It’s seven years since Richard died. I can’t believe it’s been so long. Every day of those seven years has been in mourning whilst living. There’s been some fabulous times. Times that probably wouldn’t have happened had I not seen at first hand how fragile and short life can be and been the recipient of my husband’s fiscal generosity, which enabled me to travel to places I otherwise wouldn’t have visited.
I was watching Peaky Blinders last night when I was struck by a discussion between Aunt Polly and Tommy Shelby (usually I’m just there for Cilian Murphy’s cheekbones). Aunt Polly was saved in the nick of time from the gallows, with the noose literally around her neck:
“I was dead in that noose. But then I was saved. So everything from now on is extra. But what I didn’t realise is that when you’re dead already, you’re free”.
There’s something to be said for staring death in the face. For watching it take effect. I don’t really talk about it, mainly because I’m not usually in such a contemplative state of mind and also because it’s not what people want to talk about. But we should talk about death. Because, well, that’s life.
When Richard died, he took a part of me with him that has never come back and that will never come back and that’s ok. I can say after seven years that it’s ok.
I stared death in the face like Aunt Polly. I watched life drain away and shiny eyes become dull. It took about one minute. Life into death. Maybe even less time.
Of course, it takes time for everything to shut down, which is why the wonderful paramedics picked up electrical signals in his body. It was just him shutting down. Moving into the next phase. Death doesn’t happen instantly. We might think they’re dead. And they might look dead. But inside, processes take time to stop. More like a steam train coming to a standstill than a light going off.
That minute. We never talk about it. I was reminded of it recently when trying to describe honestly the event to a friend of mine. It was strange to retrieve those events from the place in my memories where they had been carefully folded away, as is the requisite to “moving on”. I was surprised how easily I was able to transport myself back to that minute. Yet…
I was watching myself. It wasn’t a PTSD moment of actual transplantation back into my previous existence. It was more of an observation. I was able to really scan dispassionately around the event. I stared into my husband’s features. His gentle features. His grey eyes, that had so often winked at me from behind the bar when he thought no one was watching. His skin. Lips looking for all the world as though he had taken some cyanide, bluish. But as always with Richard, it was his eyes.
Eyes are wet. That’s what makes them shiny. Like fish on the ice in Tescos. Shiny eyes are good, chefs will tell you. A sign of freshness.
If I’d have kept Richard on ice, would his eyes have stayed wet?
As it happens, he was on a bed, it just wasn’t of the ice variety.
He looked at me. Like in a film. But I don’t know if there was any consciousness behind the look or if my face just happened to be in the right place. I like to think he saw me tell him I loved him. I like to think it’s the last thing he heard. I suspect it was more likely to be my frantic: “Richard! Richard! Fucking wake up! Fuck! Breathe! Fuck! Where’s the fucking phone? Your fucking phone is dead! Shit where’s my phone? Richard! Richard can you hear me? Oh fuck. Shit you’re too heavy I can’t fucking move you!”
Funny how you never see that in films….
He was making funny noises. No, not the usual funny noises that raise the duvet to the ceiling. The throaty groans of the death rattle. It’s when liquid begins to settle in the lungs and the person can’t cough them up. Actually, that was what initially woke me up. I thought he was snoring. He was apt to snoring, particularly after a red wine or 4… which we’d both had that night, having enjoyed the company of some friends and the pub quiz attendees.
Sadly he wasn’t snoring.
So that was that really. But the time that remains with me is that minute. That transition from existence to …
So profound. So…. matter of fact. Within the urgency of the moment it was just us two. Like when we realised we loved each other and shouldn’t. Like when we made our marriage vows.
And in that dying he gave me freedom. Everything since his death has been extra. A bonus time until my time.
And this is where Aunt Polly comes in.
Because when you’ve watched death take your soulmate away, well, there’s nothing else to be scared of. You’ve faced your worst nightmare. And you survived.
And I do feel a kind of freedom. Richard’s death has given me a devil may care attitude that I never had before. I used to worry about consequences, about what people might think of me. And then when he died, I stopped caring (so much). After all, what’s the worst that could happen?
So I started to do stuff that I’d longed to do but lacked the courage. I bought a decrepit old house right in the heart of the city, with an old lace factory attached to it, damp, and the occasional eau de corps from the ex-rats in the cellar.
I went on crazy dates with unsuitable men and lived to tell (or not!) the tales.
I drove by myself around France for 3 weeks, and then recently around Ireland for a week. I flew to Poland. I flew to Italy. I flew to the States. I discovered I love and need solitude.
I lived a millionaire lifestyle… and left after 18 months when I decided it wasn’t me… later to become a lowly paid care worker in the community. And it made me happy and fulfilled for the first time in years. And I still do it.
I travelled to places I’d only read about in Enid Blyton stories.
I cut all my hair off and dyed it blonde.
I found out I’m quite a good photographer.
I went to Glastonbury.
I got a tattoo.
I’m a gypsy.
After seven years, it’s ok. I’m single. By choice. Because I’m not really single at all. I’m still married. It’s just that he died. That’s all.