Its now nearly 6 weeks since Louise died and I still spend virtually every waking moment (and many sleeping moments) thinking about and analysing the events of 23rd January and the implications. Its both emotionally and physically exhausting to focus so intensely on something for so long almost without any distraction. I can't open a book or watch TV because I just wouldn't be able to concentrate. In any event Louise and I almost never watched TV so having the set on would only serve to emphasise the abnormality and Louise's absence. I avoid complete silence around the house with music but can't play my favourite tracks since most would have an association of some description with Louise.
But there is one thing which it seems I am beginning to be able to escape in to. My beloved Brentford Football Club. Louise always wished that she too could enjoy an overriding passion or interest which she could immerse herself in and would enable her to find a complete release from the pressures of work. Perhaps if she had she might have been better equipped to deal with her episodes of depression. A hobby or interest in which she could fully engage would have provided her with a means of switching off, escaping from the anxiety and perhaps diverting her over active mind. But true to gender stereotypes Louise had a variety of diverse interests which she enjoyed but held lightly whereas I have a small number of all consuming passions.
Brentford is so embedded in my life, and has been since the age of 5, that resuming the ritual of going to watch them play was always going to be my primary route back to some form of routine and normality. The first home match came a week after Louise's death. I didn't want to go. I didn't feel remotely ready and the very idea of doing something which wasn't directly mourning Louise seemed entirely inappropriate. But I had posted a thread about Louise on a supporters message board forum and received such a tremendously warm and supportive response that I almost felt obliged to attend. Louise's brother strongly encouraged me and I knew that Louise herself would have wanted me to go. Once I learned that, coincidentally, the match would be preceded by the annual minutes applause for all supporters who had passed away over the previous 12 months I knew that I had to be there.
So I went, through the tears clapped my heart out for Louise and then took in nothing that happened afterwards. For the first few matches I felt completely separated from the occasion. Things that had been routine, that I took for granted, suddenly seemed alien. I remember walking through the turnstiles at Griffin Park and making my way to my regular seat feeling bemused by the crowds and the noise and colour. I was in the crowd but not part of it. I sat through the matches and mechanically followed the path of the ball but couldn't remotely engage with what I was seeing. I didn't care about the result. Ironically almost the hardest part was when Brentford scored. As the crowd celebrated wildly I stood and gently applauded for the sake of form. Its an odd thing to experience such a gulf between my emotions and those of 10,000 other people around me, particularly when normally they are in perfect harmony
In theory going to the match should have been my private space, something which I could do as I had always done. Something which was not reliant on Louise and therefore one of the very few things which could relatively quickly return to normality. But Brentford had come to play a very significant and symbolic role in our life as a couple. Louise had no interest in football when we met but such was her wholehearted, enthusiastic and generous nature she didn't just want to tolerate my hobbies but to actively join me in them. She would come with me to three or four matches a season. She didn't always follow the detail or the tactics of a match and sometimes she found the sheer intensity of emotion engendered by the crowd so difficult to deal with that she couldn't watch the game at all.
But Louise intuitively recognised how important it all was to me. She was willing not just to allow me to go to matches but actively encouraged me to spend some Saturday's travelling to long distance away fixtures because she knew it was an important part of my response to the stresses of life. Even the day before she died she was trying to encourage me to travel on the following Saturday to a match at Norwich on the grounds that I needed an escape from the stress of trying to support her through her crisis.
Louise responded to the sense of community the club invoked among its supporters, a concept which was so close to her heart. She readily saw the parallels with the church communities which had played such a large part in most of her life. She was rather touched (and slightly amused) by the way in which a largely male and working class constituency used the medium of football to haltingly attempt to communicate with each other emotionally, whether at the match or in online forums.
Even when Louise wasn't at a match she would send regular texts asking me to 'give the Bees a cheer from me' and the final whistle would be sure to see a text with an appropriate comment on the result. By the time I got home Louise would have read a report of the game so that she could ask me informed questions about it.
All this was essentially an expression of Louise's love for me and desire for us to join together in activities as a couple. Therefore, far from being in my own self contained sphere, I feel as close to Louise's love at a Brentford match as I do anywhere else.
I feel guilty for admitting this but at the most recent game, on Tuesday evening, I found myself participating in the occasion. Not as passionately as I normally would of course, but enough to feel connected to what was happening around me. Thoughts of Louise were never far away but for 90 minutes my mind had something else to occupy it for the first time in 6 weeks. It was both a wonderful relief to experience some sense of normality and a weight on my conscience. How could I allow myself any pleasure when the woman I loved with all my heart was no longer alive? Surely I hadn't forgotten?
At the final whistle I could keep it up no longer. I ached to receive Louise's usual post match text and walked back to the car as quickly as I could, trying to lose the crowds around me so as to prevent anybody seeing the tears. By the time I reached the privacy of the car I was fit to burst, and did.
It feels wrong to know that that if nothing else I can now partly escape and lose myself in something else for 90 minutes once a week. But I know that Louise would both understand and wholeheartedly approve.