Friday, 10 June 2016

In love with your ghost

On the beach in Filey in December - not a seagull in sight

I discovered 'our song' this week. It is a song by Martha Tilston, called Seagull and I saw her perform it at the How the Light Gets In festival in Hay on Wye. It isn't a sad song about loss. In fact, it's a song that captures perfectly the confusion and excitement of falling in love and it reminded me vividly of our own process of coming together. And, even though you weren't physically there, I knew that you thought it was perfect too. And that made me happy. And I felt joyful because the feeling of being in love was, for me, so alive as I heard it. And I sang it joyfully at full volume about ten times while I was driving until the singing gradually got drowned out by the tears when I remembered that you're not here anymore and I am in love with a ghost. And then the tears ran dry as they always do eventually and I made a mental note to ask my bereavement counsellor if it's a bit dysfunctional to still be in love with someone who died three months ago or whether this too is a perfectly normal part of grieving.

I am discovering that it is a strange business when the person you are in love with dies. There isn't really anything quite like it. There are other deaths and other losses, but nothing like this.

When you lose a parent (and I have lost both), you're not expected to look for someone else to fill that gap. Your father is still your father and your mother is still your mother. You won't ever have another one and that's ok. There will always be a hole in your life where that person used to be but you will talk about them with other friends and relations and they remain there with their names in tact: my mother, my father.

Some say the worst grief (and I can believe it) is to lose a child. I've only lost a tiny foetus and that was hard enough. It must be unbearable to see your child leave the world before you, even if your child is an adult. Nothing, not even another child, can replace the loss of the unique individual that you engendered. And you will keep their photo on the mantelpiece, maybe even keep their room as a shrine to their memory. They will stay in the same position in your heart for all eternity.

And if your friend dies, even your really good friend, you can still talk about that friend, maybe with other friends, and the gap will be there just the same because there will be some things that only that particular friend would have understood. But you will have other friends and maybe they can grow to hold the weight of the friend who is missing. Probably they won't feel too insecure to be your friend. Probably they won't worry that you loved your dead friend more than you love them. Perhaps some really good friends might even hold your gaze while you talk about your departed friend without looking away embarrassed or changing the subject. Because we want to honour our friends by remembering them. That's not dysfunctional. That's right and proper.

But when the man you are in love with dies, what are you supposed to do?

I was forty-four when we met so, although you were certainly up there with the big loves of my life, I had been in love before. And being in love has always ended but not like this. Usually, in my experience, love is slowly eroded over time, by the attrition of arguments and resentment until you can't imagine that love was ever there in the first place, or until love is just a pale, sad memory, or the dim glow of embers. Separation usually follows and then there is sadness and pain, but soon the embers die down and there is just ash, or, if you're lucky, love is replaced by the fond glow of friendship that carries on into the future. Of course, for some really lucky folk, the 'in love' stage mutates into a deeper, long-lasting love - I'm not so experienced with that sort of love. And sometimes, someone leaves you abruptly with no warning and it feels like your heart has been shattered into tiny pieces. But there is still a sense to be made of it. Friends come round with bottles of wine and tell you that he didn't deserve your heart in the first place and though you might rail against it, at some point there is only that truth: he didn't love you enough so you must let him go, put your heart back together piece by piece and wait patiently for the man who does deserve you to arrive.

I did all of that. And then you arrived, on cue or perhaps a little too soon for my liking. I was still healing from that kind of monumental heartbreak and I wasn't ready but it turns out you had to arrive then otherwise it would all have been too late. And, it was just like that song, our song: true love flew in through the open window like a seagull. And it bashed about and freaked us both out and yet, we couldn't stop smiling. And like Martha Tilston we closed ourselves up from time to time and almost ran away. It was too big to handle. We had all those feelings: 'should I stay, should I go, should I even be here?' But in the end we opened up and we stayed and it was beautiful and terrifying all at once. And it is these words that I sing so loudly: 'you are beautiful, you're beautiful, you're beautiful, you're beautiful.' Because it is, in my head, the only word for you and I never told you when you were alive how beautiful you were. You were such a truly beautiful soul. And 'I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you. I really really do.' Because that is how it was and how it still is. My love for you doesn't diminish because you died, in fact, in some ways, it has continued to grow. Our love was growing, rising, expanding, full of energy and potential. And even though you are gone, I still feel your presence. And as I talk to your friends and family I am still learning about you. I am still in relationship with you. My love for you has not died.

And yet, you are physically gone. And joy is replaced by sadness again. And if I were to keep talking about you as my boyfriend or partner, people would think I was weird. And if I made a shrine to you, I would definitely be seen as weird. And when I talk about how much I loved you,  how much I still love you, even now some people turn away and change the subject. I feel like there's an expectation that I should, somehow, get over it, look forward, move on. And even as I write about you I know that I am bringing you back to life again and then grieving all over again when I close my laptop. And I wonder if I could ever make room for another love and if another love could love me, the person who is writing publicly about this lost love. And yet, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I really really do. We have moved from a lifestyle conundrum to a metaphysical conundrum and the process of grief is an unending cycle of joy and pain, love and loss. The seagull bashes about and freaks me out and sometimes, even now, when I remember you and when I feel connected to you, I can't stop smiling. And then the tears come again. I don't know when it will stop. When a love hasn't run its course, how can it ever stop?

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