Time and Feel – part two

When I wrote my last blog back in July 2016 I intended to follow it up shortly after with some more of my story with Fleygur through the summer, but somehow the months have slipped by. I have missed the writing, it is cathartic for me and I thought often about what I would write, but it never made in on to the page. It is now nearly ten months since Roger died and I know that time alone is not enough to heal the pain of the loss. I have been on a journey over those months, one that I never would have chosen but nevertheless one that has taught me so much about me, those around me, loss, grief and resilience. I have had to consciously acknowledge and work on my feelings as I process my loss and make sense of my life.

Throughout last year I determinedly continued with all of the things that Roger and I had planned with the horses. I attended a riding clinic in May where I rode Roger’s horse in what would have been his lesson; entered Svipur in The British Icelandic Horse Championships in June, where I won the Elementary Tölt trophy that Roger had won two years earlier; took Fleygur and Jandi on a summer holiday to the Gower in South Wales; attended the ‘Icelandic Horse Summer Camp’ in August; and finally the Autumn Show at Oakfield Farm where Jandi and I won the Fancy Dress Class!

I progressed from being picked up, emotionally and physically by my wonderful friends in May and June, through quiet calm support and towing tips from my Dad in July, to packing loading and towing four hours on my own in September. Life had to go on and I did it with all the determination I could muster.

Fleygur and I on holiday, Rhossili Bay, South Wales

In August a house with a small paddock came up for sale in our village, and long term I couldn’t stay where I was as it was a short term rent. ‘When I am ready’ I said, ‘that is the sort of place I need to be’. It was near to the field I lease from the Church and I would have the support of my friends in the village nearby and the community in which Roger and I made our home. Then I realised, this was not just the ‘sort of place’ it WAS the place. So in October I moved home as well.

I had been back at work since June in a demanding senior job with lots of change and I wondered quite where my strength came from. I waited for the moment I would crash and burn. I knew I must be exhuasted but somehow I kept going. In that time I thought a lot about resilliance, where does it come from, how do you nurture it? It seems to me that resilience is to be gained from rooting yourself in your values and beliefs, your purpose, why you are here and why you do what you do. But its not just about looking back, it is also about looking forward with optimism to the future, or if you can’t manage to be optimistic at least with determination to get where you want to be and achieve your dreams. I like to think of it as a tree, putting down strong roots and reaching up with new leaves on its branches. Of course accepting what is and what can not be changed is a pre-requisite for this and an extract from what is commonly known as the Serentity Pray sums this up well,

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

My life with Roger is gone and I can not change what is, so I have to make the best of what I have. I am reminded often of a story told by Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, whose husband died suddenly just over a year before Roger. She talks about a time she wanted her husband to be there for her and the children and was crying to a friend. He said, ‘Sheryl Option A is not available so we are going to kick the shit out of Option B’. And this is what I am trying to do, in the knowledge that my option B, as painful as it is without Roger to share it with, is a pretty good one and in that I am fortunate. I have my home, my health, my family and friends, and of course my horses.

What about those lovely horses?

So what about those lovely horses? How was the rest of the year with Fleygur? Those of you who follow the Facebook blog will know that I have been riding him, and that in general things went pretty well. I focussed a lot on keeping him calm and spent a lot of time walking him with just short sections of slow or medium tölt.  If he got too much I just got off and walked, the aim was to stay calm, him and me, it was not a battle of wills. We had a few little incidents, usually when riding in company where once something set him off he could be difficult to stop but I used the one rein stop where it was safe to do so and as my reactions and riding improved I learnt to sit deep and use my seat and body to ask for the stop. I also found someone in the village who was a good match for Fleygur, a calm, secure rider and this meant I could ride the other horses too. My bond with Fleygur grew strong, this feisty little horse, that I would have never chosen for myself, I think had begin to see me as his!

However as winter progressed work got busy and the weather got worse. Finding the time energy and motivation to ride got hard. I rode most weeks, but usually only once and although the I am sure the horses didn’t mind hanging about in the field, they really didn’t get the work they needed. More than once I thought that Roger would have been telling me I was mad to keep all four horses on my own. My confidence started to diminish, not just the riding but in my decisions about the horses care. The less I rode the more confidence I lost. Then a few weeks ago I fell off Jandi and was winded and badly cut my hand. I have continued riding but that knocked my confidence further and as Spring kicks in I know the horses will be full of beans, or rather Spring grass!

So what am I to do? Get help, that’s what.  Roger always said this to anyone who was having a horse issue, and it is good advice. I have booked into all the Icelandic horse clinics I can, put all the shows in my calendar and am arranging for some experienced friends to come and ride with me and help me get all horses out and ridden. We all have confidence issues from time to time and I will get this sorted – there’s that optimism and detminination again. I can’t let my feisty pony down now can I?

My Feisty Pony

In February I left my job, not because I had crashed and burned but because the time was right. I will still be working but in a more flexible way and I hope that this will give me time to explore my other passion of writing. I will have more time to blog about my journey with the horses, and who knows some Little Viking Horse stories or a book may appear too!

This last ten months have contained more significant and stressful life changes than I could have ever imaged but still, here I am, ‘kicking the shit out of option B’.

The day a huge hole opened in my heart and in my life

I met Roger the same year I first met Icelandic horses and considered myself very lucky indeed to find a man who not only shared much of my outlook on the world, but was also as passionate about horses as I was, probably even more so. I quickly realised that in my 40’s I had finally met my true soul mate and we fell in love so quickly that it was painful to be apart almost immediately and we have spent little time apart since. Roger was romantic, passionate and sensitive. Of course as Roger would say “people are patterns” and I will not pretend that either of us always showed our best side to each other but we have remained close passionate and in love throughout.

Although I converted him to the joys of Icelandic horses very early in our relationship we were put off from buying them initially by the prices at the time. We did not then appreciate fully the special joy (and frustration!) to be gained from riding these gaited and spirited horses. He helped me buy my first horse Beanie (Big Fat Cob) and we searched for a suitable horse for him. This did not go at all well and after being thrown a couple times he finally converted from ‘Big horses’ and together we started our journey into the world of Icelandics, not just in the UK but travelling to ride in Iceland and to see these amazing little horses strut their stuff in World Championships in Germany and Denmark.

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Our first Icelandic horse Fleygur was something of a challenge both because of his anxiety issues and because of our inexperience but we preserved, got help and learned and grew as people and as riders. Fleygur had such personality and funny little ways I often imagined what he was saying and provide a ‘voice over’ Jonny Morris style much to Rogers amusement. With Rogers encouragement and having seen other ‘talking animal’ blogs on Facebook I set up the Little Viking Horse page and gave Fleygur his voice. My intention was to entertain with a positive, slightly funny portrayal of our horses with the hope of also educating people in the UK about Icelandics and promote interest in the breed. The website followed as a more effective way to provide the educative side and this provided space for my own voice too. I guess the writing urge hiding inside me had to come out sometime. The feedback and engagement I received from all over the world inspired me to continue and one year Little Viking Horse was even short-listed for a Social Media Award and he was later adopted by the Icelandic Horse Society GB on their website. I was amazed by the response I had but Roger remained my biggest fan and many many posts were tested on him first. I sometimes wondered what I would write when one of the horses died, how would I break the news? Would I still blog? If it were Fleygur would Svipur take over the mantel of Little Viking Horse?

On the evening of Saturday 7th May Roger my best friend, my husband and my soul mate died suddenly and unexpectedly. A huge hole had just opened in the middle of my world.

We had spent the Friday evening having a lovely meal with family and although Roger was still recovering from flu and a possible chest infection he was up in the morning to enjoy some archery with his sister and brother-in-law and then we all went for a ride. A lovely spring day and a beautiful ride, Roger and Fleygur did their super fast ‘bat out of hell’ tolting on the way home while the rest of us followed at a more sedate pace.

Back at the yard it was clear that Roger was now exhausted and after lunch we waved good-bye to his sister and her husband and went to bed for a nap. He was uncomfortable and a temperature check read 38.1. As a retired nurse he ran through his symptoms took paracetamol to lower his temperature and commented that if it wasn’t for the fact that we thought he had flu and a chest infection, which as someone with mild asthma he would often get if he had a bad cold or flu, he might feel a little more worried about how he was feeling. I might have been more worried too but he had been checked out that week. The previous Tuesday morning I had driven him to Accident and Emergency has he had complained of chest pain when we woke up. He reassured me all the way there that the most likely explanation was ingestion but he had never asked me to take him to hospital with indigestion before, so of course I was worried.  The ECG was normal, though his blood pressure was a little high so reassured we went home and he made an appointment to see his Doctor on the Thursday.

He spent much of Wednesday in bed and that evening he phoned the out of hours Doctors number to run through his symptoms again and seek a view about if he should go back to A&E, the conclusion was it could be flu and that he would probably be okay to wait and see his Doctor in the morning. On Thursday the Doctor checked with the hospital about his test results and could find nothing specific other than slightly high cholesterol (blood pressure was improved) so given the temperature which was lowered by paracetamol flu seemed the most likely explanation. The slight discomfort in his chest, a chest infection. A high temperature is not, Roger and the Doctor told me is not a symptom that would indicate a cardiac problem.

We talked about the dream home we were about to buy and settled on a Nordic style sitting room. Roger said that although he felt like shit he didn’t feel like sleeping and would go and watch some television. I stayed in the bedroom and had a short nap. I don’t know for how long, but when I woke up I got dressed and walked through to the sitting room. Roger was lying on the sofa, not with his head propped on a cushion to watch the TV, though the TV was on but flat on his back with his mouth open just like when he snores. Roger, I said. No response. I shook him a little ‘Roger’ I said more loudly my own heart rate increasing. Nothing. He was warm but he wasn’t breathing. ‘Roger’ I screamed and ran barefoot to my neighbour bursting straight into their home ‘help me help. Roger’ though I felt I could barely speak.

My neighbour, a nurse performed CPR but even as I tried mouth to mouth I could hear Rogers voice in my head saying ‘there is no point in breathing air into the lungs if the heart is not pumping the oxygen round the body’. An ambulance had been called and I grabbed some shoes and both our mobile phones but as we waited I realised it was already too late. I went in to shock and a haze of disbelief descended over me. This can’t be happening. Roger don’t leave me. I love you.

The ambulance arrived. I called my brother ‘I need you’ ‘I’m on my way’.  CPR, adrenaline I don’t know what else and as they worked a glimmer of hope rose in me, but then I noticed they did not use the defibrillator, it’s no use if there is no electrical activity at all. It has to be used immediately. They could not get a tube down his throat, there was no response. He was gone. I was numb.

I wailed when the undertakers took his body away, I have cried some since, but I have not yet sobbed. I know it will come.

It’s been just over a week. My family, friends and neighbours have been amazing. I was immediately surrounded by people sorting things making decisions trying to feed me, hugging me and just being there but I wanted to do each step of the formal processes around Rogers death myself, on my own. I don’t know why I just did. I spoke with the Doctor, took to call from the Coroner confirming the cause of death as a massive heart attack, registered the death and started the plans for the celebration of Rogers life.

Some people told me not to think about the future right now just take one day at a time but that’s not how I work. I lay awake all the first night thinking through all the things I had to make decisions on. I was frightened to sleep I thought if I did I would dream that Roger was still alive and then would have to face the terrible reality all over again. One of the many things I thought about that night was will I ever blog again? What becomes of Little Viking Horse, not just the Facebook page, but all the horses? Roger and I were a team, I went out to work and he did everything else, everything. How will I cope?

I knew at least that I had to let people know what had happened, and for so many of us social media and Facebook is just another part of the way we communicate now. Fleygur’s voice was and still is silent in my head and anyway this post needed to be from me. Once I was sure that family and close friends had been informed I posted the news on my own Facebook and then on Little Viking Horse.

I was blown away by the response, on both my personal account and on Little Viking Horse. I received so many messages of support, love and encouragement and a few women private messaged me to tell me about losing their husbands in similar ways and offering me comfort and hope. I am very glad they did. People often say in situations like this “Nothing I can say will help but…..” But it does, it really does help and I thank everyone who contacted me in this way.

I realise this is a very public thing to do to blog about the death of the man that I loved and so soon when I am still raw and struggling to come to terms with what has happened, but this was not a private happening Roger had touched many people and Little Viking Horse appears has done the same. It is out there, people know and many people care. I can’t do the British ‘stiff upper lip’, close the curtains, shut people out, don’t talk about it. It’s not me. I don’t consider the many many kind words and offers of support as intrusions. Of course I cry when people speak to me and they say how sorry they are but I need to cry, it’s part of the process I have to go through and it has helped me hugely to hear peoples stories of how Roger gave them some advice they valued, encouraged them or their children, was kind or made them laugh.

I have not been able to face dealing with any of our affairs, car registration, banks or anything else. I know I need to get these things done and I need to prepare myself for going back to work but for now I am still numb, my memory is shot to pieces, I cry as soon as I see someone who I last saw before Roger died and I can’t concentrate properly. I don’t feel confident enough to drive and I haven’t been able to listen to the radio, watch TV or play music, so I guess I am not yet ready for the whole reality of life without Roger.

What I do know is the only time I have felt anywhere near normal in these first few days is when I have been with the horses, just getting done what needed to be done for them. On Sunday I rode for the first time and I know that the horses will be an important part of me getting through this. I don’t know how I will manage with them all yet but they will be part of my journey.

I wasn’t sure when I posted the news of Rogers death on the Little Viking Horse page whether that would be the last post I ever made, but the writer inside me was already writing in my head and gradually I realised it wasn’t a choice I was making, I had to write. This webpage allows me to voice my thoughts and I know that gradually Fleygur’s voice will return to me and his joyful, self centred musings will continue on Little Viking Horse.

Roger wanted me to write this blog, he loved it. It will continue.

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