The loneliest number

It was Trisha’s birthday over the weekend. The first birthday without her. I wanted to do something special to commemorate it.  I took myself into Newcastle with a two-item to-do list. Light a candle and go the football.

After a galvanising coffee, I went to St Thomas the Martyr’s church and sought out the candles. Not through any kind of spirituality on my part, but I know Trisha would have done it, so I did the same. The commemorative candles stood on a rack in three rows. Next to the rack was a tree with requests for prayer in the name of the dearly departed tied to it. I felt a bit like a fish out of water already so I stuck to candle-lighting. I took a candle from the pile on the rack, left my contribution to the collection, placed the candle in the special three-pronged holder and struck the match.

I’d just about got it lit before the floodgates opened. Shoulders shaking, unable to move, even out of embarrassment. After some minutes, I find my way to a pew at the back of the church, only to realise I’d not brought anything for this pretty obvious eventuality.  I know there’s a cafe in there but no idea if there’s a toilet. It’s no good, I’ll have to find someone to ask. I’m in an almost deserted church on a Saturday morning–definitely out of my comfort zone on both counts, sobbing while asking where the toilet is. A vision, I’m sure. Mind, I’m sure the people working there are accustomed to seeing similar things.

I can’t stand about here all day, dripping from various bits of my face. I said I’d take her to the football. Not literally, obviously. I’m not taking the bag with her jar of ashes in. That’d be a step too far, even for a grieving widower. But I’d be taking her, figuratively, to St. James’ Park, what with her being a NUFC fan. “That’s my granny’s doing. She was from Byker.” If she’d said that once, she said it hundreds of times. More so as her MS advanced and her memory and cognitive skills diminished. She’d have loved the atmosphere of the ground, even if the game itself left something to be desired. She’d have hated the cold, though. She always envied her brother because her birthday always coincided with bad weather, whilst his was in the spring and he could do more.

As her birthday wore on, I felt more lonely. I was doing all these things that had a special meaning but couldn’t tell anyone. I was aching to tell everyone but couldn’t just blurt it out of the blue. It’s not something that the Bumper Book of Making New Friends As A Widower recommends as an introduction to conversation. In fact, it ranks among its top ten list of don’t-whatever-you-bloody-do’s. I started to resent other people just getting on with their own Saturday. Which they were perfectly entitled to do. I guess it’s another sign that time is passing without her. And that it’s not fair. She should be here. Whether her condition allowed her to really enjoy anything like this is another matter. I’m thinking in purely selfish terms.

I miss her. I keep hearing her say “I do love you, Simon”. Not just a declaration in and of itself but also her way of acknowledging the situation and my role within it as her carer. A ‘thank you’ of sorts.

Throughout our time together, I never said goodnight to her. It was always ‘I love you’. Every night–especially at the hospice, every time I left her room for any length of time–I wanted to make sure that, if anything happened to her, the last words she heard me say were “I love you”.

They were the last words I ever said to her, “I love you with all my heart”. I’m still not ready to say goodnight to her. Or if I ever will be.

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