Warm milk and an Oreo

It’s taken me eighteen months, several hundred bottles of red wine, counselling, pills, the support of friends, strangers and a spirited editor at Virgin to try to articulate how it feels to have lost Mark.

It took my daughter thirty seconds, a cup of warm milk and an Oreo to sum it up last night :

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I’m going in…

I’ve spent the morning cross-legged under my letterbox, awaiting a delivery from the postman.

It's all the words that are putting me off...

It’s all the words that are putting me off…

And lo! Said delivery finally dropped onto the doormat (Inevitably just after I’d given up hope and left my vantage point in favour of Facebook.)

The first, long-awaited copy of Me After You, my memoir about life since Mark’s death.

Thing is, I hardly dare open it.

It’s all the words that are contained within it that are putting me off – the ones which raged from my broken heart onto the keyboard over five fraught months. They’re as precious to me as little pearls, those words; they are fierce, tender, raw, profane, downright dirty in parts.

But most importantly they are truthful, which is all I really wanted from them in the first place.

But what if they don’t look right? What if, now they’re out there, you don’t like them, or the calamitous tale they recount?

The book has been a labour of love. It has permitted me to spend time with my husband every day, to exhume Him and all the memories that go with Him.

It is also proof that if you believe in and love something passionately enough, with all of your heart and every sinew, you can achieve anything.

Ah fuck it. Mark, pet – this is for you. I’m going in…

Life goes on, and assorted other cliches

"Curse of an Aching Heart", 1913 she...

“Curse of an Aching Heart”, 1913 sheet music cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

It’s a warm and fuzzy theory and everything, but the deeper I sink into the hell of losing my husband, best friend and soul mate, the more I think it may just be another of those placatory statements which means absolutely fuck all.

A steely, love-free heart would be preferable to the broken, aching organ which currently occupies a cavity in my chest. At least then there would be no pain – it would simply be deflected.

If I’d never met Him, how much easier the act of living would be. He would have died and I would never have known. I would have always looked for Him, I’m sure, as I spent 26 years looking for Him, but this sensation of being somehow bereft of a limb would be muted. Selfish thing to say, but try a mile in these shoes.

We were cut from the same cloth, you see. Fitted together like the last two pieces of a jigsaw. Distinct personalities, yet fundamentally linked. How do I proceed now He’s gone, so suddenly, so definitively?

I’m on the pills, doing the counselling, distracting myself with child, dog, wine, writing! Child, dog, wine, inappropriate men! Child, dog, wine, new sideboard! I’m playing my role in this act of living to great effect.

But something’s shifted in the grief process. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I feel different. The weight on my shoulders feels heavier. Even the thought of His name is too much.

Listen, don’t worry though. Tomorrow’s another day. Life goes on. Onwards and upwards.

And assorted other clichés.

Photographs of dead relatives

This is you and your daddy

My Mother is a keen curator of what M used to call ‘photographs of dead relatives’.

Sepia miniature of unidentified raggy-arsed forebear? Mother’s all over it like Old Etonians in Parliament. She’s got the census from 1743 and worked out it’s a great, great, great uncle’s love child. She’s been on a pilgrimage to an outpost north of Inverness to visit the grave.

The significance of this ancestor differs among family members – most couldn’t give a monkey’s, but for others (well, my Mother), they are an important part of the jigsaw of family history.

I’m doing some historical research of my own at the moment, for a piece of writing I’m doing about Newcastle. This morning I’ve been in the city looking at other people’s raggy-arsed forebears in a collection of photographs from 1860. In one or two of them I thought I recognised myself – the bone structure of the face, the slightly hooded eyes. It is possible, I conceded, that I may be looking at a forebear without realising it. It is certainly conceivable that I am related to a Geordie fishwife, somewhere down the line.

Being in Newcastle always brings out a yearning for M, but I have begun to notice that He has started to take on saintly, almost mythical status in my mind. Thoughts of Him infuse everything I do.

It struck me today, as looked at the photographs and wandered around the Quayside, trying to absorb the history of the place, that M is now ‘a dead relative’. All that remains of Him for my daughter are scant memories (if any memories at all), photographs and some personal effects. I can record, recount, curate and archive His life until my fingers bleed, but for her, He will always be in 2D.

Yes, she looks like Him. Her kids will probably look like Him. Her kids kids will probably look like Him. He ‘lives on’, as people keep telling me.

But the fact is that He has already become a photograph of a dead relative to add to the pile.

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.

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?

The Duchess of Hazard

I am the Fun Police.

At least as far as my daughter goes. She wants to take her scooter down a slight incline and I’m there, sucking my teeth on the sidelines, hardly daring to look. She wants to do star jumps on the trampoline and there’s my face, moulded into the mesh like a bank robber.

Yesterday, a group of us went to Newby Hall. Fun central, as far as kids are concerned. Water fountains to jump in. A lake to paddle in. A zip-wire to…zip down.

All potential death traps. Lynn Faulds-Wood has got nothing on me.

Water fountains = slip hazard.

Lake = drowning hazard.

Zip-wire = one way ticket to paraplegia.

Friends will testify that I have always been on the cautious side. (Except after a few beers – then I’ll do owt). However, since M died, I have become convinced something is going to happen to take my child too. In fact, my buttocks have been permanently clenched for eighteen months.

Prior to this, it was my own health which caused me anxiety. Everything took on catastrophic significance, from headaches (brain tumour) to athletes foot (skin cancer). It was a psychological unhinging which was attributed to M’s sudden illness and near-death in 2008. Finally I was told I had ‘Health Anxiety’ by my weary-eyed GP, who just wanted to satisfy me with a diagnosis of some description so that I would fuck off and leave her alone.

Since M was taken from me though, my anxieties have been transposed onto my girl. To the point yesterday where I was so caught up in worrying, I forgot to take her bathing suit and she refused to go into the fountains nude.

Instead she stayed close to me, wrapped up in the safety of the towel.