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…

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.

The Stages of Grief

The theories on stages of grief are not going to come and hold your hand tightly. The theories of grief are not going to be there for you at 4am when you wake up and feel like smashing everything in your sight to bits. The theories of grief are not going to hold you while you cry so much your body shakes, you sweat and tremble and your eyelids swell to twice their size and your breathing constricts. The theories will not tell you that anger does not feel as logical as the word sounds, that one day your fist will clench around your trolley in the supermarket and you will feel this negative energy course through you that you do not understand. The theories will not be able to help your brain stop the invasive thoughts of taking your own life. The theories will not stop you drinking despite every one including a small disclaimer that you should not drink to get through it. The theories will not let you sleep or block nightmares or night terrors which wake you with a pounding heart and drenched in cold sweat. The theories will not help you understand why this has happened to you and they will not be of any comfort when you’re reading stages of grief, trying to work out if you’re in denial or anger when you flit between every stage ever written about and feel like you are losing your grip on reality.

Pain takes you by the throat and holds you up against the wall. There are days where I cannot walk, where my legs feel like they are made of lead. I am so drained and exhausted all the time, I never knew this level of exhaustion existed. I felt like I almost collapsed coming back from the cemetery the other day. Other times I just feel so tense, muscles clench up within me and I shake while this negative energy courses through my veins and I have no way to dispel it. Other days I would rather rip off my skin than feel this blackness. It feels like your senses are heightened in many ways as you feel the outside world is too much and you’re too fragile to be in it, yet at once your mind is clouded and foggy and cannot string a sentence together or remember your own name.

Most understand grief as a linear process, as if you go through stages one by one and at the end of it you reach acceptance and you are ‘recovered’. Most bereaved people will tell you this is not true; that your grief will be with you for life. The process is not linear, for months on end you will be a chaotic mess of every emotion you ever thought it was possible to feel. I am still there. Others who are bereaved in the same way tell me that one day it will feel less intense. They never use the words recovered or better, they simply say the pain will be less intense… and all I can do right now is put my faith in their words and hope.

Something about being a student of psychology meant it was the theory I first turned to. I started reading everything I could lay my hands on about the stages of grief because I desperately needed something solid to hold onto, for something to make sense in a world that had crashed around me. I have never thought of myself as a logical brained person yet suddenly it is all I sought. I read about the stages of grief and the words were meaningless to me. They were not what I felt.

No one tells you that the so called ‘anger stage’ isn’t as simple as being directly angry at the world or unfairness of it all, although of course you are… one day you will just notice this negative energy coursing through your veins and you will feel your body tense up and your fist might clench unexpectedly and your body will not know how to react. No one tells you that it hits you time and time again that your loved one is gone. It hits you on every level so many times. Acceptance is not as simple as the logical knowledge that he is gone. In your nightmares you will search for him as though he is simply lost, or as if he died but came back and you will scream at him in your dream that he died once already, he cannot go running because you lost him once already and you will do not it again. You will wait for him to come back in some form. Some days you will tuck knowledge away in your brain as if you can tell him about it a later date.

Every minute of every day something could come along and unexpectantly stab you in the heart with this fresh pain. It hits over and over and over. Six months on and it can still hit me that this has really happened.

I had no knowledge at all of how physical grief would be, I suppose this is why I have written this.

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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.

The Story

On the 4th January 2015, the love of my life died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack.

Mark will always be love of my life. I cannot even begin to describe him as a person and how much joy and wonder he brought into my life.

I have tried writing how our love felt. I have tried to pour the overwhelming perfection of two people who fit so well together into words and I find I cannot. I am reminded of the book ‘Guess how much I love you’… Marky used to say he loved me to Gallifrey and back. It was the kind of love that made you feel in harmony and at peace. True love changes you. You learn to love differently, to think differently… to give in a way that is selfless because all you want in the world is for this person to be happy. I walked around in the world in my own little impenetrable bubble of happiness. I am not sure how he did it but he managed to make every day feel magical. It was the most love, the most happiness, and most fun I could ever imagine having. I cannot even imagine having that much in common with another human being again. We used to practically shout “SAME BRAINS!” at each other for how much we thought alike. It was with Marky that I came to know what love was supposed to feel like… warm, close, secure, nurturing, happy and magical and adventurous all at the same time.  I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams I could have been lucky enough to meet someone so fun, so magical, so geeky, so weird, so intelligent, so hyper in the mornings and so well connected to me. His life was taken only three hours since we kissed last. He was far too young. We had our whole lives to live yet. He was 39, myself 26.

We met through the group to get Jeff Buckley’s cover of Hallelujah to number one in 2008. Pretty soon we had the oddest in-jokes and he was sending me huge boxes of quavers and wotsits from Amazon… but I won’t tell the joke behind it! I sent him dinosaurs and a duck teapot. Our friendship evolved till we were spending day and night messaging each other, having not even met in person yet. When we finally met we were inseparable from that day.

He sneakily let on in November that he knew how he was going to propose. He joked that we were “engaged to be engaged to be engaged” because he would ask me so many times during morning cuddles if I would spend the rest of my life with him. We talked about our wedding a lot… it would have been in the forest. There would have been a TARDIS somewhere hidden in the woods for people to discover. Chandeliers would have hung from the trees, tents would have sprung up with carnival type treats for people to enjoy. We were both neither conservative nor traditional and our wedding would have reflected the magic that was true love.

We planned so much because we knew we were for eternity. We knew our first daughters name. We were going to paint our children’s bedrooms like the universe and teach them about science and the wondrous nature of the universe.

In our time together we had so many adventures. We travelled to Paris, Edinburgh, London and Cardiff… and we had so much fun… so many gigs, so many hotel parties giggling like idiots, fancy hotel rooms and awful hotel rooms… he got the whole of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club to sing along to Fairy Tale of New York. He was that amazing. I was always so in love with how passionately he would talk about music. The gigs we shared together were the best of my life. We were always at the front, getting shoved and bruised in the crowd and clinging to each other and kissing when our favourite songs were played. It felt like us against the world and it felt so alive. We did long distance (Marky in Wales, myself in London) so we went over the top on our adventures. However when he moved to a new home in Wales he would call it “ours”… if I ever called it his, he would correct me… and he moved all of heaven and earth to make me feel like it was ours. It was my weekend home. I did not need anything other than him… just me and him, our little part of the universe which was my part time home at The Shire… our shared youtube playlists and dancing. I would usually arrive at The Shire a few hours before he finished work and he would leave me lush post-it notes all over the apartment to welcome me home. Marky said it was our own little part of the universe.

I wanted my whole life to be with him. I felt I could face anything if he was beside me.

I want to shout from rooftops how amazing Marky was. I want to tell the world of his ridiculous jokes, his creative ways with words, his soulfulness, his intelligence and fiercely political nature, his humour and eccentricities, how utterly completely weird he could be, how hyper he was in the mornings, his stories of imaginary made up animals, his passion for music, how beautiful his intense geekiness was, how I could listen to his musings on our favourite shared geek (Doctor Who) for hours. I want to tell you that this amazing human being existed… the kindest person you could imagine, the most giving and sweetest. I want the world to know that someone this beautiful and majestic existed. My best friend was all of this and so much more. Nothing I could ever say about him could be big or bright enough for someone so beautiful.

You start to realise how little language conveys with this experience… ‘I miss him’ says so little. The ache of missing him turns into physical pain and language does not convey the measure of that ache in my soul to be able to speak to him and touch his face and hear his voice and I miss him alone says utterly nothing. I miss him so much that my bones ache and I feel like I cannot walk and the sheer horror of never being able to speak to him feels as if someone punched me and then I feel numb and I feel trapped in human constraints and I just need him. I love him to Gallifrey and back and I will never stop.

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