The Unwed Widow

When your love dies, you find out how lacking language is. You find yourself searching and struggling for words to put your grief into but nothing is enough… language does not have the form to express this much love and this much loss.

If you weren’t married this lack of language can be so hurtful as people use it as a way to dismiss or diminish your relationship and your grief. I still remember one of the hardest hitting comments was someone quite innocently and with no ill intent asking ‘oh, was it serious?’ after I said my boyfriend died. I hated that it needed to be asked… I hate that I needed to justify my grief or our relationship. I’ve lost count of the number of ‘you’re young and beautiful, you’ll find someone else’ comments now.

Words are powerful. They give rise to expression, help us communicate, give us community and help us find the right support. This is why I claim the word widow for myself. I lost my love, my future, all our life plans, hopes and dreams. He was my person. We were going to grow old together. We struggle about how to define ourselves in a way that society understands as we have no word for our loss. The term widow fits us outside of law because people can understand what you’ve lost if you say ‘widow’. It gives us a way to express ourselves, our loss and our love… and that means a hell of a lot to me and other unwed widows.

If you are an unwed widow struggling with this… I am here to remind you that love is the best thing we do.

The love you gave and shared with your partner is a gift. The purest form of affection and joy. I find comfort in the idea that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him… but he did spend the rest of his life with me. You made the end of your loves life infinitely better by loving them. Love is not measured in time or marriage certificates. Love is purer, kinder and more human than this.

We talked about marriage all of the time… Marky used to joke that we were engaged to be engaged to be engaged as he would always ask me to spend the rest of his life with him… especially during morning cuddles. Two months before his sudden and unexpected death he told me he knew how he was going to officially propose… and it kills me that I’ll never know what he planned, or get to have a wedding or marriage with the love of my life. We had chosen names for our future children. We even talked about our wedding on the morning of the day he died.

I wish we had gotten the chance. Our short time together or lack of official paper doesn’t make our love less than, and doesn’t make grief easier as Mariella Frostrup recently suggested. Like other young widows, we grieve the life that was meant to be, the future that was stolen from us and that part of loss is bigger than you can imagine. Some choose not to be married or have children and that doesn’t make their love less than either, true commitment takes many forms. Myself and my love would travel over 170 miles into a different country to see each other on weekends… That is a commitment to your shared love.

It took me a few months to find my biggest support, the charity Widowed and Young, as I did not think to consider myself a widow. In the early days of grief, I would be desperately googling bereavement support, searching forums and groups to try to find a place where my grief would fit. It was only on the recommendation of someone I met through one of those bereavement groups that I found my place… WAY is for those who lost their partner young. Full stop. Inclusive of all genders, sexualities and relationship statuses. I almost missed out on finding support and my community because I didn’t have the language.

This also takes a political turn… unmarried couple’s children lose out on bereavement payments that they need, deserve and should be entitled to, simply because of the marriage status of their parents. There was recently a landmark case which was won, where this was found to be in breach the Human Rights Act as it’s discrimination on the basis of marriage and birth. The Supreme Court Judge said ‘Their needs [unwed widows], and more importantly their children’s needs, are the same’ yet the Department for Work and Pensions have said the Government is not obliged to change the law following the Supreme Court’s decision.

There are times when filling out legal papers I am aware I will continue to have to select single, rather than widowed… it is painful for my tongue to form the word… like saying he never existed and our relationship never counted… and that sadly cannot be changed. What can be changed is how we accept and acknowledge people’s pain and relationships, no matter of what form they take. If you know an unwed widow, validate how painful this is for them and acknowledge how much they’ve lost.

No matter of time or paper, we lost our happy-ever-after.

On Grief and Social Media… A Love Letter to the Internet

People make statements about social media disconnecting us from real life but our use of social media is all about connecting with others.

I wouldn’t have met Marky without a facebook group about Jeff Buckley. I wouldn’t have friend requested him if he hadn’t typed the sweetest and most emotional post about people being connected through music… something in his words touched me. We didn’t even meet for years as we had busy lives in different countries but we became best friends through the internet. We shared so many in-jokes and giggles and so much of our lives through messages long before we met and fell in love in person. He was the first person I told when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and he was my biggest support when my brother was in hospital. After we met, we still had to do long distance and the internet let us keep intimacy alive even when over 170 miles apart. Since he died, I often watch people on trains smiling down at their phones. Where others see disconnect, I know those people are talking to their person, fostering new friendships or reuniting old ones.

In the worst time of my life I have been able to turn to the internet for support and community. I feel so thankful to have social media now to write about him, to share photos and express when the pain feels overwhelming and it feels like I cannot go on. When grief leaves me isolated, I can still reach out for help. I found my home in the charity Widowed and Young… this support group is a little bit of magic… finding people going through the same thing has saved my life. Our loss is understood within each other and we support each other through every part of life that grief touches (everything). It feels like a place where everyone ‘gets it’ and you don’t have to explain the nuances of grief or defend your grief to those who don’t understand… you can just share as little or as much as you want and there is always someone else who has been there. We make amazing friendships and build new foundations together in a life that none of us wanted, and that is something so beautiful.

This is before I have even mentioned how many amazing, beautiful, kind and empathetic people I met through online activism. I have met many best friends this way who inspire me greatly. Some dismiss this kind of activism and label it ‘armchair activism’ as if it isn’t worth anything but they’re wrong to do so. People organise rallies through social media, create protests, debate and find new and inventive ways to help.

We create friendships and love through the internet. We create unity and a sense of belonging. We are living in the real world and this helps us through it and connects us to people we may never have met, issues we may never have thought about and experiences we may never have been able to have without it.

Interwebs… ily.

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.