I have long had a mild crush on Natascha McElhorne since her role in The Truman Show as Truman’s dream woman beyond his confines. So, I was struck and saddened to read that for two years now she has been coping with the loss of her husband, which happened while she was pregnant with their third child. As part of working through her grief she wrote a diary addressed to him and is now publishing it for whatever comfort it might be to others. The Guardian has a moving account of her experience and the diary. Here are just a glimpses into her bereaved mental world:
She started writing to Kelly almost immediately, as a release and an effort to contain her grief out of sight of her children; Theo, the eldest at eight, had asked her not to cry in front of him. The early entries are full of the derangements of a mind in shock; one of the first things that crossed her mind after hearing the news was a hope that the windows in their London home were shut, so that nothing of Kelly’s spirit could escape. Later, when she returned home, there was, she writes, such a palpable sense of him – the shirt on the door; the lingering smell – that “there is a period of time where I think, someone is still buzzing; there is a reverberation of them around you that you clasp, latch on to, in the hope that it will materialise into something more than a vibration. And of course it never does. There’s that hope. It’s very irrational. And you know it is. But it still gives a sense of comfort or relief.” These are things she could record only in the knowledge that she was “writing to someone who’s not around and you’re not going to get a response”.
McElhone had to fight the urge to go back and rewrite the diaries and to take out what, at close range, seemed to her to be boring details, but that in the event make the book. At the urging of her editor, she kept in verbatim the hurried to-do lists made in the aftermath of Kelly’s death and which feature, along with “get a solicitor” and “call Wilts council”, items such as “write letter to him, put in his coffin w cds, book, boys fav pokemon cards”.
The most powerful parts of the book are those moments of transition when, albeit fleetingly, she feels things starting to lift. There was a point when McElhone realised, with shock and dismay, that she did not want to be celibate for the rest of her life. There was a moment when she started to rebel against the weight of her loss. Suddenly she wondered what she was doing, writing to her dead husband like this. “Does your spirit die,” she asked, “if I don’t keep blowing air into it.” She began to understand that “my grief for you is also my love for you fighting for its last few breaths.”
At the beginning, she wrote to Kelly as to someone who was still available to her; “the ultimate in long-distance relationships”. The question she asks in the book is whether it is possible to let this go and still live a happy life. Does she believe that? “I do. I really do.” There is a middle ground, she hopes, between hanging on in a way people describe as “unhealthy” and allowing him space in their life. The house in London is opposite a graveyard and she can see Kelly’s grave from her window, which, she says, “feels absolutely right”.
Her record of her grief is called After You.