I lost my husband in February of this year. Like Natascha, it came out of the blue - my husband was young, fit and apparently healthy. I've read several books that deal with grief as a project, but none come close to explaining the panic, the maelstrom of bewilderment, abandonment and chaos that has whipped around my head ever since; and none have thus far made me think - yes, that's what I'm feeling, that's what it's like.
Ms McElhone's book was featured in a Sunday paper last week, and after reading excerpts, I immediately ordered it. When it arrived, I read it in one greedy go. It's a short book, made up of diary entries and letters she wrote to her husband, who died while she was away filming, and while pregnant with their third son.
The first thing that struck me was the style of writing. Ms McElhone's prose is beautiful at times, but it's shot through with anger, panic and frustration. It's jerky in style, seemingly bouncing from one thing to another. At times it numbly describes the practicalities of death - choosing a coffin, where and how to do the funeral - at others, the words howl at you, and you can almost taste her lonlieness, her forlornness and her horror when the realisation of her situation hits her wiith juggernaut force, again and again. I found myself nodding along at times - she describes in one entry trying to get a phone company to switch the account from her husband's name to hers, and you can feel the heaviness in her heart when she tells them, no, he can't come to the phone as he has died, and the grim acceptance of their half-hearted condolences. I have made those calls, heard those words and my heart broke for her.
Another thing that the book highlights perfectly is the juxtaposition between a widow's grief, which is a private, intimate emotion, and the very public way in which one must present it. Ms. McElhone describes having to 'fit in' private grieving time between work and child-rearing, taking a half hour here and there to cry or to remember her husband. I almost shouted when I read this; my own grieving M.O. taking the form of only allowing myself to properly cry when I'm driving alone, so that I don't have to be seen, and I don't have to explain it to anyone or excuse or justify it in any way. A little thing perhaps, but something that distresses me. I was pleased that someone else understood it too.
Natascha describes in stark detail the reality of being widowed. She doesn't sugar-coat it, she doesn't dress it up with cliches, and she doesn't fall into the easy path of mawkish, sentimental memorial. I think that perhaps a person who has never been bereaved might find the book a bit full on - she really lets the reader into her marraige and her grief - but anyone who has lost someone will recognise every tear-stained word. It's a wonderful book, and a very lovely tribute to her husband. Natascha, if you're reading - thank you for putting into words what I never could.