#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.

 

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.

Survival of the Unfittest

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Paris, August 2014. This is the part of me – and Mark – that survived

I’ve never been much of a sportswoman.

The subs bench of the netball team was about as far as my career in Phys. Ed. went – shoved reluctantly on court when the regular Wing Defence was off playing first team hockey. I blame my low centre of gravity and the fact that I am a lover not a fighter (give them a bib with letters on and women turn VICIOUS).

It continues today – I’m the one in the swimming pool who does two lengths with a pinched expression, then gets out with entirely dry hair.

As an evolutionary theory, ‘survival of the fittest’ is open to interpretation, but if it has anything to do with physical prowess, I’m done for.

Imagine my surprise then, two years and seven months post-sudden death of husband, to find that I have survived. But not just survived. From the broken pieces, regrowth is underway.

Grief textbooks tell us that the success of our ‘recovery’ depends on many things – support networks, family, friends  – and our individual ‘inner resource’. The latter is an elusory concept; you don’t know the depth of yours until you are required to plunder it with your bare hands.

I continue to plunder mine; I still haven’t reached the bottom, thank god, for whilst I have survived and flourished up to now, I am only too aware of the duplicitous nature of grief. It could have me back on my withered arse tomorrow if it so desired.

But when I reread the desperate diary scrawlings of two years and seven months ago – the diary entitled ‘Random Ruminations Since We Parted’ – I feel a distance from those thoughts. I still recognise them, but they don’t stoke the fire in my heart in the way they used to.

In fact, if the fittest are the ones who survive, then I consider myself the Jade Clarke of the grief circuit. (That’s British Netball’s Wing Defence and Captain to you).

 

 

 

 

I’m going in…

I’ve spent the morning cross-legged under my letterbox, awaiting a delivery from the postman.

It's all the words that are putting me off...

It’s all the words that are putting me off…

And lo! Said delivery finally dropped onto the doormat (Inevitably just after I’d given up hope and left my vantage point in favour of Facebook.)

The first, long-awaited copy of Me After You, my memoir about life since Mark’s death.

Thing is, I hardly dare open it.

It’s all the words that are contained within it that are putting me off – the ones which raged from my broken heart onto the keyboard over five fraught months. They’re as precious to me as little pearls, those words; they are fierce, tender, raw, profane, downright dirty in parts.

But most importantly they are truthful, which is all I really wanted from them in the first place.

But what if they don’t look right? What if, now they’re out there, you don’t like them, or the calamitous tale they recount?

The book has been a labour of love. It has permitted me to spend time with my husband every day, to exhume Him and all the memories that go with Him.

It is also proof that if you believe in and love something passionately enough, with all of your heart and every sinew, you can achieve anything.

Ah fuck it. Mark, pet – this is for you. I’m going in…

Just one more thing…

I’m back, Columbo-style (minus cigar and seedy mac), to share my book cover with you.

It’s hot off the press at Random House and I wanted to let you see it. When I look at it I feel proud, tearful and slightly wibbly in equal measure.

FYI – it’s Rioja in the cup. Say nowt.

Me After You book cover reveal - a proud and wibbly moment.

Me After You book cover reveal – a proud and wibbly moment.

 

The End?

Family portrait - 2014

Family portrait – 2014

I haven’t written much lately – not on the blog, at least. Most of my writing energy has been expended on the final draft of my book, which, being that it deals with the tumultuous and largely wine-soused course my life has taken since Mark’s death, has taken the place of the therapy offered here.

After Mark survived His sudden and savage illness in 2008, He had one goal: never to let it define Him. He took the pills, checked in for INR tests, trundled down to Oxford for His annual review. He reluctantly acceded to these things because a man with a stethoscope and big glasses told Him He had to.

A less optimistic person may have allowed the regime to take over their lives. But not my husband. It spurred Him on to achieve and conquer. In fact, most of the time He’d have you believe it never happened. (Except in those rare, dark moments of reality which seeped in unseen and made us both sob at the cruelty of it all.)

When I started this blog just over a year ago, it was a giant primal scream into the ether. I had no expectations, just the hope that it might help me cope with the pain of losing Mark.

Turns out, it has.

Thanks largely to those people who have stayed with me, read, commented, understood (or tried to) – and even the odd person who told me I was talking shit – I have realised that I am not alone or abnormal in my grief. And whenever I have felt that I may have stagnated on this journey, I only need look back to my early, frantic posts to see how far I have actually come.

But like Mark with His illness, I don’t wish to be defined as A Widow. I will always be one, but I owe it to Mark to try and live my life beyond that persona.

The book is now finished. My feeling is perhaps so is the blog.

It’s A Small (Small, Small, Small) World

My daughter and I have recently returned to the homeland after a trip to Eurodisney.untitled (10)

She, light of spirit. Me, light of wallet.

And of weight, given the amount of time I spent on various squatters, home and abroad, in a state of abject angst.

Everything represented a challenge to me, from the boarding of the Eurostar (now my only remaining route off the Island as flying, ferry boats and the front-crawl are out), to dining out.

Being on the Metro felt akin to being buried alive. I feared intruders in the night in our tiny, ground floor apartment. And those irritating little hairdryer-powered scooters they all skitter about on over there were like swarms of hornets out to get me and my child at every corner.

Fortunately we were in the care of an understanding and endlessly patient friend, who organised and ushered us around like a small but highly troublesome school party, and dealt with my sudden gush of tears on the RER with a deft wipe of a tissue and a rousing chorus of ‘It’s A Small World’.

And of course, being in Paris itself was a challenge. Mark lived there, studied there, flounced around its trottoirs wearing turtle-neck jumpers and smoking Gauloises with well-rehearsed Gallic insouciance. We loved, Paris, He and I, almost as much as we loved our Geordie homeland.

Time away is becoming more and more difficult since Mark’s death. Crushing transportation fears aside, the truth is, I simply don’t want to go anywhere. Coming home, to our little village, I feel a weight lift in my heart. It cocoons us, this place, and increasingly, I don’t want to leave it.

“You’ve got some help, mate,” my friend told me as we bade farewell at the end of our Small World weekender. “You’ve always been anxious, but it has reached a new level.”

The world has indeed become smaller. But at this rate, I’m worried it’ll soon end at my front door.