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).

 

 

 

 

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In with the New

untitled (6)The great thing about building a new life in a new place, with new friends, a new dog and a whole new capsule wardrobe, is that you are able to trick your psyche into thinking you’re in control of your grief.

Sure, you continue to think about the old life, the one that ended so savagely, so suddenly on an idle Saturday in 2012, but if everything around you is ‘new’, you are spared reminders of the gut-wrenching reality of what has really happened.

New things serve as a shiny length of gauze over the gaping wound around your heart. They have no trace of your spouse’s DNA in them; they don’t conjure a memory of His laughter, a throw-away line He may have said.

Then a reminder from your old life comes blundering in and plants a turd in your carefully constructed shelter of denial, catapulting you back to the blubbering heap of two years ago. (Actually, that’s not strictly true – I wasn’t a blubbering heap two years ago – I was a functioning automaton. It took at least six months for my nervous system to catch up.)

So there I was this weekend, taking afternoon tea in celebration of the sixtieth birthday of a friend from said ‘old’ life. The finger rolls had barely touched down on the table before I felt the slow rise of despair in my gut.

I had failed to anticipate how being surrounded by a gaggle of twenty women from my former life would make me feel. They knew me before I met Mark. They followed us through our courtship. Some were guests at our wedding. Some were mourners at His funeral.

I looked around the table at these poster-girls for a happier time and wondered how much longer I could hold out before ruining my dear friend’s party with an unsavoury outburst of grief.

Finally I took my leave and veered off homeward in my car, barely able to see the road through the torrents of my new mascara.

I didn’t stop until I arrived back outside my new house, with its newly-rendered fascia and new front door.

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?

A Dispatch from Widow Twankey

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Me, last night.

I’m in love with a dead man.

Head over heels, lindy-hoppin’, hells-a-poppin’, TomKat-couch-jumpin’ in love. With a dead man. I think about Him and my heart swoons.

I remember the night we met. He was wearing a blue turtle neck jumper, blue jeans, and smoking a Marlboro light. He smiled at me and I was hooked.

“Mother,” I said to The Long-Suffering One that same evening. “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.”

And I did, four years and a small amount of petulance later. (“Well, when ARE you going to ask me to marry you then, for fuck’s sake?!”)

So in all of this – this being truly, madly, deeply in love with a dead man – where could there ever be room for anyone else? And furthermore, what sort of head-banging masochist would put up with being in a relationship with someone who was still in love with said dead man? Particularly one with a small child, a red wine addiction and a habit of unexpectedly breaking down in the throes of grief?

I have been forced to consider this question this week, after a good friend who only cares for my well-being, called me Widow Twankey and instructed me to ‘get a life’. I would have preferred a comparison with a more romantic heroic lead, but I suppose if the hairnet fits…

She said it in response to my admission that I’m lonely and might quite like a friend who is a boy. Her outburst was tempered with humour and red wine, but based on the adages relating to these two concepts and truth, I kinda know she meant it. Others are probably thinking the same, of course, but lack her eloquence to express it.

So, in considering this question, here’s where I’ve got to. I’m in love with Mark. And we exist together in the impenetrable love cocoon that I have created inside my head.

I’m just not sure how to go about letting anyone else in.

The poisoned fish finger

Fried fish finger

Fried fish finger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend entrusted me with her two daughters yesterday, thereby making me custodian of three little girls under the age of six. For an hour. Until their daddy came to pick them up.

Looking after other people’s children always makes me skittish as I am convinced that I am cursed and that they will fall foul of a falling Acme piano or a poisoned fish finger whilst in my care. These two, however, miraculously survived, and their daddy duly came to pick them up.

Hearing kids and their daddies interact always sends my heart into fluster, and I have to concentrate on not a) bursting into tears or b) shouting ‘Oh for fuck’s sake!’ in a really childish manner. Last night was no different.

“Have you got a cuddle for daddy?” he asked them.

“Yeah!” Within seconds they were trampolining on him, using him as a set of monkey-bars, swinging from his ears etc.

The moment reminded me of when Mark used to come in from work: the tail lights of the car edging into the garage, the shriek of ‘Daddy’s here!’ (me), the sound of the heavy car door slamming and then the sight of his face at the kitchen window, invariably contorted into some ludicrous expression.

When my friend’s husband arrived, I wanted to cuddle him too. I wanted to nuzzle my nose into his starched work-shirt collar and loosen his tie, and ask him how his day had been. I wanted to watch him flick through the post, then go to the fridge and help himself to a beer. Then I wanted my daughter to hug him and feel the sense of warmth and security that a returning parent brings.

Instead I kissed him sagely on the cheek and watched his reunion with his girls.

Turns out my daughter felt it too. As they were leaving, I heard great wails coming from outside. I ran out, gathered her up and asked;

“Whatever is it? Acme piano? Poisoned fish finger?”

She buried her head in my shoulder and cried: “I just want my Daddy.”

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: http://wonderfulcinema.com/

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.

We’re (not) going on a Summer holiday…

English: Victorian postbox Second one seen tod...

English: Victorian postbox Second one seen today, on a pebble-dashed wall in Upper Chapel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone I know is either a) on holiday or b) going on holiday shortly.

It’s the school summer break, see. And the law states that families must ‘vacate’ in some shape or form during this period.

My line is: “I don’t like holidays. I’m frightened of flying, so I’d rather stay at home.” And I’m sticking to it.

(The truth is, I’ve got no-one to go away with, even if I wanted to. Which I don’t, right, because I don’t like holidays and I’m frightened of flying, so I’d rather stay at home. Who wants an Italian piazza when you’ve got a row of pebble-dashed houses to look out onto whilst drinking your vino tinto?)

I probably sound ungrateful. Lots of people don’t have a chance to go on holiday, even if they have a spouse to go with. But the fact is, I don’t give a shit. I’m full of red wine and self-pity tonight, and this blog is GETTING IT.

I don’t want to go to Corfu with a friend. I don’t want to ‘do’ a Haven holiday in Whitby. I want to be doing anything, literally, anything, with my husband and my daughter. Even looking out on a row of pebble-dashed houses together would be peachy-keen.

The ‘holidays’ stretch out before me; a flabby surplus of time. Friends and family are fucking off to have fun with the people they love most in the world. They’re packing suitcases, ulcerating over whether they have enough swimming attire, running to Primark in a panic to get their last-minute lounger-wear.

Me? I’m happy to stay at home, because did I mention that I don’t like holidays and I don’t like flying?

I also love pebble-dash.