The Rule of Three

Dog sunny Day Afternoon

Dog sunny Day Afternoon (Photo credit: allert)

Do I resent the dog? I was signing a birthday card for my Dad today and there he was, the little git, his name third on the list of well-wishers after me and my daughter. I’d even drawn a cute little paw-print on his behalf in place of a kiss.

Thing is, the pooch wouldn’t even be part of the family, let alone sending paw-prints to my Dad, if M hadn’t died. He was a comfort purchase, a distraction. Something I’d always aspired to own, one day, once my desire to circumnavigate the globe and earn a million had been sated. Besides, M always vetoed such an acquisition. Ever the pragmatist, He worried it would end up like the dog pictured. Don’t worry – the hound is definitely part of the family now. Head on the pillow. Raincoat. Whiskey nightcap.  Much like the dog pictured, actually.

In the very early days, I found it hard to write cards without M’s name. I tentatively included Him on birthday cards, as if writing His name would magically mean our little family was still intact. Those in receipt of the cards must have thought I was delusional. But to not include Him was yet further evidence – if any were needed – that a) He was dead and b) I was now a single parent. My daughter and I, two lone female warriors in the cut-and-thrust world of greetings card etiquette.

When did I stop including Him? A few months after I got the dog, I think. The triumvirate that was M, me and our daughter became Me, my daughter and the dog. Not that the dog has replaced M, but somehow he makes me feel less alone. Despite his relentless bloody chewing and his exuberance to get up at the first sign of dawn, I like having him around.

It seems the rule of three exerts itself in grief, too.

Tales of the Unexpected

1st edition

1st edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Strange what a lock of hair comes to represent. I have ashes, I have clothes, I have footprints in shoes, but the lock of hair that I took from the body in the funeral home is the hardest thing to contemplate because it is the only thing which remains of the living being. Every other cell of His body is burned. I look at it (very occasionally) and remember running my fingers through it when it was part of a full head of hair.

I had an unsettling and slightly comedic thought last night (drink-fuelled and missing Him dreadfully) – what if I’d had Him stuffed? Like one of those glassy-eyed badgers you see in display cabinets, where the teeth are always not quite right. How wonderful would it be, I thought, to have Him sitting on the sofa in His usual spot, with every mole and blemish in place. Conversation wouldn’t be great, granted, but at least if I had Him posed with His hand reaching over to mine He would be there, instead of a pile of ash in my wardrobe. It would be like the old days – drinking in moderation whilst laughing at that Arts Correspondent on Channel 4 News.

Tales of the Unexpected plotlines aside, I just miss Him so much I swear given the option now I might just go for it. I have come to the realisation that He is in my head constantly on one level or another. Like tinnitus. Sometimes He’s loud, other times He’s just background noise, but He’s there nonetheless.

So, having forfeited the opportunity for taxidermy, the lock of hair is all I have left. What would Roald Dahl have made of that?

The sock, the genitals, the musical genius

Love Sick

Love Sick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James bloody Blunt. I wouldn’t listen to him unless my daughter (aged 5) didn’t keep asking to hear him in the car. Yes, it’s my C.D. But I was young when I bought it. And woozily in love with my husband.

I have forcibly rediscovered it and actually, I kinda like it. I’m putting that out there because this blog is about honesty and raw emotion, and though James is far cry from my main musical love, Bob Dylan, I have found myself on the motorway weeping at the profundity of his lyric. Well, OK, maybe not the profundity of his lyric, but the fact that he seems to record everything in D-Minor (the saddest of all keys), therefore rendering me a wibbling wreck.

I have talked before about Gary Barlow (the sock, the genitals, the musical genius), and the reaction he elicits from me since M’s death. But unlike M, music was never something that was hugely important in my life. I’ve always looked on in awe at people who have extensive vinyl collections and are able to talk about Northern Soul without reference to Ant n Dec. However, since He died, music has taken on new importance. I find solace in it in a way that I never have before.

Take Dylan’s lyric from If You See Her Say Hello:

And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart. She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart.

Listened to sung in Dylan’s inimitable plaintive warble, it is simply heart-breaking. My separation from M is akin to some kind of torture, but this one line may end up on His gravestone (if I can ever bring myself to give Him up to the grave).

Meanwhile: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgViOqGJEvM

Number 11

Take Out

Take Out (Photo credit: AMERICANVIRUS)

It’s hard not to feel the weight of the loss of one’s dead husband at a gathering where everyone is in couples. I have just come home from a night with some lovely friends, none of whom make outward shows of their togetherness (unlike those nauseating types like M and I used to be, kissing at every opportunity to the point where people would say ‘get a room!’). But the odd thing slips out which makes the widow in me lurch to the fore and shout ‘Taxi!’

The order for takeaway food tonight is a case in point.

“Let’s work out what each couple owes,” someone said.

It was fourteen pounds per couple. And seven pounds for me. I was number eleven in the group. The odd one out. I realise that divorcees may feel like this, or single people. But whether you loved or hated your ex-partner, or long for a meaningful relationship, the emptiness of the feeling of your partner having once been there – and the vacuum of the space that they once occupied – is so devastating, the only thing to do is pour another tumbler-full of Rioja and hand over the money.

I miss Him tonight. To me, He was so vivid in that group, I could see Him, sitting with the guys, riffing on the guitar.

I just wish it wasn’t Forever.

Bah, humbug!

English: Mint humbugs

English: Mint humbugs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hadn’t realised until I lost M just how many Hallmark Holidays we celebrate in this country. The obvious one is Father’s Day, which is currently taunting my every shopping trip with its Wisden Cricket Almanacs and jars of Mint Humbugs. I’m not even sure when it is, or if Fathers necessarily eat Mint Humbugs (presumably they do, in the same way that Mothers eat Terry’s All Gold). But for me, and every other widow and bereaved child,  it’s another reminder of the role that He is not around to fulfil.

The other ‘holidays’ are just as bad. Mother’s Day, for example, reminds me that I’m a Mother without a Father to complete the picture. Grandparent’s Day makes me wistful for the future generations who will only ever know M as a face on a photograph – a long-dead relative with whom they have no connection. Valentine’s Day…well, you get the drift.

Truth be known, we never had much truck with Hallmark Holidays. Even Valentine’s Day was usually marked with a hastily bought card from the offie and possibly a bunch of scraggly flowers (if He was lucky). But now they have taken on new resonance – a Valentine-festooned florist’s window reminds me of the flowers He’ll never (not) send me. Each Almanac seems to jump out at me from the shelf, waggling its dick, insisting I notice it. “I’m for DAD!” it seems to shout. “Remember him?”

Of course, there’s a huge element of self-pity in all this. As I said, I never gave it a second thought before. But just as when you buy a new car, everyone else on the road seems to have the same one, when your child loses her daddy, it highlights the feeling that everyone else’s is intact. Readying themselves to receive a Father’s Day card. And a jar of Mint Humbugs.

Bah!

Brain Freeze

English: a supply and demand graph showing the...

English: a supply and demand graph showing the effect of a tariff on imports (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I received a letter from my energy company today informing me that my Online Price Freeze tariff is coming to an end.

I couldn’t be less interested by this news, but apparently said tariff is ending in June and I need to act NOW in order to secure another tariff – possibly the Clear and Simple tariff (where the single rate unit rate pence per kWh is @ 12.496, inc VAT @ 5%) OR (the two rate day pence per kWh is @ 17.243, with a night pence per kWH 6.145) .

But that’s only if I pay by Direct Debit – it gets complicated if I want to pay by cash or cheque.

Sadly, M and I never reached that crucial ‘how many kWh per night / day plus VAT @ 5% do we want to pay for our electricity’ point in our relationship: He dealt with it and I agreed. Consequently I find myself adrift in a sea of utility company shit that I simply don’t have the capacity to deal with. Perhaps ‘capacity’ isn’t the word actually. ‘Being remotely interested’ is more like it.

I guess this is the one area that M and I slipped into stereotypical gender roles. As the main bread-winner and also having an interest in value-for-money / number crunching, He sorted all this kind of stuff – utility suppliers, car servicing schedules, house insurance. I now find myself having to deal with it, and being an educated, worldly individual ( who failed GCSE Maths 3 times), I think I should be able to cope. But I can’t. The car is due a service and I have been quoted a range of prices – and they all sound convincing in their own right (one of them includes a POLLEN filter change for fuck’s sake!) but I simply don’t know who is genuine and who is fleecing the arse off me. And do I NEED a pollen filter change? (According to the lady on the service desk, yes, I do.)

Same goes for the energy prices. I feel harangued in my widowhood and my single-parenthood. If someone could just be honest and tell me which is the best option for me and my daughter, I’d buy it, straight off the bat. Why does it all have to be so complicated and so fucking covert?

Don’t the bastards realise that my brain has frozen along with their Online Price Tariff?

Blind-ah Date-ah!

English: portrait of Fanny Cradock

English: portrait of Fanny Cradock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of months ago I joined an online dating agency. For a week. It took me that long to go on a date and realise I absolutely wasn’t ready to be dating, online or otherwise.

The site I used is run by a left-leaning, well-known national newspaper – I figured I’d get a sensitive type who’d understand and respect my request for ‘friendship’ only.

The application procedure for these sites is brutal. Take the section entitled ‘Preferences’ for example. One bloke had written that his ideal soulmate would ‘go like a rocket and cook like Fanny Cradock’. (And he had the audacity to ‘like’ me. He clearly ain’t tasted my cooking!)

In my ‘profile’, I tried to sound as fun as possible – you know, ‘outgoing, bubbly, widow’. In my own ‘Preferences’, I resisted the temptation to write ‘Must be six foot tall, own hair and teeth an advantage’, and simply stated that I missed male companionship and longed for some manly craic over a glass of pop.

The big night came and I agreed to meet my sensitive, respectful date outside a pub. And sensitive and respectful he was too – he’d starched his shirt beautifully and polished his shoes. However, I realised immediately I saw him that this was not going to work. And it wasn’t his bald patch that put me off, honest. Even if Ewan McGregor had been waiting for me outside that pub I would have felt the same.

It just felt totally wrong, being out with another man. Insensitive and disrespectful gropes with a plumber, yes. But potential real-life ‘relationship’ with a sentient individual, no.

When you’ve loved and lost your soulmate, I guess you can’t imagine it ever feeling right.

Retail therapy

Money Queen

Money Queen (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

After M died, I was awarded a moderate sum of money – a ‘death in service’ benefit from those kind people at the pensions company. The consolation prize, as it were.

Don’t get me wrong, I am hugely grateful for the support (many widows, I know, are left financially as well as emotionally bereft). In a perverse way, I am fortunate.

But the money presents a dilemma. I hate the fact that my beloved M had to die in order for it to come into my bank account. And I hate that when He was alive, we couldn’t afford to buy a home of our own, yet now my daughter and I are financially stable, He gets nothing. It’s what He would have wanted, I know; it is why He nominated me to receive it in the event of His death. But the money is tainted and utterly without joy.

There is, in fact, a large degree of guilt in spending it. I try to think, ‘What would He have wanted us to do with it?’ I have tried to invest. Not be too outlandish in purchases. Reserved part of it for my daughter’s future. But they are all investments in a future in which He will play no part – except for being generous enough to die in the first place of course.

Profligate spending is apparently a well-documented reaction in grief, together with excessively drinking (guilty as charged), recklessness (also guilty as charged) and a host of other destructive behaviours (*coughs*). Whilst I haven’t been particularly extravagant – the £150 boots were an investment and I need the £600 cocker-poo for company, OK? – I have surrounded myself with things I wouldn’t previously have been able to afford in the belief that they would somehow make me feel better and life more liveable.

The new Louis V armoir is sensational, but Christ, I’d give it all back for just one more minute in His arms.

A membership of widows

Blueberry

Blueberry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I had my daughter, I did what most other new mothers do. I joined groups in order to talk about the colour of my baby’s shit with other mothers. People without babies find this off-putting, but when it’s blue, as my daughter’s was one morning, the value of the shared experience can not be underestimated.

“It’s blueberries,” said another mother, examining the contents of my baby’s nappy. “Nothing to worry about.”

New widowhood is no different. After M died I scrabbled about on the Internet looking for support, asked earnest librarians for details of bereavement groups in the area, told friends to research places where I might get help. And on the whole, with the exception of that unpleasant experience with the Merry Widow (I mean, JESUS CHRIST, call that support..? – Ok I’m over it…), the value of what I’ve found has been inestimable to the grieving process. The knowledge that there are other people out there, all over the globe, going through their own blueberry moments, brings comfort where there is none.

Widowhood is often described as the club that no-one wants to join. But in this club, there is a whole membership of widows who reach out to me in a way that even my oldest friends can’t. I ask for their views on everything from ashes to anti-depressants, and an answer always comes back from the ether.

So since we’re sharing, here are two reflections I read recently from the newly-bereaved which particularly resonated with me.

1) Why is the first year supposedly the worst? How are two, three, ten years without my husband easier than one?

2) When my husband died suddenly, I wasn’t shocked or numb or any of those words people use. I was simply astonished that he’d gone.

Anyway, it’s 3 am and I’m going back to bed. I know there are widows still awake, sharing thoughts, all over the country though. And new mothers. Goodnight.

Can I get a Whoop-Whoop?

English: A rendition of the musical notation f...

English: A rendition of the musical notation for the chorus of “Jingle Bells”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blood, sweat, tears, and a bag of sick later, and I’m back from the States. It was always going to be a challenge (ref. earlier post), but the trip threw up some revelations in addition to the airline meal.

In other circumstances, it would have been a dream excursion. A week in The Hamptons (apparently for purposes of research, but mainly spent looking for Richard Gere who lives round the corner) followed by a long weekend in New York.  I should have been grateful to have been there at all. But like a moody teenager, I couldn’t shake off the cloud of malaise which had descended over me shortly before take off in Newcastle. No amount of whoop-whoops! or high-fives were going to dispel it.

I walked on beautiful beaches, ate wonderful food, was overwhelmed by the dazzling kindness of strangers. But like in the early days of my bereavement, I seemed to be pushing against an invisible screen which prevented me from whole-hearted, visceral engagement with the world.

On reflection, the highlight of the trip for me was my daughter. She laughed and skipped and sang her way through the entire twelve days, waking next to me each morning with a smile, raring to take on the new day. She sampled radish, crab claws and a nip of American wine, (this is the kid who will normally only eat Wotsits); she collected blossom from the pavements like it was gold-dust; she chased squirrels round Battery Park, sang Jingle Bells to street vendors.

In fact, her unrelenting sunniness was so starkly reminiscent of M, in a sense it was like being there with Him. This revelation was at once heart-breaking and comforting – she broke up my malaise cloud in the same way that M always could.

He does, it seems, live on.

N.B. To my knowledge, M never collected blossom or chased squirrels round a park, but He might well have sung Jingle Bells to a street vendor.