I realise that I am gripping on to the buggy with all my might. Actually I think that it is the only thing keeping me up. I would sit down but Heather has her things spread all over the sofa. Foolishly Greg and I only ever got round to buying just the one sofa and I think I put the foot stall in to the bedroom. I am in such a state that rather than process what she has just told me I am actually wondering if I should go and buy a chair or something. Seriously I feel like a bomb just went off in the room. I can feel Heathers eyes on me, but I am not able to meet her gaze. She wants an answer, or at least a response and I cannot provide either one. I am mute. I can barely think or even breathe for goodness sake! How do you vocalise these feelings? How do you put into words the fact that you do not want to go to your own husband’s memorial service? A service that no one even told you about, that you played absolutely no part in planning and that you found out about through a friend on the very morning that it was due to happen! This is all swirling around in my head and my brain feels a little bit like the bubble bath earlier, it is getting thrown around by the force and has turned in to froth. My heart is pounding and I feel sick. I thought that nothing could feel worse than Greg dying, but this does. This actually feels far worse than anything I could ever have imagined.
Heather has already taken me by the arm and basically sat me down before I even realise it. Over and over she soothingly asks me if I am ok but I have no response. I feel ill, faint. I realise that the tears are back, they are streaming down my face. “Who planned it?” I ask hoarsely as I continue to weep, “Who planned this service and didn’t even tell me?” I don’t know the right or wrong of it but planning his memorial service without even telling me feels like an act of hate. I cannot believe that this is even happening; I cannot believe that this is allowed either legally or morally.
Heather fills me in on all of the details. Apparently there was a notice on Greg’s sister’s Facebook Page. Heather called her to find out what was going on and apparently was pretty angry that they had planned it without telling me. Grace defended her Mother, who had actually planned it saying that they were unable to contact me. I seethe to Heather that the family are lying; I haven’t moved and the landline number is the same so they just didn’t try. In the instant that I say those words my decision is made and I am determined not to go, I cannot face them right now. I would explode. Without me even vocalising these feelings Heather turns those thoughts around, she insists that I have to go to the service and make sure that they all know that they cannot just dismiss me this way. I can see that Heather is really angry about the whole thing which does make me feel at least less crazy if not actually any better. Apparently my parents have even gone to collect my Brother and his wife; they are all determined that no one forgets that Greg was a part of our family too and that we loved him as well.
I love what Heather and Mum are doing for me, but I haven’t the energy to fight or even defend myself today. I felt weak and feeble as it was but this is all too much for me right now. I have always loved Greg’s family dearly, and I thought that they all cared for me too. We were all very close for a very long time and Greg and I saw every member of each family all of the time. Weekends used to be chaos with travelling around visiting various relatives, or holding large family gatherings in our tiny flat and now they care so little that they would do this to me? Why didn’t they invite me to be part of the day? I would have loved to. Guilt creeps in when I realise that I should have thought of it myself. Maybe they were angry that I didn’t or maybe they really do just blame me for the accident. No matter how many times they said they didn’t I have never believed them, how can I face them if they hate me and think I killed Greg? I realise that I am crying again, I hate this. I hate feeling so weak, I hate what my life has turned into and I feel like I am suffocating under the weight of my own misery. This pain is never going to go; it is never going to get better. I cannot handle this emptiness any more. I think I might be hyperventilating!
“Stop this Alex!” Heather’s command takes me by surprise and I literally jump with fright. She is shaking her head and arms around wildly. Even in my state I can see how comical she looks but more so I notice that she is no longer holding Josh. I look back at the buggy and he is tucked safely inside fast asleep. I wish for a tiny second that we could trade. “We haven’t got time for this” she continues impatiently quashing my protest before it has even had the chance to leave my lips “your parents are on their way and we need to get going. You have to go and get dressed right now” Heather has grabbed my arm and is marching me towards my bedroom and in the face of this new commanding, forceful woman that I almost don’t recognise the words escape me and I am feebly led in to my room, stuffed in to a black trouser suit that is now way too large for my new tiny frame and forced to apply makeup. I hate looking at my sallow face in the mirror. Normally it is something which I avoid as far as possible. I only obey Heather because I don’t have the energy to face the argument I would have to have with her if I refused. I feel completely stupid, like a child being forced to go to church against its will. Well, let’s face it that is exactly what is happening to me. Heather catches my smile in the mirror; “That’s a sight for sore eyes honey. What gives?” she asks kindly while smiling broadly at me.
I manage another genuine smile as I explain, “I was just feeling like a kid being dragged off to church by their Mother” we laugh together for the first time in exactly a year. “I’m going to have to keep an eye out for poor Josh” I scoff, “it would seem that you are quite a force to be reckoned with when you get going!” Still in the reflection of the mirror I notice her smile falter for just a second, for once I notice something other than my own pain. “I hope so” she whispers as her soft brown eyes well up with tears, “I hope that I am going to be a good Mother”. She looks directly in to the reflection of my eyes and I see that she has so much sorrow in her face, “it’s scary being all alone with a baby” she confides to me. In this moment I realise that I haven’t been there for Heather at all really. Sure I’ve seen her a few times but she was comforting me, I haven’t offered her anything. Nothing! I have been so selfish and self absorbed and yet here she is, still here for me, still on my side. I really don’t deserve this wonderful loyal friend, realising that is a very humbling feeling. I turn to her and hug her tightly and tell her that as far as I can see she is a fantastic Mum already and that I am very proud of her and the way that she has coped with these changes to her life. It feels good to be able to say those things to her. We hug and weep together until the doorbell rings forcing us to part.
“Right!” Heather is back in full general mode again, “you do something with your hair and I will sort Josh and the buggy out” she is already opening the door as she is speaking and I hear her greet my Father warmly. He helps her down the stairs with the buggy and just for a second a tiny little stab of jealousy stings me. I just cannot help myself. I wish that my Dad had been able to do that for me. I shake this thought and quickly drag my hair up in to a ponytail. I still look a state, no amount of make-up can hide the fact that I hardly eat, sleep or smile. I take a deep breath, pull my wedding band out of the drawer of my dressing table, slide it on to my finger and kiss it for ‘good luck’ before turning and walking out of the flat to my Dad’s shiny silver estate car. I won’t lie, my heart is pounding and my legs feel as though they have been forged out of concrete, but I force myself forward.
I notice my brother’s bright red Alfa Romeo behind our Father’s car, I cannot see my Brother and his wife behind the tinted windows but I wave vaguely in their direction as I get into the back of Dad’s car. Heather is already seated and Josh is strapped in to the middle in a car seat that seems to have been part of his pram. I comment on how quickly they all got sorted and see Heather smile proudly, I wonder if anyone really boosts her ego these days. I also note the concern in my parents’ voices as they greet me and I try to sound bright as I return their ‘hellos’. I know that it is fake and stupid but that is all I have to offer for their kindness and concern. No one speaks much on the way to St. Luke’s and I am grateful to be able to stare unseeing out of the window and tune out. I don’t want to think about where we are going and what we are doing, honestly I just want this day to be over. I want every day to be over. I cannot wait for my crappy life to be done and finished, I know that I cannot actually ever tell anyone that and distress them, but I cannot help but feel that way. I cannot help but to hope that this will be finished soon.
We arrive at the church and straight away I notice the huge volume of cars parked in the small car park. There are also a large number of people greeting each other on the pretty grounds. This service is going to be very well attended so I haven’t been left out of a simple, small family affair, not that it would have made it any better anyway given that I am his wife. My blood is boiling as I see two of Greg’s cousin’s greeting an old work colleague of his. How dare they invite all of these people and not me! Heather has leant over and once again is gripping my arm. It is plainly obvious that everyone knows what is going through my mind right now. The atmosphere in the car suggests that everyone is as shocked as me, so perhaps they are actually thinking the same things. I can imagine that they are all holding their tempers and breath alongside me. I don’t know if in her mind Heather is trying to comfort or restrain me; I am close to exploding so it could go either way. I do not look to her though; my eyes look directly into my Father’s eyes via the rear view mirror, his longish Greg hair is brushed away from his brilliant blue eyes so I look in to them undisturbed for a change. He is sitting right in front of me but has adjusted his mirror so that he can look right at me, once he is sure that he has my full attention he simply states “Be dignified Alex. Today is not the day for anger, today is a day to honour Greg’s memory”. His finger wags as he tells me to ‘get out there and make Greg proud’. I know that Dad is right but it doesn’t stop me from seething.
We tumble out of the car. Mum hugs me as Dad gets busy helping Heather with the baby. My Brother Dennis and his Wife Millie have joined us now. Mille is a very shy person and looks even more intimidated than normal today. She is dressed in a simple black dress and looks like she might run at any moment. She is completely unable to handle me and my obvious grief, although she tries to be very kind about it. My big, rufty-tufty, Rugby playing Brother on the other hand has no such worries. He practically drags me out of my Mother’s arms and pulls me closely towards him. “Fuck ‘em sis!” he declares wrapping his large, strong arms around me. I half laugh and half sob as I return his hug, I haven’t seen Den for a while and I realise that actually I have missed him so much. I am very aware that we have attracted a small audience but I am unsure if they want to greet me or are shocked that I have arrived uninvited so don’t acknowledge anyone. Despite my huge discomfort at feeling so completely ‘wrong footed’ at my own Husband’s memorial, I simply wait for my little family group to get sorted and with one hand in my Mother’s cool grasp and one hand in my Bother’s strong grip make my way toward the church. I wish that I could feel confident in my right to be here, but actually I keep waiting for someone to approach and demand I leave! I cannot help but wonder anew what I have done to deserve such poor treatment. There is no time for me to dwell on it though, right in front of the entrance to the Church I can see Greg’s Mother (Amai, as I have always called her as she was my Mother for a time), his Father (Baba, as he was to me) and Greg’s Sister Grace seem to ‘flank’ the Vicar and are all meeting and greeting everyone as they arrive. Amai’s short, tubby frame somehow looks frail to me whereas normally she had always seemed so robust. She is wearing a traditional Zimbabwean dress that would be beautiful if it were not for the evil colour, I always used to love the fact that Greg’s family wore colour to ‘celebrate a life’ when someone died rather than wear black to mourn a death, but now I am not sure that I like it much after all. I cannot imagine a time when I will ever be able to tolerate the colour purple. I struggle to even look at Baba, who also looks like a child that has been forced in to his Navy suit that is far too large for him. He seems to have literally shrunk over the last year. Baba looks so much like Greg it pains me to even look at him. In his face, in his eyes and in his bitter sweet smile all I can see is the future that I cannot have with my husband. I will never see Greg at this age. I will never see his greying hair; I will never see his face peppered with lines. Greg and I will never grow old together. Again the feeling of injustice rises within me. I have been robbed of my future and now it seems that Greg’s family are robbing me of the only thing that I do have left; my grief. I swallow down the urge to scream at them and demand to know what the fuck they are playing at, and my Brother and Mum tighten their grips on my hands simultaneously. Clearly they don’t trust me not to do something stupid, but I do nothing. I hold on tightly to my Father’s words. The best way I can get through this awful ordeal I decide is to try to believe that Greg really is ‘here’ in some way, because if he is able to watch us then ultimately I really do want to make him proud. My love for my husband overrides every other feeling and I really want to try to hold on to that as much as I can.
Amai freezes when she sees me, and then her whole face crumbles. Emotionally and almost physically I am thrown as she launches herself at me and lovingly grasps me to her while crying out in what I can only describe as agony, my Mum and Dennis have no choice but to release me and move aside as Amai grabs hold of me. “Oh child” she wails over and over again; “oh my child I thought that we had lost you!” she cries “oh my dear child!” These words are all that it takes to break me. The force of the tears I cry make my whole body shudder, you would think that I have cried myself dry over this last year but no, torrents of tears flood down my face and I almost scream with the agony of the release. I cannot speak or articulate anything. Baba and Grace rush over and join the huddle and together we cry and cry. Through her tears Grace whispers in to my ear that they did send a card asking me to join them in planning the day, she promises me that they would never leave me out. I know that she is telling the truth. You see once Greg died I was inundated with cards of ‘sympathy’ but I haven’t to this day opened a single card. I hate the thought and cannot understand how anyone could find this a comfort. There was no time line either; cards have been trickling through my door all year. I was so afraid of opening one that anything that looks like a card I just shove in a shoe box beside the door I. I didn’t even open any Birthday cards. So beyond doubt I know that this is the truth and I feel sick with guilt and sorrow that I even thought that of them. They must have thought that I really didn’t care. That is devastating to me. I turn to Grace and hug her tightly. I still cannot speak so don’t get to apologise but I will. I will put things right. The Vicar tells us that it is time to go inside, so my parents, Greg’s parents, our siblings, Heather and the baby all enter the church together as a family for the first time since Greg’s funeral. As we walk towards the Alter the sound of ‘Songbird’ fills the church. The moment I hear it my heart swells with memories of our love.
The service is simply beautiful. Greg’s Uncle, his old manager and his sister Grace give lovely heartfelt speeches. The music that plays softly throughout the service are exactly the songs that I would have chosen myself. I think that they represented him perfectly. The programme is decorated with lovely pictures of Greg, I cannot help but stare at them throughout the service, I keep wishing that we could go back and relive the days on which they were taken as stupid as that sounds. Tactfully no one else appears in the photos and that is definitely best. I know that if Greg could see the service he would be very impressed indeed.
Although I have found the service slightly comforting I cannot help but feel drained and distressed after it has ended. The whole day has just proven too much for me. I do try to politely thank some people for attending and generally try to be hospitable but I’m relieved when people finally leave. Once again Amai holds me as she asks me to join the family back at the house. I hug her tightly smelling her familiar perfume as I do so. I almost want to ‘drink her in’ as I am so unsure what the future hold for us. “I’m so sorry Amai” I whisper hoarsely “I can’t do any more today”. Her eyes meet mine and aside from the sorrow I do see that she understands. Any doubts that she may have had over me once Greg died and I ‘went off the rails’ have vanished. I know that she can plainly see how things are now. “Alexandra, please child, don’t distance yourself from us any more” she pleads, “we love you so much”. The rest of what she wants to say is lost because we are both crying again. My Mum comes and comforts us and it brings me a sense of peace to see her and Amai united once again.
Once everyone has said their ‘goodbyes’ I walk back to where my Dad has parked. Dennis is walking beside me silently. Even his presence is a comfort. I turn to look at him walking in the sunshine and notice that he is looking tired and drawn himself. “Are you OK Den?” I ask concerned.
“Sure” he shrugs smiling, “I’m OK Ali, just worried about you”. We stop walking and face each other, “it’s been hard Sis” he confesses sadly, “seeing you like this” He shrugs his shoulders. There is no need to finish what he is saying and we both know it. “I’m so sorry” I start to speak but he takes my hand and shakes his head. “Don’t say it” he insists, “Don’t you apologise for anything. But little sis, please, please if you can’t cope with this, get help. Do something” he stops walking and turns to face me again. I cannot meet his eyes and stare at the pocket of his blue shirt instead, “Don’t suffer any more” he begs. I have never seen my brother cry but today the tears in his eyes are unhidden. It doesn’t feel good to me to know that I have put my family through this pain. I haven’t intended any of this. To be truthful I hadn’t given any thought to anyone, to anyone’s pain. I have been too locked in to my own grief. That isn’t my usual character, before the accident Greg used to comment that I never put myself first. How things change I muse sadly. We walk the rest of the distance back to the car in silence. I don’t feel able to make promises, but clearly I know I have a lot of thinking to do.
The first thing I notice when we approach the cars is that Millie has taken Josh and is holding him blissfully. She is telling Heather how amazing he is and what a good boy he is for sleeping right the way through the service. I have never seen Millie so animated before. It makes me wonder when she will have a little announcement of her own to make. I hope soon. Our family could use an injection of joy and even though I will be sad that it isn’t me, I will be able to put that aside and be so happy for them. They will make fantastic parents. It is plainly obvious that everyone is feeling slightly awkward; no one is quite sure what to say or do right now, so I take the lead, something that I haven’t done for a while. “Shall we find a nice place for a meal or something?” Heather and my Mother look at each other in bewilderment and it is my Dad who asks if I am feeling ‘up to it’. I cannot lie but I stress “It’s Heather’s Birthday, and I think that we should mark the occasion” I feel a little shy as I add that I would also like to buy everyone dinner to say thanks, and sorry. Dad hugs me and enthusiastically agrees with my plan. I am so shattered, but I take a deep breath, kiss my wedding band for strength and get into the car. Finally I feel able thank these divine people who love me so very much.
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