It’s better than drinking alone

English: KitKat chunky. Français : Barre de Ki...

English: KitKat chunky. Français : Barre de KitKat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK so starter for ten: The following lyric is from which song?

‘They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness / But it’s better than drinking alone…’

Answer at end of post. Scroll down there now if you can’t be arsed with a squiffy widow’s random ruminations on above quote.

In fact, my daughter, aged 5, selected this CD today out of a collection of thousands. (Mine amount to around twenty, the rest were His). We listened to it in the car and I was struck by the lyric, as I have been struck by many a song lyric since M died.

This tune involves barflies congregating around a piano, conjoined in mutual melancholia. It’s also a song about drinking, which has become as much a feature of my life as brushing my teeth and a morning brew.

The thing is – everyone is going through their own shit. I’ve lost my husband, I’m never going to see Him again. This has become my life and my eternal sorrow.

But I have come to recognise that my loss is relative to what everyone else is going through. People are fielding blows of their own. One friend has just found out her sister has cancer. Another’s boyfriend is on bail. Someone else is facing redundancy. My Dad visits my Grandpa in the care home every single day in bewilderment that the formidable character he knew and loved is now solely preoccupied by Kit-Kats.

We all invariably end up in the pub discussing and sharing our woes.

But it’s better than drinking alone, right?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVKtL9VU8rQ

A slippery little customer

English: Comfort in Grief

English: Comfort in Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grief, eh? Slippery little customer. It won’t be defined, no matter how you hard you try to pin it down.

Yesterday I was handed a bejewelled box and a book by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross by my daughter’s counsellor. The ‘intervention’ had come to an end and these were the legacy of the sessions.

The box had been hand-decorated by my daughter and had previously housed shoes. Now it was wrapped in brown parcel paper and covered in sequins. It contained a selection of brightly-coloured toys, stickers and pens, supposedly to comfort her in those moments when she was missing daddy. All I saw was flotsam which would invariably end up strewn about my living room floor. I asked her about the pink elephant.

“It’s a pink elephant,” she said.

“Would you like to cuddle it when you’re missing daddy?”

She looked me as if I’d just shat on the carpet. “……….It’s a pink elephant.”

Six weeks well spent then.

Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist with an interest in dying, who coined five ‘stages’ which are apparently typical of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I came across her soon after M died – those early days when I sought a ‘solution’ to my grief by spending a fortune on books on the subject.

Some books contained ‘road maps’ to recovery. Some were heavy with case studies and testimonials from people who had gone through it and survived. None of them made any sense to me though. I didn’t want to ‘recover’. I didn’t want to hear about other people’s losses. I wanted to stop retching every morning, I wanted the jags of anxiety to stop. I wanted M back and for Him not to be dead.

So my conclusion is this: Grief cannot be corralled or boxed or arranged into stages. Grief is different for everyone, as are expressions thereof.

The only solution is to put your head down and push through it. And of course, drink wine.

An inbox full of Arnie

English: Walk-behind lawn mower

English: Walk-behind lawn mower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever since I made the mistake of signing up to an online dating agency (and swiftly un-signing up might I add), my email account has been deluged with photographs of ripple-chested, mahogany-coloured males, all branded with the legend, “These are real members!”

This claim is patently untrue.

Even if I were interested, which I’m not, how is it that when I was (momentarily) a member, my matches were all either aged seventeen with plooks or portly jokers with an interesting line in ties? There wasn’t a mahogany torso to be found. And believe me, I trawled the site looking for one.

This is the insidious nature of the Internet about which M warned me time and time again. Never subscribe to or look at anything unless you are prepared for it to come back and bite you on the arse. I subscribed in a fit of drink-fuelled loneliness, and now I can’t escape from it. Doomed forever to an inbox full of Arnie look-alikes.

The loneliness which prompted the whole damn thing persists though. I miss His company, His humour, the feeling of His body next to me in bed. I miss seeing His face, the sound of His voice. It goes beyond loneliness though; it is a kind of yearning which can’t be fixed by a date with a man with a rippled chest.

Even the lawn-mower-like roar of His snoring which caused so many grumpy nocturnal stomps to the spare room – I’d give an inbox full of Arnie to hear it again.

If You Died I’d.

DSC03355

The two loves of my life, six days before the big one died.

Cardiac surgeons! How come Eddie Large (20 stone and aged 72) lives on and prospers ten years after a heart transplant, whereas the love of my life foundered three years after aortic reconstruction surgery aged 37?

Answers in plain English on the back of a postcard please.

I became aware of Eddie’s death-dodging triumph tonight whilst watching – well, not watching, exactly, staring dumbly at – All Star Mr and Mrs. Ever seen it before? Me neither. I wish I’d never tuned in.

The premise hasn’t changed for a hundred years, only the prize (it’s gone from carriage clock to charity donation) and the calibre of the contestants (formerly members of the public, now people who were famous but are back to being members of the public again.)

Eddie Large and his wife Patsy – er – Large came stumbling onto the stage (no really, they did, Eddie tripped) and announced the startling transplant news. Happy though I was for Eddie, I couldn’t help feeling affronted. What’s his secret?

The show went from bad to worse, as VTs of the three happy couples showed them all at home, fluorescent-toothed and in love, kissing in slo-mo and telling the public how they couldn’t live without the other.

“I can’t imagine life without him,” said Yvette Fielding of her husband Wotzizname.

“I can’t talk about how wonderful she is, otherwise I’ll just fill up,” said Eddie of Patsy.

And who can blame them? I feel the same about my husband. I couldn’t, and can’t, imagine life without Him. I can’t talk about how wonderful He is and was without filling up.

I feel resentful, though, that other couples still have the luxury of only imagining the worst. I feel resentful that Eddie survived what my husband could not. This is a selfish, reproachful and childish response, I know, but there it is.

We used to say to each other, M and I, the line from Lemn Sissay’s Love Poem: If you died I’d.

He did, but I haven’t. I feel selfish about that too.

“Would you love me if I walked like this?”

M

As someone who needs something to worry about, my current fear is that I might forget Him.

OK, not Him, but the little things He used to do.

One buried memory came to me in my sleepless state last night. Sometimes I would wake to find Him propped up on His elbow, asleep, swaying to and fro like one of those wooden pecking bird toys. So enthusiastic was the swaying, that occasionally His nose would nudge into my back. (Yes, you sniggering at the back, it WAS His nose.)

Another bed-based memory is of Him sleeping, perfectly straight, in a diagonal across the mattress, bisecting it into two equal-sized triangles, leaving just a tiny corner for me to curl up into.

I found the empty wrapper of a Breathe-Right strip at the back of a drawer and it reminded me of how I used to hold His nose during the night to stop Him snoring.

Sometimes when He walked in front of my daughter and me He’d lift His knees up one by one and say, ‘Would you love me if I walked like this?’

Photos hold static memories, or memories surrounding a moment in time. But the camera cannot capture the essence of the person, the precious M minutiae which made Him, and our relationship, unique.

A Very Moving Moment

Statler and Waldorf

Statler and Waldorf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Not bloody tennis again,” said my daughter, aged 5.

“Hail John Inverdale and be quiet. I need to watch it,” I replied.

We were trussed up on the sofa in our pyjamas under a duvet, bickering like Waldorf and Statler. Me with my Rioja, her with her milk and biscuit. The dog was also in residence, inevitably, chewing on the fetid raw-hide remnant he had just exhumed from the garden.

This is what we’ve become. Waldorf, Statler and Animal.

Most parents I know have their kids bathed, booked and in bed by seven. Our evening routine consists of a charging of glasses, a short bicker about choice of televisual viewing (Mummy TV presides after 8pm – my daughter now loves The Apprentice and is rooting for that sultry doctor), then an exodus to bed around 10pm.

Occasionally we’ll have pillow-talk:

“I don’t want curly hair.”

“I don’t like broccoli.”

“Why is Daddy in that box in the wardrobe?”

And then we sleep. Much like the evenings I used to have with the other love of my life, actually. (Pillow-talk aside…)

And when I wake up at 2am, thinking of M, I look over at the person spread-eagled in the bed next to me and the weirdest thing happens: I see Him! In the curve of her neck, the roundness of her cheek, the total calm blanketing her face.

(Statler: This is a very moving moment.

Waldorf: Yeah. I wish they’d move it to Pittsburgh.)

Lady in Waiting

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My dog, waiting.

If only all men were as pleased to see me as my dog.

I came home earlier and there he was. In the window. With his waggly tail. And one of my daughter’s toys in his mouth, disembowelled and relieved of all its facial features.

Whenever I leave him, he takes his place on the back of the settee and stares out, waiting for the moment when I reappear. Sometimes I’ve only gone to the car and back, yet he greets me as if I’m Lord Lucan.

He spends his entire life waiting, actually. He’s sitting under my desk now as I type, waiting for a biscuit. He waits for walks, food, bed-time, up-time. In the year that I’ve had him, he has become utterly devoted to me and my every move.

In the first few months after M’s death, I spent much of my time waiting too. Like my dog in the window, I stared out, waiting for Him to return. Time marched on but still I waited. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was waiting for, as logic dictated that He wasn’t coming back. He hadn’t just nipped to the car. But still, I waited.

I realised today, when I returned home and saw the dog at the window, that I am no longer waiting.

I’m not sure when I stopped waiting. I still hold on to a brittle hope that somehow He’ll come walking round a corner – indeed, I fantasise about it: that He’ll materialise out of a crowd of shoppers, or step out of the woods while I’m on a walk.

But the waiting has ended. He’s not coming back.

On homesickness

Nostalgia's not what it used to be

Nostalgia’s not what it used to be (Photo credit: marc e marc)

In one of those weird moments of simultaneity, after I wrote yesterday’s post about homesickness, I opened my bedtime reading to find William Fiennes talking about the same thing. (Although he made no reference to projectile piss at a Madness concert.)

Fiennes describes how the condition was given a medical designation as far back as 1688, by a Swiss physician named Hofer. He called it ‘Nostalgia’, and described it as a ‘serious disease’ characterised by the following symptoms:

‘…continued sadness, disturbed sleep either wakeful or continuous, decrease of strength, hunger, thirst, senses diminished, and cares or even palpitations of the heart, frequent sighs, also stupidity of the mind – attending to nothing hardly, other than an idea of the Fatherland.’

The idea was picked up again in 1754 by a fella called De Meyserey, who observed ‘nostalgia’ in a military context. He emphasised the importance of ‘keeping any soldier who showed signs of homesickness busy, diverted, occupied by tasks or vigorous activity. He recommended medications that would allow the blood and humours to circulate more easily…’

Anyone who has experienced grief will recognise the symptoms, and the prescription for its ‘relief’. Diversions, medications. Anything to help contain the spread of the ‘disease’.

The passage in Fiennes’ book (The Snow Geese) helped elucidate my feelings of ‘homesickness’ within the context of my grief.

For grief is a ‘sickness’ in itself, impacting on every aspect of my new life. And as far as I can see, there is no cure other than to keep going.

Dirty Old Town

English: The exterior of the Tyneside Cinema i...

English: The exterior of the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle upon Tyne, looking towards Pilgrim Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why would anyone feel the need to throw a plastic cup full of their own piss across a crowd of concert-goers?

I found myself pondering this as I tottered on my heels in a field on the outskirts of Newcastle this weekend, watching a Madness gig.

My heart ached as Suggs sang It Must Be Love under a clear Northern sky, the lyric invested with new meaning since M died (As soon as I wake up / Every night every day / I know that it’s you I need / To take the blues away…). But after the umpteenth arc of piss straddled the crowd, I beat a disgusted retreat into the beer tent.

Was this phenomenon unique to Geordieland, I wondered, or does this happen at gigs across the world? (I don’t do gigs, generally. This one was an adjunct to the Races and included Suggs so I made an exception.)

Geordieland. My home. It’s in the marrow of my bones. It has soothed and nurtured me since M’s death to point where I am increasingly reticent to leave it.

It’s where we met, lived, loved and ultimately, where we parted.

We sang Unknown Legend to each other under the Tyne Bridge. We walked around the Laing Art Gallery on an early date, chortling at the exhibits. We drank coffee outside the Tyneside Cinema and warm beer in the Crown Posada.

Some people dream of living where the climate is warm, the landscape beautiful. But after years of living away, our only dream was to come back here – together.

So I’m back now, without Him. It’s a way of keeping Him close. He is in the pavements, the river, the grey rainclouds overhead.

And whatever the source of the precipitation, I’m staying.

Meep meep!

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Look out! Acme anvil!
(picture credit: http://www.rankopedia.com

I’ve started smoking again.

Strictly other people’s fags though – I wouldn’t dream of buying any of my own. (Have you SEEN the price of a pack of Marlboros?)

So essentially, I’m smoking on the odd occasion when I go out and find someone who is smoking, and who is prepared to give me a cigarette.

Hardly anyone smokes anymore though, with even fewer being prepared to share a commodity which costs more per ounce than solid gold, so I’m averaging about one cigarette a month.

If I’m honest, I don’t even like it. It tastes like shit and turns my brain into a waltzer. But! I can add it to the checklist of Reckless Things to do Since Sudden Death of Beloved Husband, and that is its one redeeming feature.

I find that I have stagnated at a confusing intersection on this journey. I am terrified of boarding a plane for fear of dying, yet I’m beating my liver into submission on a nightly basis with red wine. I catastrophise the potential for danger in EVERYTHING my daughter does (Look out! Falling Acme anvil!), yet feel like fucking the first man I meet.

In short, I am wilfully tap-dancing around the edge of oblivion and at the same time I’m scared shitless of my own shadow.

To an extent, I have always had this contradiction in my personality. But since M’s death, the two extremes have polarised further to a point where sometimes, I think I have regressed to my University days – the ones in which I would drunkenly ambush the lead singer of every band who played the Union and insist on taking over the mike. (Cringe!)

Anyway. Enough of this shit. My alter-ego wants to know if she can borrow one of your cigarettes?