Morning thoughts:

It never did go quiet where I live. The trains kept running and there were ambulances. Both though stuck out in the otherwise quiet early days. For a period the trains were hooting more than usual. A deep slow minor third every time, and every time it set off in my head the organ notes that opened Matthew’s memorial service.

Then men in orange jackets arrived to build a cycle network. Through those weeks, still with no traffic to speak of, my soundtrack was a pneumatic drill. Every time I went out to visit the mini supermarket, the barriers (also orange) had progressed along the road. There were holes, and then kerbs dividing new lanes, and then a strip of glistening black asphalt stark against the patched grey of the main carriageway.

Now normal noise levels have returned. In the background trains shriek on their rails. If they are still hooting then I cannot hear it. There are traffic lights below my window and I hear the rumble of engines, the kick of motorcycle exhausts. The drill still comes in bursts. It’s a different sort of drill now, I think, one with the rhythm of a strimmer and not the pounding relentlessness of one breaking up the ground.

Part of me loved the silence while it lasted. Quiet empty city. Quiet empty flat. Quiet empty brain. The city broken by sirens and the spectre of death. The flat just the flat. My brain, also sitting with the spectre of death, calm only when it was not overwhelmed with waves of grief.

This new normal, noise-wise, is much like the old. The sky today as well is a typical summer’s grey and not the clear blue glare that showed up every speck of dust and seemed to signal the end of the world.

There’s been a winnowing that has gone on outside. In parallel, one going on in my brain. The one in my brain will stay, I hope, however much I’m again surrounded by noise.

It’s an odd thing, grief in the time of corona. I’m now physically alone, but I was emotionally alone before. There’s a stress on the world, and I was already battered by loss. Billions have been pushed into a psychological world I had already for eight months been forced to call my home: sometimes I feel closer to other people as a result; sometimes I feel further away.

This morning I was awake for forty-five minutes before I remembered that Matthew is gone. That’s forty-five minutes of reprieve before I pick up that sadness and carry it with me through the day. It’s not at all that I don’t want him in my head; I do. But I also want some periods of grace without that awareness, when I can live other parts of my life. I want as well to be able to choose how I remember him, to picture him in life and not in cold death.

That choice still feels a long way away. But through corona I’m enjoying wandering London in its emptiness and quiet, as though the world is mirroring my inner life. And forty-five minutes of reprieve is for today progress enough.

Here’s what I think it should be like: a constant sense of sadness underlying everything I do, with stronger waves that sweep me into tears. Those tears should come when, for example, I sort through Matthew’s belongings, or when I find myself in a place he loved. That’s what, emotionally, would seem to make sense.

It isn’t like that.

This weekend I’ve been in Worcester, surrounded by Matthew’s life. I’ve seen his friends and colleagues. I’ve begun to make decisions about what from his many collections I keep, and what I jettison so that I can move forward. I haven’t been overcome by grief. I haven’t even cried. I have chatted, and laughed, and been a whirlwind of efficiency activity.

It may be that I’m back in denial, telling myself I’m kindly doing for him while he is away the house-clearing he won’t ever get round to himself. (There’s certainly an element of that.) It may be that at six months into this new life the situation is getting easier; belongings are becoming ‘stuff’ and not a way to try to conjure him back.

I imagine it’s some of both. I imagine also that the balance between the two will become clearer over the next few hours as I relax and as the undercurrents of my brain find their way to the surface. Either way, this isn’t is what I think it should be.

It is instead, as the wise continue to tell me, exactly what it is. And what we do regardless (I’ve added this bit) is that we go to the hills. So last night with Lucy I faced into the gale, and looked down as darkness fell on the floods and on the the bright lights of Malvern. We’re into March now. On we go.

Last weekend for Matthew’s birthday I was in Chamonix and on skis. On Saturday that was exhilarating; we lapped the off-piste in Vallorcine over and over again – in powder on the open slopes, then still on powder through the trees, then through the chopped tracks, and finally for the sake of it down the bumps under the lift. Being in the shadow of the ridge on which Matthew was injured kept distracting me. Despite that the day was fun and I also skied well. But then on Sunday and Monday the grief was debilitating again. Mostly I cried, or slept, or wandered aimlessly through town. I also made full use of the medication I’ve been prescribed. It’s taken me another four days to get back into some emotional balance.

I hadn’t anticipated that. I expected, obviously, that Matthew’s birthday on Sunday would be hard. But I’d been let off lightly at New Year by an evening that was easier than expected, and so my guard was down. I expected to be sad. I didn’t expect to be knocked to the floor.

My point is: I have no knowledge of how this plays out.

I saw my doctor last night. We were both talking at the same time, both saying that the issue is I don’t know how to manage this grief in the context of my life. I’ve managed my illness, with help from her and others, for over eight years. I know how to do that, know when I can push on and when I need to rest. I know what imminent collapse feels like, and generally can judge how severe the symptoms have got. I know that when I’m about to dissociate it affects my eyesight first, and then my speed of movement, and then my ability to speak, and onwards until I have no feeling in my body and my brain entirely shuts down. I know the other patterns as well. I have a well-practiced plan for what to do when things are bad. I’ve used it time and time again and it’s kept me alive.

But the grief is new and it is brutal. It has a rhythm of its own, different triggers, a set of symptoms which are unfamiliar and still, six months in, unexpected. I don’t yet fully know how to ride those – or when I’m about to fall off. Having those layered on top of my illness puts me on a bucking bronco. Life currently is tricky, to say the least.

So here’s what we do. My doctor knows me. She knows my illness. She knows grief. I trust her absolutely (a trust forged in extremis and over many years). Independent, headstrong and driven as I am, I have for now submitted the process of my life to her. Very literally I have written down how much time I am going to spend for the next week on work, clearing the house, dealing in one way or another with Matthew’s death, and anything else that causes mental, physical or emotional stress. We’re agreeing limits to each of those, and I have agreed that I’ll stick to them. This is not me. I prize my independence, my ability to do more than anyone thinks possible, and my right to do as I choose. But for the moment I need to let that go, and do as I am told, and wait, and believe that somehow I’ll learn how to manage this as well, and somehow I’ll come out the other side.

I’m looking at my diary from April last year. I was preparing to go to India and was nervous as well as excited. It seems a wise friend said this to me: ‘You’re going to go and have the experience of a lifetime and you’re going to come back and tell the tale, whatever it is.’

After a year of disaster and grief, and now with fear of what the future might bring, there are worse approaches to 2020 than a simple commitment to telling the tale ‘whatever it is’.

(Picture is of Changuch, first climbed by Martin Moran in 2009, viewed from just below Longstaff’s Col on Nanda Devi East.)

Matthew and I competed on everything – more lightheartedly as the years passed and arguably we both grew up a bit, but still over the silliest things and all of the time. Who could pick the right carriage on the Tube for the exit (usually me). Who won the race to the trig point (always him, however late I waited before my dash). Who dressed fastest for dinner when we were running late (always me, and we always were).

Today I remembered that once long long ago we competed – with laughter – over which of us would have to dump the other when our relationship ended. ‘I’ll get in first,’ he said, ‘I’ve never had someone break up with me, and I’m not going to spoil my perfect record.’ But I was in the same position with respect to previous relationships, so I of course claimed I’d be breaking up with him.

And now? Professionals have told me it would be normal to feel that by dying Matthew actively deserted me. It is common, they have said, to be angry at that desertion, however illogical the anger may be. I don’t currently feel either of those things. Who knows, though, at some point I may.

What I feel instead is that I am the one deserting him. I am leaving him forever in August while myself moving into a new year. I am starting, because I have no choice, to consider what a life without him might look like. In that life I will inevitably know new people and do new things. At times the sense of guilt is overwhelming, and it’s just as illogical as resentment at him would be. And then came the thought: what this is is a parallel – a desperately sad one – of our old banter in which neither of us is leaving the other first, or both of us somehow are.

There’s nothing I can do about any of that. Matthew is where he is. At some point I will have to move forwards: there is nowhere else for me to go. But I hope desperately that as I do make that move, I do so holding in both hands the beautiful fact that, despite all the competition, or maybe because of it, our relationship never needed either of us to break it up.

An evening of many tears, and much shaking, and this:

Until he died I didn’t realise he was mortal.

I did, of course, know that at some point he would die. I expected – with nine years between us – to be the one left alone. But I associated ‘mortality’ with age and that, in my mind, was so far ahead of us that it had no real weight.

Now it has a weight, a heft, that is dragging me down. I feel it; any sense of lightness has gone. Mortality has become a leaden anchor on my life. (Others have known this before me; I needed to learn it for myself.)

That doesn’t – not for me, not yet – make life more precious. What it makes it is more serious, more important, heavier. I was told early on that the petty would fall away. That’s my growing experience. I’m no Romantic, so I won’t savour thoughts of heavier death to intensify my experience of life, won’t crush its grape against my palate for wine. Nor will I chant, as a medieval Christian, that in the midst of life we are in death. But I can understand why both, weightily, importantly, have been said.

(Pic is Regent’s Park in tonight’s dusk.)