A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
Next Friday will be the six month anniversary of my wife’s untimely death. It simultaneously means both everything and nothing to me.
Everything because I can’t believe how much our families and friends have been through in that time. Nothing because I suspect that what we’re going through hasn’t even started yet.
Everything because it’s been the longest six months of my life and I’ve never felt so many emotions so intensely. Nothing because, looking back, I can’t believe six months have passed so quickly and so much of it feels like a blur.
Everything because my whole outlook on life has changed. Nothing because I feel so powerless now that I understand that I have no real control over the future.
Everything because it’s 25 time longer than the previous longest period of time (seven days) that I hadn’t seen my wife in eight years. Nothing because I’ve started to understand that time is a measure that holds little value in grief.
And so as we approach the six month anniversary I can imagine that there are people out there who’ll assume that long enough for a person to have begun to heal. In my experience it’s not. Time is simply a medicine dished out by untrained practitioners. But for me it’s a placebo and I’m familiar enough with the taste of real thing to know I’m being taken for a ride. The truth is I feel every ounce of sadness and loss I felt six months ago.
Yet I’d be lying if I said that my feelings nearly six months on were exactly the same. I know this because I’ve been keeping a diary in the form of this blog and when I look back I can compare. I wrote a piece called Imaging It back in January, which aimed to explain how it immediately felt to loose my wife so suddenly. I covered elements of confusion, guilt and physical pain that I no longer feel with the same intensity. If I had the same physical symptoms, for example, I’m sure I would be extremely ill by now. And if you witnessed me as the shell of a man I was back in November I’m sure you could assume that time was indeed healing. Yet it’s not. I guess I’m just on a journey towards slowly learning to survive with an open wound. And I guess there’s little other choice but to survive when there’s a young child there who needs you more than ever before.
As well as the six month anniversary, next week will also mark several milestones for this blog. It will be four months since I published my first post. By next week there will have been 100 posts and the blog will have received half a million views. And it was with all of this in mind that it occurred to me to revisit Imaging It, because it gave a real insight into the grief I felt immediately after my wife was killed. And although I don’t believe time heals, I’m starting to face the reality that it changes.
So I’m going to tell you what it feels like for me some six months on. The most important part of that sentence is not the measure of time but the part that says ‘for me’. I understand how natural it is for human beings to compare themselves to others. I know how it feels to get cross at people for pushing their beliefs on me. I appreciate that one person’s six months might be another’s six years. And above all, I know myself and I know that all I’m doing with the blog, all I’ve ever done with it, is document how I feel at any given moment in time. Perhaps after seven months I’ll change again. Maybe I’ll regress. Who knows if my feelings will be closer to month one than month six? I’m only certain of one thing. I’ll be the only one feeling my exact feelings. You’ll be the only one feeling yours. We’ll share common ground but we all grieve in our own way in our own time.
I mention this only because I’ve felt some upset and discomfort recently for being criticised for my grief.
I’m not angry enough.
I’m too positive.
I’m just out for myself.
Perhaps inevitably, given my current fragile state, I could hear a thousand positive comments and concentrate only on a handful of negatives. But that’s my grief. When my wife first died I was more preoccupied about who hadn’t got in touch than who had. These days I can’t even remember who did and who didn’t.
But the struggle I’m having with my grief is also telling me to grow a thicker skin. It’s telling me that all that matters now is the approval and the well-being of the people I love or respect. It’s telling me that I set out to help people and if there are still people who can find solace or empathy in what I write, then it’s worth carrying on. It’s telling me to be the gauge of what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s telling me to face the reality that you can’t please all of the people all the time. And it’s telling me not to waste my increasingly precious energy trying.
So this is what grief feels like for me six months on.
It feels like sadness.
Sadness because the person I shared my life with is no longer here and never will be again.
Sadness because any precious moment of happiness I feel, however brief, is followed by a crippling sense of foreboding and loss.
Sadness because it tears me to pieces to think of my son not being raised by the mother who adored him so much and who was planning to make his life so special.
Sadness because I fixate not just on my own loss but that of my wife’s family and friends and I feels theirs too.
It feels empty.
Empty because whatever I do, however much I occupy myself, however much I try to honour the memory of my wife, I feel nothing. No pride. No sense of achievement. No progress. Just nothing.
Empty because a part of me died with my wife. She was part of me. We were part of each other. The physical part has gone and with it it has taken so many of the positives emotions that I always held so dear.
It feels endless.
Endless because I know I’ll never be healed.
Endless because I’ll never see her again.
Endless because I’ll never see the old me again.
Endless because there’s no conclusion, just an unknown expanse of time ahead of me to always miss her.
Endless because a huge part of me doesn’t want the pain to stop because it’d feel like I were doing my wife a disservice in death.
Endless because I have the feelings of both myself and my son to worry about for as long as I’m lucky enough to be alive.
Endless because it never leaves my mind for a moment and I find it hard to concentrate on anything else.
Endless because I rarely sleep and so there are now more hours in the day yet I don’t have the energy to fill them with the things I used to love or the things that made me a healthier person.
It feels like disbelief.
Disbelief because when anyone talks about my wife’s grave I shut down.
Disbelief because I don’t think I’ll ever truly be able to get my head round what’s happened.
Disbelief because, well fuck it, I just can’t fucking believe it’s fucking happened.
It feels lonely.
Lonely because my days never come to a natural close with a ‘goodnight’, a kiss or a cuddle from the person who told me it was time to go to bed.
Lonely because however much company I’m in, I still feel alone.
Lonely because intimacy has gone.
Lonely because I’ve lost my wife, my best friend, my co-parent and my partner in fun and mischief all in one go.
It feels disappointing.
Disappointing because people I bump into often assume that they don’t need to mention what happened because it happened six months ago.
Disappointing because some people avoid talking about my wife as if she never existed.
It feels shared.
Shared because I understand now that I feel some comfort when I comfort others.
Shared because I believe that if we pass kindness on it will come back to us.
Shared because so many people out there are looking out for me and my son.
Shared because I’ve let the people who I initially pushed away back in.
Shared because I stopped trying to be a hero and started to accept and truly appreciate help.
It feels hopeful.
Hopeful because I’ve let moments of happiness back into my life and I’ve sad to hell with the consequences and the hangover that they might create.
Hopeful because of my son’s sunny disposition and his beautiful outlook on life.
Hopeful because he tells me, “It’s not raining, Daddy, it’s happy” when all I see are dark clouds ahead.
Hopeful because he can answer for himself at two-and-half when people ask where his mummy’s gone.
Hopeful because when the other kids at nursery discuss the necklaces that they are making for their mummies, my son doesn’t get upset. He just says he’s making his for his daddy.
So today my grief is not the Gollum I spoke about in the original version of this post. But it still feels ugly, isolated, wretched and schizophrenic enough to be Sméagol.
N.B. Please do feel free to share how it feels or felt for you at six months too. In fact, please do share how it feels or felt for you at any point in your grief. I realise that for many people this blog is not just about my story but also about all the stories shared in the comments. And for me that’s just amazing because it feels like we’re all in it together.