1st November is Author’s Day, it’s also the anniversary of Oliver’s death. My book is about grief, very personal grief. I haven’t shared any of what I’ve written so far, but today felt like a good time to try. This is a chapter, in first draft form, that may be a post script at the end of the book. I am undecided, as I did not have the content when I wrote my plan.
This is how I spend a day a week, and I hope to have finished the first draft by the end of November. I would love to have 5 people to read it for me to help with what is useful and what is not, so that the finished product helps other people crippled by the guilt wrapped up in grieving for damaged people and dysfunctional relationships Xx
It’s Halloween 2019. The day before the 8th anniversary of Oliver’s death.
My eyes hurt from lack of sleep and from crying.
My back hurts – did you know you could cry so much and so hard that you put your back out?
Apparently I forget that I have done this before.
I forget because these two or three days each year are when I drop my guard and everything is a blur and I remember him and the lives we might have led, and the here and now is not front of mind.
New memories can only be made when we are fully present. I struggle to be present on these days, and why would I want to remember them? The ugly crying, the spikiness, the unpredictable emotional rollercoaster – none of it is fun. The writing is definitely helping, my laptop becoming an anchor with a long chain that I can travel backwards and forwards through time safely attached to.
Last night I opened up to one of my best friends in the world, who knows me and knows the darkness that can creep into our shadows. She reminded me that it’s okay to not be okay. She reminded me that I can be sad about Oliver and happy about my new boyfriend at the same time. She reminded me that it’s okay for change to feel uncomfortable, because it is when we step outside our comfort zone that the magic happens.
Growth and healing are not comfortable.
When you’ve got a cut and it is healing, it itches. When you’re growing taller, it aches. Our growth and healing may feel painfully slow to us, on the inside of our skins and the inside of the recesses of our minds, so slow it is sometimes imperceptible. This is where the friends, the acquaintances who are brave enough to speak of it come in. They see us change over time because they do not see us every day. They see us develop and grow and heal over time and occasionally they remind us how far we have come.
I have come a long way. I know I have. I wish he could have too, but that was not his path.
Eight years ago today he was still breathing. Eight years ago today I could have broken that ultimatum and picked up the phone. Eight years ago today I had that option. Eight years ago today I made the choice again to trust the professionals, who told me that having reached the point of issuing the ultimatum, I couldn’t go back on it. If I went back on it, I was signing his death warrant, because it could never be used again. He would never see me threatening to leave as anything but empty words. I had said to him so many times before that he must choose recovery or death – there was no third option. He would never see my words as empty. He would just never see me again.
I think this is part of why I struggle so much more today, the day before the anniversary, than on the day itself. Today is the anniversary of the last chance I might have had to change things.
We still wouldn’t have grown old together – growing old was never on the cards for Oliver. He was thoroughly broken by the time he called me in early 2010 and asked me if I would be his friend again. His body was irreparably damaged and the pain without hope of remedy. His spirits rallied a bit, but it would never have been enough.
We still wouldn’t have had the perfect family life from a clothing catalogue that may or may not be attached to my vision board.
We still wouldn’t have been free of his past, and he probably still would have had affairs.
We still wouldn’t have the life we might have had, if it hadn’t all gone wrong back in the first year we knew each other.
None of that would change, but maybe, just maybe, I could change how I felt when he was gone. Maybe our last words to each other could have been “I love you”, or at least mine could have been. Maybe I could have changed that single detail.
Maybe my new man is a chance to do everything better, so that I am never left with this particular sadness again. Whether he is Mr Right, or Mr Right Now is not something I put thought into – I am still in shock that there is a Mr anything. I find myself looking at him and wondering who he is and how he got through the wall to get this close to me?
It is hard to reconcile sometimes the way he is all the things Oliver said he should be. He comes from a close family who, from what he says, all genuinely like and support each other. He likes my siblings and has found common ground with them quickly upon which to build. He looks a lot like he is falling under Tilly’s spell and will love my daughter. He looks at me like I’m Christmas morning. Even when he’s arrived early and I haven’t had a shower yet, and my hair is dirty and my house looks like a vacuum cleaner exploded in it, he still looks at me like that. It makes me wonder if maybe, just maybe, the darkness has nearly had enough of me, at least for a while.
I cried last night. I cried with my friend, and then when I went to bed I knew I needed to open the gate. David Gray’s Babylon was the latch. This song will forever remind me of the stretch of road around Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common. Always on our way out of London. Always full of traffic lights. When he was driving, I would look over at his profile and marvel at him being there with me – I had lived in London before I met him and it was much more my place than his. He had come there to be with me, even though he was never really comfortable in the throng of people or its diversity. When I was driving, he would reach over and put his hand on my thigh. We would both sing, both get the words wrong, both carry on regardless.
Then I sobbed through Please Forgive Me and This Year’s Love before we moved on to Adele, George Michael and Evanescence. I am saving the big guns for tonight – Snow Patrol, James Blunt, Katy Perry, Celine and Whitney.
I had that awkward moment in the car this weekend when Chasing Cars played on the radio and I automatically started singing along and my boyfriend was beside me. I felt doubly disloyal – I was singing our song with another man in the car, and I was singing an old our song with my new man in the car.
We had another awkward moment when I cocked up the tea round and he offered to drink the cup I’d made for Melissa but wrecked with real milk. I freaked and squeaked “it’s an Oliver mug” – it was simply too weird for me. Too weird for me to see my new man holding Oliver’s mug.
He asked me a few times over the weekend if I was freaking out. He seems very sensitive to me, watching for the shifts in my mood. He’s incredibly patient too, which is a good job. He’ll need that if he wants to stick around. Mostly I said I was fine. The past couple of days I have definitely not been fine. Last night I was freaking out a lot.
What if the making space I was doing by letting go of yet more of my internal stuff was not the right thing? What if it’s not the right person? Please Baby give me a sign?
And then this morning, I dropped Tilly off at school and I swung by my parents’ house to check up on them – they both have hideous colds and high temperatures and the heating is broken – and they seemed surprised that I was still sad because surely a new man meant you weren’t sad anymore about the old one?
I have shoes I still think of with sadness from university days, and I have no shortage of other shoes!
They weren’t feeling well, and probably have no idea what day it is, so I don’t take it personally, but it did make my head spin.
And it made me question even more whether I could have any feelings for the new man while I still felt so much pain about the old…
I reversed into our drive and had to stop suddenly and then I looked into the passenger footwell. Toby’s watch.
I can take that as a sign.
He dropped it over the weekend and we both looked for it, including under the seat and didn’t find it, and then when I really need a sign, there it is.
And then I remember, all week, I have been feeling that he is listening. There was a roof leak in the building I manage and I looked at the mess behind the suspended ceiling and thought “if only I could talk to our old electrician to ask if it was like this before” and then I bumped into him a few hours later. I hadn’t seen him for over a year.
I’ve had the intro to a song in my head “I’m as serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer” and what is playing in the car on our way home but Rhythm is a Dancer? Two in one day had made me wonder what the third thing would be, because if there’s two there’s usually a third, isn’t there?
Whether it is Oliver, or it is the universe or Neo from The Matrix or someone else, I am grateful for the guidance and reassurance these little moments provide. They remind me of the kind skiers who stuck out a pole to redirect my human bobsleigh away from the cliff edges.
Not all days are new territory.
We find a groove and we revisit it and find a comfort in its edges, its rails that allow us to coast on autopilot as we continue the cycle of getting up and washing our faces and putting clothes on and feeding our kids and animals and going to work and doing bedtime routines and all of the other things that fall into the comfort of a routine activity or sequence. No day is entirely the same, but they are so much easier when we have that groove to follow. We can put our energy into the moments that happen above and beyond the mundane, because the mundane happens without us needing to think about it.
Other days are filled with firsts.
Recently I have had a lot of those.
Mostly very happy ones, but they all need to be processed. It doesn’t feel as easy as some people on the outside seem to believe it should be.
I am being happy when he is dead.
I am watching another man love his child.
I am watching my child begin to love another man.
I am having mind-blowing moments with another man.
And then there are all of the bits that are nothing to do with Oliver.
I was just getting my life into the shape I wanted it to be, with Tilly and I as a team of two. Two plus two if you count the dogs.
Now I must process that it might be very different.
It’s exhausting, the processing, but so necessary. It is a vital part of the healing, like the layers of skin knitting back together after you’ve gashed your leg on something sharp and jagged. It may hurt, it may itch, you may want to pick it open over and over again, but it will keep trying to heal and we must let the process happen. It can’t be rushed and sometimes it needs to be covered, and sometimes it needs to be open to the air.
So it is with sitting in our feelings. Sometimes they feel sharp and jagged, and other times they feel more like a background itch. They are hard to ignore and the painful ones we want to get through as quickly as possible, if we are brave enough to face them in the first place. When they are more of a low level itch, you are still aware of them, you know they’re there, but you can distract yourself from wanting to pick or scratch, maybe by going out in the sunshine. Sunlight can help us heal those wounds.
With light comes shade. As the sun moves and changes our shadows from short to tall, fat to thin, left to right and front to back, we mostly hardly notice it happening. We are busy rushing from one thing to the next and then we are in a supermarket carpark with a child who says “Look Mummy, look how long our legs are!” and we pause and look down and we see the shape of our shadow. The shadow that is of just us, meaning the sunlight has travelled all the way through space to the ground and we are the only things to cross its path, right at the end of its journey. I’ve always thought that’s quite cool.
They will always be there as part of us, for none of us is Peter Pan, but they will change shape, size and depth with every interaction with the light.
Sunlight for the physical shadows, our light for the ones within us.
Sometimes it is not our choice what stands between us and the sun, but we have more choice about what stands between our light and the rest of the world than we might think.
There will always be some hard days, some tough days and some really epic level shit days in life – without them we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the good ones.
Learning to sit in them, in the knowledge that this too shall pass, and embrace them as lessons eases their passage through us, or maybe our passage through them.
The healing and growing is probably never “done”, but it gets better if you let it. I promise Xx