Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Grief is like snakes and ladders

You start at square one in a state of shock and disbelief. Time is a blur and you move along in a horizontal line, counting days like squares. And then one day, you land at the foot of a ladder and you start climbing upwards, out of the gloom and towards the light. You start to feel that maybe you're making some kind of progress in this new world of grief. You feel you're heading in the right direction, you've started taking short cuts and have zoomed forwards. You start to imagine that you're winning. And then something happens and you step on the mouth of a snake and go tumbling backwards. Sometimes you are right back at the start again. This happened to me yesterday.

When I set out yesterday, I was really doing pretty well. I had plans for how to spend the day and, for the first time, plans for the future. It had even been about three days since I last sobbed my heart out which is definitely a record. But then I decided to call and see your mum because I was round the corner from her flat and I thought I'd pick up your phone while I was there. It came back from the police station a little while ago but we've not been able to get it working. After I'd seen your mum, I took the phone to the shop down the road to see if they could bring it back to life. They said it might take a few days but by four o'clock they had fixed it. So I drove back to collect it.

I thought about waiting until I got home but I couldn't bear the suspense, so I sat in the car and opened the screen. I was hoping to find some photos that I took of you on our trip to Brimham Rocks but there were hardly any photos on it at all. It turns out that when you were telling me something about your two phones and the relative quality of the photos and the cock-up with the two contracts, you were probably telling me that you had decided to keep the old phone for taking photos and were just using this one for calls. It looks like the photos I have of you will stay in my memory and never be shared. Instead, I just have the one of the rocks. Who wants a photo of rocks? Rocks will be there for all eternity. You were not.

I knew what would happen if I looked through your calls, but I did it anyway. Seventeen missed calls while you were lying dead, about six of them from me. I couldn't listen to the messages because there was no signal anymore. But it was the text messages that did it. And there it was: the last message that you sent. It wasn't a message of love. Instead it was a message about an eBay transaction. You were cancelling an appointment to collect something that you had bought. You said that you couldn't make it that Thursday evening because you were feeling really ill and that it was getting worse as the evening went on. 'I'm not sure I'll be better tomorrow, either,' you wrote. And that was the moment when the snake swallowed me.

I was back at the beginning again, like I'd slipped through a portal and gone back in time, picturing you lying ill on your bed all alone, willing you to pick up that phone and call an ambulance or call me, wondering what you were feeling, what you were thinking, if you knew, at any time, what was happening to your body. The next message in the list was from me. Just an everyday, late at night 'hello' that you never received. It seems likely that somewhere between seven and ten, you died.

I was shaking so much that I couldn't go home to an empty house so I went to see a friend. While I was parking I reversed into a lamp post and then I must have opened my door into a passing car because there was a man shouting abuse at me as I got out. I had no idea what he was talking about or why he was shouting at me. At first I didn't even realise it was me he was shouting at. There was just an angry voice coming out of a car telling someone to be more careful and to think of the kids and did they want to get killed? I had a cup of tea with my friend and when I got home I sobbed to myself in the bath and later I sobbed down the phone to a friend again. I started re-reading your post-mortem trying to understand, again, how you could have had a headache and memory loss but have died of heart disease. I still don't understand it. Today I have walked around with panic echoing in the background, fear rising. I have been casting about again for something to hold onto. I am back at the beginning, like it just happened yesterday. I can't bear the thought that you died alone and that there might have been something that someone could have done to save you. I tell myself that it's pointless thinking these thoughts. Nothing can change what happened. But I do it anyway.

I found myself thinking again about a friend of yours who said that it was inevitable that someone like you, who was independent and lived alone, would die alone. But I wanted to argue with her. You weren't a single man. You were with me and deeply loved. I just wasn't there when you needed me. I don't blame myself anymore, there is nothing I could have done, but it still it hurts beyond belief to not have been there when you died. I know though, that you weren't truly alone. It consoles me and destroys me at the same time to know that you were carrying me in your heart when it stopped. A part of my heart died with you, though somehow it keeps on beating.

I am back at square one. I roll the dice and edge forwards again, hoping for a six, praying for another ladder, knowing that there are snakes round every corner.