Your starter for ten

On a day-to-day basis life without Rosie has become a series of practical tasks that I must get through. I’ve talked about that before. On the whole I manage to get things done, without showing too much emotion. But then once in a while something pops up that makes be feel really sad. I’m then reminded that what I’ve lost isn’t simply an extra pair of hands but the yin to my yang.

Rosie and I didn’t watch a lot of TV. Anyone who has followed Fighting Genghis will know that Rosie became addicted to trashy box sets on Netflix, latterly “Once Upon a Time”. I should add that I didn’t partake in this binge viewing (apart from Breaking Bad which we both hoovered up). But one of the TV programmes which we did watch together,  semi-religiously, was University Challenge. Now as you know Rosie was a smart cookie, and so during any given edition she’d be able to answer a handful of questions. I lagged  behind somewhat. When I did get a question right it was a minor miracle and something to celebrate. In response Rosie always gave me that “I’m so proud of you” look that a mother gives a child. It made me feel warm inside. Last week I watched University Challenge for the first time since she died and lo and behold I got a question right. The sound of silence was deafening. I felt sad all of a sudden.

On the subject of sadness, Joey was talking about missing mummy and being sad. As I usually do in these situations I told him that I miss mummy and feel sad too. It’s quite unbelievable what this little trouble-maker said. “Don’t worry daddy, I’ll take away the sadness”. How do you respond to that? Hopefully one day he’ll read this and understand that statements like that reaffirm my belief that he and Tali will be OK. That they’re going to grow up to be bright, well-adjusted individuals and that with support like this I know that I’ll get through it, with them by my side.

Rosie was my sense checker, my sounding-board. She was there to make sure that my sometimes outrageous ideas didn’t escape into the outside world. She was also the one person in the world that I could talk to without feeling stupid. If I had a problem at work she would be there to give me her perspective. She had no axe to grind, no point to prove. Her advice was free and it was thoughtful.

She also often gave professional advice, that came free. This week at work I was dealing with a minor issue which involved American lawyers. Having been married to a lawyer for many years, and having a step-dad and a brother-in-law who are lawyers I’ve become quite fond of their pedantic, precise ways of writing. And this week’s missive was a classic of the genre. Without Rosie’s perfectly formed view I now have to think “what would Rosie do?”. It’s not easy to get my head around but frankly if CJ Cregg can do it then I can have a damn good try. If you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about then you obviously haven’t watched The West Wing. Rosie would most certainly approve of that one.

On a separate note I want to thank the lovely people at Rosie’s law firm, Bristows. Not only are they helping to establish Rosie’s charity (name still to be decided) and continue to be a massive support with other aspects of the charity, but they also invited Natalie and Joseph to their annual children’s Christmas party. This is the third year they’ve been. The first year was a month before Rosie started with Bristows. Last year was the second time, when Rosie wasn’t feeling so good and then there was yesterday. The lady who organises and runs the whole event, Marie, greeted us with such love and warmth. I’ll admit that I didn’t find it the easiest of events to attend but I knew the children would enjoy it, and they did. It reminds me of the massive impact Rosie has had on this world. Thank you Bristows.

Finally, I want to express the pride I have in my beautiful, clever daughter. If you’re reading this blog then chances are you read Tali’s. Her blog was direct and to the point. It expressed her feelings and, most importantly, it’s helping her to deal with her grief. It came as no surprise to me but her blog was read by twice as many people as my posts. Long may that last.

Elliot

Advertisements

Happy birthday Rosie

On this day, 39 years ago, Rosemary Sara Kalman was born. This year, for the first time, we must celebrate Rosie’s birthday without her. The sense of loss is as great today as it has been at any point over the last four months. Rosie lived for birthdays, so much so that she had already started planning her 40th; including her list of invitees. Who knows, perhaps next year we will feel able to have a proper party. For now I comfort myself with the company of our two wonderful children, and in a gesture that I’m sure Rosie would appreciate the three of us will light candles on a cake and sing happy birthday.

I’ve said this before and I’ll no doubt say it again. If you have a loved one give them a hug and tell them how much they mean to you. Live for today and don’t worry about getting older; in fact thank whoever or whatever you thank for being able to grow old. It’s a gift. Don’t take it for granted.

Happy birthday Ro. Happy birthday my darling xxx

Elliot

100_0327

Two birthdays and an anniversary

October was always a big month in the Choueka household. Rosie’s mum has her birthday on the 14th, Rosie had hers on the 15th and we celebrated our wedding anniversary on 24th. Last year, while in the midst of her first chemo battering, Rosie managed to find the strength to celebrate all three; one in particular in great style. Rosie alluded to it in this post. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one for birthdays or celebrations, but Rosie and I weren’t going to let our 10th anniversary pass without marking it in some spectacular way. The day unfolded amid carefully planned surprise after surprise. It culminated in the gift Rosie had always wanted, a beautiful eternity ring, which had in part belonged to her grandma. As she said, there were tears. It’s only now almost a year later and less than four short months since her passing that I realise the full irony of the gift.

I’d always half jokingly said to Rosie that I wouldn’t giver her an eternity ring until we’d been together for an eternity. After all, I reasoned, an eternity ring should be a sign of achievement not an aspiration. Well how bitterly right I was. It was our eternity together. It certainly was for Rosie.

Sitting here now writing about this month it feels so odd that while we remember two important dates (my mother-in-law’s birthday will, I hope, still be a celebration) the country also marks Breast Cancer Awareness month during October. Just before she died Rosie instructed me to set up a charity. She wanted it to raise funds to research secondary breast cancer. She wanted me to publish this blog as a book and she wanted any money to be split equally between the children and the charity. Since June I have been thinking and working on both. With the support of a dedicated band of friends and family we work towards the establishment of the charity; and with the help of a different set of equally dedicated friends I am navigating the difficult world of publishing.

I’ll admit that the concept of establishing a charity to do such important work hangs heavily over me. I know, because I’ve been told by anyone who cares to tell me, that it is fantastically hard to start a charity. There are so many competing for limited support. Why the hell would I take on this challenge while I have two little children to care for? Well the answer is obvious. Because Rosie asked me to. There were scant few things that Rosie ever asked of me that I didn’t (eventually) agree to. My friends, quite rightly, question the wisdom of doing this right now. A few days ago my best friend asked if I’d be starting a charity if Rosie hadn’t asked me to. “Of course not.” I replied in a flash. But equally quickly I added that she did ask me to and so I had to. No question.

And yet I feel so very torn. The charity will do great things. It will raise large sums for a significant and important cause. But most importantly it will help to cement Rosie’s legacy for a long time to come. When our daughter talks about selling her Disney Princess dresses and dolls to raise money for “mummy’s charity” what option do I have? Really?

So we will work to set up the charity and unless some excellent reason prevents me from doing so I hope to enlist your help at some point. Watch this space as they say.

In the meantime I continue to care for and nurture my little children. This morning before the sun rose Joey climbed into my bed. He asked me, as only a four-year old can, “When is mummy coming home?”. What can I say? I’d like to know the answer to that one too.

Elliot

My hats off to all single parents

A statement of the bleeding obvious: The past weeks have been a challenging time. For the children the utter devastation, at such a tender age, wrought by the loss of their mummy is practically unimaginable to me; and I say that as someone who lost his dad aged 15. For me, the loss of my best friend, my guardian angel, my everything is simply unbelievable. It still hasn’t sunk in that Rosie is no longer here and that she’s not coming back. The emotional impact is constant and will be with us forever.

On a practical level I’ve had to get used to being a single dad. It’s probably not as colossal to deal with as it could have been. Rosie and I have a phenomenally close family, all of whom have rallied round to help me and the children. We have a wonderful nanny without whom I have no idea how the children would get out of the house in the morning. The children receive tremendous emotional support from all of them. But at the end of the day when everyone has left our home it’s just Joey, Tali and me.

A few weeks ago Natalie, Joseph and I went away to Dorset. I booked the holiday soon after Rosie died, mainly because I was encouraged to plan a summer holiday. I’ve never been a holiday person – a break from work is enough for me and in years gone by (before Rosie) that might just been a week of lazing around at home, reading or watching TV.

But Rosie lived for holidays. She raised the task of planning one to an art form. No sooner had the last holiday finished than the next one was being planned…and sometimes it was sooner than that. And in her capable and willing hands it was something which I was more than happy to leave her to look after.

Having to actively think and plan a holiday for the first time in many years was a bit daunting. As it happened I needn’t have felt so overwhelmed. You’ll be unsurprised to hear that Rosie had already done the hard work. Last October we went on a wonderful family holiday to Suffolk. The hotel was tailor-made for families like ours. Young children who don’t have a volume control, middle class parents who haven’t the energy for slumming it and perfectly good food. That hotel is part of a small chain and Rosie had earlier this year talked about its sister hotel, Moonfleet Manor. That had stuck with me and that’s where I booked.

So mid-summer arrived and the three of us drove South. Natalie had insisted that she wanted our first family holiday to be just her, me and Joey. The holiday was a success and greatly enjoyed by the children. For me it was a challenge. Anyone who has children will know that they don’t always want to do the same thing at the same time. And this was most certainly true for my two. If Tali wanted to swim then Joey certainly didn’t. If Joey wanted to play skittles (which he did several times every single day) then Tali wanted to do absolutely anything else. I tried persuading them to take turns, but that didn’t really fly. At the end of five nights away I was frankly happy to be getting home, for a rest.

I know the children enjoyed themselves, they said as much.  But I was more tired at the end of the holiday than at the start. Of course this will get easier with time, at least I hope it will.  Apart from the challenge of two strong-willed children it simply brought home how much I miss being with Ro. Yes, it would have been easier with Rosie being there, for sure. But at the end of the day when we all went to bed (at about the same time) I didn’t have Rosie to talk to. And I still don’t. And that is the hardest thing about losing her. Her absence is a constant reminder of what I’ve lost and what the children have lost.

Elliot

Everything changes and the guilt of living

Today I received a beautiful message from Caroline, one of the ladies on the YBCN (Younger Breast Cancer Network) Facebook group. Last year Rosie had organised a YBCN get together in London. It’s where Caroline and she met. I remember the day. Going off to meet the group of women all carrying the same internal scars and scares. I never properly understood the fear that breast cancer instills in a woman living with it. My appreciation of this disease has grown since Rosie’s death. But how can a person who has never had cancer ever really understand the impact it has on the sufferer?

Through her blog, Rosie found great comfort in being able to express her innermost thoughts. And being a vibrant part of a number of online cancer communities she also found a way to deal with this most appalling of diseases. But I think it was through the YBCN event in London that she found real comfort from the certainty of understanding of her fellow victims.

Caroline talked about two aspects of this disease. For those who successfully live through and beyond their cancer treatment they suffer the pain of “survivor’s guilt”. Until I’d experienced Rosie’s cancer to its bitter end this really wasn’t something which had occurred to me. I’d heard this phrase used with respect to survivors of the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. Most famously the great Italian chemist, Primo Levi, who wrote movingly about his experiences. But survivor’s guilt and cancer? Caroline wrote about this. Even though Rosie’s treatment had failed last year she still maintained her connection with those who were living healthily after theirs. Rosie was happy for those who, unlike her, had escaped the secondary diagnosis. Somehow her humanity allowed her to continue to support those whose luck hadn’t run out. But then that was Rosie.

Survivor’s guilt can, I imagine, become an appalling, all-consuming beast. But that can’t be allowed. For those who survive, they must take the gift of life and do something special with it, whatever that is. Rosie would have been furious if her death meant others couldn’t make the most of their lives.

Caroline also talked about change. Her experience of cancer has changed her for good. Her words, “I’m not the person I was before this all started” are something I can identify with. As I sat alone in synagogue this morning I thought about my place in this world – and my children. It occurred to me that for the last year our lives have been odd, different, changed. Rosie and I had tried so very hard since June 2014 to keep things “normal” in the Choueka household. Despite the inner turmoil created by this disease Rosie and I both knew that we couldn’t bring this into the children’s lives. Of course we needed them to understand something of what was going on but it was not right or fair to expose them to the awfulness of the situation, or at least not until almost the very end.

The most obvious change, with the benefit of hindsight, was the creeping sadness. Rosie and I experienced a happiness together that I only dreamed of in my earlier years. And with the arrival of the children that simply multiplied. Yes there were bouts of illness, health scares and the like but nothing we couldn’t deal with; that’s life. Cancer was the game changer. Looking back on it I’d say it felt like a storm rolling in from afar. The winds rising up, the sky darkening and the rain, thunder and lightning tearing across the horizon at breakneck speed towards an unsuspecting town. That’s the way it’s felt.

Now the storm is calming. It’s still raining. It’s still dark. But far out on the horizon I can see daylight. The sadness is most firmly still with me, with Natalie and with Joey. I know at some point the storm will pass, the skies will brighten. But what will it leave behind? I don’t know. Most certainly everything has changed forever but it’s far too early to see exactly how. In that awful journalistic cliché, only time will tell.

Elliot