Oscar Night


In the latter part of the first year after JS’s death, I had a little fantasy.

No, not the one involving me, Alistair Campbell in his Lycra cycling shorts and a mobile phone charger, but that the day after the first year anniversary, I would burst forth from this debilitating darkness like a stripper out of a giant birthday cake, a smile on my face whilst yelling, “Watch out world! I’m back!” though wearing clothes, obviously.

Now the anniversary is upon me, I realise that I was as unrealistic about my entrance back into the ‘normal’ world, as I was about me and sex-on-a stool Alistair C when we met by chance in Carphone Warehouse.

Whilst I am smiling (sometimes through tears), my appearance at the first-year finishing line is less dramatic, akin to a butterfly slowly emerging from a rather ugly chrysalis: there’s been quite a lot of thrashing around, tentative antenna waving and cracking of my protective carapace, but parts of my wings are yet to totally unfurl. There is still a chance that just as I take flight, some passing toad sticks its tongue out and has me as a tasty little snack.

Quite why I thought I’d be different from everyone else, that I could approach the anniversary of JS’s death with a spirit of feisty F**k you Grief Monster! defiance, I really don’t know. I should have remembered that acts of great defiance in the face of adversity often end up with me in tears, something which JS (were he still alive) would attest to, having witnessed me haranguing a bus driver, numerous stuck-up mothers parked outside my garage, and a particularly nasty member of staff who tried to run me over with her moped in the underground car park at work. In all cases (and there are plenty more to which I plead “Guilty M’Lord”), I boasted that I was going to show that driver/mother/colleague what for. And I did, with bells on, only to collapse in a snivelling wailing heap later.

But still, I was totally prepared for the 27th February, 2012. There was absolutely no point (I told myself) to rehash the run up to that terrible day. I’ve done it all year, hundreds of times a day, and it does me no good at all. It doesn’t bring JS back, it doesn’t change anything, ergo, it’s simply a total waste of time and energy. These few days prior to the anniversary are just ordinary days.

Except they’re not.

Perhaps they will never be. I’ve written before that years after JS’s first wife died, the days in the run up to the anniversary of her death were always a tense and fraught time in our household. I’m not saying that I was unsympathetic, but I will admit to occasionally thinking, Oh for goodness sake! Get over it! 

But it’s not that easy, is it?

On the 22nd February, 2011, I got my passport out because I was going on holiday. On the 22nd February, 2012, I got it out because I needed to show it to the bank as part of the whole death and finances thing. As I waited to be seen, I flicked through the pages and saw the Barbadian immigration stamps: inbound and outbound. What happened in between those passport stamps still seems unbelievable.

On the morning of the 23rd February, 2011, our cases were packed and waiting for a cab. On the 23rd February, 2012, the cases were still packed. They are still packed from the 3rd March, 2011, the day I left Barbados, without JS, for the overnight flight home.

On the 23rd February, 2011, I was at 30,000 feet sipping something sparkling, looking forward to arriving on a beautiful sun-kissed island. This year, at the same time, I was standing in my garage surrounded by JS’s things, overwhelmed and in tears by all the tins of paint and sets of golf clubs that I no longer need, but don’t know what to do with.

In the run up to the 27th, I’ve had bizarre dreams. There was one where JS was alive and sitting at a bar in the Caribbean with friends of ours. I’ve only seen his face once in a dream and he was dead. In this dream, JS was very much alive, wearing a white short-sleeved shirt. I saw his face. He was chatting, making plans for the future. I told him not to. He asked why. I told him he was going to drown. He didn’t believe me. I handed him a thin sheet of paper on which his autopsy results were printed in old-fashioned typewriter type. It was definitely a dream and not a ‘visitation’, as in the dream I was on holiday with Rio Ferdinand. As an Arsenal season ticket holder, going away with a Manchester United player counts as a nightmare, not a dream.

No matter how hard I tried not to do the whole: This time last year thing, I have done, every day this week. No wonder there have been tears and the occasional tantrum.

Tonight, as I type this, the Oscars are taking place in Los Angeles. I have Sky News on in the background and they’re covering them. I know that my brain goes off at strange tangents, and regular readers of this blog will think that whatever I’m going to write next about Tinsel Town’s most glamorous award ceremony will be followed by But I digress. 

Except this time, there’s no digression.

There is one aspect of JS’s death that I have hardly thought about. I don’t know whether this is because I couldn’t bear to, or because I have been focused on the actual events surrounding JS’s death. And yet as I approach the first year, it has become massively traumatic for me to remember.

I am sure you will have your own painful memories of the same time.

The first night after the day of the death.

It was terrible to witness my husband’s drowning and the appalling circus on the beach. For such a private dignified man he had a very public and undignified death, though now I feel sure that he would not have known anything about it, that my screaming the name of his children and tickling his feet to bring him round, the yells of the crowd, my pleading for a jet ski to rescue him, for an ambulance to save him, for someone to help him, all fell on ears wired into an oxygen-starved brain. The rest of the day was a blur: of a terrifying blue-light ambulance ride; of the hospital; of doctors; of police; the Foreign Office; the British Consulate; of tour reps; of hotel staff; of hotel guests; of heartbreaking phone calls with screams on the other end of the line.

And then everyone left and there was just me. Thousands of miles away in paradise in a hotel room overlooking the the sea which killed JS, and the beach on which I knew life would never be the same again.

That first night alone, was, in some ways, worse than the day when the momentum of death kept me going, kept me hauled up by the armpits even though my feet were barely touching the ground.

Friends in the UK knew friends in Barbados and arranged for them to ring me. They suggested that they came to pick me up and take me to their house. It was a Sunday night and they were staying in to watch the Oscars. I would be very welcome to join them. I declined. I didn’t know them. I didn’t know anything except that my husband was dead and I was alone and far from home.

The sun went down.

The restaurant below my hotel room began to prepare for dinner.

I paced the room, a room which was the same as we’d left it in the morning: JS’s clothes over the back of the chair; his toiletries in the bathroom; the bed unmade. It was the Mari Celeste of rooms. Nothing had changed and yet everything had changed.

I could hear guests going into dinner, leaving their rooms, chatting as they walked along the corridor outside.

The band struck up.

I couldn’t bear it.

I rang the friends of friends and asked if I could change my mind and watch the Oscars with them. They said they were on their way.

I went down to reception, an area which overlooked the restaurant. As I waited, all eyes turned to me. For a moment, the band slowed down. It was surreal, almost comedic. I remember giving a slight wave and saying (to no one in particular) with an ironic laugh (not the right word, but if you were next to me, I could do an impression and you’d see what I mean), “Yes, I’m the woman on the beach whose husband drowned today.” I’ll never forget it. I want to forget it, but I can’t.

The friends of friends arrived. They were lovely. Warm Northerner’s working in Barbados. They drove me to their house which was on the edge of a golf course. It was absolutely fabulous. As I walked in I thought, “I must tell JS about this place!”

They made me tea and cheese and biscuits. They were terribly kind. They wanted me to stay with them.

I couldn’t settle. I couldn’t sit still. I needed to pace. Pace and pace and pace. I paced in their bathroom to try and get some pacing out of my system.

Warm Northerners had the Oscars on the television. I tried to watch them, the pretty dresses and the handsome film stars, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t sit still. My body was jumping inside.

I’d only been there (I think) half-an-hour or so when I asked them to run me back to the hotel. They wrapped up the cheese and crackers and we drove back.

The moment their car lights left the property, I desperately wanted to run out of the gate and up the road and beg them to take me back with them.

Armed with my snacks, I went back to the hotel room. I remember the band were playing Chris de Burgh’s Lady in Red. I hate the sentimental pap of Lady in Red at the best of times.

I put the televsion on. Coverage of the Oscars was still in full flow.

I kept pacing.

I could hear footsteps outside and doors close around me, couples going back to their room after dinner. Together.

The band stopped playing.

I looked over the balcony. The restaurant was almost empty.

I couldn’t stay in the room.

I went down to the bar. It was outside. I could hear the sea lap on the beach.

I drank whisky with the hotel manager and two of his friends who were in Barbados on a golfing holiday.

They were kind men, but they couldn’t sit up drinking spirits forever.

We all went back to our rooms.

There was still Oscar stuff on the TV.

I got undressed, put the white hotel dressing gown on and paced the room.

Everything was deathly quiet except for the noise of the whistling tree frogs. The first time we went to Barbados, JS made up a song for me. It won’t mean anything unless you know the tune, but the words go like this:

The whistling tree frog went over the hill
Down to the valley so shady
He whistled and he sang ’til the greenwood rang
And he won the heart of his lay-ay-dy frog

This trip, he promised that he would finally get round to composing a second verse by the end of the holiday.

I turned the TV off, lay on the top of the bed and turned the light out.

Seconds later I turned it on, terrified, images of what I had witnessed flooding my brain.

I put the TV back on.

I started pacing again.

Pacing. Pacing. Pacing.

In the early hours of the morning, I had to get out of the room. Still in my dressing gown, I started pacing around the property, desperate for human company. There was a man sitting underneath the pergoda where earlier the band had been playing. He was on a chair, asleep. I wanted to talk to him. To someone. To anyone. I paced round and round that bl**dy pergoda in my white dressing gown, but the man didn’t wake up. I went over to the bar and started poking around, not for a drink, just because I didn’t know what else to do. A big man appeared. I explained who I was and what had happened. He had heard all about it. He was sorry. I asked who the man under the pergoda was, the man who I couldn’t wake up despite circling him in a snowy white dressing gown. He was the hotel’s security guard.

I went back to our (my?) room.

The TV was still burbling away: News. Oscars.

The time difference between Barbados and the UK meant people were getting up at home. I rang them or they rang me. They kept me talking. I can’t remember what I said or in what order I spoke to people, I just know that those people I spoke to prevented me from doing something stupid thousands of miles away in paradise until my wonderful brother could arrive from the UK, which he did about five o’clock later that day.

The sun came up.

There was the sound of the clattering of dishes from the restaurant below as the breakfast buffet got underway.

I ran a bath, but felt too weak to get in it.

I lay on the bed.

The phone rang.

I can’t remember who it was, I just know that I was asked to go to reception as a car was being sent for me to take me to the hospital.

I put on a dress, heels and all my jewellery and a slick of lipgloss and went downstairs.

Couples were going to the beach.

I was going to the mortuary.

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29 Comments

Barb
Reply February 27, 2012

Oh Helen,
Huge huge hugs, I am in tears reading this. I forgot about all that pacing, pacing, pacing, you must have been in so much pain and despair.
Keep writing your brilliant pieces , year two is reality year, as you learn the at times impossible way to live a whole new life without them in it. Although the pacing , pacing pacing is still with you at times, you will at the end of it know what direction to go in.

Barb x

    Planet Grief
    Reply February 29, 2012

    Barb: Thank you. I was going to stop the blog at the year mark, but I have more to say. You have been warned!

    Internally, at times, I still feel that I am pacing, even though my exterior is (relatively) cheerful calm.

    Hxx

      meren
      Reply March 14, 2012

      I'm so glad the blog isn't going to stop. I'd really miss you!

Holly
Reply February 27, 2012

Sweetheart ..... no words. Just massive, huge hugs coming your way. Try to take it easy today, will email you tomorrow with some more positive ideas, but for today just "be" xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Planet Grief
    Reply February 29, 2012

    The day went OK in the end, Holly.

    Feel drained now though.

    Much love, Hxx

Emma
Reply February 27, 2012

Thinking of you today and all days Marg...

A different look at things is the one we have spoken about between us... On the day you were getting your passport ready for your holiday, I was being told Mark had commited suicide and that I was now a 32 yr old widow. The day you flew out on holiday and were sipping sparkling stuff on the plane, I was reading my husband's suicide note and realising that things were never going to be the same again.... curled up in a ball on my bed that only two nights before my husband had held me so tightly in I thought he would never let go...
The day that you were at the Mortuary, I to was at the Mortuary to identify Mark....

Our lives have run parallel to each others in events over this last year H and we have also made the connection to interlink them...

Both of us have come so far from the two women sat drinking a glass of wine on the Embankment last July. I am very proud of me and also of you.... grief is still around but it is showing signs of ebating...
Always around for thee, with tea, cake and a hug.... xxxxxxx

    Sophie Day
    Reply February 27, 2012

    Big respect to you xxxx

      Planet Grief
      Reply February 29, 2012

      Proud chicks and chicks who are proud of each other, women who have touched each other's lives in grief, but for the good.

      Hard though, 'aint it?

      Much love xxxx

Deena
Reply February 27, 2012

Every loss is a hugely painful experience, some like J S's also have horrendous circumstances, my heart goes out to you and also to you Emma.
Time "The Great Healer" we have all been told that and not for one moment believed it, at 15 months, I am beginning to believe I am healing, year two is different, not so many tears and able to recall happy times without falling apart.
I did not want to reach the "year" did not want to have to say "my Husband died a year ago" he still seemed close if I could say X months.
You made me smile Helen at "Lady in Red" it was our special song !!!! we got together when it was a hit, I think the summer of 1986, it was played at the Crematorium as I let him go, just Ted and I present, with the undertaker silently pressing the switch that took him from me forever.
So many times we have all been told how lucky we were to have shared our lives with these special people, it could never have been long enough.
We have also all had said to us, "you have your memories" I used to get angry with that as I wanted him back not memories.
Our lives have changed forever, but the pieces are beginning to fit together in our "new" lives. They are in our hearts and made us who we were before and now after.
Love and thoughts xxxxxxx.

    Planet Grief
    Reply February 29, 2012

    Deena: Sorry to sneer at Lady in Red...I won't like the song, but I will think differently of it, I promise you. You will be the Lady in Red to me now. (Feel a bit sobby at the thought).

    I do believe that time is a healer, I really do, although if anyone said that to me in the early days (and they did and I bet they did that to everyone reading this) I wanted to hit them.

    I can detect a strength and (don't hit me, I'm a widow so I can say it) hopefulness in your posts here and elsewhere. It's lovely and uplifting to witness.

    xxxxxx

      Deena
      Reply February 29, 2012

      I will forgive you about Lady In Red PG !!!! Strangely the Undertaker also did not think it one of Chris de Burgh's better ones - I know peculiar conversation we had in the Car Park afterwards, he sang with a band as well as being an Undertaker, two extremes I felt !!!

      Yes even I detect a change in myself, I suppose in time we all have to accept (that dreaded word months back !) what we now have.

      I also detect a "new" you slowly being born, as with a few others we have travelled this road with.

      Love Deena xxxxx

        Planet Grief
        Reply March 2, 2012

        Deena: Life drags us along whether we like it or not, doesn't it? I think the challenge is accepting different can be good without feeling bad about feeling good.

        xx

Sophie Day
Reply February 27, 2012

I remember this so well too - I was in Egypt. I wish we could un-see things and erase these memories. That immediate shock, loneliness and total devastation remains with me too. But so do the small acts of kindness by people I did not know, I am so thankful to them. Altogether, not something I would wish upon anyone. Loads of love, loads and loads xxx

    megan
    Reply February 27, 2012

    ditto.

    xo

      Planet Grief
      Reply February 29, 2012

      I both wish we could un-see things and yet I am glad that I was there. It's on the list of things I still need to blog about. But as you say and Megan agrees, I think there will be forever part of me that carries the shock and total desolation of what I (we) went through.

      Huge hugs. Hx

        ChrisJ
        Reply March 1, 2012

        Sunday Paper had 2 adjacent articles. Big piece on "Drug may wipe out trauma memories" and smaller column on "Painkiller soothes broken hearts".
        Latter was about relationship break-ups but the researcher was quoted as saying:"There may be value to experiencing the pain of rejection. It's probably there for a reason - to keep us connected with others."
        Other story was a big feature about one of the other effects of a beta-blocker drug seemed to be the deletion of traumatic memories - in a military combat PTSD context. A short hop to the film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" where Careys and Winslets characters have their memories of their relationship erased.

        I think in our cases it is more of a wish that what happened hadn't rather than wiping our minds of the subsequent pain. It - still - hurts and you want the grief monster to go away but the experiences are necessarily and probably indelibly etched into our minds. Any removal would probably have great risk and little benefit since it could radically change the person you are now. Can't fight it or fix it; just have to accept it.

        It was the small acts of kindness and consideration that helped me keep going. (Although my Meldrew mode has also been in overdrive these last few weeks trying to "fix" various things. As you know I can ramble - especially now during an enforced rest week whilst recovering from my first and annoying training injury).

          Planet Grief
          Reply March 2, 2012

          ChrisJ: Thank you.

          I am a champion rambler of the sort which doesn't require walking boots, flares and supplies of Kendal Mint cake.

          You are so right when you say: Can’t fight it or fix it; just have to accept it.

          There really is no other way, is there?

          H

ChrisJ
Reply February 27, 2012

This date also has relevance to me hence I was thinking of you today.

    Planet Grief
    Reply February 29, 2012

    Ah, Chris.

    The 27th February.

    xxx

mml
Reply February 27, 2012

My heart goes out to you. Reading over the events of that day brought me to tears and reminded me so much of how I felt that first day after my fiance's death.

Thinking of you and sending virtual hugs your way as you go through this day. I know he's just as gone today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow but still the anniverseries are still hard.

    Planet Grief
    Reply February 29, 2012

    MML: Thank you. I look back on the first day and night after JS died and just feel so sad that he did everything to make my life as easy and enjoyable and fun-filled and packed with love as possible, and yet his decision (for which I don't blame him) plunged me into a world the total opposite of that he tried to envelope me in.

    I hope that your tears on reading the post were a little healing too. xxx

Bonnie
Reply February 28, 2012

Oh Helen sending you big hugs , so painful to read and so true for me too.

The day J died I left the hospital at 6 am and arrived home in time to wake each of my 3 children one by one, to say the same thing to each of them , to hear their squeal of pain and watch their face crumple. I then dressed them, fed them and walked them to school. I was so wired and edgy, I persuaded my eldest age 9 it was a good idea for her to appear in her school play !!! I turned up at school at 2pm , someone had saved me a seat on the front row. There was a moment when one of the characters had been shopping and arrived on stage clutching shopping bags, I laughed to myself the bags were Prada, Mulberry and Jo Malone. Like you I thought wait till I tell J, only in Gosforth could that happen. Then it hit me , I dug my fingernails into my hands , trying not to let my beautiful 9 year old see my tears. The first day of the new life.......I started to run and still haven't stopped.
Sorry to report I'm struggling with year 2 but pleased to see you are still writing xxxx

    Planet Grief
    Reply February 29, 2012

    Bonnie: A touching and pain-filled post. Thank you. It tore at my heart strings to read it - a colliding of two worlds (normal Gosforth, which of course I know) and yet this terrible new world you and your family were plunged into. We cling on to whatever normality we can.

    Sorry to hear that you are struggling with year two. March onwards lovely Bonnie. I'm tottering unsteadily behind you. xxxx

Julia Cho
Reply February 28, 2012

tears for you. oh the pain of that first night...but yours helen- to be away...reading your powerful words, i felt that experience- and it was awful. I am so sorry you had to endure that. so sorry. and i am so very glad that it's over and lived. even though we can't help comparing the dates on the spiral of time- and i believe you have to at least the first year- i kept telling myself on my one year that he died that day- one whole year ago- not today. he would not die again. it helped me a little...

i do believe you are feisty still- and i do get the F**k you grief monster bit in every post- and I love it.

    Planet Grief
    Reply February 29, 2012

    Julia: It helped (as you know from your blog) to write it out. I had difficulty even thinking about it before. Remembering that night brings to the surface so many feelings of terror and loneliness of a type I never imagined could exist. Even just typing the responses to this blog entry, my heart is pounding. Perhaps I need to do some more writing, maybe just privately.

    xxx

LARAINE MASON
Reply February 28, 2012

For me the approach to the first anniversary was worse than the actual day, and I so remember reliving all that had happened, and I recall feeling sad that there would be no more 'this time last years' to look back upon in the next year. Now, I can look at our entire life together, and not just 'this time last year' and remember with fondness, and a smile, all the good times. That does take time, but you will get there. But Bonnie - that squeal of pain from my youngest daughter, then aged 10, (even though she knew her father's condition was terminal) will haunt me until my dying day - the day their childhood was taken away xxx

    Planet Grief
    Reply February 29, 2012

    Laraine: Thank you.

    JS's daughter was much older than yours, but I will never forget the blood curdling scream down the phone when I rang from Barbados. It will forever haunt me too.

    xxx

Samantha
Reply March 1, 2012

You describe the pain and profound shock so well. Your brain is both alight with pain but completely numb at the same time isn't it, and you have no idea what to do with yourself at all. I was awake for 3 days, and like you just paced around - when my legs could hold me that is.

It must have been indescribably hard to be so far from home somewhere so happy - as you know I lost Phil suddenly too in front of my eyes, and had to call my family and his from the hospital. I guess it's a good thing that I was in such shock I don't remember the conversations.

I hope it was cathartic to write it all down, it was very brave of you to relive it all so vividly. It was difficult reading as you describe the indescribable so well.

Hope year 2 is treating you kindly,
Sx

Planet Grief
Reply March 2, 2012

Samantha: Thank you. I've just put a new post on PG: Trust Me, I'm A Widow, the latter part of which I hope has special meaning for you.

Love to you both. xxxx