Sunday, 17 July 2016

When you're in love with a beautiful man - and then he dies - then what?

I think about that thing that teenagers do when they're first in love and on the phone. Maybe they don't do it these days. Maybe they just send multiple texts until their fingers fall off or they fall asleep drooling onto the screens of their smartphones. But I'm thinking of the way, in the olden days, young people used to find it so impossible to part that they'd say, 'you put the phone down first,' 'no you,' for about half an hour until a parent's voice would intercept the call and they'd have to say goodnight. We did that a few times, in an ironic way, of course, but kind of not.

It can be a shock to realise that you can still fall in love, I mean really fall in love, when you're a middle-aged man or woman, especially if you're a man or woman who has had a few relationships since those first heady days of youthful romance. Amazing to realise that you can still walk around in a daze, tripping over your own feet because your mind is always with your loved one. Wonderfully destabilising to spend your days waiting for the ping of your phone (because you too have entered the modern age) and your nights so enthralled with your lover's mind, body and soul that you forget to go to sleep entirely. Incredible to feel the kind of love where hours and days apart feel like torture and you can't wait to be reunited, where every parting is a wrench, a tiny grief. You are in the bonding phase of love, the enchantment phase, where you see only common ground and ignore differences. Love is blind, they say. Love is a form of madness, they say. Love is a drug. In fact, scientists have proven that being in love is like being on cocaine. You are bonded to your loved one by a powerful cocktail of hormones. You are attached to your beloved. You are, in essence, like Robert Palmer, addicted to love.

This week I joined WAY, a support network for people who are Widowed and Young. I consider myself neither widowed nor young (even though I am skilled at social networking and can drool on a smartphone with the best of them) but I realised that it might be helpful to talk to other people who have lost a partner and specifically people who have lost a partner before old age. Because the experience has been like nothing I've ever known and I don't know anyone in the real world who has lost a partner. I thought I might find people who understood. I've not been disappointed. I'd only been on the Facebook group for five minutes when someone said, in black and white, so clearly, the thing that I'd been feeling but not quite articulated: that there is a world of difference between losing someone you love and losing someone you are in love with. Suddenly it all made sense.

I've been careful in my conversations with the bereaved, to try not to suggest that there is some kind of grief hierarchy; everyone's grief is unique and incomparable and yet, this feeling has been nagging at me, that this grief is different, that it is violent, that it is visceral in a way that is unfamiliar to me. I've even been feeling guilty that this grief is so much more extreme than my grief for my mum who only died recently, or for my dad. And I get annoyed with friends who suggest that I am feeling so bad because this grief is cumulative, even though I know that they're right to some extent, because my heart tells me that, no, this grief is for you. My grief is commensurate to the amount of love I felt for you and my love for you, as it happens, was enormous. But there is something else going on here. I didn't love you like your family or friends did. I was 'in love' with you. Even when my mum was dying, I didn't think about her all day long. I didn't daydream about the beautiful future we would have together. I didn't pine for her until we were reunited. I loved her and I wanted her to stay in my life but I wasn't addicted to her. I was addicted to you and when a partner dies like you did, suddenly and with no warning, it is like going cold turkey. I am physically ill with grief. My body hums with grief so loudly that I'm surprised other people can't hear it. I am shattered by grief.

I went to a party the other week and your friend found me crying. He thought he understood. 'Paul would have been here,' he said, like I was crying because I'd just remembered you because I was at a party with your friends. But the truth is that I don't just remember you at parties and I don't cry when something reminds me that you lived and that you are gone. I remember you all day long, the way I thought of you all day long when you were alive. I cry, or fight back tears, all day long, the way I fought back smiles when you were alive. I only forget you when I am distracted by something else for a moment. I am in agony, looking all day long for the place to rest my heart and it is gone. 'Are you still sad about Paul?' another friend of yours asked this week. "Of course,' I said. 'I will be sad about Paul forever.'

Today I walked up to the spot where we first held each other as we watched the sun set and I talked to the sky as I often do. 'How on earth am I supposed to do this?' I asked. You didn't talk back, though I do sometimes hear your voice in my head and when I asked you for a sign in the clouds, I found my heart again for a moment. Your love goes on but you are gone.

I think about those phone calls: 'You go first,' 'no you.' You went and I was calling you and there was no answer. You went first and you can't come back. You went and I am talking when the line is dead, waiting for a ping that will not come, rattling like a junkie coming off cocaine, on my own.