Sphincter-clenching transgressions of youth

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Eee, hiya Rodney!

Up to now, the only ‘flashbacks’ I have experienced have been mainly based on the sphincter-clenching transgressions of youth; you know, being ushered off stage at a gig in the Student Union after drunkenly taking over the mike, or shouting ‘Eee, hiya Rodney!’ at Nicolas Lyndhurst as he came out of Pimlico Tube station during his serious acting phase.

This weekend, I experienced a flashback of the moment – the very moment – my husband died, and unlike a mere ‘memory’ of it, the flashback transported me to the bed in Mother’s house where He lay before me and I sat looking at Him wearing nothing but a cold shroud of disbelief.

The flashback accosted me on a single track country road in Shropshire of all places, where seconds earlier my only thoughts had been how glorious the weather was in this hitherto undiscovered county. Ergo, it had no place nor reason to suddenly confront me in the way it did. But it did, all the same.

I reacted the way I suppose most people who become reacquainted with a moment of extreme trauma do; by hyper-ventilating and threatening to be sick all over Shropshire’s ancient hedgerows.

Later, equilibrium restored, wine glass in hand, I found myself secretly frightened by the flashback. Unlike Rodney’s exit from the Tube, this was a genuine revival of the worst moment of my life, and it had the power to mentally and physically eviscerate me. And scarier still, it had come from nowhere.

Fortunately I had been in the company of a friend when it happened, but what if I had been alone, or worse, with my daughter?

Suddenly those transgressions of youth don’t seem so bad after all.

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Following behind with a defibrillator

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The auburn curls.

Everyone believes their spouse to be exceptional; as a lover, perhaps, or a parent. Or a bore.

My husband was exceptional in many ways, right down to the exceptional nature of the genetic affliction which eventually saw Him crashing out of life in an exceptional manner one unexceptional Saturday in February.

Genetic science has not evolved enough yet to understand why Mark’s aortic dissection happened in the first place. They’re saving His remaining DNA for a point in the future when somebody in a lab coat and big glasses is able to work it out. (The geneticist did explain it all to me, but my brain reacted as it always does when confronted with science – implement the shut-off valve and begin thinking about wine.)

The fear now is whether my daughter may have inherited whatever rogue element was to blame for her daddy’s death.

Most of the time, I am able keep my fears in check. I watch her running full pelt down the road and manage to stop myself from following behind with a defibrillator, ‘just in case’.

Yesterday though I had a moment of tear-filled panic. I was brushing her hair and noticed a couple of depigmented strands in amongst the auburn curls. Three or four white hairs, like lengths of cotton. I admit that I am apt to overact, but hear me out on this.

Mark too suffered from hair depigmentation – it ran in a line, starting in the hair on His head, down through an eyebrow, the wiry hairs of one nostril, on through His beard and into His chest hair. Use your imagination for the rest.

After His aortic dissection, the geneticist suggested this depigmentation might be significant in why it happened. A tenuous connection to the Neural Crest Mosaic, which links the cells responsible for the development of pigmentation and the aorta in a growing foetus. Or something equally baffling to a simpleton like me. It sounded convincing at the time though.

So yesterday, I found myself plucking the offending strands from my daughter’s head, examining them in the sunlight, placing them against my black jeans, mentally preparing a frenzied email to Mark’s geneticist.

My daughter is exceptional – to me, at least – but I hope to Christ this is one area she remains run-of-the-mill.

In with the New

untitled (6)The great thing about building a new life in a new place, with new friends, a new dog and a whole new capsule wardrobe, is that you are able to trick your psyche into thinking you’re in control of your grief.

Sure, you continue to think about the old life, the one that ended so savagely, so suddenly on an idle Saturday in 2012, but if everything around you is ‘new’, you are spared reminders of the gut-wrenching reality of what has really happened.

New things serve as a shiny length of gauze over the gaping wound around your heart. They have no trace of your spouse’s DNA in them; they don’t conjure a memory of His laughter, a throw-away line He may have said.

Then a reminder from your old life comes blundering in and plants a turd in your carefully constructed shelter of denial, catapulting you back to the blubbering heap of two years ago. (Actually, that’s not strictly true – I wasn’t a blubbering heap two years ago – I was a functioning automaton. It took at least six months for my nervous system to catch up.)

So there I was this weekend, taking afternoon tea in celebration of the sixtieth birthday of a friend from said ‘old’ life. The finger rolls had barely touched down on the table before I felt the slow rise of despair in my gut.

I had failed to anticipate how being surrounded by a gaggle of twenty women from my former life would make me feel. They knew me before I met Mark. They followed us through our courtship. Some were guests at our wedding. Some were mourners at His funeral.

I looked around the table at these poster-girls for a happier time and wondered how much longer I could hold out before ruining my dear friend’s party with an unsavoury outburst of grief.

Finally I took my leave and veered off homeward in my car, barely able to see the road through the torrents of my new mascara.

I didn’t stop until I arrived back outside my new house, with its newly-rendered fascia and new front door.

Going Gaga

Grief. It’s how I imagine a relationship with Lady Gaga would be. Unpredictable and ultimately very wearisome.untitled (5)

Last week I testified to feeling the brittle rays of happiness seeping into my being. And to a degree, they continue to permeate, but these last two nights I have been caught out by a familiar sinking in my guts.

This generally happens when I’m sober and alone, and make the foolish mistake of reflecting on my missing Love, or looking through the remaining documentary evidence of our life together.

Last night I found myself browsing photographs on my computer. Some of them were close-ups of Mark, where I could make out the individual strands of gingery hair in His sideburns, the minuscule pocks in His skin. I came to the end of the selection and realised, like the last of His DNA (which is stored, for some reason, in a fridge in Salisbury), that the pictures are finite.

My back catalogue stops on a snow-covered walk a week before He died. And on that very last picture, He is seen plodding protectively behind our daughter, who has gone from toddling pain in the arse to celestial little girl in the two years since His death.

I have likened my experience of grief to many things on this blog, from a monkey riding a pig to Dave Myers’ hair. Today’s clunky analogy is of grief as an anglerfish – that duplicitous deep-sea gargoyle which lulls its prey into a false sense of security by emitting a soothing light, only to consume the hapless bastard the minute it starts to relax.

Like I said, unpredictable and wearisome.

It’s enough to make you Gaga.

Lost in Translation

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Mirth and marriage

Here is the problem with admitting that you may be beginning to feel the gentle rays of happiness in your life again after the sudden and untimely death of your spouse:

You say: “I may be beginning to feel the gentle rays of happiness in my life again after the sudden and untimely death of my spouse.”

People’s internal Google-translate hears: “I am over my husband’s death and have finally moved on! Dig your wet-look leggings out of the wardrobe and let’s have a P.A.R.T.Y.!”

So I’m relying on you to turn your Google-translate off and really listen to the words I am saying.

I may be beginning to feel the gentle rays of happiness in my life again after the sudden and untimely death of my spouse.

Who knew, right?

I didn’t think the word ‘happiness’ would enter my lexicon again, but there it is, nestling in nicely alongside those old stalwarts, ‘misery’ and ‘devastation’, with its jaunty double, double consonants.

Perhaps I didn’t give the New Year enough credit for its capacity for ‘renewal’, but the further I edge into 2014, the more determined I feel to start living again.

It is almost two years since Mark died, and it feels like both a lifetime and the blink of an eye. But what would He say if He thought I were still here, stymied by grief, feeling guilty about making the next move?

“Haway, man, Pet,” He’d say. (You may refer to Google translate here).

Don’t get too excited, mind. This does not mean the ache goes away, nor the tears, nor the moments of worthlessness. In fact, I may be back to square one tomorrow.

Today though, I think what it means is that the grief and the trauma have taken enough. I just want to be happy.

Status report 2014: Husband still dead

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Happiness is…a shitting plastic dachshund

Despite the claims of my horoscope and Zara’s Spring wardrobe, 2014 has thus far offered nothing in the way of transcendental change. My husband is still dead. I’m beginning to think He always will be.

The festive season has been and gone, thank god, and I must send a shout out to those stalwarts who supported me through it.

It remains, however, a bloated turkey fart of a fortnight and I have come to the conclusion that it will never be the same again. The LED-lit jollity was bad enough when He was alive. Now it represents a poxy string of lights flashing around an empty wallet and an even emptier heart.

On the positive side, my daughter got the present of her dreams (yes, Santa delivered on the shitting plastic dachshund), and I was provided with evidence yet again – if any were needed – of the impenetrable nature of my human safety net. No matter how much shit I throw at these people, they just won’t leave me alone.

Over the festive fortnight they persisted in being there whenever my mood plummeted, armed with a salmon nibbly bit or a nice portion of Christmas pud. They sent me texts to let me know they were ‘thinking of me’. Even when I was hiding behind the settee at the strike of midnight at New Year, they sniffed me out and force-fed me champagne until I stopped crying.

And I logged into the blog to find messages of love from the ether too. People I don’t even know who wanted to say they were rooting for me.

Whilst I still enter 2014 with a heavy heart, it is comforting to know there are so many people out there who are prepared to take on some of the weight.

So thank you – and here’s to a Happier New Year?

The Plaintive Parp of the Cartoon Horn

And lo! As the toxic trinity of Christmas, Mark’s birthday and the second anniversary of His death approach, the widow finds herself spiralling further into the bottom of a wine bottle with no desire to re-emerge.last photo - together

Actually, she could just do with getting away for the next eight weeks. Ideally somewhere hot which doesn’t involve air travel, and where TV programmes featuring “Top Chefs” or Matt Baker are banned.

I haven’t felt like myself for the past few days. (My new self, I mean – my old self departed 22 months ago along with my husband.) This is a shame, because I was kind of getting used to the new self. The self who is perpetually miffed and who pretends to be all hard but really is as flimsy as a warm fart. That self was no fun unless she’d had a drink, but at least I was learning to live with her.

This New, New self feels flimsier than ever. Crushed beneath the weight of the people I have lost. I can hear it coming, the weight, like an acme anvil whistling down from the precipice above. And I’m Wile E Coyote in the valley below, waving resignedly to the plaintive parp of the cartoon horn.

Perhaps it’s the season. Perhaps it’s because He would have turned 39 in January. Perhaps it’s because a new series of Take Me Out starts in the New Year, and we were about to watch that when He died. Perhaps my desperation to see Him again has reached a new level, because it’s coming up for two long years and there’s no let up in the amount I’m missing Him.

Which wise-arse said this gets easier?