Sunday, 29 January 2017

Treading water

These days I feel like I am waiting, suspended between the past and the future, treading water, like a surfer hoping to catch a wave that never comes. Sometimes, I gear myself up, see something heading towards me, feel myself temporarily buoyed up, lifted on a positive tide. But it is always one of those waves that holds more promise than it can deliver, that subsides before it peaks, that leaves me stranded still, out at sea. Waiting.

At other times I feel myself to be trapped, looking out at the world through a window, wondering when I will be allowed back out there to join the throng of the living and the loving and the thriving. Instead, I stay inside, held hostage by grief. Surviving.

It is only six weeks now until the anniversary of your death and I feel it like an uneasy stillness in the air, like a darkening of the sky, like a tsunami building. I am afraid of the destruction it might bring, the memories it will dredge from the ocean floor, the way it will fling me backwards once again. And yet some part of me is counting still, counting down now, naively hoping that once the year is up, I can pack up my suitcase and leave the wreckage behind on Grief Island, start afresh.

A year is such a short time, they say and they are right, of course. If I live until I'm ninety, a year is but a drop of water in the ocean. But when the waves still come thick and fast and can't be ridden; when you have no-one to love or to love you; when you find work hard and socialising harder, a year can feel like an eternity. When it is broken down into days to get through, hours to keep breathing, minutes to stay alive, a year can feel as vast as the whole ocean. Sometimes there is no shore in sight.

I dabble with dating, hoping someone might send a boat to rescue me but I flounder in the water, unsure where I want to go, not sure I even want to leave the sea. I try to watch a film but the sight of a lifeless body leaves me reeling, cast back in time, shipwrecked again. I push the boat out and go to a party, find myself washed onto a foreign shore, observing people like they are natives in a distant land. Though I listen, I do not understand what they say.

Things will get better, I'm sure. Time will keep healing, I have no doubt. There will be happiness probably, one day, and even love. But it is so hard to live like this, suspended between the past and future, tossed about on the waves with no anchor, treading water.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Remembering with a smile

They said the time would come when I would remember you with smiles instead of tears, with a heart buoyed by gratitude instead of weighed by sadness. I didn't believe them. They said a lot of things, most of them stupid. They said our time together was a gift to cherish, that there were lessons to be learned. They said that you had left me in a better place. They said that I would meet someone new, find happiness again. None of it made sense.

I've been turning corners for a while now, zigging and zagging backwards and forwards but today I turned a corner literally as I was looking for my B & B and I found myself standing in front of a cafe in Bridlington. It made me catch my breath as I was flung by a wave not of pain but of remembrance, into a cold December night, parking up on this street while the wind whipped across our faces and the sign on the pub swung and clanked like a gallows. And we dived inside to get warm, eating fish and chips under bright lights as night descended.

I didn't even know that I'd been to Bridlington before. I thought this was my first trip, at least since the one in the cine film, the one where I'm batting my grandma's cheeks with pudgy hands. I knew that we'd stayed nearby at Bemptom but I didn't recall that we'd been here. But today I remembered: how we'd been to the lighthouse at Flamborough and how we'd nearly walked down to the beach but that it was so cold and we'd already walked on the beach once that day at Thornwick Bay (with the rocks and the seal and the beautiful portrait of me in a funny hat) and how the sign was shining like a beacon on the head, beckoning us in: Fish and Chips. And how, by the time we'd finished looking at the sea and contemplating the steepness of the cliff path, the door was locked, chairs piled on tables and how our hearts sank because now we needed fish and chips like our lives depended on it. And how we'd got back into your van and driven through the rain in search of sustenance until we found ourselves here in Bridlington.

I didn't go in. I'd already eaten my fish and chips on the beach. But I looked through the window to see if I could see you still sitting there on the red leather seats. And I smiled and blew you a kiss. There were no tears and I felt only joy at the memory of the time we shared.

Today I took a portrait of myself in the funny hat that you loved and I made it my profile picture on Tinder. In this photo it is I that look like a ghost, like a mirage of a girl I used to be, the girl I find, like Cummings, by the sea. And I said to the guy I was talking to that, hey, this is me. I'm the woman my friend calls Grief Girl. I write about death and wear funky hats. I'm not everyone's cup of tea. But I'm happy being me. And I feel you smiling down like some kind of giant guardian angel, hear your voice in my ear telling me which guys to steer clear of, which ones to give the time of day. Your death will never be ok but maybe there's a gift in there somewhere.

Today has been a good day. Today I feel blessed. How I'll feel tomorrow is anybody's guess.

Friday, 13 January 2017

I don't write every day anymore

It has been almost two weeks since I last completed a blog. The significance is not lost on me. Perhaps it is the inevitable course of this horrible journey; the writing will naturally subside along with the tears. I don't cry every day anymore and I don't feel the need to write with the same urgency that I once did. There was so much to say back at the beginning, so many emotions to process: shock, disbelief, anger, guilt, fear, denial, nostalgia, love, remorse and, of course, sadness: a deep persistent sadness that lies beneath the surface like a dark pool. I've expressed myself in so many different ways on so many different days. There are no stages to this grief; emotions change as quickly as clouds shifting in the sky. It is a never-ending cycle. Grief is an inescapable part of my reality now.

Perhaps this is the holy grail of acceptance that I've been waiting for but it's not the way I imagined it. Nothing is fixed, the situation is not better, everything is not ok. What broke is still broken, what is missing is still missed. I am not back to normal. I have changed and I have grown through the experience but time has brought neither the wisdom that it happened for a reason nor the understanding that this was somehow for the best. The sun shines more than it did but there is no silver lining to this cloud. I am just learning to live with the dark pool of grief beneath the surface, learning the impossible art of walking on water, not falling quite so often, learning to swim when I do. I accept now that it will never go away.

And, yes, I accept that, though there was no reason, it did happen and that there is no going back. The facts are simple in the end: I fell in love with you and you died. It was a short, beautiful, brutal story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It can't be the whole story of my life. I can't just write about you for the rest of my days. There aren't enough words to keep you alive. There are only so many ways to say I love you.

And so, I must move forward. Part of the reason that I've written less over the last two weeks is that, spurred on by the new year, I've been investing time in trying to build something new. I've been putting scaffolding in place, laying foundations. I've been spending my days with coloured pens and paper, trying to map out a future. I've been consulting with the experts about the best way to build on top off dark waters, about how to live with absence.

I have, very tentatively, started dabbling with dating again. Oh the horror, the horror! I have faced again the awfulness of trawling through online profiles and making stilted conversation with men who don't know how to use full stops; the indignation of being deleted by randoms who are not getting where they wanted quickly enough; the dispiriting meetings with people who are not you. I have cried a lot in the process, have gone back to disbelief again: I shouldn't have to do this when I have only just found a man who really loves me, a man I really love.

I have also taken on some new work projects and I have had to let some others go. As a self-employed professional whose life was blown to pieces, I have a lost a lot of income and I need to start earning properly again but I have had to accept that some things are beyond my capabilities still. The big writing centre that I would like to establish will have to wait. There is only so much I can do whilst walking carefully over dark waters.

The truth is, I spent the first week of January trying to run before I could walk and fell quite spectacularly. My foundations are still shaky. The darkness and depth of the grief pool has almost swallowed me several times and, even though the darkness is so familiar, I still fear, each time that I might drown. Grief is still snakes and ladders. I go backwards as often as I move forwards.

So I am back to taking baby steps, committing to self-care. I am swimming, doing yoga, trying to get more sleep. My herbalist says she would like to me to follow an 'old lady routine' but I am not an old lady yet and I still have things that I want to do with this life. That is progress, at least. I find that I want to live again. Instead of wanting to die, I now find myself panicking that my life will be over before I've had chance to rebuild and to live again. But I can't rush it. I must move slowly and gently now.

As part of my self-care routine, I went back to my mindfulness class this week and absorbed the words on the paper that were handed to me:

There will be no moving forward till we accept where we are with grace and compassion.
We may not like it.
We may want to be anywhere but here.
We have to believe that where we find ourselves is the best place we can be in, in order that we might learn what is needed and then place our attention and our feet in the direction that is right for us to tread.

I don't believe that where I am is the best place for me. I do not like it. I wish I was anywhere but here. But I do accept it now. The words of Deacon Blue's new song keep finding me from the radio. 
"If I never see you one more time, I know you're in all my dreams. 
It would be everything, just to see you back again but you're gone."

I am not the person that I was before you died. I must start again gently from where I am now.