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.

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Brace, brace!

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As someone who has a morbid fear of flying , what better programme to tune into last night but ‘The Plane Crash’, a documentary about a Boeing 737 which was deliberately crashed in order for engineers to see what really happens at the point of impact?

Aside from feeling a sense of vindication (yeah, OK, so it’s the safest form of travel, but Christ look what HAPPENS when something goes wrong!), there was a moment which, for me, provided a perfect visual representation of what grief feels like.

Crash test dummies were placed around the aircraft; some were strapped in, some were left untethered, some were placed in the brace position, others sat upright.

Cameras filmed from inside the cabin and caught the action within at the point of impact. The experts who examined the resultant footage agreed what we all already knew – braced, with a seatbelt fastened was the best position to adopt in the event of a crash.

What the footage also revealed though, was what happened to the dummies who were in the other positions. The poor bastard without a seatbelt was found wedged under the seat in front, folded backwards in a contortion worthy of Houdini.

But it was the guy who was sitting upright who could have been the poster boy for the aftermath of death of a spouse.

He looked forwards, unswerving in the face of the glass, luggage, wires, trays, pieces of fuselage which tore through him. His head ricocheted off the seat in front, whilst debris melted and fizzed all around. Unbelievably, the engineers believed he probably wouldn’t have died. The severity of the head injuries, however, could not be ascertained.

Adopting the brace position in grief is without doubt the safest option, but I’m starting to realise that looking forwards and facing the onslaught is a necessary part of the journey. I have done that very thing today with my counsellor. Lifted my gaze and felt the impact of the debris.

As with all catastrophic events, however, the severity of the head injuries cannot yet be ascertained.

The Cynical Imp

A stainless steel frying pan.

A stainless steel frying pan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know on Tom and Jerry, when Tom gets hit by a frying pan and there’s that ‘doiing-ng-ng!’ sound, followed by Tom’s teeth dropping out one by one?

That was me, today, after my counselling session.

The idea was to talk through M’s last day on Earth in the present tense, responding to prompts by my counsellor. The conversation would be recorded so that we could listen back to it.  The cynical imp who has occupied a space on my shoulder throughout most of my life snortled: This is going to be a total waste of time. What’s for lunch?

Yet despite him, the Exposure Therapy began.

“What’s the date?” the counsellor asked.

The cynical imp was slightly affronted. He didn’t like being taken back to that date. “It’s Saturday, February 11th, 2012.”

“What are your plans for the day?”

“We’re going to Durham. My Grandma died on Tuesday, (yes, in a tragi-comic twist, my beloved Granny died 5 days before M) so we’re going home to support Mum.”

“Are you leaving on time?”

“No – we’re messing about.”

“What are you doing?”

“M is in the shower and I’m drawing rude shapes in the condensation and telling Him that I’m apprehensive about the funeral of my Grandmother. It’s the first funeral of a family member that I have attended, and I’m scared.”

“What does M say?”

“He says, ‘don’t worry pet, I’ll be there with you…'”

We continue for 13 minutes. We go through loading the car, listening to Neil Young on the car stereo. We go through leaving the village and heading west on the A64 towards the A1 north. We don’t even make it to my Mother’s house before I’m weeping into a tissue.

The cynical imp is WELL fucked off at this emotional turn of events.

The tape is stopped and rewound. This is the point when the frying pan comes swinging into full force. I close my eyes, I listen to myself and I relive that day.

M is there, in His black-grey M&S Italian-cut jacket. We’re in the bedroom of our home: our little nest, just off the A64 – opposite the church, 100 yards from the Coach and Horses. We’re shooting the shit, talking about something and nothing, like couples do. Like couples do. Like couples do.

I sob and I sob, and the counsellor says she’s going to stop the tape.

She asks: “What was it that prompted the emotional reaction?”

“It’s the conversations which only happen between two people who have known each other intimately inside and out; who are best friends and lovers in one. The sort of conversations you can’t have with even your closest friend. I haven’t had one of those for eighteen long months. I’m never going to have one again with Him. It’s another layer of my sorrow, exposed.”

I call for a halt and leave the session.

The cynical imp is chastened and exhausted.

Round two next week. Doiing-ng-ng!!!

It’s better than drinking alone

English: KitKat chunky. Français : Barre de Ki...

English: KitKat chunky. Français : Barre de KitKat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK so starter for ten: The following lyric is from which song?

‘They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness / But it’s better than drinking alone…’

Answer at end of post. Scroll down there now if you can’t be arsed with a squiffy widow’s random ruminations on above quote.

In fact, my daughter, aged 5, selected this CD today out of a collection of thousands. (Mine amount to around twenty, the rest were His). We listened to it in the car and I was struck by the lyric, as I have been struck by many a song lyric since M died.

This tune involves barflies congregating around a piano, conjoined in mutual melancholia. It’s also a song about drinking, which has become as much a feature of my life as brushing my teeth and a morning brew.

The thing is – everyone is going through their own shit. I’ve lost my husband, I’m never going to see Him again. This has become my life and my eternal sorrow.

But I have come to recognise that my loss is relative to what everyone else is going through. People are fielding blows of their own. One friend has just found out her sister has cancer. Another’s boyfriend is on bail. Someone else is facing redundancy. My Dad visits my Grandpa in the care home every single day in bewilderment that the formidable character he knew and loved is now solely preoccupied by Kit-Kats.

We all invariably end up in the pub discussing and sharing our woes.

But it’s better than drinking alone, right?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVKtL9VU8rQ

A slippery little customer

English: Comfort in Grief

English: Comfort in Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grief, eh? Slippery little customer. It won’t be defined, no matter how you hard you try to pin it down.

Yesterday I was handed a bejewelled box and a book by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross by my daughter’s counsellor. The ‘intervention’ had come to an end and these were the legacy of the sessions.

The box had been hand-decorated by my daughter and had previously housed shoes. Now it was wrapped in brown parcel paper and covered in sequins. It contained a selection of brightly-coloured toys, stickers and pens, supposedly to comfort her in those moments when she was missing daddy. All I saw was flotsam which would invariably end up strewn about my living room floor. I asked her about the pink elephant.

“It’s a pink elephant,” she said.

“Would you like to cuddle it when you’re missing daddy?”

She looked me as if I’d just shat on the carpet. “……….It’s a pink elephant.”

Six weeks well spent then.

Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist with an interest in dying, who coined five ‘stages’ which are apparently typical of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I came across her soon after M died – those early days when I sought a ‘solution’ to my grief by spending a fortune on books on the subject.

Some books contained ‘road maps’ to recovery. Some were heavy with case studies and testimonials from people who had gone through it and survived. None of them made any sense to me though. I didn’t want to ‘recover’. I didn’t want to hear about other people’s losses. I wanted to stop retching every morning, I wanted the jags of anxiety to stop. I wanted M back and for Him not to be dead.

So my conclusion is this: Grief cannot be corralled or boxed or arranged into stages. Grief is different for everyone, as are expressions thereof.

The only solution is to put your head down and push through it. And of course, drink wine.

My reptilian brain

English: Artist interpretation of reptilian al...

English: Artist interpretation of reptilian alien. Human is shown for relative size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Widows! You know that shame you feel when, even fleetingly, you have the desire to sleep with another man? The postman, the bus-driver, that bloke sitting opposite you right now – anyone will do.

You don’t want a relationship, or love, or even respect particularly, you just want to look up at a stubbly face from the vantage of a hairy (perhaps tattooed) chest and take in the warmth, the *smell, the closeness that has been missing from your life for sixteen long months. (*debateable).

In short, you want to engage in arguably one of the most life-affirming acts in order to feel…alive.

Perhaps, like me, you have already succumbed to the desire, and are currently listening to the sound of self-loathing and insatiable lust tussling with one another in your brain.

Well I wanted to share something I heard today in my counselling session which reassured me that my behaviour wasn’t as deviant as I’d imagined.

It turns out this is a well-documented phenomenon. Yes, other widows are doing it!

Faced with trauma and loss on this scale, humans refer to their reptilian brain, (I wasn’t even aware we HAD one!) and the familiar three ‘Fs’ of survival – Fight, Flight or Freeze – become four. I’ll leave you to ponder what the final one could be.

Psycho-babble or not, it sure as hell made me feel better.

A blast of Charlie Rich

Behind Closed Doors (Charlie Rich album)

Behind Closed Doors (Charlie Rich album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Mother asked me the other day whether I thought my daughter needed grief counselling. It wasn’t a question; it was a statement designed to make me consider whether I had done the right thing in organising some for her.

This isn’t a dig at my Mother – she is a wonderful and caring soul who only has our best interests at heart. Yet for her, the concept of counselling is anathema. She simply doesn’t ‘get’ the notion of sitting in front of another impartial, trained individual and exchanging dark thoughts for potentially healing ones. She has been through her share of grief – one way or another – and as far as I’m aware has never had more than a small gin and tonic and a blast of Charlie Rich to get her through it.

After M died, I was referred for some counselling through my GP. The first woman I saw practised what is known as ‘person-centred’ counselling. That is to say, we sat in a hot little room for an hour and looked at each other. The next woman I saw was much more my style. I wailed, she offered me practical advice as to how to get through the week until the next time I saw her. She conceded that I would probably cry for M every day for the rest of my life. There was no ‘solution’ to my grief, but it was possible that one day, I may be able to accept that He had gone. We reached a point in our counsellor-client relationship where she couldn’t do anything else for me, but the time we were together was undoubtedly beneficial.

As for my daughter, she is having her first round of grief counselling later today. She doesn’t cry for her daddy, but she does mention Him a lot. Last night, for example, she drew a picture on a piece of paper and rolled it up.

“This is my map to find Daddy,” she said. She unfurled the paper. “Daddy is in the cupboard in a box. Daddy was set on fire.”

Maybe she doesn’t need counselling, but I feel as if I have reached a point in her grief where I can’t do anything else for her.