I think we can all agree that 2016 has been the most monumental wank sock of years in recent memory. As the final piece of festive loo roll is wiped across the sphincter of destiny, my heart is ready to break. Unlike the rest of the world, and despite everything that’s happened, I don’t want this year to end. I’m not ready to leave my husband behind.
This year, I had him – at least, for one third of it. I tell people that he died in April. Soon, he’ll have died last year. Last April. A couple of years ago. A few years ago. With every day, month, or year that passes, he’s slipping further and further away from everybody else. He is, and always will be, a part of 2016. But that’s where his story ends. With every celebrity death this year, we move on to mourn the next, and with alarming frequency. I console myself with the rising death toll, and decide that my husband is in the most wonderful company. I imagine him – having died a few days before Victoria Wood – standing at the Pearly Gates with a wicked grin, a wink, and a rolled-up copy of Woman’s Weekly.
For the boys and me, he hasn’t left us yet. We can’t really accept that he’s gone. Christmas Day with friends was perfect, but for the hours we spent at home it was was fucking awful. I wasn’t expecting it to be, but as the day came around, none of us wanted to celebrate. I’d planned to go to the midnight service at church, but since I always struggle to go up for communion and pass the spot where my husband’s coffin had lain, I figured that doing it on Christmas Eve would be way too much for me to take. I assumed that God would understand, and hoped He’d forgive me for putting on my pyjamas and hitting the Baileys instead. After our younger twin had emptied his stocking and told me that the only thing he wanted for Christmas was his dad (although nonetheless still managing to accept the ruinously expensive guilt-laden presents I’d bought him,) I went into our office, sat on the floor with my husband’s ashes, and sobbed. I wished a merry Christmas to a brown box with his hated Sunday name on it, in a dark green gift bag. When I picked up his remains (a word I hate) back in April, I did wonder why the undertaker had put him in a gift bag, but at least on Christmas Day he looked quite, well, Christmassy. He’d certainly made more of an effort than the rest of us.
The feeling of loss and pain lingered all day, but I’m glad we hadn’t cancelled it. That would have been an admission of defeat, and would have pointlessly intensified our misery. My husband never gave up, and nor will we. We’ve done it now, and next year will be easier, if only because we’ll be able to celebrate my survival, even though celebrating that will always feel wrong. This year, for sure, we can’t yet celebrate anything much at all.
Despite the fact that I don’t want to move forward without him, I am optimistic for the future. I have to be. This time next year, I’ll still be alive, and that wasn’t something my husband could say with any certainty. Instead of tearing my hair out and thinking how the fuck I’m going to manage when I’m ill, I remember my husband’s words to me a few days before he died. He told me to see his death – though neither of us wanted it to happen – as an opportunity. A new beginning, rather than an end. He didn’t want to leave me, or picture me with anyone else, but made it clear that he loved me too much to want me to be on my own forever (but I’m not ready for that, and can’t yet imagine a time when I ever will be.) Those words only confirm to me how remarkable and brave he was, and give me hope that, through losing him, a new door may one day open in the most unexpected of circumstances. But not yet. Knowing that we should begin afresh, and wanting to do so, are two entirely different things. He’s still very much here. His coat still hangs in the hall. His shoes are in the basket by the front door. Our bedroom is still ours, not mine. I realise, too, that those joint parenting decisions now have to be mine alone, and the more time that goes by – the more the boys change and develop – the less I feel I know what he might have said or done. The more I feel that I need to handle them my way, even though I don’t want to have to. In fact, I’m not sure I know how to.
By definition, he has never known his beloved sons while they’ve been truly grieving. He’s never dealt with their anger and tears as I have, these last eight months, and he’s never known me with breast cancer. He wasn’t there to see them finish primary school, or to discover a new country on holiday, or to rant about the world post-Brexit and Trump. He didn’t see the boys begin high school, or watch them score goals on the football pitch this season, nor did he see them perform in the latest show with their drama group. He hasn’t met our new widow or school friends, and those new friends don’t know him. I wonder if these people will ever understand how great the boys’ dad was; how much it matters to us to remember him. I can’t help feeling that these new friends have missed out enormously by not being able to get to know my husband, because he was brilliant, and I hope the boys aren’t difficult to make friends with now, because they’re so mixed up and worried inside, through no fault of their own. Now is the time we all need friends the most, but I don’t want people to know just me on my own. I want them to remember us. To know us. I wonder if, as the years pass, we will change and develop into people that he wouldn’t recognise, or worse – that he wouldn’t love. All we can do is try to keep going; to remember him, to honour him, and to do our best to be as brilliant as him, but without him. And to hope that he approves.
Time telescopes when you’re dying. A day becomes a year, and an hour becomes a lifetime. The only things you really want to say can actually be said in seconds. At some point, though, you have to accept that time cannot stop, and unhook your fingers from the person you love as you let them go. I cannot stop 2017 from coming around. If I could, I’d still be holding my husband’s hand.
Much like the year before it, I can’t help but feel as if 2017 can fuck right off, before it’s even begun. As the rest of the world believes that things can only get better next year, I’m not so sure. We have a whole new mountain to climb, and although my husband’s memory has given me all the tools I need to weather any storm life throws at me, I desperately don’t want to leave him lingering behind me in the foothills as I fight my way to the top. I’ve let him go once before, and I’m not ready to do it again.
Love Fanny x