I went to my first wedding at the weekend. It was lovely to see my friend Heath finally with the man who is quite obviously her soulmate. Lovely. However, it was hard. The Hymn that I had at our wedding was there and it didn’t help that I had chosen it as part of Colin’s memorial service. Then there was lots of mentions in the ceremony about seeing your children’s children grow up. And the inevitable ‘until death do us part’ bit really did me in. Thankfully my good friend had her arm around me at every hard turn.
Col was good fun at weddings. If he wasn’t trying to get every one around him drunk he was doing a good job on himself. We have been to some memorable (sort of) weddings in our time and some neither of us remember much of. There is the one where I turned nasty on too much white wine, the one where he turned petulant on too much red. The one where I worried where he was post midnight (in a black cab up a country lane verge with drunken black cab driver fellow guest), the one where we knew no one so both found ourselves hilarious because of the red and white wine intake, the one where we ended up sharing a room with Col’s best friend and his wife and all not really remembering getting there..the stories are endless and all silly.
I missed him so much on Saturday. Firstly, because he was most pleased Heather (who he thought was an amazing catch) had finally found her man. Secondly, because he would have misbehaved and insisted our almost teetotal table got silly drunk. Thirdly, because it was just so odd being at a very couply event without him. Till death don’t us part Col because that’s the way it is. X
Colin died and, call me a cow, I wanted the world to know how hideous it felt. I had moments where I wanted this nightmare to happen to someone else I knew so then at least I wouldn’t be the only one, the only freak. I comforted myself a little with the fact that 50 per cent of anyone in a longterm relationship would at some point go through this awful loss, this feeling of being ripped apart, never to be whole again, because the one thing in life that is certain is that each of us will die and inevitably one partner will die before the other. In short, I had my days where I wanted everyone to feel as miserable and shortchanged as I felt, firsthand.
Now I wish I could take back that wish because in the last week I have had news of others that are going through this pain and I feel responsible. An old colleague has died suddenly leaving her six-year-old daughter to grow up without a mother. A friend of a friend has lost her husband and father to her children to what currently seems like a senseless suicide. On top of that I have two friends with big fat health questionmarks hanging over their heads and another going through a tough time worrying about an elderly friend’s failing health.
It has taken me until my 37th year to realise how precarious life is. How did I spend the first two to three decades of my life almost untouched by tragedy and now it seems to be hanging out at every which way I turn? If I didn’t have the girls to keep going for I have minutes that tick by where I would seriously sign off this hopeless life. But then I catch myself with those awful, hopeless thoughts and I think of all the good things life has to offer.
In this same week that I have heard of all these sad events I have friends going through the other end of the joy spectrum and enjoying moments with their first child or preparing for that long-awaited wedding. I remember both those times in mine and Colin’s life together so clearly that I can’t just wipe them from my memory and think about only the negative side of life. Losing him doesn’t take the joy out of those memories, it simply makes them bittersweet. I can’t step off the world because I don’t enjoy these rubbish times. Hopefully, if I can see past these awful months where I want everyone to be as single, fraught with motherhood, and bitter as I then I will be able to create happier times again. In the meantime, phone ahead, email and text to check I am in the mood for sharing your joy. Apologies to everyone who is feeling happy out there. I am ecstatic for you but I need time for deep breaths before I can smile, hug and laugh with you. x
Last night. Rubbish. All evening my head was filled with lovely moments of Colin before I went to bed at 9pm. A moment from our honeymoon where we sat watching the sun go down over Lake Atitlan from our balcony perch at Casa Palopo, the Valentine’s meal we had two weeks before his death, falling asleep together on the wet sand at Woolacombe Bay in the sunshine and waking frozen and damp when it had clouded over and the drive home from Devon that same weekend where we were stuck in traffic so go out of Col’s little red Peugeot to catch some rays while listening to Islands In The Stream on the car radio.
Why then when I went to bed did all those lovely memories disappear to be replaced by me imagining him cold, in his coffin looking the way he did when I saw him last, dead?
I went to see Colin at the funeral home and it is obviously etched in my memory. I kind of wish I hadn’t but am sort of glad I did. I had wanted to see him from the minute I heard he was dead but because his death happened at a weekend it all became quite impossible and his body was whisked away to the morgue until we had appointed a funeral director. By the time I saw him he had been made to look so unlike him that his death was just as unreal as had been before I viewed his body.
Funeral homes are not designed for anyone younger than 50. The funeral director was like a Dicken’s cliche and his HQ in Clapham was stuck in an era not too far removed from the 1900s. Colin’s body had been draped in what looked like a lace curtain in a hideous little room. They had done his hair so, so badly he would have been appalled. So all in all remembering him dead in this horrid place it is not a great place for my head to end up of an evening.
For the first time in months I took a sleeping tablet and tried to go back to those other memories but I think I was knocked out before I could. Rubbish.
Colin always vowed I had a book in me. I think he meant a great novel, or even a mediocre one. I don’t think he would have envisaged that the book I would most likely write would be called, “Things Not To Do When Your Husband Dies”. I am becoming an expert in those. At least once a month since he passed I have made a significant error in judgement. And they just keep on coming.
I miss having him to talk through decisions with. I know he made me make better ones. I know if he were here he would be quite astounded by some of the things I have chosen to do. Hopefully most of it in a positive way. But right now I wonder.
I see now the reason the Victorians hid widows away for at least the first year of their loss, keeping them ensconced in family only. We are not always fully functioning human beings. Just mere ameobas of our former selves. Two years in they were let loose into a closed network of family and close friends. I can see the point.
Modern society widows have no black veils to mark their grief and ward off menace. I think I need that sometimes. Perhaps I shall try it and then my book will be a mere pamphlet and not a Magnum Opus.
It is official. I am working for a miniature Mariah Carey. Evie’s Rider for going to bed is comparable to that of any big voiced diva or demanding rock star and I am doing a great impression of being her eager-to-please ‘Yes’ man.
You want Big Bunny? OK. He may be down three flights of stairs but he will be here in the blink of an eye. Now Monkey too? Where is he? I’ll get him as quickly as madam pleases. A sippy cup in bed? OK then. Water too cold? I’ll warm it to whatever temperature one would like. You wish me to remove the imaginary lion from your bed? With pleasure. Oh there’s a tiger too? He’s out, out, out. Pyjamas too tight? Have a new pair. Duvet too high? I shall fold it down to just below bunny’s feet just the way you like it.
None of this is an exaggeration either. Reading it back I realise what a doormat I am. But needs must when you are desperate to have an evening to yourself. I do insist on pleases and thank you’s as I go.
Colin used to ponder which of the two of us would be the disciplinarian and I think it would actually have been me. Before they were born Colin envisaged himself as Victorian Dad, ‘Children Should Be Seen But Not Heard’. But when it came to Evie being as naughty as they can be at one and over, well he often laughed at her ingeniuousness.
Now though I spend so much of my life tired out, emotional and bereft so I have my moments of terrible parenting. Chocolate for breakfast isn’t a high point. But then there are other times where I am way too harsh because I think I have to be as strong as we often believe fathers to be. This usually occurs in public as I am worried that people will think my girls are badly behaved because they have no dad. Most of all
I miss the opportunity for Good Cop, Bad Cop although I am kind of doing it in a schizophrenic way. It’s all hard and I often try to imagine how Col would be dealing with my bedtime diva. I know in my heart that he would be just as accommodating to a very cute two-year-old who ends her whole ridiculous pre-bed Rider with wonderful cuddles and a few ‘I Lub you’s’.
I have just returned from a trip to London where I managed some time on Colin’s bench among other nice and some not so nice things. When I picked Evie up from nursery last night she was uber excited and started tumbling over her words as we chatted on the car journey home. ‘Mummy saw Daddy in London?’, she asked. So I explained no Daddy wasn’t in London, he is everywhere, but Mummy did sit on a special seat for Daddy where people can go to feel closer to him again. The back of the car went quite while she tried to compute this information. Then came: ‘Daddy’s bought Evie a chair? A special one?’. ‘No darling, he didn’t buy it but some people did so that one day you can go there and feel close to Daddy’. ‘So Daddy’s gone. He’s not in London.’
So three days of an emotional rollercoaster end with me weeping silently in the front of our car just wishing I could make this all simpler for her to understand.
The pain I felt when Colin died was so intense it was an actual, physical hurt deep inside my chest. I loved him so intensely that I couldn’t imagine life beyond him. Life without him seemed to be so bleak that I remember crying out, howling, to my family that I just didn’t want to go on if he wasn’t here to share it all. All those years I searched for love because I thought that it was the answer to a happy and fulfilled existence and now it had been ripped away. I thought what idiots we all are. Imagine looking for love when all love means is that some day you will be without it and all you will be left with is a deep, dark hole in your chest and nothing much else. I started to panic about all the other people I loved. If the love of my life could be taken so suddenly, well, couldn’t the rest of them be stolen from me too. I wondered if perhaps a life where you loved no one and you simply looked out for yourself was actually preferable to living in fear that loving others was opening yourself up to a whole world of misery.
But you simply can’t help it. A safe and sterile life without the potential for hurt and worry is not for many and it is not for me. I prefer to fill my days with the love of my family and friends and know that one day they or I will no longer be here. More simply, how could I not love Evie and Isla? They are Colin and they are me. What’s not to love about that? Yes it strikes the fear of God into me that something could happen to them too. A few weeks ago the clock struck 7am with no word from Isla and I lay there, stricken, convinced that she had died in her sleep. Obviously she hadn’t she was just being good for once but everyday I see accidents in my mind’s eye that could take either Evie or Isla from me. I see Evie running out into the path of a car nearly everytime I take them out. I see cars coming at us from junctions and think if that hit us it would wipe out Isla. I see head bumps, falls, choking hazards and potential illnesses and I think ‘Oh dear God how will I get us through?’.
I have had to start the process to get both girls’ hearts checked out for the same defect Colin had as it may be genetic. I have put it off until now because I almost don’t want to know. However, Colin’s friends who managed to attend the inquest were advised by the doctor in attendance that the girls should be screened for Cardiac Dysrhythmias as soon as possible. Colin knew there was something wrong with his heart because he had seen a cardiologist but I don’t think he knew it really was a proper life threatening condition. If he had hopefully he wouldn’t have joked about it like he did. He had come home after his appointment and scan results and stood in the doorway of our kitchen and we had the following conversation, roughly speaking (and please bear in mind that I had just had Evie at the time):
Col: “You don’t love me.”
Col: “You’ve not asked me about my scan.”
Me: “Oh God I am so sorry. It’s been hectic. How did it go?”
Col: “Well, I might drop dead tomorrow but I am more than likely to live a full and healthy life.”
The fact that he joked about it made me think he was exaggerating and certainly it never changed the way he lived his life so I am not sure he really had been fully briefed on his condition. If only he had. But then perhaps his happy-go-lucky way about his diagnosis is something I could learn from with the girls. Fat chance. If either one of them, or even worse both, have some genetic heart defect I may have to reassess how I bring up my children. Instead of normality I will box them up, wrapped in a huge wad of cotton wool, until I am gone. Isn’t that a perfectly normal way to deal with this whole love, life and loss equation? Hmmmm.
Colin lived a good life and I don’t believe he had many regrets. However, we did talk over the years about some that he did have and the most burning ones were not marrying earlier (!!!) and not having children before he did (double !!!). The other main regret he had though was losing touch with childhood friends. He spoke about this often. He had a very close friend in Kenya called Mark and all the best times he had in Nairobi seemed to involve Mark. Physical distance, time and Colin’s self-confessed laziness in keeping an address book seemed to have been the main factors in them losing touch. He also mentioned a few school friends from Oakham that he wished he knew as an adult but again he knew that he wasn’t great at making an effort so shrugged his shoulders but did little about sussing them out.
I met Colin when he was 28. I remember his address book and it is no wonder he had no idea how to find people. This scrappy pale blue book with leaves falling out all over the place was filled with scribbled numbers and first names in the wrong places alongside hurried random notes on motorway directions. So all in all I was never very surprised when he said he didn’t know where anyone from earlier years was and how to contact them. He admitted that the reason he was still so close to all his amazing university friends was not due to any hard work on his part but entirely down to a one-man wonder of keeping up the effort – Matthew Bowden. If it wasn’t for Matt I am not sure Colin would have any friends pre-dating 2001 (the year we met) aside from his best friend Ed.
I am sad for Colin that it has taken his death for me to meet any childhood friends that would no doubt have been quite formative in making the man I fell in love with. At his memorial service one of his fellow boarders from Oakham School came forward to me and gave me a glimpse of the Colin that turned up in England from Africa aged 11, bewildered and befuddled, and who turned into a popular school friend among his year. The ‘Colin’ this old friend, Liam, described sounded so similar to the man I knew. He was messy, funny and good to know. It made me smile on a difficult day and I am grateful to Liam for speaking to me.
Since then I have thought about his other friends that this lovely Liam alluded to and wondered if they also had stories of Colin from those days. I have been receiving so many lovely memorial cards from the service from people from Colin’s more recent life and as I read them I think gosh I wonder what stories I have lost with his death, stories that he won’t be able to reccount to his children as they go through their school days and find friendships for themselves. Then last night I picked up a Facebook message from another name from Colin’s past and it was as if he knew these regrets were passing through my head. Charles had heard of Colin’s death from Liam and it seems that some of Colin’s Oakham contemporaries have been sharing Colin stories on emails. Charles contacted me out of nowhere after hunting me out on Facebook and I am so grateful for this too. Imagine the coincidence. I am replying to his message as we speak and asking for as many anecdotes as those who knew the skinny boy from Kenya can muster. Photos too. I have one photo of Colin from school years and I can’t wait to see more. Are they the ones that called him ‘Something something putput chicken runner’? Can they remember the actual nickname I have so badly made up from a weak memory of it?
When someone dies often their stories die with them and I almost feel like holding an amnesty on tales of Colin so I have the richest of tapestries to share with Evie and Isla. So please anyone out there that is either holding fast onto that memorial card wanting to write the right thing or who didn’t come to Temple Church that day of his service because they weren’t able to or have only recently learnt of his death but want to write to me in a letter or a card but don’t know what to say, I say to you just write me a little story of the Colin I wouldn’t have known from that day I met him at 28 or the person who I didn’t see in our little day-to-day life. I don’t want to lose the history of those first years of Colin William Campbell and neither do I want to lose a privileged glimpse of the man he became. Photos welcome too.
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