How lucky were we?

Natasha McElhone with husband Martin in 2003
Photo by Dave Benett/Getty Images

Natascha McElhone was 5,000 miles from home and pregnant with their third child when the call came, and in that instant her world crumbled. Her husband of a decade and one day had died unexpectedly from heart failure while she was filming in Los Angeles. He was 43. As she faced the overwhelming reality of her loss, McElhone turned to her diary for solace, filling its pages with raw and intimate letters to Martin that helped her to navigate the intense grief. “Writing to my husband has enabled me to keep him here long enough to ‘come to terms’ with losing him,” she later reflected. This is just one entry, written in May of 2009, a year after everything changed.

The Diary Entry

10th May

I am about to land in New York to do a quick screen test. I think this is the quickest trip I will have ever made here. I’ll be in Manhattan for a few hours. I am not mad about the project. What’s the point of this carbon footprint?

I wish I had you to call and tell about this as I used to. Remarkably you never seemed to tire of it. You always wanted to know everything, the smallest detail. I miss that kind of sharing – without it there are holes everywhere. Baby, I don’t know if I was ever bored by you, well maybe I’d drift off when you would talk about the power of Led Zeppelin or the wonder of a Jimi Hendrix solo, but apart from that I pretty much hung on your every word. Perhaps it was just the way you spoke. I loved listening to you, watching your mouth, the way it moved and tripped over itself, the words getting trapped between your big lips, stuck on their way out. I remember you used to say you had lips like a dingy, a luscious life raft more like … The way you viewed the world, this experience, it was peering through a new kaleidoscope for me.

I remember once when I had to go to Paris to test for a movie. I was probably under-prepared. I had just had Beanie and was squeezing into a skirt and trying to find things to wear to mask my overflowing boobs. 

It was already a huge wrench leaving him behind. I had fed him, packed the pump, hopped on the train to do the test, then would get back to London in time for the last feed. When I arrived, there were about fourteen people in the room, no hellos just a ‘which page do you want to start on?’ Arghhh! I wanted to run… milk was rising…… I pulled a scarf out of my bag and whipped it round my neck to hang down and cover the milk leaks appearing through my shirt. I didn’t make it, I was useless; I didn’t have a clue. I felt trippy and just wanted to be released from the agony of a bad audition. But no, they wanted more:

‘Come on, just try it one more time,’ as I continued to slip and slide and spin off-piste. When I left the room, my toes curled firmly up, a lump rose in my throat. Was it separation from Beanie, hormones? Not sure I shoved it back down and ran for the train. 

I remember flopping into my seat feeling so relieved it was over because I had you and this tiny creature we had created. I just longed to be back in your arms. The job, or now lack of, would just be flushed away in an instant. I had you and my newborn baby – there would be other jobs.

You came to collect me from the Eurostar with tiny Bean in his car seat and you had placed a bouquet of flowers across him and wrapped his still skinny arms around them so it looked as if he had bought them himself. Those kinds of gestures, they were effortless for you – you never looked for approval, you simply followed your impulse and then carried on. I remember allowing my eyes to well up as you clasped me tight. Nestled in his car seat, which was dangling from your hand, our tiny creation peered up like an owlette. His daddy could take care care of everything. How lucky were we?

Further Reading

Heartfelt thanks to Natascha McElhone for allowing me to reprint this diary entry. It can be found in her profoundly moving book, After You, which was first published in 2010 and features many other entries and letters written by McElhone in the year after her husband’s death.

In that memoir, McElhone mentions two other books that helped her through the grieving process. They are A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis, and Living on the Seabed by Lindsay Nicholson.

In 2010, McElhone was interviewed about the book, and about her husband, for the Guardian. That can be read here.

Diary entry excerpted from After You by Natascha McElhone. Copyright © 2010 Natascha McElhone. Penguin. Reproduced by kind permission.

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