My Great Aunt Edith died fifteen years ago, yet her husband (now a death-defying nonagenarian in the rudest of health) still keeps her prosthetic leg propped up by the fireplace in the lounge.
What a macabre, head-banging, delusional freak, right?
Me? My husband died in my Mother’s house. And sometimes, when Mum’s not looking, I go into the bedroom where He took His final breath, open the cupboard and allow my eyes to drift along the rail of her clothes to where His jacket still hangs. It’s right at the end of the rail, tucked away so it can’t be immediately seen.
Some days I just look, then close the door. Other days I sniff it, then reach into the pockets. There are three used tickets to The Deep in Hull, a half-eaten packet of Extra-Strong Mints and His pill box (empty). In the top pocket, there’s a pen.
Below the jacket, at the bottom of the cupboard, is the overnight case He had brought in anticipation of a weekend at Mother’s.
Inside: wash bag (too painful to look through now, but I know it contains toothbrush, toothpaste, razors – items which still hold His DNA), jeans, a brown leather belt, one pair of brown Dr Marten’s boots (size 9), various jumpers and underwear. He had brought the pair of unworn Superdry socks I bought Him for Christmas too, but I had Him cremated in those.
Meanwhile, downstairs at poor Mother’s is the four pack of Guinness M had bought about an hour before He died. It sits on a shelf in the porch, tucked far enough behind the boxes of washing powder and detergent that it is not immediately obvious, but still, I always check for it, glinting through the gloom. I have forbidden her to get rid of it or to allow anyone else to drink it.
In the light of this, and other evidence (the vacuum packed contents of His wardrobe, His guitar, His ashes), I asked my counsellor today, “Am I building a shrine to M? Should I be getting rid of all this stuff, in order to ‘move on’?”
She looked at me with well-rehearsed neutrality. “You have to do what’s right for you. Some people may not understand it. But others – well, they will.”
I thought about the macabre, head-banging, delusional freak, and his wife’s prosthetic leg.
I understand, Uncle Gordon. I understand old son.