In my version of the mother-in-law joke, the punchline is our happiness together

I worried that the death of our loved-one-in-common would kill the bond between us – so with trepidation I sat my in-laws down to share heartfelt truths

‘I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law for 18 months – I don’t like to interrupt her.” Ken Dodd’s old joke rings hollow for me; I speak often to mine. It’s a pleasure, though, to quote newly knighted Sir Ken, for once a childhood hero who is in the news for something lovely. Above me now, the Rolf Harris signature screams out from a painting. It was a birthday present to Helen long ago; my love for her winning hands down against the bad taste of it still being up.

My easy use of “love for her” carries the conviction of more than 25 years together. Before Helen died, I had thought myself tough. It seems I was more like toughened glass, such was the way that grief shattered me, deeply embedding its blunt pieces to cause future pain when least expected. Yet, for all this, I’m certain there’s a sharper-edged grief whose shattering leaves more painful shards than mine. A grief I can only imagine and, please God, will never know.

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Alex Vidal