Sunday, 21 February 2010
Life is (bitter)sweet
Before Dave died I often wondered what the word "bittersweet" really meant. The dictionary definition is "pleasure tinged with sadness and pain" and having now done a year of this widowhood lark I fully understand the meaning of the word as my whole life currently feels "bittersweet". Since New Year I have walked by the river in Henley-on-Thames (one of our special places as a couple), walked in the snow, watched some great movies, had dinner in cosy country pubs, spent wonderful times with family and friends and they have all been bittersweet because Dave has not been there to share them. The minute I catch myself laughing my head off and nearly back to what I would regard as my normal carefree self the missing of Dave almost immediately kicks in and I get a terrible pain in my heart/chest.
One of the most bittersweet experiences recently has been Emma completing a self-portrait of herself for her GCSE Art. The painting is of her in the red dress she wore to Dave's funeral, her body facing forwards but looking back over her shoulder with a sad, regretful face. She has used words from The Prophet as a background and in the bottom right hand corner the words "I miss you". The painting is absolutely fantastic and she hates me saying this but two of her teachers allegedly cried when they saw it and it is so good her Art teacher is going to use it to teach the sixth formers painting techniques. Her dad (who for those of you who did not know him) was a very good painter who was really just getting in to his stride when he died would be so proud of her and her ability to express emotions in painting that she finds it so hard to express in words. That really is bittersweet when he is not around to take pleasure in her success and other landmark moments such as getting in to a pair of size ten jeans after losing weight the other day! The school prom, her 16th birthday and her GCSE results all taking place this year look set to provide us with many more bittersweet moments in the coming months.
In terms of what has been happening emotionally for me, the last few weeks have not been easy. The lead up to the anniversary of Dave's death was extremely tough - reliving those final grim weeks of his life. I purposely did not ask others who had been through similar experiences what the "saddiversary" would be like and I was very glad I had done that as I would not have wanted to know what was ahead of me. During the anniversary week I ended up having to have a few days off work as the horrendous physical symptoms that I experienced at the end of Dave's life last year returned. Heart palpitations, breathlessness, feeling on the edge of a panic attack and being very distressed and tearful. This was combined with the feeling of jelly legs like an adrenaline rush which for a good few hours made me feel like I could not stand up. I talked to both my doctor and homeopath about these symptoms as the loss of control was scary for me and quite disturbing. They were both of the opinion that when you have been through something as traumatic as Dave's illness and death the body and mind has to find a way of coping on a day to day basis. If a person was present to the raw pain of it all for 24 hours a day seven days a week they would simply not be able to cope. Therefore the body and mind "bury" the pain to a level sufficient to be able the person to cope with basic day to day tasks but every now and again a chunk of the pain surfaces as and when the person is ready to deal with it. I do fully support this theory as for three months at least after Dave died I just felt numb and shocked for most of the time and this was what enabled me to get through those first few months without losing the plot completely. During the anniversary week the symptoms eased and with support from some special friends I made it through the week.
On the actual anniversary day it was difficult to know what to do. Emma and I wanted to mark it in some way but it all seemed very strange. In the end we settled for going with friends to the graveside and laying lots of spring flowers - daffodils, hyacinths and snowdrops. For me snowdrops will always be symbolic of the time when Dave died as it seemed to snow a lot of the time when he was in the hospice and the chapel grounds were full of snowdrops on the day of the funeral. Later at Emma's request we went to a place called Sutton Bank which is a spectacular inland cliff near Thirsk where you can see for 50 or 60 miles on a clear day. On our way there the clouds were black and it was snowing and sleeting but as we arrived the horrible weather front moved across to reveal beautiful blue skies, definitely one of Dave's "Wonderful World" moments. We walked across the cliff and Emma and I released two red heartshaped helium balloons in memory of Dave and we watched them travel for miles until our eyesight failed us. No sooner had we got back in the car than the weather moved back in and as we travelled on to Helmsley we witnessed a fantastic display of rainbows. It really felt as if Dave was with us the whole day, putting on a marvellous show for us.
Now that the anniversary is passed I can feel a sense of achievement that I have survived the first year without Dave. Truly and utterly the worst year of my life. I can also see that I have actually accomplished lots of things too. But where to next? I feel quite sad to report to you that I am completely aware that the grieving process is nowhere near done. There is certainly no end in sight as far as I can see. It is almost like peeling the layers of an onion, when one is removed you move on to the next one. I was told at the start of all of this that it takes at least two years to feel anywhere like your "normal" (whatever that is) self. For someone who is naturally impatient that is not easy to sit with.
One or two people I know are trying to encourage me to "move on" to a new job or business or a new relationship but I truly do not feel in my heart that this is the right thing to do. I honestly feel that my job and "purpose" at the moment is to truly mourn the loss of Dave and to look after Emma and provide whatever she needs on a day to day basis. It's not clever and it's not exciting but it just feels like the right thing to do, in fact not just the right thing but the only thing to do. My suspicion is that life will continue to plod for quite a while as I still feel that my capacity for living is still diminished from what it was, but I am okay with what I have come to call "The Trudge".
I do trust the future and believe that good things will come to Emma and I again. My motto is still the Buddhist philosophy that "all things pass" and that is what keeps me going. If I look at what my concerns were 5, 10, 15 and 20 years ago they are all different from my concerns today. 5 years ago I was worried about Dave and him finding work he enjoyed, 10 years ago I was trying to find a job to fit in with my family commitments, 15 years ago I was filled with joy at becoming a mum and 20 years ago I was grieving after an ectopic pregnancy and wondering if we would ever have a family. So things do change. I don't think I will ever "get over" losing Dave and it will always be the greatest sadness of my life that he died so young when he still had so much to offer the world, but I do think that I will get to a point where life will be fun and fulfilling again. And I want to get there which is the key thing. Dave really wanted me to go on and live life to the full after his death and this will draw me forth in to the future to truly honour his memory.
I read a book just after Dave died called "Under the Seabed" by Lindsay Nicholson whose husband and one of her daughters died from leukaemia. She likened grieving to crawling around on the seabed, you can see the daylight over the water you just cannot get to it. That analogy still holds true for me at this time.
And so to the blog. I feel as if I do not have much more to say on here. As I have already said grieving is not exciting or clever and I fear that if I were to continue the blog as a grieving widow it would (if it has not already!)become boring so as Dave said on his last post "I think that's the place to stop". I still plan to write a book about my experiences, a kind of humorous beginner's guide to "widdahood" and that will be my next writing project. I still also have thoughts of getting the blog published but so far have not got any further than thinking about it (!) but that is something for the future. Thanks to all of you who have read the blog and especially to those of you who have encouraged me to begin to have thoughts of becoming a writer and also to those of you who have emailed me on a regular basis with support and kind thoughts. If you want to contact me in the future my email address is still firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for all the love and concern you have shown me. It has been really great and kept me going when I didn't think I could.