Sunday, 10 July 2016

Grieving just as fast as I can

Sometimes, it goes like this.

I'm having quite a good day, all things considered. The sun is shining, the kids are happy, I have ticked some jobs off my to do list. I pat myself on the back. I am doing ok. And then I get a message from a friend asking when she can see me: 'I hope things are a bit brighter,' she says. And the sun goes behind the clouds for a moment and I feel a little bit less ok for some reason. Later a different friend sends me another message: 'I hope things get better soon,' she says. By now, it's raining and I feel thoroughly out of sorts and I still don't know why. These are my really good friends and they love me and love from friends like these keeps me afloat and yet, what is this feeling that they're leaving me with?

Yesterday I went to, not one, but three parties. This, you might call progress, or you might call it insanity. Since you died, so far I have been to two children's parties (and cried at both of them), to one disastrous night out in a pub (from which I walked home crying) and, other than that, social occasions have mostly revolved around you (it's ok to cry at those) or I have been one-to-one with good friends who have been there primarily to support me (while I cry some more). So, three parties was ambitious. I felt like a superhero to even attempt such a feat. If this kind of grief is like carrying a full glass of water all day long or walking on a tightrope, going to three parties is like trying to carry that water on a tightrope whilst making conversation with strangers. It is seriously impressive if you can pull it off. Mostly, I pulled it off.

The first party was the hardest. It was a street party on the road that the kids and I will be moving onto so we were meeting new neighbours. Luckily the natives were friendly enough. The kids had a nice time playing with other kids and I chatted to some other mums about school, about the house and the street. It was ok. For a while nobody asked about a partner but eventually one woman risked the subject and I had the thought then, that I could erase the episode where I fell in love with someone who died from my narrative and just tell her that I was separated. But I couldn't do that to you. I did fall in love and you did die, so I told her. 'I'm so sorry,' she said. 'You're very brave. To move on your own.' I felt it. Very brave.

The second party was easier being at my brother's house and consisting, as his parties mostly do, of running around his garden trying to avoid being soaked by water pistols. In the kitchen he asked me briefly, 'how are things?' He stopped short of asking if they were better but the question hung hopefully in the air and I felt I had to give him something. 'Not too bad,' I said. He didn't have time to chat. And then a friend of his approached me and told me that she'd heard what a hard time I'd been having and told me that she'd recently had a double mastectomy. It was like a breath of fresh air, in a stifling day of small talk. She wasn't ok either and there we were, standing like warriors on a battlefield, comparing tortures, eating nibbles in the sunshine, doing our best to keep living. Very brave.

The third party was fancy dress at the big co-housing project where you sometimes worked, amongst some of your friends: socialist performers and reformers. I walked there in twenties-style heels (talking nervously to you in the clouds, asking you for a sign of your presence as I walked, getting more nervous when the clouds kept moving and I couldn't see you.) I was now walking on a tightrope, carrying water, in heels. I knew I was pushing it. But it was a beautiful evening. People sang and read poems and performed tricks. The people who knew you made me welcome as they always do and I chatted to other people I knew from years of working in Sheffield's third sector. As I sat talking to your friend (the one who found your body with me) the most incredible rainbow appeared in the sky and I felt your presence again with relief. The party host talked to me about the new house which is round the corner. We'd stopped short of moving into the co-housing project, though we had considered it for a while, just to be close to you. 'It's nice to stay loosely connected,' I said. And she corrected me, 'no, you are as tightly connected as can be,' and I was so touched. She introduced me to her cousin who lives on the street I'm moving into and he drunkenly asked me something about my marital status and I said, 'it's just me and the kids.' Just like that. So brave. And then the activist singer-songwriter, Grace Petrie, did a gig right there in the central room in the house and she was amazing. And I sat there the whole time marvelling at how the world keeps turning and how people keep living, even the birthday host who told me herself that her partner died years ago. And I was thinking, 'is this it? Is this how you do it? In crowds of like-minded people, singing through the pain?' And then Grace sang a love song and I started to cry again and had to leave the room. Your friend put his arm around me. 'Are you still in pain?' he asked. And he is so kind and such a lovely man but there it is again, the bad feeling I get when he says that word, 'still'.

In amongst the parties yesterday, I chat to people on the Facebook group that I joined as part of my grief writing programme. They call it the 'Tribe of After', refer to each other as grieflings. I ask them why these words, 'better', 'brighter', 'still', have the power to bring me to my knees and they understand completely. They tell me that, of course, it is impossible to feel that the world is bright when my loved one is dead. And how can it get better? My loved one is dead. Unless someone can bring him back to me, it isn't going to get better. And, as if it wasn't bad enough to feel this way, my friends are, with absolutely the best of intentions, making me feel like I'm not doing this grief thing right, like it's not ok for me to feel the way I do. I am failing at grief. I need to change. Don't get me wrong, I want things to get better and brighter too. Sometimes I actually tell myself to snap out of it. But it doesn't work. I am grieving just as fast I can, healing as best I can in the circumstances. There is nothing anyone can do to speed up the process except listen and sit with me while I cry and acknowledge that I am in pain and that it sucks. I tell the Tribe of After that I feel like a superhero just for staying alive and they reply: 'you ARE a Superhero. You ARE.' One of them, in her own posts writes, 'I don't have a hard life, I know I don't...but it does occur to me....that living is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.' Staying alive, without you, is enough. The kids are getting fed, I am managing to work, I am buying a new house for God's sake. I am a superhero. Please, I've lost so much, let me keep the cape.