The greying boxer shorts with the hole in the crotch and other pressing issues

‘What should I do with the ashes?’

Him, her, me. Allegedly.

Him, her, me. Allegedly.

‘Does my daughter need counselling?’

‘Should I keep those rank, greying boxer shorts with the hole in the crotch that I found at the bottom of the washing basket after He died?’

The scope of the questions to be faced after the death of a spouse is relentless and seemingly without limitation. Which is probably why many bereaved partners choose to ignore them and drink alcohol instead.

Yesterday I found myself face-to-face with a decision I took in the immediate aftermath of Mark’s death and as per, I’ve spent the past 24 hours in a purgatory of self-interrogation.

It started with an innocent observation by a six-year-old child I was in the process of teaching. Six-year-old children tend to scrutinise adults from the head down, and this little girl was no exception.

“Are those your wedding rings?” she asked, pointing at the pendant swinging from my neck.


“My gran wears her wedding rings around her neck, but just on a chain. Not like THAT.”

“Does she?”

“She did it after me granda died. Why have you got yours like that?”

On this occasion the bell went and I was saved from having to explain that, like dear granda, my husband was dead, but I decided to have our rings welded together and an emerald fitted between the two to represent our daughter (it’s her birthstone).

And in a further adulteration of our wedding bands, I had the inside of my husband’s ring engraved with the words: ‘MLB – you complete me’.

And to add more insult to injury, the jeweller had renewed the rhodium plating, thus eliminating all trace of it ever having been worn by my husband. I might as well have selected one from the display cabinet and been done with it.

Why had I done this? Why hadn’t I kept it, like granda’s ring, with its scratches and its DNA, on a chain alongside the locket which holds Mark’s hair?

At the time I convinced myself that by creating a whole new piece of jewellery it would somehow help me to come to terms with the grave new symbolism of the bands we had exchanged just under six years previously.

But yesterday, I faltered under questioning and now I’m not so sure.

A macabre, head-banging, delusional freak

English: Low cost above knee prosthetic limbs:...

English: Low cost above knee prosthetic limbs: ICRC (left) LC Knee (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Great Aunt Edith died fifteen years ago, yet her husband (now a death-defying nonagenarian in the rudest of health) still keeps her prosthetic leg propped up by the fireplace in the lounge.

What a macabre, head-banging, delusional freak, right?

Me? My husband died in my Mother’s house. And sometimes, when Mum’s not looking, I go into the bedroom where He took His final breath, open the cupboard and allow my eyes to drift along the rail of her clothes to where His jacket still hangs. It’s right at the end of the rail, tucked away so it can’t be immediately seen.

Some days I just look, then close the door. Other days I sniff it, then reach into the pockets. There are three used tickets to The Deep in Hull, a half-eaten packet of Extra-Strong Mints and His pill box (empty). In the top pocket, there’s a pen.

Below the jacket, at the bottom of the cupboard, is the overnight case He had brought in anticipation of a weekend at Mother’s.

Inside: wash bag (too painful to look through now, but I know it contains toothbrush, toothpaste, razors – items which still hold His DNA), jeans, a brown leather belt, one pair of brown Dr Marten’s boots (size 9), various jumpers and underwear. He had brought the pair of unworn Superdry socks I bought Him for Christmas too, but I had Him cremated in those.

Meanwhile, downstairs at poor Mother’s is the four pack of Guinness M had bought about an hour before He died. It sits on a shelf in the porch, tucked far enough behind the boxes of washing powder and detergent that it is not immediately obvious, but still, I always check for it, glinting through the gloom. I have forbidden her to get rid of it or to allow anyone else to drink it.

In the light of this, and other evidence (the vacuum packed contents of His wardrobe, His guitar, His ashes), I asked my counsellor today, “Am I building a shrine to M? Should I be getting rid of all this stuff, in order to ‘move on’?”

She looked at me with well-rehearsed neutrality. “You have to do what’s right for you. Some people may not understand it. But others – well, they will.”

I thought about the macabre, head-banging, delusional freak, and his wife’s prosthetic leg.

I understand, Uncle Gordon. I understand old son.