A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
Today is the first anniversary of Desreen’s death and contemplating what to write has troubled me more than anything else I’ve published this year. The temptation to say nothing at all has been strong. In many ways not bothering to comment about this so-called milestone at all might have gone someway towards subtlety making my point: today is just another day.
The fact that 365 days have passed since my wife was killed is of no more significance to me than if she’d died 364 or 366 days ago. It doesn’t make her any more dead than she was yesterday and nor will it make me feel any more alive tomorrow. Of course this weekend has made me retrace painful memories and intensified my grief, but making it to the end of year one has not suddenly created the turning point that I might once have expected – that I might once have been led to believe it would.
Perhaps that’s because I’ve found myself measuring the last 12 months in emotions and not time. And if I were to quantify this year by depth of feeling and not the passage of time, then it would have been the longest (or perhaps deepest) of my life. But when I consider how I used to gauge time, it feels like no more than six weeks have passed since Desreen died.
I imagine that this first anniversary of my wife’s death might mean more to others than it does to me. I think that unless a person is living through the pain of a close bereavement every single day, it’s normal to only really concentrate on remembering the dead on certain calendar dates: birthdays, anniversaries, perhaps even on Remembrance Sunday, which it happens to be today. But for me every day is a day of remembrance: of the good times we spent together, of the many wonderful gifts my wife gave me including our son, of the things we hoped to achieve together in life, of the love we shared, of the night she was killed, of going to sleep every night since in a half empty bed, of being the person I once was.
And it’s because I understand that ‘close grief’ doesn’t just visit on certain days of the year, that I’ve decided to aim today’s post at those who haven’t suffered the pain of close loss rather than at those who have. I want to explain how I feel about today because I think it could possibly help people to offer their ongoing support to bereaved friends and family members. But one thing I will add, as I often do, is that this is only how it feels to me. I’m no expert in grief; all I know is what I’m going through.
Today has given me no closure. In fact I think closure is a ridiculous word when associated with grief. It means a feeling of finality or resolution but I don’t think that the kind of close grief I’m suffering ever truly ends. I doubt that closure ever comes on either the day of a funeral, the way some assume it should, or on the anniversary of a person’s death. I just don’t think life works like that; time just doesn’t work like that. I’ve never woken up on any of my 34 birthdays and felt distinctly older or acutely happier. It’s just a day, and days where neither incredible nor terrible things happen tend not to leave an impression of being life-changing. I don’t think my life is going to change today just because a calendar tells me that it’s been a year since my wife was killed.
Today won’t make me move on. I try very hard not to repeat myself when I write but I think moving on is a ridiculous expression when associated with grief. I think it has uncomfortable connotations of pressure – of what people expect the bereaved to do. It’s time he moved on, some might judge. But what does it mean? Does it mean it’s time to stop grieving? Does it mean it’s time to stop being outwardly upset? Does it mean it’s time to forget the person who you lost but who you still love? Or does it mean it’s time for them to be replaced? If it’s the latter then I think it’s misguided and ill-judged. Things can be replaced; people cannot. New relationships can of course be forged and a person can be happy again, but I believe that loves endures death thus grief endures life. I think that what we often call moving on is actually just a matter of carrying on.
Today is not what I thought it would be. About a fortnight ago I had what I thought was some sort of epiphany; I decided that I wanted to be happy again. The words happy again often mean in a new relationship when referring to people who have lost their partner. This is not what I meant though. What I meant was that I suddenly felt I’d grown tired of the idea of living half a life: one that lacked motivation, direction or the ability to feel content. So I went on a night out, told some friends I was planning on ‘living life again’ and then woke up the next day feeling worse than I did the week before. I’d tried to turn off my grief before painfully realising that grief doesn’t come with a switch. Grief can come with so much pressure anyway and to put yet more on myself just made it harder still. Right after my wife was killed what gave me the impetus to go on was not choice but shock – a physical and mental reaction to loss. Shock snapped me into action but when the shock wore off it grew harder to muster the energy to carry on. And I’m afraid it wasn’t as simple as telling myself to snap out of it. Now, a year on, there’s no self-imposable equivalent to the shock that made people believe that I was ‘strong’ as I stood and delivered my wife’s eulogy without shedding a tear.
Today is about getting through the anniversary and allowing myself as much time as I need to think about what happens next. I knew six months ago that I didn’t want my wife’s death to kill me too. I already knew that one day I’d want to try to (re)create a meaningful life for my son and myself. I didn’t need a year to pass by to tell me that. But I don’t know what that life looks like yet. And more importantly I don’t feel that I need to have the answers just because some may judge my progress in measures of time that no longer mean anything to me. All I know for now is that I’m going to try find the drive to be a loving, living, caring, nurturing and motivational force in my son’s life.
So tomorrow will be about taking a step towards making some sort of plan for the rest of my life. But if the plan takes another year, or even two or three, then that’s fine with me because I know that putting more pressure on myself just makes me feel worse than I already do. Tomorrow will be about reminding myself not to succumb to the cliché-filled self-help guide in my mind that tells me to think myself happy. Tomorrow will be about finding the will to carry on and not move on. And tomorrow will be about enduring the pain I suffer in opening my heart to the love I still feel for my wife, rather than closing it off for the sake of a resolution that I do not seek.
I want to send all of my love to mine and Desreen’s friends and families today. You’ve all been amazing this year, especially when I’ve been difficult to be around. And, Desreen, this perfect song is for you because you never failed to amaze me x