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?

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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.

Next weekend – it could be you!

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We Were Fam-i-ly

Weekends to widows are what weddings are to singletons.

But rather than trying to pair you off with the perennially single ‘old friend’, in widowhood everyone looks at you sidelong, hardly daring to ask how you’re going to fill that huge 48 hour void until work-time comes around again and they can stop feeling awkward about the fact that they’ve got heaps of fun stuff planned with their family.

This weekend I was mainly alone with my daughter. Unfortunately my mother (my weekday partner) has a life of her own, and sent me a text from somewhere on the Northumbrian coast to say she wouldn’t be home until tea-time on Sunday.

“Cool!” I replied. “Enjoy!”

The void loomed. I tried to convince myself that it didn’t.

Hey, LOADS of parents are alone with their kids this weekend, it’s not just me! But the evidence suggested otherwise. Everywhere I went, kids with parents. Two of ’em, scurrying round after their progeny with ‘We Are Fam-i-ly’ as a backing track .

On Saturday, I tried to be a ‘good’ parent. I took us for a day out. We got accosted by nature do-gooders and I wound up with a membership to the Wildlife Trust.

Can I be honest here? The reason I did it was not for my love of squirrels, but because the kindly old man showed an interest in us and was nice to my daughter. He showed her a blackbird’s nest and woodpecker feathers. He was a grown, adult male and had engaged me in conversation.

“Family membership is it?” he asked, pen poised over the ‘family’ tick-box.

“No. Just me and her.”

I kept the poor bastard chatting for twenty five minutes, and we were possibly the most grateful new recruits the guy had ever had.

Then came the evening. My daughter and I ate our meal. We went to bed, together, at 11 pm. She high on Toy Story, me low on booze.

And then … Sunday. With Mother not back ’til teatime, how would the day take shape? Friends stopped by. They asked me (sidelong) how I was planning to fill the day.

“My sister has asked us to go to the park!” I replied, gleefully.

Don’t worry, I wanted to say. I know this is awkward for you. But someone else has taken up the slack this time.

But next weekend, look out – it could be you!

Him and her

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This is Him, and her.

Hello. I’m having a glass of Rioja at the end of one of those ‘Oh sweet Satan’s ball-sack, I’m a TERRIBLE mother’ days. Will you join me?

I have had the emotional resilience of Wensleydale cheese today (crumbly, for all you non-Northern-English people). And I’ve been unable to toughen myself up.

And my child has both a) witnessed it and b) had to stay at my Mother’s whilst I spent time collapsing on the bed at home. It sounds melodramatic, but I swear, today, I’ve not even been able to THINK about, you know, Him, without going all Wensleydale.

I don’t know why it hits you like this. Anyone? Anyone?

If I’d even tried to compose a post earlier I wouldn’t have had the energy to press the buttons on the keyboard. Fortunately, Rioja has the same effect on me as spinach has on Popeye – it makes me strong to the finich.

It’s the school holidays and I’m up to my ears with the sound of kids shouting for their daddies. I’m sick of people rambling on about going on holiday together. I’m weary of people complaining about the forthcoming fortnight they’re going to have to endure with their husband and kids. I’d sell a kidney for the chance of a holiday with just Him and her.

“Are you cryin’?” My daughter asked me, as tears powered down my cheeks.

“Uhuh.”

“‘Cos you miss Daddy?”

“U”- snort- “Huh”

She doesn’t say anymore than that these days. She just goes and gets a length of toilet paper from the bathroom and clumsily tries to stop the flow.

And I thought to myself today – with no level of profundity whatsoever – I thought, nothing really matters. Nothing.

All I want is you, Buble. Can you hear me?

This is not a suicide note

In a tragi-comic twist, my Granny died five days before M.

Me, writing a message down for Granny on the whiteboard, as she couldn't hear.

Me writing a message down for Granny on the whiteboard, as she couldn’t hear.

She was old, tired, she’d had enough. She was also much beloved.

M and I cried together when we heard the news. Little did we know that by the end of that same week, He’d be gone too.

The day after Granny died, Dad told me: “It’s sad, but life is for the living.”

I took it as one of those perfunctory statements that people make in such situations. Didn’t give it much thought, got on with the task of living. For the next four days, at least, until my world would shockingly and without warning become utterly un-liveable.

Dad’s statement has been on my mind lately though. I understand what he was saying, but does living really exclude the dead?

In a purely physical way, yes it does. But M is still so much part of the fabric of my life and that of my daughter, I can’t condemn Him to that other land. His presence is felt in everything, from the food we eat, to the TV we watch, to the choices we make about the future.

I still grapple with a need to conceptualise the two worlds (living and dead) and their relationship with each other, which is why I cannot yet inter His ashes. I need a physical remnant of Him to remain here – a box of dust to act as a bridge between the two lands.

In the early days after M died, I wanted to die myself. Not to ‘be with Him’, because I don’t believe that’s how it all ends up. (If it does, however, knowing my luck I’d be stuck with Whitney Houston, who died on the same day. Christ, imagine that warbling in your ear for the ever-after.)

I wanted to die because the pain of losing Him was so intense, I just wanted it to stop. Many widows I know felt the same.

I never actually attempted to end my life though – mainly for fear that I’d end up in a series of botched attempts like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. But also because I have a responsibility to myself and those still living who love me. Plus it isn’t the answer to all this. I’m not sure what is.

But given that we’re all heading that way in the end, and seemingly there is no logic or forewarning from the Reaper, my revenge is to live.

And to live well. Cheers!

We’re (not) going on a Summer holiday…

English: Victorian postbox Second one seen tod...

English: Victorian postbox Second one seen today, on a pebble-dashed wall in Upper Chapel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone I know is either a) on holiday or b) going on holiday shortly.

It’s the school summer break, see. And the law states that families must ‘vacate’ in some shape or form during this period.

My line is: “I don’t like holidays. I’m frightened of flying, so I’d rather stay at home.” And I’m sticking to it.

(The truth is, I’ve got no-one to go away with, even if I wanted to. Which I don’t, right, because I don’t like holidays and I’m frightened of flying, so I’d rather stay at home. Who wants an Italian piazza when you’ve got a row of pebble-dashed houses to look out onto whilst drinking your vino tinto?)

I probably sound ungrateful. Lots of people don’t have a chance to go on holiday, even if they have a spouse to go with. But the fact is, I don’t give a shit. I’m full of red wine and self-pity tonight, and this blog is GETTING IT.

I don’t want to go to Corfu with a friend. I don’t want to ‘do’ a Haven holiday in Whitby. I want to be doing anything, literally, anything, with my husband and my daughter. Even looking out on a row of pebble-dashed houses together would be peachy-keen.

The ‘holidays’ stretch out before me; a flabby surplus of time. Friends and family are fucking off to have fun with the people they love most in the world. They’re packing suitcases, ulcerating over whether they have enough swimming attire, running to Primark in a panic to get their last-minute lounger-wear.

Me? I’m happy to stay at home, because did I mention that I don’t like holidays and I don’t like flying?

I also love pebble-dash.

Two fatal errors

English: cigarette butts

English: cigarette butts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The family weekend at my Dad’s was unusual in two respects – there were no arguments and I was first to bed. Granted, we’d been drinking since lunchtime, but I pride myself on normally being the penultimate one to stagger up the wooden hill at these events – Dad is always last on the pretext of ‘locking up’, which is shorthand for a whisky nightcap. (Gotcha!)

This time, however, I was tucked up by eleven, shedding fat mascara tears onto the pillow. It was my sister-in-law’s fault. She has the misfortune of being a good listener and a pragmatist, and also had a soft spot for M, all of which combine to make her a lamb to the slaughter in the face of my mental state.

She made two fatal errors. Earlier in the day, she mentioned Him in conversation. No-one EVER mentions Him. Indeed, she went so far as to reminisce about a time when He was alive. Then, much later, she invited me outside for a cigarette and put an arm around my shoulder. Consequently, she bore the brunt of an emotional eruption of seismic proportions. She stood, helpless against the onslaught and said, finally;

“I’ll dispose of the fag ends. At least it’s one thing I can do to help you.”

I’ve been weepy for days, so it was perhaps inevitable that a sun-soaked, booze-fuelled family gathering without my beloved family member was going to be tough. And the reality is, there’s nothing anyone can do. Except dispose of the fag ends.