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.

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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!!!

Death Mask

English: open padlock icon

English: open padlock icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Exposure Therapy starts next week. You know, where my counsellor and I take the ‘traumatic event’ out of its padlocked cell whence it is stored, deep within my cranium, and inspect it closely.

There are so many elements which contribute to the ‘traumatic event’, I wasn’t sure where we would start with this inspection. But I read something in a friend’s blog this morning which served to clarify my thoughts.

The salient memory is of M’s face, immediately after death.

It lurches out at me if I let it, trampling all the other joyful images associated with that face. I’ve said before that I didn’t allow myself to believe, initially, that He had died, but in retrospect, I knew. How did I know? The face told me.

The skin changed almost instantly from pink to grey. The eyelids were unbalanced – one open, one half shut. There was an expression on the face, one which I hadn’t particularly considered or tried to decode before reading my friend’s post.

She used to work in the funeral business and writes an excellent blog about her experiences within the profession. In her latest post, she discusses the worst things she saw as part of her job. Here is an extract, where she describes tending to the bodies of air crash fatalities:

“Sometimes(…) it is impossible to avoid thoughts of that person’s final, agonizing moments on this earth. The faces are frozen in time, showing extremely disturbing expressions in which incredible pain and terror are easily read. Usually, though, there aren’t faces…” (www.morguemouse.wordpress.com)

I found it both heart-breaking and comforting to read her words. Because it made me realise that M’s expression revealed He died in neither terror nor in pain.

Though His life was cut unfairly, excruciatingly short, I honestly believe He died a happy man.

Northern Exposure

Sisyphus

Sisyphus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite the bawdiness and the bravado, I am, today, wondering how I’m going to get through this.

Like Sisyphus, I’m pushing my boulder of grief up the mountainside only for it to come crashing down once it nears the top.

Insomnia has set in again, not through lack of alcohol, but because of the heat. It has reached the woozy heights of 19 degrees in the village, and both my daughter and I are still rolling about the bed at midnight trying to find the cool patch. Insomnia allows Bad Thoughts to roam free, and also draws attention to the wardrobe, at the bottom of which is the casket containing…well, Him.

Sunny days are, in themselves, catalysts for sadness – they make everywhere look full of hope, even grey-rendered, pebble-dashed Northern villages such as this one. But part of me doesn’t want hope to blossom (the stubborn, self-pitying, foot-stamping toddler part), because M has been denied it.

My counsellor is starting a round of Exposure Therapy next week. This does not involve us flashing our bits at each other across a crowded room; rather, we will be breaking down the traumatic event (Husband, intercourse, “socks!”, pillow, dead), recording it like chapters in a book, then ‘exposing’ ourselves to it and the onslaught of emotions it elicits. By deconstructing the trauma, its power to destabilise is weakened, therefore I can allow myself to think about it occasionally without hyperventilating.

It sounds like psycho-babble, but I’m trying to be hopeful.