Woman v G-Force

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Six months after Mark died I attended a course entitled “Overcoming Grief.” From the outset it seemed to me to be fundamentally flawed. Could grief really be overcome, like a dose of the flu or a profound dislike of Steve from Accounts?

I mentioned this to the course leader. She was such a lovely woman, what with her cupcakes and her clip-art, that I felt bad afterwards. And actually, whilst the course didn’t solve the issue of, you know, the death, it did help to move me along.

Below are some of the many attempts I have made at ‘overcoming’ my grief since. Perhaps reading them will make you feel less alone, or, if nothing else, give you something to fold your arms ‘neath your bosom and have a ‘tsk’ at.

I have tried writing my way through it. Drinking my way through it. Fucking my way through it. Drugging my way through it (prescription of course). Talking my way through it. Laughing, crying, bluffing my way through it. Buying my way through it (net result – cupboard full of fabulous shoes!)

I have tried apportioning blame and getting angry; I’ve tried telling myself how fortunate I am to have His child, for the happiness He brought to my life, for the fact that He died in my arms, unwitting, not frightened or alone. I’ve tried remembering the atrocities that are happening every day all over the world, being thankful for my family, friends, my home and my health.

It’s almost three years since Mark died, and despite my tireless wrestling and negotiation with grief, it still sometimes hits me with a force to make my face go like Clarkson’s (above).

Tomorrow Mark would have turned 40, and Grief Force has got me.

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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.

The Tao of Sudden Death

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Many years ago I worked for a well-known chain of booksellers. The shop was in an out-of-town shopping mall near Bristol, and I once served Colin Jackson. (He bought the Guinness Book of World Records. Presumably to prove to his mother that he really was holder of the title for ‘Longest Peanut Throw’. No really, he was.)

The sales counter was always festooned with those irritating little books of quotations that are apt to be bought and then immediately misplaced behind the settee, and as booksellers we were required to promote them with each sale.

It always confounded me as to why anyone would buy these books. They seemed to contain nothing but a selection of mawkish quotes about life and love and ‘self-realisation’. Yet they were in perpetual need of being restocked.

Since Mark’s death, I have turned into the sort of person who would buy one. I have become a consumer of quotes and affirmations, one of those people who retweets schmaltz written in dreamy script set against an image of a tranquil Scottish loch.

Because in trying to make sense of Mark’s death, of its brutality and its unjustness, I have sought answers everywhere. But really, no-one knows what to say.

For example, I asked my Dad one night: “How can I ever accept this?”

Dad thought about this and poured himself another whisky. “You can’t because it is unacceptable,” he replied.

This is a man with a PhD and a good line in advice, whose word I tend believe more than any other. Yet when it came to sudden death, he was as clueless as everyone else.

Quotations are comforting in bereavement, even the twee ones, because they are proof that someone has been there before; and by consequence reach out to those of us who are stuck for words.

I’ll end with one I retweeted this week:

I keep myself busy with the things I do,
But every time I pause, I still think of you.

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.

In with the New

untitled (6)The great thing about building a new life in a new place, with new friends, a new dog and a whole new capsule wardrobe, is that you are able to trick your psyche into thinking you’re in control of your grief.

Sure, you continue to think about the old life, the one that ended so savagely, so suddenly on an idle Saturday in 2012, but if everything around you is ‘new’, you are spared reminders of the gut-wrenching reality of what has really happened.

New things serve as a shiny length of gauze over the gaping wound around your heart. They have no trace of your spouse’s DNA in them; they don’t conjure a memory of His laughter, a throw-away line He may have said.

Then a reminder from your old life comes blundering in and plants a turd in your carefully constructed shelter of denial, catapulting you back to the blubbering heap of two years ago. (Actually, that’s not strictly true – I wasn’t a blubbering heap two years ago – I was a functioning automaton. It took at least six months for my nervous system to catch up.)

So there I was this weekend, taking afternoon tea in celebration of the sixtieth birthday of a friend from said ‘old’ life. The finger rolls had barely touched down on the table before I felt the slow rise of despair in my gut.

I had failed to anticipate how being surrounded by a gaggle of twenty women from my former life would make me feel. They knew me before I met Mark. They followed us through our courtship. Some were guests at our wedding. Some were mourners at His funeral.

I looked around the table at these poster-girls for a happier time and wondered how much longer I could hold out before ruining my dear friend’s party with an unsavoury outburst of grief.

Finally I took my leave and veered off homeward in my car, barely able to see the road through the torrents of my new mascara.

I didn’t stop until I arrived back outside my new house, with its newly-rendered fascia and new front door.

Going Gaga

Grief. It’s how I imagine a relationship with Lady Gaga would be. Unpredictable and ultimately very wearisome.untitled (5)

Last week I testified to feeling the brittle rays of happiness seeping into my being. And to a degree, they continue to permeate, but these last two nights I have been caught out by a familiar sinking in my guts.

This generally happens when I’m sober and alone, and make the foolish mistake of reflecting on my missing Love, or looking through the remaining documentary evidence of our life together.

Last night I found myself browsing photographs on my computer. Some of them were close-ups of Mark, where I could make out the individual strands of gingery hair in His sideburns, the minuscule pocks in His skin. I came to the end of the selection and realised, like the last of His DNA (which is stored, for some reason, in a fridge in Salisbury), that the pictures are finite.

My back catalogue stops on a snow-covered walk a week before He died. And on that very last picture, He is seen plodding protectively behind our daughter, who has gone from toddling pain in the arse to celestial little girl in the two years since His death.

I have likened my experience of grief to many things on this blog, from a monkey riding a pig to Dave Myers’ hair. Today’s clunky analogy is of grief as an anglerfish – that duplicitous deep-sea gargoyle which lulls its prey into a false sense of security by emitting a soothing light, only to consume the hapless bastard the minute it starts to relax.

Like I said, unpredictable and wearisome.

It’s enough to make you Gaga.