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.