Catherine Mayer on the physicality of grief

Catherine Mayer’s beloved husband Andy died at the beginning of the pandemic, only weeks after her stepfather. Since then she and her mother have been sharing their bereavement journey together, culminating in writing Good Grief, a book which is searing about loss but optimistic on how to re-embrace life. Here is an edited extract of a brand-new chapter about how grief affects body as well as soul.

Catherine Mayer portrait by Leo CackettThe blow comes out of nowhere, a punch to the cheekbone. When my husband Andy was dying, I yearned to freeze time. Now, too late, I discover the trick. All you have to do is step into the path of a Pimlico Plumbers van.

Lost in concern for my mother – her changing care needs; her recent fragility – I am confused by a new road layout, a left turn intersecting with a cycle route as broad as the lane for motor vehicles. The impact of the wing mirror spins me into the side of the van. Its momentum catapults me to the ground. That’s when time stops. I lie, in the middle of Farringdon Road, a beetle on its back, no way for me to get up.

The clouds look unreal, their edges drawn by a tired sun. Red at night, sailor’s delight. Heavenly voices waft on the summer breeze. “Did you see that?” asks one. “Yes,” the other replies. “It looked bad.” The traffic keeps moving, as shocked as I am. Wheels pass, hubcaps, undercarriages, more wheels. A tyre nudges my new prescription sunglasses, which have landed lens-side down. I wonder how badly damaged they  are. I wonder how badly damaged I am. I wonder if sitting up will make things worse.

What is wrong with me?

I wonder about my mother, what she’s going through and how my sisters and I might best help. Age or grief has finally hobbled her. Exactly a week earlier, she underwent a hip replacement, her first-ever surgery. We all expected her to bounce back, she most of all. Instead, there is a dwindling. I haven’t admitted this to anyone, but I fear she is dying.

The tarmac is warm. Perhaps I’ll stay here a while. Suddenly, with the speed of a red, white and blue van, a thought strikes me: I’m booked to do a broadcast interview about Andy’s album [Andy, co-founder of the band Gang of Four, was working on an album when he died. Catherine finished it after his death]. Propelled to action, I roll over and shimmy to my glasses like a wounded soldier avoiding sniper fire, continue in this fashion to the reservation between road  and cycle lane, then prop my head against a bollard. The glasses, though scratched, are useable, but now I’m worried about something else, groping in my pockets, or rather, Andy’s. These are his desert camos.

Please don’t tell me I’ve lost another mobile. I scan the road, can’t see it. It’s not so long since I last sprawled in the street,  six months at most. The Sunday before Christmas, I’d been walking to my mother’s with her weekly consignment of food. Next thing I knew, I was kissing the ground while two boys cycled towards the horizon, the leader holding my phone aloft  like an Olympic torch.

My reaction that day set the bar high for stupidity: I’d scrambled to my feet to give hopeless chase, shouting, “I need my phone. I’m a widow.” Today I meet that bar and easily surpass it. The mobile is in the fifth pocket I try, intact. Still  prostrate, I send an email to the BBC producer. “Many apologies. I may be late to the show. I’ve just been hit by a van.”


When the paramedics and police arrive, it occurs to me that I might not make the interview at all. The van driver is pale. I can’t stop saying sorry to him. Passers-by are staring. It’s a relief to totter inside the ambulance, though surely the paramedics have better uses for their time. I apologise to them too. My bruises are already as colourful as the skies, but nothing appears to be broken. I refuse the offer of a hospital bed, so they drive me home.

If you see me limp from the ambulance to my front door, this isn’t a result of the accident. In the second pandemic year, my mother and I have taken our twin widowhood (her expression) to ludicrous extremes. Shortly after she learned she needed a hip replacement, doctors warned me of a similar prognosis. I am booked for a steroid injection to stave off more radical measures. That will mean staying housebound for a few days to give the steroids a chance to do their stuff. The timing is terrible.

One of my sisters has managed briefly to escape the city that has been our open prison these many months, the other is overwhelmed with work. My stepsister is swamped too. At this critical juncture for my mother, not one of us is available to give her the support she needs, and the live-in carer we’ve hired can stay only until the end of the week. I’m wracking my ragged brain for solutions when I pick the fight with the van.

It’s a curious beast, grief

It’s a curious beast, grief. You imagine you’re doing well, and you may be, by many metrics. Yet the route from the day of loss to a place of liveability boasts more barriers and diversions than London’s roads. For one thing, the fates have no respect for your predicament. So you already have enough on your plate? Never mind. Here they are, standing by with ladles and stinking tureens. For another, and perhaps more profoundly, it is precisely when you most need help that you’ll realise you’ve been abandoned by the person you most depend on. I don’t mean your lovely dead. I mean you.

Unless you have a condition that limits self-sufficiency, you’ll have relied on yourself from young adulthood, negotiating problems and opportunities, planning and dreaming, constructing ways of living and social networks. You might occasionally pause to assess whether these structures could be improved, but otherwise it’s heads down and on to the next day, the next challenge. Then along comes a traumatic event, a life- changing illness, mental or physical, a bereavement, a clutch of bereavements, an entire pandemic, and you leave yourself in the lurch. You lose your bank cards, your mind. You cry for no reason or too many. You step in front of traffic. Your hips stop working.

It is at those moments, scrabbling through wallets or mewling into masks, lying in a hospital bed or on a roadway, that your new familiar sidles up with salt for your wounds. You’re not just miserable now, grief whispers. Behold the grim future that stretches before you.

Take courage. My mother and I are here – we are very much still here – to tell you that it is not only possible to find your way back to a life worth living, but that the process of rebuilding can itself be exhilarating.

The physical effects of anguish

We know about the psychological toll grief takes, but as my mother and I were to discover, anguish expresses itself physically too. I should have taken heed when I woke one restless morning to a wide streak of silver at my temple. Who knew the tales of grief turning hair white overnight were true?

Lockdown had shuttered salons, so friends attributed my new look to a failure to dye rather than to Andy’s failure to live. When hairdressers reopened, still I refused to cover the grey, wanting to acknowledge grief, not conceal it. The silver streak anyway transports me straight to Heaven. That’s a nightclub in central London, where a decade ago, Andy’s band Gang of Four performed a headline set. At the after party, a man staggered up to me, friend in tow. “This is Andy’s missus,” he said. His friend turned to him: “She doesn’t look as much like Morticia as you said she did.” Well, lads: now I do.

If grief has the capacity to transform the body on the outside, etching new lines between brows and encircling mouths dragged downwards by the gravity of their situation, why should we be startled when it tinkers around at atomic level too? The links between illness and bereavement have already been demonstrated by multiple research studies. Heartbreak is more than a metaphor. The risk of heart attack is twenty-one times higher for the grieving during the twenty-four hours after their loss, six times higher the following week and may continue to be raised for a full month. Older women are especially vulnerable to a condition called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, described in a Harvard publication as “a weakening of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber, usually as the result of severe emotional or physical stress, such as a sudden illness, the loss of a loved one, a serious accident, or a natural disaster such as an earthquake.”

A longitudinal study of more than 370,000 elderly couples in the US across a nine-year period confirmed a “widowhood effect” resulting in increased rates of mortality for surviving spouses. Those stories about lovers who can’t live without each other? Fact, not romantic fiction. A range of studies have determined the bereaved to be less robust than the wholehearted in fighting off infection, more susceptible to feeling physical pain, and more inclined to elevated blood pressure and blood clots. There are also proven links between inflammatory conditions and grief. When, mere weeks apart, my mother and I are diagnosed with osteoarthritis, we initially accept the obvious explanations for the coincidence, a genetic predisposition, perhaps, and a common set of circumstances. We have both been deprived by the pandemic of our regular Pilates sessions, though I continued to take classes via Zoom. My mother’s attempt to keep in shape by climbing the stairs in her house could actually have contributed to her problems rather than alleviating them, and my long walks probably didn’t help either. A specialist would tell me that my muscles, instead of bulking up from the exercise, have wasted, putting additional pressure on hips and knees.

Some days I feel poisoned by grief

The most obvious sources of information aren’t hugely helpful. Health authorities and organisations founded to support sufferers describe the condition in terms that seem almost fatalistic. It is, they say, a product of wear and tear rather than inflammation. My aching bones insist this can’t be the whole story. Some days I feel poisoned by grief.

I keep delving, poring over medical journals and scholarly texts too technical for me to grasp in detail. What I am able to glean is that there are commonalities across many different studies and analyses: they identify elevated levels of inflammatory proteins in the blood and synovial fluid of osteoarthritis patients. Moreover, quite a few researchers argue that the condition ought to be reclassified as an inflammatory disease. If the thesis holds, this could lead to better treatments – and point the finger more squarely at the machinations of grief.

A memory

An early memory: my mother strides ahead of me, her calf muscles flexing with every step. Small as I am, her legs occupy my immediate field of vision, but I would probably stare at them anyway. They are pistons, driven by combustion. Her energies have yet to find a release in work. This is a woman who always needed to keep moving.

Aged 87, the engine finally suffers a mechanical failure. She has sailed through three pregnancies, avoided serious accident or illness for most of her life, and brushed aside the cancer that eventually assailed her, rejecting surgery against the advice of doctors and with a cheerful outcome. Through my stepfather John’s final illness, she appeared indomitable, pushing his wheelchair, then pushing aside her fears of managing on her own. It isn’t until over a year into widowhood that she feels a jolt to her right hip and cannot walk through the pain. Trusting in mind over matter, she continues to try to force herself to mobility.

Her torso twists with the effort, one  shoulder raised, her pelvis angling. Soon her world shrinks to  journeys between kitchen and living room, or from one end of the living room to the other, each step grating and slow. For balance, she holds her right arm above her head. I flash back to the mugger cycling into the distance with my phone.

She thought she knew loneliness, but now, trapped not just in her house but her body, she misses John more than ever, dreams night after night that he is next to her in bed only to wake to emptiness, begins to mourn her own life too. Will she ever be able to live independently again? That question worries at her not only for herself, but because there is something she needs to do for John. His ashes still await their promised interment at Salisbury Cathedral.

This pledge unfulfilled reproaches and inspires her. It gives her the energy to battle with the online appointment system for her GP practice, to struggle with remote consultations and, finally, to see a doctor in person. The GP sends her for x-rays in the hospital she last visited the day John died. After  a pain-wracked month, the results come through, confirming osteoarthritis and the need for a new right hip joint.

In the same month my mother got her  diagnosis, my GP confirmed I had osteoarthritis in both hips with a labral tear in the left (damage to the cartilage meant to cushion and stabilise the joint). I’d apparently need hip replacements sooner rather than later. Grief, it seems, hits everyone and every body. Rehabilitation is a physical as well as a mental process.

In the days leading up to her operation, my mother is terrified. Bold though she is by nature, she doesn’t like change, is wary of the unknown. She asks lots of questions: what should she pack for the hospital? (As little as possible.) Do I know how to work her alarm? (Yes.) Will I protect the orchids in her living room when the rental company arrives to install a hospital bed there for her? John would be so proud of her for keeping them alive. (Of course.) As a distraction, I plan a pre-operative last hurrah, a slap-up meal for her and her neighbours. After dinner at my flat, they see her home.

She decides to run a bath, lies back in it, more relaxed than she’s been for a while. Later, when she tries to stand, she discovers her legs won’t work. For what feels like an eternity and is likely more than an hour, she fights to lever herself out of the tub, bruising and cutting herself in the process. Finally she dives over the side, headfirst, stands, and falls again, splitting the thin skin of her arm from elbow to wrist and across its full width. She waits to call for help until early morning. My middle sister Lise, who has accompanied our mother to many of her appointments, takes her to hospital where they patch her  up as best they can.

For someone who has barely troubled the inside of such institutions, she is becoming a veteran by the time of her admission to another London hospital for the hip replacement. Covid rules prevent any visitors, so my sisters and I call the ward for an update. She’s still in surgery. When my phone rings, I’m startled to find her on the other end of the line, slurring and groggy, and more surprised still to realise she’s managed to work her hated mobile phone in that state. She tells me the whole operation took place with her heavily sedated but still conscious.

Lise brings her home three days later. Laura, an actor who has also worked as a carer and companion to a disabled friend of mine, will look after her for the first week. The patient refuses to brook a longer or open-ended arrangement. She’s antsy about sharing her space with us, much less with a stranger. Anyway, she has spoken to people who’ve undergone hip replacement surgery and they assure her she’ll be up and about in no time. Given her history, this is easy to believe.

She looks strange, though, the skin of her face darker than her lips, her eyes hooded, and she’s still slurring. What worries me most is that she refuses to do the exercises the hospital has prescribed. This is not bloody mindedness, which frankly would be reassuringly in character, but a kind of torpor. Laura coaxes her to eat, persuades her to move a little, but the promised quick recovery doesn’t materialise. Instead she weakens and her lower leg swells. I ring the hire company; we’ll need the hospital bed for a second week. We start looking for another carer too. Laura couldn’t be nicer, but she has commitments back home in Cardiff.

The picture changes again after a series of unexpected events. My encounter with a Pimlico Plumbers van doesn’t affect my mother’s care plans, but does force me to realise how worried I am. At the same time, Laura is pinged by the Covid app: she has been in contact with someone who has the virus and must self-isolate. This is disruptive for her; the unabashed silver lining for us is that she has to stay with my mother for a few more days. (Sorry, Laura.)

Best of all, a few more days of live-in care is all my mother needs. She has begun to rally. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when she fully reinhabits her body. She’s still battered, and will take several more weeks to walk with confidence. Yet the transformation is swift and striking. I buy her shoes, bright pink Skechers, that she accessorises with red lipstick and vivid T-shirts. Watching her as she welcomes visitors to her garden, there’s no doubt at all. That combustion engine is once again running smoothly.

Getting better?

My own rehabilitation involves three fine examples of nominative determinism. The nurse who prepares me for the steroid injection introduces herself as she ushers me to a cubicle. “My name,” she says, “is Ouch.” Perhaps I misheard. I ask her to repeat herself. The syllable comes again, “Ouch”. She says this is a shortened version of a Latvian name.

The injection really hurts. I’m not sure it helps. The heroes of my story will be a consultant in sports and exercise medicine called Dr Matthew Stride (yep) and the physiotherapist who works with him, Hannah Shanks (really).

First though, I give the steroids a chance. The immediate reward for doing so is what these days might be called a “staycation”. Sandi [Toksvig, cofounder with Mayer of the Women’s Equality Party] collects me from the clinic and takes me to her house, where she and her wife Debbie lavish attention on me for the three days I’ve been told to stay quiet. It’s like a five-star hotel, with my own miniature butler and chef. Their cockapoo, Mildred, senses I’m under the weather and won’t be parted from my side.

When, reluctantly, I return home, the flat feels emptier than usual. I seek out Andy, or at least his imposing likeness as drawn by the artist Shepard Fairey. “Don’t you scowl at me,” I tell him. “I needed a break. Plus you’d approve of Mildred. Her tail covers her arse.”

Andy had a strange obsession with backsides. He thought dogs shouldn’t show them so flagrantly. Now I find I think about arses all the time too. Over the past year, mine has disappeared, off on a break of its own. The absence of padding makes sitting uncomfortable but I haven’t thought about how this phenomenon might relate to the pain in my hips. Dr (Let Me Improve Your) Stride points out that it isn’t just fat I’ve lost, but muscle.

He practises at a clinic called Isokinetic which carries a badge of approval from the international federation of football associations, FIFA, and would be a great place for spotting famous footballers if not for my ignorance of the species and a strict regime that enforces mask-wearing even in the hydrotherapy pool. I’m anyway less fascinated by faces than hindquarters, all those shining hocks and straining sinews like a parade of Stubbs paintings. My interest is purely scientific. This is peak arse, something I can never achieve, but a goal nonetheless.

I’ve landed at the clinic after the GP sent me to an orthopaedic surgeon, who predicted for my hips a life expectancy of just three to seven years and prescribed the steroid injection as a way to dull the pain rather than tackle the underlying problem. He listened, impassive, as I launched into an incoherent speech in response. I understood that osteoarthritis is degenerative and incurable, and that my recent birthday – sweet 60 – meant that some in the medical profession would write me off as geriatric.

I asked him to view me as a veteran athlete instead. Writing is far more physically demanding than most people realise. Long ago I learned to approach each new project as a track event and prepare accordingly. Books are marathons, demanding the discipline of steady progress over a long distance. Articles are shorter races, especially to news deadlines. You risk injury in the sprint to the finish, but figure you’ll deal with any problems later. That’s not always possible. Journalism groans with writers who suffer from repetitive strain injury and dowagers’ humps. Pilates and distance-walking have been my mainstays and cure-alls over decades.

The drugs (or therapies) don’t work

Now they aren’t enough. Dr Stride tells me that hip replacements won’t be a great solution either. The hypermobility that felt like a gift when I was young has revealed itself as a Midas touch, turning to rigid metal joints once deliciously flexible. This condition also makes it much harder to build and maintain muscle, leading to poor outcomes in joint replacements. Even before osteoarthritis struck, my left glute had given up, forcing its only slightly less faulty colleague on the right side to carry a greater burden. The doctor proposes an intensive course of exercise to rebuild me.

During the first phase, I attend the clinic three times a week, for hydrotherapy with a lovely Italian woman called Elisa, and for two lengthy sessions in the gym with Hannah (Let Me Strengthen Your) Shanks, who is blithe, relentless and brilliant. The sessions hurt like hell, but even as I work through one pain barrier only to run smack into a new one, I find myself grinning behind my mask, endorphins surging. It’s like being drunk without negative side effects and the benefits continue to surprise me.

Soon the pain in my hips diminishes to a shadow and I am gripped by a sensation that I remember but can’t quite name. Oh, that’s it, wellbeing. One morning I glance at the mirror and don’t immediately understand what I’m seeing. Then I realise. For the first time in my life, I have the stirrings of a six-pack.

Pleased though I am to make progress, each milestone raises a difficult question. What is the point? In bleak moments, I remember King Midas and the thousands of similar cautionary tales across centuries and cultures warning about gifts that reveal themselves to be curses. My mother and I are living out versions of an ancient myth about a mortal who gets it together with a goddess.

When Tithonus’s heavenly lover petitions Zeus to grant him immortality, she forgets to request the one ingredient essential to making this a boon, not a bane: eternal youth. Her mistake condemns Tithonus to endless decrepitude. My mother and I, in doing our best to ward off decrepitude, risk prolonging a different kind of misery. Time without Andy and John drags like an eternity. Our challenge is to develop alternative reasons for living, and the Great Reopening in the summer of 2021 shows how difficult this might prove. After the third lockdown in England ends, and amid government protestations that this will be the last, we recognise in the new freedoms the unmistakable outlines of a curse masquerading as a gift.

We can dine out with friends, but return to homes as empty as cenotaphs. Our own weekly meetings and regular meals with our bubbles had created the illusion of stability, of relationships in which the only negotiations were not about whether the meetings would happen, but at what time. Post-lockdown, any arrangements are of choice rather than routine. It is a difficult adjustment.

A rare tension flickers briefly between my mother and me. She refers to my Sundays as her Sundays, appears bereft if I make other plans, whether or not I come on another day and even though she understands better than anyone that changing things up is part of the work of relearning how to live.

It’s not surprising she’s on edge. Her neighbours — her bubble — are moving house. Some of the friends who sustain me are also going away. Of course I can make alternative weekend arrangements but this makes me realise that friends, however close, only partially fill the gap left by Andy and no-one should depend on the kindness of strangers.

A realisation about myself

With that realisation comes another: only one person must take charge of infusing my life with purpose and joy — me. Self-reliance isn’t just a good idea; for many of us who lose partners, it’s the only option. Rediscovering the ability to live alone doesn’t necessarily mean living in solitude. It’s about developing opportunities to spend time in meaningful or pleasurable ways.

Wellbeing is fundamental to that process. We can’t all be robust; it’s a question of making the best of the cards you’re dealt. I draw inspiration from friends who live, passionately and fully, with disabilities or illness.

One of my closest friends spent her last-but-one summer with Andy and me at a house in France. Cancer and chemo jangled her nerve endings and inflamed her hands and feet. A catheter implanted in her chest for the direct administration of drugs barred her from swimming in the nearby lake. Despite these restrictions, she was determined to have a good  time while she could – so she did. We criss-crossed the lake on a small boat, took walks, ate sumptuously, laughed and joked and debated. One evening she proposed that we find a better vantage point to watch the annual meteor shower, the Perseids. We left the ambient light of the village and climbed  a dark mountain path, pausing when she ran out of breath to gaze at a sky luminous with streaks and swirls.

That moment of sheer beauty didn’t simply present itself to her; she saw the possibility and seized it. Hers is the spirit  I aim to apply to the process of rebuilding. Not infrequently, this means I commit to too many things at once or that push me further than my body readily accepts. In the first half of 2021, I walked immoderate distances to leaflet for the Women’s Equality Party and celebrated just as immoderately when we won our second town council seat. During the same period, every month for the six months up to the release of The Problem of Leisure (the record Andy was working on before he died), I put out singles from the album. Each release demanded a press campaign and media interviews, and then there was the album itself.

Its title rang as hollow as the phrase “it’s good to be busy”. Launching an album is tough and this one was unusually time-consuming. Meetings, detail-heavy correspondence and promotional work devoured days and nights already clogged with efforts to make sense of Andy’s affairs. Then there was my regular unpaid work, Women’s Equality Party business (I sit on the steering and executive committees in addition to campaigning and fundraising) and Primadonna Festival, a deliriously wonderful celebration of great writing and creativity that I cofounded, plus other advocacy concerns and projects. I urgently needed to generate income too, as I spent, hand over fist, on lawyers, the PR team for the album and high-ticket items such as vinyl. I took on writing  commissions and consultancy, gave speeches, and ran Andy’s studio as a place to record not only music but audiobooks and other spoken word forms. All this and hours of intensive physiotherapy. The only solution was to sleep less. Insomnia is a curse that turns out to be a gift.

Despite the best efforts of the pandemic, in the summer of 2021, we managed to put on Primadonna Festival again in real life. Most of the time I was too busy making sure everything was going smoothly, but early one morning I paused to participate in one of the practical sessions for would-be writers. The instructor asked us to free-associate sets of words. Suddenly I found myself sobbing and scribbling a sort of poem:


Skims the water

More idea than being

A brightness noticed

Only when it’s gone

A colour that isn’t there.


The feathers too blurred to see

Are not green-gold.

Structural colour, like love, Is more than itself,

Real but not in the way we imagine.


Memories are hummingbirds, There and gone.

I miss you

As I miss hummingbird,

There and gone

There and gone.

I crept out of the class. Rebuilding means learning when to let your defences down and when to keep them high and hard. For Primadonna, I wanted to be functional.

My mother is perched on the sofa, tiny and bright as a hummingbird and almost as unlikely to stay still. “I need goals,” she says, “otherwise life becomes formless.” She begins running through a series of tasks and aspirations recently accomplished. Most importantly, she has fulfilled John’s wishes, despite interventions from the pandemic and her rebellious hip. Magic bathed the big day in Salisbury with sunlight. Family and close friends gathered at a bare rectangle carved into the otherwise perfect East lawn of the cathedral. The Canon Chancellor performed the service. Carefully he spread John’s ashes across the exposed earth, then invited us to cover them with handfuls of excavated soil.

This is my first glimpse of human dust and bone since I tried to coax Andy’s ashes into the wine flagon where they now reside. Tears blur my sight and I move away from my mother. Nothing should disturb her quiet contemplation. Later she will talk about how happy she felt in this moment. She experiences John’s interment not as a loss, but a consummation, her “ultimate gift” to him.

She now has clarity about her own last wishes too; she asks that we have her ashes interred near John’s. It’s good to know and also opens up wider conversations about the end of her life. That day – at the risk of tempting fate – appears surprisingly distant. Her physical and mental resilience is extraordinary. Every time I see her, she looks stronger.

There are many things she still wants to do, including clearing and repurposing the studio John built in their garden for his painting. She has also embarked on another writing project. Our book Good Grief contains letters she wrote to John to tell him of the strange and terrible events after his death, but other letters are emerging too, to her mother Ruth, the beginnings of a memoir. We talk about whether she can imagine falling in love again. Not really, she says. She has a ‘gentleman caller’ but sees him as a friend and companion.  ‘My next significant birthday is 90. I don’t know if I could bear the getting-to-know-someone phase. It’s not like instant mashed potato. It takes time. If I met someone and wanted to have a John-like relationship, I’d be 100 because it would take ten years.’

Nearly three decades may separate my mother and me, but we feel the same, miss the same things and are responding in many of the same ways to widowhood. The trick, we find, is not only to embrace opportunities, but also to be discerning. The quality of social activity is far more important than its volume. This is probably also true of the commitments that I too lightly accept.

She is ticking me off, in a gentle way, for overdoing it. I am not a chef but in a moment of madness agreed to cook a four-course menu for sixty diners at a café in Hastings. For fun. Back in London,  I reprimand my behind for failing to carry its weight. The exertions of cooking, just two weeks after Primadonna Festival, have left me with aching joints. This is why I’m agreeing with my mother’s criticisms about overwork, when suddenly she changes tack. “I say you’re too busy, but you’re sensible because you have things in your life that are not to do with being a widow,” she muses.

Cover of Good Grief by Catherine MayerSo does she, and not only her memoir and the plans for the garden studio. When we compare diaries to make arrangements for the coming weeks, she tells me I won’t see her until the third Sunday of the month. She’ll be going to a party next Sunday and the Sunday after that she and a mutual friend, a decade younger than me, have booked a fancy restaurant. At that moment, someone knocks at her front door. With a flash of colour, she darts across the living room and is gone.

Catherine Mayer

Good Grief – Embracing Life at a Time of Death by Catherine Mayer and Anne Mayer Bird is published by Harper Collins. The paperback is out February 3rd 2022. Catherine Mayer is on the Noon Advisory Board.

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