Last night I stood in the kitchen picking at a chicken carcass and thinking about the moments before Kieran died.
I roasted a small chicken for dinner, a midweek pleasure for me and my daughter, and once it had cooled I stripped the carcass of most of the leftover meat to eat the next day. The little bits close to the bones, though, they were for me, along with scraps of crisp skin. It’s always been a treat for me, tearing open a chicken, picking off with my fingers the meat it’s hard to reach with a knife, taking small bites out of what might otherwise be lost.
I ate, and I found myself thinking about Kieran’s last moments, what they might have been like. I thought about them not with the compulsive horror I often felt in the early days, where thinking of what he felt was like standing on the stern of a pitching ship, above a sea of yawning dark. I just thought about it, with grief, and doggedly ate the chicken, then dipped bread into the juices in the pan, salty and fatty and dark.
In 2013 Kieran confessed he’d thought seriously – he’d been thinking seriously – about taking his own life. He went as far as to start to do something about it, and then changed his mind, took himself to A&E. I went to him, and the first question he asked me was did I still want to marry him? Of course, I said. Of course.
A few weeks later, he was getting slowly better, and we had an argument in the car. He said he felt I was doing too much of the wedding planning by myself and he felt left out.
I said a few defensive things about how I hadn’t meant to do that, and then said what I really meant. You were going to leave me by myself. I sobbed, and he cried, and he said he never would.
But he has, of course. I know that he felt he didn’t have a choice. But he is gone, and there’s no one to watch with faintly amused disgust as I tear up a chicken with my bare hands. Kieran’s parents joke that as a kid he’d prefer to fall on his face rather than dirty his hands. I know, from the note he left me, that he thought of his death as a kind of tidying up; but there is no tidiness after a death. I thought about how I would do almost anything to have him back – but that if one of us had to go, I have come to the painful conclusion that it is me who is better able to bear it. I am at peace with greasy hands, with the work of breaking down a carcass into its component parts, into laying things out so nothing is unseen: with the messy necessity of grief. I have been learning through my contact with other survivors of loss that being able to put my hands into the guts of things and come out of it still feeling whole is a kind of gift.
Last night I sucked the chicken wings clean of meat, salt crackle of the skin still clinging to the roof of my mouth, and thought about how this has always been how I go through the world, how I feel about things that matter. I crack them open and pick my teeth with the bones. I squeeze every drop out of the marrow of life, and find room for bread. There is always room for bread.
Kieran did leave me by myself, but I think I am better equipped to deal with it than most.