#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.

 

The Tale of the Bieber-haired Youth

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Cool-parent nonchalence

A Bieber-haired youth knocked on the door last week, asking if my daughter was in. I gave him my best Kenneth Williams face – specifically, the one one above from Carry on Jack.

“She’s going out,” I replied. “Whom shall I say called?”

Bieber scuttled off on his scooter without answering (sans helmet, I noted – presumably to avoid squashing the coiffe.)

When I turned to go back into the house, my daughter was standing in the shadows of the corridor with that half-mortified, half-excited look of young love. Bieber, she informed me, was in fact called “Dean.” He was – is – her boyfriend.

I tried to affect the cool-parent nonchalance I had been practising for this eventuality, though I admit, I hadn’t expected to have to use it quite yet. Surely sixteen is the threshold for this kind of indecency? They’re ten.

And while they’re not exactly Rene and Renata (having observed them since, with my binoculars, from behind various bushes and playground furniture, they barely acknowledge each other – such is the complexity of young love) it struck me that this is the milestone that many blokes I know dread the most. Dad meets The Prospective Boyfriend is a well-worn comedy trope for a reason.

Mark died B was just three, so the only parenting milestones he bore witness to were of the first steps / ohmygodwhatdidsheeat,noYOUchangethefuckingnappy variety. How would he have coped this this one?

I’ve been mulling this over since. The answer is, I have no idea. My own response has surprised me. I had thought I’d be all Cressida from Viz’s Modern Parents strip, but in fact, I’ve gone more Cressida Dick from the Met – setting up a series of strategic command bases to check what they’re up to next.

Mark approached everything, even the most grotesque of nappies, with a playful, sidelong glance. How would he have approached the Bieber milestone?

Mark and Bea

When Mark met B. Not Bieber.

 

 

 

 

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.

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…

Kardashian Tales of, like, Whoa!

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A staircase, yesterday.

Tomorrow evening marks exactly two years since Mark and I went upstairs together for a quick husband-and-wife congress, and only one of us came down again. (Alive that is. The other was in a body bag. Does that count?)

They tell me it gets easier. Even people who have lost their spouses tell me this, and they are generally the only people I am prepared to believe.

In fact, I had a text from one of my widow phone-a-friends last night testifying to this very fact.

“It gets easier with time. Honest.”

But my response was:

“I know you’re right. But it doesn’t feel like it should, though.”

What I meant, of course, is that it feels disloyal, somehow, for ‘things to get easier.’ This is a pointless sentiment, I know, yet I find it tempers almost everything I do.

Because certain things have got easier.

I am no longer wandering about in the mist of disbelief – I’m living again. I can feel the rush of the wind, the warmth of a tentative north-east sun, the pot-holes in the pavement beneath my feet.

I am enjoying the occasional, sometimes difficult-to-reconcile, company of another man.

And surely the barometer of whether things are improving: I am able to get affronted about trivial shit again. (Did Khloe Kardashian REALLY blow Kanye’s engagement surprise for Kim? I mean, like, what is her problem??)

But each time I have these moments of reprieve, it’s as if grief’s thumb reaches out from behind the silver-lined cloud and lodges itself into my forehead.

I guess this is because the reality of Mark’s death – the fact that He is no longer here, and never will be again – doesn’t, and shouldn’t, get easier. Unlike Kardashian tales of, like, whoa!, His death is a genuine fucking affront.

And be it two years or twenty years from the moment we climbed those stairs, it always will be.

Him and her

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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.

“Uhuh.”

“‘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?

Please send back my leg-warmers.

leg warmers photo from flickr by iluvrhinestones

leg warmers photo from flickr by iluvrhinestones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sudden death of a spouse is fucking rude.

It waltzes into your life without invitation and gives you no opportunity for recourse. I want to tap it on the shoulder and say, excuse me but…fuck off. Can you come back in, say, 50 years time? And give us warning next time?

It brings to mind those excruciating moments when one ‘breaks up’ with a boyfriend. The build-up. The announcement. The returning of items which held so much weight at the time:

“Please send back my leg-warmers and the Belinda Carlisle album, asap.”

Sudden death affords no such luxury. One minute, the love of your life is alive. The next, they are dead. You have no chance for discussion, no build-up, no demands for significant items to be returned. Indeed, you are left to look through things belonging to your beloved and decide what is significant or not.

When M died, there were a couple of boxes of memorabilia I’d never seen. Not that He’d hidden them from me – we just hadn’t got round to them, as a couple.

I asked my oldest friend in the world to come and sort through them with me. Contained within were photos, letters and pictures that revealed a whole other side to my husband.

“What’s this photo of?”

“Who is this?”

“What does this mean?”

We spent an evening trying to decipher His life ‘before me’. Of course, we reached no conclusion. There were no answers, because the only person who could provide them was gone. So I have boxes full of unanswered questions in my loft.

I wish I had a few moments just to ask Him about the contents of those boxes. What? Who? When? Where?

But this is the nature of sudden death. It gives you no time.

Fucking rude.