Grief. Such a small word for such a bloody big never-ending process. It might rhyme with brief – it is anything but. I wish it were.
Time heals…One of many stock phrases that get trotted out after a death. A simple combination of just two words that can make people like me, people who were just like everyone else in life until they suddenly aren’t because of death, feel like they are being given a mean old poke in the eye with a spiky spoke and a full-on extra nasty twist at the end of it. I can verify time does not heal you to the point of the fully restored ‘just how you were’ you. I am living proof of it. Time provides a distance between the trauma of a death to wherever you are in present time. In the immediate moment after death you are pretty much in the eye of the storm. Everything after is the process of grief. Time for me provides me time to numb, time to learn to cope a little better between triggers and as this process goes along I sense that the time between those godawful triggers, that have me sinking back into the darkness of grief once again, can lengthen. Time also gives me time to work my way through the emotional chaos created in the aftermath of each trigger and this time seems to get shorter each time. The bummer, a word I am borrowing from my six-year-old’s banned vocabulary list, actually let’s go further, the ‘total bummer’ is that it is my personal experience that time is yet to give me a heads up on where the triggers might lurk and sometimes time hoodwinks me into thinking I am properly healed (doh) and as strong as everyone told me I was along the way (another well-used stock phrase that people trot out to the bereaved when they seem to be less screaming banshee than they once were).
I can be ticking along quite ok. Well, relatively, because there will never be a day for the whole rest of my life that Col’s loss is not felt by me or the girls, fleetingly or profoundly. Ticking along OK but within our new normal that has developed over the four and a half years since he died. And then I am not. This has happened this week. I don’t think the trigger was my little baby going to school – the baby Colin last saw when she was nine-weeks-old. It may have been or perhaps that was one of many other bricks in the grief wall I have hit over the last few days. Maybe it’s that I will never have another baby going to their first day of school? Or maybe it’s that I am sitting on a train on my way to London, to re-rent our old home to more strangers. I think it’s that. I can’t moan too much as I am lucky (it’s all relative) that I have an income as solid as a rental house in London. But that doesn’t salve the pain of walking around your kids’ old nursery rooms smelling stale smoke and discussing replacing broken blinds with people who think you’re a mean old money-grabbing landlord. Yup that joy awaits me tomorrow and I’ll have to put my ‘strong’ head back on.
In the meantime, I have been reading these two different theories on the process of grief.
The first is the one you hear of more and the one I identity with a little less because it seems to be a step-by-step process. I still accept it but I like to mix it up a little and say that it works to describe elements of my grief but not in any linear way.
The second is more recent and identifies the hard work you have to put into processing your very own D day.
Perhaps one or both might help you make sense of you? Either way I like reading something that helps me see my madness in grief needs theories written about it. I say that in a present tense because my grief is pretty much always present its just sometimes less on show. The ‘time heals’ life raft that people tend to throw you is one that seems to indicate you will at some point get to the point of 100% better. Often healing leaves significant scars and today on this train, I have just picked at mine and it’s still bloody sore even after all this time (sorry couldn’t resist one last…).
When you think about it you can measure your life in Christmases. I can and I am sure most of you can too. I can remember my first Christmas that I can physically remember in the toys that we all got. Sindy furniture for my sisters and a bright yellow Snoopy hat for me. Then there was the year of the rollerboots. There was the year of the salopettes that we all put on when the snow outside got deep enough to run out and play in them. I remember the Christmas I got a Commodore 64 with cassette games of Daley Thomson’s decathlon and Hunchback. There was the year I got a Yamaha keyboard, suggested by Dad and I taught myself to play Nick Berry’s Every Loser Wins by ear. I remember the last Christmas with both my paternal grandparents. I remember the first Christmas without my Bampi and how my Gran was without him there. I remember the endless games of Trivial Pursuit when it was the first year it came out. I remember a year of dumping the olds so we could watch Take That on MTV in a separate part of the house because our lives depended on seeing it.
Christmas is only one day of the year but it marks every one of our years because we lay such importance on it. It is also etched in our memories because we take such a lot of photos of everyone we are enjoying it with so as the years pass it can be a marker of what we have had and what we have lost. In childhood it was most definitely about the gifts received and what was under the tree. As the years have passed, for me, it has become about the people I spend it with and the people that are no longer here to spend it with. The gifts are background noise to the most important part of the season for me.
Isla was born exactly four Christmases ago, on Christmas Eve. It was the only Christmas I would spend with her and Col and Evie. My parents had come down for her arrival and so were there when Colin and I brought her home from hospital on Christmas Eve. It was a special Christmas anyway but now in retrospect it was so much more than special. It was unique and out of this world as within four years two of the special people I shared it with have gone. Isla and Evie are no longer the tiny beings they were and are walking and talking mini people and mum and I are widows. How odd.
There was that first Christmas without Col my family rallied and we got through. A case of shingles and two cases of chicken pox were an added bonus to an already difficult time but we got through.
Since then I have measured Christmas by the strength of my parents to ride me through it and the amazing addition of Cameron and his boys to our whole brood.
This year is another shaky one. Dad has gone and mum is surviving. We are all holding on as we make it through the endless cheer. My heart has broken numerous times for my girls, and for me, as they appear as Angels or Mary at Nativity plays and I wish Colin back if only for those moments.
My photos this year will lack two of the most important men in my life but I have to see the postives and be glad that have three new men in the form of the wonderful Barrie boys.
I wish love for all those spending their first Christmas without an important person in their life. Tick this one-off and you’ll find the next one – not easier just different. Christmas is forever changed but it is what it is. A day. Enjoy it if you can and if you can’t – well just count the hours and minutes and get on through. I had several duvet moments on my rookie year. I am not ashamed. I am human and those ghosts of Christmas past sometimes do get a little much. Even this fourth year down the line I still feel a bit knocked for six by it. Good luck my bereaved followers. Good luck.
Here’s a link for some that might need it…
I didn’t cry when I heard about Peaches Geldof. I felt numb. Then sick. Then I let my head try to think what each person who has lost her was feeling. That utter disbelief that someone so ‘there’ and ‘alive’ one minute has just been sucked out of your reality. And then I thought about how she lost her mum and how her children have lost her. How it was all so sick and out of the natural order of life. Then I just kept thinking about her poor husband and I thought more and more about that massive hole he will feel, the weight of the future, the disbelief that all he had is now in the past…and the big questions he’ll start asking himself like ‘how in the blazes do you manage to bring up your children and not let this huge life changing thing become their cross and alter their path just like it is altering you beyond recognition with every breath you take after ‘they’ve gone’…anyways, this post by Ben on his amazing blog lifeasawidower says it all so much better.
Col used to rib me for being rubbish at talking to people on the phone. Not friends or family, not usually, but corporates, cold callers from call centres, insurance brokers, taxi firms and most of all takeaways (random but true – I would rather spend 30 minutes faffing on the internet to order my thai green chicken than speak to the horse’s mouth around the corner). So in the weeks after his death it was especially hard and quite awful to have to deal with the few bits of corporate fallout that I had to deal with ( I was very lucky that Col’s good friends and colleagues took the brunt).
Cold callers asking to speak to Mr. Campbell either got an expletive followed by a blunt ‘he’s dead so stop expletive, expletive, expletive calling me’. When I did feel up to sorting out the unpaid accounts that needed sorting, well by the time I was through the automated telephone system to an actual person…hmmm, suffice to say poor souls.
Continue reading Corporate Grief
I was told by a doctor in the days following Col’s death that I would never get over the loss of him from my life. I didn’t understand that what that kind doctor meant was that my grief will always be with me but it would not always be as sore and raw as it was in those first hours and days. I wanted to fix myself and my life and sticky plaster it all back together so it could be what it once was. I didn’t want to hear that life would always have this pain of grief in it. The doctor was right and I was wrong. Life after loss is like waking up in an altered reality. Everything looks the same but you feel the whole world differently. People sound different. And you feel indifferent to much of what is said and happening around you because much of it is now trivial to you. For me the large shard of perspective that lodged itself in my head that fateful day that Col was ripped out of my life has made me focus on enjoying what I have and not spending life worrying over what I haven’t. It has also made me understand the pain of others’ grief. Quite honestly before death darkened my door I didn’t get it. On hearing that a friend had lost a loved one I would have said “oh that’s sad, awful, terrible’ and I would ponder the unfairness of it briefly and then I would have moved on with my normal life. Not now and I wish I could give this new perspective to everyone. I want to give people a glimpse of how the world looks once you have lost love without them having to go through the pain of losing love. Perhaps then they would come close to understanding the pain of those of us wandering around this earth with those big gaping, unfixable holes in our lives and they may even forgive us for the little things, and big things, we haven’t managed to do or say rather hang on to trivial issues. Instead of worrying that we are making decisions that we wouldn’t have made before, they might applaud us grievers when we use our pain and grief to propel us forward rather than stay static treading the deep waters of loss.
A fellow widow posted this feature Grief Intelligence: A Primer by Ashley Davis Bush from the Huffington Post on Facebook yesterday and it nails a lot of what I have tried to say in the first paragraph of this post. Fellow grievers read it and weep with the knowledge that finally someone has put ‘it’ into words and non grievers please read and try to understand us all a little bit better.
Colin was an imbecile when it came to technology. I remember one Sunday having to accompany him all the way into his Chancery Lane office to help attach a document to an email that he needed to be sent to a client. On numerous occasions I would receive flustered phone calls if he was working at the weekend asking me to solve various issues with his computer. Obviously without his trusty secretary Sylvia in the office with him he needed assistance on everything from how to create a pdf to how to send a fax. Bless him. He was a man from another era and would have fitted in quite fabulously to a law firm circa 1837. Col’s best friend Ed and him often joked about how they should set up a law partnership named Kafuffle & Blunder. In my head I saw it as a Dickensian style solictors with a cracked wooden painted sign swinging from a rusty chain, at an angle of course, above an old Victorian shop front. Kind of Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge stylee with Ed and Col seen through the window panes looking more like Bob Cratchit warming their fingerless gloved hands on their candles, their client list scant and their work chaotic.
Back in the 21st century, when the whole world went social media crazy Col struggled with the legal implications of having himself online. He eventually did join facebook but he admitted to me it was really just so that he could spy on old girlfriends to see if they had settled for someone bald and fat and not a jot on him. Hilarious. He was so honest about his intentions that I never thought to distrust him. He only ever said yes to about six friend requests (the Swedish ex among them) and was always asking me if people could tell when he said no, ever worried not to appear impolite. Well, impolite to other people that is. He kept my friend request pending for two years. I don’t think it was because he was hiding anything. I hope. I will put it down to the fact he only ever went onto Facebook once in a rare non-busy lunch hour blue moon and give him the benefit of the doubt.
Actually, I know he was hiding nothing now because when he died I had to shut him down online. I knew Col’s password for everything because he used the same one for everything, ever security conscious. So I logged in on facebook and LinkedIn and closed the accounts. I had to because I know people were getting freaked that he was coming up as a suggested friend or connection or whatever. I also saw that he had had messages from people who didn’t know about his death. I emailed them and let them know and then deleted his profiles. Otherwise he would have lived on online forever. The process left me with a strange feeling like I was spying on my dead husband. But left untouched I suppose the dead live on forever in cyber space. Odd how it can happen to even the most luddite among us.
This letter was handed to me by a mother at Evie’s nursery and it proved sooooo useful to all my family and friends. I think it may originate from the Way Foundation. Please forward on, print, learn it word for word…if you know someone going through this.
Continue reading Invaluable advice for friends of a widow/widower