In my childhood I had a naïve plan. Engaged at 20, married at twenty one a boy at 23 and a girl at twenty four and my children would grow up with a father and not have to deal with childhood loss. Perhaps I should have studied Of Mice and Men for O levels instead of Oscar Wilde and DH Lawrence.
Now, I have been a widow for 4014 days… 365×11 with allowance for the odd leap year. I remember in the years following my father’s death I could remember and keep track of where we were what we were doing, who we had seen and when…. .
Then as an adult, when my husband died, I could barely remember where we had been or now we had been as a family- which child had been where. The years became a blur of jargon: medical terms, blood terms, euphemism, the balance of truth with hope and a blur of seasons so that now, a difficult winter was preceded by fiery sunrises and sunsets, persistent freezing temperatures, orange skies, navyblue night skies and starlight so bright it illuminated the mountain ranges .
My first night drive as a widow was over gritted roads beneath a bright moon. My first step outside of the hospital is etched in my memory, like a lithograph. The Snowdon range forms its own backdrop to the hospital , and that night it seemed both close and remote as I slid across the car park, well after midnight. I had his bible in my hand, and knew that more challenging days as a parent lay ahead. I fired the engine and headed for home, with the worst tasks imaginable, one that in my youth I had never thought I would have to: telling my children and mother in law that he was dead.
But I had also undersetimated the personal challenge. I mean how does one hold down a full time job and care for grieving children as well. I breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the first year….no more firsts, then took a deep breath as it all had to be faced for the second time. The Firsts are hard,the seconds worse because all thesignificant dates had rolled by and I still had not recovered enough to be more robust…. And now, thefirst decade has slipped by.
I have more qualifications, wider interests, and yet, there is still a small part of me stuck in that small room on Ward Alaw. It is not my intention her to share the intimate details those are irrelevant. What is relevant is my sense of enormity of the tasks which lay before me, which is why there is an aspect of myself stuck, back there. I knew- at some level I knew how tough it would be – Looking after four grieving children. Moreover I had my own childhood grief mirrored back to me with my competing child and adult perspectives of what was important and what wasn’t. But I haven’t fully let go of that room.
The firstperson I phoned was aclose friend, Nan. I was desperate to speak to my brother and sister but unwilling to wake one, and not brazen enough to attempt to phone USA from the hospital. I was perplexed by my sister’s long distance tears. All i rememberof that long week is despatching jobs , working out hymns (although Calon Lan and Y Wahoddiad needed little if any thought) putting dogs in kennels , and realising that house was too grimy and grubby for more than the immediate family. Indeed in the week following the funeral I did 14 loads of neglected washing. The piles were like triffids in my room. I even managed some Christmas shopping – dressing gowns, slippers for the children and probably unleashed my compulsion for pyjamas which persists to this day. For me grief is a bit like writing: theres no way around it you have to go through. Recently, I met an ex pupil who thanked me because it was down to me she had achieved a C grade. It wasn’t! She sat the exam, put in the work, and when I saw her again, I recognised herbut couldn’t place her. I knew that I should know who she was. I explained that the years following my husbands death were a bit of a blur.
So now I face the second decade as a widow. And one day my days as a widow will supersede those where I was a wife. My job is now more challenging than ever, Brexit has happened, Trump has been elected, and ordinary working peopleare squeezed ever tighter. We have to be leaner smarter, cleaner, healthier, more productive, and somewhere there is a spreadsheet withperformance targets for all aspects of our lives. The internet feeds back to us our interests based on our clicks, and despite globalisation, there is the feeling that the world is shrinking in on itself with claustrophobic arguments and rhetoric of race and creed.According to the chancellor, the economy needs to be ‘match fit’ for the challenges of Brexit. Austerity two, perhaps? Oh to be a historian in 300 years just to see how it all pans out.