Several things recently have resulted in me reflecting on the journey I have been on since my lovely husband died almost 7 years ago – a flurry of funerals, the news that my son-in-law’s mother is terminally ill and the conversations with members of the family about ‘afterwards’, chatting to Richard, my Welsh Tutor, whose father died in the summer (see my post on Cooking for One) .
Before John died I knew a lot about grieving; I had taught loads of sessions on loss. In the weeks after his funeral I sometimes caught myself commentating on my progress – ‘Oh, we’re at that stage now are we.’ But none of that helped. Loss just has to be got through and there are no waymarked footpaths let alone motorways.
I wrote the following to a new widow who I had been supporting through her husband’s last illness, after his funeral;
‘I guess by now everyone has gone home, you have tidied up after them and for others life is getting back to normal. But you are probably wondering what normal is going to look like because it will certainly not be like it was. Waking up with a space on his side of the bed, making a mug of tea or coffee for one, having the TV remote all to yourself.. This stage of looking at the wreckage of normality is probably the hardest part of grieving, believe me. And you cannot order a new life on Amazon Prime for next day delivery! Nor can anyone else tell you how to get through it. For now all you can do is survive by whatever means you can – comfort eat or exist on tea and biscuits with the odd crisp sandwich; clean the house to within an inch of its life – even behind the fridge and oven! – or let the dirty plates pile up in the sink then smash them all and leave the bits on the floor; go for long walks in the pouring rain screaming obscenities or curl up under the duvet for days on end emerging only to go to the loo and feed the cats; start to knit something with a fiendishly complicated pattern that needs you to read the instructions every 2 stitches and stops you thinking about anything else or slob in front of daytime TV unable to knit a dishcloth without loads of mistakes; or an eclectic mix of any of the above and other ways…. None of it matters and it will take as long as it takes.
Then one day you will find yourself looking at a couple of tatty bits of your old life and going to get a safety pin to fasten them together, and go back to just getting by until you decide to patch a hole in another bit.. And gradually you will make a new ‘normal’ – part of it recycled bits of the life you shared and some of it new. Maybe it will not fit very well and need adjusting, or you will go back and take out those safety pins and stitch that seam properly. Who knows – one day you may replace a hasty patch with fancy applique?! But eventually you will get there.
Meanwhile be selfish. Do what you need to do and don’t give a fig whether other people understand or approve. Ask for the help you need from the people you think can give it and refuse well-meaning offers that are no help at all.
And which strategy did I choose? Well since John spent his days in the dining room listening to radio 4, reading and doing research on the laptop, I holed up in the kitchen for weeks with daytime TV for company (yes it was that bad!) and bought an iPad so I did not have to see what he had written. I gave myself a rigid timetable for the day with coffee or tea breaks and meals at fixed times to stop me lying in later and later and therefore going to bed later and later until I was out of sync with the rest of the world (other than teenagers!) It also meant each chunk of time that had to be filled was manageable. I accepted every invitation to go out and join things so that I built friendships which did not have old memories attached. In the evenings we went in the sitting room and watched TV and I did some crochet, so now I watched in the kitchen – no risk of looking at him to make a comment and seeing ‘his’ chair empty – and I knitted instead of crocheting. When I could I went in the garden and took my feelings out on the endless brambles. Exhaustion was the way to find sleep. We had already decided to have a new heating system and had asked a builder to do some jobs we could not tackle. When they had finished I had to do some re-decorating and felt ready to choose new colours for the walls and put the furniture back in different places. With a new dining room table and ‘his’ chair gone from the sitting room I was able to use those rooms again but it took a year to get there.
7 years on am I ‘over it’? No, and I never will be. I think of him every day and if it was possible to have him back fit and well I would do so in an instant. If he was to be still ill I would have to give it a lot of thought, not because I would not want him but because I think he had had enough of the frustrations and frailty. But I have built a life which is good, done things I would not have done if he had been alive and built a new support network, found new challenges. Life goes on, different, not better, but still good.