The Sphincter of Destiny.

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

The final piece of festive loo roll, ready to begin its journey down the toilet of 2016.

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Full of Christmas Fear.

Christmas can fuck off this year. Yes, I know what the true meaning is, and it’s not really about fairy lights and presents, but our God hasn’t exactly been my best friend for the last few years. Still, I’m massively overcompensating for the children’s sake by putting fairy lights EVERYWHERE. None of us is really feeling it at all, though, and just want this difficult time of year to be over.  

We often used to go abroad at Christmas. We were self-employed business owners, and those two weeks from Christmas into January (when bugger all business happens) were a sort of enforced holiday with little – if any – money to be made. Neither my husband nor I really liked the over-commercialisation of Christmas, and preferred to use the time to be together as a family, rather than blow hundreds of pounds on gifts. Since my parents are divorced and my husband’s two adult children refuse to speak to each other, it suddenly made perfect sense for us to take ourselves out of the equation, and spend our present budget on heading off to sunnier climes instead. For the last three Christmases, though, this one included, we’ve had to cancel our planned trips abroad, and are staying put at the Costa del Cancer.

Last year, my husband was waiting for news of a clinical trial which could have prolonged his life by several months. This year, I’m waiting for a mastectomy and further treatment, and probably won’t have a reconstructed boob until this time next year, if not later. Christmas has been shit for quite some time now, but I have to remember that it’s not Christmas’s fault. Still, when your husband needs to have scans done and get himself signed up for clinical trials, it’s pretty frustrating to have his life hanging in the balance when the world shuts down. When you know, with all certainty, that the new year you’re meant to be celebrating is the one which will be written on his headstone.

Last year, my husband was told that he’d know by New Year’s Eve which trial drug he’d be getting – the brilliant new one, or the crappy old one – and then at noon on New Year’s Eve the fucking randomisation machine broke down so we had to wait four more days, only to be told he’d got the shit one anyway. The year before that, he’d spent New Year in hospital, with an infection that his chemo-ridden body couldn’t fight off. Christmas Day last year was hard work, too. My husband knew it would be his last, and – with his inimitable good humour – made it clear that presents would be fairly pointless, but seemed to take genuine pleasure in the fact that so many people would have benefited from money donated to various charities on his behalf instead. He cuddled and comforted us on the sofa in the kitchen as the boys and I cried, when it should probably have been the other way round.

And now, to this year. I’m lucky. Firstly, because I found out a couple of weeks ago that my cancer is still contained. It hasn’t spread, and I’m not terminal. So that’s a good, but strange feeling. I’m not celebrating this news, because my husband never could, but I’m pleased to be able to bring up our boys when he didn’t get the chance to finish the parenting job that he loved. I’m lucky because the boys, my Mum, Stepdad, and I have been invited to spend Christmas with dear friends who live up the road – one of whom helped to carry my husband’s coffin into church only eight months ago – and who didn’t want us to be sitting around the same old dining table, but with an empty chair, on Christmas Day. I’m also lucky because people have continued to send us Christmas cards. This may not seem like a big deal, but judging by the posts on the widows’ forums that I read (and yes, there are such things,) bereaved people seem to be forgotten at Christmas. People don’t know what to say, so to avoid the issue, they say nothing.

THIS IS THE WORST FUCKING THING YOU CAN DO.

Did you know, you can actually get bereavement-specific Christmas cards? Nor did I. Well, you can, and we have several. We’ve also had lots of little messages inside ordinary Christmas cards, from people who want to say that it must be hard; that they’re thinking of us. Not all of them know about my diagnosis – they just know that it’s the first Christmas without my husband, and wanted to tell us that he – and we – are in their thoughts. It may have taken them five seconds to write; it may have taken them several attempts to find the right words. I’ll never know. The point is, though, that they took the time to say something. It matters.

We can all feel lonely at Christmas when it seems as if the rest of the world is being swept along by the excitement, the hysteria, and the figgy fucking pudding. It’s probably mainly bollocks anyway, and in the same way that people only put the edited highlights of their shitty mundane lives on Facebook, these “magical Christmases” are usually the same old crap with people they can barely tolerate, filled with gifts they’ll quietly put on eBay next week, but with an extra portion of pigs in blankets. Knowing they’ve still got their awful bloody families, though, when yours has been ripped apart, is still really hard. In my case, I’m petrified of leaving my husband in 2016. While we still live in the same year, I feel he’s still here. When we move forward, I’ll be condemning him to history, and that’s the last thing I want to do.

If you know someone who has been bereaved, either recently or a long time ago, Christmas and New Year will be a bit tough for them. It just will. If you haven’t sent a card, or a Facebook message, or a text, to say that you’re thinking of them – please, just do it. It will mean the world to them. There’s only one thing worse than saying the wrong thing to someone who’s grieving their way through the tinsel and the sparkly wrapping and the fairy lights. And that’s being too afraid to say anything at all.

Love Fanny x

A card from one of our favourite neighbours. A lovely idea to show bereaved families that they’re being remembered at a difficult time of year.