After the End, the Beginning.
Even so, my future had been taken away — even more so because I had gambled my career by going into TV documentaries about China and Tiananmen Square had put all future visits off the cards. So I had no husband and no career.
Back in those days, before we had the habit of going to war in the Middle East and we got used to the shipping home of the bodies of young men, widowhood in your 30s was still quite an unusual thing and most people simply didn't know what to do with me.
There were the oddest comments, almost simultaneously as in "I think you're wearing too much black, dear," and "I don't think you should be seen out with Alan; what would people think?" Alan being an old boyfriend who had morphed into a dear friend many years before.
I found a friend looking at the dress-size of the outfit I was wearing for Henry's funeral because she couldn't believe that I was down to a size 10 and I think she was actually quite cross about it as we'd both been gently plump together.
Henry had no family apart from an estranged brother who was slightly mentally unstable. Pete turned up at the funeral, of course, and announced to those already waiting at the crematorium that he had stopped the hearse on the way in to make sure that it was actually Henry in the coffin. He said they took the top off for him and showed him the body. I know now that he fibbed but unfortunately, then, my nine-month pregnant cousin believed him and fainted.
I think Henry's funeral was the main reason why I was eventually to become a minister. He was an atheist and I was an armchair Christian (turning up at Christmas and Easter and rather like St. Augustine as in "God grant me chastity, constancy and patience — but not yet!") I couldn't face giving him a humanist funeral and there were very few other options back then. But I asked Rev. Ray Price, our family's vicar, not to say those terrifying words, "I am the resurrection and the life" ... and "I am the way, the truth and the life" because it meant I would, effectively, be hearing my lovely husband condemned to hell as an unbeliever. Ray said, "Those are the words of the service" and said them all so that's just what happened which is a terrible thing to experience at a loved-one's funeral. But I did make a vow that I would make sure that other options were open to grieving families in future. Now, of course, with many secular funeral celebrants and the Interfaith Seminary, it's not an issue.
That day, I also had the odd experience of being chief mourner at a funeral where everybody else, apart from my family, had known the deceased much longer than I had — a funeral that included five previous girlfriends, two of whom had turned down earlier marriage proposals. Of course that shouldn't have mattered but oh, how very much it did!
A couple of nights before Henry died I contacted one of his best friends to warn him and he arranged for a group of Henry's mates to travel up to Birmingham with him to sit a vigil by his hospital bed. I'd met only one of them and, if that sounds strange, remember that Henry, his friends and I all worked in TV where we travelled abroad most of the time. When we were home, they weren't and vice versa. Thanks to Rev. Ray Price, who also turned up that evening with a bottle of whisky it was a strangely pleasant night, exchanging reminiscences across the bed where Henry lay sleeping but, hopefully, hearing every word.
They all came back for the funeral so I had some support with the group of five ex-girlfriends (all still mates) who were understandably both upset to lose Henry and curious to see this stranger who had come in at the last moment. They were all tall and good looking and I was so terrified of them that I had to be almost bullied into going downstairs to meet people at the reception after the funeral.
Marianne was the most difficult; Henry had called her the love of his life before me and he had always given her bunches of red roses. Me, he gave bunches of mixed flowers. It shows how lost in my youthful ego I was — and how much stress I was under — that although Henry had managed a few weeks earlier to ask a friend to send me some flowers on his behalf on Valentine's Day, I threw them down the hallway because they weren't the red roses that I wanted so much.
There were lots of questions on how we had met and why we had married so swiftly — the previous pattern had been courting for two or three years. Not exactly the kind of conversation you'd expect at a funeral and I did feel somewhat corralled by all these older, elegant females. But once it was over and everyone had gone, I was able to relax a little back into myself.
I'd not had a night alone in the ten days between Henry's death and the funeral. Dear friends came to stay to keep me company and one non-ex-girlfriend of Henry's came too. Her name is Marilyn Cutts, a former member of Fascinating Aida and she's a fabulous woman. We got on really well from nowhere and I still remember lying in the bath with Marilyn sitting on the floor opposite, both of us holding a glass of wine. We were discussing possible futures and how love could come again. I said that maybe there was a chance one day in a year or two; after all, I was fairly presentable. The only real problem was my feet which are rather large. But no one turned down a girl because of the size of her feet.
It was a soft lob to a singer who threw back her head and gave a fabulous, throaty rendition of Fats Waller's "I can't love you 'cos your feet's too big." That was the first laugh. You always remember the first laugh after death; there's a mixture of joy, hope and guilt but oh, it feels so good!
That night, all alone, I took a gin and tonic to the bath, lit a candle and wept until there were no more tears left. Shrouded by friendship and family I had been unable to go down to the depths of my grief but now I could sink into the abyss. For a long while it was frightening, feeling more and more anger, sorrow and pain; like travelling into the core of the planet in total darkness.
And then, at the very heart of the no-thing-ness there were suddenly sparkles of light and a feeling of deep, deep peace. Beyond all pain there is Grace. I hadn't known that before but it was a blessed moment.
And so began the long, painful process of rebuilding. I went through Henry's address book to tell all his acquaintances that he had gone which frequently led to my introducing myself as Henry's wife and having to listen to a couple of minutes of ribald "Well the old dog! Finally got caught did he? I'll never let him hear the end of this!" before having to break the bad news.
People tried to help; they meant well. One of them erased the only sound I had of Henry's voice by putting his own voice on the answerphone "because a single woman shouldn't have her own voice on the answerphone so people know she's alone." What?
Another asked what he could do. I said "mow the lawn please." He arrived six weeks later, by which time I'd already done it twice.
It was hard and it just got harder. I didn't know who I was any more; I didn't fit any categories; I didn't know what to do or who to be. I had no job to keep me busy. Luckily I had enough money as I could sell Henry's sound recording equipment which was much in demand. But I wandered around the house lost and lonely and confused. Drastic action was needed.
Within two months, I had put down a deposit on a new-born beagle puppy to give me a reason to want to come home — and run away for six weeks in Australia.