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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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).

 

 

 

 

The Stephen Fry of the playground

I’ll admit it. Young children bore me. Up until they reach the age of about seven, I couldn’t be less fascinated by what they have to say. The_Thinker_Rodin-2

They undoubtedly feel the same way about me though, so I don’t feel too guilty about the admission.

(I refer to my child here, by the way. Yours might be the Stephen Fry of the playground, in which case I’d love to buy them a latte and have a chat.)

But is a five-year-old child capable of introspection?

Last night mine interrupted Masterchef to tell me she was going to the bathroom in order to have a think about Daddy.

“About who?” I asked, distracted by the pannecotta on the screen which looked indisputably like a breast with a huge nipple. (Greg’s grin when he saw it suggested he thought so too.)

“About our Daddy, what died,” she replied.

Off she tootled to the john and shut the door behind her.

She was in there a long while. After Greg had sampled the breast (predictably, he LAHVVED it), I knocked and opened the door.

“Get out!” she barked. “I want to be on my own so I can think.”

When she came out I asked her what she’d been contemplating.

“I was thinking about when Daddy died,” she replied.

“Oh. And did you feel happy when you thought about Daddy, or sad?”

“I felt happy and sad.”

Like Dianne Weist in Parenthood trying desperately to connect with her surly hormonal son, I found myself saying;

“I’m here if you want to talk. Or if not, talk to Mrs X at school. Or perhaps Mrs Y. Or Grandma! Or Aunt!”

She nodded at me like I was deranged, then asked for an Oreo.

Finally I find myself genuinely interested in something she has to say, but unlike her views on Barbie and the Secret Kingdom, she is suddenly unwilling to share.

Following behind with a defibrillator

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The auburn curls.

Everyone believes their spouse to be exceptional; as a lover, perhaps, or a parent. Or a bore.

My husband was exceptional in many ways, right down to the exceptional nature of the genetic affliction which eventually saw Him crashing out of life in an exceptional manner one unexceptional Saturday in February.

Genetic science has not evolved enough yet to understand why Mark’s aortic dissection happened in the first place. They’re saving His remaining DNA for a point in the future when somebody in a lab coat and big glasses is able to work it out. (The geneticist did explain it all to me, but my brain reacted as it always does when confronted with science – implement the shut-off valve and begin thinking about wine.)

The fear now is whether my daughter may have inherited whatever rogue element was to blame for her daddy’s death.

Most of the time, I am able keep my fears in check. I watch her running full pelt down the road and manage to stop myself from following behind with a defibrillator, ‘just in case’.

Yesterday though I had a moment of tear-filled panic. I was brushing her hair and noticed a couple of depigmented strands in amongst the auburn curls. Three or four white hairs, like lengths of cotton. I admit that I am apt to overact, but hear me out on this.

Mark too suffered from hair depigmentation – it ran in a line, starting in the hair on His head, down through an eyebrow, the wiry hairs of one nostril, on through His beard and into His chest hair. Use your imagination for the rest.

After His aortic dissection, the geneticist suggested this depigmentation might be significant in why it happened. A tenuous connection to the Neural Crest Mosaic, which links the cells responsible for the development of pigmentation and the aorta in a growing foetus. Or something equally baffling to a simpleton like me. It sounded convincing at the time though.

So yesterday, I found myself plucking the offending strands from my daughter’s head, examining them in the sunlight, placing them against my black jeans, mentally preparing a frenzied email to Mark’s geneticist.

My daughter is exceptional – to me, at least – but I hope to Christ this is one area she remains run-of-the-mill.

Status report 2014: Husband still dead

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Happiness is…a shitting plastic dachshund

Despite the claims of my horoscope and Zara’s Spring wardrobe, 2014 has thus far offered nothing in the way of transcendental change. My husband is still dead. I’m beginning to think He always will be.

The festive season has been and gone, thank god, and I must send a shout out to those stalwarts who supported me through it.

It remains, however, a bloated turkey fart of a fortnight and I have come to the conclusion that it will never be the same again. The LED-lit jollity was bad enough when He was alive. Now it represents a poxy string of lights flashing around an empty wallet and an even emptier heart.

On the positive side, my daughter got the present of her dreams (yes, Santa delivered on the shitting plastic dachshund), and I was provided with evidence yet again – if any were needed – of the impenetrable nature of my human safety net. No matter how much shit I throw at these people, they just won’t leave me alone.

Over the festive fortnight they persisted in being there whenever my mood plummeted, armed with a salmon nibbly bit or a nice portion of Christmas pud. They sent me texts to let me know they were ‘thinking of me’. Even when I was hiding behind the settee at the strike of midnight at New Year, they sniffed me out and force-fed me champagne until I stopped crying.

And I logged into the blog to find messages of love from the ether too. People I don’t even know who wanted to say they were rooting for me.

Whilst I still enter 2014 with a heavy heart, it is comforting to know there are so many people out there who are prepared to take on some of the weight.

So thank you – and here’s to a Happier New Year?

And your point is…?

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Grandpa with his youngest great-grandchild

My grandpa died on Friday. He was 95 years old and quite a fella. You can read about him here: http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2013/news/renowned-journalism-training-chief-dies-aged-95/

He’d been in a Kit-Kat coma for a few months prior to his death. That is to say, his sole focus was Kit-Kats and the consumption thereof. You’d go into the care home to visit him and he’d scan you from top to toe with his eyes, trying to work out where you’d hidden the little rectangle of joy.

My sister and I saw him the day before he died, which also happened to be his birthday. He had emerged from the Kit-Kat coma and moved into another place, far beyond us, somewhere out of the window.

“I’m waiting for my grand-daughters,” was the single coherent sentence he managed to utter.

“We’re here, Grandpa.”

His gaze shifted between my sister and me, then he said: “Help me.”

“What do you want help with, love?”

“…I don’t know.”

Seeing this erstwhile cigar-chewing, Pusser’s Rum-supping titan reduced to the husk which now sat before us was more distressing than hearing the news less than 24 hours later that he had died. It was, to quote a platitude, ‘a blessing’.

But in the days that have followed, I have wondered about my reaction to the demise of my much-beloved Grandpa. For I feel a kind of numbness when I think about his passing. As if my grief quota has been reached and I am no longer able to process any more sadness.

Yes, I cried. But they were tears for my Dad, for an era, lost. And for the fact that I believe he had waited for my sister and me in order to permit himself to be free.

One of the old boy’s stock phrases was; “And the point is…” followed by a statement which didn’t have a point. Strangely though, with his death I can almost feel my ‘And Your Point Is?’ carapace growing another layer.

I always envied Grandpa his toughness. Perhaps in way this is his bequest to me.

Dave Myers’ hair as a metaphor for bereavement

Dave Myers’ hair isn’t the only tragedy of Saturday nights.article-2438145-185958B600000578-5_634x521

I bumped into a fellow widow in Sainsbury’s earlier (we get around, us widows) and we were discussing one of this blog’s favourite subjects – the tyranny of the weekend.

She agreed that the sagging void represented by the upcoming 48 hours was one of the worst things about finding yourself without a spouse. (That and the fact that your entire world has shrivelled to resemble melting Tupperware.)

A typical Saturday night for me is role-playing Timothy Lumsden with my Mother – but Timothy if he had a mobile phone and a drink problem. In fact, my Mother has been staying with me for a while for reasons I won’t bore you with here, so the Sorry! theme has extended throughout weeknights too.

And Mother has been observing. Clocking. Taking notes.

And she has brought it to my attention (through the medium of furrowed brows and mother-daughter telepathy) that I spend most of my evenings texting people and draining wine. While my daughter wears a groove in the laminate with her scooter.

Having thought about it, this is definitely a post-Mark’s death phenomenon. Endless messaging was not a feature of our evenings as a couple. I don’t even recall what we did in the evenings actually. Just existed, together, I suppose. Then retired to bed with our comics.

Now, I seem to rely on it. Live-streaming the outside world into my lounge has become part of my widow’s safety net. More evidence, if any were needed, of a regression to a sort of petulant grief-induced teenager-dom.

Mother has now moved back into her own house.

But I can still hear the sound of the brows knitting together through the wind…