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.

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Hairy, low voice, no interest in shoes

I wasn’t going to tell you, but I was out with a man on Friday night.

A man who likes shoes. This is NOT my non-date. (photo credit:  www.datehookup.com)

A man who likes shoes. This is NOT my non-date.
(photo credit: http://www.datehookup.com)

Yes, you know, one of those; hairy, low voice, no interest in shoes.

I wasn’t going to tell you, because it wasn’t a date. And I didn’t want you thinking anything untoward of me. I didn’t want you thinking I was betraying my husband, cheating on Him in some way, enjoying the company of another male. Or perhaps it’s just me who was thinking that, and you have no such misgivings at all.

As I said, it wasn’t a date. It was drinks and dinner with a ‘mutual’ friend, who had, many years ago, lost his girlfriend too. It was in fact a widows support group with only two members.

But actually, we didn’t spare much time talking about our respective losses. He’s gone, she’s gone, what’s there to discuss? Instead, we quaffed red wine and had a laugh.

And, as anticipated, now the boozy afterglow has dimmed, I am in the throes of fervent self-interrogation.

Why didn’t we spend more time talking about them? What pearls of wisdom for getting through this shit did I miss out on from my non-date whilst we were guffawing in the bar? What would Mark have thought about me being out with one of his old school adversaries?

Truth is, it’s been eighteen months since I sat in a restaurant opposite one of those hairy, low-voiced representatives from the other half of the human race, and it was rather nice.

I miss the sorts of conversations men have. They don’t talk about feelings so much, they don’t tend to ulcerate about the minutiae. They’re totally ambivalent about the frankly SUPERB  pair of wedges I bought in the Office sale. (Twenty quid by the way. I shit you not.) I’m wildly generalising of course, but you catch my drift.

I like men, which is why I married one. And whilst I’m not interested in having a boyfriend, a friend who is a boy might be nice.

Life goes on, and assorted other cliches

"Curse of an Aching Heart", 1913 she...

“Curse of an Aching Heart”, 1913 sheet music cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

It’s a warm and fuzzy theory and everything, but the deeper I sink into the hell of losing my husband, best friend and soul mate, the more I think it may just be another of those placatory statements which means absolutely fuck all.

A steely, love-free heart would be preferable to the broken, aching organ which currently occupies a cavity in my chest. At least then there would be no pain – it would simply be deflected.

If I’d never met Him, how much easier the act of living would be. He would have died and I would never have known. I would have always looked for Him, I’m sure, as I spent 26 years looking for Him, but this sensation of being somehow bereft of a limb would be muted. Selfish thing to say, but try a mile in these shoes.

We were cut from the same cloth, you see. Fitted together like the last two pieces of a jigsaw. Distinct personalities, yet fundamentally linked. How do I proceed now He’s gone, so suddenly, so definitively?

I’m on the pills, doing the counselling, distracting myself with child, dog, wine, writing! Child, dog, wine, inappropriate men! Child, dog, wine, new sideboard! I’m playing my role in this act of living to great effect.

But something’s shifted in the grief process. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I feel different. The weight on my shoulders feels heavier. Even the thought of His name is too much.

Listen, don’t worry though. Tomorrow’s another day. Life goes on. Onwards and upwards.

And assorted other clichés.

Within a couple of hours, I knew I would be free.

Napoleon at Saint Helena.

Napoleon at Saint Helena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have two books on the go at the moment.

The first, and surely the most impressive, is my ‘serious’ read about Napoleon’s incarceration on St Helena (fascinating peeps – did you know Boney’s balls were pickled post-mortem and are now on display in a museum in France?)

The second is my ‘bathroom’ book – Chris Evans’ memoir about being utterly alcohol-soused in his early career, and how he came through it.

The chapters in the latter are scientifically word-counted to the length of time it takes to excavate a turd. But in terms of cracking reads (see what I did there?), it’s on the button. I started off hating the guy and now I want his ginger babies.

What is it about the narrative that appeals? His raw and boundless honesty, that’s what. He’s done some crass things in his time, but he’s totally up front about them. No holds barred. It’s a Catholic confessional wrapped up in 200 pages.

It is hard to be full-frontal about things that general society considers to be distasteful, particularly if you are in the public eye. I am very much out of the public eye, yet some of the things I have done since my husband’s death have confounded those I am closest to. Myself included.

I’m only halfway through his book, but already Evans has done some toe-curling stuff. As a listener to his morning show I know how the story ends, but there could have been so many other ways for it to go.

But I have found unexpected wisdom and comfort in his words. Whilst he doesn’t deal in grief directly, his reflections resonate with me at this moment in my life. Take this one on alcohol for example:

“I remember taking several drinks on board and waiting for the periods of cerebral protection to kick in. With the thought of this safety blanket wrapped around me I could look forward to forgetting about the growing muddle of things in life I didn’t want to face. Within a couple of hours I knew I would be free.”

If my husband’s death has taught me anything, it is that you can’t guarantee your reactions to anything.

When it comes to the crunch, you’re a stranger. Even unto yourself.

A Head Full of Funk

The Inconsolable Widow

The Inconsolable Widow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are certain things that only widows know. And like any exclusive group, we like to keep our knowledge to ourselves.

This is mainly because people outside the group don’t have a clue what we’re going through and rather than get irate about their reactions (last post notwithstanding), we don’t bother them with the detail. But really, there’s an underground revolution going on. Widows are communicating via closed fora and private coffee meets all across the world. It’s like the Resistance, with cappuccinos and Kleenex.

At the risk of being cast-out, I’m going to share one pearl of received widow-wisdom. It is known as…’The Six Month Low’.

It is the point in widowhood when friends have stopped their cross-country pilgrimages to see you, their daily pep-texts have dwindled to once a week. This isn’t a criticism. Lives must go on and just because M was a central part of my life, I can’t expect the loss to be felt with the same sense of perpetuity by anyone else.

Six months is the point at which you feel at your lowest ebb. You have to reach into the pit of your resources for the last remnant of strength to pull you through.

Except, here’s the thing – for me, it didn’t happen. Six months was no worse than four months or nine months. In fact, I’m about to propose a new timescale theory: how about eighteen months? Because actually, today, as I approach eighteen months without M, I’m feeling a mixture of rage and heartbreak, and wondering if I can carry on.

I’m so fragile you could break me with a breath, and so angry I could kill someone. I’m feeling the loss in that space between my shoulder blades and in the joints of my fingers. My bottom lip won’t stop wobbling. I’m scrabbling about in the pit of my resources and emerging with nothing.

I am aware this is liable to change. After all, two days ago I was all for living it up. I guess what I’m trying to say is that timescales don’t work. It’s not an illness from which one recovers. This will go on and on.

Today I’ve got a head full of funk. Tomorrow it may be the musical type instead.

A Chimp with a Gun

Sam is capable of using his own abilities, eve...

Sam is capable of using his own abilities, even if this is something his host normally can not do. Taken from the Season 4 episode “The Wrong Stuff” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Widowhood feels like that programme from the 80s, Quantum Leap.

When that bloke arrives in a new world feeling like himself, only to look in the mirror to find he’s now a naughty nun.

Like learning how to live again, widowhood presents a series of ‘firsts’ and new choices. All to be dealt with whilst fighting off the grief gremlin who is clinging to your back  – yeah, Dr Sam Beckett, you didn’t have to deal with THAT added twist, did you?

Today, I had a ‘first’. Yes, seventeen months in. I thought I’d pretty much fielded all the balls in this ‘new normal’, but an emotional googly came at me today, threatening to deflate an otherwise glorious day.

I’d met with some friends in a park in Newcastle. It was a searing 24 degrees, cloudless sky, the kids were free-range, we were young, bronzed and gorgeous*.  (*OK, the group next to us were young, bronzed and gorgeous, but we were absorbing it. Like osmosis. And that was what mattered).

You just knew something had to come along and shit on it.

And he did. Right at the end, as we were saying our goodbyes. Steve Duncan appeared on the periphery of my vision. (We’ll call him Steve Duncan, for that is his name).

Steve Duncan was an ex-colleague both M and I shared. We worked on a youth project together in Sunderland ten years ago and aside from a wild Hallowe’en party involving a Hulk mask and a bowl of vodka-laced gunk, I haven’t seen him since. Yet there he was, Steve bloody Duncan, now with blonde-haired child calling him daddy.

My blood instantly chilled. Steve Duncan wouldn’t know about M. He’d be over in a minute, asking me how things were, what I was up to, how was his old mate M? I could see him looking at me with that, “That is her, isn’t it?” half-smile expression on his face, poised for the approach.

It occurred to me that I had not yet had to deal with people who had known M, but who weren’t aware He was dead. I was confident that social media had covered this for me. But Steve Duncan had been out of the loop for so long, the news wouldn’t have reached him.

I gathered my child and my dog and scurried up the hill towards the car. When I looked at my reflection in the wing-mirror, it could well have been a naughty nun looking back at me.

Another experience in this strange new world.

Note on picture: WordPress suggested it as an accompaniment to this post. This baffled me at first – what combination of words could have prompted it? But then I realised that over the past four months, Wordpress has clearly come to know me better than I know myself. For that is exactly what I feel like. A chimp with a gun. Thanks WordPress!

The Cynical Imp

A stainless steel frying pan.

A stainless steel frying pan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know on Tom and Jerry, when Tom gets hit by a frying pan and there’s that ‘doiing-ng-ng!’ sound, followed by Tom’s teeth dropping out one by one?

That was me, today, after my counselling session.

The idea was to talk through M’s last day on Earth in the present tense, responding to prompts by my counsellor. The conversation would be recorded so that we could listen back to it.  The cynical imp who has occupied a space on my shoulder throughout most of my life snortled: This is going to be a total waste of time. What’s for lunch?

Yet despite him, the Exposure Therapy began.

“What’s the date?” the counsellor asked.

The cynical imp was slightly affronted. He didn’t like being taken back to that date. “It’s Saturday, February 11th, 2012.”

“What are your plans for the day?”

“We’re going to Durham. My Grandma died on Tuesday, (yes, in a tragi-comic twist, my beloved Granny died 5 days before M) so we’re going home to support Mum.”

“Are you leaving on time?”

“No – we’re messing about.”

“What are you doing?”

“M is in the shower and I’m drawing rude shapes in the condensation and telling Him that I’m apprehensive about the funeral of my Grandmother. It’s the first funeral of a family member that I have attended, and I’m scared.”

“What does M say?”

“He says, ‘don’t worry pet, I’ll be there with you…'”

We continue for 13 minutes. We go through loading the car, listening to Neil Young on the car stereo. We go through leaving the village and heading west on the A64 towards the A1 north. We don’t even make it to my Mother’s house before I’m weeping into a tissue.

The cynical imp is WELL fucked off at this emotional turn of events.

The tape is stopped and rewound. This is the point when the frying pan comes swinging into full force. I close my eyes, I listen to myself and I relive that day.

M is there, in His black-grey M&S Italian-cut jacket. We’re in the bedroom of our home: our little nest, just off the A64 – opposite the church, 100 yards from the Coach and Horses. We’re shooting the shit, talking about something and nothing, like couples do. Like couples do. Like couples do.

I sob and I sob, and the counsellor says she’s going to stop the tape.

She asks: “What was it that prompted the emotional reaction?”

“It’s the conversations which only happen between two people who have known each other intimately inside and out; who are best friends and lovers in one. The sort of conversations you can’t have with even your closest friend. I haven’t had one of those for eighteen long months. I’m never going to have one again with Him. It’s another layer of my sorrow, exposed.”

I call for a halt and leave the session.

The cynical imp is chastened and exhausted.

Round two next week. Doiing-ng-ng!!!