24th April 1988.
That day, the sun was shining, and we were just doing normal family stuff. That was the last time we did normal family stuff. How I have wished we could go back to that day and do things differently.
The baby was 10 weeks old. We had sex in the morning when we woke up. Baby started to cry during it, so I wanted to get it over with so I could go to her. Thinking of that now brings up so many different emotions—shame, discomfort, guilt, sadness, anger even. Once he’d finished, I just got up and got on.
It was a typical Saturday. We must have had breakfast at the small round table in the kitchen. My husband had built that before we had the first baby. It was big enough then with room for the high chair to be squeezed in with us on stools—stools which he had acquired from the biology lab at school.
I can remember the smell; I don’t think they ever lost their classroom scent, a mixture of wood and chemicals. He probably stood up and leaned against the hob in front of the window so that myself, our four-year-old, our two-year-old, and the highchair could fit. We used to be a packet cereal family then, in the days before they became something full of sugar and devoid of goodness.
After breakfast, we would have all gotten dressed eventually. An ordinary at-home day. I didn’t realise it was such a precious day. He played with the girls, making play food out of salt dough and left them on the side to paint the next day. That day never came, and I had to throw them out because I couldn’t bear to look at them.
Such a silly thing to carry so much emotion. They didn’t look like real food at all, but we always used to encourage the girls to express themselves, and what their creations looked like never mattered. We used to enthuse and ooh and aah at everything they did. We praised every effort and told them how wonderful they were at every opportunity. How we loved those girls.
Daddy went off to rugby. He played every Saturday and trained every Thursday night. I remember him saying that the other guys would often try to get him to stay on after and drink, anything to put off going home to their wives/girlfriends.
They thought he was strange because he wanted to come home to me. I used to feel so smug. This loving, gorgeous, funny, vibrant man loved me. And I loved him. So much. It is strange to remember how we had sex that morning because that wasn’t typical of our relationship. It makes him sound like a right sh*t. He wasn’t. I didn’t know where his body finished and mine began.
I’d said that I would drive over with the girls later, so he took the motorbike. It wasn’t even his bike. His was in bits in the shed; he’d finally moved it from the dining room. Was it my fault? The game was over when we got there, so we waited in the clubhouse. He came up, all smiles and happy to see us. He carried the eldest around with him and sat her on the bar, gave her some chocolate to eat while he drank his beer. (A real ale drinker, only the proper stuff would do.) We didn’t stay long because we had plans to go out with friends (well, they’ve disappeared).
Once home, I waited. I thought it was strange because he didn’t do that, mess about like that. I had an idea that perhaps he’d broken down and was stuck somewhere. At that time—which worked for us and was such a blessing—we lived next door to my parents. So I took the children round and drove to find him.
I got as far as a mile away from our home when I was flagged down by a policeman. He said the road was closed because of an accident. He said yes when I asked if it was a man on a motorbike but evaded the question when I asked if my husband had been badly hurt. He said I shouldn’t drive on my own and offered to take me home. What is it when someone in a uniform tells you to do something? It was easier to agree.
I waited for him, leaning against the car, looking out across the fields. It was a cigarette moment, but I didn’t have any, and I didn’t smoke. Fields swaying in the gentle breeze, planted with new life in the early evening sun. So peaceful.
When the cop came back with his partner, she drove my car, and he took me home in the police car; I haven’t been in a police car since. He dropped me off at my parents’ house and went away. I saw my dad in the kitchen and burst into tears. My little girls came running in, and I stopped.
That day, life was divided up into two phases: before the accident and after the accident. The man survived, but I lost my husband that day. Yet, our love still burns…
…it has burnt a hole in me. A brain injury is so cruel. The memories, that shared history, the language that only you get when nobody else knows what you are talking about, your dreams and future life together—all goes up in smoke. Yet, he hasn’t died; the broken shell is still there. Commitment and loyalty are important to me, so I told myself I could fix him. It would be fine. We would have our happy ever after.
Well, I made a discovery. You can’t be in a relationship with someone on your own, however hard you try.
I tried for 10 years and gave him everything, body and soul, willingly, and would do it all over again without hesitation. But eventually, I realised that I was trying to function in a vacuum and was just empty. So, my confession is that despite the guilt and shame that continues to eat away at me even now, I moved him to where he could be looked after by carers. I still see him. I still love him. But I have to, need to, love myself as well.
When I started this article, I thought I was writing about love and grief. Now I realise I am writing about love and forgiveness. I have believed for years that I am a bad person because I did something so terrible and unforgivable. Yet, I can see now that carrying that burden all this time has served no purpose at all. Self-loathing is not healthy.
Perhaps I did something terrible (it all depends on my perspective), but I did my best to keep us together and do the right thing by him—for years. And now, I must stop punishing myself for not achieving the impossible.
Does this resonate with you, dear reader? Have you sacrificed yourself, your own needs, to serve the one you love? Or have you turned away, looking for fulfilment elsewhere, only to be tormented by guilt and self-recrimination? If the latter, can you forgive yourself? If you haven’t yet, please try. Practise self-compassion and be gentle. Grieve for what you have lost, but believe that you deserve all the love you have given to another so freely.
I would love to hear your stories if you feel able to share; it’s not an easy thing to do. I know.