When my husband was dying, one of the things that bothered him the most was that people stopped bothering him. We were always the last to find out about our friends’ separations, pain in the arse teenagers, or warring families. And when we did find out, we’d always get the same response:
“But our problems are nothing compared to yours.”
To which my husband would reply:
“And my problems don’t suddenly make yours go away.”
He was right. Yes, perspective is a wonderful thing, but it usually grows from trauma. I’m a better person now than I’ve ever been before, simply because I value all the things I used to take for granted. Like being alive. Or having a cuddle with the man I love. Or owning a full set of tits. So, it felt completely wrong to find myself struggling with the impending fourth anniversary of my husband’s death in the midst of a pandemic, because there are so many things I’m suddenly grateful for – not least the absolute privilege of holding his hands as he passed away, and for giving him the largest and most loving send-off our elderly vicar had seen in forty years of service. People who lose loved ones over the next few months are unlikely to even be able to say a proper goodbye. How lucky we were, after all.
I’m not an essential worker. I twat about at home being vaguely creative and people pay me enough money to buy wine and other necessities. Isolation hasn’t changed my lifestyle much at all over the last few weeks, except that there are more people around demanding snacks. My other half – the not-so-New Chap – has a poncey city job that nobody understands, and when he tells me that he’s “spent the morning fighting fires” I can assure you, he did not emerge from his office covered in soot. He was merely spouting corporate bollocks to his team on Zoom. It also turns out that he uses the term “circle back” with alarming frequency, without a hint of irony. I’m so disappointed. Still, he has many plus points, and I’m pleased to say that he moved in about six months ago, with three amazing kids in tow for much of the week. I’m just bloody grateful that our building work was finished before coronavirus kicked off. It’s a bit of a madhouse at the best of times, and because he tends to work in London through the week, being locked down with a whole new selection of people has taken a bit of getting used to, but there’s nobody I’d rather be quarantined with.
Even so, we just can’t wait for all this to be over so we can go somewhere for a nice romantic weekend apart.
We’re not important. And although we’re incredibly grateful for that, we are natural born “helpers”, so staying at home and doing nothing feels weird, lazy, and downright wrong. But many of our friends ARE key workers, and we know full well that we’re doing the right thing by staying in. So, to make myself useful – and to get my head a little straighter before That Date tomorrow – I thought I’d bring Fanny out of hibernation. (While still remaining in quarantine.) I remember only too well those long weekends of nothing but loneliness (be careful what you wish for – I’ve now got five kids and spend half the week reliving the joy of being followed to the loo), and on this sunny bank holiday I remembered my husband’s words of wisdom and thought they could be useful to anyone struggling with a change in circumstances. Inevitably, whether or not we lose loved ones during this crisis, our lives will change completely, and perhaps I can help you to embrace that. If there’s one thing I’ve become adept at, it’s learning to stand firm through the winds of change which have blown my way with increasing regularity.
In the midst of coronavirus, it seems wrong for me to feel any grief at all, but I bloody well do. I hate that there are certain triggers at this time of year – in my case, it’s blossom on two particular trees in the garden, because I used to look at them and wonder if my husband would live to see the leaves appear (spoiler: he didn’t). I’ve incorporated many of my Boris-approved daily walks with a visit to his grave, which I never used to do very often (because I don’t believe he’s really there) so that I can shout at him and tell him he was a selfish twat for not looking after himself enough and getting us all into this mess. But these days I’m mostly grieving for his little boys who loved him so very much, and who watched him die just as they were beginning to need him the most.
Whether or not you are directly affected by coronavirus itself, just staying inside for the next few months is going to affect you. People aren’t going to stop having heart attacks, or starving, or getting cancer, or falling out, or struggling with life, just because there’s other stuff going on. And if you are going through that kind of shit, then it really is OK to be more concerned about that than anything else. I can’t imagine how I would be feeling right now if this pandemic had hit three or four years ago, when my own little world was in turmoil, so if that’s you – I just wanted to reach out and touch your hand. (Not literally, obviously. We’re all staying the fuck indoors.)
On Timehop, the last photos of me and my husband have been coming up lately, and I’m still baffled that I had no idea back then that he was so ill. He clearly looks like a skeleton in a ridiculously loud shirt, with a wife in denial. The only reason we have the pictures, though, is because we spent time together before the end. We went on holiday with the boys, and although my husband wasn’t very mobile, we just sat together in the bar at night and chatted while the boys buggered off with newfound friends. We learned even more about each other, because after fourteen years of marriage there was still stuff to know. Two weeks after we returned home, he died, having spent a couple of weeks in the makeshift hospice of our sitting room. We held hands, and we talked. We all knew how much he loved us and he knew how loved he was too.
It occurs to me that those last weeks were very similar to the situation we’re in now. Across the world, circumstances beyond our control have forced our collective worlds to close in, and the only thing we can be responsible for is the safety of our own family. Under doctors’ orders, we’re all staying in. Of course, when my husband was dying, I was on my knees with grief and exhaustion, but I look back now and realise how lucky we were as a family to have been given that time to keep getting to know each other. Most of us rush about from one year to the next, trying to keep afloat, trying to keep our kids happy, and trying to make ends meet – and it’s only when we’re faced with losing it all that we see the true value of the people we love.
In honour of the people who can’t; in honour of those who are stuck in a single room with multiple family members and barely any food or air; in honour of everyone whose home isn’t a sanctuary… if you’re able to go online and read this, and sleep in a warm bed tonight with a reasonably full stomach, then try to enjoy staying at home with your family. This time is a gift that you may never be given again. Even if they’re annoying – which they undoubtedly are – your tolerance of your family’s funny little ways is your contribution to saving the world. Coronavirus definitely won’t take away your problems, but please try to allow this isolation time to infect you with perspective. You’ll emerge stronger, happier, and – if you’re lucky – still holding hands, alive.
Love Fanny x
Dedicated to all the essential workers, who can’t stay safe at home. Thank you.
10 thoughts on “Saving the World from the Sofa.”
Well, well – welcome back once more – your words sound so right – and needed! Thank you. Your mantra is mine too, even though for different reasons. Since our move back to our home country, leaving an unsold precious house back, stuff in it which we should have now, leaving many, many dear friends behind, friends we thought we’d see again only a few weeks later, the impossibility of ‘going back’ now – having all our plans cancelled, and much more…. left me in a position of ‘complaining on an extremely high level’ (no, I don’t —- at all!). Because: I saw now more of my HH (Hero Husband) in the past 6 weeks (since moving) than I saw him in the past 22yrs of our marriage! We eat 3 meals (more or less….) together, often have our lunch outside on our patio, we sleep on the same premises, we have ‘disconnected’ skype, we go for little walks. We are very deeply thankful for these ‘gifts’ so unexpected, so undeserved, I phone my mother every day once instead of visiting her every so often (once every 4-6 weeks when living in France, once every 2 weeks normally), I am hours on the phone, on WApp, I’m sending cards, letters…. it’s not all bad, as long as one remembers how GOOD we still have it. And yes, I deeply care and appreciate what many of our (many African) friends do for us, being carers, nurses, I have a daughter in law who is a nurse, a husband of a niece of mine is a doctor, we see and hear much.
You put it in words – and I hope that MANY many people read this, take it in and maybe, maybe will change something in their life AFTER this is over.
Thank you, Kiki – much love to you. Enjoy this precious time with your husband! x
Reblogged this on From Pyrenees to Pennines and commented:
An extra post today. Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know about my daughter Ellie: about her husband Phil who died of cancer, four years ago tomorrow, and about her twin boys, then aged 10. About her own cancer diagnosis and treatment more or less immediately after. I re-blogged several of her posts, and you followed her story through her own treatment, surgery and recovery. Now she has something to say about living in this strange new world where coronavirus and the fear of it dominates our lives. Please read it.
Aren’t they just! Heroes, that is. They must be so frightened for the vulnerability of their own families, and battling exhaustion as well as the virus. Thanks for sharing your feelings, hon. And one of those anniversaries that nobody wants to share. Here’s to better days! 🙂 🙂
A very helpful post that anybody can relate to. Well over a year after my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, having spent 2019 with things being more or less normal, it all went downhill in February. Now already I am thinking as I read your blog, we can’t complain when we’re in our sixties, at least our family are grown up with families of their own. Lucky has also taken on new meaning with the virus. Lucky our daughter works for the NHS and got her brothers and the NHS organised, even more lucky all the family were over, down and around and we got him home again before everything went into lockdown. Everyone got back to their own families in the USA, Kent and Shropshire just in time to isolate… Of course this stage of his illness is not how I imagined, with friends dropping in for coffee, doing jigsaws, taking him out for jaunts; family coming to stay at regular intervals to help out. He had the NHS letter – stay in for 12 weeks, so that’s us in isolation – lucky we have good neighbours who can drop off shopping and hurray for telephones and the internet. And all this is nothing compared to so many losing loved ones suddenly – which in turn brings fears for the rest of the family. You can’t bargain, one person ill in the family does not make the others exempt. Whatever happens, this year will be strange for all of us. Enjoy your time at home with your new large family Ellie, it sounds fun.
Thank you… sending much love to you and your husband. These are such challenging times and I really hope you manage to come through it unscathed (and still quite liking each other)! x
“it’s only when we’re faced with losing it all that we see the true value of the people we love.” – such validity to these words. We are endowed with such a convenient life, so much so that we expect all problems will be solved easily. Anxiety, stress and depression run wild if we encounter a small obstacle that cannot be wuickly solved. Yet, in situations like yours, you might have lived a lifetime of precious moments, in those final weeks with your husband. You were blessed with not taking him for granted in that time. It was cruel for him to be taken and I am sure I could not even begin to imagine how hard that was and still is for you and your children. I do hope those who read your words will value more what they do have, in the present crisis and see this as an opportunity not a curse.
Thanks for doing what you do naturally – helping others.
I love this bit of your post especially – “Even if they’re annoying – which they undoubtedly are – your tolerance of your family’s funny little ways is your contribution to saving the world.” Well said.
I applaud you and Thanks.
Thank you so much. Stay safe and happy during these weird times! x
Fanny – thank you ♥
Well said, Fanny. Thank you.