I took the summer off. Literally. I haven’t posted because I have been on so many wee holidays with my girls. It was my treat to me and to us. The summers are always a bit tough anyway with so many milestone dates, Father’s Day, wedding anniversary and birthday all coming in a steady flow of blows. This year it was a significantly important birthday though and it was the catalyst really for ‘getting away from it’. I felt odd because I was leaving the decade Col knew me most in but it also hurt that he never got to his four zero’s at all. He will be forever 38 and I am very much no longer his 36-year-old widow.
I had a recent conversation with a widowed friend who told me you must do a post on all the ridiculous reasons your head comes up with to explain why your husband dropped dead. I knew exactly what she meant. When Colin died the irrational part of my brain worked as hard as the rational side in its efforts to explain why someone so seemingly fit and healthy could die so suddenly, someone that I loved so so much. The rational side accepted the facts. His heart stopped working. The electrics may have failed or a wall muscle stopped doing its job or perhaps it was one of the valves that just didn’t work at that vital moment in time. I have only properly read one paragraph of Colin’s Inquest papers. The words kind of blur after the horrific words that nonchalantly explain that due to the heart not pumping his lungs filled with fluid. I don’t need to know any more than that. He had died and there was no one or no thing really to blame but his heart or was there?
What the inquest fails to list are the many reasons my irrational, widowed and bereaved brain came up with for why he died. They might seem completely farcical in retrospect but at the time they made an awful lot of sense and in an odd way helped me because every one of these reasons became a hook to hang the inexplicable fact – Colin went out one saturday morning to play tennis and he never came home.
Just six of my real reasons why he died (there are many more but they are even more ridiculous) that the inquest didn’t quite include
1. I NEVER THOUGHT IT COULD HAPPEN
I have always had this belief where if I think of the worst thing that could happen by simply having the thought and acknowledging that this thought is the absolute worst case scenario then I have stopped that worst thing that could happen ever ever happening. It had been a failsafe for so long. I spent sooo much time worrying about Col in our time together and thinking that he might have died this worst case scenario catch-all seemed to be working. If he was late from work I would think he wasn’t just late from work somehow or other he had fallen under a tube or train on his way home but then he would eventually come home harassed from a busy day and with no mobile charge. If he didn’t call when driving back from somewhere then it was quite obvious he had been caught up in a fatal pile up on the motorway until I saw his headlights arrive outside the house. So many times I would pace the house waiting and looking anxiously out of the window until I saw him obliviously saunter up the street and put his key in the door. That Saturday morning I was perhaps too busy with the babies to worry. If I had worried and had not forgotten to think that he might die then it is clear to me that he simply wouldn’t have died that day.
2. HE CHANGED THE KETTLE THE WEEK BEFORE HE DIED
Indeed. The week before his death Col felt that the kettle my aunt had bought us several years previously was now a little too precarious to keep using. The missing section to its lid meant that the scalding steam jetting out when it boiled was more than a bit uncomfortable to allow you to use it for practical things like pouring a cup of tea. I was reluctant because my aunt had since passed away from cancer and I felt a sentimental attachment to the poor kettle. I felt Auntie Ann’s feisty spirit in that kettle and I didn’t want to replace it. Col did something he didn’t do very often and he crossed me in the matter of the kettle and went out and bought a new one and placed the old one, redundant, under the stairs. This is obviously one of the main reason’s why Colin’s heart stopped that Saturday in February three years ago, isn’t it?
3. I WAS ASLEEP
Knackered with baby rearing, I had ushered Evie, 22 months, and Isla, nine weeks, into their cot and cradle respectively. I had fallen sound asleep in our bed and had the best three hours sleep I had had in weeks. Of course, if I had been awake Colin would not have died. Fact.
4. HE HADN”T BEEN WEARING HIS WEDDING RING
Colin had decided not that long after we got married that the wedding ring he had chosen was just too bling. A bit too TOWIE I think he may have said. He hatched a plan that we would get it cut in half and one half would become the base for my belated ‘pushing present’ eternity ring and the other half would be a more comfortably conservative wedding ring for him. We never got around to doing it and this was a clear contributory factor in his death. If he had been wearing it, his link to me would have been stronger and through the force of my love I could have protected him and made his heart pump properly even though I was asleep. Clever, yes?
5. HE HAD A NEW MOBILE PHONE
And even more importantly he had changed contract all exactly one week before he died. If he had simply kept true to his Orange contract and not switched to O2 like me then his link to this world would have been strengthened, frankly. Also, if he had kept his smashed face phone then it would have had all his contacts in it. Col couldn’t work out how to transfer numbers from iPhone to iPhone so had to put them all in manually. He had only had the phone a week so I had only had time to input his mum’s number into it so he could do his daily evening chat with her on his way home. If it had had my number in (he knew that off by heart obviously) then the paramedic would have called me that day and not poor Shirley. and through my amazing power of love I could have brought him round by simply speaking to him down the phone. No defibrillator required.
6. I STOLE HIS PIN NUMBER
Just a few weeks before he died my baby brain had a malfunction at a cashline. I put in the wrong PIN number more than three times so I had to get a new card and the bank sent me a ridiculously difficult PIN number to memorize. Col had the same PIN for decades and it was amazingly easy to remember. So in that vital week preceding his death I chose to steal his PIN and make it my own. He knew I had borrowed his code and I had his blessing as it would make it easier when we would borrow each others cards for the various reasons that we did so. I can’t quite explain why this contributed to his death but I felt perhaps by stealing his PIN I had weakened his core being and identity so when it came to that heart of his – well it just stopped working because I had taken his PIN. Obviously.
Three years and one week since he died and I feel better now for revealing the truth no doctor or coroner could know.
My journey of how the Book of Face can be the source of all good as well as the source of all evil after D day…it is my Facebook through the ages of widowness
Phase 1: The Social Media Shield
When Colin died my phone went into overdrive. Good friends with good sentiments. But I couldn’t cope with speaking to people. So I put so many at arms length by communicating how things were through Facebook. It was easier to post a few photos of the wonderful man he was and say I know we all miss him and thank you all for supporting me than it was to actually have conversations with people. Conversations with people made it real. I didn’t want his death to be real. Facebook in a sense is not real. Hence it was easier to communicate through the realm of social media than to speak.
Evie asked me last night for some new wings. When I asked her why she said it was because she wanted to fly to Daddy In The Sky and her current wings (four pairs) weren’t good enough because they were pretendy wings.
The last week has been all about me in my head and I have forgotten two other major players in this drama called “Our Lives After Colin”. I’ve made a couple of major decisions and not really thought about the two girls. On D Day I want to be with the support network of friends in London that was so important to me in those first weeks after the trauma of Col’s sudden death. I didn’t really think about how it is for Evie. She now connects her memories of London life directly to Colin. It’s as if she thinks we just left him there and when I told her that we fly down on Sunday to stay with his friends for a special day she asked me if Daddy would be there. When I said not in person but in a sense we might feel close to him by all being together and remembering how funny he was she said, ‘but he’s very far away, isn’t he?’.
It’s so hard to know what to say. I feel I have been remiss with Evie this week as the blog stuff went mental. I was all over the place, taking calls, talking about Col in front of her to strangers, considering mad dashes to London and having reporters in our house ask questions about Daddy and his death and its aftermath with her on my knee. What an idiot? I don’t think my brain was fully engaged. My gut reaction was to ask them here when she wasn’t around but I didn’t stick with it. She’s coped so well considering but I am going to keep the girls out of it from now in. It’s simply not fair. The journalists were very nice and very lovely to her and myself but still…idiot, idiot, idiot.
I know myself that she’s continually working things out. She’s obsessed with daddies. Ask her if she wants a Peppa Pig yoghurt and it’s usually the one with dumb, old Daddy Pig on it. When we go to soft play places and there is a rare daddy there (I never go at weekends and whatever you say it is usually a female dominant domain from Monday to Friday) , she kind of hangs on the edge of the poor man playing with his kids until he has to involve her. Just as when couple friends come to visit she ends up being quite cuddly and loving to the male partner. And she is simply besotted by my brother-in-laws.
She will love this weekend because all those close friends of Col’s who promised to be in my children’s lives after he died are popping by during our visit. But there will be an element of why are all these people here for My Daddy, why is he not here when there are all these daddies here for the other kids. But that’s no different to her other days really. It will just feel sadder because when all of us do gather, these amazing friends, I simply keep remembering the man that brought us altogether in life and death and Evie and Isla will only have our memories to get to know him through. No amount of wing flapping, real or pretendy, will ever bring them close to him physically in this world of ours.
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
In my bid to get through this hideous time I have opened my mind to all sorts of stuff that pre-February 25th I would have laughed in the face of. One of these has been my £100 sleep. When I told my grief councillor (yes another thing I didn’t think one would need but actually it has been invaluable in coping and moving forward) I had a permanantly aching jaw because I kept my teeth clenched together all day and all night and couldn’t seem to unclench them, she recommended I did a relaxation and meditation session. I had to stop myself from saying the kind of thing Colin would have at the suggestion.
He was always such a cynic of anything alternative. It still makes me laugh when I think about our first NCT (National Childbirth Trust) class pre-Evie’s arrival. Our teacher had asked all the expectant parents at the end of that first evening what preconceptions they had about the sessions before they had arrived. I don’t think she quite expected him to tell that he was expecting the whole thing to be all sandal-wearing weirdos or something or other along those lines. And that was his polite version of what he had been calling the organisation. Other words he’d used at home had been hairy, beardy weirdos to name but a few.
Back to the point though. I knew what Colin would have said but I felt I needed to try absolutely anything to help me. So I signed up, made the appointment and didn’t really think about it again until I was being led downstairs from my councilling appointment in London’s Recovery Centre (an aptly named and quite wonderful place) to a basement room rich with scented oils, with low lighting and soft music playing. ‘Here we go’ I thought.
I am the kind of person that doesn’t fully relax through a massage because I am worrying about the masseuse touching my feet or I find myself thinking damn I should have gone to the toilet before I got on this stupid table. So when I saw what was basically a very cosy massage table all laden with soft furry blankets I was sure this was so not going to work. But the woman who had led me in here and was obviously my relaxation expert Jeeta K’inan just had something about her that I trusted. So she invited me up onto this table to get comfortable so that I did. Then to cut a long story short she held me feet through the blankets and talked to me in a weirdly soothing tone. I soon forgot about my bladder, my worries that I wasn’t doing the breathing correctly and she led me into the most wonderful place in my head. I keep saying the word weird but it was and it wasn’t. To me it was a very strange thing for me to be doing but it felt completely natural to have a stranger hold my feet while I wandered off in my head to the most peaceful places my mind’s eye could conjure. I lost sense of time, found myself snoring but aware I was doing so and for the first time since Colin died I felt incredibly close to where he was. Bizarre. It felt like moments later she was coaxing me back from the sun-speckled jungle treetop perch I had found myself at (it was so like being at Tikal at dawn in Guatamala where we honeymooned). I came to to this song http://bit.ly/RcI1SK and I was so so happy and rested. My one hour sleep felt like it had soothed some part of me that hadn’t been at rest since Colin died. It really was the most out of the ordinary experience I have had but I will be repeating it as soon as I can arrange to be in London again and I recommend the treatment fully. Colin would have said to me: ‘You fool you have just paid someone for an hour’s worth of sleep you could have had at home.’ But he isn’t here to do that and you know what? You have to just do whatever you can to feel better again.
I have developed a sort of Widow Tourette’s. This is where, in the most inappropriate places, I feel the need to drop into casual conversations with complete strangers little bombs like ‘My husband has just died’ or ‘Her daddy is dead’. These widow bombs fall out of my mouth before I realise it and the poor sales assistants, bank tellers, Post Office clerks etc have to try to deal with it. I watch them floundering to remember any staff training they have had on customer service that might help them attempt to make polite conversation with the mad woman before them. Sometimes I think I throw these little bombs out there to make these people realise that life is brief so treat everyone well whatever type of day you are having. Here are a few examples:
Buying a hoover in Comet
At the desk with a boxed up Henry Hoover and two-year-old Evie beside me. I am in a hurry (bad mother – have left Isla in the car as decided carrying baby and hoover would be too precarious). Salesman is taking his time and being perfectly pleasant by asking about Evie and telling me he is a new father and that his baby was born on December 20th. I reply with a smile: ‘Oh my baby was born on Christmas Eve. She’s in the car. Their Daddy died in February.’ The fellow didn’t know where to put himself but he did insist on carrying Henry to the car for me.
Buying two glasses of wine in a bar in South London
I escaped the house for a meet with a friend in the very early weeks after Colin died. I felt almost normal being out with normal people all around. So why when the barman said, ‘are you having a good day?’, did I reply to his bartender banter with a jaw-dropping, ‘No not really my husband just died.’?
Getting a baby passport in various Post Offices in South London
I nearly cancelled the holiday we were due to go on in July due to the stress of dealing with Post Office staff doing the Check And Send service for passport forms. Each time I went to the desk determined not to reveal myself as a mad widow but each time their ‘Computer Says No’ customer service had me weeping at the desk, pleading with them either for a new form or at least not to pay nearly £9 yet again for someone to tell me I had got something ridiculously mundane wrong with the application – one of the signatures had gone over the line of the box, the photo was not in line with regulations, the ink was the incorrect colour. It took five visits to a post office, the help of Colin’s Best Friend and a trainee at Colin’s work to sort us out eventually. No amount of Widow’s Tourette’s penetrated the soulless staff of Royal Mail.
Banking a cheque at a bank in South London
It was a significant amount so the teller told me I had to go into an office to put the cheque through. So me and Isla in her buggy squeezed our way into an office with a bored-with-my-job kind of woman: ‘Hello Mrs Campbell. Due to the amount of this cheque we need to know where the money came from.’ Me: ‘Well it does say on the cheque where it is from but it has been given to me because my husband just died.’ Bored woman kind of gets more interested as my widow bomb goes off: ‘Oh right. How did he die? What age was he? How old is your baby?’. This woman had a form of Tourette’s all of her own and it is called Complete and Utter Insensitivity Tourette’s. She followed my answers of ‘It was his heart. He was 38. She is 14 weeks old, I think.’, with a further heart stabbingly awful, ‘Oh was it sudden?’ and then proceeded to try to sell me some financial package or other to make the most of my new-found wealth. Idiot.
This is a definite ‘I shouldn’t. But I did’ but the outcome couldn’t be better. One widowed friend rightly told me not to make any major financial decisions in the first 12 months after you’ve lost a partner. She adviced me to read the widow website by Kate Boydell who says the same thing. And I understand why this is usually the oh so right thing to do. I mean suddenly (if your partner planned well) you have a big lump of money…and because life has thrown the biggest curveball ever you begin to think material things mean nothing blah dee blah so what’s wrong with a treat here or there or a holiday to such and such. You could quite easily try to spend your way better. But it doesn’t work like that. Boydell highlights again and again that widows do get into debt so advises trying to get through the first year without frittering away the life insurance cheque. I meant to follow her advice but I saw this house (on a whim) and knew it was our future. It felt like home from the minute we moved in in July and it continues to be so. I know this was right for me and asked lots of close friends and family if they agreed. And as I was trying to spend myself better I probably wouldn’t be able to have afforded it after the first year of this whole new world had passed.
And just look at it (it was in the paper you know)…The Campbell Girls’ New House