Thursday, 24 November 2016

I don't cry every day anymore

It is official. I have been grieving for longer than we were together. Somehow, eight and a half months have gone by since you died. We were only seeing each other for eight.

A lot has happened in that time, Blacksmith, much of it directly related to your death. Just on a practical level, it turns out there is a lot to do when someone you're in love with dies unexpectedly. I've written eulogies, helped to sort your possessions, catalogued photos, analysed post-mortems, scattered ashes, planted trees, organised memorials and, finally, managed to arrange a suitable location and inscription for your bench. Who knew it could be so hard to get someone to authorise the placing of a simple seat? Each different location that we've decided on has had to go to a separate authority for consideration and most of them have been rejected. But it's sorted now, I hope, finally, eight and a half months on. I think you will be pleased with it, when it's in place. I won't tell you where it's going to be yet, though perhaps you already know.

The words, of course, were a challenge. How can a man like you be summed up in the kind of space you'd get on twitter? Brevity is not my strong point, as you know. I remember how it used to infuriate you when we were messaging each other, that I could type so much faster. By the time you'd replied to something I'd said, I was already two steps ahead. In the end, we settled into a familiar rhythm of a three to one ratio. I still miss those messages.

Now, instead of typing messages to you in the evening, I type messages to the bereaved on Facebook and write blog posts about love and death. I can't really write anything else at the moment. Other projects have been abandoned and now it feels like my life's work is to write about you and about loss. I've joined a new, international community of broken souls. There is a comfort to be found in being amongst people who understand. Most people, it seems, really don't understand. And why should they? It turns out that there is a big gap between empathy and experience. Still, empathy is a gift to be cherished and I have found it in surprising places.

If you're looking down on the chessboard of my life, you'll notice that the pieces have all been rearranged since you died. It's not just the King that is missing. People that were close have moved further away and others, that were on the periphery, have moved closer. Some people have all but disappeared entirely. And there are people there that I didn't even know before, some of them your people - your precious mum, some of your friends. And others, those broken souls. I look into their eyes and see myself reflected there.

Grief, you'll notice, has settled itself into the centre of my life now. It is not as scary as it was at first, no longer the unwanted visitor that I sought to banish, battle with, defeat. You can't fight with something invisible, nor run a sword through absence. You can't retreat from Grief either. Even when I moved house, it followed me in, insinuating its way under ill-fitting doors and windows, creeping through the gaps in floorboards, settling into silences and empty spaces, making its presence felt when the world goes quiet. I wouldn't call Grief a friend still, but it is familiar now, comfortable almost. Grief is a haven from the madness of normality.

Normality is creeping back in though, slowly but surely, in little ways. I can bake flapjack now and I mostly eat proper meals. Fragments of my brain are realigning and I am probably remembering fifty per cent of the things I should be remembering, rather than the ten per cent I was remembering back in March. I've read a few chapters of books (not consecutive, not the same books) and I am starting to take on new projects (some of them not even grief-related). And yesterday I tried to watch TV again. I thought I'd start with Neighbours, just twenty minutes of something familiar; I've watched Neighbours religiously for decades. It didn't go well. I was out of touch with the characters and plot lines (a lot can change in eight months even in Soapland). But it wasn't the onscreen drama that that felt wrong, really. It was the step towards more normal behaviour that felt wrong in itself, like trying to return to a place that doesn't exist anymore. The assertion of normality feels like attempting to close a door on this awful episode, which in turn feels like closing a door on you. It is the dance of Grief again: the desire for a future, the lure of the past, the need to keep living in spite of the awareness of dying.

Today, as I walked down the stairs at my daughter's school, having run my lunchtime
writing group, I thought of you as I always do in the gaps between activities and remembered those early days when I would walk down those stairs crying. In those days, appearing normal for an hour was a monumental feat. I could only hold back the pain for very short periods of time. Today I didn't cry at all, just went home and made sandwiches, filled in my tax return. In the early days socialising was impossible. But last weekend I went out for an evening (albeit with really good, empathic friends) and I held it together for several hours. There was just one moment when suddenly the floor seemed to tip and I felt I was underwater, unable to hear what people were saying, when I felt the panic rising. But I kept breathing and held on and it passed. Things are improving. I don't cry every day anymore. In fact, when I look back at my blog, I realise that it is a whole week now since I was last in the grip of a proper grief storm. Without question, the periods of calm are getting longer.

In some ways I miss those early days when you were the only thing on my mind, when the whole world was a storm. But it is getting easier now. Not better. No less sad. Just easier. I know you would want it to be easier on me.