Chris chose this image – both stark and feminine – for one side of the mortbrod she made with the help of local artist Nicola Clarke as a memento mori. It hangs in a window by the front door of Folly Cottage as a sign both of remembrance and mourning. It’s been there for four months and, according to tradition, it should be left in place for another eight.
I’m writing this, sitting up in bed with our dog Ted snoozing by my side where Chris should be, feeling the enormity of her loss. The mortbrod moves minutely in the uprising draft of hot air from the radiator below the window. The house is silent apart from the ticking of the alarm clock on the bedside cabinet and the faint background roar of the boiler.
It’s Thursday morning and I have to decide what to do with the day. I know there are heaps of student papers to be read and dozens of business emails to be answered. Their narcotic lure is hard to resist: occupy the mind, dull the pain. But I will ignore their siren call and gaze into the void for a while longer.
Twenty five years ago, when I trained as a Gestalt practitioner, we used to speak of the void as a necessary part of the natural, ongoing cycle of human engagement: sensation, awareness, mobilisation, action, contact, satisfaction, withdrawal, and void.
Sometimes we experience the void as fertile, full of new possibilities, an empty space waiting to be filled; sometimes it feels like a dead zone, devoid of life and meaning. Which reminds me of a story:
A man is walking along the highway of his life. One day, without any warning, he falls into an existential abyss. It’s dark, precipitous and terrifying. He can’t see the bottom and he’s clinging to the vertical sides by his fingernails.
He is utterly alone.
After a while he can’t bear the loneliness and calls out into the darkness:
“Is there anybody there?”
“Yes,” booms an enormous voice across the void. “I am here with you.”
“Who are you?” calls the man.
“I am God,” replies the voice.
“What should I do?” says the man, looking down. “Tell me what to do.”
“Let go,” says God.
There is a long pause before the man calls again:
“Is there anybody else?”
I said I would gaze into the void, but that is not enough. I have already fallen into the abyss. I cannot look away. The question I must ask myself now Chris is dead is whether to cling on limpet-like to what is left of the familiar, comforting routines of my life or let myself fall into the unknown?
I know what she would say. I can hear her welcoming voice rising up from below and echoing round me: “What are you waiting for?”
“Nothing,” I reply. “Now is the time. Now is always the time.”