As a musician, it is rare for me to experience silence in my head. I’ve been like this since I was a fat little girl dancing to the music only I could hear like an over-excited baby elephant in tap shoes (my mother’s simile, not mine). In adulthood, add in a touch of hypomania during one of my bipolar episodes and I end up with a Shostakovich jazz suite blasting on full Dolby stereo sound inside. It’s incredibly distracting, particularly when I’m playing along the fingering on my imaginary piccolo. Go and listen to some Shostakovich – his music is mental, confusingly chromatic, agitated yet beautiful. Far from silent. Now chuck a dead wife into the sound mixer.
The noisy, screaming stage
During the very early stages of grief, I was constantly screaming in my head. Often, I was howling aloud. I was that #crazyladyonthetube who nobody makes eye contact with. I really didn’t give a shit what I looked like or what people thought. There wasn’t a moment of peace in my mind unless it was chemically induced. I was screaming in my heart. I was screaming for my wife fortissi-tissi-tissi-mo. I was screaming AT my wife even louder [HOW COULD YOU FUCKING DO THIS TO ME IF YOU LOVED ME SO MUCH? WE WERE MAKING THIS WORK! HOW COULD YOU LET YOUR FAMILY BE SO CRUEL TO ME?] I longed to turn the noise down, stop the agony, switch off the constant pounding of my heavy heart. I can now understand what some suicidal people mean when they say they don’t want to die, per se, but they want all the pain to go away, to stop hurting, to escape from frenetic chaos. I too came close to opting out of life, which seems so counterintuitive when I’ve experienced firsthand the soul shattering that losing someone to suicide causes.
The house music stage
Much of my first year of being a widow is a blur (partly due to wine) so I can’t pinpoint the time when I regained some energy, but there did come a stage where I was finally managing to brush my teeth twice a day and wear fresh knickers without someone reminding me. The screaming in my head had turned slightly more melodic, but into house music that would often disorientate me. Swedish House Mafia, Calvin Harris – up tempo tunes that float between the minor and relative major keys. I decided it was necessary to venture outside and back into the crowds of people. Venturing onto the packed streets of London is a challenge at the best of times, never mind with widow brain and post traumatic stress disorder. I self congratulated an awful lot. I bought everything TK Maxx had in a size 6 and about 20 redundant but pretty scatter cushions from Zara Home. I asked my remaining handful of friends to coordinate my social life, feed me and ensure that I spent money on necessary things too – like milk and tampons. I took myself for cocktails at 11 in the morning and sipped away reading the Sidebar of Shame on my iPad while everyone else had lattes and copies of The Guardian or Monocle. In the evenings, I carried on a love affair that I shouldn’t have with an amazing woman who was gorgeous and brilliant in bed but terribly jealous of my wife. She was a doctor and she took care of me. I stayed partly because, when she made me orgasm, everything went quiet just for a few moments. Pianissimo. Verging on peace. Then it would speed right back up again as soon as she was gone.
The actual stage
I’ve always been somewhat of a diva. I like attention. I like the crowds but I particularly love the liberating feeling of belting out a good tune. Having spent more time on a stage at university than I did in the library studying, a part of me regrets not going into the performing arts after graduation. My wife was an accountant and never expressed support for my creative side as she didn’t like to be outshined. She really, really couldn’t sing for toffee even though I tried to teach her. Since she died, I’ve found my voice again and it has brought me back to life. More geographically, I found my voice in the Caribbean while singing barefoot on top of a resort’s white baby grand while the bemused pianist fulfilled the requests of this pina colada fuelled #powerwidow. Post holiday, my singing progressed to karaoke on the stage at G-A-Y nightclub where I like to think I am essentially the widowed version of Idina Menzel, and then I then hopped on the stage with my cabaret favourites and friends, Frisky and Mannish, for a teeny tiny spot in some of their shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. Just like Gaga, I live for the applause, applause, applause. Make it real loud!
It’s time. To face. The music. (Silence)
My brain started to get a bit quieter a few months ago. I still perform on stage but day-to-day I hear more mellow yellow tunes. Think andante Coldplay around 2000-2003 with an easy-to-use volume knob. I’ve recognised that widows and widowers can’t be constantly occupied and distracted from grief. It’s not good for us. The chaos also starts to die down a bit – shock wears off and reality sets in. I have to sit in my grief. I have to get used to being alone. Really alone. Wake up alone in my bed. Take responsibility for myself. I have to listen to the silence around me and be ok with it. It has been painful and sobering – very different from the raw stages of grief where my heart had been ripped out. However, clearing my diary so that I could spend more time alone just absorbing my reality has been essential.
I have reached what I *think* is a state of acceptance of my loss of my wife. That doesn’t mean I’m happy about it or the surrounding shitstorm. Far, far from it. So, I must continue to play gently. Nota bene.