Following behind with a defibrillator

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The auburn curls.

Everyone believes their spouse to be exceptional; as a lover, perhaps, or a parent. Or a bore.

My husband was exceptional in many ways, right down to the exceptional nature of the genetic affliction which eventually saw Him crashing out of life in an exceptional manner one unexceptional Saturday in February.

Genetic science has not evolved enough yet to understand why Mark’s aortic dissection happened in the first place. They’re saving His remaining DNA for a point in the future when somebody in a lab coat and big glasses is able to work it out. (The geneticist did explain it all to me, but my brain reacted as it always does when confronted with science – implement the shut-off valve and begin thinking about wine.)

The fear now is whether my daughter may have inherited whatever rogue element was to blame for her daddy’s death.

Most of the time, I am able keep my fears in check. I watch her running full pelt down the road and manage to stop myself from following behind with a defibrillator, ‘just in case’.

Yesterday though I had a moment of tear-filled panic. I was brushing her hair and noticed a couple of depigmented strands in amongst the auburn curls. Three or four white hairs, like lengths of cotton. I admit that I am apt to overact, but hear me out on this.

Mark too suffered from hair depigmentation – it ran in a line, starting in the hair on His head, down through an eyebrow, the wiry hairs of one nostril, on through His beard and into His chest hair. Use your imagination for the rest.

After His aortic dissection, the geneticist suggested this depigmentation might be significant in why it happened. A tenuous connection to the Neural Crest Mosaic, which links the cells responsible for the development of pigmentation and the aorta in a growing foetus. Or something equally baffling to a simpleton like me. It sounded convincing at the time though.

So yesterday, I found myself plucking the offending strands from my daughter’s head, examining them in the sunlight, placing them against my black jeans, mentally preparing a frenzied email to Mark’s geneticist.

My daughter is exceptional – to me, at least – but I hope to Christ this is one area she remains run-of-the-mill.

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Me After You

Like most writers, I find that I am able to articulate more freely on the page than in conversation – (except after a few beers, after which I am SENSATIONALLY verbose.)

After Mark died, I was unable to write a single meaningful word for over a year. I tried to keep a notebook, but the words which tumbled out into it refused to form into sentences.  The novel I was writing at the time is still half finished on a memory stick at the back of my drawer.

This blog was my first attempt after eighteen long months to give shape to my thoughts. And it became like a release valve, blowing plumes of pent-up grief into the ether and receiving love and support in return.

I am proud to announce, therefore, that my memoir Me After You, based on this blog, is to be published by Virgin Books in July. The news was made public this week, and you can read about it here.

Mark was always the biggest advocate of me and my writing (with the exception, inevitably, of Mother).  Me After You is a labour of love, dedicated entirely to Him.

Thanks all for reading and commenting over the past ten months. I couldn’t have done it without 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.

A Little Post-Christmas Pep

English: A postcard from 1919, with artwork of...

English: A postcard from 1919, with artwork of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those in search of a little post-Christmas pep, please refer to another website. Possibly that of hardy pep-perennial Noel Edmunds, or anyone from Steps. This post is for curmudgeons only, so if that’s you, pull up a chair.

The Big Day is over, and thanks to good friends, five kids, three dogs and Tesco’s wine department, I’m out the other side.

I’m not going to lie – in those moments when I allowed thoughts of my husband to seep in, it was tough, especially as I spent the day within the Instagrammed glow of my oldest friend’s beautiful and very much intact family. Me, my daughter and the dog, amid what ‘should have been’.

I found myself gazing at my friend’s husband as he set about the tasks of a family Christmas – placing a Santa-sized footprint on the hearth, filming the kids as they opened their gifts, painting the new guinea pig hutch, responding patiently to the incessant calls of Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!

My heart ached for Mark, for all that He was missing – most notably the look of delight on our daughter’s face when she opened the most repulsive present ever conceived – a shitting daschund toy by the name of ‘Doggy Doo’. But also all the feasting and the festivities, which were the aspects of life He loved most.

At one point, glassy-eyed and full of fizz, I grabbed hold of my friend’s husband and snivelled into his neck.  It took me another flute of champers and a bout of Michael Buble-inspired mirth to pull myself round.

I’m bobbing along on the surface of the season like one of those turds that won’t flush, and still have a New Year and the 39th birthday of my husband to contemplate before I can fully relax into the countdown to the second anniversary of His death.

I did tell you to refer to Noel.

The Plaintive Parp of the Cartoon Horn

And lo! As the toxic trinity of Christmas, Mark’s birthday and the second anniversary of His death approach, the widow finds herself spiralling further into the bottom of a wine bottle with no desire to re-emerge.last photo - together

Actually, she could just do with getting away for the next eight weeks. Ideally somewhere hot which doesn’t involve air travel, and where TV programmes featuring “Top Chefs” or Matt Baker are banned.

I haven’t felt like myself for the past few days. (My new self, I mean – my old self departed 22 months ago along with my husband.) This is a shame, because I was kind of getting used to the new self. The self who is perpetually miffed and who pretends to be all hard but really is as flimsy as a warm fart. That self was no fun unless she’d had a drink, but at least I was learning to live with her.

This New, New self feels flimsier than ever. Crushed beneath the weight of the people I have lost. I can hear it coming, the weight, like an acme anvil whistling down from the precipice above. And I’m Wile E Coyote in the valley below, waving resignedly to the plaintive parp of the cartoon horn.

Perhaps it’s the season. Perhaps it’s because He would have turned 39 in January. Perhaps it’s because a new series of Take Me Out starts in the New Year, and we were about to watch that when He died. Perhaps my desperation to see Him again has reached a new level, because it’s coming up for two long years and there’s no let up in the amount I’m missing Him.

Which wise-arse said this gets easier?

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.