Today is 18 months since Michael died….it’s really hard to type these words, I haven’t been able to actually utter them in public, only one person has heard me say them (if you’re reading, you know who you are).
I have cried several times today; whilst not as intense as the first few hours, days, weeks or even months, the pain of the last 18 months of his absence is indescribable. My life, and the person I am today, has been irrevocably shaped by the 18 years I spent with Michael by my side. We moulded and changed to fit in with and compliment the other to the point that when he died I felt as if one half of my body, my identity, my being had died with him. I can safely say that, for at least the first year, I didn’t know who I was anymore, I was lost in a boundless, shoreless sea, constantly swimming against a tide that was forever changing, whilst at the same time trying to keep my children safe from drowning; it was exhausting.
I have encountered, at various stages of my grieving process, boundless kindness, the type that made me weep because I didn’t feel worthy of it (yes, grief has the ability to strip you off your self-esteem and sense of worthiness). If I should draw a positive aspect of grieving, this has certainly been one for which I am grateful because in the process some unbelievably amazing people have entered my life and made camp in my heart, and I have no intention of letting them go. I have also experienced deeper conversations and connections with people in subjects as varied as what is love, and whether it is fair that the UK is set on leaving the European Union; whilst not all conversations ended in agreement they have been all mind expanding and welcomed; keep them coming.
I have also faced criticism, judgment, and downright negative comments from people who, in their ignorance of what grieving can really do to you, have uttered the most unhelpful, unkind, and hurtful words I could ever imagine, and definitely didn’t need. I truly believe they did not intend nor understand the pain those words caused me. This experience has taught me to live by the maxim:
Before you say something about a person ask yourself:
- Is it true?
- Is it good?
- Is it useful?
So with this in mind, I set to justify my last paragraph, because admittedly it does not meet all the three criterion Socrates set.
It is true that the words and actions of some people I have encountered in my grieving journey have hurt me and have caused me to retreat into my cave licking my wounds.
It is not good that I am publicly decrying the words and actions of those people, although I am not naming them individually, I am not narrating specifics here, and would never do so, I am doing this because I believe it to be useful, to me at least, but hopefully to others too.
I will explain. The person who is grieving the death of a loved one, is temporarily (and for an unspecified length of time) taken into a warped planet where all societal rules of common sense, politeness and normality are suspended and replaced by a warbled mass of confusion, pain, anger, desperation and hopelessness wrapped in barbed wire; imagined trying to escape that planet to get back to earth! First of all it takes an insurmountable amount of strength and courage to want to escape, second when one has gathered the strength and /or courage, every time one tries to escape, one gets caught in the barbed wire, lashing the already lascerated skin. So next time you encounter someone who is grieving, make sure to either be prepared to speak through the barbed wire so the person doesn’t feel they have to jump through it, or get yourself really big wire cutters, cotton wool dressings and a big pot of kindness salve with you to apply to their wounds. They’ll need it and will be forever grateful.
Thankfully, I encountered many more kind people with big wire cutters and the most magical kindness salve, than unkind people.
These last 18 months have forced me to develop and use tools and skills I didn’t know I possessed or even thought existed. I have had to push through physical and emotional pain, turmoil, and sadness. I have had to re-assess my priorities in life, I have had to see my life’s own script being re-written with seemingly no control whatsoever as to the plot or the characters within it; but most of all I have had to learn to let go, to live each day as it comes, to grab onto every little moment of joy because I don’t know when the next one will come along, and to trust the journey.
There have been moments of utter sadness and desperation, but as time is passing I have learnt to live with the Michael shaped hole which is slowly becoming a scar in my heart, his mark forever there to be seen.
And as time is passing my children are also learning to live with joy too; continuing to develop into kind, rounded individuals, constantly challenging me as their only parent. I often find myself asking “how would Michael deal with this situation?” and actually voicing it to my children…. the truth is that there would have been a discussion between the two of us which would invariably end up with him saying “you seem to have it all under control, gorgeous” I miss that.
Their academic, sporting and social achievements have been many and as a proud mother I can probably write a whole essay enumerating them, but I won’t bore you with those. The one thing I am proudest is of seeing them, having had the roughest 18 months, pick themselves up, dust themselves off and walk with their heads held up high, whilst being aware of the world around them being kind, positive, polite, respectful and above all happy, it makes my heart swell with pride.
I am continuing to run as often as my body allows it and fitting it around my continuing treatment, combined with nearly every day yoga practice, I can see and feel the benefits. My body is coping with and recovering from treatment much better, my sleeping, eating and emotions are in balance and I’m managing to control my body weight. Today I ran my fastest 5 km ever, officially 25:44 (and came third in my age category!)…. as I was running every step was dedicated to Michael and the people I love who I believe give wings to my heart.
Those wings have recently been strengthened by a new special person entering my life and making me believe that it is possible to love again after widowhood. Eighteen months ago I would not have believed that my heart would have the capacity to heal and expand to accommodate a new love again; well today I know it’s possible. Loving again at the age of 45 feels no different to what it felt to love as a teenager, only now I have the life experience behind me which makes me more aware of making sure I grab every moment of joy, every smile, every word said, every moment spent together, and enjoy it. If you are reading, thank you for coming into my life, for accepting me, my past, my present and my uncertain future, and for loving me just as I am.
I now look at the future, which is in no way certain or without challenges, and I am not afraid because I have wings in my heart.