On Grief Dreams… He dies over and over in my nightmares

We dream about them coming back from the dead, or being half-dead… My dreams come up with elaborate answers to explain where he has vanished to so suddenly. My grief dreams have been trying to understand and fix this for years now, to solve it like a drama murder mystery. In some of my dreams he is a missing person, in others he is dead but has come back to life, in some he’s come back from the dead and can’t understand why I’m so paranoid about him dying again (while I scream at him that he can’t go for a run because he just died and has to be careful with his heart!), 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 am desperately trying to contact him. The dreams make me search for him… endless puzzles with every answer other than he obvious… he died.

Our minds process death 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 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.

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. Sometimes it feels like the dreams confront death itself… many of us have disturbing ones where our loves come back half-dead, zombie-like… decaying and parts falling off them as we desperately try to ‘re-build’ them, but they’re not there, they’re not the same. It’s like looking death in the eyes. I had these ones years ago and they still make me shudder.

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

This is 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 are trying to explain the unexplainable… what is death? There is no explaining the unexplainable permanence of death.

The first year of grief I would describe like a horror film… Your organs have been ripped out but somehow you are left alive. You don’t know how one human body can hold pain like this. The second year of grief is debris and puzzles… you’re left with pieces of a life that don’t make sense. They look alien. They’re illogical, just like the grief dreams. You stare at this debris as if it could possibly make sense but you’re still working with an illogical puzzle, 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. Grief dreams keep trying to form a shape out of our experiences and make them make sense… but they need time, a lot of time.

My most recent grief dreams as someone five years into grief have haunted me in a different way. I have dreams where my love is the backstory… he is there, a constant presence… yet I don’t talk to him. I wake up and feel angry and disappointed in myself… why on earth didn’t I speak to him? I’ve been wanting to connect and to talk to him for so many years now… yet I didn’t when I had the chance in my dream. He was there and I didn’t speak to him. I felt so upset with myself waking up from this dream but on reflection I think it is my mind placing him into my current life. I understand he is no longer here… but he is a constant undercurrent in my life, my guide, a constant presence in an ongoing life without him. His life, our love, my grief…. They are a constant in my life now, they guide me going forward and I carry my love for him forward in every part of life now.

He is a part of my DNA… I don’t believe in guardian angels but he’s a constant guide and presence in my life, my undercurrent.

So, my message to you is… you gentle soul who can’t work out why your love’s death doesn’t feel real or why you keep expecting them to walk through the door… why you keep dreaming of them coming back from the dead or leaving you. Grief isn’t linear… sometimes grief comes and punches you in the face without warning and whispers ‘he’s dead’ with overwhelming clarity and it hurts like hell. Clarity of death and ‘magical thinking’, as Joan Didion put it, can co-exist. It feels the harshest reality on earth yet surreal and unreal at the same time. 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 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 distorts 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… but your dreams play tricks on you.

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

The Pain of Grief

It has been five months since my life changed completely, since the foundation of everything I knew and believed crumbled, since my life was stolen the day the love of my life’s was.

There is no name for this pain. I cannot describe it. Language betrays me when I attempt to form the words to share it. It feels both overwhelming and hollow like the world stopped being a good place. I feel my sense of hope, belief and strength or sense of the universe has deserted me. I can’t put this pain into anything. There’s no song to scream it into or film that depicts it or book that understands it.

It is a nameless pain.

A pain which takes on so many forms and yet is so formless and all consuming. A pain which people try to tidy into a neat grieving process. There are words which make you realise how much we have failed to understand this suffering… Bereavement, grief, widow. These words do not do justice to this pain. The all-consuming nature of this and severity of the ever changing emotions that hit you like someone has punched you in the gut cannot be summarised. The world feels completely meaningless.

It is hard to tell you how much I am grieving for. I am not only grieving for the love of my life, my best friend… but my whole life. My life was stolen. I am grieving for the life that I had my heart set on, that I loved and I was so completely over the moon happy with. My future has gone missing. I am grieving for my partner, for his life and all the experiences that he should have and he deserved. I know of the things he dreamt of. I am grieving for the marriage we wanted and for the children that were meant to be. We had already named our first girl. I am grieving for every hope and dream for the future that we shared. I am grieving myself. I will never again be that happy person I was, something has fundamentally changed within me. I am grieving for my present, for my past and for my future. I am grieving for the axis of my whole world. I am grieving my belief system. I have lost my grip on what I even believe in in terms of life after death, the core of me has been shattered.

My life vanished. I try to see a future and all I see is emptiness.

Experiencing a close death as someone who is not religious is much harder than I could have imagined. I used to feel comfortable not knowing any of the answers of the universe, yet now I find myself begging for answers and having none. It is hard to talk about death when your own beliefs are an abstract idea. I always described myself as a ‘not religious but spiritual person’ and I found it hard to really say what that meant… to me it meant believing in the power of the universe, believing that there was no way we could tell if there was anything to life beyond our existence but believing that there could and might well be… believing in something, or hoping for something. It meant being open to possibility. I am scared now that maybe it meant attaching meaning to things that weren’t ever meaningful.

I have spent my new existence wondering around bookshops trying to find the one book that would explain and make sense of a world that would take someone so magical. The same way I have been staring up at the sky as if the stars could tell me something, as if anything had any meaning anymore.  All I do every day is fight myself on the idea of an afterlife and if it exists and what it could possibly look like. I cannot imagine one if it exists…. not a kind one or one that makes any sense to me. I cry in the shower every day and wonder if my baby knows I am suffering and then think if he does that’s a unkind afterlife but what kind of afterlife is it if they can’t see the ones they loved that they left on earth? I constantly question and forever have no answers. I try to imagine somewhere where he is happy. The one that kills me the most is imagining that he is just… gone. No afterlife, nothing. I cannot even handle that. I hope for an afterlife and it kills me that I cannot imagine one.

I have always been a person of hope. No matter how hard life has felt, I have had a fire burning in me. I can no longer feel the fire. Now all I see is a world that is cruel and pointless, heartless… emotionless.

People say the funeral is the hardest part but that’s not true. I was still in a state of shock and in a kind of unreal bubble through the funeral which helped me survive. Now five months down the line, the pain has really begun. I not sure whether it is reality kicking the door down but the pain feels so raw, much deeper and never-ending. It feels suffocating and anchoring. I would rather rip my skin off than experience another moment of this blackness. I cannot imagine an end to this nameless formless pain. Five months down the line and the idea of returning ‘back to normal’ seems to be in the air, people expecting you to somehow pick yourself up and dust yourself off and yet I feel more so now than ever that I have no future. There is no magical light at the end of the tunnel, the phrases surrounding normal and moving forward feel like acid to my skin. There is nothingness.

I have tried many ways of coping… I am in counselling, I have tried painting, I have tried collaging, I have thrown out a large amount of my belongings in a frenzy to clear my mind, I have drunk admittedly far too much, I have relied on sleeping pills to just please for the love of god, knock me out… there are some days where I find it hard to breathe and all I can do is give in, sink further into my mattress and stay curled up in a bed all day in bed. I have tried forcing myself out of the house only to find that I have developed anxiety issues and panic in crowds and feel very fragile to be around the normal outside world. When your mind is overwhelmed with sudden loss, it cannot take the sensory overload. Every day is a battle for survival which truthfully I don’t even want to win.

Writing has been my only solace… which is why this blog has been born.  Truthfully this is mostly self-indulgent. I have poured my words and heart out over my social networking websites since the 4th January, scribbling on my laptop at 4am when the world feels abandoned and I feel I can say how utterly despairing I find this new existence. I now find I want to order my thoughts, somehow.

I hope maybe writing them down somewhere formally will organise them in my mind and will help my closest friends be able to understand my pain by reading. I also hope that my words, no matter how despairing at times, might find someone else who has had their life ripped apart. I have found it comforting to read others words and know I am not alone in all these terrifying feelings. If you’ve just lost someone, you are not alone, and these overwhelming emotions are normal. I promise.