Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Changing Seasons

I remember the snow so vividly. I had been waiting impatiently for it all winter and now, as I stood in the middle of the road outside the house listening to the approaching emergency sirens draw ever closer, I noticed it had finally arrived. Just the lightest of flurries but nonetheless beautiful and mesmerising as it fell gently and silently. Even in the very moment that my world was falling apart I somehow managed to register the irony that it should do so in conditions which on any other occasion, on any other day, would have given me so much pleasure.

I used to love autumn and winter. The magical October and November hues of yellow, brown and red, crisp frosty mornings and the prospect of my favourite time of year, Christmas, to look forward to. But most of all it was the cosy nights indoors, the curtains drawn, the central heating on, safely protected from the cold and darkness outside. There was almost a womb like sense of security and comfort which became even more marked once I met Louise and our shared home was filled too with her warmth, love and companionship. I could never understand why others struggled with winter. It was my time of year. I even proposed to Louise in two feet of snow in Berlin's Tiergarten. This year, however, the onset of the shorter, darker days fills me with apprehension.

I have been watching the markers ever since Midsummers Day, acutely aware that the return of the dark days of winter will bring with it a heightened sense of connection with that January night Louise took her life and every certainty I knew was swept away.  Somehow I felt myself in something of a protective bubble during the summer. The sights, sounds, smells and rhythm of the days were sufficiently different from those of winter to enable me to feel some measure of escape from the memories and associations. The hours of darkness, the period when I am most likely to feel isolated and insecure, when my mind is liable to conjure up fears of chilling visions and flashbacks, were mercifully short. 

The summer has also enabled me to stop dreading the period between 5-9pm on Fridays, the hours covering the time during which Louise died and I returned home from work to find her body. There will always now be something of a shadow, a sense of disquiet, over a point which as the end of the working week used to be a time to relish. But the light and warmth of June, July and August were so different from the darkness and cold of January that the association with place and time faded. 

Now, however, the inexorable rotation of the earth is steadily bringing me back to where I started. I notice the days growing shorter and the temperatures falling. Summer has left me behind. Things are beginning to feel more and more like that darkest of nights. 

When I find myself almost alone in the office on an evening with darkness reigning outside I am taken back to those moments when fear began to grip me, slowly at first but ever more tightly as my texts and phone calls continued to go unanswered and the first pin prick of suspicion turned into panicky realisation. Every time I drive home through the darkened streets I remember that gut wrenching journey back from work, fearing the worst but clinging on to the hope of an innocent explanation. Every time I turn into the road I remember what it was like to see the house lit up in such an unusual way that I instantly knew those fears had been realised. And every time that I stand outside the house fumbling for the door keys I remember the horror of those desperate moments trying to break in through the locked door, but already knowing what I was going to find, knowing that I was too late.

The shorter days don't just re-awaken memory. They heighten my already acute sense of isolation. Life retreats indoors, away from the public space. The curtains drawn, I am more thoroughly cut off from the rest of the world, left entirely to myself in an empty house with just my thoughts, recollections and fears to occupy myself until the following morning. I flood the house with light to banish the shadows, turn up the music and hunker down as best as I can. But its a poor substitute for the warmth, brightness and activity of summer where the sights and sounds of the outside world; children playing, lawns being mown, ice cream vans chiming on their rounds, penetrated the house and offered comfort, reassurance and a sense of connection.  The same internal world that once provided cosy security now feels more like a prison cell.

Winter also brings with it the indignity of the hot water bottle at night, as sure a sign of the emptiness of the bed as anything. It still means Christmas, but the significance of it has been transformed. The holiday now looms like an unwelcome reminder of infinitely happier times past. Whereas I would normally be eagerly planning how best to celebrate the occasion, now I am focusing on how to avoid it, looking for diversionary activities. And above all, winter means the anniversary of Louise's death and the build up to it, days which will inevitably bring the events back into the sharpest of focus. 

But I remind myself that I can and will deal with each of these things. If nothing else, sudden bereavement and widowhood have served to transform my confidence in my resilience, recalibrated my notion of what difficult means. I have faced the very worst that life can throw at me and am still standing, unsteadily at times but with increasing sure footedness. And this is no longer the very worst. That is already behind me. If last winter was an earthquake the challenges presented this time round are more in the nature of aftershocks, uncomfortable reminders of catastrophe rather than a re-run of it. Already the first few days of truly autumnal weather suggest that the anticipation may be worse than the reality. There will still be beauty in the season. I will just have to experience it alone.


  1. You write so clearly, I find myself nodding along. I do like the point that the worst is already behind you, it's a good way to approach things, I think.

    1. Thanks for your kind words Katherine. I'm not by nature a particularly positive person but its the only option in these circumstances. If you remove hope you remove everything.