My Mother, Bridie Bowbrick, in The Mercy Hospital, Cork, Ireland in April 2007

Three weeks ago my Mum lost her husband. That makes her a widow. She’s joined the universal club of the widows. The thing about widows, once you notice, is that they’re everywhere. They surround us but we hardly see them. Join any queue at the post office or ride on the lower deck of a daytime bus, though, and you’ll be among them. We ignore them because if we didn’t they’d break our hearts.

These widows are a kind of global storehouse of grief. They keep it for us so we don’t have to. Mum spent 50 years (minus two weeks) married to my Dad. Her job now, now that he’s gone, is to not have him, to be without him. She’s quietly inherited the melancholy role of the millions who preceded her. She articulates and embodies loss for the rest of us.

She’s a clever and independent person, my Mum – not a cipher or a shadow or a proxy for a dead man – but the implacable logic of widowhood has her. She’ll move now through a world where she’s grudgingly cared for but quietly resented for surviving. Our societies hate widows because of everything their existence says about our mortality and about the foreshortened vitality of the men they survive.

Women live longer but only so that we can despise their longevity, make jokes about them, patronise and ignore them. We’re mean and miserable about widows. We waste their wisdom and their insight. We falsely categorise them as dotty or wicked: little old ladies. We should love and respect widows but we can’t because they remind us of where we’re going. And for that we can’t forgive them.

Important information from the angel of death

On Saturday I nearly died (see if you can beat that with your five-aside football and your trip to Ikea and your barbecue). It was food-related, of course. I choked on a piece of French bread (unsalted butter, nice piece of ham). I immediately stopped breathing and started panicking. Breathing was off the agenda.

I stood at the sink making a noise like a distressed seal or a blocked hoover (or a fat bloke chocking on his lunch). Juliet, who thought I was joking, attempted a comedy Heimlich Manoeuvre. Pretty soon, having figured out that I was actually choking (I was going a funny colour and still making that honking noise), she attempted a real Heimlich Manoeuvre (which, funnily enough, was exactly the same as the comedy one).

She also hit me as hard as she could on the back a lot (I have bruises). It worked. I am here to testify that I have spoken while eating for the last time. Don’t try to have a conversation with me while I’m eating. Forget it. You’ll get no reply. I’m chewing.

What I found most interesting about the whole episode (afterwards, of course) was the sheer amount of thinking I was able to do while standing there going blue. I thought about dying – obviously – about leaving my family, about not really being ready to go, about being underinsured, about not wanting to die on the kitchen floor, about how much I love my wife…

I guess it’s not the information that matters, though. It’s what you do with it…

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