Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The question, the script and the truthful answer

I have the right to grieve in any way that feels right for me at the time but I am constantly reminding myself that I am still responsible for all of my actions and behaviour.

Some of my actions and behaviours are bearable and acceptable to other people. Other actions may deeply offend, disappoint or upset people, maybe even people that I love. But this is unchartered territory and any normal navigation system has been completely disabled.

My grief should not be used as an excuse for my actions or behaviours but it is the root cause of them and as I mature in my new normal, I will strive to make amends if and when appropriate.

From my side of the fence, I have great powers to spin the truth in whichever way I feel and with whoever I choose to share my story with. Spinning the truth is a choice I have to make on a daily basis and it is not grounded in dishonesty but rather it is a tool for my survival and a protective barrier for those who cannot cope with the reality of my situation.

Sometimes my honesty is welcomed and I am in a position where I have the strength and encouragement to divulge my inner most feelings and thoughts but there are other times when I am just too weak or vulnerable to express how I really feel.

I have learned to build a series of scripts for myself that I can call upon in certain situations. When I am asked if I am okay, I can answer these days with some level of confidence that ‘I am okay. Some days are better than others’.

If I am asked ‘How are you?’ then my stock answer is somewhere in the region of ‘I am doing alright on the whole. I am keeping myself busy and focused with work.’

But today I was asked a question that I had not been asked before and it took me by surprise…

‘How are you feeling?’

Right there, in the middle of the office floor, I encountered a question that I had not expected and neither did I have a stock answer prepared for it.

For a moment, I paused. I felt a surge of deep and heavy grief push up outward from my chest and then upward to my throat. It was like nausea without the sickness. The nausea of grief.

It takes a special kind of person to ask ‘how are you feeling?’
Just the addition of that word 'feeling' changes the whole expectation of my answer. 
After all,  I have found that most people stop short and just ask ‘how are you?’

That one word to the end of the question changed the entire parameters of the conversation and I had to make a decision quite quickly as to how I might answer it.

Today, I chose to tell the truth and it went something like this…

I am feeling quite strange at the moment. Everyone is out and about enjoying the sunshine, getting excited that summer is on the way and the lighter evenings bring talk about drinks after work or a barbecue in the garden. In short, the general population is optimistic and seems to have a spring in their step.

The clocks have gone forward and the evenings are becoming lighter. For most, it signals a time when the period of hibernation has ended and we step out into the light - energised, optimistic and full of plans for the Summer months that finally, after the darkness of Winter seem tangibly within our grasp.

At this point in my life, 9 months without my love, the onset of Spring signals a plunge into my own personal darkness once again. My hibernation from the world continues as the lighter evenings are a stark reminder that this is where it all started to crumble even though at the time we were unaware that the cancer had already moved in and was waiting in silence to obliterate the world that we knew.

I am feeling everything and nothing at the same time,  I am a sensory person and notice vividly the smell of freshly mowed grass and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. I notice that the flowers are in bloom and the temperature is changing much like you probably do.

I smell burgers cooking on the neighbour’s barbecue and hear the kids playing out in the street. I hear the flattened tin can tune of the ice-cream van at the same damn time every evening and wonder why it never changes.

But there is one fundamental difference.

The last time I experienced those things was in a life that no longer exists for me.
I had got used to this new normal (or so I thought) during the past Autumn and Winter months and yet now these beautiful daffodils in my garden and the sunlight that seeps through my blinds in the early mornings are the cruellest sensory assault to my memory that this is the time where it all started.

You have all said it. ‘This time yesterday we were on the beach!’ ‘This time last week we were at the cinema/watching our favourite band/out to dinner with friends…’

We mess about with the concept of time – all the time. Even when the clocks change – we say ‘It’s seven o’clock but really it’s only six o’clock!’

I think of my friend in Australia and the time difference between us. I think ‘Well it’s 11pm here but it’s 9am tomorrow for her’. Crazy stuff.

Crazy indeed.

Well try this one…

This time last year, my husband was alive. He was tall, dark and handsome with a hundred yard stare and eyes so beautiful that I could lose myself in them and feel I was part of his soul. We were talking about his fortieth birthday, still some years off and planning to go to New York – although he never had the travel dreams I had, it was somewhere that he really wanted to go.

This time last year, he woke up and said that he had slept funny and that he had a knot in his shoulder blade. We went away for a weekend in our newly purchased 2 berth touring caravan – joking that we had got old before our time but pitched up like 2 excited kids on a site not 10 miles from our home. Because we could.

For a couple of months, I stocked up on nurofen and sprayed his back with deep heat every night. He went to the chiropractor and then a sports physio but the ‘knot’ seemed to shift from his upper back to his lower back and nothing could ease the discomfort.

April and May came and went. The doctor prescribed a stronger anti-inflammatory and he continued to go to work.

He. Did. Not. Miss. A. Single. Day.

That bloody ice-cream van tune filled the air at the same time every evening and we would grimace together and hatch comedy plans to disable the 1980s sound system.

On June the 4th, he woke up for work as usual but was really very unwell. He had a yellow tinge to his skin and felt sick. He still went to work but left at lunchtime to go to the Doctor and it was only then, that he was referred immediately to hospital.

He was under investigation for gallstones.

This time last year we did not realise that they were going to pull the curtains around the cubicle and deliver the most terrifying and unimaginable diagnosis of terminal cancer of the stomach, liver and spine.

I apologise for the directness of the previous paragraph. Today I felt honest enough to say how I felt and this evening I am being honest with you.

This time last year how could I ever have imagined that I would become his wife on the 22nd of June and his Widow 12 days later? Our wedding and his funeral in less than a month. 

I thought we would have time to say goodbye. The truth is that we just couldn't. Despite what I may have tried to imagine in a scene from a Hollywood film or Shakespeare-esque play, we were too busy concentrating on the Hellos and getting on with the business of living as I saw my darling waste away and removed the mirrors from the house so that he could retain the best memory of himself. 

And for all the wishes that I might have had for us to experience a lucid and loving 'Goodbye', the fact remains that we gently gave each other a kiss and I told him to get some rest and I would wake him in the morning with his breakfast. 

He slept for the next 72 hours. And then he died.

I don't feel regret that we never said Goodbye. We said I love you a million times and more importantly we showed our love for each other in a million different ways.  Our love was full and joyous and unconditional. Goodbye in comparison would have been an empty word but full of sadness. I am left with love. He left knowing he was loved.

I feel okay. But I also feel a parallel world of darker memories that are triggered by the sunshine and the lighter evenings. And the hum of a distant lawnmower.

I know that I have to feel them. I cannot escape them. They must sit and live alongside my new normal and everyday life. I don’t have to dwell on them but neither can I deny their existence. The next few months I will have to ride the waves as they come and I have no idea how big they will be or how frequent.

They may not come at all. I may be like the surfer, waiting with my board and find that the waves are not as enormous as I anticipated.

If you are lucky enough to find a life partner – one of you has to die first.

Anybody in a loving relationship will at some time, find themselves in my position if they are not the first to go.

The one left standing will be just like I was, staring onto a landscape of complete and utter destruction. It does not matter if you have an average lifetime to prepare or no time at all because the end result will be and is impossible to imagine.

But I feel that it is my absolute duty to ensure that anybody who experiences such loss also knows that it is possible to carry on. It is possible to survive and it is possible to thrive again. I have survived and I am working on the thriving.

I have taken responsibility for the way in which I deal with what I have been given.

My grief and feelings while deeply personal come with a public responsibility to share the truth, in the hope that we may one day live in a time where it is wholly acceptable to talk about death openly and comfortably.

I read somewhere that grief is love turned inside out. At the time I thought it sounded ridiculous and that whoever came up with the phrase was trying to be over philosophical in an attempt to sugar coat the awful truth. But now, more than ever it makes sense to me.

If you are going to love so deeply, then you will also feel that grief with the same intensity of that love when they are gone. If you never take a chance or have the fortune to experience such a loving relationship then you will never feel such catastrophic loss.

One is the result of the other. I would not change it. This grief is worth the love that I cherished and as I move forward, I accept that if I want to love again then I will also have to accept that I will probably have to grieve again.

Ultimately there is no happy ending – but maybe it isn’t about the happy ending – maybe it is about the story itself.

For Philip: On the days that I feel so incredibly exhausted with sadness, I take the time to remember that it is a result of loving you with all of my heart and soul. I want to honour your love of life by setting an example that it is possible to live a truly happy life again so that those who follow in our footsteps may find comfort and hope after loss.

I know that I cannot escape my grief but actually, I am in a place where I don’t want to. Instead I will embrace it as a sign of love and let it live alongside my pursuit of happiness.


  1. I am not a widow, I have terminal cancer. All you have written also applies to my side. My new normal began with my diagnosis, that awful shock, then the new normal of hospital and Dr. visits filling my time. The grief of knowing that I must leave my husband and family, one of them my recently widowed daughter. Thank you for writing this it shows her struggle so eloquently, and although you did not know, it show mine too.

    1. Thankyou so much for taking the time to read it - you have also definitely adjusted to your new normal after such a terrible shock and I cannot begin to imagine what emotions you are going through. My husband was very pragmatic and seemed to manage his situation incredibly well. I learned a lot from the strength that he showed and he was postive about living throughout it all to such an extent that he has given me the courage not only to live but also when my time is here , the courage to die. I feel more at peace with the circle of life than ever before which is a strange side effect and unexpected. Please keep coming back to read if it helps and also if you feel strong enough, share this with your daughter and your husband. When the time is right, I hope they may find some serenity in my words or take something that is useful from them. Are you doing any writing? People would be sure to find your thoughts and journey helpful as well because there is not enough available that shows your side of the coin xxx

  2. Wow, this is incredibly powerful writing. Thank you for sharing, so eloquently, how you feel.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog post and for the comments. I just want to be able to offer hope for those who are grieving and make my grief useful to others if I can

  3. Thank you for sharing. I lost my husband 8.5 weeks ago tragically. I am 36 and a lot of the reading I have done is very depressing. It is nice to read something real and with hope.

    1. Hi there, I am so sorry that you have joined the ranks of the new normal because you have lost your hubby. I am pleased that you got something from my writing because like you, I was also heavily into reading whatever I could based on widowhood and grief and I found much of it very hard to identify with. It is so very early for you at 81/2 weeks - I can barely remember that time at all except for thr rawness and sheer panic that my future was over. For me, it has got easier and it has also got better as the time has passed and this is what I try to get across in my blog. I am real, this has really happened and there is hope. Take each step the way you need to and at the pace you need to. Love and Hope, E xx


Thankyou for taking the time to read my blog. I am interested to know about your experiences and your thoughts.