Done & Dusted
So, how was it for you?
Christmas, that is.
Mine was nothing like I predicted, ie, constant wailing; a desire to hurl sprouts at anyone who wished me Merry Christmas; having to be physically restrained from trashing the nativity scene outside the local church. No, on balance and given the circumstances, I actually had quite a reasonable Christmas. And I feel slightly guilty admitting it.
Before you deck me for seeming to trip gaily through the festive season whilst you were gnawing your own hands off with grief, getting smashed on Widows Cocktails (a mix of everything in the drinks cupboard, including liqueurs that should have stayed in the Duty Free shop on that Greek Island fifteen years ago, all watered down with salty tears), I should point out that Christmas wasn’t quite as carefree as I’ve made it sound.
Post-lunch (two slices of toast and peanut butter) on Christmas Eve, saw me sobbing for England, St George and any other European country David Cameron hasn’t alienated yet. Tears and tantrums were pretty much the form for the rest of Christmas Eve. Tears wrapping up presents; tears listening to the carols from Kings College Cambridge; tears on the phone to friends and family. The entire world seemed to be preparing for a fun loved-up family Christmas.
Yeah, yeah, I know that all over the country there were couples in kitchens hissing at each other over inlaws who were already doing their head in, even though said relations had only just arrived, but still, it hurt. They were couples in kitchens. Me and The Hound standing waiting for the toaster to pop-up doesn’t count as a couple.
Instead of my usual Christmas Eve fayre of champagne and smoked salmon blinis whilst wearing something nice, I ordered a takeaway from the local Curry House. Already in my nightclothes, I rang them 6:25pm as they quote at least an hour for delivery.
A man on a moped turned up at 6:45pm.
Clearly, I was the only saddo in my area of North London who was ordering a curry for one on Christmas Eve, something which added to my sense of isolation as I watched a programme I’d recorded about a man in Surrey who was an obsessive compulsive hoarder. He slept, worked and ate in the same chair surrounded by newspapers, and said he went downhill after his mother died six years ago. Ramming poppadums and garlic naan in my mouth, sluttishly ignoring the crumbs and curry dropping on my nightwear, and reflecting that most days I eat all my meals (such as they are) sitting at my desk in the study, I knew the feeling of going downhill, even if I stick all my newspapers in the recycling bin rather than up against a window.
I expected to wake up on Christmas morning wanting to tie a string of tinsel around my neck and sky-dive over the bannisters, but I didn’t because firstly I couldn’t leave The Hound to fend for himself, not on Christmas Day anyway, and secondly, our bannisters are not very high. Knowing my luck, instead of sudden death resulting in me hammering on the gates of Heaven demanding to see JS to wish him Happy Christmas, I’d probably end up in a hospital bed with a male nurse called Moses wiping my butt.
I woke up early and dry-eyed and thought, “How weird that this is Christmas Day.” It could have been any day. I felt totally disconnected from everyone and everything.
I got up and (more slutty confessions) threw yesterday’s clothes on and without even washing or flashing a toothbrush over my gnashers (I have no proof, but I believe the dead don’t care about parrot-cage breath), chucked The Hound in the little Fiat and drove to the Crematorium. JS’s ashes are still there. We know where we want to scatter his ashes, but there are logistical problems as vitally important family members live on the other side of the world, so at the moment, my husband is on a shelf. As the lady behind the desk in the office said as I sobbed over her counter a few months ago, “He’s got plenty of company.”
As I drove through Finchley, an ambulance came up behind me at speed, sirens wailing, lights flashing. I pulled over. It brought back memories and brought on tears as I thought of the terrifying high-speed blue-light dash we had in Barbados, a journey where we were all thrown around so badly (think transit van with a trolley – no restraints), I ended up terribly bruised. With my back to the driver and in The Bikini of Death, I hauled my husband back onto the trolley whilst the technician carried on the CPR. To think, I’m such a poor traveller I used to have to take travel sickness tablets when we drove to Kent. I was sick after that ambulance journey, but it wasn’t the drive that had me retching on the grass verge in the blazing sunshine. That happened after I walked out of the hospital, and every morning for months afterwards.
As I sat on the side of the road, I wondered who was waiting for that ambulance to arrive, whose Christmas morning was ruined; whether it would be more than just a day that was in tatters.
At the Crem, I found I wasn’t alone. Dotted around the vast site, visitors were tying wreaths to a fence; laying flowers and cards; sitting on benches, reflecting. I got out of the car and with The Hound, began to walk around, sobbing, whilst trying to stop him cocking his leg against gravestones (no respect these young dogs). No one wished each other Merry Christmas, but we nodded, a nod of grief and understanding. A man who looked in his late sixties had set up a table groaning with flowers. He had a vase with foam in it, and was cutting the stems off flowers and making an elaborate arrangement. A taxi driver arrived in a smart suit and took a bouquet of flowers to a grave. Families arrived en masse; toddlers holding balloons tottered between gravestones, laughing. Balloons were tied to rose trees, to benches, to tiny memorial plaques.
I had taken a pink flower with me intending to put it on the memorial to the Tauber family I wrote about in the post Spirits in the Sky. Obviously, being Jewish and not celebrating Christmas, the Taubers hid from my festive flower, as despite walking and driving around for ages, I couldn’t find their stone. I put the flower I’d brought at the door of the Chapel, as near to the office where JS sits on a shelf with other departed souls as I could find.
Back in the car, I sobbed, I wailed, I upset The Hound, I read a touching and timely message on my phone from a widow in Kent who had been thinking of me, and then I drove home, had breakfast, took The Hound on the Heath for a long walk and drove a few miles to my family for lunch. There were four of us; I had a good time, a really good time with people I love. There was great food, lively conversation and lots of silliness. The Hound stayed in Highgate as my hosts were looking after a dog for a friend. The two dogs don’t fight, they get on well – too well!
I was home by five. To avoid the delivery charge (never an issue when I was married and ordering for two), I over ordered the Christmas Eve takeaway, and ate the leftovers (curried chickpeas) in my dressing gown on Christmas night. I didn’t laugh at Ab Fab. I wondered if my sense of humour had deserted me once and for all, but Big Bird (a woman with a first-class sense of humour) told me she didn’t laugh once either, so it was Jennifer Saunders’ below-par writing, not my grief that had me granite-faced on the sofa.
Like I say, I had a good first Christmas Day without JS, but on balance, I was glad it was over.
A last minute decision to visit friends on Boxing Day turned into a lovely day with dog walking, lunch and laughter.
Tuesday saw me restless again, desperate to escape the black cloud chasing me, searching the internet, looking at places I could move to as far apart as Northumberland and Kent. I learnt that Karen’s husband has had a baby with his partner. Karen would have loved a child; she had two miscarriages before she died. She would have been thrilled for her husband, I know she would. So was I, but I wept buckets for what might have been, for all of us.
So there we are, Christmas 2011; not as I expected either a year ago or a week ago. Life continues to surprise me and drag me along at a rate I sometimes feel unprepared for.
Reading some of the posts on the Facebook sites I contribute to, it seems as if many of you have also been surprised (and guilty) that your day was not the endless stream of grief that you imagined, that you were able to find some light in the darkness. Good for you I say. To those that had a black day, others further along this terrible path promise us that it won’t always be this black. They said that to me in those early terrible days when it felt as if I was burning with acid, such was my pain. I didn’t believe them then, that things do (gradually, almost imperceptibly) get easier, but they were right. They had walked through the fire too.
It was ten months on the 27th of December that I hauled my husband’s body back onto the trolley in that ambulance, sometimes screaming at the driver, begging him to get us to the hospital, sometimes chanting, “What will be will be.” Christmas will never be the same again, I know that, and yes, it makes me sad, but different can be good. This Christmas showed me that.
The other thing that showed me different can be good, in fact, very good, was a kiss from a tall, dark (well, greying) and handsome widower.
Now there is New Year to face…