‘The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement’, by Virginia Lloyd.

I’ve just finished reading the wonderful autobiography of Virginia Lloyd. She was a 34 year old woman when, like me, her husband of less than a year, died. Our circumstances vary widely (her husband John had cancer when she met and married him), but the connections I feel between our situations are astonishing. These excerpts from her book are ones which I underlined as I read. They spoke so clearly into my situation – as if Virginia was documenting my own experiences…

 

  • At thirty-four I certainly felt old, very old, and way too young, all at the same time.
  • ‘The risks of an honest answer were multiple. Jim might get that look on his face – a fumbling mess of confusion, awkwardness, pity – and I’d feel compelled to say something glib to make him feel less uncomfortable with this new and unexpected knowledge of his client. Or Jim might be one of those ‘oh well, they say time heals all wounds’ types…’
  • ‘John was dead: I had all the time in the world. The bouquets of flowers all died at the same time. They wilted, they drooped; the water turned cloudy. The rank odour of several dying bouquets was so overpowering it lingers in my memory. I preferred receiving cards, DVDs, and meals that could be frozen and eaten later. The flowers could wait. The time when I yearned to receive flowers was three, four, six months after John’s death. That’s when his absence was devastatingly real to me, and made more so by the fact that no one thinks to send flowers then. That was the acrid moment when I realised that everyone else had, in one way or another, moved on with their lives.’
  • ‘Now, with the flowers newly dead like my husband, all I could think of to do was to lie completely still, in my increasingly long and increasingly late-night baths, and let the music I chose to accompany me express fractions of my emotions: anguish, inertia, despair, isolation, longing, consternation, grief, heartbreak, loss, loneliness, sorrow, yearning.’
  • ‘I just missed with a sting in my chest the ways in which he counter-balanced my intensity.’
  • ‘I was dimly aware that time was passing, but I had no relationship to it and its details did not affect me. There was an elasticity to time in those first days after John’s death that is impossible to capture in the routines of daily life.’
  • ‘Maybe I could just disappear from my life. The prospect was enchanting, like casting a spell on myself. I could go anywhere. I could do anything. The absence of purpose was palpable, shocking. My lighthouse had disappeared. I was floating, but I didn’t know where I was. Everything was dark.’ 
  • ‘As Sheila and I spoke to the funeral director, I kept confusing my vocabulary. I said ‘wedding’ when I meant ‘funeral’… the two events had occurred within the space of a year, irrationally close to each other. It was too easy for my unconscious mind to connect the dots.’
  • ‘No one present that day imagined I would be a widow before our first anniversary.’
  • ‘I needed to know that other people understood I was not the same person I was a few short weeks ago.’
  • ‘The wheels of my mind were spinning faster and faster but I was going nowhere, racing and totally bogged at the same time. As the months passed, there was no escape from my own head. Wherever I went, I was there. And John was not.’
  • ‘Apparently I was ‘doing well’. This phrase was bandied about by co-workers, neighbours, friends, and shopkeepers. It was intended as encouragement, but every time I heard it I felt guilty. Why couldn’t they see my devastation?’
  • ‘The sun shone brightly outside but I remained indoors, sifting through a life with John that I never knew, mourning the loss of the things we had, and the future life that could not be ours.’
  • ‘Looking around me, every direction seemed still to end up at the same desolate place. No matter where I went, there I would be. And wherever I was, John was not. I dreaded the thought that struck me immobile in unexpected moments, that I would have to trudge through the years ahead by myself, knowing that I would never again feel John’s arms around me, or see his smiling face welcoming me home.’
  • ‘The sun shone flagrantly, mocking my despair.’
  • ‘I had nothing to fear, because I had nothing to lose.’
  • ‘The rest of my life will always be with John, and without him. His is a permanent absence that, like negative space, shapes my life. Sometimes it’s difficult even for me to believe that the history of our private world – from beginning to end, and everything that happened in between – occurred in the space of two years. And that we experienced in that time tremendous joy and exhilaration, which we found and lost so much sooner than we wanted or imagined. My loss is like a bruise that is no longer visible on the surface of my skin, but remains tender to the touch.’
  • ‘My love for him and the fire of those brief years we spent together have inevitably forged a different version of me. But John does not define me. His death does not define me, either, but that event has altered my life in ways I never imagined.’

 

xx zs 

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