The End?

Family portrait - 2014

Family portrait – 2014

I haven’t written much lately – not on the blog, at least. Most of my writing energy has been expended on the final draft of my book, which, being that it deals with the tumultuous and largely wine-soused course my life has taken since Mark’s death, has taken the place of the therapy offered here.

After Mark survived His sudden and savage illness in 2008, He had one goal: never to let it define Him. He took the pills, checked in for INR tests, trundled down to Oxford for His annual review. He reluctantly acceded to these things because a man with a stethoscope and big glasses told Him He had to.

A less optimistic person may have allowed the regime to take over their lives. But not my husband. It spurred Him on to achieve and conquer. In fact, most of the time He’d have you believe it never happened. (Except in those rare, dark moments of reality which seeped in unseen and made us both sob at the cruelty of it all.)

When I started this blog just over a year ago, it was a giant primal scream into the ether. I had no expectations, just the hope that it might help me cope with the pain of losing Mark.

Turns out, it has.

Thanks largely to those people who have stayed with me, read, commented, understood (or tried to) – and even the odd person who told me I was talking shit – I have realised that I am not alone or abnormal in my grief. And whenever I have felt that I may have stagnated on this journey, I only need look back to my early, frantic posts to see how far I have actually come.

But like Mark with His illness, I don’t wish to be defined as A Widow. I will always be one, but I owe it to Mark to try and live my life beyond that persona.

The book is now finished. My feeling is perhaps so is the blog.

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It’s A Small (Small, Small, Small) World

My daughter and I have recently returned to the homeland after a trip to Eurodisney.untitled (10)

She, light of spirit. Me, light of wallet.

And of weight, given the amount of time I spent on various squatters, home and abroad, in a state of abject angst.

Everything represented a challenge to me, from the boarding of the Eurostar (now my only remaining route off the Island as flying, ferry boats and the front-crawl are out), to dining out.

Being on the Metro felt akin to being buried alive. I feared intruders in the night in our tiny, ground floor apartment. And those irritating little hairdryer-powered scooters they all skitter about on over there were like swarms of hornets out to get me and my child at every corner.

Fortunately we were in the care of an understanding and endlessly patient friend, who organised and ushered us around like a small but highly troublesome school party, and dealt with my sudden gush of tears on the RER with a deft wipe of a tissue and a rousing chorus of ‘It’s A Small World’.

And of course, being in Paris itself was a challenge. Mark lived there, studied there, flounced around its trottoirs wearing turtle-neck jumpers and smoking Gauloises with well-rehearsed Gallic insouciance. We loved, Paris, He and I, almost as much as we loved our Geordie homeland.

Time away is becoming more and more difficult since Mark’s death. Crushing transportation fears aside, the truth is, I simply don’t want to go anywhere. Coming home, to our little village, I feel a weight lift in my heart. It cocoons us, this place, and increasingly, I don’t want to leave it.

“You’ve got some help, mate,” my friend told me as we bade farewell at the end of our Small World weekender. “You’ve always been anxious, but it has reached a new level.”

The world has indeed become smaller. But at this rate, I’m worried it’ll soon end at my front door.

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.

Force-Fed Red Bull on a Waltzer

This morning I looked in the mirror and Jackie Stallone leered back at me.  It tends to happen following A Bad Day, which is what yesterday was.untitled (8)

I’d spent much of it peering in at myself from above, wondering how the hell my life had come to this.

It was perhaps not helped by going to watch The Wolf of Wall Street, which was akin to spending three hours being force-fed Red Bull on a Waltzer. At two hours in, I was so wrung out I actually thought I was going to be sick.

My friend and I went for noodles afterwards and I cried into my Szechuan Pork. Then I suddenly felt anxious: to see my child; to get home; at the sight of rain falling outside. I drove home as the light faded ahead of me, not quite believing that the sun was setting on yet another day He had missed.

It’s days like these when only my Husband will do. I want it to be His voice telling me everything will be OK, pet, and not to worry. I want it to be Him waiting for me when I get home, not a sideboard full of His picture.

I have Mother, of course, and my sister who take on much of the rage on my behalf, but sometimes I feel so broken that even the sisterhood cannot minister to the pain.

Yesterday, The Grief and The Disbelief got me, and like one of DiCaprio’s hookers I had no choice but to lie back and take it.

This morning, though, I patched up Jackie as best I could and told her that she must carry on. I dropped my girl off at school, walked over the fields with my dog and looked on at another day.

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?

A macabre, head-banging, delusional freak

English: Low cost above knee prosthetic limbs:...

English: Low cost above knee prosthetic limbs: ICRC (left) LC Knee (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Great Aunt Edith died fifteen years ago, yet her husband (now a death-defying nonagenarian in the rudest of health) still keeps her prosthetic leg propped up by the fireplace in the lounge.

What a macabre, head-banging, delusional freak, right?

Me? My husband died in my Mother’s house. And sometimes, when Mum’s not looking, I go into the bedroom where He took His final breath, open the cupboard and allow my eyes to drift along the rail of her clothes to where His jacket still hangs. It’s right at the end of the rail, tucked away so it can’t be immediately seen.

Some days I just look, then close the door. Other days I sniff it, then reach into the pockets. There are three used tickets to The Deep in Hull, a half-eaten packet of Extra-Strong Mints and His pill box (empty). In the top pocket, there’s a pen.

Below the jacket, at the bottom of the cupboard, is the overnight case He had brought in anticipation of a weekend at Mother’s.

Inside: wash bag (too painful to look through now, but I know it contains toothbrush, toothpaste, razors – items which still hold His DNA), jeans, a brown leather belt, one pair of brown Dr Marten’s boots (size 9), various jumpers and underwear. He had brought the pair of unworn Superdry socks I bought Him for Christmas too, but I had Him cremated in those.

Meanwhile, downstairs at poor Mother’s is the four pack of Guinness M had bought about an hour before He died. It sits on a shelf in the porch, tucked far enough behind the boxes of washing powder and detergent that it is not immediately obvious, but still, I always check for it, glinting through the gloom. I have forbidden her to get rid of it or to allow anyone else to drink it.

In the light of this, and other evidence (the vacuum packed contents of His wardrobe, His guitar, His ashes), I asked my counsellor today, “Am I building a shrine to M? Should I be getting rid of all this stuff, in order to ‘move on’?”

She looked at me with well-rehearsed neutrality. “You have to do what’s right for you. Some people may not understand it. But others – well, they will.”

I thought about the macabre, head-banging, delusional freak, and his wife’s prosthetic leg.

I understand, Uncle Gordon. I understand old son.

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.