Grief looks like me

I was the picture of grief in the earliest days, when the shock left me unable to walk and breathing ached. Grief looked like me when I’d burst out crying in public or when my mum had to desperately force feed me. Today is 2 years 9 months since my Marky died and today grief looks like me. I carry it with me always. Grief looks like me when I do my eyeliner perfectly and my hair is shiny. Grief looks like me when I talk to friends and laugh with my whole body. My grief is ongoing just as my love is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a comment that actress Holly Matthews made in an interview about losing her husband… ‘Grief looks like me’. Grief looks like anything you can possible imagine. Sometimes you might look like a depressed wailing heap on the floor (and trust me I have been there and I am the Queen of crying on public transport!) but sometimes you put your makeup on and go to work and smile, interact with the world seamlessly and no one knows how much you’re battling to survive. I always liked that quote… Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Today marks 1005 days of grieving. 1005 since my love died and these days people look at me slightly oddly when I say I am grieving or have had a bad grief day, as if the act of grieving was a static place in time and I should be past that now. I know many widows who wish for the Victoria era of black mourning clothes so we can tell the world that we feel fragile, yet so far along in this journey I would be looked at quite oddly even in Victorian times for still wearing my black veil. I believe grief is something you carry with you for life… it gets easier to handle and feels lighter at times, a huge dull weight at others and sometimes you learn a new way of carrying it. It changes shape constantly and fluctuates but you carry it with you always… ‘Some things in life cannot be fixed, they can only be carried’ writes Megan Divine. My love died utterly suddenly and unexpectedly. Within one minute his life stopped and my entire universe changed and I will always carry this with me as I love him, it matters, it hurts. He was magical and he was beautiful and our lives will forever be deeply intertwined. Yet in our culture when the supposed time for grieving has passed, people don’t understand why or how you are still grieving or how much it effects every part of your life. It is not something to be scared of but to embrace. If you have a friend who has lost someone, ask them how they are today, mention their loves name because it will help. Death is such a natural part of life yet we run scared of it rather than embracing the pain. Sometimes we need to embrace the pain. We want to say their names and tell their stories. We want to smile at those memories but we also want to cry when it stabs us unexpectedly. We want to share it with you on the bad days and the good, but we’re stuck in a culture that tries to shut down pain.

Today you will have passed strangers in the street who have just lost someone, friends who lost their parent a few years back, colleagues who lost their best friend 10 years ago and for no reason at all, today their grief might have hurt just that little bit more… whether on day 1 or 1005. Grief looks like us all because grief is a natural part of life, we need to stop running from it and open ourselves up to the idea that grief lives with us, not opposite.

A letter to the doctor who compared losing my partner to losing a pet rabbit

My first GP said I was young and beautiful and I would find someone else

A nurse said she was sure I would feel better in a month

Friends compared my love dying to a break-up or divorce

You compared losing my love to losing a pet

Many people told me it would make me a better person

In the long run… stronger, more sensitive, more able

When my world was disintegrating at the seams

Many well-meaning people told me

I would love again

Many people wanted to help,

By absenting my pain.

You’re the first place people turn to after loss. When the police came to my house near midnight to tell me my love had been found dead in the street I remember I just wanted to walk. I felt like I could keep walking for the rest of my life. I kept repeating tell me this isn’t real tell me this isn’t real tell me this isn’t real… I had no idea what to do or what happens now. The next morning I went to see my doctor.

The morning my rabbit died I had to get up at 4:30am as I was on the morning shift. I was heartbroken, he was a beautiful companion and he had been in my family for seven years. I did go to work… and the day after, and the day after. I didn’t need anti-depressants to keep me alive, I didn’t want sleeping pills to just-for-the-love-of-god help me sleep… my dreams for the future weren’t utterly shattered to pieces and although I loved that little bunny my future still existed. It is wrong I have to even type these words… to explain to someone why losing the love of your life is simply not the same as losing your pet. It’s not the same as losing your parent. It’s not the same as losing your sibling. It’s not the same as losing your grandparent. It is not the same as any other loss as each loss is different and should never be compared.

Your words not only tried to compare but they exposed a sad picture of how our culture views grief. You used losing a pet rabbit as an example to tell me I should be coping better. If your pet rabbit had died, you would expect to be feeling better by now. You wouldn’t be coping by taking pills. In your eyes I was failing. I was grieving wrong. I was taking too long. I was too sad, for far too long.

We label people with complicated grief when it doesn’t fit into our standards. We desperately want the bereaved to move on… a phrase that feels like acid to our skin. We try to cover their pain with platitudes about healing and finding another love, as if one love replaces another or that falling in love with another would stop our grief dead in its tracks. Excuse the image. The bereaved are always too much.

So let me tell you a secret that all bereaved people know, no matter who they have lost. The first two to three years after a loss is the immediate aftermath. Then the beginning starts. The beginning is when we start to be able to live rather than survive, when hopefully, we can move with our grief instead of against it and build a life around it. Our grief is messy, strident, consuming and yet invisible to you at the same time. All bereaved people know this secret that grief is life-long. It does not mean we are broken. It means we’re human, we loved and still do.

When you dig down to the roots of the thing, there lays something that isn’t nothing, it isn’t emptiness, it is love with no place to go… it is love that still grows and love is a powerful thing. Yet you view us as weak. I turned to you for help, you’re in a trusted position. I came away from seeing you feeling more isolated than ever, feeling like the only people who would ever understand were those who were also widowed… and suddenly the world looked very narrow, very disconnected.

I wish I could write to you what grief feels like but there is a reason I call my writing a nameless pain… language does not have the words to express this. Each loss is unique, even when they share so much… there are universal experiences but so much is individual. Your words came from a place of judgement but many try to compare losses in a desperate attempt to connect and show us they care… but no loss is the same.

 

I feel some hope that there are charities trying their best to get our not so hidden secret into the minds of others. The bereaved community feel like we’ve been screaming it at the top of our lungs for years yet nothing changes. The charity Widowed and Young has many resources for outsiders to read. The Good Grief Trust aims to bring all bereavement charities and organisations together, so no one slips through the net and no one feels alone.

If you’re a doctor and reading this, or a nurse, or a friend… please pass this message on. We need to be heard. Please stop trying to absent our pain.

Love isn’t passive

Love doesn’t stop just because death takes the person away from our physical presence on this earth. I think love continues to be a very active thing… an ongoing feeling and experience. Love isn’t passive… it remains exuberant and outspoken. That’s why I still love ‘doing’ things for Marky, because my love continues to grow and that bond is still expanding. The grief is so intense because the love is so intense.

Happy Anniversary, my love.

Explaining the unexplainable

You wake up at 4am drenched in sweat. Other people tell you reality takes a minute to hit but for you it punches you fresh in the face… your partner is dead.

I am constantly analysing my dreams since my Marky died. They try to fix puzzles, to solve the mystery… where did he disappear to? Where did he go? Why did he suddenly vanish? How do I process this?

I am two years into this and my dreams and nightmares remain the same. My mind is trying to fix this, solve this, come up with an answer somehow. In some of my dreams he is a missing person, in others he is dead, in others he is dead but has come back to life, in others he has left me and we haven’t talked in years, in others he is dead and remains dead but can communicate with me, in others he is dead but doesn’t realise and can’t understand why I am so affected by his death that never happened, in some he is dead and has returned and cannot understand why I am so paranoid about him dying again.

My mind has thrown up every possible scenario about where my beloved has gone. They all ache. The traditional stages of grief (which were originally about people dealing with their own death, not others) did not tell us that the idea of acceptance of death is really so misinformed. I can stare you straight in the eyes and tell you my Marky died. I saw his dead body. I kissed his cold forehead and whispered to his dead corpse that I would love him for eternity. I saw his body lowered into the ground by his friends. I took earth into my palms and scattered it in the ground. I know he is dead… but tell that to my dreams? They will not believe you.

I have spoken to many fellow widowed friends who have found the same, our minds seem to confront us with every rational possibility of what may have happened to them in our dreams. Disappearance? Check. Vanished? Check. Cheated? Check. Argued? Check. Died? Check… but how? Found by MI5 for a crime? Check. Living a double life? Check. Died and then came back to the living? Check. Died but has to be careful about death? Check. Died but came back as a different form? Check. Died but came back and died again? Check. Check Check. Check. Check.

What is acceptance? I can tell you he is dead, but evidently my mind is playing tricks on me and is still trying to explain his sudden disappearance from my life.

My mind has thrown up every possible scenario about where my beloved has gone. Because nothing explains it. Nothing will ever explain it.

The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death… One year of Grief

In 365 days I have died 365 times. It is true that you do not lose someone just once, you lose them a thousand times, in a thousand ways, on a thousand levels.

I wrote this exactly a year into this grief. I wrote it as a solo statement… somehow hoping I could bring something profound to the table about living with this grief for a whole year. I wanted to write something uplifting or resourceful. I stopped writing when I realised I was stuck and I could not write anything remotely positive. I stopped writing. I think one of the most important parts of grief is to be honest… If you are widowed your life is now full of clichés… people telling you that you can survive, you will ‘find another’ (a phrase that makes me feel ill), that god never gives you more than you can deal with, that they are in a better place… etc etc etc etc… Underneath all of this is the fact that I had consumed all these phrases so well that I could no longer write. I stopped writing and being honest about my grief. I stopped dead.

So more than a year into this journey (a year, three months and 21 days) I have started to write again… not because I have anything to say as such… but because part of this journey into grief is that I feel I should be honest about this grief. I cannot write anything uplifting, so I will write about enduring love… love greater than death.

If I were to describe the first year of grief… my entire description would be a bloody horror film. Your organs have been ripped out but somehow you are left alive, you try to tear off your skin but that cannot save you… you cry so much it makes you vomit every day. You want to die but your body will not give up the ghost. You drink, you abuse, you cry till your eyes swell.

Year two… you are sitting in the debris of destruction left spilled around you.

You stare at the debris and hope it will make sense somehow, fit together or form a shape… but no. It looks dull, pointless, alien… unkind. Upon reflection I was in shock for the entire first year, and it is not a pain I would wish on my worst enemy… but in the second year your body becomes less numb, you realise this is your life… your life really did vanish in an instant. He really did die. He really is not coming back.

I think one of the cruellest things about grief is that it feels like utter hell every second… but a hell that you call a home and settle into because you don’t know what moving forward from that point looks like, and you don’t want to move without your love by your side.

I stopped believing in magic the day he died. I didn’t believe in much before he died… I felt myself agnostic, and as someone who identifies themselves as an activist, a feminist and a leftie… I was under no delusions that life was fair. Yet something in me died the day he did. A deeper sadness filled into my bones… One of missing, one of longing, one of aching. One of mourning rather than grief.

I suppose even though I was 26 when he died, I had the optimism of a 16 year old… I felt life really could be as beautiful as the love I felt. It’s strange how one minute life can feel so short… I had so much to fit in; travelling, experiences, moving… everything before children and then children are a whole different part of your life. Now my life feels so long… unreasonably long to live without the one you were supposed to grow old with. All I think every day is how many years I have to live without him. As soon as he died I started counting the hours till those I loved would die and I could take my life peacefully without interrupting my loves.

Grief is love I repeat to myself…

I miss how he would say he loved me to Gallifrey and back. I miss how he used to count our days till we saw each other next in sleeps. I miss how we would say “do the thing” and I would know it meant to shuffle up in bed. I miss how we would even say those words when 180 miles apart from each other, in different countries. I miss how our intimacy could span that distance, our nights of watching Netflix together and phoning till the small hours of the morning. I miss the dinosaur he would leave me with a post-it note on the floor to welcome me home. I miss how he would check when he hadn’t heard from me. I miss how he would try so hard to stay awake to talk to me on my night shifts. I miss his hyper mornings. I miss the way he would kiss me on the nose after his morning shower when I was sat on the floor doing my make-up. I miss his singing in the shower. I miss how he would send my bunny cards all of his own for birthdays and Christmas. I miss how he would talk about Doctor Who and how he said I was the only person he could ever watch it with. I miss his youtube playlists like a mix CD. I miss how often we would think the same thought and shout “SAME BRAINS!” at each other and how much we giggled. I miss how I would get a new stuffed animal of some sort because I can’t walk past them without naming them and he would say “let me guess… it is called whatever-the-animal-was-pot”. I miss sitting in a pub near Charing Cross with him and discussing how my idol feminist was slut-shaming. I miss that he got this. I miss that he wanted me to move to Wales, but after watching the episode of Gavin and Stacey together where Stacey finds it so hard to be away from her family, he told me he would move anywhere in the world with me. I miss his voice, his laugh, his beauty, his passion, his music, his cuddle, his love. I miss my future. I miss the future we should have had together. I miss our children. I miss the way we would have painted their bedrooms, the values we would have tried to instil in them. I miss thinking life could have been that fucking beautiful. I miss how even when in different countries, we were so inseparable that we would fall asleep on the phone together… hours of silence and sleep till one of us would wake and realise the phone was beside our face, whisper goodnight and finally hang up the phone.

I miss my best friend. My love endures, it still grows… I hold it within me alongside this grief. Love, just like grief, is a living thing. I will always love you.

“The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.” ― Oscar Wilde

I will never stop hating the universe for taking you but I love the universe for making you in the first place.

Living with Loss

People say grief comes in waves. In shock, especially with sudden loss like with losing my Marky, the world is turned into a nightmare within the split second it took the police who showed up at my door to tell me that the love of my life was found dead in the street that afternoon… and I did not find that grief came in waves. Grief came in debilitating overwhelming pain that would not cease. I could hardly stand up… it was hard to physically breathe for months. Almost a year on and I finally understand that grief does grow into something that crashes over you in waves because it starts to live inside you. A deeper sadness is filling into my bones. One of missing, one of longing, one of aching. One of mourning rather than grief you could say. I carry my grief with me everywhere I go…. Sometimes I can smile, I can function unlike in the first ten months but it is with me all the time as an undercurrent. Other times the waves envelop me and all I can do is lean in and collapse into the wave that leaves me crawling on my hands and knees begging for life to take me too. I let the wave fill my lungs and I try to embrace grief and turn it into an act of love so that my love for him can live on.

Waves often come as bloodied punches to the face. At least once a day I get this sudden hit of ‘he is really gone’ and I feel this sharp pain in my chest and suddenly can’t breathe again… it becomes hard to inhale.

When that sharp pain of reality hits it feels like the memory of when the police were in my living room all over again only there is no fog of shock to disarm it even slightly. I always carry around the ache of grief yet in those moments it feels like the pain hits with more clarity. Some days it feels like my mind is intent on torturing me and replaying that moment in my head. I wonder if this is my brain trying to drill ‘acceptance’ into me… whatever the word acceptance means when it comes to death. I have nightmares where my brain throws up so many scenarios, as if my mind is playing out a puzzle of ‘where did he disappear to’ where my brain can’t process death or how suddenly it came to be. I have so many nightmares where he is missing or lost and I am desperately trying to get in touch with him. They echo the day he died as I hadn’t heard from him in hours and I was starting to panic but trying to reassure myself that he had got back to The Shire and fallen asleep.  I kissed him only three hours before. As logically as I understand death, the soul or psyche or mind or whatever we have in our heads… it either does not want to understand or simply does not grasp the sudden disappearance of the most important person in your life.

In Levels of Life Julian Barnes writes… ‘Perhaps grief, which destroys all patterns, destroys even more: the belief that any pattern exists’ and the second I read this sentence it struck me. Grief comes in many forms, one of them is a crisis of faith. When someone you love dies you don’t just lose that person, you don’t even just lose your future with that person… you can lose your faith, your core, the pattern of life that you on some level have believed in. I am not talking personally here about religious faith as I do not have one, but of a faith that goes right to the core of your very being and of who you are. Even if you have no belief in an afterlife or even a soul, suddenly the world makes so little sense that everything becomes meaningless. When the best person you know dies young, nothing in this universe makes sense any more.

A friend says to me ‘your existence still means something’ when I tell her that life feels meaningless, but as much as I know she loves me and is trying to help, this isn’t about ego or myself. Existence feels futile in every sense, not my life, not even someone else’s life… but if the universe makes no sense then what meaning is there to derive? What is the point? I never needed a point before. My philosophy on life has always been that none of us know the answers while we are here, so just live life… yet when the most beautiful person is taken from this world so suddenly you need answers in a way you never knew before.

My friend says she can see that I feel betrayed by the universe… I answer that ‘betrayed by the universe’ is a perfect way of putting it. Julian Barnes wrote that many feel an anger not directly at the world but the indifference of it… The indifference of life merely continuing until it merely ends’.

I cannot describe how earth shattering sudden loss is. It is not simply the death of a person who you love and miss. It shakes you so fundamentally that you don’t even know if you believe in the same things anymore. Someone has cracked you open at the centre so that you simply don’t trust anything anymore, you have no plan, you just fight to survive and on some days even that one day you have to get through seems so horrifically awful to survive through. That is what makes attempting ‘normal’ life so hard… you are no longer normal. You don’t see the point in anything, and you don’t want to be around anything that seems even in the slightest bit like a ‘normal’ world, it feels surreal, detached from you, and often insulting that life has just carried on and people live their lives around you while you don’t even know how to stand up anymore and loss is all you care about. The best person died, so why is the world still living?

…and this is what carrying grief with you feels like. We survive, we fight on… every minute that passes can be a battle. We carry with us infinite love and gratitude, a survival instinct that will make you cower, a love for life that can often surpass life itself but a pain that grounds us daily and makes our minds dig underground and want nothing more than to be with the dead. Our love lives on.

I have not written about grief in months because of this. I have even found it very hard to reach out to my support groups… because living with this grief is so exhausting but we carry on. In many ways we are the living dead, carrying the weight of death, loss and infinite love within us.

 

 

On Fear

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I am terrified of the outside world. My senses are heightened… I have formed a fragility towards the world. I feel completely cut off from the living world and when it comes too near I panic. Death permeates all I can feel… grief is my home, grief is my only comfort and I want to cocoon myself in it and never leave this place where time does not move forward. The pain kills my brain cells, renders me unable to move, removes my ability to feel anything other than the all-consuming nature of this. Yet the opposite is so unimaginable that I would rather stay in the darkness where my grief connects me to my love. It is impossible to explain the terror of a world that so suddenly became so unstable, so lost, so opposite of everything I ever held in my heart and soul as truth. Suddenly my life line is missing. I am missing. The ground crumbled beneath me, leaving me unable to breathe, leaving me bare. I have no fear of death because I want to die… I have a fear of the living world around me, constantly buzzing with a pulse that wants to devour everything I ever trusted and wants to rush this new existence into formation. I reject it. Grief is love, I caress the pain and call it my home.

I have never been someone who sought peaceful places… I like noise, hearing trains and busy city centres. I always have music playing. It is only since this happened that I have wanted peace and quiet. I finally felt some sort of sense of relief when I wondered round my home cemetery. I will go to my loves grave whenever I am in the country, but I found it could be any cemetery that allows me to breathe. I need peace, a place away from the outside world… a place that understands death and where the whole ground is made for mourning.

“I see what grief does, how it strips you bare, shows you all the things you don’t want to know. That loss doesn’t end, that there isn’t a moment where you are done, when you can neatly put it away and move on.”
– Elizabeth Scott, Heartbeat