Fuck me, I’m a widow. Bugger.
I’m standing in our – my – house, and I actually have a dead man for a husband. I didn’t bloody plan for this. Not this soon, certainly not on a sunny May afternoon. This is not good. I clearly need to do Things.
I also have a house full of people: my dad, my stepmum, my next-door neighbour, my over-the-fence neighbour… and to my amazement they’re all doing really well. Not too much crying, minimal hugging, and a decent mutual anger at the dude that’s just dropped dead.
The natural offers come: ‘Come with us tonight…’, ‘Don’t be alone…’, ‘Do you want us to stay?…’ They’re all heartfelt, but I know what I want, and it’s so damn counterintuitive that I almost question myself. Almost. But I can do solitude so much more easily than company, and besides, there are things I need to do.
I need to be alone.
People leave, and the child does her own thing, completely removed from the expectation that she might need mothering right now. This is the start of letting her get through this in her own way. She calls a friend and asks if she can stay at his house for the night. In no time he picks her up and she goes to find her own sanctuary. I message my TBISP (Tory Intellectual Sparring Partner, for those in need of a reminder), and he simply states that he’s on his way. I later find out that he’s in Leeds when he gets the call, and will attempt the British Land Speed Record to get to my side.
I pour myself another gin and tonic, and pick up the phone. Over the next few hours, gin helps beyond measure (or several measures. I lose count…). I find an optimum level of inebriation and manage to maintain it as I get on with my job. Drunk enough to say the words over and over without going mad, but sober enough not to slur.
Carrying out this task feels familiar, so I’m good. When I was twenty nine, with a one year old daughter and an intact family, my mother – best friend, role model, yadda yadda, whatever additional sentimentality needs to go here – died. A few weeks after she got the all-clear following radiotherapy for breast cancer, she caught pneumonia, was put into a controlled coma, and died. On Mothers Day. Because the Universe can be a total cunt, apparently. And also my life is actually a daytime soap script.
We knew she was dying a few hours before she went, and I assigned myself the job of Death-Curator in Chief: taking close friends and family into her room in the intensive care unit, explaining what was happening, catching them as they did a weirdly similar slump into my arms, and arranging for a nice cup of tea afterwards. Coping by coping. Not ‘brave’, not ‘strong’, just assigning myself a role that needed fulfilling so I couldn’t disappear into a corner and dissolve.
A similar thing happens now, as I call and message as many people as I can think of; colleagues, family, friends who were friends with him before I was born. I have a job to do, and this keeps me going. Not coping isn’t an option right now, and the people I need to tell are those who we – oh shit twat and pissery, I realise I’m a singular – I really need to tell. People cry so damn hard because they love/loved him, and most of my call time is spent in silence as I listen to hard sobbing. This helps, even though I do not cry myself. He was loved, so he will be missed. Not a bad epitaph at all.
Then I write a Facebook post to let everyone else know, sit back, and pour another gin.
This death has been sponsored by Bombay Sapphire.
TBISP arrives with lovely girlfriend. I have summoned him because he is a hard-assed bastard who will obviously be stony-faced throughout whatever I throw at him. He walks through the door and bursts into tears so I have to punch him really hard and tell him that this is not what I expect of him, and the resulting laughter helps more than any stoicism ever could. He stays long enough to stop being a wuss, hugs me until my ribs creak, and leaves. Despite this early error, he does pretty well.
So once more I have an empty house (except for the animals, who are all freaky and silent and looking for where the hell he has gone). When exhaustion hits, I go to bed. He was always such a bad sleeper that I’m used to being alone in bed, although I make sure I leave enough room on his side for when he comes up. Nearly a year later, I will still be doing this.
This is probably where I should describe how I toss and turn all night, and cannot find repose. Hah, yeah… I’ve had the best part of a bottle of gin, and done some pretty impressive CPR. I sleep like the dead.
The next morning is brought to me by the fairly amazing autonomic nervous system. Whether you like it or not, unless there is some major physical issue to counter it, your diaphragm is going to contract and air is going to get sucked into your lungs: I breathe, therefore I live. I have no say in the matter. The universe doesn’t give a shit about yesterday’s events. and I find this rather comforting – I have to get up, get sorted and get widowing.
I pad downstairs to let the dogs out to pee, and find a square of kitchen towel that the paramedics used to clean the tube they put down Kev’s throat. It is covered with snot and blood, and I realise that I have an entirely unwanted souvenir of my husband’s last moments. I can’t imagine framing it, but at the same time I can’t quite bring myself to put it in the bin. I therefore do the entirely logical thing of standing on the back step and burning it to ash with a cigarette lighter. I am nothing if not practical.
His death is already yesterday’s news, but I am awake and sober and not ready to surrender to anything. I can fucking do this.