Woman v G-Force

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Six months after Mark died I attended a course entitled “Overcoming Grief.” From the outset it seemed to me to be fundamentally flawed. Could grief really be overcome, like a dose of the flu or a profound dislike of Steve from Accounts?

I mentioned this to the course leader. She was such a lovely woman, what with her cupcakes and her clip-art, that I felt bad afterwards. And actually, whilst the course didn’t solve the issue of, you know, the death, it did help to move me along.

Below are some of the many attempts I have made at ‘overcoming’ my grief since. Perhaps reading them will make you feel less alone, or, if nothing else, give you something to fold your arms ‘neath your bosom and have a ‘tsk’ at.

I have tried writing my way through it. Drinking my way through it. Fucking my way through it. Drugging my way through it (prescription of course). Talking my way through it. Laughing, crying, bluffing my way through it. Buying my way through it (net result – cupboard full of fabulous shoes!)

I have tried apportioning blame and getting angry; I’ve tried telling myself how fortunate I am to have His child, for the happiness He brought to my life, for the fact that He died in my arms, unwitting, not frightened or alone. I’ve tried remembering the atrocities that are happening every day all over the world, being thankful for my family, friends, my home and my health.

It’s almost three years since Mark died, and despite my tireless wrestling and negotiation with grief, it still sometimes hits me with a force to make my face go like Clarkson’s (above).

Tomorrow Mark would have turned 40, and Grief Force has got me.

Warm milk and an Oreo

It’s taken me eighteen months, several hundred bottles of red wine, counselling, pills, the support of friends, strangers and a spirited editor at Virgin to try to articulate how it feels to have lost Mark.

It took my daughter thirty seconds, a cup of warm milk and an Oreo to sum it up last night :

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Survival of the Unfittest

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Paris, August 2014. This is the part of me – and Mark – that survived

I’ve never been much of a sportswoman.

The subs bench of the netball team was about as far as my career in Phys. Ed. went – shoved reluctantly on court when the regular Wing Defence was off playing first team hockey. I blame my low centre of gravity and the fact that I am a lover not a fighter (give them a bib with letters on and women turn VICIOUS).

It continues today – I’m the one in the swimming pool who does two lengths with a pinched expression, then gets out with entirely dry hair.

As an evolutionary theory, ‘survival of the fittest’ is open to interpretation, but if it has anything to do with physical prowess, I’m done for.

Imagine my surprise then, two years and seven months post-sudden death of husband, to find that I have survived. But not just survived. From the broken pieces, regrowth is underway.

Grief textbooks tell us that the success of our ‘recovery’ depends on many things – support networks, family, friends  – and our individual ‘inner resource’. The latter is an elusory concept; you don’t know the depth of yours until you are required to plunder it with your bare hands.

I continue to plunder mine; I still haven’t reached the bottom, thank god, for whilst I have survived and flourished up to now, I am only too aware of the duplicitous nature of grief. It could have me back on my withered arse tomorrow if it so desired.

But when I reread the desperate diary scrawlings of two years and seven months ago – the diary entitled ‘Random Ruminations Since We Parted’ – I feel a distance from those thoughts. I still recognise them, but they don’t stoke the fire in my heart in the way they used to.

In fact, if the fittest are the ones who survive, then I consider myself the Jade Clarke of the grief circuit. (That’s British Netball’s Wing Defence and Captain to you).

 

 

 

 

I’m going in…

I’ve spent the morning cross-legged under my letterbox, awaiting a delivery from the postman.

It's all the words that are putting me off...

It’s all the words that are putting me off…

And lo! Said delivery finally dropped onto the doormat (Inevitably just after I’d given up hope and left my vantage point in favour of Facebook.)

The first, long-awaited copy of Me After You, my memoir about life since Mark’s death.

Thing is, I hardly dare open it.

It’s all the words that are contained within it that are putting me off – the ones which raged from my broken heart onto the keyboard over five fraught months. They’re as precious to me as little pearls, those words; they are fierce, tender, raw, profane, downright dirty in parts.

But most importantly they are truthful, which is all I really wanted from them in the first place.

But what if they don’t look right? What if, now they’re out there, you don’t like them, or the calamitous tale they recount?

The book has been a labour of love. It has permitted me to spend time with my husband every day, to exhume Him and all the memories that go with Him.

It is also proof that if you believe in and love something passionately enough, with all of your heart and every sinew, you can achieve anything.

Ah fuck it. Mark, pet – this is for you. I’m going in…

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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It’s A Small (Small, Small, Small) World

My daughter and I have recently returned to the homeland after a trip to Eurodisney.untitled (10)

She, light of spirit. Me, light of wallet.

And of weight, given the amount of time I spent on various squatters, home and abroad, in a state of abject angst.

Everything represented a challenge to me, from the boarding of the Eurostar (now my only remaining route off the Island as flying, ferry boats and the front-crawl are out), to dining out.

Being on the Metro felt akin to being buried alive. I feared intruders in the night in our tiny, ground floor apartment. And those irritating little hairdryer-powered scooters they all skitter about on over there were like swarms of hornets out to get me and my child at every corner.

Fortunately we were in the care of an understanding and endlessly patient friend, who organised and ushered us around like a small but highly troublesome school party, and dealt with my sudden gush of tears on the RER with a deft wipe of a tissue and a rousing chorus of ‘It’s A Small World’.

And of course, being in Paris itself was a challenge. Mark lived there, studied there, flounced around its trottoirs wearing turtle-neck jumpers and smoking Gauloises with well-rehearsed Gallic insouciance. We loved, Paris, He and I, almost as much as we loved our Geordie homeland.

Time away is becoming more and more difficult since Mark’s death. Crushing transportation fears aside, the truth is, I simply don’t want to go anywhere. Coming home, to our little village, I feel a weight lift in my heart. It cocoons us, this place, and increasingly, I don’t want to leave it.

“You’ve got some help, mate,” my friend told me as we bade farewell at the end of our Small World weekender. “You’ve always been anxious, but it has reached a new level.”

The world has indeed become smaller. But at this rate, I’m worried it’ll soon end at my front door.

The Stephen Fry of the playground

I’ll admit it. Young children bore me. Up until they reach the age of about seven, I couldn’t be less fascinated by what they have to say. The_Thinker_Rodin-2

They undoubtedly feel the same way about me though, so I don’t feel too guilty about the admission.

(I refer to my child here, by the way. Yours might be the Stephen Fry of the playground, in which case I’d love to buy them a latte and have a chat.)

But is a five-year-old child capable of introspection?

Last night mine interrupted Masterchef to tell me she was going to the bathroom in order to have a think about Daddy.

“About who?” I asked, distracted by the pannecotta on the screen which looked indisputably like a breast with a huge nipple. (Greg’s grin when he saw it suggested he thought so too.)

“About our Daddy, what died,” she replied.

Off she tootled to the john and shut the door behind her.

She was in there a long while. After Greg had sampled the breast (predictably, he LAHVVED it), I knocked and opened the door.

“Get out!” she barked. “I want to be on my own so I can think.”

When she came out I asked her what she’d been contemplating.

“I was thinking about when Daddy died,” she replied.

“Oh. And did you feel happy when you thought about Daddy, or sad?”

“I felt happy and sad.”

Like Dianne Weist in Parenthood trying desperately to connect with her surly hormonal son, I found myself saying;

“I’m here if you want to talk. Or if not, talk to Mrs X at school. Or perhaps Mrs Y. Or Grandma! Or Aunt!”

She nodded at me like I was deranged, then asked for an Oreo.

Finally I find myself genuinely interested in something she has to say, but unlike her views on Barbie and the Secret Kingdom, she is suddenly unwilling to share.