by Anne-Marie Cockburn, author of 5,742 Days
I’m not pretending, no poker face could disguise this, but admittedly I haven’t given the ‘bereavement’ adequate space despite it constantly vying for my attention – like two fighting siblings in the back of the car. ‘Muuumm, he’s squashing my leg’ … ‘Would you two stop it now – be nice to your sister’. Give me sparkly tinsel over a sobbing heap on the floor any day. ‘Give tinsel space’, I say, as the bereavement says ‘Ho, ho, ho’ and waits patiently in the corner.
I go to a Christmas lunch at a pub on Sunday. Everything looks appropriately cosy and inviting as we sit at our table for ten. The Christmas CD has been dusted off and is duly played on repeat and the Christmas tree, of a height the room is unable to accommodate, has a slight bend at the top – there’s no room at the inn for you 4 inches, said the innkeeper, you need to find somewhere else to stay, we’re full.
All the ingredients for a lovely Sunday lunch and enjoyable afternoon are mixed in the pot and lovingly stirred around, there, there. I feel it pulling at me; my eyes glaze up and I try to stop it – not now, not in a room full of happy people wearing Christmas hats and full of Christmas cheer, don’t do this now. Snap, the cracker is pulled and out I fall. I sob and can’t stop; I bend my head forwards and am glad of the ample cloth napkin to dry my tears. ‘Someone put a finger in the dam and save us all from drowning’, I wish. Jingle bells, jingle bells – the tune distorts in my head and sounds sinister. I realise I’ve exhausted myself for weeks by fighting the inevitable. Oh but what a good fight I’ve put up, I think as I sit in the corner of the boxing ring having blood wiped from my nose, waiting for the bell to ring again. Ding, ding, here we go, I think as I stagger to my feet, round two.
I feel as though my head is full of cotton wool; friends try to comfort me. They know as well as I do that there are no answers and they can’t make me feel better. Some find it hard to make eye contact with me and I don’t blame them as the pool of dark sadness that exists behind mine can reach into their soul and render them tarnished by witnessing what I’m going through. I look out from the stage at an empty audience; I can make out the vague figure of a cleaner hoovering with her back to me. ‘She’s behind you’, I shout out, but my call comes out silent. I laugh to myself then lie down on the stage to die, but then I hear the distant sound of hooves and suddenly a knight in shining armour comes galloping towards me. He’s coming to rescue me, I think. He stops his horse dangerously close and asks if I know the way to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle; typical, I think. I lie down on the stage to die again, my life flashes in my head page by page, I feel the wind from the pages turning, rippling gently across my face.
There’s so much to take in: there we are, my girl and I, with her giggle lighting up the stars and fuelling the sun. Chapters showing struggle, love, friendship, travel, hope and dreams – so much to take in. I stand back and gaze at it all – wow, it’s incredible, with nature as the quietly confident backdrop to it all, being ignored by many, but never complaining and getting on with it regardless. I peer out from one eye, ‘Am I dead yet?’, I ask rhetorically. I know ‘my’ book definitely hasn’t ended and there are many chapters to go from here. But I’m so incredibly tired, so I lie between two chapters, the text from the written/lived pages leaving an imprint on my bare back, with the unwritten/unlived ahead of me. I curl up and rest a while, recharging for the journey ahead. As I wake, I reach up and pull down the blinds as the winter darkness has returned prematurely again. An elderly man walks past on the street below in a lackadaisical manner, he’s in no hurry to get home this Christmas Eve, with his shopping bag for one, and I wonder why. Are you lonely?
As I hear the galloping fade off into the distance I bid this elderly man farewell and pour my love out of the window and down onto him to fill his heart with hope and love and to put a spring in his step.