#decadechallenge

 

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2010

Lucie brownlee

2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How’s your decade been?

Mine was a mixed bag. Lost a husband, gained Nietzschean resilience and a faux-fur coat. Every cloud.

It all started so well. Mark’s heart seemed to be shored up after the ‘cardiac event’ of 2008; we edged ever closer to North from Cheltenham to Yorkshire; our daughter (then two) seemed as if she might finally stop growling at people.

Two years in, on that unspeakable Saturday in February 2012, Mark died, and the decade as I’d planned it suddenly crumbled apart. ‘Time’ and ‘years’ – those chimerical concepts onto which we optimistically pin the structure of our lives – instantly lost their meaning. He’d been gone an hour and already it felt like forever. Soon He’ll have been gone eight years, and it feels like yesterday.

For anyone new to this loss of spouse stuff, I can tell you a little bit about the intervening years. I have scant recollection of the first one – it passed in a twelve-month hangover and the numb fog of disbelief. The second one, I spent writing – this blog, and a book featuring my version of what savage loss looks and feels like. (A heart-warming Christmas gift, folks!)

Through the rest, I have bimbled and spun. I have made some crushingly bad choices, investing myself in people who didn’t value me, or my daughter, enough; or hurting those who did. I’ve drunk too much red wine. Old worries have transformed into new worries, but in the spirit of my burgeoning anxiety distraction technique collection, we won’t dwell on those.

But I have made some sparklingly good choices too; those which have brought fun, and joy, and new meaning to my life. Old relationships have grown stronger, new relationships have flourished from the ashes.

And our daughter – my daughter – has gained ten years. She no longer growls; she whistles, with a gusto rarely seen. (TV theme tunes are a particular talent – she has perfected University Challenge and Only Connect.) But I can only look on in what feels like panic, or grief, as she loosens herself inexorably from where we have been barnacled to each other, and tiptoes into the surly freedoms of young adulthood.

With the turn of a year, many of us imagine renewal; transcendental change at the pull of a party popper. It is for this reason that resolutions are made, and for the same reason that resolutions are unmade three days later. Mine, if you’re interested, are to sod all talk of the end of the decade, and try and enjoy each day as it comes.

Instead, I’ll use it as a clumsy excuse to play Mark’s favourite song. Here’s Neil Young, from his album Decade. This is Heart of Gold.

 

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?

Kardashian Tales of, like, Whoa!

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A staircase, yesterday.

Tomorrow evening marks exactly two years since Mark and I went upstairs together for a quick husband-and-wife congress, and only one of us came down again. (Alive that is. The other was in a body bag. Does that count?)

They tell me it gets easier. Even people who have lost their spouses tell me this, and they are generally the only people I am prepared to believe.

In fact, I had a text from one of my widow phone-a-friends last night testifying to this very fact.

“It gets easier with time. Honest.”

But my response was:

“I know you’re right. But it doesn’t feel like it should, though.”

What I meant, of course, is that it feels disloyal, somehow, for ‘things to get easier.’ This is a pointless sentiment, I know, yet I find it tempers almost everything I do.

Because certain things have got easier.

I am no longer wandering about in the mist of disbelief – I’m living again. I can feel the rush of the wind, the warmth of a tentative north-east sun, the pot-holes in the pavement beneath my feet.

I am enjoying the occasional, sometimes difficult-to-reconcile, company of another man.

And surely the barometer of whether things are improving: I am able to get affronted about trivial shit again. (Did Khloe Kardashian REALLY blow Kanye’s engagement surprise for Kim? I mean, like, what is her problem??)

But each time I have these moments of reprieve, it’s as if grief’s thumb reaches out from behind the silver-lined cloud and lodges itself into my forehead.

I guess this is because the reality of Mark’s death – the fact that He is no longer here, and never will be again – doesn’t, and shouldn’t, get easier. Unlike Kardashian tales of, like, whoa!, His death is a genuine fucking affront.

And be it two years or twenty years from the moment we climbed those stairs, it always will be.

An Acceptance Speech

Bingo

Bingo (Photo credit: Gerry Dincher)

Ten years ago I undertook a job within local government.

Along with the endless supply of cakes and people named Kevin came a whole new vocabulary.

‘Thought-shower’. ‘Blue-sky thinking’. ‘Silo-working’. It was Bullshit Bingo on a County-wide scale. It took some getting used to, but in the end I acquiesced and heard myself one day in a meeting uttering the words; “We must strive for a multi-agency approach in order to push the envelope further…’. That may have been the day I handed in my notice.

Like any new arena, grief throws forth a whole new vocabulary too. ‘Time’ is a popular grief-speak word. ‘Process’ is another. And everyone’s favourite (altogether now!): ‘Moving On!’

The most puzzling though, for me at least, is the word ‘Acceptance’.

The other expressions I can sort of get with, but ‘Acceptance’ sticks in my craw. In this context, what the fuck does it mean?

Dictionary.com gives four possible definitions of the word:

1. the act of taking or receiving something offered.

2. favourable reception; approval; favour.

3. the act of assenting or believing: acceptance of a theory

4. the fact or state of being accepted or acceptable
Of all of these, number three seems the most likely to apply in the case of grief. But even then, it’s tenuous. How can one assent to, or allow oneself to believe, that one’s loved one has left the planet definitively, never to return? The person to whom one spoke, every single day, about everything and nothing? The one to whom one was attached literally, emotionally, perennially, and who was loved above all others?

This throws up another of the impossibilities of grief. Seemingly everyone wants you to strive for The Big ‘A’. This is the goal, the holy grail, the point at which everything will be OK. But, if Dictionary.com has it right, how do you ever reach that point?

To me, it’s another example of Bullshit Bingo. I’ve a feeling I’ll be waiting a long time for Full House.

The Gift

An icon illustrating a parent and child

An icon illustrating a parent and child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Child: good thing to be left with after death of spouse, or just another gut-wrenching reminder of what is lost?

Well, actually, both. But I hadn’t paused to consider it much until yesterday when I went walking with a widowed friend of mine and the question came up.

She lost her husband 25 years ago in a car accident. They’d been married less than a year and had no children.

“I wished we’d had a child, so I had something left of him,” she told me. “If your husband has to be taken from you, a child is the greatest gift they can leave.”

Which of course is true, right? An admission of anything else would be akin to child abuse and would cause any sane (or possibly non-bereaved person) to balk into their cornflakes.

But here’s the thing; I have been feeling a bit miffed with Mark of late. For leaving me with all this pain, and to cope as a single parent to boot. As a child of divorcees, unilateral parenting was not what I wanted for my daughter. Mark and I had created a happy household for god’s sake! Why did He have to go and break it up?

Totally irrational, I know, but there it is. Grief’s such a bitch, it makes you start resenting someone who had no choice in the matter of their death.

And whilst I love my daughter more than anything in the world, she does pose a problem. She looks like Him. She asks questions about Him. She reminds me every day that I am a lone parent and that He has gone.

She is indeed a gift. But one I wish we could have shared.

Grief’s the monkey

Procrastination may have brought about the downfall of Hamlet, but had the Danish prince had access to You Tube, it’s possible that he would have gained insight much more quickly.

An irritating, parasitic little shit. (picture credit: www.02vavara.wordpress.com)

An irritating, parasitic little shit. (picture credit: http://www.02vavara.wordpress.com)

He could have kicked back and watched this clip for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_sfnQDr1-o.

I’ve been watching it on a loop for the past half-an-hour whilst I muster up the will-power to start on some work.

As well as being an (arguably quite amusing) distraction, the more I watch, the more it makes sense as a representation of my relationship with grief.

Demonstrated through the medium of small mammals.

Bear with me on this one.

In case there’s any doubt – I’m the pig, grief’s the monkey. Even when the monkey loses his grip and falls off, note how he pursues the hapless piglet until he is able to mount once more. He’s relentless. Unforgiving. He probably has his dirty simian fingernails sunk deep into the pig’s weary flesh.

In short, he’s an irritating, parasitic little shit.

Interestingly though, the pig takes it all in his stride. He skitters about, snuffles in the muck, takes a lettuce leaf from the hand of an onlooker. He’s learned to get on with life in spite of the 40lb barnacle on his back and a ludicrous soundtrack.

Grief is a shape-shifter. To some, it’s a cell-mate with whom they are doomed to life imprisonment. To others it’s a gremlin. Some don’t acknowledge it at all, but still it lurks, in some shady corner, behind the filing cabinet. To me it’s a plane wreck, a millstone round my neck, and now it appears as a video on You Tube.

Now I’m off to find meaning in something else completely futile. Which is a pain, because I’ve got so much work to do.

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.