Space travel, nanotechnology, Joan Rivers’ face

English: Joan Rivers at Musto's 25th Anniversary.

English: Joan Rivers at Musto’s 25th Anniversary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard to elect the Top Worst Moment of a funeral, for there are so many to choose from.

Is it walking behind the box containing your beloved one, knowing the feet you used to massage are just a few centimetres from your nose? Is it having to endure a service which is all about your beloved one, whilst they lie there on display like a floral centrepiece? Is it looking out at a congregation of stricken faces as you, numbed by gin and beta-blockers and shock,  calmly read a page of memories about your beloved one?

Since Mark died, I’ve endured the funerals of three more beloved ones – all of my remaining grandparents have gone over the past 21 months. Four key family members, now extinct.

Of course three of them had ‘a good innings’ as the platitude goes. They all lived to see grandchildren, great-grandchildren, Louis Smith win Strictly Come Dancing. Their deaths were sad, but not a fucking tragedy like that of my husband. The sadness doesn’t abate around my heart though. They were all immense characters and they have each left an irremediable void.

Yesterday, it was the turn of the old boy mentioned in the post below. All the usual atrocities of ‘saying goodbye’ were present, but I am in no doubt of my Top Worst  Moment pick on this occasion (and it wasn’t when the aged pall-bearer stumbled on the church step and nearly dropped the coffin.)

Grandpa’s wish was to be committed to the ground, buried intact immediately after the event. Nothing could have prepared me for the image of him being offloaded into the bowels of the earth, and the box containing my Gran’s ashes placed on top of him. It seemed an unspeakably brutal, almost Neolithic way of dispensing with a body. We left him for the after-party, effectively to rot.

Surely a world which has achieved such feats of engineering as space travel, nanotechnology, Joan Rivers’ face, can come up with a less gruelling manner of dispatch?

Perhaps this is why ashes remain uncollected in funeral parlours across the world, why urns sit on mantelpieces, why my husband remains in my wardrobe. An acceptable alternative has yet to be invented.

Come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough.

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That’s me, that is.

Perhaps it’s my hormones that are making me irascible as a cat, but that’s me there, a squatting sumo just waiting for a fight.

I’ll take anyone on, especially if they have an opinion on my grief and how I choose to deal with it. But no-one is immune. That Matt Baker gets it regularly, and don’t get me started on Steve Wright.

Of course, I’m a wuss and would run off in the opposite direction like Duncan ‘Chase Me!’ Norvelle if it came to a real bout of fisty-cuffs.

But fury is fermenting in my guts. I can hear it, gurgling away. It has one means of escape, and that is by knotting itself around my nerves, sinew and digestive tract. And by the occasional outburst of unspeakable profanity and violence directed towards my pillow.

Am I entering the ‘angry’ stage? Have I now ticked off ‘despair’ and ‘hopelessness’ (phew, thank god THAT’S over!). How far have I got to go now for fuck’s sake, according to the manual?

This ‘journey’ is wearisome. It’s becoming predictable in its unpredictability.

When do I arrive at that rose-filled garden of acceptance that everyone keeps talking about? How long before I can come off the pills, drink in moderation and have a laugh about the good times? At what point will I be able to tolerate other people and their concerns again, and afford them the earnest head-nodding of pre-Mark’s death?

I’m off to consult the manual. And then throw it off the wall.

The Dirty Protester

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That’s him – the dirty protester.

The dog staged a dirty protest yesterday, all over my good rug.

Furthermore, I stepped in it, thus trailing shit and its offensive effluvium throughout the rest of the house.

And of course he had to choose that afternoon to defecate indoors; the afternoon that I had invited  a crowd of mummies and their kids to come back to ours to make cookies. My one attempt to prove that I am a fun, interactive and creative parent, scuppered by a dog turd.

He knew he’d done a naughty. He looked at me from beneath his eyebrows, awaiting my reaction.

“Bad dog, Brucie!” I said, scrubbing at the rug as a row of repulsed mummies considered how they might politely tell me they no longer wished their children to make cookies in this shit-smeared midden.

But I forgave the perpetrator almost instantly.

Thing is, we have developed an understanding, he and I. We spend pretty much all of our time together. He was pissed off because I’d been out on a rare shopping day without him. His tiny brain had clearly been working overtime to come up with the worst possible offence in order to serve me right.

Since Mark died, Brucie has been a bed mate, a couch-cuddler, a sounding board, a reason to get out and walk for a mile each morning.

And the other day he showed me an act of compassion which proved he is capable of offering comfort too.

Caught out by an unexpected jag of grief, I found myself crumpled on the floor of my bedroom, howling in pain for my lost love.

The dog flattened himself down on the carpet nearby and watched. He continued his vigil for a couple of minutes, then something compelled him to intervene. He approached me and placed a paw on each of my shoulders. He then licked my eyes and nuzzled his head into my neck. I pulled him closer and we held each other until the moment passed.

He was probably only after a dog biscuit, (in which case – RESULT BRUCE!),  but the gesture merits my forgiveness for the dirty protest all the same.

Season of misseds and mellow fruitfulness

Mark loved Autumn, and here we are in the throes of a spectacular one. Yeah, yeah Mother Nature, rub my snivelling snout in it a bit more why don’t you? As if I don’t miss Him enough.balanced_seesaw-001

And golden leaf-flurries and abundant hedgerows notwithstanding, I am really missing Him at the minute.

It’s been a gruelling couple of weeks and I need His opinion on things. He countered my skewed world-view with His own skewed world-view, thus producing one perfectly balanced individual.

When you’ve had ten years of living side-by-side with someone – farting, burping, giving birth in their presence – it is impossible to reconcile the fact that they are suddenly no longer there. Entire chapters of your life are swallowed up in that furnace at the crematorium. Exclusive vocabulary, mannerisms, points of reference, all gone up in smoke.

I actually went to tell Him something the other day, unable to staunch the flow of the first few words before they came out.

“Remember: ‘Did you drawed that’…?” I began. (It was a line from this book, right, and… ahh, forget it.)

But I was talking into the wind. Of course, He wasn’t there.

Generally, we agreed on stuff, so I think I know what His counsel would be relating to issues of the day. (Although not the sexual allure of Jenny Agutter. We never saw eye-to-eye on that.)  And besides, I have a raft of other counsellors now, from my Counsellor with the capital ‘C’, to my friends, family and the odd individual who pipes in with an opinion every now and again. But that voice – His voice – is conspicuous by its silence.

So here I am, perched on my side of life’s see-saw looking up at the empty space where my foil should be.

At least the weather’s good though, right?

Scenes from the Boden catalogue

Someone hell-bent on covering up their drinking habit from their wife has filled my recycle bin with empties. Yeah! I found them yesterday when I couldn’t fit my own shameful stash into the little green box.

They’re definitely not mine; they’re San Miguel bottles and l wouldn’t touch that piss with yours.

That said, it’s been half-term this week, and shorter days coupled with protracted child’s DVD viewing seem to legitimise earlier drinking. I’ll confess I’ve lost track of how much I’ve consumed, what I’ve consumed and where I’ve consumed it. But San Miguel? Hmm.

October half-term always brings out the worst in widowed me.

Kids seem to be running round everywhere shouting for their daddies; and daddies seem to be running round everywhere after their kids. It’s like living out scenes from the Boden catalogue.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed the ubiquity of dad-child interaction before Mark’s death. But these days my eyes appear to be set to Instagram mode, where every scene featuring dad and offspring has a soft-hued, nostalgic edge.

And dads seem to be so much more interactive since Mark died. They’re feeding rabbits at farm parks, whizzing down slides, singing loudest at music groups. They’re taking time to hone their Hallowe’en costumes in order to engage in door-to-door widow-baiting with their apple-cheeked families.

What happened to the good old days of mother as the primary carer? Prior to Mark’s death I rarely saw a dad. Farm parks were the domain of women and cake. Mother’s was the only voice you heard at Joe Jingles. Between Mark and me, I was the one with the repetitive slide-burn.

I swear, it’s enough to turn me to San Miguel. God, perhaps they were my empties after all.

Coitus interruptus

English: Hugh Hefner attending Glamourcon #50,...

English: Hugh Hefner attending Glamourcon #50, Long Beach, CA on November 13, 2010 – Photo by Glenn Francis of http://www.PacificProDigital.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Death, mid-coitus. What a way to go, eh?

At least, that was the general consensus after Mark died, after the dust settled and we permitted ourselves an uneasy laugh about it. Another of those placatory, consolatory observations humans make when they don’t know what else to do or say.

Apparently, every bloke wants to pop his clogs in the sack. (Although perhaps not at 37 years-old with a small child and everything to live for. But I’m willing to bet Hugh Hefner’s got his fingers crossed.)

But what about the woman (or man) who is left lying spread-eagled in the wet patch? Can the psychological trauma of such an event – a life-affirming, joyful act turning suddenly into one which represents death and fear – ever be overturned?

Because whilst watching your lover die is never going to be a fun-filled spectacle, feeling their warm, naked body against you one minute and then watching it turn cold just seconds later is up there in the Top Ten Things You Never Want To Have To Go Through In Life.

Sex becomes imbued with a kind of terror. You start to wonder who else you might see off with your thighs. Heavy breathing comes to signify a climax of a very different kind. Facial expressions are apt to be misread.

My counsellor and I talk through such things. But these are thoughts and images which cannot be erased.

So whilst dying mid-coitus might sound like the fun way to go, I can tell you this for nowt – it’s not.

Bottling Paul Hollywood

Paul Hollywood

Paul Hollywood (Photo credit: Fields of View)

With the everyday distractions of a busy life – you know, working, childcare, laughing at Paul Hollywood on Bake Off – it is easy to forget that your husband is now just a pile of ashes in a box at the bottom of your wardrobe.

You get on with life, because you have no choice.  And just as those who still have partner intact don’t spend every waking hour thinking about their other half, at twenty months into bereavement, it is impossible to keep one’s mind trained on what is lost.

Which is why, when you find yourself in a moment of distraction-repose, the reality is so sphincter-clenchingly shocking, you wish you could bottle Paul Hollywood and drink him as an antidote to the truth.

This happened to me yesterday. I was teaching small children how to describe their family members in French. They labelled them up on their own paper ‘people-chain’ and titled it ‘Ma Famille’.

Despite the step-siblings and the divorces, they all, without exception, had a ‘mere’ and a ‘pere’.  As a teacher, I have accepted that this is generally the case, so it fails to floor me in the way that it may have done when Mark first died.

However, when I came out of the classroom and headed down the stairs to my next group of students, I suddenly remembered my husband.

FUCKING HELL, MARK IS DEAD! I thought. The horror of his last moments ran through my brain and the brutal veracity of the situation lurched into stark relief. I gripped the handrail and stood for a moment, dizzied.

Then a child passed me and told me she liked my shoes.

“Thank you Imogen,” I said, and continued on my way.

Every girl’s dream

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credit: zendirtzendust.wordpress.com

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a botanist and marry Jordan from New Kids on the Block.

Actually, the botanist thing was just a smoke-screen. I mainly wanted to marry Jordan from New Kids on the Block.

My daughter told me yesterday that she wants to be a squirrel when she grows up. Heady dreams for a five-year-old, but who am I to burst her bubble?

“Red or brown?” I asked.

She looked at me as if I’d just shit on the table. “Pink.”

Dreams change. For me, Jordan Knight was usurped when I discovered real, live men who didn’t sing everything in falsetto and wear their hair in a wisp.

Botany was replaced by the realisation that I had left University with an entirely use-free degree and a beer gut, and at this point any job would be a bonus.

Many of my grown-up dreams died along with my husband though. I wanted another baby, for example; I wanted a long and happy marriage. And we had shared dreams, as couples do. We wanted to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto together, to move to France, to finally finish the Mad Men complete series box set after months of concerted viewing.

But in all that, I don’t ever recall envisioning myself as a pill-popping, thirty-eight-year-old widow with a small child and a drink problem. Unlike Don Draper, it was never part of the plan.

Not content with all its other insults, that bastard Widowhood blunders in and steals your dreams too.

Blog North Awards

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Contrary to evidence suggested by Queen Victoria’s face, widows aren’t always miserable.

We smile. We laugh. In fact, occasionally we have moments of throw-your-corset-off, lift-your-shroud, unashamed glee.

Call me a phony widow, but I have had two such moments this week. Yes, two! My corset is swinging from the chandelier as we speak!

The moment I want to mention just now is the fact that this blog has been shortlisted in the Blog North Awards.

I’m not sure what I might win, aside from the dubious accolade of being an expert in blabbing about my reckless life since the death of my husband, but the public vote is open until Tuesday 1st October.

Please vote, if you see fit. You can do so here: http://www.blognorthawards.com/2013-shortlist.

If not – One is not amused.

Things You Don’t Tell Your Mother

There are certain things you don’t tell your mother.

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Keeping me at arm’s length with a broccoli floret

Like how, when you were seventeen, you crashed her car into the gatepost while she was away in France and had it fixed out of your savings before she came back.

Or owning up to the true extent of what you got up to at University, and how little of it involved academic study.

Even now, close as we are, there are things I don’t tell my Mother. Partly to save her brow from further angst-incurred furrowing, but also because I have good friends and a counsellor with whom I ‘talk out’ my fruitier escapades.

Of course, when it comes to my own daughter, I like to think she does, and will, tell me everything.

Being five-years-old, this currently involves information about her latest bowel evacuation and news that she doesn’t like broccoli, (although she did tell me the Great Fire of London was in 1666 the other day, which really was news to me).

One thing she doesn’t discuss with me though, or even mention much these days, is Daddy. And I don’t push it, because I might cry and not stop, and she might end up as she usually does, wiping my tears and telling me everything will be OK.

I hadn’t thought much about this until I dropped her off at school this morning and her teacher asked for a ‘quiet word’.

Seems she’s been mentioning Him a lot at school. In the dinner hall. In assembly. She’s confided in staff that she’s sad that her daddy is dead and that she misses Him. She has sought comfort in the arms of teachers and dinner ladies.

I spent the rest of the morning ulcerating about this particular conversation starter. Arguably the most important and interesting of conversation starters for us to elaborate on, yet she keeps me at arm’s length with a broccoli floret.

She witnessed His death. She continues to witness the fall-out from His death. So why hasn’t she sought comfort from me?

Perhaps she’s trying to save my brow from further furrowing too.