It’s official I have one miniature me and one miniature Colin. I am obviously not talking about the girls looks as we can safely say there is hardly an ounce of my genetic code that has gone into that. No, I mean their personality traits. Isla is a tease but generally fairly laidback and easy like Colin was. And Evie is my mini me. She’s hard work, impatient and knows how to put on a good strop. Last night at bedtime she spoke back to me in my own words, words I must have used on her in certain situations (!!!), out they came from her mouth and it was the funniest thing. I can’t even remember what I did to bring it all on, perhaps I turned the tap off at toothbrush time and she had wanted to do it herself or maybe it was that I pressed the squeezy soap down wrong, who knows? But it was an almighty stroppage. There she was in her nightie stamping her foot at me and telling me “not to talk to her like that” and “Mummy, you’re making me angry now, really angry,” and “I just can’t bear it”. I burst out laughing just like Colin used to do to me when I was having a fit over silly things like him telling me how to cook. My reaction when he laughed at me was to get angrier and angrier, and then he would laugh more. It was so frustrating and here I was doing it to my poor, maligned child. Haha. It would go one of two ways with my tantrums and Colin. Either he would make me so angry by looking incredulous at my idiotness and continuing to laugh at me until I eventually saw how ridiculous I was and be unable to launch into my final tirade without laughing along with my twinkling eyed man. Or, which was much more common, I would put on my best Drama Queen act and stomp off, shouting and slamming doors as I went. Then send fuming texts from around the corner or from a different room in the house. Ahaha. Oh God I am so not looking forward to the teenage years with my mini me. Evie, be kind to me. XX
Recently, Evie has started this habit of standing in front of me, relaxed and conversational, with her hand down the back of her pants. This is not learned behaviour I can assure you. But I know someone who used to do the very same when he was around. Isn’t genetics a funny old thing? Aside from hanging out with his hand in his boxers while holding a nonchalent conversation, Colin was also a terrible tease. He teased everyone about everything. Isla is developing the same trait. Her latest trick when you ask her for a kiss is to walk towards you all puckered up. Just when you commit yourself to her snotty pout she turns on her heel and walks away, laughing as she goes. It’s hilarious. Well, I think so. And when I said at Col’s funeral that the only way to get through was to see him through his girls, well I didn’t know it would be so literal. Everyday there is another little Colinism coming through in each of them. But perhaps I will train Evie to take her hands out of her pants. It never worked on her father but you never know.
I am getting used to this new reality. It’s beginning to feel less odd being just me and my girls, in Edinburgh. Structure is gradually making its way back into my chaotic world. But then every so often my stomach lurches and it all slips away. Where’s Colin? Why are we here? Argh. I have a ‘Sliding Doors’ moment and think does Colin exist in some parallel universe and I’m just another version of me and I got on the wrong train? There is actually another me, Evie and Isla somewhere else. He and we exist in our London house in this ‘other’ world and we are doing all the things that we always did. He goes to work, he kisses the girls goodbye, I get excited about him coming home, I get annoyed with him when he is home for being too loud and waking up the girls, we have evenings together watching TV and playing competitive sofa University Challenge, we have weekends, we spend time with friends, we argue about who is going to chase Evie up and around the soft play centre, we freeze our bums off in play parks while assessing what is a fair amount of time before we hit a cafe and we have a laugh and some disagreements as we plan for our future.
I want a Philip Pullman-style Subtle Knife so I can slice through to this ‘other’ dimension because although this new reality I am in is now OK and I’m getting used to it. I would much prefer to be back in that place, doing all those things and just being with my Col.
I finally bought new socks this week. Since Col died I have been wearing his. I haven’t bought socks for myself in about five years. I have been wearing his in all that time. And that’s grim because this was a man with fungal infections. I was only shamed into buying socks now because the holes in the heels and the toes have been too apparent in soft play centres where socks are an essential piece of kit. I feel close to Col by wearing his socks. Odd? Yes I know. I also wear his jumpers to bed still when I feel the need and I have only just thrown out his toothbrush. It took me ages to get rid of his razors and the old blades with his bristles on. Throwing stuff that is so personal, with the last mark of the person you loved on them, is the hardest bit. Well one of the hardest bits. I can decide whether to get rid of his pants, his shirts, his suits but something like a razor with his actual remnants on? Hmmm. Hard. Socks with the worn bits where his feet made the holes? Difficult. His toothbrush which once brushed his gappy teeth within the mouth that told me it loved me? Almost impossible.
Colin was an imbecile when it came to technology. I remember one Sunday having to accompany him all the way into his Chancery Lane office to help attach a document to an email that he needed to be sent to a client. On numerous occasions I would receive flustered phone calls if he was working at the weekend asking me to solve various issues with his computer. Obviously without his trusty secretary Sylvia in the office with him he needed assistance on everything from how to create a pdf to how to send a fax. Bless him. He was a man from another era and would have fitted in quite fabulously to a law firm circa 1837. Col’s best friend Ed and him often joked about how they should set up a law partnership named Kafuffle & Blunder. In my head I saw it as a Dickensian style solictors with a cracked wooden painted sign swinging from a rusty chain, at an angle of course, above an old Victorian shop front. Kind of Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge stylee with Ed and Col seen through the window panes looking more like Bob Cratchit warming their fingerless gloved hands on their candles, their client list scant and their work chaotic.
Back in the 21st century, when the whole world went social media crazy Col struggled with the legal implications of having himself online. He eventually did join facebook but he admitted to me it was really just so that he could spy on old girlfriends to see if they had settled for someone bald and fat and not a jot on him. Hilarious. He was so honest about his intentions that I never thought to distrust him. He only ever said yes to about six friend requests (the Swedish ex among them) and was always asking me if people could tell when he said no, ever worried not to appear impolite. Well, impolite to other people that is. He kept my friend request pending for two years. I don’t think it was because he was hiding anything. I hope. I will put it down to the fact he only ever went onto Facebook once in a rare non-busy lunch hour blue moon and give him the benefit of the doubt.
Actually, I know he was hiding nothing now because when he died I had to shut him down online. I knew Col’s password for everything because he used the same one for everything, ever security conscious. So I logged in on facebook and LinkedIn and closed the accounts. I had to because I know people were getting freaked that he was coming up as a suggested friend or connection or whatever. I also saw that he had had messages from people who didn’t know about his death. I emailed them and let them know and then deleted his profiles. Otherwise he would have lived on online forever. The process left me with a strange feeling like I was spying on my dead husband. But left untouched I suppose the dead live on forever in cyber space. Odd how it can happen to even the most luddite among us.
March 7, 2012. The day of Colin’s cremation and memorial service. Cold and wet in the morning as we followed the hearse to Putney Vale crematorium. I did wear black. It’s how I felt. I barely remember the service. I spent most of it with my eyes cast upwards away from the coffin. I listened intently to Robin Griffiths-Jones words. As the Master at Temple Church he had agreed to hold both services for Col that day. His words resonated at the time but I simply can’t remember them. I do know that he fluffed it a little when it came to the children. He mentioned in a prayer that we should pray for Colin’s children’s children and then realised that no, Col was so young, he was not a grandfather, just a young father with two babies. Col had not lived to see his children grow up and see his children’s children. More’s the pity.
I felt sick as we drove away from the building, the flowers that I couldn’t look at and Col’s last remains.
I had decided the day was one of two halves. The morning was the difficult bit. Just family saying goodbye to a good man. The afternoon was about celebrating that man with all that knew him. I changed out of my widow black and put on the jaunty wee dress that I know would have had Col laughing about Eighties air hostesses. He’d probably have asked me to do a mock pre-flight safety procedure routine to satisfy his humour. Perhaps he would have asked me to locate the nearest fire exit or toilets. As I changed dresses I changed my mindset. There was even some laughter as I got ready with my sisters and our close friend Emma Jo. The hair straighteners were as much in use as my breastpump as I wasn’t going to be feeding nine-week-old Isla that day. Overall, I was looking forward to a positive service. The sun poked through the clouds too.
Thinking back I can’t really place what was going on in my head but I was almost excited about it. On the way to the service I spotted friends walking towards the service. In a very unwidowlike way I hollered to them from my taxi. Waving frantically. Odd behaviour I realise now. Oh well.
His memorial service was beautiful. The music, the words from Robin, Baroness Shackleton, or Fiona as Col always called her, did a moving tribute and I spoke mine despite shaking knees and a very wobbly Prime of Miss Jean Brodie voice. It was obviously sad but there was laughter through the tears. Col was not a solemn man so this in itself was fitting.
The strangest thing about the memorial is at every step of it there were echoes of my wedding day. Perhaps this was because our wedding had only taken place three and a half years before but the similarities were strange and massive. Walking down the aisle, being held together by my father, this time mum was with us too though. Seeing all the people we loved in one room. Catching people’s eyes as I walked towards the front. It was like being an anti-bride. The two events shared a hymn, my choice, Lord of all Hopefulness. And I could almost hear Col belting his way through his favourite hymn too. He loved Jerusalem. Totally inappropriate probably for what essentially was a funeral but why not?
The bit that was most like a wedding though was the gathering in Middle Temple Hall. On our wedding day we had so many people to talk to and see that Col and I spent much of the day on the other side of the room from each other, working our way through the guests. The memorial day was the same but he wasn’t on the other side of the room catching my eye every so often with a smile, a laugh or a swig of champagne. People weren’t hugging me and saying congratulations, they were struggling not to cry, trying to find the right words and the congratulations had been replaced with terrible phrases that mean nothing really like, ‘how are you bearing up?’. I kept losing my glass of champagne and I kept up a smile for most of it, to the point that I had faceache by the end of the day just like I did at the end of July 19, 2008. But instead of running out together into a waiting taxi at the end of, what we both said was, the best day of our lives, I took a black cab home with my mum and dad and gathered up my fatherless children from the ad hoc daycare I had organised for the day. The similarities between wedding and funeral end there.
Since Col died I have had many versions of the following said to me. “You’re amazing. I couldn’t do what you’re doing.” People often follow that up with, “I would simply fall apart if [insert their various partners’ names here] died.” Really? Do you think so? I am not so sure. I wanted to fall apart and yes I actually did a little bit in those early weeks. I wept inconsolably, instead of looking after my children I crumbled and let others take the brunt of their care, I didn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I saw no future and I had split seconds where I thought as there is no future I will walk out in front of that car. But not keeping on going just wasn’t an option and most placed in this horrific position manage to do so too. It’s not like I was sent this particular life challenge because I am more resilient, amazing or otherwise than the next person. I am not. If or when your life takes this awful turn you too will keep going, albeit by the skin of your teeth, and you will also be told you are amazing. I am not one to turn away a compliment, of course, so every man and his dog can tell me what a fabulous human being I am if they want, but I know that there are countless men and women like me, just keeping on going in this life as best they can just when they don’t want to anymore.
However, in low moments, when I think I am a static lump of unachieving widowness, I also pat myself on my back for some of my amazing feats in the face of death. Just as you should too when it happens to you, if it hasn’t already of course. And if it has done, well I am so sorry for your loss, but please do this list as you’ll see at the end of it that you are amazing too. Oh I know my list may not look like much to some but these are giant leaps for widowkind in my little world of survival. These are the things that will make me believe it a tiny bit the next time someone tells me how fabulous I am for being a grade one, expert widow who is doing so fantastically well, better than anyone ever who has ever trod this path before. Aye right.
Just some of my amazing Widow Year One feats:
1. Keeping on breathing.
2. Waking up everyday.
3. Bringing up two children under two. OK that’s getting easier as Evie is nearly three now but hey I managed to breastfeed a baby while grieving a husband. I like to think that’s quite an achievement.
4. Driving. I’ve always been a rubbish driver. Colin was our designated driver while I was limited to trips to soft play centres or supermarkets. I have now driven the length of the UK several times and that’s astounding in itself. Nevermind that Col pretty much died at the wheel of our car. In the week after his death I got back in and drove and didn’t let my head think about the hands that had gripped that wheel less than a week previously. I simply had to because I wanted to be the one that took his suit, his shoes, his cufflinks and his tie to the funeral directors. It was the last thing I could do to care for him. So I had to drive that car. I had to be in control of the hideous task at hand. And I know that I am not alone.
5. Seeing his body. I went to see his body at the funeral parlour. I had to do this. His death was so unreal. He hadn’t been ill for months. He walked out the door fully healthy and didn’t come home. I wanted to see him from the moment I learnt of his death but had to wait almost a week. It was horrific. His body was not him. I could barely touch him and had to almost turn and run. But I had to have that last goodbye.
6. Speaking at his funeral. I stood up in front of 400 plus people and spoke to Colin as if I were talking to him directly as I said his eulogy at his memorial. I knew all those people were there, judges, barristers, his clients, his colleagues, our friends and our families, but as I spoke I felt like it was our personal conversation.
6. I bought a house. Negotiated the price and bought a house. I packed us up and moved us out and moved us on hopefully to start a new future.
Amazing old me. Back slap. Back slap.