Grief is the thing with feathers

Max Porter (2015)

  • I felt that perhaps the main result of her being gone would be that I would permanently become this organiser, this list-making trader in cliches of gratitude, machine-like architect of routines for small children with no Mum. Grief felt fourth-dimensional, abstract, faintly familiar. I was cold.
  • The doorbell rang and I branced myself for more kindness. Another lasgne, some books, a cuddle, some little potted ready-meals for the obys. Of course, I was becoming expert in the behaviour of orbiting grievers. Being at the epicentre grants a curiously anthropological awareness of everybody else; the overwhelmeds, the affectedly lackadaisicals, the nothing so fars, the overstayers, the new best friends of hers, of mine, of the boys. The people I still have no fucking idea who they were. I felt like Earth in that extraordinary picture of the planet surrounded by a thick belt of space junk. I felt it would be years before the knotted-string dream of other people's performances of woe for my dead wife would thin enough for me to see any black space again, and of course - needless to say - thoughts of this kind made me feel guilty.
  • I could've bent him backwards over a chair and drip-fed him sour bulletins of the true one-hour dying of his wife. OTHER BIRDS WOULD HAVE, there's no goody baddy in the kingdom. Better get cracking. I believe in the therapeutic method.
  • Where are the fire engines? Where is the noise and clamour of an event like this? Where are the strangers going out of their way to help, screaming, flinging bits of emergency glow-in -the-dark equipment at us to try and settle us and save us? There should be men in helmets speaking a new and dramatic language of crisis. There should be horrible levels of noise, completely foreign and inappropriate for our cosy London flat. There were no crowds and no uniformed strangers and there was no new language of crisis. We stayed in our PJs and people visited and gave us stuff. Holiday and school became the same.
  • We will never fight again, our lovely, quick, template-ready arguments. Our delicate cross-stitch of bickers. The hourse becomes a physical encyclopedia of no-longer hers, which shocks and shocks and is the principal difference between our house and a house where illness has worked away. Ill people, in their last day on Earth, do not leave notes stuck to bottles of red wine saying "OH NO YOU DON'T COCK-CHEEK". She was not busy dying, and there is no detritus of care, she was simply busy living, and then she was gone. She won't ever use (make-up, tumeric, hairbrush, thesaurus).
  • She will never finish (Patricia Highsmith novel, peanut butter, lip balm).
  • And I will never shop for green Virago Classics for her birthday.
  • I will stop finding her hairs.
  • I will stop hearing her breathing.
  • There was very little division between my imaginary and real world, and people talked of sensible workloads and recovery periods and healthy obsessions. Many people said 'You need time', when what I needed was Shakespeare, Ibn 'Arabi, Shostakovich, Howlin' Wolf.
  • About two years afterwards, far too soon but perfectly timed, I brought home a woman, a Plath scholar I met at a symposium. She was funny and bright and did her best with a fucked-up situation. We had to be quiet because the boys were asleep upstairs. She was soft and pretty and her naked body was dissimilar to my wife's and her breath smelt of melon. But we were on the sofa my wife bought, drinking wine from glasses my wife was given, beneath the painting my wife painted, in the flat where my wife died. I haven't had sex with many women, and I only got good at it with my wife, doing things my wife liked. I didn't want to do those things, or thing about whether I should be doing those things or thinking about the thinking, which meant I bashed her teeth, then knelt on her thigh, then apologised too much, then came too quickly, then tried too hard, then not hard enough. But it was good, and she was lovely, and we sat up smoking her strong cigarettes out of the window and talking about everything we'd ever read that wasn't by or about Sylvia or Ted. She left and I felt nervous about feeling cheerful. I walked around the flat as if I'd only just met it, long strides and over-determined checking of surfaces. I looked in on the boys. When I came down Crow was on the sofa impersonating me pumping and groaning.
  • Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.
  • A howling sorry which is yes which is thank you which is onwards.

Page last revised on: 2024-02-23