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…).
This time of year does tend to smart and this year more than ever. My email inbox is clogged up with chipper Father’s Day gift ideas and my phone keeps pinging me clever ways to treat the men that are no longer in our lives. Popping to the supermarket to top up on essentials is like running a gauntlet of reminders of all the cheap tat we don’t need to buy this year, next year or indeed ever.
Evie’s loving practising her new reading skills everywhere we go – road signs, sides of trucks and everything you pass in shops. This week I’ve seen her walk that first aisle in Tesco and take in the cards and the messages so I wasn’t really surprised to have a big old chat with her yesterday morning. At nursery the girls have always either made me a card or made a wee picture for Grandad and they’ve never seemed particularly sad about that. However, this year this year there is no Grandad, no Poppa and, of course, no Daddy. So Evie was deliberating over what she wanted to do if her class did a Father’s Day activity: “I could make Grandad a card and laminate it so it could go on his grave but then how would we stick there? Miss Taylor has special Sellotape that might stick but what do we stick it to?”
I suggested punching a hole in it and tying it on with ribbon but was met with disgust so she pondered some different ideas: “I’ll maybe just make a card for Daddy and we can put next to his photograph or perhaps I just make Nana a card because she’s lonely all on her own.” Everything I said to these options was wrong even though I was only saying ‘you can pretty much choose any of the above my love because they are all fine plans and make total sense in a situation that will never really make sense to any of us’.
I decided to call in outside reinforcements because it was clear that Evie and I were clashing as only her and I can particularly when she is feeling a little at sea about something usually grief related. So I wrote a note to Evie’s teacher explaining that she was obviously uptight about any activities that might be done at school. Help.
I love Evie’s teacher. Due to some strange and awful fate Evie is one of three children in her class grieving a daddy. in response to my scrappy note Evie’s teacher wrote the most beautiful little note back to me and also took the time to speak to me and Evie about the planned activity. So instead of a straight Father’s Day card Evie’s class will be doing an activity where they are asked to think of someone special to them and draw and write about them. It’s a lovely solution and Evie bounced down to school this morning full of beans about today’s Creative Hub. And hopefully those dad’s of the class who are all still here won’t mind too much…perhaps their partners will need to run to Tesco because there’s certainly some wonderful Daddy tat to be picked up at a reasonable price tag. Evie and I can totally vouch for that.
As for Isla? Simple: “Mummy for Father’s Day I am going to make a toy for daddy to play with in the clouds. We will need to put it on an aeroplane so it can fly up to him.”
I had a comment on my last post saying that they didn’t really understand my blog and why I wrote it. It has made me think. I started this blog for a reason. It was and continues to be my therapy. If it could help people close to me understand me then good. If it reached out to others suffering similar. Great.
In the early weeks after Colin died I was looking for any fix possible to make life more livable again. My grief and pain were so sore I could barely breathe for that awful black knot in my chest. I was breastfeeding Isla so the GP couldn’t numb me with drugs. I was given mild sleeping pills so I could find a few hours respite in every 24 hours just to keep me going until the next living nightmare of a day. I asked for a referral to a grief councillor. Anything, anything, anything that might help me. I got one. I did the therapy. I think went about six or seven times. I sat talking to a lovely woman at the aptly Continue reading Healing Myself
I tell my tale to Elaine C Smith on Radio Scotland this week. You can listen online here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0419c3p
There is a widow site/online community that I am a member of. A place where those who have lost a partner can vent, moan, laugh, weep their way through with others who at least have some understanding of what it is like. In the build up to Christmas the posts are understandably about all the excess pain that comes with the season of joy and goodwill to all men for us widows/widowers. From the small things, the way you’re addressed in cards or on envelopes and who’s remembered to send anything in the post at all; to the difficulties in watching your children in nativity plays singing their hearts out, albeit badly, without their daddy or mummy beside you to share that big fat moment of pride, together; to the larger ongoing issues that come from the expectations of family and friends to be over it, at least for the festive season. To the outsider’s eye (the non-widowed that is) a lot of these posts could be read as self-indulgent moans but to all those reading this who have lost a partner you will get it. It’s hard at this time of year and it’s extremely hard to keep your perspective about you. I know I am lucky to have the girls to watch in plays. There are others who weren’t so fortunate to have that longed for child before their partner died. I am lucky to have wonderful friends and family who still remember us in many presents and carefully worded cards and who don’t mind when my ‘second Christmas as a widow’ bambi legs (it’s how I actually feel – a novice at Christmas once more) mean I have forgotten to buy a gift, not made it to the post office in time or not sent proper Christmas cards…so ie their kindness has not been reciprocated (YET). So I do try to remember that I am lucky when I feel the widow bah humbugs of Christmas wash over me. If I can’t I vent to my widow friend.
Continue reading Widows United
My late husband always refered to the Daily Mail as the Daily Hate. As many do. I think and indeed hope that he would be quite amused at the furore he, I and Cameron have caused within the tiny minds of the small-minded people that have written such vitriolic comments on my feature in the paper yesterday.
Of course the paper sensationalised it. ‘Husband who told his wife to find new life from beyond the grave’!! Not my choice of header. But it’s what they do to get some of their readers whipped up in a frenzy about things. Dear God, I know Col is not having wee chats with me from beyond the grave. Even if he had one I think my GP or my family would perhaps be getting a little concerned if I was having those types of conversations with my dead husband. Mind you I do have moments where I think about what he might he say…and in this instance, this Daily Hate-gate I’ve created as he might call it, he’d be laughing his socks off. These people and their hateful comments are the very ones that pay the money that will pay me for the feature. And yes you could say I have sold my soul and am trading off my husband’s death…but when Col died I left my London life and my main livelihood (although I was actually on maternity leave) and so now I have to do what I can to get by and feed and clothe my children. When a paper approaches you to write a feature…. well I am a writer and that’s what I do. It’s how I have got through the last 20 months in tact. Judge me if you want. It helps pay the bills at a time when I am up to my ears in looking after my beautiful children pretty much fulltime.
For those who think I am a callous widowed witch who has moved on too quickly. Well, that’s an opinion not so eloquently put by some but they are welcome to it. I was barely half a person after col died. I was functioning and living for my children, as one lady suggested I should have, and perhaps I should have been happy with that. But don’t my children deserve more than half a mother, one who hated waking up every morning, one who fell asleep weeping every night, one who wasn’t looking after herself and was on a path to self destruct as food become a little known concept and wine too close a friend? Do they not deserve a mum who laughs and loves life again? Oh no I forgot widowed women should be dressed head to toe in black and weeping for their loss for at least three years before they earned their true widow stripes. Aye right. Is it here that I should bring up the gender divide in bereavement. You see it’s a well known fact that men move on quicker than women. Many remarry within the first 12 months. But that’s OK because they are men. I wonder if the vitriole directed at me and some of my fellow widows in the comments feed on the Daily Mail site yesterday would have been the same concentration of nastiness if the feature had been written by a man? Who cares really though? To be quite frank these people, that wrote the horrid stuff ( there were so many who were lovely and writing kind ones in between), well I get the feeling that none of them, male or female, have lost a partner. Once again I shall say that I wouldn’t wish the death of a partner on my worst enemy but unfortunately it will happen to 50% of people who are in a relationship, it’s a simple fact of life – people die, so it will happen to many of them and only then will they truly get it. Mind you I do question whether certain commenters have a life beyond their little computer screen, never mind a partner.
Since Col died I have had many versions of the following said to me. “You’re amazing. I couldn’t do what you’re doing.” People often follow that up with, “I would simply fall apart if [insert their various partners’ names here] died.” Really? Do you think so? I am not so sure. I wanted to fall apart and yes I actually did a little bit in those early weeks. I wept inconsolably, instead of looking after my children I crumbled and let others take the brunt of their care, I didn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I saw no future and I had split seconds where I thought as there is no future I will walk out in front of that car. But not keeping on going just wasn’t an option and most placed in this horrific position manage to do so too. It’s not like I was sent this particular life challenge because I am more resilient, amazing or otherwise than the next person. I am not. If or when your life takes this awful turn you too will keep going, albeit by the skin of your teeth, and you will also be told you are amazing. I am not one to turn away a compliment, of course, so every man and his dog can tell me what a fabulous human being I am if they want, but I know that there are countless men and women like me, just keeping on going in this life as best they can just when they don’t want to anymore.
However, in low moments, when I think I am a static lump of unachieving widowness, I also pat myself on my back for some of my amazing feats in the face of death. Just as you should too when it happens to you, if it hasn’t already of course. And if it has done, well I am so sorry for your loss, but please do this list as you’ll see at the end of it that you are amazing too. Oh I know my list may not look like much to some but these are giant leaps for widowkind in my little world of survival. These are the things that will make me believe it a tiny bit the next time someone tells me how fabulous I am for being a grade one, expert widow who is doing so fantastically well, better than anyone ever who has ever trod this path before. Aye right.
Just some of my amazing Widow Year One feats:
1. Keeping on breathing.
2. Waking up everyday.
3. Bringing up two children under two. OK that’s getting easier as Evie is nearly three now but hey I managed to breastfeed a baby while grieving a husband. I like to think that’s quite an achievement.
4. Driving. I’ve always been a rubbish driver. Colin was our designated driver while I was limited to trips to soft play centres or supermarkets. I have now driven the length of the UK several times and that’s astounding in itself. Nevermind that Col pretty much died at the wheel of our car. In the week after his death I got back in and drove and didn’t let my head think about the hands that had gripped that wheel less than a week previously. I simply had to because I wanted to be the one that took his suit, his shoes, his cufflinks and his tie to the funeral directors. It was the last thing I could do to care for him. So I had to drive that car. I had to be in control of the hideous task at hand. And I know that I am not alone.
5. Seeing his body. I went to see his body at the funeral parlour. I had to do this. His death was so unreal. He hadn’t been ill for months. He walked out the door fully healthy and didn’t come home. I wanted to see him from the moment I learnt of his death but had to wait almost a week. It was horrific. His body was not him. I could barely touch him and had to almost turn and run. But I had to have that last goodbye.
6. Speaking at his funeral. I stood up in front of 400 plus people and spoke to Colin as if I were talking to him directly as I said his eulogy at his memorial. I knew all those people were there, judges, barristers, his clients, his colleagues, our friends and our families, but as I spoke I felt like it was our personal conversation.
6. I bought a house. Negotiated the price and bought a house. I packed us up and moved us out and moved us on hopefully to start a new future.
Amazing old me. Back slap. Back slap.