Women in Love


Let me tell you about my friend, CC, and her husband Rob, a charming, witty, cultured cricket-loving man who adored his spirited wife. Other than the fact Rob was a wonderful cook and JS only ever cooked scrambled eggs and lamb chops, and even that was a performance for which he always wanted at least one Michelin star and a round of applause, JS and Rob had much in common. Over the last twenty years, the four of us had some wonderful dinners at lovely restaurants, but the best times involved me sitting in the kitchen of their home in Camden, gossiping to Rob as he rustled up amazing food whilst CC and JS sat upstairs talking about more cerebral subjects.

On Saturday 13th November, 2010, JS and I sat in a pew at St Marylebone Crematorium attending Rob’s funeral. It was a beautiful Humanitarian service, carefully planned by Rob, because for the last year of a torrid four-year battle with bowel and liver cancer, he and CC knew his illness was terminal. It was a second marriage for CC, a third for Rob. At the funeral, one of Rob’s sons said that his father loved women, as demonstrated by his three marriages, but that he had saved the best until last. We all laughed and JS squeezed my hand and shot me a smile; I was JS’s third wife.

A few weeks before Rob died, he requested that the four of us went for lunch to his favourite restaurant in Islington; we all knew this was to be the final goodbye. The thought of that meal still makes me sad. It took forever to get a pitifully frail Rob into JS’s car; the short trip from the kerb into the restaurant was painful on every level; Rob was confused and walked into a glass wall; the restaurant had changed hands; the Patron who had been unfailingly kind during Rob’s illness had gone; the loos were stinky and blocked; Rob couldn’t eat and became anxious; the food was terrible and I had to run out into the street and physically pull my husband away from a traffic warden who was ticketing our car, because JS had used Rob’s disabled badge incorrectly. We got back to their house to find the front door wide open: in all the confusion of getting Rob into the car, CC had forgotten to close the door.

It was a bleak day.

On the 21st February, I went into the West End to get some bits and pieces for my holiday. CC rang and asked if we could meet. She helped me choose some holiday things, and I helped her buy some new bedding, and then she asked if I would come back to her house in a taxi. I didn’t really have the time, but I went back with her, and whilst there, it was obvious that she wanted company. Some time later, I got on the bus and rang JS to let him know why I was running late. He asked after CC. I didn’t want to broadcast my thoughts to the top deck of the 390, so I said I’d tell him when I got home.

JS was in the kitchen when I got back. The moment he saw me, he swung into a well practised routine of, “Red or white?”

“So, how is she?” he asked, closing the fridge door and handing me a glass of something white and chilled.

I remember taking a gulp of my wine and saying, “Lonely. She didn’t want me to go.”

I also distinctly remember feeling incredibly fortunate that whilst I had left CC alone in her lovely but lonely house, I was at home with my husband in my welcoming kitchen, fairy lights twinkling on a giant ficus tree, chatting about the day over a glass of wine, cooking dinner whilst JS did the crossword, throwing out odd clues for me to solve. I always knew how lucky I was. I can honestly say that I never ever took him or our life for granted, not even for a nano-second.

Six days later, JS drowned.

Just after I got back from Barbados, I went to CC’s house. She had invited MB, a friend of hers who’d I’d met a few times before: a lovely woman whose husband was murdered in 1991 after he bumped into a man in a swimming pool in north London. The man followed him in to the changing room and stabbed him. The two widows let me cry and rock in pain, and kept the champagne topped up (some standards must be maintained, even in grief).

On the 25th March, I sat in the same pew at the crematorium that CC had sat in three months earlier. My life not only felt over, I was convinced it was. Scrub that. I wanted it to be over.

I saw CC occasionally after that, but I will admit that her raw grief dragged me even further down. A stylish woman older than me, fiercely intelligent and witty, CC now looked and acted every inch her age. Her husband’s illness and death had diminished her looks and her spirit.

After our husbands died, both CC and I felt we faced bleak futures. I felt doubly doomed; if someone as practical and spirited as CC couldn’t crack widowhood, what hope was there for me? Then, in mid-July when we last met, I saw a change in her. I wrote about this shift in mood in my post, Searching for Clues.

Today (Monday), we met for lunch. The tapas bar she chose, El Parador, was directly opposite Levertons, the Funeral Directors who handled the arrangements for both Rob and JS’s funeral.

I was early and she was late, so I had plenty of time to sip chilled sherry, eat olives and stare out of the window, grimly reflecting on the last time I was in this street.

The funeral director had asked whether I wanted to put anything in JS’s coffin, and although initially I said I didn’t, as the funeral got closer, I felt I needed to write a letter to him. I kept putting it off as every time I sat at the computer, the pain of writing what I wanted to say was too great. Writing is as natural as breathing to me, and yet I was totally blocked.

The funeral was on Thursday morning, and I needed to get something for the coffin by Tuesday evening. On Tuesday afternoon, I wrote a short note at speed in longhand on one side of a card, and copied a poem on to the other. Paul, the wonderful Chaplain of Highgate School, let me into their private Chapel and left me alone with my tears as I stood under the stained glass windows and read aloud my letter to JS. Afterwards, waiting for Paul to collect me, I looked around the walls of the Chapel studded with stone memorials to ex-pupils who had been killed in action during the World Wars, eighteen, nineteen year-olds, practically children. I cried for so many people, many of them long dead. To be honest, I still cry buckets for complete strangers and their grief. Later that evening, I wrote instructions to the funeral director as to precisely where I wanted my letter placing in the coffin, got a cab to Levertons, and in the dark, put the envelope through the door, and came home.

Sitting in the tapas bar waiting for CC, nursing my drink and thinking back over the last eight months, I mused that I often feel that everything that has happened has happened to someone else, that it couldn’t possibly have happened to someone like me, even though I now know The Grim Reaper is an indiscriminate b*st*rd and there is nothing special about me which means I can protect those I love from The GR and his scythe. Sometimes, I feel as if I am dealing with what has happened, with what I saw, as if I am in a movie or a book, that I am playing the character of the woman who wore The Bikini of Death. I am terrified that one day my coping mechanism will fail and I will tumble head first back into Hell, whereupon dark shadows will circle around me to the sound of cackling as the voice of The Grief Monster mocks: You thought black humour and writing would see you through? You stupid girl! Welcome back to the pit of despair! You won’t be getting out this time…

CC arrived in a flap apologising for London Transport making her late. She looked AMAZING: there was light in her eyes and a smile on her glossed lips. We chatted for a bit, and then she said she had something to tell me. She wasn’t sure whether she should, her friend MB said she shouldn’t because I would be upset, that I wouldn’t understand. CC felt that we’d been friends for so long she had to tell me what has happened which is this: She has fallen hopelessly and deliriously in love with a man who lost his wife to cancer two years ago. It was unexpected. He had emailed her after a friend of a friend (who had also lost his wife) had suggested it. She knew from his first email there was a connection. They met (as she tells it) at 8pm on the eighth day of the eighth month, and from that moment both of them were smitten kittens. They go to the theatre, to restaurants, to art galleries and yes, CC giggled, they go to bed.

I burst into tears.

CC was concerned, but as I fished tissues out of my bag, I assured her that I was crying with joy that she was happy again. I want everyone I know to be happy; other people being unhappy makes me unhappy. I wanted to ring JS and tell him that CC was happy again. Not being able to ring him made me unhappy.

It was a glorious girly emotional gossipy lunch. There were tears of all varieties from both of us. Just because CC has found love again doesn’t mean she is immune from breaking down when she talks about Rob; she did it with me, she does it with New Man, but he has been there too, and knows that it doesn’t diminish how she feels about him. CC is an independent woman who doesn’t need a man to look after her financially or emotionally, but she likes one to look out for her, and I can understand that. Her new man sounds wonderful. His four children like her too and have welcomed her warmly. Rob’s children, her grown-up stepchildren, are divided. Their father’s death is one year on November 2nd, but they have lives and families of their own. On the 2nd November, CC will be symbolically removing her diamond wedding band.

We walked up Camden High Street together, laughing.

CC practically skipped home. She was cooking for her new man who was coming round. He would be staying the night. They’re going to Malta for a week on the 7th November. They’re going to drink wine in the sun. She can’t wait. She’s been buying lots of new clothes for her holiday. There’s a trip to New Zealand and Australia planned for early in 2012.

After we parted, I went into M&S Simply Food and bought a microwaveable meal for one.

On the 21st February I was in my kitchen, the heart of my home, with my husband, cooking, drinking wine, new clothes for my holiday still in their bags in the hall, thinking how glad I was that I wasn’t CC, alone in her beautiful souless house, but instead, looking forward to going to Barbados, to sitting in the sun, eating good food and drinking wine with JS. Tonight, I was in my kitchen hanging around the microwave for three minutes waiting for it to ping. The fairy lights haven’t been on since JS died, nor have I sat on the sofa or at the kitchen table in the extension which at night is in darkness. I spend as little time down there as possible: it’s a room to feed the dog, top up the wine glass and get food to take to the TV or my desk. The longest I spend there is the time it takes to unload the dishwasher. I’d like to go away, sit in the sun, drink wine, but given that The Grim Reaper came with me last time, I can’t imagine going on holiday ever again, and anyway, it would mean I’d have to unpack my suitcase which remains alongside JS’s case, under his desk.

I am genuinely pleased for CC, really I am. I know how much she loved Rob and what a toll his illness and his death took on her. On my dog’s life I wish her and her new man every happiness, and I never lie when it comes to Boris. I just bloody well I wish I could stop crying tonight.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Eavesdropping on the 10:44
March 24, 2015
Tapestry
March 03, 2015
Two, Down. WAY, Up!
March 08, 2013
Life, Death & Laundry
January 28, 2013
Fear & Clothing
September 14, 2012
Painful Pleasure
May 17, 2012
Trust Me, I’m A Widow
March 02, 2012
Oscar Night
February 27, 2012
Facebook: Friend or Foe?
February 02, 2012

25 Comments

Angela
Reply October 25, 2011

I get the sense P.G that you won't be doing this forever. I genuinely think that one day, you too will meet someone who will put that smile back on your face and whom you will be having happy chats with over a good meal and glass of wine in the kitchen.

But before that happens P.G it's a case of working through this horribly isolating, raw, enormously painful grief for the loss of J.S. xx

    Planet Grief
    Reply October 26, 2011

    Angela: Thank you. I would be nightmare for anyone at the moment. One minute taking on the world, the next a frightened mouse. But maybe one day I'll get my appetite for cooking and life back. xx

megan
Reply October 25, 2011

can't find anything to say. Except maybe I feel that sucker punch, the being so thankful and happy and six days later...

    Planet Grief
    Reply October 26, 2011

    Megan: As the layers of grief peel back and grim reality sets in, you start to remember those things, don't you?

    Another thing that got me the other day was remembering the day before the accident. Not the night before - the lovely meal etc is burned into my memory - but the sheer ordinariness of me being in a gift shop and faffing about whether I should buy a new pair of flip flops. I was wittering on to JS along the lines of: I fancy silver because they go with turquoise, but then I've already got some lovely posh silver ones, but do I want to wear those to the beach? What do you think? Silver? Oh, what about blue? They're not quite turquoise but do you think they are too matchy matchy?

    I can remember standing by the huge display whilst the poor man (clutching postcards we never wrote or sent) was subjected to flip flop hell. Now I think, a few hours later he was dead and I was TALKING ABOUT BLOODY FOOTWEAR!!

    That gets me too and as time goes on, there will be others like that.

    Damn! More tears. xx

      megan
      Reply October 26, 2011

      I am making cake today for a particular friend - couldn't figure out why I was so angry. This particular cake for this particular friend: july 11th, 2009.

      I've been having flashes of things that happened in the days and weeks after. I know the week ahead of it so clearly, I have replayed it so many times. Oddly enough, Matt and I were discussing footwear in the car on the way to the river that morning. Ordinary, ordinary life. How can there be ordinary anything when this THING was barreling towards us?

      Hat
      Reply October 26, 2011

      Totally with you PG, I was walking along today thinking that at this time last year I was making my husband laugh out loud with my sincere heart-felt protestations on the quality of dried figs(never did find out why they went all dry and shrivelly for a couple of years..must have been a world wipe out on figs I assume) - there I was banging on about the quality and being charged the same price for dry old wrinky rubbish, and there he was kindly searching for plumptious specimens...and now it appears that the Fig Crisis is over and they are all back to normal - but he isn't here....not normal at all.

Sophie Day
Reply October 25, 2011

You are so amazing. I wandered down to the butchers today and asked for some liver so I can make liver and bacon tonight for my dinner. He asked how much I wanted. I cheerfully told him just enough for me, dinner for one. I stood there feeling very pleased with myself for realising that it is the first time I have gone out and got myself something for dinner alone and felt ok!!!! Your time will come. You are working so hard at it. All those evenings alone at home act as such a contrast to what we once had don't they? I am so pleased to hear that you also feel that you never took any of your time with JS for granted and that your memories of evenings in the kitchen are so cosy, alive, coloured with warmth and companionship. This comes across in your writing and you will always have these special nuggets to hang on to. Sometime I hope that like me you'll have some moments when you feel really happy when you remember times with JS. These come alongside those desperate moments, the uncontrollable sadness and loneliness.

I'm sort of in CC's shoes now. New man on the scene and all that. It's taken time to accept it and many, many emotional wobbles ("what the hell am I playing at?!?!") before I felt properly settled and happy to move on. Since something started to happen back in June, it was only a month ago that I could accept it. Until then I felt odd telling people about him, as if it was wrong to get involved 'so soon' (what is soon?) with somebody else. It took a while to realise that I should really just trust my instinct and accept some attention and kindness. It's a nice feeling that none of my time with new man replaces or substitutes old man memories and experiences.

I still miss Luke dreadfully, desperately. Still want to talk to him, share time and experiences with him, hug him, smell him, go to sleep and wake up with him. I wish my life was still as it was = with him. But it isn't. It's still horrible but there are little rays of sunshine and over time they linger longer, seem stronger and visit more often. Having a new man is part of that. But so is having the same old mates, pub landlords, shopkeepers and all the rest. I really hope that you will find this happening to you too in whatever respect. Your blog posts shout to me of a strong, empathetic, kind, beautiful woman who deserves to be happy again. BIG LOVE xxxx

    Planet Grief
    Reply October 26, 2011

    Sophie my darling, you have always been such a tonic to me even in your grief - the mark of a wonderful woman.

    This part of your post is particularly poignant: It took a while to realise that I should really just trust my instinct and accept some attention and kindness. It’s a nice feeling that none of my time with new man replaces or substitutes old man memories and experiences.

    I am struggling big time to incorporate new life with old life at the moment. I was chatting to my bereavement coach a couple of weeks ago, not really thinking what I was saying and suddenly she said: "Write that down." I asked her what I had said and we rewound. I had said, "I am happy to be me." It sometimes grates on me that I can say that type of thing when I still miss JS so much. The fact is I have so much to be grateful for, sometimes I am very happy, people make me laugh, but that feels at odds with how I feel I should be feeling or indeed, how I sometimes really feel.

    I'll stop rambling or this will turn into a new post!

    Love, thanks and all that jazz. xxxx

Emma
Reply October 25, 2011

PG,

I sat and nodded, and cried and smiled through your post....

As a direct response to this I have no words... just some thoughts of mine since returning from travels..
I look at how my life interacts with others, those I love, whether family or friends (although friends are extended family to me), and random strangers that I have continued to meet and I try to see the connection in it all... what is it that links it all up? there are so many coincidences in so many things that it makes me question how we are all linked in, some mysterious tether that makes each circumstance happen at that moment and then it links in to someone else's path...
The night before your holiday to Barbados, was the last night I was Emma, wife of Mark... the day you started your holiday I was Emma, widow of Mark. Then our lives interacted with each other some weeks later...and continue to do so...
What is it that brings people into our lives at certain times? what is the reason if not that we are somehow connected... some greater force of which we have no control...

I read a great book on my travels (thanks to Work Wife as it was a gift from her) called "The High Heeled Guide to Enlightenment", it has this theory under the reincarnation/buddhist chapter that we are drawn to people in our present life as we are part of the same 'soul group'. that we have been together since we first started existing and even if the body we are in then dies and we then reincarnate into another being that we all find each other again no matter what....
Whatever beliefs I had before 22nd February 2011, they were thrown up into the air and the jury is still out on them, but, I like the idea that the body has died yet the person's essence, their soul is still surviving somewhere, reincarnated to another being (let's face it karma can be a bitch and you may come back as the complete opposite to the person you were,just to teach you lessons!)
To be found again, in this life or in the next?

This of course does not help me now, and especially the feeling of not wanting to dissappear into a pit of nothingness, of the familiar ache and weight that bears down on me now I am back, the massive hole that I feel I am being sucked into, the winter months appearing at a close speed and wanting to hide away from it all...
These feelings fight with the ones on the flipside of the coin that wants to get up every day and carry on, and has sub consciously moved forward (I feel like I am looking at things through clearer eyes since returning) and that I just need to tell myself it is ok to push the button for moving forward a few steps...

Quite frankly... I am scared, I feel alone, and as I sit on the bed that my husband and I shared our last cuddle on... I just want to curl up and cry...

xxxx

    Planet Grief
    Reply October 26, 2011

    Emma: Wonderful post (will look out the book). I am sure I've banged on about this before, but I do believe people and opportunities come into our lives when we most need them. The problem is, how does this square with our loss ie is the reverse true, that people leave our lives for a reason? Can't fathom that one.

    Re reincarnation: I would like to come back as a Nun, that way I won't fall in love again and won't get hurt. xx

Samantha
Reply October 26, 2011

Hi,

This evening I have read through all your blogs and all the comments, and they have helped me through another desperately lonely evening, and I just wanted to say hello.

On August 11 my supremely fit and healthy partner of 11 years and I were walking to the scan of our first child when he said he felt dizzy and collapsed, and that was it. They tried for an hour to bring him back but couldn't, and I had to call his family and mine. The 10.5 weeks since then have been a horrific blur, and everything you all say resonates so profoundly. The carthorse v racehorse article really hit a chord with me, that was so us too. The profound blackness, the contemplation of ending it because it's too painful but knowing we can't, the wife at breakfast but widow at lunchtime, the sense of living a nightmare, wanting to feel normal and rejoin society and not be a professional widow, but at the same time completely unable to function as a human, entirely incapacitated by debilitating grief.

It has been so comforting to hear your stories, people that know and understand. At 32, I am widowed before my friends are married, and though my friends are being so kind at the moment I am so aware that they will inevitably stop asking as life for everyone else carries on, though I am trapped on that horrific day, when my world as well as my beloved boy's ended.

So I just wanted to say hello, and thank you.

Sam
Sam

    Sophie Day
    Reply October 26, 2011

    Sam. My insides ache for you. You have done so well to write on here and reach out. We are all here for you. Which part of the country do you live in? I want to reach out and give you a huge hug and cook for you and run you a bath - here they are virtually. Lots of love xxxx

    Emma
    Reply October 26, 2011

    Sam, you are not alone... although circumstances are different I was also 32 when my husband died, am now 33.
    Keep reading, post if you can, you will find it an enormous support...I know I have found it a lifeline...

    Emma x

      megan
      Reply October 26, 2011

      hi sam. Sorry you have reason to be here. Where are you in the world?

        Samantha
        Reply October 26, 2011

        Thank you so much ladies. I am so sorry for your losses too, this is truly the absolute worst thing to go through and noone can understand unless they've been there. I am completely and utterly broken beyond repair and wish I didn't have to keep going - life without Phil is no life at all.

        I lived in Reading with Phil but fled our lovely happy house that day and have been staying in rural Wales with my parents since. I am going to try to return to work on reduced hours from 1 Nov, when I will be staying with my brother in Southend and commuting to London Bridge. It would be lovely to meet you if you're around any of these locations.

        Thanks again,
        Sam

          Emma
          Reply October 26, 2011

          Sam I am only 15 minutes from London Bridge on the train (I live in SE9)... would be happy to come meet for coffee one day when you return to work...

          I will add you on the FB group and we can go from there xxx

            Planet Grief
            Reply October 26, 2011

            Sam: My heart aches for you and I know others will feel the same. All our stories are different, but we all know the searing pain of grief.

            Emma - if you and Sam do meet up, email me and I might swing by for a frozen yoghurt. Not a young wife like you two, but can act as a middle-aged woman happy to give a hug and treat you two to something rich in carbs. xxx

              megan
              Reply October 26, 2011

              you all make me think I need to move to london.

              Hat
              Reply October 26, 2011

              Bit late in, but sending a big hug to you Sam. We are all dragging each other along and plodding, and you and anyone else reading that would like to are welcome to "drag and plod" along with us.

              Whereabouts is the rural location?

              Hat
              Reply October 26, 2011

              Throw in a coffee cake and I'm on the train yesterday.

                Samantha
                October 26, 2011

                Thank you so much all. Reading your blog PG, and everyone's posts from the last few months last night was addictive, as I found myself just agreeing with everything you all said. The searing pain is impossible to describe unless you have experienced it - I have tried variously as suffocating in the blackness under the seabed as the world dances lightly by on land, how your brain, heart and soul light up with pain until you feel you must explode into millions of screaming tearing fragments, a visceral torment - but nothing adequately does it justice. But your words convey it so well all of you.

                PG: please do join us, it would be great to meet you and I am never adverse to being fed cake :).

                Emma: thank you, coffee sounds great. I imagine my first few days at work will be pretty jelly-like, I am nervous at even the train journey in (i have completely lost ability to function as a human, it's like I have no skin and it's too raw for outside air) - but once i am a little more stable it would be great to meet. If my fb request didn't work, maybe PG could give you my email address please?

                Hat: yes please, I would like to join your drag and plod brigade. That sums it up well, with maybe a 'trudge' thrown in for good measure. Re rural - I am 30mins north of Carmarthen, near village called Brechfa.

                Megan: please do join us in London :)

                Sophie: thank you for your kind words, the cooking and bath running are gratefully received.

                Thanks very much all, it's so generous to offer such heartfelt support when you are suffering so badly too.

                Sam

          Sophie Day
          Reply October 31, 2011

          Hi Sam,
          I'm in Norwich, but spend occasional weekends in Reading. If there's ever a time when you think you feel up to visiting your house there, even just for ten minutes or so then let me know if you like. I would be happy to accompany you or spend some time in Reading with you over a coffee if ever something like that would help. I didn't go home for the first few weeks and didn't move back in until a few months after I lost Luke. Even then I could only manage a few days at a time and stayed with friends intermittently. Somehow you will find your own way through this. Starting work is going to be really hard. Don't worry if you freak out and find it too difficult. Let the freak-outs happen if they need to. Loads of love xx

Lornz
Reply October 26, 2011

I have no words. This post touched me on so many levels that it has left me speachless and somewhat raw and wanting to call my Davey. ;)

xxx
Lornz
Peace to all

Al
Reply October 26, 2011

I can't describe how this post made me feel, I hurt too much - But just one word will sum up how I feel right now - Desolate
My heart and my love go out to you all xx

Julia Cho
Reply October 28, 2011

Yes to all of this.

I believe you will get there as well PG.

There is a difference after 12 months. At least, there was for me.

Eight months is still so soon. In my own journey, that seems like an eternity ago already. Please give yourself time. Leave your suitcase until it feels right for you. One day you will most likely holiday again but that won't be for a while and that's fine too.

Much love to you...