Overnight, I went from living with two others and a sausage dog to being alone. The night my wife died, I left this place vowing never to set foot in it again. So did our lodger. My most horror filled moment happened in my home – how could I ever come back? I left with two suitcases of clothes and the most sentimental of items: my little brother’s Incredible Hulk toy (he’s dead too), wife’s cuddly toy fox and my special memory box. God knows how I managed to pack with a dead body on the floor. I was in shock, I guess.
Well, I did move back home a few months later to many people’s horror. I live on my own with the privacy to wail on the floor during griefblasts and throw ice cubes at the wall in fits of rage. I injected colour into what had been a flat full of neutral colours of Dulux “quartz flint” in shades 2 and 4, and Farrow and Ball “Blackened”. I spent shitloads in Zara Home. Wife would hate it and tell me off for having an excessive number of pointless scatter cushions with patterns that are floral, not geometric. The room she died in is unrecognisable.
I actually quite relish the freedom. Shush, don’t tell. I’m supposed to be a constantly depressed young widow! In the mornings, I choose from two bathrooms. Both are well stocked with girly toiletries and I have cupboard space aplenty. What was always a lodger’s bedroom is now the spare room with piles of paperwork that I haven’t bothered filing, suitcases full of out of season clothes and my wedding dress in the wardrobe. I can walk around naked while I wait for my coconut oil to soak into my skin, use up all the hot water without being inconsiderate and not hoover for weeks at a time.
Reclaiming this space was hugely healing. The flashbacks due to PTSD reduced in frequency and I stopped being scared of opening the front door. Now, I am just a bit sad when I open the door. The lights are never on when I get back from a long day at work. There’s no muffled sound of the television through the living room wall or little paws naughtily scratching. There’s no dinner on the table unless I’ve cooked it. When I come home, my flat is just as I left it – piles of two day old washing up and all.
One of the worst things that we widows experience, and every single one of them will empathise with this, is sleeping in a half empty bed. When the realisation hits you that you will never, ever again wake up next to your loved one, or fall asleep in their arms, it hurts. It really, really, really fucking hurts. When you realise that you’ll never have sex with them again in that bed, or whisper I love you, or accidentally get ketchup from a bacon sandwich they’ve made you on the sheets, it’s awful. There’s not even an adjective. All I know is that it makes me cry.
Right this instant, 18 months on from her death, I am sitting in my bed crying. I changed my sheets. That’s what triggered the gentle, as opposed to hysterical, tears tonight. Both being petite, my wife and I would need to work as a team to get the king size duvet cover on and lift the super comfy but heavy mattress to tuck in the flat sheet. Now, I do it alone. This is not “freedom” that I enjoy.
I made a mistake, you see. I miss my wife’s smell. I never come home to it. So, I sprayed her perfume for the first time in months, and I did so onto the pillow on what used to be her side of the bed. The bottle remains one of the few very personal things of hers I keep on display in the bathroom. I can’t bare to move it. Smelling it is tantamount to self harming, but equally so comforting because for a split second, she’s here. When it’s strong, she’s getting ready, has done her hair and make-up and is about to head out the door to work. When it’s faint, it’s lingering on clothes she’s worn and not yet put in the wash. I’m not alone for a few seconds.
Tonight, I know I will sob myself to sleep. I’ll close my eyes but the tears will seep through, moistening my eyelashes and dripping onto the fresh 800 thread count luxury white sheets. Because by my side is the ghost of my wife, her scent, and two pillows that I’ll imagine her head lying on, close to mine.