Saturday, 18 June 2016

The tightrope of grief


Every day I walk a tightrope in the darkness over a gaping chasm. I have no idea where I am trying to get to as there is no light out there to aim for but I know I must keep moving, edging tentatively towards some kind of unfathomable future. It is a balancing act, I am told, between grief and recovery.  Spend too long looking at the chasm and you risk falling into the blackness, never to return. But run too quickly over it and the darkness will eat you just the same, perhaps slowly or unexpectedly. Perhaps at some point in the future when you think you are sitting safely on the other side on a sunny patch of grass, the ground will open up and swallow you whole without warning. You can't escape from this kind of grief. The only safe way to go is carefully, inch by inch, breath by breath, word by word, day by day, putting one foot in front of the other, hoping, and yet I dare not even hope anymore, that one day you will be glad that you kept going, that one day you might reach the other side.

The best way to keep your balance on a tightrope is to focus on something directly in front of you which is fine by me because I can't look too far ahead; the emptiness is too overwhelming. So I put things in my diary, not because I look forward to them, but because they keep me looking forwards and, sometimes, looking forwards keeps me from falling. And sometimes I fall anyway. I don't yet know my limits in this new world. I have to test the rope to find out whether it can take the weight of me and this grief that I am carrying, this unwieldy monster that I haul around with me in the dark. Sometimes it is sleepy and well-behaved and I can carry it gracefully; the crowd don't even notice the beast on my shoulders. And sometimes, they notice it and are impressed that I can still tiptoe onwards with such a burden on my back. But sometimes, it is wild and wakish and it pulls me off-balance.  And when this happens and the rope is slippery and the spotlights are too bright in my eyes, when the noise of the band and the crowds is too much, I go down. And you, my safety net, are not there to catch me. Luckily, at the bottom of the chasm there is water. Luckily I can swim. So far, I have not drowned.

I have started to compile a mental list of the things I can do so that I can put them in the diary and keep walking towards them. These are the things I can still do: writing, swimming, walking, talking about you, talking about grief, reading about grief, leading writing workshops, talking about work, reading stories to the children, getting children ready for school and bed, listening to music, playing games. I hope that I can move house. The new house is like an investment for the future, a pleasant place for some future self to dwell in some future life where there is joy. This week I added tennis to my list. I grew up playing tennis and the memory of how to play is strong: hold racket, move legs, hit ball. Repeat for an hour. Success.

This is the current list of things I can't do: keep the score whilst playing tennis, drink, go to the gym, watch TV, read normal books, make flapjack, manage money, listen to the news, listen to other people's problems, talk about other people's relationships, not talk about you, make small talk.

I have never been good at small talk but now I feel completely inept. I can't get my face or the tone of my voice to match my words and find myself smiling whilst explaining breezily to strangers that I recently found my partner's body and that my mum died too and that's it's all been a bit tricky. But, hey, I'm lucky that, because everyone is dead, I have money and so I get to buy a lovely house. And they don't quite know what to say and I try to change the subject and then they start talking about their families and I realise that I can't bear to listen to them. I try to join in with conversations about partners and I fall back on the conversational female staple of comparing experiences and then I remember that I'm talking about someone who is dead and that no-one wants to hear about the sex life and domestic habits of someone who is dead. And if people are talking about their divorces, I have no empathy anymore because death trumps divorce every time and I know because I've experienced both. I am positively, twistedly smug in my misery. It feels ugly and unkind and not at all like me. And even when people talk about illness I lack sympathy and for a moment I find myself thinking, hey, worst case scenario, they're only going to die and death looks pretty appealing to me compared to this farce. We're all going to end up there and right now, that feels like a blessing. Death holds no fear for me. It is living that scares me. I would have hoped that all this tragedy would give me empathy but at the moment I am self-absorbed and all off-kilter, tumbling off the tightrope under the bright lights while I feel the audience is staring aghast.

So, I walk home crying and long to curl up in your arms because you get me even when I'm weird, but you are not there and so I curl up with your jumpers again and realise that, for now, socialising is on the 'things to avoid' list.

And then I wake up and get back on the tightrope and put one foot in front of the other again, walking towards some unfathomable future. And as I walk I am so grateful for the people who walk alongside me and for the ones whose hands form a safety net beneath me and for the people who fill the gaps in my diary and listen to my self-absorbed, inept talk. And I am so grateful for you and your love, the tiny light in the darkness, that tells me that, even now, I am beautiful and wonderful and enough.