Today I reacquainted myself with the drill and finally fitted a new doorbell (much to the relief of visitors who have stood out in the rain longer than strictly necessary during the last year). In my days of being young, free, single and a home owner, I didn't think twice about undertaking such a task. I'd grown up in a single parent family and believed I could have a good go at anything DIY-related. However, after 10 years of life with Dunc, a mechanical engineer who had a box full of tools and a shed full of 'useful' pieces of wood, my relationship with power tools had become a distant memory. Until today that is, when I woke up and decided that it was time to locate the drill in the depths of the shed, and get the job done. It took less than five minutes. In fact, retrieving it from the back of the shed probably took longer than the job itself! The element of challenge involved fitting the doorbell, whilst encouraging Thomas not to hit Sam with the hammer or hide the electric screwdriver in the playroom!
This is representative of most of the practical challenges in our new life so far. I have learnt to do a number of things that I just didn't need to do before Dunc died. For example, I can now cook roast beef (which was always, inexplicably, Dunc's job); I can start the petrol lawn mower (and mow our lawn in a fairly expedient fashion, as long as Thomas doesn't decide to 'help' me) and I can heave containers full of books back into the loft, unaided. I've even lopped off a load of overhanging branches using the extendable cutters. However, if you imagine Thomas following me up the loft ladder, or Sam playing chicken with the branches I am felling, you begin to see the problem.
This week, the boys and I, complete with heavy double buggy and a rucksack, caught the train for a day trip to Birmingham. When we went on the train last year as a family, Dunc was in charge of hauling and stowing the rucksack and buggy, and I was in charge of the boys. This time, it was all down to me. I would never have contemplated doing this on my own before Dunc died, because we would have done it together. If I had tried it, I would have been entirely confident that he would have rescued us, if all else failed. This loss of my partner, my other adult in Team Phillips, is one of the biggest challenges that I face. Dunc and I were quite different in many ways, but together we made a cracking team. If I'd got us totally lost or developed a migraine in Birmingham, the buck stopped with me, and me alone. I know that there are friends who would have done their utmost to come to our aid, but ultimately they all have families to attend to, and places to be. Dunc's unconditional love for all three of us is irreplaceable and its loss immeasurable.
The biggest challenge currently involves the grieving process and the fact that we are all at different points along the journey it entails. Sam understood immediately the meaning of, "The doctors tried to make Daddy better, but his heart was too poorly and he died." He was initially tearful, pensive and full of questions. Now, three and a half months later, he has decided that if we haven't got enough adults to go swimming at our local pool, then the obvious answer is to find a new daddy. He has decided to help me with this task by asking any lone males in town if they would like to take on the unenviable role! In fact, he has gone one step further and has pinpointed Andy Murray as the ideal replacement for Dunc (because he has money, a Wimbledon trophy, a dog and slightly curly hair!).
Thomas, aged three and a half, had little understanding of what Dunc's death meant at the time. Just last week, he told me again that he's still hoping Daddy will come home. In the last two weeks, he seems to have begun to come to terms with the permanence of the situation and I would say he is now starting to grieve (and is very angry with the rest of us). As for me, I'm trying to make time to grieve, whilst also looking after the boys, the house, and the endless paperwork associated with a death, and it usually happens at about midnight. The professionals tell me that it is good to show one's emotions in front of the children, and I am quite comfortable with doing so. However, you know it is time to be the grown up and take a deep breath when your five your old says to you, with a slightly scared look on his face, "You're not going to cry again are you, Mummy?" After all, he'd never seen me cry before Dunc died and I'm sure he feels that it is his job to look after me now, even though I've been at pains to tell him it isn't. (He can help me with things, but it is definitely my job to look after him).
As my mum watched the boys, while I stashed things in the loft this week, she said, "You're working on overdrive, aren't you?" The honest answer is that I don't think I am. (She just didn't observe my life this closely when Dunc was alive!) I sit down a little later at night, and the efforts of a day trip without Dunc were tiring, but not unmanageable. The responsibility to try and meet the differing needs of the boys and to bring them up as we both intended, on my own, feels overwhelming at times though. I am choosing to take one day - and each tiny step - at a time, and so far, it seems to be working. My window cleaner has informed me that my lovely friends and neighbours are ready and waiting to catch me when I (inevitably) fall. It is reassuring to know, but I'm hoping not to require it of them. Only time will tell whether the combination of taking on new practical tasks whilst steering us all through the first few months of our new life will be a challenge too far. When the boys are safely tucked up in bed and I have time to take stock, I'm still feeling positive and as determined as ever.