Come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough.

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That’s me, that is.

Perhaps it’s my hormones that are making me irascible as a cat, but that’s me there, a squatting sumo just waiting for a fight.

I’ll take anyone on, especially if they have an opinion on my grief and how I choose to deal with it. But no-one is immune. That Matt Baker gets it regularly, and don’t get me started on Steve Wright.

Of course, I’m a wuss and would run off in the opposite direction like Duncan ‘Chase Me!’ Norvelle if it came to a real bout of fisty-cuffs.

But fury is fermenting in my guts. I can hear it, gurgling away. It has one means of escape, and that is by knotting itself around my nerves, sinew and digestive tract. And by the occasional outburst of unspeakable profanity and violence directed towards my pillow.

Am I entering the ‘angry’ stage? Have I now ticked off ‘despair’ and ‘hopelessness’ (phew, thank god THAT’S over!). How far have I got to go now for fuck’s sake, according to the manual?

This ‘journey’ is wearisome. It’s becoming predictable in its unpredictability.

When do I arrive at that rose-filled garden of acceptance that everyone keeps talking about? How long before I can come off the pills, drink in moderation and have a laugh about the good times? At what point will I be able to tolerate other people and their concerns again, and afford them the earnest head-nodding of pre-Mark’s death?

I’m off to consult the manual. And then throw it off the wall.

A Dispatch from Widow Twankey

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Me, last night.

I’m in love with a dead man.

Head over heels, lindy-hoppin’, hells-a-poppin’, TomKat-couch-jumpin’ in love. With a dead man. I think about Him and my heart swoons.

I remember the night we met. He was wearing a blue turtle neck jumper, blue jeans, and smoking a Marlboro light. He smiled at me and I was hooked.

“Mother,” I said to The Long-Suffering One that same evening. “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.”

And I did, four years and a small amount of petulance later. (“Well, when ARE you going to ask me to marry you then, for fuck’s sake?!”)

So in all of this – this being truly, madly, deeply in love with a dead man – where could there ever be room for anyone else? And furthermore, what sort of head-banging masochist would put up with being in a relationship with someone who was still in love with said dead man? Particularly one with a small child, a red wine addiction and a habit of unexpectedly breaking down in the throes of grief?

I have been forced to consider this question this week, after a good friend who only cares for my well-being, called me Widow Twankey and instructed me to ‘get a life’. I would have preferred a comparison with a more romantic heroic lead, but I suppose if the hairnet fits…

She said it in response to my admission that I’m lonely and might quite like a friend who is a boy. Her outburst was tempered with humour and red wine, but based on the adages relating to these two concepts and truth, I kinda know she meant it. Others are probably thinking the same, of course, but lack her eloquence to express it.

So, in considering this question, here’s where I’ve got to. I’m in love with Mark. And we exist together in the impenetrable love cocoon that I have created inside my head.

I’m just not sure how to go about letting anyone else in.

Supermarket Sweep in the wine section

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Mark and his daughter

When I was eighteen I took my first boyfriend home for the University holidays. He was American and probably wanted the cultural experience of a north-east outpost for his scrapbook. Besides, he had nowhere else to spend the six month break.

On arrival at my Dad’s, we awkwardly took our bags upstairs and paused on the landing. The cold side of the corridor beckoned for the boyfriend. The pillows in the room next to Dad’s were plumped for me.

I shouted down, “Where are we sleeping?”

“I don’t want to know,” came the response from deep within a newspaper.

I have reflected on this many times since, especially now I have become a parent myself.

Dad must have been munching on his knuckles at the thought of his youngest daughter arriving with her goatee-bearded Yankee lover, but his reaction was worthy of the Modern Parent Award for all-round coolness. The Yank tucked his pyjamas under the plumped pillow next to mine, scarcely believing his luck.

Of all the aspects of Mark’s death which saddens me the most – and picking just one is like playing Supermarket Sweep in the wine section – the relationship He has been robbed of with our daughter is the one which gets me the hardest. And, of course, the relationship she will never have with Him.

For aside from the piggy-backs and tummy-tickles of childhood, He will not be there to guide her, faux-coolly, through the muddle of first boyfriends and other miniature disasters as she grows.

Moreover, the conundrums of liberal Modern Parenthood will be mine alone to mull over.

Ehem. Where’s that newspaper?

Coitus interruptus

English: Hugh Hefner attending Glamourcon #50,...

English: Hugh Hefner attending Glamourcon #50, Long Beach, CA on November 13, 2010 – Photo by Glenn Francis of http://www.PacificProDigital.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Death, mid-coitus. What a way to go, eh?

At least, that was the general consensus after Mark died, after the dust settled and we permitted ourselves an uneasy laugh about it. Another of those placatory, consolatory observations humans make when they don’t know what else to do or say.

Apparently, every bloke wants to pop his clogs in the sack. (Although perhaps not at 37 years-old with a small child and everything to live for. But I’m willing to bet Hugh Hefner’s got his fingers crossed.)

But what about the woman (or man) who is left lying spread-eagled in the wet patch? Can the psychological trauma of such an event – a life-affirming, joyful act turning suddenly into one which represents death and fear – ever be overturned?

Because whilst watching your lover die is never going to be a fun-filled spectacle, feeling their warm, naked body against you one minute and then watching it turn cold just seconds later is up there in the Top Ten Things You Never Want To Have To Go Through In Life.

Sex becomes imbued with a kind of terror. You start to wonder who else you might see off with your thighs. Heavy breathing comes to signify a climax of a very different kind. Facial expressions are apt to be misread.

My counsellor and I talk through such things. But these are thoughts and images which cannot be erased.

So whilst dying mid-coitus might sound like the fun way to go, I can tell you this for nowt – it’s not.

Dave Myers’ hair as a metaphor for bereavement

Dave Myers’ hair isn’t the only tragedy of Saturday nights.article-2438145-185958B600000578-5_634x521

I bumped into a fellow widow in Sainsbury’s earlier (we get around, us widows) and we were discussing one of this blog’s favourite subjects – the tyranny of the weekend.

She agreed that the sagging void represented by the upcoming 48 hours was one of the worst things about finding yourself without a spouse. (That and the fact that your entire world has shrivelled to resemble melting Tupperware.)

A typical Saturday night for me is role-playing Timothy Lumsden with my Mother – but Timothy if he had a mobile phone and a drink problem. In fact, my Mother has been staying with me for a while for reasons I won’t bore you with here, so the Sorry! theme has extended throughout weeknights too.

And Mother has been observing. Clocking. Taking notes.

And she has brought it to my attention (through the medium of furrowed brows and mother-daughter telepathy) that I spend most of my evenings texting people and draining wine. While my daughter wears a groove in the laminate with her scooter.

Having thought about it, this is definitely a post-Mark’s death phenomenon. Endless messaging was not a feature of our evenings as a couple. I don’t even recall what we did in the evenings actually. Just existed, together, I suppose. Then retired to bed with our comics.

Now, I seem to rely on it. Live-streaming the outside world into my lounge has become part of my widow’s safety net. More evidence, if any were needed, of a regression to a sort of petulant grief-induced teenager-dom.

Mother has now moved back into her own house.

But I can still hear the sound of the brows knitting together through the wind…

The Man

A simple flowchart for troubleshooting a broke...

A simple flowchart for troubleshooting a broken lamp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stink.

No really, I do.

I haven’t showered in 48 hours due to the fact that my boiler broke down on Sunday, and despite earnest button-pushing and knob-twirling and attempting to decipher flow-charts in the manual, I have had to call in The Man.

Prior to calling in The Man, two other Mans came to look at it – partners of women-friends, each with varying degrees of competence in boiler button-pushing. One of them even had the front of it off and was poking around with the PCB. (The something-or-other Circuit Board, apparently. He did explain but I dozed off. Standing up, with my eyes open.)

Once he conceded he couldn’t fix it, the second Man agreed to call in the current Man on my behalf – mainly because I hate dealing with this shit, I don’t want to try and understand it, and ordinarily I would have left it to my husband to sort out.

As if this weren’t enough, I have faced the triple whammy of car tax, insurance and licence renewal this week. Where Mark enjoyed the challenge of finding the cheapest quote and the timely submission of inane DVLA bureaucracy, the whole process fills me with dread.

This year, I decided to take it in stages. First, I diligently wrote on my chalk board the words: Tax. Insurance. Licence. They taunted me for a week, before I decided to ask other people what I needed to do.

Anyway, they’re done now. I’m taxed, insured and licenced to within an inch of my life. My boiler is being fixed as we speak.

I am, for all intents and purposes, (and with the assistance of loving friends and family) coping with this hand I’ve been dealt, one task at a time.

But in some areas – the everyday tasks of real life – I really wish I were being cared for by my own Man instead of someone else’s.

Bottling Paul Hollywood

Paul Hollywood

Paul Hollywood (Photo credit: Fields of View)

With the everyday distractions of a busy life – you know, working, childcare, laughing at Paul Hollywood on Bake Off – it is easy to forget that your husband is now just a pile of ashes in a box at the bottom of your wardrobe.

You get on with life, because you have no choice.  And just as those who still have partner intact don’t spend every waking hour thinking about their other half, at twenty months into bereavement, it is impossible to keep one’s mind trained on what is lost.

Which is why, when you find yourself in a moment of distraction-repose, the reality is so sphincter-clenchingly shocking, you wish you could bottle Paul Hollywood and drink him as an antidote to the truth.

This happened to me yesterday. I was teaching small children how to describe their family members in French. They labelled them up on their own paper ‘people-chain’ and titled it ‘Ma Famille’.

Despite the step-siblings and the divorces, they all, without exception, had a ‘mere’ and a ‘pere’.  As a teacher, I have accepted that this is generally the case, so it fails to floor me in the way that it may have done when Mark first died.

However, when I came out of the classroom and headed down the stairs to my next group of students, I suddenly remembered my husband.

FUCKING HELL, MARK IS DEAD! I thought. The horror of his last moments ran through my brain and the brutal veracity of the situation lurched into stark relief. I gripped the handrail and stood for a moment, dizzied.

Then a child passed me and told me she liked my shoes.

“Thank you Imogen,” I said, and continued on my way.

Every girl’s dream

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credit: zendirtzendust.wordpress.com

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a botanist and marry Jordan from New Kids on the Block.

Actually, the botanist thing was just a smoke-screen. I mainly wanted to marry Jordan from New Kids on the Block.

My daughter told me yesterday that she wants to be a squirrel when she grows up. Heady dreams for a five-year-old, but who am I to burst her bubble?

“Red or brown?” I asked.

She looked at me as if I’d just shit on the table. “Pink.”

Dreams change. For me, Jordan Knight was usurped when I discovered real, live men who didn’t sing everything in falsetto and wear their hair in a wisp.

Botany was replaced by the realisation that I had left University with an entirely use-free degree and a beer gut, and at this point any job would be a bonus.

Many of my grown-up dreams died along with my husband though. I wanted another baby, for example; I wanted a long and happy marriage. And we had shared dreams, as couples do. We wanted to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto together, to move to France, to finally finish the Mad Men complete series box set after months of concerted viewing.

But in all that, I don’t ever recall envisioning myself as a pill-popping, thirty-eight-year-old widow with a small child and a drink problem. Unlike Don Draper, it was never part of the plan.

Not content with all its other insults, that bastard Widowhood blunders in and steals your dreams too.

Blog North Awards

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Contrary to evidence suggested by Queen Victoria’s face, widows aren’t always miserable.

We smile. We laugh. In fact, occasionally we have moments of throw-your-corset-off, lift-your-shroud, unashamed glee.

Call me a phony widow, but I have had two such moments this week. Yes, two! My corset is swinging from the chandelier as we speak!

The moment I want to mention just now is the fact that this blog has been shortlisted in the Blog North Awards.

I’m not sure what I might win, aside from the dubious accolade of being an expert in blabbing about my reckless life since the death of my husband, but the public vote is open until Tuesday 1st October.

Please vote, if you see fit. You can do so here: http://www.blognorthawards.com/2013-shortlist.

If not – One is not amused.

Things You Don’t Tell Your Mother

There are certain things you don’t tell your mother.

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Keeping me at arm’s length with a broccoli floret

Like how, when you were seventeen, you crashed her car into the gatepost while she was away in France and had it fixed out of your savings before she came back.

Or owning up to the true extent of what you got up to at University, and how little of it involved academic study.

Even now, close as we are, there are things I don’t tell my Mother. Partly to save her brow from further angst-incurred furrowing, but also because I have good friends and a counsellor with whom I ‘talk out’ my fruitier escapades.

Of course, when it comes to my own daughter, I like to think she does, and will, tell me everything.

Being five-years-old, this currently involves information about her latest bowel evacuation and news that she doesn’t like broccoli, (although she did tell me the Great Fire of London was in 1666 the other day, which really was news to me).

One thing she doesn’t discuss with me though, or even mention much these days, is Daddy. And I don’t push it, because I might cry and not stop, and she might end up as she usually does, wiping my tears and telling me everything will be OK.

I hadn’t thought much about this until I dropped her off at school this morning and her teacher asked for a ‘quiet word’.

Seems she’s been mentioning Him a lot at school. In the dinner hall. In assembly. She’s confided in staff that she’s sad that her daddy is dead and that she misses Him. She has sought comfort in the arms of teachers and dinner ladies.

I spent the rest of the morning ulcerating about this particular conversation starter. Arguably the most important and interesting of conversation starters for us to elaborate on, yet she keeps me at arm’s length with a broccoli floret.

She witnessed His death. She continues to witness the fall-out from His death. So why hasn’t she sought comfort from me?

Perhaps she’s trying to save my brow from further furrowing too.