Missing Persons

I switched the TV on the other night and there was Fern Britten in a pair of saucy white jeans, admiring the relative straightness of my Grandad’s runner bean. Which is odd, as my Grandad died over ten years ago.

Of course, on closer inspection it turns out that Fern was on an allotment and the runner bean grower was a bloke who looked just like my Grandad. But the Grandad I knew twenty years before he died, all round-chops and belly-laughs.

And suddenly, at that moment, I yearned for Grandad’s face. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen it for thirteen long years, and I would never, ever see it again. I wanted to dance cheek-to-cheek with it to Rod Stewart’s ‘I Am Sailing’, like in the picture below.

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Sitting on that settee, lips locked round the side of a wine glass, I felt Grandad’s loss deep in my guts. It caused me to think of the other faces I miss. This one, for example. Grandma, who died five days before Mark, and consequently for whom I feel I have never mourned:

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And this one: Gran, who died almost a year after Mark:

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And Pomps, gone almost six months already:

 

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And then thoughts turned, as they always do, to the face I miss most. Occasionally, as with Fern and the runner bean allotmenteer, I think for one heart-thumping moment that I see it; on a train, in a café, lying on the pillow next to me in the night, surrounded by a fuzz of curly ginger hair.

But when the moment passes, and I’m left to think of it, or stare at it in photographs, it seems inconceivable to me that I will never see it again.

 

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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?

Come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough.

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That’s me, that is.

Perhaps it’s my hormones that are making me irascible as a cat, but that’s me there, a squatting sumo just waiting for a fight.

I’ll take anyone on, especially if they have an opinion on my grief and how I choose to deal with it. But no-one is immune. That Matt Baker gets it regularly, and don’t get me started on Steve Wright.

Of course, I’m a wuss and would run off in the opposite direction like Duncan ‘Chase Me!’ Norvelle if it came to a real bout of fisty-cuffs.

But fury is fermenting in my guts. I can hear it, gurgling away. It has one means of escape, and that is by knotting itself around my nerves, sinew and digestive tract. And by the occasional outburst of unspeakable profanity and violence directed towards my pillow.

Am I entering the ‘angry’ stage? Have I now ticked off ‘despair’ and ‘hopelessness’ (phew, thank god THAT’S over!). How far have I got to go now for fuck’s sake, according to the manual?

This ‘journey’ is wearisome. It’s becoming predictable in its unpredictability.

When do I arrive at that rose-filled garden of acceptance that everyone keeps talking about? How long before I can come off the pills, drink in moderation and have a laugh about the good times? At what point will I be able to tolerate other people and their concerns again, and afford them the earnest head-nodding of pre-Mark’s death?

I’m off to consult the manual. And then throw it off the wall.

Season of misseds and mellow fruitfulness

Mark loved Autumn, and here we are in the throes of a spectacular one. Yeah, yeah Mother Nature, rub my snivelling snout in it a bit more why don’t you? As if I don’t miss Him enough.balanced_seesaw-001

And golden leaf-flurries and abundant hedgerows notwithstanding, I am really missing Him at the minute.

It’s been a gruelling couple of weeks and I need His opinion on things. He countered my skewed world-view with His own skewed world-view, thus producing one perfectly balanced individual.

When you’ve had ten years of living side-by-side with someone – farting, burping, giving birth in their presence – it is impossible to reconcile the fact that they are suddenly no longer there. Entire chapters of your life are swallowed up in that furnace at the crematorium. Exclusive vocabulary, mannerisms, points of reference, all gone up in smoke.

I actually went to tell Him something the other day, unable to staunch the flow of the first few words before they came out.

“Remember: ‘Did you drawed that’…?” I began. (It was a line from this book, right, and… ahh, forget it.)

But I was talking into the wind. Of course, He wasn’t there.

Generally, we agreed on stuff, so I think I know what His counsel would be relating to issues of the day. (Although not the sexual allure of Jenny Agutter. We never saw eye-to-eye on that.)  And besides, I have a raft of other counsellors now, from my Counsellor with the capital ‘C’, to my friends, family and the odd individual who pipes in with an opinion every now and again. But that voice – His voice – is conspicuous by its silence.

So here I am, perched on my side of life’s see-saw looking up at the empty space where my foil should be.

At least the weather’s good though, right?

Bottling Paul Hollywood

Paul Hollywood

Paul Hollywood (Photo credit: Fields of View)

With the everyday distractions of a busy life – you know, working, childcare, laughing at Paul Hollywood on Bake Off – it is easy to forget that your husband is now just a pile of ashes in a box at the bottom of your wardrobe.

You get on with life, because you have no choice.  And just as those who still have partner intact don’t spend every waking hour thinking about their other half, at twenty months into bereavement, it is impossible to keep one’s mind trained on what is lost.

Which is why, when you find yourself in a moment of distraction-repose, the reality is so sphincter-clenchingly shocking, you wish you could bottle Paul Hollywood and drink him as an antidote to the truth.

This happened to me yesterday. I was teaching small children how to describe their family members in French. They labelled them up on their own paper ‘people-chain’ and titled it ‘Ma Famille’.

Despite the step-siblings and the divorces, they all, without exception, had a ‘mere’ and a ‘pere’.  As a teacher, I have accepted that this is generally the case, so it fails to floor me in the way that it may have done when Mark first died.

However, when I came out of the classroom and headed down the stairs to my next group of students, I suddenly remembered my husband.

FUCKING HELL, MARK IS DEAD! I thought. The horror of his last moments ran through my brain and the brutal veracity of the situation lurched into stark relief. I gripped the handrail and stood for a moment, dizzied.

Then a child passed me and told me she liked my shoes.

“Thank you Imogen,” I said, and continued on my way.

Hymn to Him

Hello keyboard my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

You're so cool. (Except perhaps in those wellies)

You’re so cool. (Except perhaps in those wellies)

And tonight I just want to riff about my husband. Thoughts of Him occupy me so completely, but I am unable to express them to anyone but this multi-buttoned musketeer. The words form on my tongue but come out stutteringly, meanderingly, without flow or point.

Besides, why would anyone want to know about how I was always so proud that it was HIM I was going home with at the end of a night?

Or how when I first met Him we used to sit smoking roll-ups til morning, stubbing them out in a Lambrini bottle, which became a brown-silted graveyard for fag ends?

Or how He played ‘Romanza’ on the guitar with the devotion of a father nurturing a child? And how we used to sing together, to our daughter, ‘Dream A Little Dream of You?

How He introduced me to JJ Cale, War of the Worlds, Robertson Davies?

Or how He spoke in a low, deep voice – slowly and without pauses?

How He drank Black Sheep bitter and would always order beef curry at the Chinese?

How our last words before bed were always: I love you pet.

How He was without doubt the most courageous and beautiful human being I have ever met, and I still can’t believe He’s gone?

“…I look back and am amazed that my thoughts were so clear and true, that three words went through my mind endlessly, repeating themselves like a broken record: you’re so cool, you’re so cool, you’re so cool.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzR4Agcsuh8

The Seven Year Bitch

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Re-enacting scenes from Sorry (photo: http://www.bbc.co.uk)

Today I am picking the carrot out of the fact that I should have been married exactly seven years.

What would we have been doing? Probably popping the cork on a nice bottle of red. Settling in to watch Masterchef. We may have ordered in, but that’s not a given.

I’ve said before that M and I didn’t place much stock in anniversaries of any kind – birthdays were about as excited as we got, usually marked by a card and, if He was very unlucky, a home-made, and therefore deflated, Victoria sponge.

Instead, we lived by my granddad’s old adage; ‘Every day’s a Christmas day’.

Not much would have been different today, actually, except for the company.

As it is, I’m re-enacting scenes out of Sorry, where I am a sort of female Timothy Lumsden, having my dinner served to me by my Mother who then does the dishes afterwards. Fortunately she is far cry from Lumsden’s mother, and tolerates my shameful bad language with characteristic equanimity.

I have glanced at the photographs on the sideboard of this time seven years ago and it feels as if I’m looking at a different couple. That bloke wearing the big smile and the tails, next to that bird in the long dress. Figments of some distant lifetime. How is it possible that the day depicted would signal the start of just five years of marriage?

I have spent the day trying to put a name on the hollow space within me. It’s the part which paints a grey wash of sadness over everything. Sometimes it’s so grey it’s opaque – other times it’s cygnet-coloured. But no matter the hue, it leaves everything slightly out-of-tune.

I can only come up with one name for the hollow space.

His.

Happy anniversary, pet. Wherever you are.