say I did my best and that is all you can do.
But that does not mean I do not have regrets. I think it is the regrets that keep us mourning longer than we expected to. I know that I did fail Ray in some ways, for instance it took me a long time to realise that telling a person with dementia what they have done wrong is a waste of breath. Instead it is wise to seem to be agreeing with what they have said, that is a way is letting them hold onto their pride and then gently turning them from this towards what you need them to do. I did find life is simpler when both parties feel they have been listened to and an agreement has been reached. In the end he was beyond understanding anyway. So sad to lose the man you love by inches. Looking back now I do wonder how I lived through all of that.
I have been a widow for three years and nine months. I have done a lot of grieving but I think I am now more settled. I have friends that I have reconnected to and new ones who have not known me as married to Ray, being a part of that couple Ray'n'Sue. That makes it easier in a way as the reminders of what is lost is not there with them. Old friends I have reconciled with are different as I can share old memories with them. Forty four years is a long time to be with one person and the majority of my life stories are Ray and Sue stories. I have found it difficult to make new stories to tell, my life is not very adventurous now but with some changes, and the two trips overseas there has been some new adventures.
Dating is something new in my life. Over the last two years I have been out a few times. I felt most comfortable with an old friend I went out with for a while but he wasn't looking for a relationship, he had moved in with some of his family and was building a new life with them, with no place in his life for someone like me. I am not looking for love and romance but for companionship. For the last couple of months I have been out once a week with a man I have known for a couple of years, he has been divorced and widowed so he understands that my stories are about Ray as his are about life with his previous families. I don't expect that we will progress much past where we are now but that is okay. I don't want my life to get too complicated.
As I get further out from Ray's death I realise I can live alone. I don't particularly want to take up looking after someone again. It would be fine if there was a guarantee that the new partner would be free of health worries. The man I am seeing now has a long term illness, so I don't know how that will go, I guess it is the old one-day-at-a-time living that I have been so used to for a big slice of my life. Maybe there are people still who fall in love and marry even at my age, I just don't think I will be one of them.
I have had a song running through my head the last couple of days. It is funny how some words of a song resonate although most of the words don't mean much. But our memories dredge up the appropriate words when we need them. I don't feel the deep grief I used to so likened my present life to the following: "Time heals all wounds they say but leaves the scars" it is a phrase from a song called "Camooweal" sung by Slim Dusty and written by Gordon Parsons. Yes, time has healed the wounds somewhat but the scars are still there and until they are more faded I think I will still feel that my life is not yet fully mine to command.