During the early years of our relationship, Dunc set me a series of challenges, including a scary six hour mountain bike ride in the rocky Lake District and a ten mile hike in the boggy Peak District. I often joked that he was testing me to see if I was ‘wife material’. Somehow, I passed! Since Dunc died, there have been many new challenges and the mettle required of me back then has stood me in good stead thus far.
The first challenge, and clearly the hardest, was telling Dunc’s family and friends that he had died. I felt very strongly that I should be the one to tell his parents when they reached the hospital, and doing so is something I will never forget. I then spent the entire night trying to work out how on earth I would tell Sam, aged five, and Thomas, aged three, that their daddy had died. I also wanted to tell as many other folk as possible personally, particularly those who were close to Dunc. Saying aloud that he had died, repeatedly, wasn’t an easy task, but Dunc was always a man who did the right thing, and I wanted to do the right thing too. I think people appreciated hearing the news from me directly, and I drew some comfort from realising how very special Dunc was to so many people.
Some of the challenges that have presented themselves since then have been of considerably less magnitude and have even made me smile at times. For example, I had to produce a vast array of important documents for the pension department at Dunc’s work. This involved locating them all within our slightly out-of-date filing system. I searched extensively through it, and through the pile of paperwork that had lain unfiled for the last twelve months, when Dunc had announced that the filing cabinet was officially full. Eventually, I found our marriage certificate neatly filed under ‘Car Documents’ and Thomas’s birth certificate in ‘Doctor and Dentist’. It took me five days to find everything, but then I was also still trying to operate, in some fashion at least, as Sam and Thomas’s Mummy (in between answering the phone, the door and the coroner’s many questions).
Once I had found the documents, a representative from Dunc’s work came to meet with me. He arrived late, just as an engineer arrived to change the electricity meter. This meant that the engineer was both listening to and disturbing the confidential conversation I was engaged in. Meanwhile, Sam and Thomas were fighting in the lounge because the television programme I had left them to watch had been interrupted, without warning, when the electrics were turned off. The electricity company had given me a six hour window for the engineer’s visit, and, yet, somehow the visits had coincided in the most farcical fashion! This was just a week after Dunc had died when I was still finding even the most menial and familiar tasks challenging. I recall sitting at the dining table, amongst the melee, wondering how my life had suddenly come to this and why the heck my husband wasn’t there to help me. It was a ‘laugh or cry’ moment. I smiled and shook my head, distracted the boys with the iPad, and continued with the meeting, trying hard not to appear as flustered and discombobulated as I felt.
I also had to take my folder of important documents to the local JobCentrePlus so that the staff could verify them for my bereavement benefit application. I hid behind my sunglasses on my way there, fearful of bumping into well-meaning friends to whom I simply couldn’t face speaking at this stage. As I sat waiting apprehensively for my appointment in this new environment, a man was wrestled to the floor and arrested, in a great commotion, not ten feet from me. Someone spotted my bewildered smile and asked me what was amusing me, to which I replied, “I’m just contemplating the fact that you couldn’t write about my life at the moment!” It was then that I realised perhaps I should try!
Another particularly challenging day occurred when I began ringing the utility companies to inform them of Dunc’s death. I endured some truly awful phone conversations, and found myself shaking from head to foot once more, as I had for the entirety of the first five days of our new life. I then had to take Thomas to his swimming lesson and to a hospital appointment shortly after. Upon leaving the pool, Thomas had an accident and I had not packed any spare clothes. We had just enough time to drive home, change him, and still make it to the hospital on time. However, I hadn’t bargained on finding a ten foot tall box, containing a tree, outside the house and awaiting removal to the safety of the back garden!
Picture me trying to manoeuvre a box almost twice my height (which warned me in big letters that it must be kept upright), followed by a rather damp, waddling three year old, who was kindly providing a running commentary of my progress! As the scene unfolded, I imagined Dunc watching from afar, giving me an engineer’s guide on how one should approach the task. Quite why my invisible superhero didn’t intervene, by sending forth a neighbour to assist me, at the very least, I don’t know. Anyway, Thomas and I made it to the hospital appointment, dry pants and all, with about thirty seconds to spare. The lovely ladies who sent us the beautiful tree in memory of Dunc were somewhat dismayed to hear the tale of its arrival, but it provided a little light relief during a difficult time.
Many of the events that occurred in the early weeks of our new life are a blur that I can barely remember. However, I can vividly recall the amount of energy that surviving them consumed and the overwhelming tiredness that resulted (and lasted for about nine weeks). The simplest of tasks seemed almost unmanageable, exhausting and strangely scary. The challenges above have stood out as the more amusing ones, but there have been numerous others in the last three months. In fact, I am contemplating putting in a claim for a superhero cape (with matching pants, obviously…) all of my own!