If at this moment I use my inner sense of temporal passage to answer the sad question, ‘So how long is it now since my dear, dear wife died?’ I return the answer, ‘Yesterday.’ My inner clock tells me that it was only yesterday that I returned from the hospital alone, for my dear wife had died an hour or so before I put the key into the lock of the front door and entered our empty house. All the things were still here, of course, all the books and furniture, the bed and wardrobe and chests of drawers. The stairlift was still here. And yet the house was so terribly empty.
Coming home with my dear, dear wife to the tranquillity of our little house, where we could be alone and carry on with our private lives was, for me, for all those years, the closest thing I would get to experiencing joy. It was just wonderful. And how I want to come home like that now, with her, for the house in a moment to fill with our conversation, for her thoughts and imaginings and observations to fill my imagination. A fresh journey to somewhere wonderful, every day, every hour, even: that’s what it was.
And it seems to me that our last conversation was just two days ago, on her birthday, just an hour before the ambulance came. This is no poetic metaphor, no colourful hyperbole, no deliberate overstatement. That is really how it seems, and how it has seemed every day these past fourteen months. If men in white coats holding clipboards or tablet computers should at this very instant step out of the shadows as the walls and ceilings of this clever copy of my house lifted away to reveal a large laboratory beyond, the real reality behind my reality, and were someone to explain to me that I have been the subject of an experiment in psychological time manipulation, and that, yes, indeed, my dear wife did die only yesterday, I would be so very relieved to hear that. For every day seems to me to be the day after my wife died.
I introduce here in more detail the loss of my wife to admit that this loss is, of course, a source of distress. How could that not be the case? Yet this is not the source of my despair. For that has always been present, through all our years together, through all those wonderful comings-home, through all those years before I knew her, it has been there, as the very form of my being. If my experiences and their ordering is like a row of books, a book for each and every experience I have had, then the huge bookcase on which they lodge is my despair. It is what is already there before any experiences happen. It is prior to those experiences, not caused by them. Since the despair is already there, even before anything happens, then the worst condemnation that I would be prepared to level at any wretched experience (of illness, of being the bully’s victim, of dealing with troubles) would be to say that it was disturbing. Only that. If this quality can be removed from an experience, if, say, some awfully troubling thing can be resolved, then the underlying despair of my experience is still there. It never goes, never retreats, never lets me see how things would appear to me in its absence. There is never any absence of despair.