My wife died at the end of March.
Her death was untimely. She was forty seven. We didn’t quite make it to our twentieth wedding anniversary.
Her name was Rachel.
I miss her terribly.
All of a sudden I am solely responsible for four amazing and amazingly different daughters aged between eight and sixteen.
I also find myself solely responsible for the running of our household.
I have help obviously. Incredible amounts of help. Emotional and practical support from family, friends, colleagues and the local community. People are going out of their way for us, some of them making significant personal sacrifices to stop this family going under.
When I say solely responsible I mean it in an official, legal capacity.
The default setting on life is changing from joint to solus.
But default settings don’t change themselves and I have to tell various people that Rachel is dead. Banks, insurance companies, utilities et al all need to hear the bad news first hand from me.
And that can be a struggle.
Not that kind of struggle. Not the emotionally incontinent struggle of the immediate aftermath, during which it was a feat to utter a syllable let alone a sentence without breaking down. I haven’t lost it in public for weeks and I’m not likely to lose it now on the phone to my energy supplier.
Time hasn’t healed but it has enabled me to put a lid on things around other people.
The struggle, bizarrely, has been telling it straight to a bunch of complete strangers. Resisting the temptation to sugar the pill with vacuous, inappropriate platitudes.
Hello, my name is Philip Adams. My wife and I have a joint policy with you. Unfortunately she died at the end of March…
Where did that come from?
What possessed me to say that?
Unfortunately is what I say to a client when I can’t make a meeting.
It has no place in a conversation about the death of my wife.
Unfortunately scarcely hints at the alternating currents of lethargy and vertigo that define my days. Nor the insomnia that curses most nights.
Unfortunately doesn’t come close to the heartache and the as yet unseen damage that the denial of motherly love will cause to my daughters. Rachel was devoted to them - gentle and selfless.
My wife’s death was not unfortunate. It was catastrophic.
And yet I have had to coach myself before each call, or during each email, not to say “unfortunately” or “I’m afraid that” or “passed away” when we both know that I mean “died”.
Am I just being typically British? Embarrassed both for myself and the other person by the awkwardness of having to discuss my wife’s death? Doing whatever it takes to avoid a scene? Trying to forge some kind of fleeting connection that neither side wants or needs to complete the transaction?
That makes no sense in the context of the inevitable change in perspective that resulted from Rachel’s death. What were once big deals have been demoted to minor hassles. I care sparingly these days.
The death of a spouse grants you a free pass into the Greater Scheme Of Things. And it’s true, not much really matters therein.
It has taken concerted conscious effort to overcome this subconscious tic. The unfortunate use of unfortunately has been a hard habit to break.
But I think both ends of the phone are happier now that I have.
I am politely blunt. And they are politely businesslike.
There are circumstances in which “My wife is dead” is better said without feeling.
Matter of fact is the way to go when the only thing that matters is the fact.