#decadechallenge

 

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2010

Lucie brownlee

2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How’s your decade been?

Mine was a mixed bag. Lost a husband, gained Nietzschean resilience and a faux-fur coat. Every cloud.

It all started so well. Mark’s heart seemed to be shored up after the ‘cardiac event’ of 2008; we edged ever closer to North from Cheltenham to Yorkshire; our daughter (then two) seemed as if she might finally stop growling at people.

Two years in, on that unspeakable Saturday in February 2012, Mark died, and the decade as I’d planned it suddenly crumbled apart. ‘Time’ and ‘years’ – those chimerical concepts onto which we optimistically pin the structure of our lives – instantly lost their meaning. He’d been gone an hour and already it felt like forever. Soon He’ll have been gone eight years, and it feels like yesterday.

For anyone new to this loss of spouse stuff, I can tell you a little bit about the intervening years. I have scant recollection of the first one – it passed in a twelve-month hangover and the numb fog of disbelief. The second one, I spent writing – this blog, and a book featuring my version of what savage loss looks and feels like. (A heart-warming Christmas gift, folks!)

Through the rest, I have bimbled and spun. I have made some crushingly bad choices, investing myself in people who didn’t value me, or my daughter, enough; or hurting those who did. I’ve drunk too much red wine. Old worries have transformed into new worries, but in the spirit of my burgeoning anxiety distraction technique collection, we won’t dwell on those.

But I have made some sparklingly good choices too; those which have brought fun, and joy, and new meaning to my life. Old relationships have grown stronger, new relationships have flourished from the ashes.

And our daughter – my daughter – has gained ten years. She no longer growls; she whistles, with a gusto rarely seen. (TV theme tunes are a particular talent – she has perfected University Challenge and Only Connect.) But I can only look on in what feels like panic, or grief, as she loosens herself inexorably from where we have been barnacled to each other, and tiptoes into the surly freedoms of young adulthood.

With the turn of a year, many of us imagine renewal; transcendental change at the pull of a party popper. It is for this reason that resolutions are made, and for the same reason that resolutions are unmade three days later. Mine, if you’re interested, are to sod all talk of the end of the decade, and try and enjoy each day as it comes.

Instead, I’ll use it as a clumsy excuse to play Mark’s favourite song. Here’s Neil Young, from his album Decade. This is Heart of Gold.

 

Woman v G-Force

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Six months after Mark died I attended a course entitled “Overcoming Grief.” From the outset it seemed to me to be fundamentally flawed. Could grief really be overcome, like a dose of the flu or a profound dislike of Steve from Accounts?

I mentioned this to the course leader. She was such a lovely woman, what with her cupcakes and her clip-art, that I felt bad afterwards. And actually, whilst the course didn’t solve the issue of, you know, the death, it did help to move me along.

Below are some of the many attempts I have made at ‘overcoming’ my grief since. Perhaps reading them will make you feel less alone, or, if nothing else, give you something to fold your arms ‘neath your bosom and have a ‘tsk’ at.

I have tried writing my way through it. Drinking my way through it. Fucking my way through it. Drugging my way through it (prescription of course). Talking my way through it. Laughing, crying, bluffing my way through it. Buying my way through it (net result – cupboard full of fabulous shoes!)

I have tried apportioning blame and getting angry; I’ve tried telling myself how fortunate I am to have His child, for the happiness He brought to my life, for the fact that He died in my arms, unwitting, not frightened or alone. I’ve tried remembering the atrocities that are happening every day all over the world, being thankful for my family, friends, my home and my health.

It’s almost three years since Mark died, and despite my tireless wrestling and negotiation with grief, it still sometimes hits me with a force to make my face go like Clarkson’s (above).

Tomorrow Mark would have turned 40, and Grief Force has got me.

Warm milk and an Oreo

It’s taken me eighteen months, several hundred bottles of red wine, counselling, pills, the support of friends, strangers and a spirited editor at Virgin to try to articulate how it feels to have lost Mark.

It took my daughter thirty seconds, a cup of warm milk and an Oreo to sum it up last night :

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Letting Box go

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Mark’s cherry twig

The prospect of interring your spouse is a bit like being asked to sleep with Prince Charles. In a way, it should be a great honour, but you’d give anything not to have to do it.

Regular readers of this blog know that we are engaged in a kind of stand-off, the Box of Ashes and me. We have spent the past 32 months eyeballing each other across a no-mans land of fury and disbelief.

What are you going to do with me now then, eh?” Box seems to taunt, and I, and I…I simply close the wardrobe door and walk away.

For this is about more than just putting a box of dust into the ground. It marks The End in so many more ways than one. Interring the ashes is the interment of dreams, of a future planned. It makes the truth indisputable – He is well and truly gone.

A few months ago, I bought a plot in a woodland cemetery. The nice man met me there and by the end of the conversation I was so enthused by the idea of becoming part of ancient woodland, of the ongoing cycle of life, that I could barely wait to get in there myself never mind bury my husband. I whipped out my chequebook and reserved our spot there and then.

But when I returned home and opened the wardrobe, the sight of Box undid all of the good work of the nice man. Letting Box go felt like…well, letting go.

On Saturday I visited the plot for the first time with my daughter. We planted a tree – a wild cherry, symbolic of Mark’s love for the cherry blossom of His days in Japan. It is nothing but a thin twig at present, but it was lovingly allotted and bedded-down by my daughter’s welly boot and will flourish and grow along with her. And sure enough, during the ceremony, amid the mud and the mizzle, a sensation returned. Irrefutably, there it was – a feeling of oneness and peace.

Box still taunts from the wardrobe, but my feeling is his time may be up.

Missing Persons

I switched the TV on the other night and there was Fern Britten in a pair of saucy white jeans, admiring the relative straightness of my Grandad’s runner bean. Which is odd, as my Grandad died over ten years ago.

Of course, on closer inspection it turns out that Fern was on an allotment and the runner bean grower was a bloke who looked just like my Grandad. But the Grandad I knew twenty years before he died, all round-chops and belly-laughs.

And suddenly, at that moment, I yearned for Grandad’s face. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen it for thirteen long years, and I would never, ever see it again. I wanted to dance cheek-to-cheek with it to Rod Stewart’s ‘I Am Sailing’, like in the picture below.

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Sitting on that settee, lips locked round the side of a wine glass, I felt Grandad’s loss deep in my guts. It caused me to think of the other faces I miss. This one, for example. Grandma, who died five days before Mark, and consequently for whom I feel I have never mourned:

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And this one: Gran, who died almost a year after Mark:

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And Pomps, gone almost six months already:

 

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And then thoughts turned, as they always do, to the face I miss most. Occasionally, as with Fern and the runner bean allotmenteer, I think for one heart-thumping moment that I see it; on a train, in a café, lying on the pillow next to me in the night, surrounded by a fuzz of curly ginger hair.

But when the moment passes, and I’m left to think of it, or stare at it in photographs, it seems inconceivable to me that I will never see it again.

 

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Sphincter-clenching transgressions of youth

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Eee, hiya Rodney!

Up to now, the only ‘flashbacks’ I have experienced have been mainly based on the sphincter-clenching transgressions of youth; you know, being ushered off stage at a gig in the Student Union after drunkenly taking over the mike, or shouting ‘Eee, hiya Rodney!’ at Nicolas Lyndhurst as he came out of Pimlico Tube station during his serious acting phase.

This weekend, I experienced a flashback of the moment – the very moment – my husband died, and unlike a mere ‘memory’ of it, the flashback transported me to the bed in Mother’s house where He lay before me and I sat looking at Him wearing nothing but a cold shroud of disbelief.

The flashback accosted me on a single track country road in Shropshire of all places, where seconds earlier my only thoughts had been how glorious the weather was in this hitherto undiscovered county. Ergo, it had no place nor reason to suddenly confront me in the way it did. But it did, all the same.

I reacted the way I suppose most people who become reacquainted with a moment of extreme trauma do; by hyper-ventilating and threatening to be sick all over Shropshire’s ancient hedgerows.

Later, equilibrium restored, wine glass in hand, I found myself secretly frightened by the flashback. Unlike Rodney’s exit from the Tube, this was a genuine revival of the worst moment of my life, and it had the power to mentally and physically eviscerate me. And scarier still, it had come from nowhere.

Fortunately I had been in the company of a friend when it happened, but what if I had been alone, or worse, with my daughter?

Suddenly those transgressions of youth don’t seem so bad after all.

Kardashian Tales of, like, Whoa!

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A staircase, yesterday.

Tomorrow evening marks exactly two years since Mark and I went upstairs together for a quick husband-and-wife congress, and only one of us came down again. (Alive that is. The other was in a body bag. Does that count?)

They tell me it gets easier. Even people who have lost their spouses tell me this, and they are generally the only people I am prepared to believe.

In fact, I had a text from one of my widow phone-a-friends last night testifying to this very fact.

“It gets easier with time. Honest.”

But my response was:

“I know you’re right. But it doesn’t feel like it should, though.”

What I meant, of course, is that it feels disloyal, somehow, for ‘things to get easier.’ This is a pointless sentiment, I know, yet I find it tempers almost everything I do.

Because certain things have got easier.

I am no longer wandering about in the mist of disbelief – I’m living again. I can feel the rush of the wind, the warmth of a tentative north-east sun, the pot-holes in the pavement beneath my feet.

I am enjoying the occasional, sometimes difficult-to-reconcile, company of another man.

And surely the barometer of whether things are improving: I am able to get affronted about trivial shit again. (Did Khloe Kardashian REALLY blow Kanye’s engagement surprise for Kim? I mean, like, what is her problem??)

But each time I have these moments of reprieve, it’s as if grief’s thumb reaches out from behind the silver-lined cloud and lodges itself into my forehead.

I guess this is because the reality of Mark’s death – the fact that He is no longer here, and never will be again – doesn’t, and shouldn’t, get easier. Unlike Kardashian tales of, like, whoa!, His death is a genuine fucking affront.

And be it two years or twenty years from the moment we climbed those stairs, it always will be.