And Death Shall Have No Dominion.

My sweet love,

Wednesday December 12th 2018 was the darkest most unbelievable day of my life – I can’t even bear to say the F word.

It’s a haze but I want to share it with you if I can.

Brenda Gilhooly came to the flat very early to hold me up. By God, what a woman she is. She never let hold of my hand for a second. Philip and Tina arrived and then Tony, Jane, Penny and Jess who were staying at the hotel opposite came over. They were amazing my darling. Penny was wearing the bracelet we’d given her as bridesmaid for the happiest day of my life 8 years earlier.

Shortly after you’d passed on baby, Philip came with me to the directors and I was shaking so much he had to take the coffee cup and saucer from me during our meeting with him. The only funny part looking back was when Jonathan the lovely funeral director said ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking but you’re not THE Abi Roberts are you?’ I sort of stammered and said ‘erm.. well it depends why you’re’ he said ‘oh it’s just someone sent me a link to your comedy recently.. the bit about the cone of chips and cider was so funny’.  Oh My God, a funeral director was quoting one of my lines back to me. You gave me the topper do you remember.. ‘for balance’.  I know you would have laughed so much baby. After our meeting we got in the car. I felt like a kid. Philip said ‘where shall we go?’ I said ‘can we drive to Battersea Park.. ‘ I needed to be somewhere familiar. It was a horrible day that day, pissing it down and the park was basically empty. We walked for a bit and P bought me a cheese and tomato sarnie and coffee. It was so comforting. Then we found ourselves at the Zoo. By this time the bottom of my trousers were soaking wet and my shoes were covered in mud but I didn’t care at all. We walked round looking at the animals. P said hello to a wallaby (I think it recognised him!). There was a huge porker there too – in my head I said ‘what are you… ‘ like we used to! While we were waiting for the otters to come out for their feeding but none of them wanted to so they were all hiding in a tree by their little pond, Philip and I got talking to the lady in charge of the otters. She was really nice. For some reason pigeons came up – I don’t really like them but P was defending them. The otter lady then went on to tell us that sometimes the larger animals EAT THE PIGEONS. Including Porky pig. She then added ‘it can be quite traumatic if it’s in front of children’. NO SHIT.  Me and P then walked to the lovely Pagoda. We stood and looked out over the Thames. Grey, dull, sad, Wintery river flowing unaware of the deep sadness we were both feeling.

Philip and Tina arrived pretty soon after you had passed away and Philip made sure he tucked you in when the coroner’s took you away. He’s been a rock, as has Tina. Tina so gently taking care of me on the day it happened and being like a lioness protecting her cub when I needed it. She made sure our room was ready for me to sleep in that night and she was just with me quietly, while I took everything in. I honestly don’t know where I would have been without them.  I don’t think I slept for 4 nights. I had terrible nightmares and just held on to TG junior the Koala.

On Wednesday December 12th I didn’t even hear the hearse when it pulled up silently outside the flats. Then I saw it. A very smart black hearse with two cars behind it, a Union Jack spread magnificently over the simple oak coffin I’d chosen for you. There were no flowers as you’d requested. You didn’t like cut flowers but you loved plants or flowers in their natural habitat. It’s like it wasn’t me at all, I was having an out of body experience. I don’t’ know where I found the strength from but Brenda and I got into one of the smart, shiny black cars and we set off with Philip, Tina, Tony, Jane, Penny and Jess in the car behind. We had a very, very kind driver called Johnny who reassured me so much with words of comfort on the way to Mortlake, which is quite near to Chiswick were we were thinking of moving before our lives were eclipsed. We drove down familiar roads – we went past Tesco at one point – the big one in Earls Court we used to drive to. Do you remember baby? We used to get our big shop there. We were driving so smoothly along roads towards something I had dreaded with every fibre of my being.

It’s taken me till now to really write about it but I want to let you know what the feeling of love was like that day. It was a small, private service as the timing was so short and I didn’t want anything to get in the way at a time when I was struggling to even face getting up every day. Decisions you make are right at the time of making them. We drove up behind your car and stopped to get out. Out of the corner of my eye I suddenly saw Dr K and L who loved you so much baby. They were both devastated darling. Then Campbell and Si arrived. Oh my God, my wonderful gay saviours had made it. Small but perfectly formed. We were a little early so we stood about, I still hadn’t taken it all in. I believe it’s your body’s way of coping with something so dreadful it protects you in a sort of cotton wall ball so that you can survive. The human capacity for resilience is extraordinary. But also I have felt very strongly your voice guiding me to take my time. As I have found out there is no way round grief, no short cut or way to speed it up. In fact there is no end to grief – it is part of you for ever just as the love you have for the one you’ve lost.

At 10am we followed your coffin draped in that magnificent Union Jack up the small aisle and it was placed on the bier. I sat at the front with Brenda by my side, gripping onto my hand. The celebrant leading the service was a wonderful man called Nick Pnematicatos who came over to the flat the week before to chat through what I wanted for you. We spent a couple of hours talking about you and the service. I wanted it to reflect every aspect of you as best we could. Nick was so marvellous. As you had served with the Royal Green Jackets, Nick suggested the Union Jack and also that I be presented with your Royal Green Jacket’s flag towards the end of the service. It was folded over and given to me – one of the most moving things ever my darling. Such a proud moment. We went through the 3 music choices – I had already chosen Kula Shaker’s Great Hosannah as your walk in music because we loved that Kula Shaker song! Then I decided on another of your favourites Morrisey’s Come Back to Camden. For the last piece of music Nick suggested it be something lighter so that people left with a warm feeling – so we thought about it for ages and eventually he said ‘well as your hub is a Geordie how about that one about the little fishy on a little dishy..!’ So we had ‘When the boat comes in’ for your closing music.

Philip and Tony both read wonderful, personal eulogies – Philip’s in particular was so heartfelt, it moved me to tears. He’d typed it up and gave it to me to put in your big box of memories. Pauline Gibbons, your dearest mam was remembered and Jackson the Lakeland Terrier – and our love of Lakeland Terriers! Towards the end when Nick was planning his final words of blessing, I told him we both loved the film Gladiator and particularly the end when Maximus is dying and he sees his wife and son waiting for him in the golden corn fields of Elysium. Maximus is walking towards them. They will be reunited. He is comforted by his vision. So we included part of a line Maximus says to his army:

Hold the line. Stay with me. If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled; for you are in Elysium..’

I chose one of my favourite poems, Dylan Thomas’s And Death Shall Have No Dominion. I found the famous recording of Richard Burton reading it on youtube and listened to it over and over again. His sad, Welsh voice resonated so much it echoed in my heart. I practised it in the silence of the flat. On the day I read in a nearly uncontrollable shaky voice but with all the strength and Welsh passion I could muster. For you my love. I wanted the heavens to hear that death is not the end, it is the beginning of my journey to understanding that I have been blessed with pure unconditional love with you. I wanted our friends to hear that you have triumphed in death as well as life – I have born witness to that. So no matter what the future holds for me, I am certain of that one thing:

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

After the service we drove back to Chelsea and had lunch at The Builders Arms opposite St Luke’s Gardens. Do you remember we got pissed there one night on JD and coke a few years back! It’s such a nice, friendly pub baby and the manager was so kind. We toasted you darling and I told everyone how proud I was of being your wife. As you quite rightly said, we were shipmates on the sea of life.

I thanked everyone for being there for us. Brenda and I arranged to meet up a couple of weeks afterwards to remember you.

We shall go there again many times.

Your adoring wife

Abi Xxx