Sunday, 8 March 2015

Living with the House

Louise and I moved into our current house less than two years ago. It was the first place that we had bought together as a couple and we intended to stay here for the rest of our lives. I will now always treasure the photo of Louise about to cross the threshold for the first time on the day we moved in. It was just a snapshot taken on my phone but it perfectly captures a moment of happiness, excitement  and high hopes for the future life we were going to create together.

But on the night Louise died the house represented something else altogether. After the Police and paramedics confirmed that they didn't need me to stay any longer my sister took me back to her place. As we drove out of the road I stared back at my home. It had been a place of such light, love, warmth, comfort and security. Now I saw a variety of Police cars and ambulances, lights flashing, pulled up outside. Forensics officers were inspecting my lounge and kitchen and my wonderful wife, the love of my life, was still where I had found her, awaiting the arrival of a different kind of photographer to the one she normally posed in front of so obligingly and lovingly. Not me, but one employed by the Police. If ever a scene conveyed the wreckage of two peoples lives this was it. I thought that on top of everything else I was homeless -  I would never be able to return to the house again.

And yet by the following morning I was desperate to get back. It was the home we shared together, the place where I could be closest to Louise. I needed to be there. Within 14 hours of leaving, I was walking through the front door again, in the supportive presence of the rest of my family. There were plenty of signs of what had happened the previous evening and plenty of things to find that Louise had carefully left for me, including her farewell letter (thoughtfully prepared on her laptop as hard copy notes tend to be taken by the Police as part of their investigations), her wedding and engagement rings and a pack of papers about her financial affairs. 

The process of discovery continued over the next few days; notebooks Louise had been writing her thoughts in, notes she had scribbled on pieces of paper and emails she had sent at various times during that final day, some indicating that she was planning to live, others that she was planning to die. It was a truly heart rending experience, piecing together her movements and her emotions. But I also had to deal with rediscovering what had up until 24 hours before been the mundane and everyday but was now the unutterably poignant; Louise's pyjamas folded neatly on the pillow next to mine, her washing on the clothes dryer, the CD left in the stereo ready to play, the half completed shopping list, the calendar filled with arrangements and events Louise would now never attend, the remnants of our last dinner together still on the plates in the kitchen, our last Christmas cards to each other........

And so it went on. Living amongst all these reminders was intensely painful and emotional but it was also completely necessary. I had offers to stay with friends elsewhere but never considered taking them up. I immediately recognised that I needed to be as close to Louise as possible and this was where I could do that. I couldn't live in the house but I couldn't live elsewhere. All those painful reminders were also comforting symbols of normality. A lost normality but one that I could fool myself into believing still existed if I was around them. This was, and remains, enormously comforting.

Now that the weeks have passed and the friends and family who initially stayed with me  have returned to their own homes, leaving me here alone, I am more certain than ever that I made the right choice to return, and to do so quickly. Its true that from mid evening onwards I tend to feel slightly edgy, particularly around the hallway, but essentially I am surprised about how relatively relaxed I am about the house, especially in daylight. The only real modification I have made to my habits is to keep more lights on than normal, and to turn them on in advance when I am going out so that I don't have to return to a completely dark house. Friends have commented that the house feels much lighter than they expected. Maybe having a lively dog around the place helps to ensure it still feels like a home. Or maybe the fact that as soon as I walked through the front door for the first time afterwards I instinctively hugged the bannisters where I had last seen Louise helps to bring peace around them. I don't know. It wasn't planned, but even now, when I am at my most distressed I find myself drawn to the same place, to hug Louise in her crisis. 

At present I think I would find it very difficult to leave. That may change if I start getting flashbacks but for the moment this is a space where I can still feel connected with Louise. I can at least in part control the pace at which she moves from the present to the future and ensure that it only moves as fast as I am able to deal with. Currently the vast majority of her possessions remain exactly as they were left. I am trying, with only partial success, to tidy or throw away one small item every day so that the change is almost imperceptible and emotionally manageable. Or at least relatively so. I have just been to the shops and needed to find space in the freezer. I had to tackle the task I have been putting off, throwing away those items of food which were Louise's, things which I don't eat and were now well out of date anyway. Looking at the pile of discarded food in the bin it somehow felt as though I was starving her by depriving her of it. Another precious sign of Louise's everyday life had disappeared. Another part of her had died. It seems to happen bit by excruciating bit. I had my worst breakdown in a week or so.

But despite the cumulative effect of these individual losses, when I glance around the house it still looks fairly normal, as if Louise is just in another room or has popped out to the shops. Whilst I don't consciously play along with the deceit, I know that I need it in order to get through. My heart is not ready for Louise to die and in this house, if nowhere else, it feels as though she hasn't. I know that I am fighting a losing battle but I am determined to continue the struggle until time permits me the grace of acceptance.

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