You walk into the sitting room and your husband is lying on the floor. He is conscious but unable to get himself up; the first thing you do is fetch a pillow to place under his head and a blanket to cover him, then you call an ambulance. The paramedics arrive, switch on their monitors, get him upright, check him over. “We have to take him in”, they say. The last you see of him is the scared and confused look on his face as the gurney is wheeled out of your sitting room. It’s an image which is as clear today as it was then.
It is also the last time he is in his own home. The last day of normal life. For both of you.
That evil day now lies eight months in the past. Afterwards is truly here.
In her book “The Year of Magical Thinking” (one of the best non-fiction books ever written) Joan Didion says ‘Until now I had been able only to grieve, not mourn’. I hadn’t thought of it before, but it’s perfectly true and eminently logical: the two processes are entirely different. Grief happens to you, mourning is something you do. ‘Mourning, the act of dealing with grief, requires attention.’
I have been doing my very best to avoid ‘giving attention’ to grief, and thus mourn, by reading obsessively, often rubbish and light weight stuff, watching hours of meaningless TV, staring into space without focus, sleeping and/or dozing, with or without artificial aids, buying and drinking wine - the latter in moderation, it doesn’t take a lot before I feel sick - and eating chocolate.
Reading still figures high on my to-do list - that is if I had a to-do list - but I have turned to more satisfactory nourishment. (see my new ‘books I have read and enjoyed’ in the right hand margin). I am more selective in my TV watching too, choosing movies over sitcoms. At present I am working my way through the Tolkien range; enjoying the splendid special effects, magnificent landscapes and epic battles. Sometimes I find myself grinning at the plot, what little there is of it, and the grandiose dialogue. I also search out romcoms, a genre Beloved and I simply never considered before.
I have been told to pursue anything that gives me pleasure by a professional who deals with people in distress. Now I ask myself how long can I go on doing this before the whole edifice of avoidance crashes down on me? Can one avoid mourning altogether? Will it catch up with me sooner or later?
I went to see my heart specialist for my annual check-up; he found me in perfect good heart health - amazingly - so we spent my allotted time comparing notes. He is a Dutchman, working in the NHS temporarily and we wondered how long before the dread hand of the Brexiteers comes knocking on our doors, showing us the way out. In his opinion mourning intensifies with time; by the end of the first year it is at its most acute. In particular the first anniversaries of any special days, like birthdays and Christmas. Wouldn’t these days have to have been special throughout your time together? We were always very restrained when it comes to special celebrations.
There is, however, something to celebrate: I have finally had the cataract in my seeing eye removed. For the last two years of Beloved’s life, while my time was taken up with increasingly needing to be his carer, my eyesight gradually deteriorated until the ophthalmologist pointed out that my driving days were over. In fact, had I been caught during my daily visits to the Nursing Home, the DVLA (Driver and Licensing Vehicle Agency) would have taken my licence away and I might have faced prosecution. The eye is healing nicely, my sight is restored and I am looking forward to going under the knife with the other, little-or-non-seeing-eye. A bit more light could make a difference there too, I am told. The operation was the most expensive half hour of my life but, had I chosen NHS treatment, I would have had to wait for up to nine months. Living where I do, being unable to drive is just not an option.
Every time I go out to the shops I practice reading number plates from a distance of 20.5 m. When out walking Millie I put down my cane at a spot I imagine to be 20.5 m away from a stationary vehicle and pace towards it. I am always highly delighted when I find that I’ve covered more than the requisite distance. A great improvement !
Guess what was the first thing I did when I realised that my ability to read had improved also? I ordered three books, real paper, printed, hold in your hand and turn pages books! For more than two years I could only read digitally! I still need reading glasses, but so what? Kindles will still be part of my life, but so will books again from now on.