Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Back to Baby Steps

With every ounce of strength, I focused on getting through the weekend of hell (two anniversaries back to back).  I knew the week leading up to those two dreadful days would be worse than the actual event, I prepared, I readied myself for the slide back into the deep dark pit.  But Saturday and Sunday passed, surrounded by friends, and I felt...ok!

And then I woke up Monday morning. And Reality Bit.

This is a constant theme of grief.  You focus on getting through the 'hard' days.  And then you do, you survive, and somehow it comes as a surprise.  YOU are still alive?!  And yet, your beloved has not returned.  You think 'I did it! see? I am strong! NOW surely you can return!! I've passed the test!'  But he or she does not walk through that door.  When you wake up, he's not there, lying beside you.

So here I am. Two days later.  9 months and 2 days into this journey and I'm back to baby steps.  And like a child, I'm screaming inside 'NOOO! I don't want to go back to this pit of darkness!! I was doing so well! I was starting to plan and dream again! I don't want to be this zombie again!'

But this is the nature of this journey. I keep thinking how similar grief is to running.  There are days when you hit your stride and feel as though you could run forever, the wind at your back, it's like you have wings - a force is gently pushing you from behind, lifting you off your feet and it's effortless.  Those days are joyful.  You find confidence in your abilities with every stride.  But inevitably there are those other days.  Days when your legs feel like lead.  Each step heavier than the one before.  The gentle hills seem like endless mountains, looming before you like Mt Everest.  So you cut these runs shorter.  You give yourself a break.

The runs that really catch you off guard are those good ones, when you unexpectedly encounter rough terrain from time to time.  You can be plodding along, quite happily enjoying the scenery, but when you look away for one moment, you suddenly find yourself stepping into a bog and your foot is sinking.  At these times it's important to move slowly, so as not to risk injury.

As runners, as athletes, we are so meticulous in caring for our bodies.  Why do we find it so hard to accept that we must care for our emotional selves as well?  I was chastising myself today for not being productive, for taking 10 steps back in my grief recovery, but as a runner, I would not think twice about stopping if something hurt.  Ok...I'd be disappointed, I'd find something else to do instead, but I would not berate myself!!  I guess it's hard to accept that this grief race is one that will never quite end.  My legs will get stronger, my stamina will increase, but I am bound to have days in which I encounter obstacles and difficult terrain, days when my body aches, and my lungs feel tight.  And on these days, I will have to slow my pace, take a breather, and carry on.

The Happiest Day of my Life

Yesterday was our first wedding anniversary.
But you weren't here.

22 July 2011
You stayed at your best mate's house so that we wouldn't see eachother before the big day.  You let me and my maid of honour have the flat.  I picked her up from the bus station the night before and we sat with a glass of wine, excitedly discussing the future.  You were out with your mates, getting far too drunk.  You texted me to tell me the guys were singing that song to you.  It made me smile.  I was nervous.  You calmed me down.
The next morning my MoH made me breakfast and we set out for last minute supplies and had our makeup done in town. We rushed back and hurriedly pinned my hair up, dress zipped up, shoes on and out the door, late.  Two minutes away from the flat, I realised I'd forgotten the rings.
I called you in a panic 'we're running so late! and I've got to go back for the rings! Can anyone pick us up in a car??'
As usual, you calmly said it would take longer to drive, and I could tell you were smiling. You always found it funny when I got stressed out over the little things.  You said you'd tell the registrar and they would wait for us. 'It will be fine.'
'It wouldn't be a wedding if the bride wasn't running late' others joked.
As I arrived you shielded your eyes, so that you wouldn't see me beforehand.  I posed for photos with your family and waited nervously outside the room at the registry office.  As I walked in that room, a smile spread across my face that didn't leave all day.  I was so happy to be there, stood across from you, moments from becoming your wife.  As the registrar read the reading you'd selected, my heart beamed with pride.  There was no doubt in my mind that I would be there through good times and bad.  I knew I'd love you for as long as I shall live.  I didn't think for a moment that death would part us so soon.

As I watch the video back, it's like I'm watching a dream.  Was it real? Did I actually get to marry my best friend, my soulmate?  I kept my name that day, worried it would effect my career as an actress if I changed it.  You said it was ok, but regularly made comments about how it would 'show the world we're together'.  So as my parting gift to you, I changed my name.  I am proud to be your Mrs.  I am proud I was there through good times and bad with you, until the very end.  I wish I could remember our special day more vividly, but for me, it will always feel like a dream.  A perfect dream.

You've left a hole in my heart no one will ever fill, you took a piece of me when you went.  But that's ok.  Because I know, in some small way, we will always be together, in spirit.

2 months of excitement for the future
1 month of desperation
9 months of heartache
a life time of love

Monday, 16 July 2012

Come On Rise UP!

Last night was a night I will never forget. Watching the Boss - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform live was an experience I never realised was a bucket list kinda thing until I was there, doing it...my bucket list now reads 'See Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band perform live, again'.  Since 21 October 2011 I've struggled to REALLY enjoy nights out, experiences, and life in general.  I've kept busy, but I remember saying a month ago that the only reprieve I had honestly felt since that day was when I was flying through the air at 120 mph.         

Why was this concert special?  Where do I start?
Perhaps where Bruce started - with 'My City of Ruins'http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm1Yyx2-wlI
(This link is from the Apollo and like a true artist it's not like last night, but it's as close as I can get you)

Only 2 songs in, and he was playing my song.  
Here's the thing. I was not a BIG Bruce Springsteen fan until last night.  He was my Dad's favourite. I knew his voice because frankly, my Dad refused to allow me to cultivate my own musical taste at a young age.  I was forced to listen to the greats like the Boss, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison.  I did NOT appreciate it at the time.  
But, when 9/11 happened, I was rocked to the core.  I didn't know anyone who was directly affected by the catastrophe, but living in New York was my dream, and at the time, I felt my dream destination's heart break acutely.  'My City of Ruins' was one of the anthems of that time.  So of course, it held a special place in my heart.  It had been years since I last belted out these words and I was not expecting his heartfelt, impromptu interlude....

In June 2011 Bruce’s long time saxophonist, Clarence Clemmons, passed away.  It was clear that playing in Hyde Park together was a memorable moment for Bruce and he chose this song to share that with us.  He bonded the audience together, saying ‘Are you missing someone?’ over and over in his sing-song voice….I turned around to my friend and said ‘Are you serious?’
And he played on…
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Now's there's tears on the pillow
Darlin' where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
My soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again?
My city's in ruins

Yep, with my friend, his brother and his friends standing by, I lost it.  But then the chorus came in
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
And he said to us ‘The ones we’re missing?…they’re here.  Ya know how I know?  I hear them in your voices!’ and I knew….as the sun shone down on us, I felt P standing there, saying ‘it’s ok – enjoy tonight, I’m with you, enjoying it too’….

So come on, rise up! All those people you’re missing?  They’re with us.  Enjoying every moment, right by your side.  We are strong.  We just need to lean on our loved ones on the other side from time to time.  They are with us, in our hearts, in our voices, in our actions, and in our dreams.  

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Picking at the Wound

Ok, so, as my last post mentioned I was feeling TOO ok and not liking it.  Over the last 8 1/2 months I have had moments of reprieve from the intense sadness that I cloaked myself in since 21 October 2011.  Every time it felt like my wound had started to scab over and so I began to pick at it, poke and prod it....just to make sure it still bled.  Usually this will culminate in a session of uncontrollable bleeding, gushing forth like a fatal wound (metaphorically speaking of course).  So what did I do immediately after my last post?  I cracked open the book I read in the immediate weeks afterwards Widowed Too Soon.  And I noticed all the underlined sections.  Yes, even in my raw state, I was studying.  I needed words to describe what I was feeling.  I couldn't speak to anyone at the time because I couldn't form the words.  The author, Laura Hirsch, provided me with a voice during a time I felt vocally strangled.  As I retype some of these words to share with you I find the ball returning to my throat but we must remember where we've been and how far we've come.  Because although feeling 'ok' is scary and new and unsettling whilst on this grief journey, it is what we are striving for.  If not for ourselves, for the memory of our loved ones whom I'm sure are wishing us full and happy lives from beyond.

'In an instant, all my plans and dreams were gone.  The person who I thought I would share the rest of my life with, the person who knew me better and loved me more than anyone else in the world, the father of my future children, was gone forever.  The center of my universe had been yanked out of my life with no warning.  How could he just disappear? I couldn't bear the thought of never seeing him again....(he) had played so many roles in my life: husband, best friend, confidant, lover, advisor, protector, and provider.  I lost all these people at once.' (31)

'Detached from myself, I felt like I was watching this nightmare happen to someone else.  Life a broken record, I kept saying, "I can't believe this is happening." ' (49)  I still feel as though I'm living in a parallel universe.  That some how, some day, everything will all go back to normal.

'Even as harsh words spilled out of my mouth, I knew this wasn't the real me talking.  It was as if someone else had taken over my body. Then I would feel guilty...I know now that this is a symptom of post-traumatic stress.' (61)  I am sorry to anyone who bore the brunt of my word vomit.

I stopped underlining after awhile because everything felt relevant and personal and I'm pretty sure my pen would have run out of ink.  I'll be re-reading this book again and again throughout my journey because although it makes me feel sick to revisit those memories of the early days, I am conscious of how much stronger and wiser I am now.  P is still making me a better woman.  And just because a bit of scab is starting to show, does not mean the wound will ever disappear.  It may scar over, but it will always be a part of me, as will P.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Trying to Remember You're Still Here...Somewhere

And if I go...
And if I go, while you're still here...
know that I still live on.
Vibrating to a different measure
behind a thin veil you cannot see through.

You will not see me,
so you must have faith.
I wait the time when we can soar together again,
both aware of each other.

Until then, live your life to the fullest,
and when you need me,
just whisper my name in your heart, 
...I will be there.

-Colleen Hitchcock in 'Widowed Too Soon'

I have had signs, I have had messages that have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in my mind that P is still around, still with me, still protecting and guiding me.  And yet, life has stepped in, swept me up, and side tracked me.  The world with it's intense logic and realism has made me question and led me to forget.  I used to talk to P on a daily basis.  It kept me sane, and I felt like I was keeping in touch with him.  Lately, since re-entering the real world I have strived to compartmentalise my feelings, in order to function in everyday society.  But in doing so I feel like I've lost my man again.  While once getting through the day was the ever present challenge, now the struggle lies in the balancing act between managing my guilty 'ok' feelings with devoting time to remembering my man each day in a very real, very present way.  While once I used to pray to God, now I speak to my angel.  

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Power of Work

After losing someone dear to you, it's important to take time off.  Not only to grieve, but to mourn - to wail, to sleep, to learn how to eat again, to process, to shut down....Getting out of bed, showering, dealing with solicitors etc, and eating are work in and of itself.  And that's ok. It's necessary.

But so is returning to some sort of normality.  Working is necessary.  Provided you have a supportive work environment where people take care not to demand too much of you, where they accept that you are no longer the same person you were before, and where they allow you talk about 'it' but don't force you.

Unfortunately, from grief forums, I have learnt that this is rare.

Returning to work is riddled with problems and most young widows and widowers are left to decide if resigning and finding some sort of emotional stability is better than financial stability.  This is not acceptable in my mind.  We need a place where we can feel useful still, where we still have a purpose and we feel valued.

For me, there was no choice. I had relocated and quit my job to care for my man.  Going back to the promotions industry wasn't even an option for me for a long time as I couldn't manage a fake smile, let alone enduring a day of enthusiastic, energetic socialising.  I didn't have work collegues or an office that would provide some sort of normality.  I didn't have a structured 9-5 day, a reason to wake up, a place and I time I had to be each day.

So getting a temporary job as a teaching assistant in a pupil referral unit was literally a life saver. This is not a job for most.  It is not easy and you must be a VERY calm person;  the teenagers will try turn to wind you up repeatedly. For me, it was perfect.  I didn't have the emotional capacity to be wound up.  My collegues were a God send as well; they were understanding and considerate at every turn.  One even brought me a handbag filled with wine, a big Yankee candle, and luxury bath lotion and shower gel because she sensed I needed some pampering! The group made sure I joined them on a work dinner out (not something temps are usually invited to!)  THIS is how a person should be welcomed back to work after a loss.

But now that exam season has started I am no longer needed and once again, I am reduced to getting through the days one at a time, marking the 'accomplishments' of the day by checking off 'to-do lists'.

It's weird how when you HAVE to go to work, you desperately don't want to and you count down the days until holidays.  But when you're faced with a seemingly endless period of unemployment, it is brutally tedious.   So next time you feel like you 'can't be bothered' going to work, remember, that one day you might need that job - to keep you sane.