Him and her

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This is Him, and her.

Hello. I’m having a glass of Rioja at the end of one of those ‘Oh sweet Satan’s ball-sack, I’m a TERRIBLE mother’ days. Will you join me?

I have had the emotional resilience of Wensleydale cheese today (crumbly, for all you non-Northern-English people). And I’ve been unable to toughen myself up.

And my child has both a) witnessed it and b) had to stay at my Mother’s whilst I spent time collapsing on the bed at home. It sounds melodramatic, but I swear, today, I’ve not even been able to THINK about, you know, Him, without going all Wensleydale.

I don’t know why it hits you like this. Anyone? Anyone?

If I’d even tried to compose a post earlier I wouldn’t have had the energy to press the buttons on the keyboard. Fortunately, Rioja has the same effect on me as spinach has on Popeye – it makes me strong to the finich.

It’s the school holidays and I’m up to my ears with the sound of kids shouting for their daddies. I’m sick of people rambling on about going on holiday together. I’m weary of people complaining about the forthcoming fortnight they’re going to have to endure with their husband and kids. I’d sell a kidney for the chance of a holiday with just Him and her.

“Are you cryin’?” My daughter asked me, as tears powered down my cheeks.

“Uhuh.”

“‘Cos you miss Daddy?”

“U”- snort- “Huh”

She doesn’t say anymore than that these days. She just goes and gets a length of toilet paper from the bathroom and clumsily tries to stop the flow.

And I thought to myself today – with no level of profundity whatsoever – I thought, nothing really matters. Nothing.

All I want is you, Buble. Can you hear me?

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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.

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!!!

Death Mask

English: open padlock icon

English: open padlock icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Exposure Therapy starts next week. You know, where my counsellor and I take the ‘traumatic event’ out of its padlocked cell whence it is stored, deep within my cranium, and inspect it closely.

There are so many elements which contribute to the ‘traumatic event’, I wasn’t sure where we would start with this inspection. But I read something in a friend’s blog this morning which served to clarify my thoughts.

The salient memory is of M’s face, immediately after death.

It lurches out at me if I let it, trampling all the other joyful images associated with that face. I’ve said before that I didn’t allow myself to believe, initially, that He had died, but in retrospect, I knew. How did I know? The face told me.

The skin changed almost instantly from pink to grey. The eyelids were unbalanced – one open, one half shut. There was an expression on the face, one which I hadn’t particularly considered or tried to decode before reading my friend’s post.

She used to work in the funeral business and writes an excellent blog about her experiences within the profession. In her latest post, she discusses the worst things she saw as part of her job. Here is an extract, where she describes tending to the bodies of air crash fatalities:

“Sometimes(…) it is impossible to avoid thoughts of that person’s final, agonizing moments on this earth. The faces are frozen in time, showing extremely disturbing expressions in which incredible pain and terror are easily read. Usually, though, there aren’t faces…” (www.morguemouse.wordpress.com)

I found it both heart-breaking and comforting to read her words. Because it made me realise that M’s expression revealed He died in neither terror nor in pain.

Though His life was cut unfairly, excruciatingly short, I honestly believe He died a happy man.

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.