That first night after the police left and after my sister had poured me into our bed (my bed? I have to think of it as mine not ours now) I was left alone looking out the window at the field across from the cottage lit up by the moonlight. A still night that could lead you to believe that all is wonderful, all is right with the world but I knew the truth that the world wasn’t wonderful or perfect and, in fact, my world had just been shattered. The shadows danced on the bedroom wall and to be honest my head was spinning with ‘what do I do..?’, ‘how do I..?’ and other unanswerable questions. My mind was like an electrical storm jumping from one idea to the next not giving me any time to really think. Panic was setting in but as I watched the clock go through each hour of the night I knew I had the hardest job to come, the hardest task I would ever have to do; tomorrow I would have to tell my 3 beautiful sons that their father had died and I’m not sure I had the words for that.
As the dawn broke out over the fields and the morning came I heard the boys stirring. My heart started to beat just that little bit faster and my hands started to shake. I knew so much rested on this next conversation as they would remember this defining moment for the rest of their lives. This will be their ‘where were you when Kennedy/Elvis/Princess Diana died’ moment. They will remember the weather, the smells but above all the tears and confusion and I will remember it all. Sam came in first as he usually does throwing open the door wide so it hit the wall, as it usually does, and said ‘Is it morning time yet?’ This is our code for ‘can I get in with you for a cuddle Mummy?’ and I said, with a little too much false jollity ‘yes it is, in you pop’. He jumped down the 2 steps and ran thumping like a baby elephant as he went and I started crying as I knew this would be the last moments of his complete world with its complete family.
‘What’s wrong Mummy?’ he asked and he stroked my face as he usually does when I’m upset.
‘Would you mind going and getting your brothers for me Sam there’s something I need to tell you all’ and with that he bounded out the room and I heard
‘Tom, Tom Tom!! Mummy wants us’ and then came the usual thud as a boy leapt on another boys bed with the ensuing
‘Get off me!!’ Robert shouted as Sam had jumped on his bed probably while he was still asleep.
Eventually and after a mock battle in the hallway complete with commando rolls and finger formed gun action my boys were all in front of me on the bed. It was time. I had to tell them.
‘Boys, I need to tell you something about Daddy, about something that happened last night’ and they all looked at me and for once seeing my red blotchy face with stinging eyes and hearing my cracking voice as I struggled to get the words out, they knew something serious was about to be said.
‘Daddy was driving in his car last night on the way home to us and he came round a bend and a car was on his side of the road and it went straight into him. He had the roof down and so there wasn’t much protection for him as his car rolled over so he was hurt very badly. So badly beautiful boys. I’m so sorry…’ with that I just sob.
‘I’m so sorry that Daddy died’
The boys look at me and I’m not sure they heard me or understood me as for a moment that seems like eternity there isn’t any reaction then slowly I see Tom’s eyes fill as he has understood what I’ve just said. His filling eyes overflow and he reaches across to cuddle me and as he does he buries his head in my shoulder. Robert starts to cry I think because Tom and I are and my poor Sam just looks bewildered at what’s going on. He reaches to cuddle and suddenly we’re all one big lump of tears and arms and sadness. I feel that my heart has actually broken and I just can’t bear it.
My sister walks into the bedroom and sees us all and calmly walks over to join us. Her tears join ours as do her arms round us all. After a while we slowly break away from one another and Tom is the first to ask
‘Where is he now?’ and I answer
‘He’s at the morgue’
‘He’s on his own?’ Tom says with such innocence and I just can’t bear it. I can’t imagineright here right now how we’re ever going to get through this.
I was struggling with what music to play for Michael. Do I play something he liked? We liked? Our family liked? I just couldn’t decide and as music had been so important in my life and his (he couldn’t sing for toffee in fact I asked him to mime at our wedding as he made me giggle he was so bad) that we played music all the time around the house. The words of the Lumineers ‘I belong to you, you belong to me, you’re my sweat-he-art!’ kept going round my heads as the boys would sing this round the table when we ate lunch on a Saturday. ‘Your Song’ by Elton John was our first dance song which although we both didn’t really want a first dance we did because we thought we ought too. We shuffled around for what seemed like hours with everyone standing round staring at us and at one point Michael sang ‘will this song EVER end???’ in my ears. It looks like sweet nothings in the photo but I knew. ‘I’m Elmo and I know it’ was our current family favourite as we just laughed through it no matter how many times we’d heard it. No, this wasn’t really the time for silly songs however funny.
A couple of days later I was out for a few rare minutes on my own as I’d just popped to the local supermarket and I’d dipped into Costa to get a decafe tea and as I was absent mindedly looking at the chocolate brownies and flapjacks when a Green Day’s ‘Time of your life’ came on over the speakers. This took my breath away and I literally couldn’t breathe. Michael loved Green Day and even went through a ‘Green Day Period’ where he had their songs on loop, listened to them constantly and bought all their albums. He loved this song and so did I and it reminded me of him. I’d stopped the queue and the lady behind gave me a little nudge saying
‘It’s your turn now’ and I could just hear myself say
‘I’m so sorry my husband has just died and this song reminds me of him…’
And with that the tears came and I felt like they would never stop. I sniffled through my tea order, paying and getting my change back from a slightly concerned 18 year old and I went to sit down to listen to the rest of the song with my head in my hands sobbing. For someone who is nervous of people I had suddenly developed a ‘I just don’t care who’s watching’ attitude but then, looking back, I’m amazed what grief can make you feel and do.
I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and the lady from the queue said
‘Can I join you?’
And I said that I’d like that as it was a relief to see someone and talk to someone who wasn’t crying just like me and wanting to tell me how much they loved Michael, how much they missed him and how if there was anything they could do to help. This lady just listened to my sobs and held my hand.
Finally, when I’d managed to pull myself together a bit more she said
‘It does get easier, as each day passes the pain doesn’t get less and you don’t forget but you learn to live with what’s happened. I’ve never woken up and not reached out for my husband but instead of pain and anger I now let myself just think of him and actually, I know you can’t think of that now, but it makes me smile. I smile because he was here and I got to have the time I had with him’
I look at her and see a kind face and as I whisper
‘Thank you, I can’t imagine not hurting at moment. When does it stop hurting?’
‘One day it will. I can’t give you a time or date but I promise the hurt will get easier’
‘I need to go’ I say, ‘I need to get back to them all. Thank you for your time and your words they are just what I need at the moment. People are being so kind but I just can’t face their sympathy as it just hammers it home that he’s gone and’, I start to cry again, ‘he’s not coming back’
I walked into the church to see Michael’s coffin at the end of the aisle and his picture that had been enlarged propped up on a painting easel. I lean on my sister and brother who are either side of me and I walk up the aisle slowly like a bride but one who is in black not white, one who is crying not smiling and one who is saying goodbye to her beloved husband not looking towards a lifetime of commitment. ‘Solisbury Hill’ by Peter Gabriel is playing as I walk and this reminds me of his awful car that he had when I first met him and this would play as we did the long journeys commuting between each other’s flat and house. I sit on the bench at the front with my family around me and I can honestly say I don’t know how I got through it but I did. I listened to friends read poems, pay tribute and read readings from the bible. I listened to a Bon Jovi song and giggled through my sobs as I remembered that film we saw when Michael sang all the soft rock songs and I learned something new about him that I didn’t know before and then, right at the end, as the curtains were closing ‘Time of your life came on’ and as I remembered our life together, our 3 wonderful children and the life we had created I just couldn’t feel any more hurt. Sadness doesn’t even begin to describe my utter desolation. Over the past 3 weeks my life had been devastated, I had had to tell my children that their father had died and I now know that once you’ve had these 2 events nothing and I mean nothing can be as bad.
‘For what it’s worth it was worth all the while’ the singer sang out
‘It’s something unpredictable but in the end
It’s right I hope you’ve had the time of your life…’
And as I sit there with the curtains closed and the sound of quiet crying all around me I say
‘Goodbye my darling, I hope you had the time of your life…’