Tuesday, 27 September 2016

I will always love you

In the final stages of his life, my father was brain-damaged. His last round of surgery to remove his brain tumours had failed and though he was still irrefutably himself, he was a simpler, milder version of his old character. The truth is, we got on better when he didn't have all of his faculties in tact. My memories of the last stages of his life are amongst my happiest with him. We'd had chance to sort things out.

I remember this moment like it was yesterday. We were in his kitchen. He was sitting in a high-backed chair with his wife behind him. He asked me, as he regularly did, if I loved him. It was on his mind, always, the distance that had been between us, his failings as a parent of a daughter who, though she shared so many of his characteristics, didn't fit his mould. And, feeling relaxed and happy, I held his hand and started warbling the words of Whitney Houston: and I-I will always love you-oo, I will always love you...... I can still picture him laughing with tears streaming down his face. It was my last good moment with him.

Fast forward a decade or so and I am walking the dog in the cemetery. I have been talking to your mum. She's asked me to write a poem that she can read as we scatter your ashes later on that day. I'm feeling grateful. I've just read it to her and she loves it. I am pleased that I have been able to do something to help her, to help you. I feel a momentary rightness. It happens from time to time, when everything feels aligned and clear, like sun shining through the fog. I pick up a feather from the pavement. Silly, maybe, but I do this when I notice them, when I am thinking of you. Most of the time, I am thinking of you. Some people believe that feathers are sent by spirits to comfort us. Do I? Do you?

On this day, I am thinking again about letting you go, this time in the physical sense. I have had a difficult week knowing that this moment is ahead. I have been crying a lot and shouting at the children. My whole being is screaming that I do not want to do it. I do not want to scatter your ashes and I do not want to let you go. I want to go back to the life that we were building together. I don't want to be here, being an angry single parent again, feeling lonely. I don't want to be spending my day writing poems for memorial ceremonies, finding new ways to say goodbye. I want to be living and loving and hoping. I want to spend my Saturday like we used to, gallivanting over the moors, laughing and loving and feeling alive. 'He replenishes you,' my friend once said. You do. You did. You topped up my tank with your love so that I had energy for the children in the week ahead. Now Saturdays are spent crying, leaving me tired when they return.

And you cannot return. And as I walk I acknowledge that maybe I am gradually moving into that mythical place called acceptance and that this is yet another kind of torture. Denial was easier. At least with denial I could imagine that we might still be together somehow. Acceptance means recognising that you cannot come back and that one day I might love someone else. And I don't want to love someone else. Nor do I want to be alone forever. I feel guilty for even considering a future with someone else, even though the someone else is only in my mind and not in my life or my heart. My mind is on a loop, on the fence, still wondering how to hold onto you, how to let you go. And then I hear a song playing. It is Whitney Houston. I stop and listen to the words, feeling that maybe you are speaking to me. It goes like this: 'I hope life treats you kind, and I hope you have all you dream of. And I wish you joy and happiness, but above all this, I wish you love. And I-I will always love you.' I look around to see where the music is playing from but there are no cars or houses with open windows. And then I realise that the song is coming from my bag. I reach down to my phone and it is playing from my iTunes. But I don't have Whitney Houston in my library (I don't even like Whitney Houston). I study it for a moment, trying to work out how it is playing and then I give up. Who cares? If ever there was a man who would send me a message in music, it is you, even if it is Whitney Houston. I remember my dad and I smile.

Later, I scatter your ashes with your family. Your mum reads my poem and we toss roses onto the ground. Bad planning and logistics mean that, after we've put part of you on the ground by the reservoir at Redmires, I have to run at great speed along the road to our spot with the rest of your ashes in the green, plastic container and leg it up the hill because I don't want to leave your mum out in the cold for long. I trail your ashes like I am Gretel trailing breadcrumbs, all the way up the hill, singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow between gasps of breath, until I reach our favourite spot, the spot where we first watched the sun set and I lay my final rose on the grass. And then I turn immediately, laughing with tears streaming as I gallop back down the hill over the heather and gorse saying to the clouds, 'do you remember? How we ran hand in hand down this hill, like we were kids?' And I know you do. And letting go of your ashes is fine after all. Because your ashes are not you. You are always with me and just at that moment, you are literally a part of me. In the wind your ashes have covered me so that my hair is stuck with particles of you, my eyelashes are crusted, my hands are grey and I am crunching you like sand in my teeth. And I am happy to merge with you again just for a moment.

You are gone. But you are not gone. The love continues but not in a physical sense.  I know that you would want me to be happy one day, if I can. You showed me what love is and the bar is high now. Wherever you are, I am sure that you still love me and, even if one day I love someone else, I will always love you.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

As we scatter your ashes



You loved the earth,
you loved the sky,
you were loved at birth
and when you died.

We release you now,
you're free to fly,
through clouds of love
up in the sky.

Farewell, we miss you
but won't say goodbye.
You are part of us all, still.
Love cannot die.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Letting go


Sometimes I wonder if there is a part of us deep down that has some inkling of our life's narrative before it is complete, if we know somewhere in our unconscious the way that things are going to pan out. I find myself wondering about premonitions and feelings of deja vu, about me and you and the way you told me before you died that a heavy, sad feeling had come over you from nowhere as you drove into Sheffield one day. And about the dream you had on the last night we spent together where you watched me walk through the door to a pub while you diverted into an empty factory. I didn't attempt to analyse it at the time but I wonder now. I sit here in my new house, looking over at the  'Stardust' print that you bought me for my birthday and it looks obvious from here, that swirling pathway to the stars that you said epitomised the journey of our love. It is an image of a journey up into the cosmos where I search for you now.

Last week I sat through the first film that I've managed to watch since you died. (It is a strange but common side effect of grief, this inability to watch anything, to read anything.) It was Truly Madly Deeply, my favourite film of all time. And there they were, Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman gazing at clouds, and there she was, sitting in a therapist's office sobbing, 'I miss him, I miss him, I miss him,' the way I have done so many times. I wonder now why I have always been so drawn to that film and why we chose to watch it together in tears during the early stages of our relationship. Did some part of me know that my narrative would be one of gut-wrenching loss even back in 1990 when I first watched it, nineteen and full of hope? Did we know as we cried, that we would lose each other too?

I remember how back in Knaresborough in February, a month before your death, we stopped in an antique and book shop by the river. You bought yourself a penknife and a book about sailing. You bought me a second-hand version of the Penguin Book of Love Poetry. 'Open the book randomly,' I said. 'And the first poem we see will be about us.' The book fell open at a poem by E.E. Cummings. It went like this:

it may not always be so; and I say
that if your lips, which I have loved, should touch
another's, and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart, as mine in time not far away;
if on another's face your sweet hair lay
in such a silence as I know, or such
great writhing words as, uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay:

if this should be, I say if this should be - 
you of my heart, send me a little word;
that I may go unto him, and take his hands,
saying, Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall I turn my face, and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands. 

'I don't like that poem,' you said. I tried to think of an explanation, scanned the page for a different poem but it was already done. Enough of the magical thinking, we said, switching our romantic heads for the heads of cynics to suit the moment. But I wonder now. It was a poem about saying goodbye, about moving on and letting go.

As I  packed up my old house and my mum's house this month, I have been forced to think a lot about letting go. I have sat in both houses weighing objects like snowglobes, looking at days and years gone by through the mist, wondering what I should keep, what to relinquish. I have sifted through love letters from the ghosts of boyfriends past, stared at wedding photos from marriages now dissolved, packaged up the remnants of my grandparents' lives in tissue paper. I had already moved my precious mementos of our time together to the new house and eventually, only your toothbrush remained still sitting in the cup on the washbasin. I wasn't sure if I could leave this mundane reminder of the life you lived behind or if I should bring it with me into my new life.  What would a new partner say if he saw your toothbrush sitting there? Could there ever be a new partner after you? Can you really love someone new when you still love someone who died? As I pondered these questions I looked up and saw my stickers still clinging to the wall of my old study - an image by Banksy of a girl watching a heart float like a balloon into the sky. When you love someone so much, how can you ever let them go? And did I know, when I bought it, that this would be my story?

I think about the film again and the ending where Alan Rickman watches Juliet Stevenson pack her own toothbrush as she embarks on a new relationship and the poem he recites to her, not Cummings this time, but Neruda: 'My feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but I shall go on living.' So often I have longed to join you on the other side, in the clouds or the stars or wherever you are. So many times I have cried, saying, 'please, can't you just come back?' But however much I love you and however much I cry, I can't bring you back. My magical thinking only gets me so far. I left your toothbrush behind. You don't need it where you have gone and I don't need its reminder that you are no longer physically here. Your absence is already as strong as your presence.

Yesterday, at our house-warming party, I watched my little boy playing with the inflatable helium balloon that he got for his birthday. There he was in the garden, next to the logs that you said you would chop, six years old and full of hope. And when he lost his grip on the ribbon and gazed after it as it tumbled and danced over hedges and trees and up into the sky, I held him close while he cried and thought of that girl again. Nothing is permanent. Sometimes it seems to me that the whole of life is a process of letting go. I turned back to the house and left the balloon to join you and Alan Rickman in the clouds. Your physical body has gone somewhere that I can't reach it and, though I don't like it, I am returned through the pub door of your dream to keep living.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

I love you too

It is six months today since your heart stopped beating. That is the official verdict. Not an aneurysm after all and not a heart attack, just some wonky signal that didn't get through. I picture your blood travelling like a train down a track: pump, pump, pump, pump, then bump, it is stuck in a tunnel, slowed down maybe by the furrowing of an artery and it doesn't get through. It only takes eleven seconds for a heart to stop beating. They say you wouldn't have felt a thing. We have pieced together the evidence and all we know is that you weren't feeling well, that you went home from work without a backwards glance, that when your mum phoned, you told her you had a headache. For all we know, after that, you lay down on your bed and died. It was three days later that I found you there. Sometimes death is a slow decline over weeks and months and years. Sometimes it takes eleven seconds. One moment you are alive, the next you are dead. Just like that. No time to pick up the phone, no time to say goodbye. Just gone.

I didn't pick up your phone. Instead they sent it through the post and it arrived today as a ghoulish present on this significant day. It has taken six months of correspondence with Derbyshire police to finally get your property returned. There were no suspicious circumstances, nothing untoward. Just an unexpected death. Completely unexpected. (The counsellor looks at me from across the blue room of 'Bereavement Services. 'You have downplayed the shock,' she says.)

I had to lie down after I unwrapped the phone from the bubble wrap. That inanimate oblong of plastic and glass had been such an integral part of you, an integral part of you and I. It was the link between us when we were apart, sending signals back and forth across the hills. It was the camera that used to take photos of me on country walks. I'd watched you hold it to your ear and listen to your mum's voice, heard you banter with Ed, listened as you made arrangements for work. I'd seen it regularly flung to one side on my bedroom floor with your clothes. You carried it snug in trouser pockets. Maybe it was the last thing that you touched. I clutched it to my heart and lay foetal on the bed sobbing. Later, I plugged it in at your mum's house and we waited to see if it would spring to life but the signal wasn't getting through. The battery was run down and you haven't been paying the bill. It lay lifeless on the carpet. I left it there with its red light glowing when I said goodbye.

Part of me longs for it to revive and part of me is scared to hear the series of pings that would follow if it came back to life. I know it holds within it precious memories that I want to unearth, photos of days that can't be relived except in my mind. But I know that it holds other things too, the evidence of those in-between days, when I didn't know where you were, when I started to wonder where we were. It holds the messages I sent: jovial, casual at first, then worried, almost accusatory. And the messages of the friends that I asked to phone you, just in case, for some unknown reason, you were ignoring me. I look at the last message I typed to you before I knew, still held on my own phone: 'I'm not sure if you're avoiding me, down, lost phone or dead but not liking not knowing. I care about you and miss you and just want to know that you are ok.' I see the subtle change from 'love' to 'care'. the downplaying of the emotion. I didn't, for a moment, think that dead was an option. I wasn't sure anymore that we were going to survive. How could I commit to someone who was out of touch for three days when he knew how worried it made me?

Sometimes I imagine that there might be some technological glitch and that there is a message on your phone that didn't quite reach me. That maybe it is still hanging in the air somewhere over the Peak District. That maybe, there was a moment in those eleven seconds, when you tried to call. That I might turn on your phone and find that in your final moment, you were thinking of me. Not that you had any amends to make. Your last message to me was perfect. You said the all important words, 'I love you' whilst I danced off onto another topic. I just wish, with all my heart, that my last words to you had been, 'I love you too.' I have told you so many times since your death but I don't know if my words still reach you. I don't know where you are. I said them again to the clouds today as I walked crying down my street. I miss you and care about you and just want to know that you are ok.

I can still picture you the last time that you said goodbye in person. We hugged in the hall of my house as we always did. I told you that I loved you. You said you loved me too. And then you left, the way you always did, with a move that was uniquely yours, a twist on the ball of the foot, graceful, like a dancer, one foot on the step, one foot on the ground, a hand in the air and a slight incline of the head and your voice tossed into the darkness saying 'goodnight.'

Monday, 5 September 2016

It sucks, I'm here, I love you - or What to say when you don't know what to say

A good friend sent me a text message yesterday letting me know that her dad had died. I felt terrible for her, as I do now for anyone who has lost someone close, and wanted to respond immediately but I paused before I started typing, edited and re-edited before I pressed 'Send', trying to apply what I have learned. Maybe I got it right and maybe I got it wrong. Everyone is different in their grief. I can only speak from my own experience of the recent, shocking loss of my partner and the loss of my parents from terminal illness, but, for what's it's worth, these are my tips on what has helped or not helped me. I share them in case they help someone else to help someone else who is suffering the agony of loss.

Firstly, whatever you do or say, there is a good chance that you will get it wrong. When someone is in extreme pain having lost someone they love, there is NOTHING you can say that will make it okay. So, it is fair to assume that, at some point in your friend's grief journey, you will offend them. Give them a break if they're over-sensitive. Their world has been blown to pieces and their mind and nerves with it. Bearing this in mind, here are some things you might like to avoid:

1. Beginning sentences with the words 'I hope.....' It is such a natural instinct when we see a friend in pain to want to offer them some hope but when someone you love with all your heart has just died, there is no hope. It is much better to just sit with the person who is in pain and acknowledge that it sucks and is hopeless. Anything else feels undermining. If you must hope for something, make it something small: 'I hope you can sleep tonight,' or, as a widowed friend of mine has said to me, 'I hope you have some moments of peace'. In the early stages of a violent grief, moments of peace are as good as it gets.

2. Beginning sentences with 'at least': 'at least you still have the children,' 'at least you had his love', 'at least you got to say goodbye', 'at least they'd lived a good life'. None of these things change the reality for the bereaved. The person they love is dead. This is all that matters. Children, a nice house, a good job.....none of these things are compensation for losing your loved one. One day, there might come a time when your friend is grateful for the love and able to simply cherish what they had, but probably not now.

3. If your friend's partner has died, unless they bring up the subject, please don't tell them that they will meet someone else. There is no guarantee that they will ever meet someone new and even if they do, that someone new will never replace the someone who has gone. Especially in the early days, all I wanted was for the person that I love to return. That this is impossible is irrelevant.

4. Don't tell your friend that their loved one is at peace or in a better place or that the angels needed them. You don't know that. No-one knows that and, even if you think you do, that is not much consolation for the person left behind. For more on this;
https://griefwriting.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/things-not-to-say.html

5. Please don't tell your friend that this is part of a plan, that it happened for a reason or that it happened to teach them something. What kind of god/universe would take my partner's life just so that I could learn some kind of lesson? Maybe you believe that but I doubt it is comforting to many people who have just lost someone who was a cornerstone of their world.

6. Please don't make judgements about the relationship of the person who has been bereaved.  As my Grandma used to say, 'no-one knows what goes on behind closed doors'. Your friend's relationship may have been 'better' or 'worse' than it appeared to you. Just because the relationship was short or had some issues, doesn't make it less of a loss. Don't make assumptions and judgements full stop. Some people might be relieved at the death of a long-term spouse while others might be bereft and heartbroken at the death of a partner they'd only known for a week. How they feel is up to them and actually not something that is within their control. I had only been with my partner for eight months and we were, in some ways, an unlikely pair but I have been utterly devastated by his loss in a way that I didn't know was possible. My loss is no less valid than someone else's just because the relationship was brief and because I may have told you that we both had doubts. In my case, I hadn't told many people what my partner meant to me because I was scared to jinx it having had my fingers burned too many times before but I loved him very deeply and my grief has been similarly deep. Likewise with other bereavements. The apparent closeness of the relationship is no indicator for the violence or longevity of the grief that follows.

7. Don't judge your friend's grief. People grieve in different ways for different lengths of time. Contrary to popular opinion, there are no neat stages to grief and no linear timeline. Grief is messy and complicated and unruly. From my own experience, one minute I can feel ok, so much so that I actually wonder what on earth I've been making such a melodramatic fuss about and the next moment it is like someone has opened up a trap door and I have fallen into the deepest darkest hole. At those moments I can't see the light or a ladder and it is hard to remember that, only recently, I thought I was doing well. Grief is a tangled mess, a complex maze and a confusing whirlpool of emotions. It is full of ups and downs where the ups are mountains to climb and the downs are the deepest troughs imaginable. In between there are pauses and plateaus where you can occasionally have a tea break and look at a view of devastation.

8. Don't say those words: 'how are you?' especially not by text message. In my case, I'd prefer that people just assume that I am desolate until I have told them otherwise. By all means ask your friend what they've been up to because, of course, the days are going by and they are still living, but how they are is likely to be complicated and will take some time and energy to explain. If you want to know how your friend is, go round, make a cup of tea and prepare to mop up the tears. Or, in my case, read my blog. I'm much more articulate in writing.
https://griefwriting.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/things-not-to-say-part-2.html

9. When your friend is obviously down and weeks or months have passed, don't ask them what's wrong. Just because the funeral is over doesn't mean they're fine now. They're still sad, about the same thing. They will be sad for a long time.

10. Don't ask your friend if they're feeling 'better'. You don't get better from grief. Maybe it gets easier to deal with or maybe it doesn't. In my experience, asking me if I'm feeling better just makes me think about how far I still have to go and, if I was feeling ok when you asked the question, most likely I will feel worse because you asked it.
https://griefwriting.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/grieving-just-as-fast-as-i-can.html

11. Don't assume that someone else is looking after your friend. I was living alone when my dad died and will never forget how it felt. About twenty friends sent text messages but no-one called to see me and no-one phoned. Three days later, I called two of my best friends in tears and they said that they assumed I was busy with family. Nope. That's not the kind of family I'm from. Some of my best support since my partner died has come from people that I had only just met. There's no hierarchy of support. If you feel for someone, see if you can help.

12. Things don't necessarily get incrementally better. In fact, it is probably more common for things to get incrementally worse. At best, it is one step forwards and two steps back. In the early stages of grief, especially unexpected grief, your friend will be in shock. They will also have a lot of practical things to do and, hopefully, a lot of support. Once the funeral is over, the shock has worn off and other people's lives have returned to normal, your friend is forced to confront their new normal on their own. The reality might not sink in until three months or six months or even twelve months later. In fact, for me, it is sinking in slowly, day by day, as I gradually realise that I have to find a way to forge a new life that doesn't involve the man that I thought was my future. Be there for your friend at three months and six months and twelve months when people are no longer rushing round with flowers and hot meals. The point at which you're really bored of your grieving friend and thinking that they ought to get a grip, is probably the time when they need you the most. Believe me, they are thoroughly bored of it too.
https://griefwriting.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/sometimes-i-imagine-that-my-body-is.html

13. Don't avoid the subject. Your friend's loved one and their grief is the main thing on their mind and they are, most likely, desperate to talk about it. It doesn't matter how well you know the person, you can still ask. If they don't want to talk, they won't.
https://griefwriting.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/i-need-to-talk-about-kevin.html

14. Don't expect your friend to be able to function normally. There is no normal anymore. Things that seem simple to you are loaded with land mines to your friend. They may not be able to go to the pub or to a party or do any of the things that you're used to them doing. They will at some point but please be patient. Unless you have been through the same experience, you have no idea how difficult it is. Sometimes, just getting out of bed in the morning is enough of a challenge. Your friend is not avoiding you for any particular reason or because of anything you have done, it's just all too difficult sometimes.
https://griefwriting.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/the-tightrope-of-grief.html

15. Don't ask your friend to call if they need anything. Most likely, they won't call and, more importantly, they probably have absolutely no idea what they need. They probably don't even know what day it is. Come round, bring food, walk the dog, play with the children, tidy up and, most importantly listen. And then repeat, over and over again for months on end.

16. On the other hand, sometimes, you could try asking. I'll never forget the friend who said to me, 'what single thing could I do that would improve things?' It took me a while to think what it was but then she remembered and did that thing and it really did improve things.

So, that's a lot of stuff to avoid. Is there anything you can safely do? Yes.

1. In the early stages, do rush round with flowers and hot meals - meals more than flowers. It is easy to forget to eat or drink in the early stages of grief. I was so grateful for people who brought food.

2. Do phone or call rather than sending text messages. As in my case with my dad, a flurry of text messages over an hour or two, do not make for great support. They're better than nothing, but, if you can, go round or pick up the phone.

3. Do keep phoning to check your friend is still alive. I have been so grateful to the friends who have done this, especially the friend who always phoned on a Tuesday knowing that this was the night that the children were with their dad and a night that I used to spend with my partner.

4. Do offer practical help. Grief is exhausting and blows your brain to bits. Ordinary everyday tasks can seem insurmountable. It is so helpful to have someone share the load even for a moment. Pick your friend's kids up from football training, walk with them to school, go with them to appointments, wash the pots. A little goes a long way.

5. Send love. If you can't think of anything to say, send love. A little love goes a long way. Especially when you have lost the person who used to say 'I love you', hearing those words from someone else is very powerful. When you feel like you just want to dive into the grave with your partner, knowing that you still matter is essential.

6. Do offer hugs and kisses. Especially in the case of losing a partner, your friend has lost the person who used to do this. When my partner died (and still now, six months later) all I wanted to do was curl up in his arms and feel safe. The touch of someone else can't replace the warmth of his embrace, but it helps a little.

7. LISTEN. It is the biggest gift you can give your friend to simply listen without judgment or agenda, without offering your opinions or platitudes. It is incredibly hard to do but so essential that grief is witnessed. And actually, in reality, it should be easy. The best way to avoid all of the mistakes listed above is to say very little. Just sit with your friend, listen while they talk and say, "it sucks. I'm here. I love you."

If you're a friend of mine and you've said any of the things to avoid, don't worry. As I said at beginning, you were bound to get it wrong and, let's face it, anyone who knows me, knows that I have the worst case of foot in mouth disease around. And if you're a friend of mine and you have done any of the things that help, then thank you from the bottom of my heart. With no parents and no partner, I feel like friends (and my brothers) are all the support that I have. It is just as well that I have some great friends.

Friday, 2 September 2016

I need to talk about Kevin

I found the book in the pile of unread novels on my bedside table when we moved. Little things like that turn up every now and then and throw me off course. One minute I'm blithely tossing paperbacks across the room into two separate boxes - keep, chuck - and the next I'm sitting on the floor fondling a book about a psychopathic child and his ambivalent mother because you gave it to me. Life is loaded with land mines, especially when moving house.

On the actual day of moving, I held it together pretty well. I watched the removal men carry the furniture from my mum's house without shedding a single tear and remained calm and collected as I ushered boxes into the new house. It was only later, when the supportive friends and the removal men had gone, that I fell apart. It was the Scrabble that did it. It was lurking there at the bottom of the box labelled 'Games', cradling score cards written in your handwriting and memories of contests gone by: BP vs WB. No more. Land mines. 

Blacksmith Paul or simply Paul was the name you were known by. I'd actually forgotten your birth name was Kevin until I saw it embossed in gold on your coffin. I'm not sure you would have been pleased to go out of this world with the name you came in with; no-one had called you Kevin for decades. I'm not going to start now. 

But I do need to talk about you. I need to talk about you a lot. Not everyone gets this. Sometimes I wonder if people don't bring you up in conversation because they're worried about upsetting me. Maybe they think that if they mention you, they might remind me of my grief. Maybe they think I should be over it by now. Maybe they think there's no point in talking about you because you're not here any more and I need to move into a future which you're not going to be part of. I don't know what they think but I know this: I need to talk about you.

Talking about you doesn't remind me of my grief because my grief is a constant presence, threaded through every fibre of my being, sitting like an elephant in the centre of my brain. It is much easier for me to talk about the elephant than to think of a topic that doesn't involve any mention of trunks and tusks and flappy ears. In fact, if they don't mention my elephant, I am liable, eventually, to bring it up myself: 'Speaking of grey school trousers, my elephant is grey....'

And not talking about you doesn't mean I will get over you quicker. Ever tried burying a live elephant? I'm no expert on grief but I am one hundred per cent sure that talking about you is helping, not hindering my healing process. (And anyway, I will never get over you. In time I might make friends with the elephant, or maybe shrink the elephant, or maybe grow so full of love that I can accommodate an elephant easily into my new life. But, get over you? Never.) Who knows what the future holds? I certainly don't. All I know is that, right now, I need to talk about the elephant. I need to talk about you.

And I can't move into a new future without revisiting the past. I only had eight months of you. I want to re-live every precious moment over and over. I will never tire of talking about you. No-one can know me if they don't know you and don't know my love and my grief. I can't walk around with this elephant and not introduce it as part of who I am, who I have become, who I will be. 

I haven't read Lionel Shriver's book. I've barely read anything since you died. I haven't watched anything either. How can anyone read a book with an elephant squatting on their brain taking up all of the space? The elephant has trampled on my nerves and thrashed its trunk around so much that whole chunks of my memory have been erased, so that I can't remember how a sentence began by the time I get to the end, so that words don't make sense. There's a great grey mass at the centre of my grey matter, blocking connections that I used to be able to make. 

I wonder sometimes how someone who can't remember where her keys are, who just had to Google the author of an award-winning book, who doesn't know what day it is or which year, can manage to write this blog. And then I realise that writing this is easy because writing is just doing what comes naturally to me and writing about you is as natural as breathing. Because my brain is ninety per cent elephant and it is such a relief to talk about it. I need to talk about Kevin. I want to talk about Blacksmith Paul. It might make me cry but it will also make me smile. Ask me about it. I want to talk.