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.

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Me After You

Like most writers, I find that I am able to articulate more freely on the page than in conversation – (except after a few beers, after which I am SENSATIONALLY verbose.)

After Mark died, I was unable to write a single meaningful word for over a year. I tried to keep a notebook, but the words which tumbled out into it refused to form into sentences.  The novel I was writing at the time is still half finished on a memory stick at the back of my drawer.

This blog was my first attempt after eighteen long months to give shape to my thoughts. And it became like a release valve, blowing plumes of pent-up grief into the ether and receiving love and support in return.

I am proud to announce, therefore, that my memoir Me After You, based on this blog, is to be published by Virgin Books in July. The news was made public this week, and you can read about it here.

Mark was always the biggest advocate of me and my writing (with the exception, inevitably, of Mother).  Me After You is a labour of love, dedicated entirely to Him.

Thanks all for reading and commenting over the past ten months. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Storms, floodgates and other climatically-motivated emotional cliches

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Me, waiting for the shit-storm to hit

I’ll admit, I was perched on my settee yesterday, looking at my watch, just waiting for the shit-storm to hit.

It was the anniversary of His death, you see, and we all love a good anniversary to make us feel like we Ought to be feeling a Certain Way.

I mean, it’s not like I don’t miss Him every other day of the year. But the Anniversary of His Death is supposedly more saturated in pathos than all of those other days put together.

So I sat there, waiting.

Inevitably, it came. But it was as a result of an action, not the weighty significance of the day.

I went to post something poignant on His Facebook page. (For whose benefit, incidentally? Mine, or His 99 friends who needed reminding that today was, you know, The Day, and therefore they could think about Him again, raise a glass, and say R.I.P. wistfully into the air?)

Anyway, I tried to access His page via my I-pad, which took me not to the page, but directly into a trove of forgotten messages we had exchanged, and which I hadn’t looked at for over two years.

His voice suddenly leapt out at me from the screen. The voice I have forced myself to turn off, full of daft-arse expressions that have withered from my lexicon since His death.

The shit-storm duly hit. (Thank god. Imagine if it hadn’t? What would that have said about me, Him, and the significance of The Day?)

Of course, once the floodgates were opened, there was no stopping the storm. I have held it back by whatever means necessary for the past 24 months; it was bound to take any opportunity it got to wreak emotional devastation.

By eight PM I was so wrung out, knocked so far back in my grief ‘journey’, I could do nothing but stagger up to bed.

Today, the storm has passed. But I am asking myself: Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, the-date-we-first-locked-lips; He and I never felt the need to mark any of them. So why should the date of His death be any different?

Lost in Translation

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Mirth and marriage

Here is the problem with admitting that you may be beginning to feel the gentle rays of happiness in your life again after the sudden and untimely death of your spouse:

You say: “I may be beginning to feel the gentle rays of happiness in my life again after the sudden and untimely death of my spouse.”

People’s internal Google-translate hears: “I am over my husband’s death and have finally moved on! Dig your wet-look leggings out of the wardrobe and let’s have a P.A.R.T.Y.!”

So I’m relying on you to turn your Google-translate off and really listen to the words I am saying.

I may be beginning to feel the gentle rays of happiness in my life again after the sudden and untimely death of my spouse.

Who knew, right?

I didn’t think the word ‘happiness’ would enter my lexicon again, but there it is, nestling in nicely alongside those old stalwarts, ‘misery’ and ‘devastation’, with its jaunty double, double consonants.

Perhaps I didn’t give the New Year enough credit for its capacity for ‘renewal’, but the further I edge into 2014, the more determined I feel to start living again.

It is almost two years since Mark died, and it feels like both a lifetime and the blink of an eye. But what would He say if He thought I were still here, stymied by grief, feeling guilty about making the next move?

“Haway, man, Pet,” He’d say. (You may refer to Google translate here).

Don’t get too excited, mind. This does not mean the ache goes away, nor the tears, nor the moments of worthlessness. In fact, I may be back to square one tomorrow.

Today though, I think what it means is that the grief and the trauma have taken enough. I just want to be happy.

The Voluptuous Spanish Beauty

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The wrist, with its watch that still keeps time

I brought one of Mark’s belongings into re-commission the other day.

You know, one of those hallowed material remnants of His life which have been taunting me from the back of the cupboard for the past 23 months.

One of those remnants which, prior to His death, were of negligible importance, but which have now been conferred with Heritage status.

These remnants include:

  • shoes (still complete with footprints and a vague lingering whiff)
  • clothing (including a pair of slightly-soiled Primark pyjamas)
  • a wristwatch that still keeps time
  • old bus passes
  • shopping lists written in His hand
  • an Amazon receipt for a cream-coloured slow-cooker
  • and the man-bag I have just exhumed from the attic and decided to use for work.

It felt strange to see the bag back in use, slung over the back of a chair with things in it. 

Stranger still was to feel about in its pockets to find a forgotten Metro ticket and a screwed up clump of tissue, presumably still imbued with His DNA. My compulsion to use it, when I have so many handbags of my own, is inexplicable to me, yet it did bring with it a sort of comfort.

It’s difficult to know what to do for the best with the other items, for really, they serve no purpose other than to jab at my heart every time I see them, yet to dispose of them would be somehow irreverential. Even the Amazon receipt, which bears nothing of Him except His name and evidence of what He bought.

The remnant which causes me the most chagrin, aside, of course, from the Contents of The Box Which Must Not Be Mentioned, is His guitar. It is a voluptuous Spanish beauty with whom He was deeply in love.

I opened the case yesterday, just to see it again, and ran my fingers over the fret board and the strings. I realised it has been lying there all these months, slowly going out of tune.

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 Little Post-Christmas Pep

English: A postcard from 1919, with artwork of...

English: A postcard from 1919, with artwork of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those in search of a little post-Christmas pep, please refer to another website. Possibly that of hardy pep-perennial Noel Edmunds, or anyone from Steps. This post is for curmudgeons only, so if that’s you, pull up a chair.

The Big Day is over, and thanks to good friends, five kids, three dogs and Tesco’s wine department, I’m out the other side.

I’m not going to lie – in those moments when I allowed thoughts of my husband to seep in, it was tough, especially as I spent the day within the Instagrammed glow of my oldest friend’s beautiful and very much intact family. Me, my daughter and the dog, amid what ‘should have been’.

I found myself gazing at my friend’s husband as he set about the tasks of a family Christmas – placing a Santa-sized footprint on the hearth, filming the kids as they opened their gifts, painting the new guinea pig hutch, responding patiently to the incessant calls of Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!

My heart ached for Mark, for all that He was missing – most notably the look of delight on our daughter’s face when she opened the most repulsive present ever conceived – a shitting daschund toy by the name of ‘Doggy Doo’. But also all the feasting and the festivities, which were the aspects of life He loved most.

At one point, glassy-eyed and full of fizz, I grabbed hold of my friend’s husband and snivelled into his neck.  It took me another flute of champers and a bout of Michael Buble-inspired mirth to pull myself round.

I’m bobbing along on the surface of the season like one of those turds that won’t flush, and still have a New Year and the 39th birthday of my husband to contemplate before I can fully relax into the countdown to the second anniversary of His death.

I did tell you to refer to Noel.