Friday, 24 February 2017

The (not so final) countdown



I am counting again. But instead of counting the days, weeks, months since you died, now I count the days until the anniversary of the day that you died. Instead of counting firsts, I am now getting ready to count the lasts: the last good day together, the last party, the last walk, the last night, the last time I saw your face, the last time we spoke. And I am remembering this period last year when you didn't seem quite well. When maybe something could have been done. It is only fourteen days now until the anniversary and the anticipation hangs in the air. The feeling of dread is back when I wake up in the morning and my dreams are anxious. I already know from other big dates that the anticipation is worse than the actual day. The sky is darkening as it approaches.

I'm not exactly sure what I think will happen when the day arrives. It is crazy to be afraid of the tenth of March. I keep hearing those words from Julius Caesar in my mind: 'beware the ides of March'. But the tenth of March is only a date, surely, like any other. Nothing will be monumentally changed by the knowledge that it will have been a year. You will still be dead and I will still be alive, it's just that the distance between us will have grown incrementally again.

Maybe it's the memories that I fear. They are already seeping back in. Those really seriously horrible traumatic memories that I generally try very hard not to remember. They are coming out of the darkness where they are buried, ready to attack. I am prepared for them though, in truth, I'm still not sure how to arm myself against the kind of monsters that can't be seen.

Other emotions will be there too.  Sadness of course, at what we lost and what you lost and at the fact that you just continue to get further and further away. And maybe some relief, even pride as I reflect that somehow I have lived through the worst 365 days of my life. It feels like a miracle that I am still here to tell the tale, that I can even, with hindsight, tell new arrivals into this world of loss, how I did it. (More on that another time).

There is uncertainty too and I find myself wishing again that I knew the hour and the moment of your death like some people do. There is a time, on the birthdays of my children, when I remember the exact moment that they were born, the moment when I first held them in my arms, when their birthdays truly begin. And I have that same knowledge of the time when my mother drew her last breath. But with you, it is all a mystery. I knew nothing when you died and felt nothing (I should surely have felt something). And no-one knows when it was. I wish that I knew when it was.

I found myself wondering about the last hours of your life again this week as I walked the coastal path from Ravenscar to Robin Hood's Bay, missing the feel of your hand in mine, missing your side of the conversation. You'd have thought that by now, I'd have gone over the events from every possible angle and tortured myself enough, but no, it turns out there are still things that I haven't considered.

On your death certificate it says that you died on the thirteenth (the day we found your body) but we know that this is wrong. I know in my bones that you died on the tenth. I go over the details again in my mind. I have your phone now so I know that the last message you sent from it was at 8.30pm, about an Ebay purchase that you weren't well enough to collect. I know that your last words were spoken to a stranger. He was the only person who knew how ill you were feeling, so ill that you wrote that you didn't think you'd be better tomorrow. I also know that when I messaged you at ten, you didn't reply. My detective skills tell me that you probably died some time in that ninety minutes.

On the cliff path, I found myself talking to the sky again, saying, 'why didn't you phone me? Why didn't you call an ambulance?' even though I know the answer. You weren't the kind of man who wanted to bother people with his problems nor the kind who would go to the doctor unless you were forced. You'd been for the first time in years, a month or two earlier, to get your ears syringed but only because your deafness was annoying me so much.  In the end, you couldn't be bothered to wait for a week for them to do it and, instead, you fashioned some makeshift tool (from what, I'll never know) and did the job yourself. (Your mum and I have both wondered if you did yourself some damage but we'll never know that either). I've been over all this before. Why rehash it again now? Then, suddenly, out on the cliff path, I had another thought. What if I had messaged you at eight thirty once the children were in bed, instead of waiting until ten? What was I even doing for that ninety minutes that was more important than making sure you were still alive? If I'd messaged earlier, you might have replied and I might have been able to persuade you to go to the doctor's. Or maybe I'd have called you an ambulance myself. Instead, when I messaged you at ten, there was no reply. Probably, you were already dead. I was too late.

I've already apologised, to your dead body and to your mum and I've thought it through before. I can't take responsibility for whatever happened. It wasn't my fault. If an ambulance had been called they might have been too late as well. And even if you'd been to the doctor's weeks before complaining of what: a cough, fatigue, memory loss, a headache? What would they have done? I know there is nothing. Even now, we don't even know really how you died. Suspected heart disease is a nebulous cause of death. There is probably nothing that anyone could have done. But still, it haunts me. It will, most likely, always haunt me, especially at this time of year.

I'm aware, as well, that there is some part of me that hopes for some kind of closure when a year has passed, even though I know that this is naive and stupid. I've heard people say that the second year of grief is worse than the first following the loss of a partner (though I think I am different and have less to rebuild because of the brevity of our relationship) and my bereavement counsellor has warned me that the time after the first anniversary can be difficult. Maybe it is the writer in me that is expecting closure, still hoping to form a neat narrative of events. I've thought sometimes that I will stop writing my blog after a year and that the year following your death would be an appropriate period to base a memoir on. I'm nearly at that milestone. I have a book.

But, as I said at the very beginning of my writing, soon after your death, I didn't want the plot for another novel and I didn't want a memoir of loss. I wanted a living love that lasted. Maybe I will stop my blog and maybe I won't. Either way, probably I will soon start writing a memoir of the first year of grief. I know that, as a writer, I can tie the story up neatly at the end of a year with a message of love and hope and some kind of clear trajectory of healing, but as a human, I don't imagine I can tie it up so completely. The end of a year of grief is not the last page for grief itself. Life is not literature and I know that, whatever the date, there will be loose ends of love and grief that will go on and on with no respect for dates.

At the end of the day, the anniversary of your death is just another date. It changes nothing.