The Dismay-dar

Anders Zorn-The Widow

Anders Zorn-The Widow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Widows.  We’re a distinct race. We should have our own category on those local council equal opportunities forms. Just before ‘Other’ on the ethnicity list. Young or old, long-served or new-entrant, we share a language and a tacit understanding of each other that ‘non-bereaveds’ just don’t get.

I met a widow last night. A reader of this blog, in fact. She rushed up to me and wordlessly sobbed into my shoulder. We held each other for a long time, and then we belly- laughed about the inanity of widowhood. It was like a Surprise Surprise reunion, with the woman’s non-bereaved sister playing an uncomfortable Cilla on the side-line. Minus the teeth and wig.

We were immediately on each other’s radar. Or rather, ‘dismay-dar’ – the frequency of which can only be heard by other widows. We connected in a way that I haven’t connected with some of my oldest friends since Mark died.

In widowhood, I am constantly grappling with how I feel. This is as tedious for me as it sounds to you, which is why I offload it onto my counsellor. She is paid to listen, dispense advice, then move onto the next depressive in the waiting room. And for a non-bereaved, she seems to have a reasonable insight into the erratic mind-set of our race.

However, sometimes only another widow can sum up how you feel. And one comment on an online forum this week did just that. I’ve never met her, but this widow knows exactly where I’m ‘at’. She wrote:

I am not unhappy. But I’m not ready to be happy.

I’m willing to bet that others out there tuned into the ‘dismay-dar’ get it too.

The Seven Year Bitch

sorry_1_396x222

Re-enacting scenes from Sorry (photo: http://www.bbc.co.uk)

Today I am picking the carrot out of the fact that I should have been married exactly seven years.

What would we have been doing? Probably popping the cork on a nice bottle of red. Settling in to watch Masterchef. We may have ordered in, but that’s not a given.

I’ve said before that M and I didn’t place much stock in anniversaries of any kind – birthdays were about as excited as we got, usually marked by a card and, if He was very unlucky, a home-made, and therefore deflated, Victoria sponge.

Instead, we lived by my granddad’s old adage; ‘Every day’s a Christmas day’.

Not much would have been different today, actually, except for the company.

As it is, I’m re-enacting scenes out of Sorry, where I am a sort of female Timothy Lumsden, having my dinner served to me by my Mother who then does the dishes afterwards. Fortunately she is far cry from Lumsden’s mother, and tolerates my shameful bad language with characteristic equanimity.

I have glanced at the photographs on the sideboard of this time seven years ago and it feels as if I’m looking at a different couple. That bloke wearing the big smile and the tails, next to that bird in the long dress. Figments of some distant lifetime. How is it possible that the day depicted would signal the start of just five years of marriage?

I have spent the day trying to put a name on the hollow space within me. It’s the part which paints a grey wash of sadness over everything. Sometimes it’s so grey it’s opaque – other times it’s cygnet-coloured. But no matter the hue, it leaves everything slightly out-of-tune.

I can only come up with one name for the hollow space.

His.

Happy anniversary, pet. Wherever you are.

Please send back my leg-warmers.

leg warmers photo from flickr by iluvrhinestones

leg warmers photo from flickr by iluvrhinestones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sudden death of a spouse is fucking rude.

It waltzes into your life without invitation and gives you no opportunity for recourse. I want to tap it on the shoulder and say, excuse me but…fuck off. Can you come back in, say, 50 years time? And give us warning next time?

It brings to mind those excruciating moments when one ‘breaks up’ with a boyfriend. The build-up. The announcement. The returning of items which held so much weight at the time:

“Please send back my leg-warmers and the Belinda Carlisle album, asap.”

Sudden death affords no such luxury. One minute, the love of your life is alive. The next, they are dead. You have no chance for discussion, no build-up, no demands for significant items to be returned. Indeed, you are left to look through things belonging to your beloved and decide what is significant or not.

When M died, there were a couple of boxes of memorabilia I’d never seen. Not that He’d hidden them from me – we just hadn’t got round to them, as a couple.

I asked my oldest friend in the world to come and sort through them with me. Contained within were photos, letters and pictures that revealed a whole other side to my husband.

“What’s this photo of?”

“Who is this?”

“What does this mean?”

We spent an evening trying to decipher His life ‘before me’. Of course, we reached no conclusion. There were no answers, because the only person who could provide them was gone. So I have boxes full of unanswered questions in my loft.

I wish I had a few moments just to ask Him about the contents of those boxes. What? Who? When? Where?

But this is the nature of sudden death. It gives you no time.

Fucking rude.

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.

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!

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!!!