I meet with two other widows over coffee in a brightly lit cafe/chocolate factory. All last night I was fearful, not of meeting them but of going out at all. I had to choose paint, collect a prescription, buy soap from the best soap shop in history deliver a huge landrover tyre to the garage for unpunctuation and leave my own mini there for an hour or so. She, my mini, Miss Pixty Forkov, was having an argument with her onboard computer and I don’t blame her. She was telling me her tyres were fine thank you very much whilst her screen flashed me dire warnings of certain disaster. This long list of things confounded me, overwhelmed me and I had to take 3 deep breaths prior to firing up the engine. I realise this to be ridiculous. I have driven this tootling switchback road up and down endless hills and skirting 2 lochs for decades. But nowadays it can take on monster proportions inside my overactive imagination and it has everything to do with Covid restrictions and fears and widowhood.
Needless to say, once my lungs are well pumped back up again and my head silenced, all tasks are completed with ease. I arrive at the cafe and settle down with a double shot cappuccino to wait. I can feel myself calming down as we talk about how life is for each one of us. All our husbands died differently. All of us are still somewhat lost without them, no matter how pragmatic, how busy with ordinary tasks we may be. We feel abandoned and rather pointless. We live on for our children, not quite yet able to say we live for ourselves, having not lived for ourselves since we were 20 and that was half a century ago. What happens to souls after death, I wonder to myself. Is there an end date for a soul as there is for a body? If not, heaven must be overcrowded when I consider the thousands of years humans have been living out their lives. I look at my friends, two good strong women whose faces show me what they must see in mine. More lines, eyes not so bright, mouth busy but changed somehow, the ends pointing chinwards in repose. Is my heart broken? Is yours? We all agree. Yes our hearts are broken, our lives as we knew them stopped forever dead. It doesn’t mean we won’t heal, although the scars will always be there. It doesn’t mean we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves but it does mean we give life to these deaths in that we talk about them, about our dead men, the impact on our children, the legacy of loss, of father loss. You only ever get one of those.
For my own part, as the most recent widow, I have only just come to a place of acceptance, a sort of quiet river flowing underground. Sometimes this river hits a confoundment of rocks that cause a lot of hiss and spit, spume and roar. Other times a waterfall, rapids and quiet swirling pools. There are bends and long straights, deeps dark as the middle of a forest at midnight, shallows where fish skitter and reeds wave softly from where they root, denied air. I inhabit the ground above this river, walking alone. The river compels me, beckons me, calls to me and offers me continuity, hope and a future even if I have no clue what that future will be. I know, as my friends know, that our children watch us now like hawks, picking up on every stumble, every doubt, every fear. Mum is all we have left now. Mum must go on and we will make bloody sure she does, the old bat.
When we separate back into our own solitary lives, having covered most subjects in the book of subjects, I know we all feel lighter because of what we all have in common and because we are not afraid of death any more. It is not a word whispered as it was before we watched it happen to our life partners. At the very point of death, when we turned all practical and businesslike, we left a part of ourselves behind for ever. We can be afraid of driving short distances, of imagined dragons, but Death has no hold over us now. We met him, after all. We watched him cross the room. We felt his presence. We are taller now, stronger now and more likely to laugh with abandon at things we might well have censored before. We are woman, invincible and still breathing on.