Woman v G-Force

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Six months after Mark died I attended a course entitled “Overcoming Grief.” From the outset it seemed to me to be fundamentally flawed. Could grief really be overcome, like a dose of the flu or a profound dislike of Steve from Accounts?

I mentioned this to the course leader. She was such a lovely woman, what with her cupcakes and her clip-art, that I felt bad afterwards. And actually, whilst the course didn’t solve the issue of, you know, the death, it did help to move me along.

Below are some of the many attempts I have made at ‘overcoming’ my grief since. Perhaps reading them will make you feel less alone, or, if nothing else, give you something to fold your arms ‘neath your bosom and have a ‘tsk’ at.

I have tried writing my way through it. Drinking my way through it. Fucking my way through it. Drugging my way through it (prescription of course). Talking my way through it. Laughing, crying, bluffing my way through it. Buying my way through it (net result – cupboard full of fabulous shoes!)

I have tried apportioning blame and getting angry; I’ve tried telling myself how fortunate I am to have His child, for the happiness He brought to my life, for the fact that He died in my arms, unwitting, not frightened or alone. I’ve tried remembering the atrocities that are happening every day all over the world, being thankful for my family, friends, my home and my health.

It’s almost three years since Mark died, and despite my tireless wrestling and negotiation with grief, it still sometimes hits me with a force to make my face go like Clarkson’s (above).

Tomorrow Mark would have turned 40, and Grief Force has got me.

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Left Central Incisor: A Lament

Today I am in mourning.imagesCA951OM4

For a tooth.

My daughter’s left central incisor, to be precise; in the space of a few more wobbles, it will be the first to succumb to the Tooth Fairy. (Who now charges upwards of a pound for collection BTW. A pound! In my day etc, etc).

As the mother of an only child this is a new experience for me, but I imagine the departure of a first baby tooth is a milestone for most parents. But this loss signifies more than just a quid from my wallet.

Mark and I heralded the arrival of each and every one of those baby teeth with the zeal of Percy Thrower and his first runner bean shoots.

“Come and feel this!” I’d shout, forefinger jammed between the poor bairn’s drooling jaws. “What do you reckon? Tooth… or bit of biscuit?”

We watched as she went from gummy, gurning toddler to a little girl with a full set of perfect, Haribo-chewing gnashers.

The smile she has now is the same one He knew, the teeth the same ones He helped nurture and clean. But not for much longer.  For incisor will follow incisor, canine will follow canine, and before long she’ll have a new set of tombstones which will completely transform her face.

The loss of this incisor signifies that she is growing up. And with tragic, wearying inevitability, He is missing it.

 

 

The Tao of Sudden Death

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Many years ago I worked for a well-known chain of booksellers. The shop was in an out-of-town shopping mall near Bristol, and I once served Colin Jackson. (He bought the Guinness Book of World Records. Presumably to prove to his mother that he really was holder of the title for ‘Longest Peanut Throw’. No really, he was.)

The sales counter was always festooned with those irritating little books of quotations that are apt to be bought and then immediately misplaced behind the settee, and as booksellers we were required to promote them with each sale.

It always confounded me as to why anyone would buy these books. They seemed to contain nothing but a selection of mawkish quotes about life and love and ‘self-realisation’. Yet they were in perpetual need of being restocked.

Since Mark’s death, I have turned into the sort of person who would buy one. I have become a consumer of quotes and affirmations, one of those people who retweets schmaltz written in dreamy script set against an image of a tranquil Scottish loch.

Because in trying to make sense of Mark’s death, of its brutality and its unjustness, I have sought answers everywhere. But really, no-one knows what to say.

For example, I asked my Dad one night: “How can I ever accept this?”

Dad thought about this and poured himself another whisky. “You can’t because it is unacceptable,” he replied.

This is a man with a PhD and a good line in advice, whose word I tend believe more than any other. Yet when it came to sudden death, he was as clueless as everyone else.

Quotations are comforting in bereavement, even the twee ones, because they are proof that someone has been there before; and by consequence reach out to those of us who are stuck for words.

I’ll end with one I retweeted this week:

I keep myself busy with the things I do,
But every time I pause, I still think of you.

In with the New

untitled (6)The great thing about building a new life in a new place, with new friends, a new dog and a whole new capsule wardrobe, is that you are able to trick your psyche into thinking you’re in control of your grief.

Sure, you continue to think about the old life, the one that ended so savagely, so suddenly on an idle Saturday in 2012, but if everything around you is ‘new’, you are spared reminders of the gut-wrenching reality of what has really happened.

New things serve as a shiny length of gauze over the gaping wound around your heart. They have no trace of your spouse’s DNA in them; they don’t conjure a memory of His laughter, a throw-away line He may have said.

Then a reminder from your old life comes blundering in and plants a turd in your carefully constructed shelter of denial, catapulting you back to the blubbering heap of two years ago. (Actually, that’s not strictly true – I wasn’t a blubbering heap two years ago – I was a functioning automaton. It took at least six months for my nervous system to catch up.)

So there I was this weekend, taking afternoon tea in celebration of the sixtieth birthday of a friend from said ‘old’ life. The finger rolls had barely touched down on the table before I felt the slow rise of despair in my gut.

I had failed to anticipate how being surrounded by a gaggle of twenty women from my former life would make me feel. They knew me before I met Mark. They followed us through our courtship. Some were guests at our wedding. Some were mourners at His funeral.

I looked around the table at these poster-girls for a happier time and wondered how much longer I could hold out before ruining my dear friend’s party with an unsavoury outburst of grief.

Finally I took my leave and veered off homeward in my car, barely able to see the road through the torrents of my new mascara.

I didn’t stop until I arrived back outside my new house, with its newly-rendered fascia and new front door.

Going Gaga

Grief. It’s how I imagine a relationship with Lady Gaga would be. Unpredictable and ultimately very wearisome.untitled (5)

Last week I testified to feeling the brittle rays of happiness seeping into my being. And to a degree, they continue to permeate, but these last two nights I have been caught out by a familiar sinking in my guts.

This generally happens when I’m sober and alone, and make the foolish mistake of reflecting on my missing Love, or looking through the remaining documentary evidence of our life together.

Last night I found myself browsing photographs on my computer. Some of them were close-ups of Mark, where I could make out the individual strands of gingery hair in His sideburns, the minuscule pocks in His skin. I came to the end of the selection and realised, like the last of His DNA (which is stored, for some reason, in a fridge in Salisbury), that the pictures are finite.

My back catalogue stops on a snow-covered walk a week before He died. And on that very last picture, He is seen plodding protectively behind our daughter, who has gone from toddling pain in the arse to celestial little girl in the two years since His death.

I have likened my experience of grief to many things on this blog, from a monkey riding a pig to Dave Myers’ hair. Today’s clunky analogy is of grief as an anglerfish – that duplicitous deep-sea gargoyle which lulls its prey into a false sense of security by emitting a soothing light, only to consume the hapless bastard the minute it starts to relax.

Like I said, unpredictable and wearisome.

It’s enough to make you Gaga.

Lost in Translation

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Mirth and marriage

Here is the problem with admitting that you may be beginning to feel the gentle rays of happiness in your life again after the sudden and untimely death of your spouse:

You say: “I may be beginning to feel the gentle rays of happiness in my life again after the sudden and untimely death of my spouse.”

People’s internal Google-translate hears: “I am over my husband’s death and have finally moved on! Dig your wet-look leggings out of the wardrobe and let’s have a P.A.R.T.Y.!”

So I’m relying on you to turn your Google-translate off and really listen to the words I am saying.

I may be beginning to feel the gentle rays of happiness in my life again after the sudden and untimely death of my spouse.

Who knew, right?

I didn’t think the word ‘happiness’ would enter my lexicon again, but there it is, nestling in nicely alongside those old stalwarts, ‘misery’ and ‘devastation’, with its jaunty double, double consonants.

Perhaps I didn’t give the New Year enough credit for its capacity for ‘renewal’, but the further I edge into 2014, the more determined I feel to start living again.

It is almost two years since Mark died, and it feels like both a lifetime and the blink of an eye. But what would He say if He thought I were still here, stymied by grief, feeling guilty about making the next move?

“Haway, man, Pet,” He’d say. (You may refer to Google translate here).

Don’t get too excited, mind. This does not mean the ache goes away, nor the tears, nor the moments of worthlessness. In fact, I may be back to square one tomorrow.

Today though, I think what it means is that the grief and the trauma have taken enough. I just want to be happy.

The Voluptuous Spanish Beauty

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The wrist, with its watch that still keeps time

I brought one of Mark’s belongings into re-commission the other day.

You know, one of those hallowed material remnants of His life which have been taunting me from the back of the cupboard for the past 23 months.

One of those remnants which, prior to His death, were of negligible importance, but which have now been conferred with Heritage status.

These remnants include:

  • shoes (still complete with footprints and a vague lingering whiff)
  • clothing (including a pair of slightly-soiled Primark pyjamas)
  • a wristwatch that still keeps time
  • old bus passes
  • shopping lists written in His hand
  • an Amazon receipt for a cream-coloured slow-cooker
  • and the man-bag I have just exhumed from the attic and decided to use for work.

It felt strange to see the bag back in use, slung over the back of a chair with things in it. 

Stranger still was to feel about in its pockets to find a forgotten Metro ticket and a screwed up clump of tissue, presumably still imbued with His DNA. My compulsion to use it, when I have so many handbags of my own, is inexplicable to me, yet it did bring with it a sort of comfort.

It’s difficult to know what to do for the best with the other items, for really, they serve no purpose other than to jab at my heart every time I see them, yet to dispose of them would be somehow irreverential. Even the Amazon receipt, which bears nothing of Him except His name and evidence of what He bought.

The remnant which causes me the most chagrin, aside, of course, from the Contents of The Box Which Must Not Be Mentioned, is His guitar. It is a voluptuous Spanish beauty with whom He was deeply in love.

I opened the case yesterday, just to see it again, and ran my fingers over the fret board and the strings. I realised it has been lying there all these months, slowly going out of tune.