Woman v G-Force

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Six months after Mark died I attended a course entitled “Overcoming Grief.” From the outset it seemed to me to be fundamentally flawed. Could grief really be overcome, like a dose of the flu or a profound dislike of Steve from Accounts?

I mentioned this to the course leader. She was such a lovely woman, what with her cupcakes and her clip-art, that I felt bad afterwards. And actually, whilst the course didn’t solve the issue of, you know, the death, it did help to move me along.

Below are some of the many attempts I have made at ‘overcoming’ my grief since. Perhaps reading them will make you feel less alone, or, if nothing else, give you something to fold your arms ‘neath your bosom and have a ‘tsk’ at.

I have tried writing my way through it. Drinking my way through it. Fucking my way through it. Drugging my way through it (prescription of course). Talking my way through it. Laughing, crying, bluffing my way through it. Buying my way through it (net result – cupboard full of fabulous shoes!)

I have tried apportioning blame and getting angry; I’ve tried telling myself how fortunate I am to have His child, for the happiness He brought to my life, for the fact that He died in my arms, unwitting, not frightened or alone. I’ve tried remembering the atrocities that are happening every day all over the world, being thankful for my family, friends, my home and my health.

It’s almost three years since Mark died, and despite my tireless wrestling and negotiation with grief, it still sometimes hits me with a force to make my face go like Clarkson’s (above).

Tomorrow Mark would have turned 40, and Grief Force has got me.

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The End?

Family portrait - 2014

Family portrait – 2014

I haven’t written much lately – not on the blog, at least. Most of my writing energy has been expended on the final draft of my book, which, being that it deals with the tumultuous and largely wine-soused course my life has taken since Mark’s death, has taken the place of the therapy offered here.

After Mark survived His sudden and savage illness in 2008, He had one goal: never to let it define Him. He took the pills, checked in for INR tests, trundled down to Oxford for His annual review. He reluctantly acceded to these things because a man with a stethoscope and big glasses told Him He had to.

A less optimistic person may have allowed the regime to take over their lives. But not my husband. It spurred Him on to achieve and conquer. In fact, most of the time He’d have you believe it never happened. (Except in those rare, dark moments of reality which seeped in unseen and made us both sob at the cruelty of it all.)

When I started this blog just over a year ago, it was a giant primal scream into the ether. I had no expectations, just the hope that it might help me cope with the pain of losing Mark.

Turns out, it has.

Thanks largely to those people who have stayed with me, read, commented, understood (or tried to) – and even the odd person who told me I was talking shit – I have realised that I am not alone or abnormal in my grief. And whenever I have felt that I may have stagnated on this journey, I only need look back to my early, frantic posts to see how far I have actually come.

But like Mark with His illness, I don’t wish to be defined as A Widow. I will always be one, but I owe it to Mark to try and live my life beyond that persona.

The book is now finished. My feeling is perhaps so is the blog.

Left Central Incisor: A Lament

Today I am in mourning.imagesCA951OM4

For a tooth.

My daughter’s left central incisor, to be precise; in the space of a few more wobbles, it will be the first to succumb to the Tooth Fairy. (Who now charges upwards of a pound for collection BTW. A pound! In my day etc, etc).

As the mother of an only child this is a new experience for me, but I imagine the departure of a first baby tooth is a milestone for most parents. But this loss signifies more than just a quid from my wallet.

Mark and I heralded the arrival of each and every one of those baby teeth with the zeal of Percy Thrower and his first runner bean shoots.

“Come and feel this!” I’d shout, forefinger jammed between the poor bairn’s drooling jaws. “What do you reckon? Tooth… or bit of biscuit?”

We watched as she went from gummy, gurning toddler to a little girl with a full set of perfect, Haribo-chewing gnashers.

The smile she has now is the same one He knew, the teeth the same ones He helped nurture and clean. But not for much longer.  For incisor will follow incisor, canine will follow canine, and before long she’ll have a new set of tombstones which will completely transform her face.

The loss of this incisor signifies that she is growing up. And with tragic, wearying inevitability, He is missing it.

 

 

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?

EUREKA!

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You see that? That’s the contents of my cranium, that is.

It’s taken 22 months of ardent chin-scratching, but I think I may have finally worked out why widowhood is so uniquely isolating. (I’m a slow burner, ok? It took me three attempts to pass Maths at GCSE).

For everyone else, life, fundamentally, hasn’t changed. Once the initial shock wore off, their concerns reverted back to their kids, their households, their hatred of that bloke in Accounts.

And why wouldn’t they? Mark wasn’t part of their everyday. They didn’t wake up next to him, kiss him as he left the house in the morning, listen to his lengthy explanations of how things worked, bid him goodnight and then spend the time ’til dawn willing him to stop bloody snoring.

Neither did they have their hopes and dreams for the future entangled with His. We were planning to move to France. Have another child. Get a dog with big paws and a long muzzle. Finally eat at The Coachman in Snainton. (I have a suspicion He was planning that for Valentine’s Day actually – I found their menu in His backpack after He died. Gah! Three days too late!)

When He died, everyone who knew Him was devastated. But now they miss Him intermittently, and reflect on Him warmly at moments when He pops into their heads.

But my existence has been turned inside out. I have had to relocate, physically and mentally. I have had to realign. Rethink.

And all that whilst trying to take in the fact that the love of my life has gone forever and simultaneously raise our child. I am the only person who has had to do this in the aftermath of his death. (Do I get a nice badge?)
Little wonder then that the contents of my brain feel like that Plastic Island in the middle of the Pacific – a whirling vortex of uncertainty and half-consumed, useless shit.

The Dismay-dar

Anders Zorn-The Widow

Anders Zorn-The Widow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Widows.  We’re a distinct race. We should have our own category on those local council equal opportunities forms. Just before ‘Other’ on the ethnicity list. Young or old, long-served or new-entrant, we share a language and a tacit understanding of each other that ‘non-bereaveds’ just don’t get.

I met a widow last night. A reader of this blog, in fact. She rushed up to me and wordlessly sobbed into my shoulder. We held each other for a long time, and then we belly- laughed about the inanity of widowhood. It was like a Surprise Surprise reunion, with the woman’s non-bereaved sister playing an uncomfortable Cilla on the side-line. Minus the teeth and wig.

We were immediately on each other’s radar. Or rather, ‘dismay-dar’ – the frequency of which can only be heard by other widows. We connected in a way that I haven’t connected with some of my oldest friends since Mark died.

In widowhood, I am constantly grappling with how I feel. This is as tedious for me as it sounds to you, which is why I offload it onto my counsellor. She is paid to listen, dispense advice, then move onto the next depressive in the waiting room. And for a non-bereaved, she seems to have a reasonable insight into the erratic mind-set of our race.

However, sometimes only another widow can sum up how you feel. And one comment on an online forum this week did just that. I’ve never met her, but this widow knows exactly where I’m ‘at’. She wrote:

I am not unhappy. But I’m not ready to be happy.

I’m willing to bet that others out there tuned into the ‘dismay-dar’ get it too.

Supermarket Sweep in the wine section

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Mark and his daughter

When I was eighteen I took my first boyfriend home for the University holidays. He was American and probably wanted the cultural experience of a north-east outpost for his scrapbook. Besides, he had nowhere else to spend the six month break.

On arrival at my Dad’s, we awkwardly took our bags upstairs and paused on the landing. The cold side of the corridor beckoned for the boyfriend. The pillows in the room next to Dad’s were plumped for me.

I shouted down, “Where are we sleeping?”

“I don’t want to know,” came the response from deep within a newspaper.

I have reflected on this many times since, especially now I have become a parent myself.

Dad must have been munching on his knuckles at the thought of his youngest daughter arriving with her goatee-bearded Yankee lover, but his reaction was worthy of the Modern Parent Award for all-round coolness. The Yank tucked his pyjamas under the plumped pillow next to mine, scarcely believing his luck.

Of all the aspects of Mark’s death which saddens me the most – and picking just one is like playing Supermarket Sweep in the wine section – the relationship He has been robbed of with our daughter is the one which gets me the hardest. And, of course, the relationship she will never have with Him.

For aside from the piggy-backs and tummy-tickles of childhood, He will not be there to guide her, faux-coolly, through the muddle of first boyfriends and other miniature disasters as she grows.

Moreover, the conundrums of liberal Modern Parenthood will be mine alone to mull over.

Ehem. Where’s that newspaper?