The Bottle Story 2018

Oh boy.

I stopped at that last line and was stuck for 5 minutes.

Where do I start? What the hell happened? What should I cover?

Let’s step back a bit though. My last writing on this was late last year — so it’s worth bringing you up to date. Like the recap on Netflix, when you missed the last episode.

It has been a rough few months — financially, emotionally, grieving and surviving. I still feel at moments utterly baffled and useless in the face of overwhelming emotions and there are days, hours or minutes where I feel defeated and struggle to get by. At other times, I feel a master of my destiny and know innately that what I’ve been through, just qualifies me more as “A Survivor”. Nietzsche was right.

It’s okay to have doubts — these only hammer and strengthen that which sustains you or helps you get by, in that moment, for a day, through harder times.

Some weeks, you feel like a limpet stubbornly clinging to a rock — waves wash over you continually and despite the odd storm, you’re still somehow *there* after everything. These things pass.

So let’s try to break this update down into some parts. Firstly, the paperwork saga is nearing the end. Secondly, I put The Bottle Project on hold (temporarily). Lastly, despite the inescapable shittiness of loss, Marcella and I continue to make progress.

Paperwork

Nobody knows how truly shitty the paperwork turns out to be unless they’ve been through this joyless exercise, at least once. The paperwork of death is complicated but for those who aren’t married, it makes life almost unworkable. The main point is that regardless of your situation, this part of dealing with life is not dignified, personal or sensitive. It sucks badly in many ways that I can’t begin to describe. Many of the IT or paper processes simply make bereavement merely harder and more cruel.

I was recently talking to an arm of the UK Government — and my advice to them was to do the research and service design work on a ‘DEATH PORTAL’.

They laughed (nervously) but I used my experience to talk frankly about my journey — and how the paper and legal stuff made it endlessly more cruel and kafkaesque. I was able to show through comedy, that we can transcend the pettiness and slights of death and that they could, through design, remove a bit of pain from grieving, that would lighten the load of the world.

I’m nearly at the end of all this but let’s explain a concept to you — of illiquid and liquid assets. Assume that until the death paperwork is complete, that you cannot access any funds — and that the only asset you own, is not actually owned by you (until the paperwork is done). How can you borrow or use that asset to pay the debts of the estate, when you don’t own it? You can’t. What if you need more than you own — just to get the paperwork to be done, so you can even own the thing, that you don’t have yet?

Which means that I have had to in the last 4 months, find a way to pay everyone down — to pay fees, clear debts, chase down stray bills. It also means another 3 months, when I will have more legal fees and may need more money each month than now.

Here’s a simple situation — imagine that you have to double what you earn in a month, just to cover the bare minimum. Yup, I’m having to try and earn twice what I earn normally, just to pay the bare minimum (bills, debts, rent).

Anything on top of that goes primarily on food so there’s not much left spare. It just feels like a constant hamster wheel of trying to juggle or delay payment, to keep enough free cashflow to cover the household expenses too. It wears you down over time— always feeling like you’re running on the rim and no time to relax.

The good news is that 3 months from now, we’ll have everything under control and everything paid off too. The short term pain of working like a banshee brings a long term gain of freedom from any debts or paperwork.

The Bottle Project

I’ve been putting off writing about this for 4 months, because I guess I was heartbroken. Not in the way you might think though. I’ve had time to think about this but it’s still very hard to write. I’ve been working on this article since dawn today and it’s now 2pm — and I know it will take me a while and some tough thinking to finish it.

Firstly, it’s so easy these days, to dash off a bitter and witty comment — about someone you dated where it didn’t work out. All the nuance of what happened, lost in a pithy comment on a facebook post. All the truth submerged by the posturing. The truth is often way harder and more painful than these witticisms ever touch upon.

I consider myself to be a gentleman so find myself wishing to update you but with a considered story— and not some alternative version I made up instead. I also want to share the narrative arc of what happened without being bogged down in details or words that fail to really describe how I felt and feel now.

So it’s hard to write this part faithfully, respectfully and truthfully. In the car back from taking Marcella to school, the snow started falling hard and the feeling to write this just came.

I knew before today that even if I tried, I could not sit down and write this. I was stuck. I couldn’t do it then but today, I knew.

Cosy inside with the dogs, blankets and a coffee, as the lawn colours white, the words flow…

I have received over 1300 responses now from across the world and over 30 countries, several channels and a raft of languages. Emails, messages, posts, handwritten letters and more and the worst thing is — that I simply haven’t had time to get back to everybody. It pains me to not to have thanked everyone personally or responded even briefly to their message.

There were also conversations that may have stopped or dried up — without explanation from me. It’s important to explain this so bear with me.

Although I managed to get back to nearly 500 women who responded, the first thing that happened is that I got invited on some dates. One lady and I who didn’t meet or swap photos for some weeks, exchanged over 26,000 words just talking by SMS. We had a lot to talk about!

I then went on a small whirlwind of dates — cinema, food, parties, markets, music — and enjoyed them all immensely. I actually had “real fun” on many of those dates and it was a wonderful feeling after the darkness of grieving, to be thinking “Hell yeah — this concert is really fucking awesome!”.

I went on dates with F, a lady who was simultaneously gorgeous, smart, full of life, wickedly funny and with more fashion sense in one pinkie that most of us have in totality. She’s a great standup comedian too and deserves to be wildly successful.

I had a few dates too with G, who works part of the year on an island. One of them was to view a property she was thinking of buying (note to self — not really a ‘date’). On a serious note, she’s stunningly attractive, charming, witty and a cultured polymath — sophisticated and intelligent yet very down to earth.

There were a few other dates that were dangerous, hilarious, comical or just fairly anodyne. I don’t want to have a long story about the details — because that’s private. So let me explain conceptually what happened with the two dates I mentioned.

With F, it felt amazing at first — like a rollercoaster ride. Thrilling and giddy.

She had lost a partner around the same time as me and it gave us a great deal in common to begin with. We shared a huge amount of taste in films, popular culture and retro fashion and design — we liked a lot of the same music too.

We began spending more time together and it felt pretty serious to me. We dated lots, met a heap of friends, family, hung out together and enjoyed the company. To anyone reading the story, the obvious question is this — what went wrong?

It’s probably a number of factors. Some people asked me “Maybe it’s because you aren’t ready yet? Are you sure you should be doing this?” but others had told me completely the opposite. People have a distribution curve of crap they talk sometimes.

So yes — part of it may have been that I wasn’t prepared for the emotional feelings that this would bring up, meeting someone new.

On the other hand, I expected this and I had planned for it. The fact that this was a factor was NOT a surprise. I love my wife and will love her until the day I die. It will always be hard meeting someone new and that didn’t stop me at the start and it won’t stop me now. She wouldn’t want me to give up.

I’m not expecting it to be plain sailing — my expectations are set realistically:

It will be difficult to meet someone new. The life I might live with them will not be like the life I used to live. I cannot expect things that may not be there. This person is not a replacement in any way for the person I have lost. Our relationship will be a series of negotiations and that means I will change too. There may be times when I struggle to be there for someone. We may live a completely different way. I may grieve when you least expect it. You may find that some days, I am beyond your touch.

I have to understand that anyone meeting me has to deal with someone going through these tough things. They also have to live with another person, who may well be in my thoughts, on occasion and particularly on key dates — for the rest of my life. All of these things.

So I’m both never ready and always ready. I did this bottle project despite my grief and although it will be hard to meet someone new, I really want to — so I will persist even if it hurts a bit.

Was it the pace then? Did it go too fast for you Craig?

At first, I thought that might be it — that it was all going a bit fast — too hectic, too much to take in. No. That wasn’t it.

I enjoyed the deepening of our relationship and the time we spent together. I don’t regret a moment of it. It may have been a bit hectic in terms of the pace but that wasn’t it alone.

I think the best way of describing this is that I felt ‘overwhelmed’. It was the speed of things but also in terms of desiring it to be something it hadn’t yet developed into.

I guess that we all project the things that we want — or hope will happen — onto a relationship. To a certain extent we do anyway, by imprinting ourselves on another and influencing what they do after we meet. But that’s the real bit. What about the gap between what you want to happen and what is actually happening? The gap between what you want to see and reality?

It felt to me like F liked the ‘idea’ of our relationship more than the ‘real’ development of our relationship. I felt like the relationship itself (and me by implication but not directly) was being put into a shape, placeholder or model that wasn’t real — that the desire was for ‘us’ to be fitting what she wanted to happen rather than letting us figure out whatever that might be.

I’m not saying that I won’t find it hard to meet someone — without having to change many aspects of my life, habits, ways of doing things.

I know I’m not looking for a replacement either for someone I have lost — and that I can’t expect a relationship to be like I imagine or hope for. It will work out however it works out and that’s the most important thing for me — not to force things or get unrealistic.

In the end, it felt for me like I was a concept album. I can understand both why F wanted so much for the relationship to succeed (I did too) and why she was upset (as I was) when it ended. I think we both wanted this to happen so much that it left no room for it to develop. It felt like the concept was more important than the execution or growth.

Maybe the embryonic stages of the relationship got trampled by projecting too hard what we’d lost and what we were missing. Maybe we’re both hurt by what we went through so it’s hardly surprising a new relationship wouldn’t be plain sailing.

My heart and chest feel like some heavy anvil writing this. In the end I just didn’t feel I could give her the thing that she wanted — which was different from what I was able to give (if that makes sense).

I can give freely everything that I have but I couldn’t give the reassurance about ‘the relationship’ being the desired way — and this became overwhelming for me and a kind of pressure. Sometimes I felt it was okay and at other times, I felt I couldn’t breathe or do anything right.

I’m sorry for F because I know it will have affected her too. I’m not immune to her feelings as we shared so much. I hope that in time we will talk, remain friends and crack wise about films and culture. I hope that as bad as I felt in the last few months, we can still tell the story of how we met and laugh together someday.

G also drifted off — not because I wanted her to but because her dog passed away suddenly and as her faithful confidant, she’s devastated. I’ve tried to reach out a few times and will keep trying. I hope to keep talking to her, as she’s an interesting person and I’d love to chat more.

I struggle to know what to say — now that I’m on the other side of the fence. Shall I call her? Would she appreciate a picture of me with my dog? You feel such a fool as someone when someone is grieving, not sure what to do. Even the grieving sometimes struggle with the grief of others.

So as if it wasn’t bad enough with all this grieving, it was really tough breaking up with someone — after all, I hadn’t done it for over 30 odd years!

And so I’ve been kinda heartbroken the last few months. Just felt cracked, like an old dinner plate. Like I was back to square one. I was really depressed.

I also stopped at the start of all this, responding to all the mails, messenger contacts and messages because I was ‘seeing someone steady’ if you like.

It would have been rude to say “Hang on — just checking out some potential dates on Facebook” or “Sorry about that — had to catch up with 50 ladies from Brazil”. This was something my dates asked about and we agreed between us what would happen.

The problem was, after all this went down, I was actually too unhappy to write about this or even get in touch, update people, continue conversations. I just found it hard to approach — as it had become bound up with the bigger picture.

I’m sorry I didn’t respond or if I just disappeared on you. I was too down to even write about it — now that’s depression for you in a nutshell eh?

Not writing this and explaining what happened — has weighed heavily upon my mind all that time. I just didn’t seem to be able to talk to many people at all. Or even think about dating. I felt never so alone in all my life at christmas, yet just bottled it all up inside and couldn’t find a way to even continue my bottle quest.

I went from the high of seeing my trip succeed beyond my wildest dreams, to the trough of despondency.

Two Steps Forward

… and one step back — goes the old adage.

This Christmas was easier than last year for Marcella and I but it’s strange — people avoid the grieving at Christmas, so we tend to get left on our own which just makes us miss Julia more. At least we were able to put up the tree and cope with unpacking all the decorations — that felt like a small victory over grief and a return to normality.

Despite being down, I had no option but to hustle for as much work as possible. Rather than write, I thought about all of this and spent time trying to catch up with the garden and house stuff that is always needing doing.

I immersed myself in a lot of things but I’ve been under a fog of missing Julia, dealing with a new loss and going through christmas again. It was good to spend lots of time with Marcella at christmas, do stuff together and find some laughter in sharing the wonderful memories of her mother.

Despite having a heavy workload in her final year before University — Marcella has flourished but still needs lots of help and support.

She’s a pivotal member of ‘The A Team’ at the house here (laughs) and makes an increasing contribution to helping look after the dogs and our small abode. Seeing her grow up into a smart, funny and sophisticated young woman is amazing— because although it breaks my heart that Julia won’t see all this, I am still here to bear witness for her.

We manage pretty well to keep things going — and Marcella helps with all the decisions we make. What food we buy, the bills, the household, everything we grow in the garden, the welfare of the dogs — she now knows what goes into these and that they need her input and help too! I love her deeply and dearly and she is the catalyst for good things in her own and others lives — including mine.

She’s eschewed a lot of things — her 18th birthday present, a car, clothes, any holidays, spending money. She hasn’t done this because I asked her to — she’s done this because she knows we’re tight for funds and goes willingly without a lot of things that I wished I could have given her over the last two years.

It doesn’t feel good when you can’t afford even driving lessons for the last 6 months since your daughter turned 17 — and yet she willingly helps, doesn’t demand and works with me to keep things going. You’ve no idea how much that’s worth — just not to feel bad about the things I’ve missed getting her.

So — we’re a great team now. We have our off days but mostly, we’re irresistibly good and very very determined. It always seems like you are struggling when you grieve but it’s degrees — and since you make such small changes over time, it takes an appreciation of perspective to understand how much progress you’ve made.

I’m kinda half way there (wherever that is) — not back right where I was and not in the future I felt was going to happen last year. Normal service has resumed then ;-o

Writing this has helped somehow — and made clearer to me that even as snow covers our garden, that the frosts *will* eventually end, our bulbs *will* flower and that another spring will come. Endings are just beginnings of something else, spring is the riposte to winter and tomorrow, I will begin again.

C.