The Dismay-dar

Anders Zorn-The Widow

Anders Zorn-The Widow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Widows.  We’re a distinct race. We should have our own category on those local council equal opportunities forms. Just before ‘Other’ on the ethnicity list. Young or old, long-served or new-entrant, we share a language and a tacit understanding of each other that ‘non-bereaveds’ just don’t get.

I met a widow last night. A reader of this blog, in fact. She rushed up to me and wordlessly sobbed into my shoulder. We held each other for a long time, and then we belly- laughed about the inanity of widowhood. It was like a Surprise Surprise reunion, with the woman’s non-bereaved sister playing an uncomfortable Cilla on the side-line. Minus the teeth and wig.

We were immediately on each other’s radar. Or rather, ‘dismay-dar’ – the frequency of which can only be heard by other widows. We connected in a way that I haven’t connected with some of my oldest friends since Mark died.

In widowhood, I am constantly grappling with how I feel. This is as tedious for me as it sounds to you, which is why I offload it onto my counsellor. She is paid to listen, dispense advice, then move onto the next depressive in the waiting room. And for a non-bereaved, she seems to have a reasonable insight into the erratic mind-set of our race.

However, sometimes only another widow can sum up how you feel. And one comment on an online forum this week did just that. I’ve never met her, but this widow knows exactly where I’m ‘at’. She wrote:

I am not unhappy. But I’m not ready to be happy.

I’m willing to bet that others out there tuned into the ‘dismay-dar’ get it too.

Coitus interruptus

English: Hugh Hefner attending Glamourcon #50,...

English: Hugh Hefner attending Glamourcon #50, Long Beach, CA on November 13, 2010 – Photo by Glenn Francis of (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Death, mid-coitus. What a way to go, eh?

At least, that was the general consensus after Mark died, after the dust settled and we permitted ourselves an uneasy laugh about it. Another of those placatory, consolatory observations humans make when they don’t know what else to do or say.

Apparently, every bloke wants to pop his clogs in the sack. (Although perhaps not at 37 years-old with a small child and everything to live for. But I’m willing to bet Hugh Hefner’s got his fingers crossed.)

But what about the woman (or man) who is left lying spread-eagled in the wet patch? Can the psychological trauma of such an event – a life-affirming, joyful act turning suddenly into one which represents death and fear – ever be overturned?

Because whilst watching your lover die is never going to be a fun-filled spectacle, feeling their warm, naked body against you one minute and then watching it turn cold just seconds later is up there in the Top Ten Things You Never Want To Have To Go Through In Life.

Sex becomes imbued with a kind of terror. You start to wonder who else you might see off with your thighs. Heavy breathing comes to signify a climax of a very different kind. Facial expressions are apt to be misread.

My counsellor and I talk through such things. But these are thoughts and images which cannot be erased.

So whilst dying mid-coitus might sound like the fun way to go, I can tell you this for nowt – it’s not.

With special thanks to…

It’s just as well I didn’t take too much to heart the comments of one of this blog’s early detractors, as last night it won in the Best Personal Blog category of the Blog North Awards.DSC02412

I did nearly stop writing it at that time, for fear that I was deemed to be pissing on Mark’s ashes. Or not grieving correctly. Or writing a load of old cobblers.

But I’m glad I picked myself up and continued. (I’ll admit it took a while, but hey – I’ve faced off worse than that.)

Writing about life after Mark’s death has been better therapy than any amount of money could buy.

I’ve made friends through it, and garnered support from the most unexpected places.

It’s provided me with time to sit and think about the human being I loved more than any other.

So thanks for reading and voting for me.

With special thanks to Him there, in the hat.

Things You Don’t Tell Your Mother

There are certain things you don’t tell your mother.


Keeping me at arm’s length with a broccoli floret

Like how, when you were seventeen, you crashed her car into the gatepost while she was away in France and had it fixed out of your savings before she came back.

Or owning up to the true extent of what you got up to at University, and how little of it involved academic study.

Even now, close as we are, there are things I don’t tell my Mother. Partly to save her brow from further angst-incurred furrowing, but also because I have good friends and a counsellor with whom I ‘talk out’ my fruitier escapades.

Of course, when it comes to my own daughter, I like to think she does, and will, tell me everything.

Being five-years-old, this currently involves information about her latest bowel evacuation and news that she doesn’t like broccoli, (although she did tell me the Great Fire of London was in 1666 the other day, which really was news to me).

One thing she doesn’t discuss with me though, or even mention much these days, is Daddy. And I don’t push it, because I might cry and not stop, and she might end up as she usually does, wiping my tears and telling me everything will be OK.

I hadn’t thought much about this until I dropped her off at school this morning and her teacher asked for a ‘quiet word’.

Seems she’s been mentioning Him a lot at school. In the dinner hall. In assembly. She’s confided in staff that she’s sad that her daddy is dead and that she misses Him. She has sought comfort in the arms of teachers and dinner ladies.

I spent the rest of the morning ulcerating about this particular conversation starter. Arguably the most important and interesting of conversation starters for us to elaborate on, yet she keeps me at arm’s length with a broccoli floret.

She witnessed His death. She continues to witness the fall-out from His death. So why hasn’t she sought comfort from me?

Perhaps she’s trying to save my brow from further furrowing too.

Ways to spend an idle moment

Wobbly-Headed Bob resolves to commit suicide.

Wobbly-Headed Bob resolves to commit suicide. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love catastrophising, me. It’s one of my favourite pastimes. If my molars aren’t clamped together in angst, there’s something wrong.

Furthermore, I like nothing more than spending an idle moment picturing myself receiving bad news. Before Mark’s death, the worst combination of words anyone could have said to me were: “Mark is dead.”

In my reverie, on receiving this news, I saw myself, a sprawling, dribbling mess on the floor, unable to speak or move. I wept and wailed, pummelled my fists against my chest, and implored sweet Satan to explain why he had inflicted such sorrow upon my house.

Sometimes in my reverie I even went so far as to throw myself into the grave alongside my beloved, but that was only during a particularly tedious Powerpoint.

One thing I never envisioned myself doing though was looking at the stout little paramedic who delivered those very words and saying: “Right.”

I honestly did. I said: “Right.”

And then I made a cup of tea.

The reason I mention it is because last night I watched a documentary about the murder of Anni Dewani. Her husband, Shrien, is implicated in the death and whilst I have no idea whether he did it or not, a piece of footage was shown in which we see his reaction when he heard the news that she’d been found dead.

He is in a hotel corridor when he takes the blood-chilling call. Minutes later he is seen holding his hands up to his face and is led into his hotel room to be given a sedative. Then an hour later, he is seen prowling the hotel corridor on the phone to a friend, laughing and joking. What kind of maniacal psychopath would be LAUGHING after hearing his wife had been found dead? Surely that fucker wears guilt like a shroud!

Thing is, when I received that dreaded news, I was a dot-eyed, blank-faced caricature of what I always envisioned I’d be when faced with a statement of this magnitude. I may have laughed. I definitely drank. I didn’t, though, as I recall, cry. Not for a few days anyway. I didn’t break down and I didn’t commit suicide.

What this says about the Dewani murder I don’t know.

All I’m saying is don’t judge a griever by their laughter.

The greying boxer shorts with the hole in the crotch and other pressing issues

‘What should I do with the ashes?’

Him, her, me. Allegedly.

Him, her, me. Allegedly.

‘Does my daughter need counselling?’

‘Should I keep those rank, greying boxer shorts with the hole in the crotch that I found at the bottom of the washing basket after He died?’

The scope of the questions to be faced after the death of a spouse is relentless and seemingly without limitation. Which is probably why many bereaved partners choose to ignore them and drink alcohol instead.

Yesterday I found myself face-to-face with a decision I took in the immediate aftermath of Mark’s death and as per, I’ve spent the past 24 hours in a purgatory of self-interrogation.

It started with an innocent observation by a six-year-old child I was in the process of teaching. Six-year-old children tend to scrutinise adults from the head down, and this little girl was no exception.

“Are those your wedding rings?” she asked, pointing at the pendant swinging from my neck.


“My gran wears her wedding rings around her neck, but just on a chain. Not like THAT.”

“Does she?”

“She did it after me granda died. Why have you got yours like that?”

On this occasion the bell went and I was saved from having to explain that, like dear granda, my husband was dead, but I decided to have our rings welded together and an emerald fitted between the two to represent our daughter (it’s her birthstone).

And in a further adulteration of our wedding bands, I had the inside of my husband’s ring engraved with the words: ‘MLB – you complete me’.

And to add more insult to injury, the jeweller had renewed the rhodium plating, thus eliminating all trace of it ever having been worn by my husband. I might as well have selected one from the display cabinet and been done with it.

Why had I done this? Why hadn’t I kept it, like granda’s ring, with its scratches and its DNA, on a chain alongside the locket which holds Mark’s hair?

At the time I convinced myself that by creating a whole new piece of jewellery it would somehow help me to come to terms with the grave new symbolism of the bands we had exchanged just under six years previously.

But yesterday, I faltered under questioning and now I’m not so sure.

Battenburg, chin hair, dead spouses

I never imagined that I might ever have anything in common with a fluffy-haired, false-toothed septuagenarian woman. Except perhaps

Young Widow

Young Widow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

a penchant for Battenburg and the odd hair on my chin.

Yet there I was, my hand cupped around her tiny shoulder, uttering the words: We’re in this together, you and I.

She is known as Nana Shirley. She’s the village Nana, and is as much part of village fauna as the village Idiot, the village Drunk and the village Bike. I, of course, am the village Young Widow. A new character in the soap opera of village life.

Nana Shirley lost her husband, Len, recently. They’d been together over sixty years, childhood sweethearts, had never known anyone else. Len went into hospital for an operation and never came out.

I came across Nana Shirley walking down the street in her slippers. I smiled and continued past her, but then stopped and turned back.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m all right, pet,” she replied. “It’s the night-times that are the worst. When everyone’s gone. Well, you’ll know…”

I did and do know. It’s why I drink.

Young widows mourn the future. Old widows mourn the past. I used to think the former scenario was the worst (as if it were some kind of competition).

But I realised, standing there with my arm around that little, newly-bereaved woman, tacitly welcoming her into ‘the club that no-one wants to join’, that the death of a beloved spouse is heart-breaking, regardless of age.

Turns out Nana Shirley and I are in it together.

Him and her


This is Him, and her.

Hello. I’m having a glass of Rioja at the end of one of those ‘Oh sweet Satan’s ball-sack, I’m a TERRIBLE mother’ days. Will you join me?

I have had the emotional resilience of Wensleydale cheese today (crumbly, for all you non-Northern-English people). And I’ve been unable to toughen myself up.

And my child has both a) witnessed it and b) had to stay at my Mother’s whilst I spent time collapsing on the bed at home. It sounds melodramatic, but I swear, today, I’ve not even been able to THINK about, you know, Him, without going all Wensleydale.

I don’t know why it hits you like this. Anyone? Anyone?

If I’d even tried to compose a post earlier I wouldn’t have had the energy to press the buttons on the keyboard. Fortunately, Rioja has the same effect on me as spinach has on Popeye – it makes me strong to the finich.

It’s the school holidays and I’m up to my ears with the sound of kids shouting for their daddies. I’m sick of people rambling on about going on holiday together. I’m weary of people complaining about the forthcoming fortnight they’re going to have to endure with their husband and kids. I’d sell a kidney for the chance of a holiday with just Him and her.

“Are you cryin’?” My daughter asked me, as tears powered down my cheeks.


“‘Cos you miss Daddy?”

“U”- snort- “Huh”

She doesn’t say anymore than that these days. She just goes and gets a length of toilet paper from the bathroom and clumsily tries to stop the flow.

And I thought to myself today – with no level of profundity whatsoever – I thought, nothing really matters. Nothing.

All I want is you, Buble. Can you hear me?

Buzz, buzz, THWACK!

I’ve a bee in my bonnet just now and I need to release it otherwise it’ll never let me sleep.

And to be honest, I’m weary of the debate I’m about to reignite, but bear with me. It’ll only take a minute, then I’m back off to bed to worry about something else.

I acknowledge that some people don’t understand why I am writing this blog. They don’t understand my need to talk about my husband’s death, and the feelings and reactions it provokes, on a public forum. I have gone round in circles justifying myself until I have reached the conclusion that I should never have had to justify myself in the first place. I am a writer, this is how it comes out. Deal with it.

I reiterate: I am not ashamed of anything I have written and if you don’t like it, don’t read it. I have faced trauma over the past four years since my husband’s sudden illness and (even more) sudden death that a lot of people don’t have to deal with in a lifetime.

I am raising our child now, alone, doing the best I can. And she’s a superb individual, so I must be doing something right. Right?

But a message came through in the ‘comments’ section of a post I’d written the other day which sums this all up, once and for all.

It was a poem, written for me, by someone I don’t even know. The author, Shimky, might be male, female, black, white. They might live down the road or on the other side of the earth. All I know is that they drink White Russians and love cinema. Check our their blog here:

Fact is, Shimky read my blog and felt compelled to scribe the following in response to one of my posts. It spoke directly to my soul and is now pinned up In my office. It lifts me when I am down. And that’s all the justification I need.

(In response to the post We’re (Not) Going on a Summer Holiday)

Myself, I love the comfort of home.

Others may love to get up and roam

But I love the comfort of home.

Okay, so the balcony looks out

Onto a busy motorway

And the gang members block

That little passageway.

But me, I love the comfort of home,

Inseparable from my sofa

Like a bee from honeycomb.

Yes, the chimney stacks

Blow this way,

Greying out what could have been

A beautiful summer’s day.

But like I said, in the same monotonous tone,

Why pay for a bed

When here is one I already own?

From here I can almost see, almost smell

The offices in which I nine to five.

It’s Saturday, fuck the shopping,

We could go out for a drive.

And yes, you’re right, my daughter, his clone

Could do with a change

But why buy a brush when I already have my comb.

So how about something shorter?

A day trip to the hills, kicking through the furze.

Friday night was mine,

Sunday will be hers.

Death Mask

English: open padlock icon

English: open padlock icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Exposure Therapy starts next week. You know, where my counsellor and I take the ‘traumatic event’ out of its padlocked cell whence it is stored, deep within my cranium, and inspect it closely.

There are so many elements which contribute to the ‘traumatic event’, I wasn’t sure where we would start with this inspection. But I read something in a friend’s blog this morning which served to clarify my thoughts.

The salient memory is of M’s face, immediately after death.

It lurches out at me if I let it, trampling all the other joyful images associated with that face. I’ve said before that I didn’t allow myself to believe, initially, that He had died, but in retrospect, I knew. How did I know? The face told me.

The skin changed almost instantly from pink to grey. The eyelids were unbalanced – one open, one half shut. There was an expression on the face, one which I hadn’t particularly considered or tried to decode before reading my friend’s post.

She used to work in the funeral business and writes an excellent blog about her experiences within the profession. In her latest post, she discusses the worst things she saw as part of her job. Here is an extract, where she describes tending to the bodies of air crash fatalities:

“Sometimes(…) it is impossible to avoid thoughts of that person’s final, agonizing moments on this earth. The faces are frozen in time, showing extremely disturbing expressions in which incredible pain and terror are easily read. Usually, though, there aren’t faces…” (

I found it both heart-breaking and comforting to read her words. Because it made me realise that M’s expression revealed He died in neither terror nor in pain.

Though His life was cut unfairly, excruciatingly short, I honestly believe He died a happy man.