Recently, someone I have never met before, and certainly who has never met me with my children or indeed ever set eyes upon my children at all, sat earnestly before me at a dinner party and told me she felt I was projecting my grief onto my offspring. Yes it was like a punch in the stomach to learn once again that someone has an opinion on how I am dealing with Col’s death but it’s not a new thing, at all. We all do it, we all judge the way others are living their lives. It’s just some of us have learned through experience that sometimes you need to keep that thought inside and perhaps not verbalise it until we are in a position to know what we are talking about. And I wouldn’t wish the knowledge I have lived and learned through on anyone.
From the moment your husband, wife, partner dies it does feel like everyone feels they have a right to an opinion on stuff you are doing or not doing – the little and the big stuff. I am sure most who have gone through this have had moments where they’ve wanted to scream at people ‘how on earth do you know what is right or wrong here, you’re not where I am right now and although you’ve just made me mad I wouldn’t want you to know how this feels but just, just, arghhhh leave me alone to do this my way.’ People’s concern means that they care but there are often judgements within the worry – she’s not coping/ she’s coping too well/ she’s drinking too much/ she’s eating too little/ she’s not accepted it/ she’s not looking after herself/ she’s made the wrong big scary financial decision/ she’s being a cow (for too long)/ she’s moved on too quickly/ she’s not moved on enough/ she needs to find someone new to complete her once again/ she needs to be careful who she’s met because he might take advantage of her/ she is not being the best parent she can be/ she’s OK now/ she’s not OK enough to deal with this so we won’t tell her. Argggghhhhhh. The list is endless.
I still make the mistake of judging others’ choices in life. I should know better. I catch myself when I can and try to put myself in other people’s shoes before thinking they are doing the wrong thing. I try not to speak it out loud when I do have that opinion because what can my opinion add if I am not living their life.
I was particularly sensitive in the early days and many who crossed me with their well-intentioned tuppence-worth suffered my wrath directly or indirectly. I am sorry for that. I really am and I have learnt from that mistake but it still happens a wee bit here and there so apologies friends and family. Now I am less sensitive but I am still terribly thin-skinned when it comes to how I am helping my children through a loss that is lifelong and not fixable. Having read a significant amount on the subject I feel I have chosen the path that works for me and the girls. Below is a poem by Henry Scott Holland that was read at Colin’s memorial service almost three years ago. Many will know it. I believe its words and all in this house and those around me kind of live by them.
Death is Nothing at All
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.
It is the line “Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,” that resonates. Since Col’s death I have never allowed his name to be said in hushed tones or not spoken at all. I speak about him as if he were still here beside us all. I don’t change this for new friends that never knew him or me with him or Cameron’s friends who have only met me since I met him. It’s a 100 per cent of the time kind of a mindset. Col is my past, my present and my future and most importantly he is completely part of the girls’ lives. Perhaps this makes people uncomfortable but it is my way and from the research I have done on my children’s behalf I believe it is the best way to answer their, sometimes, barrage of daddy questions, ease their worries about death and keep his memory alive. To make his death, or any death in fact, a taboo subject will just make them feel death is a dark secret, his death is and his life are not part of them. Making it difficult to talk about him will make them feel different to others and down the line I believe it will make them anxious about a rather large subject that they need to talk through to understand.
When something so huge as the death of a partner, and the father or mother of your child or children, happens to you the perspective it gives you can feel like a gift if you can make yourself see the rather inadequate silver lining to the death cloud over your life. With my new perspecitve I am learning to face the world and its judgements and remember there is only one person I would take real criticism on on how I am bringing up my children and every decision I make for those girls I make with my knowledge of his opinions at the forefront of my mind. I believe I knew Col’s way and how he felt about the world better than most so I am making our lives as in tune with the way he lived his as possible. And I talk about him and his life and his way with my girls so they will hopefully understand where I am coming from when they are old enough. I may be right or wrong but this is my way. Others who will follow me in this journey may choose to do things differently, they will find their own way through, and others ahead of me in their loss are likely doing it their way. We all make mistakes but they are our mistakes to make. If I can sleep at night because I believe Col wouldn’t be judging me on how I am bringing up his children then I am happy. It is his judgement I try to put into my decision-making processes and so others can think what they like but I follow my heart on this. I don’t judge this person who made their sweeping statement of me. As one widow friend said when I told her of the whole upset I should be happy that she is so clueless as to how all this feels because why would I want anyone to suffer all this heartache. If she had come close to it she may not have said her piece so bluntly. Perhaps my reaction will make her think more before she speaks next time but I hold no malice. I think she meant well. Perhaps next time I am held up in judgement for my life and my actions I should learn to smile, remember the words of the Henry Scott Holland poem copied into this post and move on because in my heart I feel I am doing the right things the right way most of the time. And I will learn by my mistakes. Judge me if you will but keep it to yourself until you are walking in similar shoes to mine.
Three years this Wednesday and still learning.