Explaining the unexplainable permanence of death… Grief, Shock and Nightmares

The shock of your love dying peels off in layers and reverberates through every fibre of your life. The initial impact of shock is what we see in films… it is that moment that two police officers showed up at my door close to midnight and they had to argue me into sitting down before they told me the news. For others it’s being told by a doctor it’s terminal. The initial shock of your love being gone from this world is fast… so it’s natural to assume that shock itself is also fast, instant… shocking… and then it’s over.

The truth is our brains process shock and how someone is missing from our lives on a multitude of levels… they peel off and crumble at different moments and often in our dreams. Dreams show our grief often in the way of a puzzle… our minds take such a long time to process what death is, that our dreams treat it like solving a riddle of ‘where have they disappeared to?’ so they test out different scenarios to make it make more sense… testing out different puzzle pieces to see if one fits and makes sense.

Many of us dream about our loves coming back from the dead, or being half-dead… My mind has been trying to understand and fix this for years now, to solve it like a drama murder mystery. My mind comes up with elaborate answers to explain where he has vanished to so suddenly. In some of my dreams he is a missing person,  in others he is dead but has come back to life, in some he can’t understand why I’m so paranoid about him dying again, in others he has left me and we haven’t talked in years… in some he has fallen out of love with me, or found love with someone else. I’m often searching and I am often confused. He is so often within reach but I cannot reach him… which echo the night he died and I trying to contact him. I’m constantly trying to find him. My mind has thrown up every possible scenario about where my beloved has gone… because how do you accept the permanence of death? What is acceptance? It’s an easy word to say but not to comprehend. Even though we know our partners would never ever have wanted to break up with us or weren’t kidnapped by MI5, our poor brains are still telling us it’s still more likely than death as death is utterly overwhelming and utterly illogical.

Our minds are clinging and grasping for that logical answer… the permanence of death is too shocking.

This is also not denial of the fact they have died. I saw my love’s body in the chapel of rest. I kissed his cold forehead and told him I love him. I saw his body lowered into the ground. 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. Our minds our trying to explain the unexplainable… what is death?

The first year of grief is like a 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. You cannot believe a human body can hold this much pain.

The second year of grief is debris and puzzles…

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… the pieces left don’t make sense. They’re illogical, just like the grief dreams. Upon reflection I was in shock for the entire first year… but in the second year your body becomes less numb and your mind is left to reflect on your reality. You stare at this debris as if it could possibly make sense while simultaneously laughing at yourself, of course it can’t make sense?! Your person is dead. You’re trying to rebuild a life you cannot fathom or make sense of… you’re trying to make a puzzle work that is missing huge pieces and all the edges don’t fit with each other and don’t slot into place.

Years after years blur into one…

…and as someone over five years into grief, I just want to reassure you that you are not doing your grief wrong somehow if you’re still struggling. Shock itself takes so much time… let alone absorbing grief and learning how to live carrying this grief and this love.

The stages of grief have been debunked. Our grief doesn’t fit into a neat and tidy linear process… and they weren’t meant for us to begin with. Kübler-Ross, the original researcher, actually went on to say she regretted how her stages of grief model had been misinterpreted. The original research was about terminal illness and how people who were dying came to terms with their death. They were never meant for us as the grieving people left behind. Sadly, for those of us left behind the ‘stages of grief’ model has been absorbed into common knowledge as if it were fact and it leaves us often feeling bewildered as we find our emotions aren’t linear and don’t fit into neat tidy boxes. Shock isn’t tidy or linear, no part of grief is. There is nothing wrong with you if your grief feels like a spaghetti bowl of every emotion ever! There is nothing wrong with you if you flit between a million emotions a day. There is nothing wrong with you if you don’t fit any of those boxes.

The idea of acceptance to me is simplistic… it’s not simply the knowledge that our person is dead… it delves so deep into our core and can keep shocking us at different times.

So, my message is to you… you gentle soul who can’t work out why you haven’t accepted your partner’s death. Maybe you keep expecting them to walk through the door…. Maybe you feel like they’re on an extended holiday or trip… are you saving up things to tell them about life, once they return? You are normal… this is normal. It’s horrific and normal. I remember with horrific clarity the night the police rang on my door bell to tell me my love was found dead, collapsed in the street. We had no idea his heart was in trouble, no warning signs, he was seemingly fit and healthy. I remember with horrific clarity two years on when it suddenly hit me out of utterly nowhere, a normal day at work and my mind just whispered to me ‘he’s really dead’… out of nowhere. I couldn’t contain myself. The shock creeps up on you, yet surprises you so often. You’re normal if you’ve wondered if this was all a dream… did your life with your love even happen? It doesn’t feel it often. I’ve written before how grief reconfigures time itself, the whole universe. I love the title of the book ‘the year of magical thinking’ as it speaks so much to the surreal, not earthly feeling you’re left with after your love dies… you’re waiting for them to return, often not consciously.

If you know me, you’ll probably guess for me this took for the form of the TARDIS. I wished so hard that time-travel existed, that my love had simply regenerated, that sometimes that felt so real, as if by thinking about it enough I would try and will it into existence somehow, like the TARDIS was going to show up at my front door any day now, and this would be over, we could be happy again.

Five years on… sometimes I can still picture it.