#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.

 

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 :

Scan

This is life after death

I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be one of those days.

A wobbly-lipped, can’t-think-about-my-dead-husband-without-wanting-to-claw-my-own-eyeballs-out type of day.

Daft posing. I cry because I miss Him so...

Daft posing. I cry because I miss Him so…

They come and go, days like these. Most of the time, it’s like living in a kind of remission. But then one unremarkable Monday you wake up to find yourself being assailed by a hairy-arsed, sabre-toothed grief demon intent on juicing you to make emotional soup.

Why today? Well I dreamt about Mark pretty much all of last night. Images of Him spooled through my brain like a film reel. And even though I kept waking, the movie didn’t stop. It resumed as soon as my head hit the pillow again.

And I sobbed in these dreams, because I somehow knew that in the morning He would still be gone.

My daughter woke up, naked and small, and I cradled her in the crook of my arm and kissed her face and told her I loved her more than anything in the world. She lay there awhile, being kissed, then asked for Shreddies.

This is life after death. This is the fabled ‘New Normal’. (There’s an expression for the Grief Bullshit Bingo sheet! Cross it off, quick!).

Today I just need to leave my assailant get on with his attack.

Tomorrow the remorseless fucker will no doubt be juicing someone else.

Photographs of dead relatives

This is you and your daddy

My Mother is a keen curator of what M used to call ‘photographs of dead relatives’.

Sepia miniature of unidentified raggy-arsed forebear? Mother’s all over it like Old Etonians in Parliament. She’s got the census from 1743 and worked out it’s a great, great, great uncle’s love child. She’s been on a pilgrimage to an outpost north of Inverness to visit the grave.

The significance of this ancestor differs among family members – most couldn’t give a monkey’s, but for others (well, my Mother), they are an important part of the jigsaw of family history.

I’m doing some historical research of my own at the moment, for a piece of writing I’m doing about Newcastle. This morning I’ve been in the city looking at other people’s raggy-arsed forebears in a collection of photographs from 1860. In one or two of them I thought I recognised myself – the bone structure of the face, the slightly hooded eyes. It is possible, I conceded, that I may be looking at a forebear without realising it. It is certainly conceivable that I am related to a Geordie fishwife, somewhere down the line.

Being in Newcastle always brings out a yearning for M, but I have begun to notice that He has started to take on saintly, almost mythical status in my mind. Thoughts of Him infuse everything I do.

It struck me today, as looked at the photographs and wandered around the Quayside, trying to absorb the history of the place, that M is now ‘a dead relative’. All that remains of Him for my daughter are scant memories (if any memories at all), photographs and some personal effects. I can record, recount, curate and archive His life until my fingers bleed, but for her, He will always be in 2D.

Yes, she looks like Him. Her kids will probably look like Him. Her kids kids will probably look like Him. He ‘lives on’, as people keep telling me.

But the fact is that He has already become a photograph of a dead relative to add to the pile.

This is not a suicide note

In a tragi-comic twist, my Granny died five days before M.

Me, writing a message down for Granny on the whiteboard, as she couldn't hear.

Me writing a message down for Granny on the whiteboard, as she couldn’t hear.

She was old, tired, she’d had enough. She was also much beloved.

M and I cried together when we heard the news. Little did we know that by the end of that same week, He’d be gone too.

The day after Granny died, Dad told me: “It’s sad, but life is for the living.”

I took it as one of those perfunctory statements that people make in such situations. Didn’t give it much thought, got on with the task of living. For the next four days, at least, until my world would shockingly and without warning become utterly un-liveable.

Dad’s statement has been on my mind lately though. I understand what he was saying, but does living really exclude the dead?

In a purely physical way, yes it does. But M is still so much part of the fabric of my life and that of my daughter, I can’t condemn Him to that other land. His presence is felt in everything, from the food we eat, to the TV we watch, to the choices we make about the future.

I still grapple with a need to conceptualise the two worlds (living and dead) and their relationship with each other, which is why I cannot yet inter His ashes. I need a physical remnant of Him to remain here – a box of dust to act as a bridge between the two lands.

In the early days after M died, I wanted to die myself. Not to ‘be with Him’, because I don’t believe that’s how it all ends up. (If it does, however, knowing my luck I’d be stuck with Whitney Houston, who died on the same day. Christ, imagine that warbling in your ear for the ever-after.)

I wanted to die because the pain of losing Him was so intense, I just wanted it to stop. Many widows I know felt the same.

I never actually attempted to end my life though – mainly for fear that I’d end up in a series of botched attempts like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. But also because I have a responsibility to myself and those still living who love me. Plus it isn’t the answer to all this. I’m not sure what is.

But given that we’re all heading that way in the end, and seemingly there is no logic or forewarning from the Reaper, my revenge is to live.

And to live well. Cheers!

Ooo, Hebburn is a Place on Earth

English: Jerry Springer at a Hudson Union Soci...

English: Jerry Springer at a Hudson Union Society event in January 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t kids say the funniest things? (To be said in Tony Blackburn voice for ultimate effect).

My daughter last night, for example. Lying in bed, exchanging our ritual Jerry Springer-style ‘final thoughts’ before shut-eye.

Her: “Daddy didn’t die in Heaven.”

Me: “Mmmm? What do you mean?”

Her: “He died in Grandma’s bed.”

Me: “…Yes…”

Her: “Where is Heaven?”

My atheist bile began its stealthy rise. “Heaven…well…it’s not real, sweetheart.”

“Father Michael says Cheesus died in Heaven.” Pauses. No response from Mother. Sings: “I am the Lawn of the dance says He….”

It brought to mind the old play-on-words M used to sing about a town in our native North-East: ‘Ooo Hebburn is a place on earth!’

I tossed from side to side for a good while, contemplating religion. I concluded that maybe it would just be easier if I got one.

My daughter attends a faith school (Church of England I think, although not entirely certain.) It was the nearest one and to be honest, when I enrolled her I was in sudden-death induced catatonia. It could have been orthodox Jewish and I would have signed her up. But she comes home with all this gubbins and I don’t know how to deal with it. At Easter time, she was distraught because Cheesus was resurrected from the dead yet daddy wasn’t. But why wasn’t He?

“Because Cheesus is…a fairy?” I proffered.

It didn’t wash. A man in a dress had come into school and suggested that Cheesus was a real, live human being who had come back from the dead. The man was adamant about this point. He completely confused my daughter. And me.

Maybe it is just easier to believe that M has gone to Heaven. To an, ehem, ‘better place’, because actually the prospect of anything else is too much to cope with. In a sense, it’s too difficult to explain.

Yeah, at 10pm on a weary Friday night, that suits me actually.

He’s in Heaven, sweetheart. With Cheesus and the fucking Wombles.

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.