New beginnings are disguised as painful ends

It’s late at night and the page is blank so I turn to Laozi and Pooh bear.

Actually that’s not true. I turn to you…… to help me get the ball rolling, to create and share my and Manjula’s story. It’s the age old writer’s conundrum. As you see I have a pile of full notebooks but how to get the blank page filled to begin to start the actual story. Can you help?

If you know Manjula and I or even if you don’t 🙃 what’s the key ingredients of our story that might interest you or a wider audience. What are the main themes that will interest people?

Finding Meaning

I’m reading the book about finding meaning: the sixth stage of grief. I’m writing notes as Kessler talks about “the secret to remembering with love begins with accepting the pain not trying to deny it or ignore it….. love is on the other side of pain”

I’m reflecting on how I’ve managed this over the last year. As I write this I’m gently crying, sniffling just a little bit. Lucie looks up, stares with her sad brown eyes and squeals as if to draw my attention. I think she knows what’s happening and wants to comfort me. So we have a stroke for support.

At that very moment a black and orange butterfly flies into the balcony with a message: Manjula did feel my love and would have always known it was present.

Virus 4

I’m sitting on the balcony with the early morning sun shining through.

Lucie and I are back from our first walk of the day. We stopped and chatted to one of our neighbours who has husband and son at home. They’re not bored, using the time constructively connecting via the net and playing music.

As with anything else the level of awareness and understanding makes such a big difference. People just don’t understand the situation and what to do. I could fall into an easy trap and say eduction helps people understand and act. But we know it’s only partially true. Manjula was a great example of someone who was incredibly aware, in my terms. …’together’ with little if any education. She couldn’t read or write but was so clever, witty, linguist, who was a great connector, wise and SMART. Am I showing my bias again?

I have my breakfast of fruit, muesli and tea here waiting I’d just nipped out to give a poor older woman walking past a small token. I do sometimes amend my own rules. I notice a group of men having a chat on a street corner having parked their two wheelers. They have absolutely no idea of what it means to maintain distance. One has a mask on so it’s alright then, not much use by the way. Education? Awareness? Haven’t the first idea? How in any situation can we engage people’s hearts and minds? Enable them to make good decisions with their own and everyone’s interests at heart? Tall order

The city corporation have sealed off one of the parks, we have three close by. Here’s the sign notifying people.

The announcement of the lockdown was on the 23rd and came into effect on the 24th (the one day curfew was the 22nd). The sign posted on the 25th closed the park on the 21st….. doh.

Breakfast. I’m desperate Dan…..

Next, maybe managing Lucie’s boredom and my hypochondria

an open letter 

 

to our extended family, our friends from around the world, the community that grew around sharing our home

27th March 2020

Dear family,

thank you for your patience, kindness and support.

It’s been an awful twelve months since Manjula died, a pot-holed, rocky roller-coaster ride. Being able to speak to you directly, through my writing and sharing my feelings has been tremendously helpful. Your direct responses and visits have helped me through these difficult times. Thank you for those who’ve also been here to provide direct practical and emotional support, you know who you are and have made an impossible situation manageable.

Thank you for being a witness as Kessler writes:

“Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed……… they need to feel their grief acknowledged and reflected by others.”

As you know, I’ve shared and its helped. Thank you for letting me share with you, gain your support and help me to manage this tragic loss. I’ve most definitely been through the five stages (Kubler-Ross) of loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, often all at the same time and what I hadn’t realised was the anticipatory grief years before Manjula actually died that we also had to experience. 

Loss of a lover, loss of a life, loss of control, loss of the opportunity to do things differently, loss and the grief that results from it, is for me the hardest thing in life.

I also know now that: Grief unites us.

“You will never forget that person, never be able to fill the unique hole that has been left in your heart,” 

I’m so pleased you met and go to know my beautiful smiling brilliant wife directly through visiting us, or introduced through these pages. She leaves a wonderful legacy in what she created and leaves part of her in all of our hearts.

It goes without saying that she will always be with me and I know the grieving will never be over but I look forward to finding the right balance in Manjula continuing to be part of me and me finding meaning and growing beyond that loss, then ……….  “the time will come when memory will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes” (Kessler)

We’ve now recognised Manjula’s death anniversary with a Hindu Pooja ceremony and lunch for immediate friends on the 12th March (the official Hindu anniversary), shared the BIG photo album (a copy is on this site) then on the 23rd I cycled Manjula through the city, sponsored meals for older people at a local ashram, and had a few drinks here at home. We still have Manjula’s shoes carefully positioned around the house in case she returns and needs them. (Didion) 

Over the year I’ve been careful to do the Hindu rituals, placed flowers at her two main photos in our living rooms monthly, some times weekly, sited benches in our park and at a city museum. I’ve printed t shirts in her memory, hoisted bunting made from her clothing, created a memory tree (Teckentrup) (please ask how you can add a memory or wish) and given gifts of Manjula’s pens. 

We plan to celebrate Manjula’s life in August, around her birthday, please do join us in person or virtually, that’s when we’ll also re-open Mysore Bed and Breakfast, if we’re through these challenging virus times. I plan to keep this place going for at least a few more years (our first season without Manjula was bitter sweet but worked OK)  and so invite you to continue to share our home.

Manjula will always be here.

I have been trying to write to Manjula for months and failed, I need to share my remorse for things I feel I could have done better and more, to ask for her forgiveness and to thank her for our wonderful, funny, life enhancing nine years together. It will be posted soon.

I’ll continue to post on www.meandmycycle.com which is the best place to follow. Writings will be varied: about life in India, more factly fiction stories and I promise there will be a lot less of the grief. I’ve committed to Manjula to write our story.  I’ve verbally shared bits and people have liked it, I just need to write better to do it justice. Who knows when that gets finished and released, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime there’s many of our times together and challenges of living in India already featured here and I’ll add more, including her funny videos.

Thanks for becoming Manjula and my family and I look forward to travelling together on the next chapter of our journey.

Your loving friend

Stephen

and Lucie

PS

Manjula would joke that I as I was bringing so many books into the house it would become a library when I was 75 and no longer leading cycle tours. Well, the quantity and variety of books have grown and grown and now include sections on grief and writing (guess why?)  and so Manjula’s library is now at our house. 😉 and no I’m not 75 yet. Do pay a visit or ask for recommendations.

The one’s referred to in the letter are:

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the five stages of loss by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

Finding Meaning: the Sixth stage of grieving by David Kessler

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion 

The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup

 

Virus 3

Curfew

we had one for a day yesterday then made some noise to recognise the people who are invaluable in providing support

we’re now entering a proper period of isolation

gora (aka whitey)

I’ve now had one or two incidents of looks, avoidance and neighbour calling the kids in as Lucie and I walked past. We’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume they were worried by the dog. They’ve known us over nine years. Another example of how easy it is to polarise and create distance from the ‘other.’

of course the fact is that the risk of getting the virus here is mainly from returning Indians, the holidaying foreigners have mostly gone. A whiteness label helps feed prejudice

Manjula’s death anniversary  

most ideas have been deferred to August when we’ll celebrate her birth and life

today I’m cycling around Mysore with her and keeping a safe distance from anyone

being careful 

I’m  washing my hands carefully. This is according to Manjula’s high standards: lather the soap, Thoroughtly wash backs, fronts, between fingers, nails, wrists, up arms. A MAnjula finishing touch was to rinse the tap Before turning it off. She did this religiously over our nine years together  

My problem is, first thing after my hand wash I write my daily pages my creative journal thing but I get the pages wet and the ink runs.

Why?

My bracelets are wet through.

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What should I do?

stop being a wus

i think we can see that on the scale of things (fingers crossed) that I’m managing this virus thing quite easily. Not that it hasn’t been an awful year because of losing my love and if MAnjula was here with her condition I’d be the proverbial Panicking worrying headless chicken.

It brings home to me how fortunate I am and how people around the world living from hand to mouth already have such hard times which are exacerbated in these terrible circumstances.

Manjula

we remember our majesty, her specialness, her smile, her love, her everthingness on this the anniversary of her death.

we love you Manjula and feel your warmth as you’re always with us.

Stephen and Lucie

later …… I’m back home now. That wonderful woman has followed me all over Mysore including visiting the ashram where we regularly sponsor the meals. We’ve kept our Distance so as not to put ourselves or anyone else at risk. Manjula was introduced to neighbours she already knew and many more during our journey. There’s no doubt they all know we were married. We creating many smiles and we’re applauded everywhere we went. I’ve lost count of the thumbs up. Today her anniversary, was the day after the curfew and tomorrow there’s a full on lock-down, seems appropriate some how. Thanks for your thoughts and support.
Stephen 

Virus update 2

16th March ish

Canada

my son Oliver and partner Rachael live and work in Vancouver. In some ways they are typical millennials with a portfolio of different jobs. Their jobs vary but might all be considered ‘casual’. They are in the service industries: fitness, restaurants, guiding tours. All are affected as things close down. If there’s no work, there’s no pay. They might just about get by for a couple of weeks but what about medium and long term?

The risk and therefore the cost is more likely to be covered by the individual rather than the company or society.

There are many people in this situation. There’s a good argument for a minimum guaranteed income.

Imagine what it’s like for poor people in India and elsewhere. Check here

in India we have a curfew day with minimal testing. It’s just not good enough  

SB has the week off on full pay which will be extended

My plans

are currently on hold. Eric was going to look after Lucie and the house while I was away for three months. He’s now back in the US under the instructions of his scholarship funders

Otherwise I’m at home or walking Lucie 

in the U.K.

at last they’re catching up …… there are clear cases of over reaction and hysteria, this is when we need the wartime posters to keep calm and carry on. Oh and learn from the Indian communities, use water and NOT toilet paper.