I remember the pain of last November well. And I remember lying awake all night in bed searching my mind for answers and the internet for solutions to that pain. I so badly wanted to find something or someone who could tell me that things were going to be okay; that I would be okay again. I kept coming up against the same problems though. What authority did that person have to tell me? And how could a stranger, who by definition didn’t know me before, have any idea of how I might feel in the future?
I’ve found advice from others pretty hard to swallow over the last few months. And I’ve made no secret of the fact that I find the generalisations and platitudes of grief difficult to digest.
‘Year two’s always the hardest.’
‘It gets easier.’
Surely all of these things are dependent on too many factors – personality, support, mental stability, age, health, etc. – to be definitive guidelines to grief.
I guess I’d find each comment easier to stomach if they were slightly more personalised:
‘I found year two to be much harder than year one.’
‘I found it got easier but I still have really tough times now.’
‘Time brought me comfort. I don’t think l’ll ever be completely healed but I do feel better now than I have in years.’
I get asked for advice all the time and I find the emails I receive a real challenge to answer. How can I tell someone how they’re going to feel when I know nothing about them, other than the fact that they have also lost someone they love? Why should I make assumptions about their potential prospects when I’m still suffering so badly? And who am I after all? Just one guy who has – at least in my book – only recently lost his wife himself. I’ve always tried to avoid telling anyone what to do, how to feel or what the future holds because, quite frankly, I have no idea.
But having visited my wife’s grave this morning and not having felt the same gravity of emotion as when we lowered her body into the ground that day, I wondered, ‘What advice do I wish the person I am today could have given the person I was in November?’
- I wish I could have told myself to use my own intuition about what is right and wrong for me personally and not looked to others for all the answers
- I wish I could have told myself to just be. Not to be strong, not to be brave and not to try to be a hero; to just be. To let grief have its way with me and to let myself feel the full spectrum of emotions that it brings. Because only when I did let go and stop fighting a losing battle, did I start to feel anything like myself again
- I wish I could have told myself that grief was a natural reaction to loss, even though it felt like the least natural thing in the world. I wish I’d known that I wasn’t really in control of myself and that I didn’t need to feel guilty for the thoughts in my head because they weren’t really my own
- I wish I could have told myself that the raw pain that made my body function differently wouldn’t last forever; that the physical pain would ease
- I wish I could have told myself that things would change. Not that I would suddenly be healed by the passage of time, but that feelings and thoughts would ebb and flow. That no two days would really feel the same. That the initial shock of bereavement is extreme in the extreme and that back then I was the most extreme version of myself I’ve ever been. Confusing? Extremely!
- I wish I could have told myself not to expect doctors to have all the answers. Even more than that, I wish I could have told myself that a doctor is just a person, that sometimes they are wrong and that there is no doctor in the world that knows me as well as I do. I wish I could have told myself not to always trust the letters after a person’s name simply because they are there, and maybe to shop around a little too
- I wish I could have told myself to go easy on myself and not expect too much progress too soon. And that it was okay to put myself first sometimes
As I write this wish list out, I can still see that entirely broken version of me searching for the answers from my bed late last year. I have this image in my head, like a passage from The Time Traveler’s Wife, where the old me and the current me are in the same room together listening to and giving advice respectively. And even though it cuts a sad scene, I suddenly find myself rather amused.
I’m having a little laugh to myself because, despite wanting the answers, Ben 2012 is telling Ben 2013, ‘Piss off! What the fuck do you know?’
But then I guess I am only saying that because I didn’t want my own raw pain to feel undermined or somehow marginalised. And because maybe even then I knew that I’d need to go through this myself rather than rely on the reassurances of others.