Trust Me, I’m A Widow


I left you on Sunday evening, desolate, re-living every painful second of the night after the day of JS’s death.

If you add in anxiety, terror, tiredness and the spectacular reappearance of morning anxiety-vomiting, the state I woke up in on the actual anniversary could be described as desolate with bells on.

Retching into the bathroom sink, the toilet, the kitchen sink and the flower-bed when I let the dog out, was a constant feature of mornings for months after JS died, so much so, I worried that my gnashers would turn into little acid-worn pegs. That might still happen, but once I stopped worrying about being sick every morning, the heaving decreased and then vanished.

But on the 27th February, like the alien bursting forth from Ripley’s gut, my vomiting made a spectacular reappearance.

As the kettle boiled whilst I did an impression of a cat chucking up a hair ball, I wondered what on earth had possessed to me to make anniversary plans beyond lying in bed, listening to James Taylor and sobbing into The Hound’s fur.

I tell you what had possessed me – advice from other widows.

So many had assured me that the actual day wasn’t as bad as they had feared, that the anticipation was worse than the event. With this knowledge, I had taken the bold step of planning a lunch for a select group of industry colleagues. Some of this inner circle had known JS for decades, and all of them had stuck by me for the year, even if at times I’d refused to take their calls, answer their emails or let them into the house. I’d booked a table for ten at one of JS’s once-favourite restaurants, not only the venue of many lunches and dinners, but of our first proper date where we sat at the table in the window and I was filled with love and awe, not just for JS, but for the gold foil-wrapped chocolate snails they gave you at the end of the meal.

These widows with their advice were wrong! I told myself. The day was going to be a disaster. 

In tears, I thought about cancelling lunch, the pre-lunch hair appointment and the dog sitter. Why put myself through all this? Couldn’t I have found a quiet mountain to sit on, rather than a bustling Soho restaurant?

Some hours and copious cuppas later, my hair coiffed and my eyelashes groaning with waterproof mascara, I arrived at the restaurant. The round table for ten was set up in the window, the very spot where aged barely twenty-four, I had first sat with my future husband. For a moment, the ground shift beneath my heels, and then friends began to arrive and all my anxieties melted away. I’d brought with me photos of JS and we laughed and reminisced and drank champagne, and it was all great fun and at times rather raucous. The only thing wrong was that JS wasn’t there, and having changed ownership many times over the years, the chocolate snails were no longer on the menu.

We also remembered Karen, who died in March, 2003.

At one point, one of the guests remarked that this was the second first-year memorial lunch she had been to recently, the first being held by the widow of a man I vaguely knew. “E is dealing with widowhood very differently to you,” my friend remarked. “She’s very elegant and calm and quiet.” Everyone laughed as I cried with mock indignity, “Are you saying I’m not elegant?” It was a funny poignant moment, a reminder that just like our marriages, our way of dealing with grief is unique.

After lunch, my wonderful friend Big Bird and I mooched around the shops. I had promised to buy myself some memorial bling. Any excuse! I ended up buying a jacket from Selfridges. A memorial jacket isn’t what I had in mind, but I know JS would have approved. He loved nice clothes, buying them for me and Selfridges was his favourite shop.

In the evening it was Dim Sum with Big Bird and then home, alone.

With The Hound on my lap, I sat on the sofa in my dressing gown and watched The Only Way Is Essex on catch-up. I suspect that my choice of TV programme would be the one part of the day JS would not have approved of.

Those widows who told me that the actual day would be OK, that the run up would be the difficult part were right, just as they have been right about so many things on this journey. It was a great day: a day with friends in the West End of London with good food, champagne, a touch of glamour and shopping. Very much a JS type of day.

And now I am officially in year two.

Gulp.

When I wrote Six: Packed, my reflections on the first six months after JS died, I was pretty sure that I knew what I would do with this blog at the year mark.

Firstly, I would write a mega review of my year on Planet Grief: things I had learnt, what had helped me process my grief and also (because I am no angel) get revenge against those who had fallen by the wayside and hadn’t cut my lawn or made me a casserole despite promising they would do so. I also wanted to be able to pass on some nuggets of knowledge, of maybe even hope for the future in the way so many others had done for me.

The other thing I intended to do was close the blog. I thought that by now I would have written everything I wanted to write so it would be a case of: “Helen B has left PG. Thank you and good night.” I could even see myself logging off and sort of dusting my hands. Job done. Get on with life. Turn the page. Sorted.

Shortly after JS died, someone told me that grief was like an onion (they make me cry too) and that you gradually peeled away the layers until – well, they never did say what you got to after all that peeling and sobbing. M&S onions tend to be fine in the centre, but those I bought from Chapel Market in Islington were brown, soggy and slimy at their core. In this grief business, I’m hoping for a healthy core, not something decaying and riddled with bugs.

Enough of the onions I hear you cry! Get on with whatever you’ve got to say!

Come on, let me have one ‘But I digress’ moment as it’s the year mark, won’t you?

The thing is, far from arriving at a point when I feel I’ve said it all, as I’ve peeled away the layers, I’ve discovered that there are things I want to write about but which I found too painful or awkward to address earlier: witnessing the accident; flying home without my husband; the funeral; coffin fashion; depression; divorce versus death; dating widow style, oh, and I’ve still got those suitcases to open. So you’ve got me for a little while longer.

And the year review? I am going to do one, but the words aren’t mine. I have a guest blogger! Another widow!

She doesn’t actually know she’s my guest blogger, we’ve never met or even exchanged emails.

In the early months after JS died, I was obsessed with Kate Boydell’s excellent Merry Widow website and its forum.

A few weeks ago, I was sorting through paperwork when I came across a post that I had printed out and kept only a few months after JS died. JS died in February 2011, but this post was archived from January 2008. It’s by a widow called Nicola T, and it’s a reflection of the first year after her husband’s sudden death in January 2007. Nicola’s words must have been some sort of lifeline for me at three months, something to hold on to, as hers was the only post from Merry Widow I ever kept. When I re-read Nicola’s words as I approached the year mark, I knew that I wanted to reproduce them here as they say everything that I want to say to you. I hope she doesn’t mind. I suspect she wouldn’t, but if any of you know Nicola T, please thank her for me.

There is another reason I wanted to post Nicola’s words.

When I write this blog, I am aware that my circumstances are often very different to those of others. I don’t have children; I was a youngish widow, but at forty-six not a very young widow; my husband did not die young. So if I say to those of you early on in the journey that whilst you might always carry a scar of sadness you won’t always have the day-in-day-out searing pain of grief, you might (because at times I’ve done the whole competitive grief thing) think, “It’s OK for her, but I’ve got (insert circumstance) to cope with!”

Nicola T was widowed suddenly. She was young. She was pregnant. She had just moved abroad. Despite all that, she was able to write an inspirational post a year after her husband died.

For those ahead of me who have kept me going and prevented me becoming stuck in my grief, thank you doesn’t even come close to how I feel about how you have helped me.

For those behind me, I’m going to tell you what others told me: It will get better, I promise you.

If you don’t believe me, believe Nicola T.

Actually, you don’t have to believe either of us, just trust us; we’re widows, just like you.

Over to you, Nicola, and wherever you are and whatever has happened in your life since, thank you and the best of luck.

 

Made it through the first year and feeling good!


Here I am a year on … still alive, breathing, surviving and do you know what — sometimes HAPPY.

I wanted to post as it was a year yesterday that my darling died. It was at the end of the evening so this time last year I was sitting shell-shocked and utterly numb in a hospital side room with a doctor trying to explain to me how a seemingly healthy 34 year old man can drop down dead in an instant. Oh and I was pregnant and living abroad in a country we had moved to only a few months before. So there was a hell of a lot to cope with.

For all you newbies out there, I thought I wouldn’t survive another hour, day, week without my love. I have cried and screamed, sobbed and wept until there was no breath left in my body and my head was taut and pounding, aching and I could hardly see. I thought I would never function again, never enjoy life again and yes I definitely, properly, contemplated killing myself at least once, as well as wishing that the world would end or that I could just cease to exist, for many months after he died.

But here I am… I have just got back from a night out with all the friends who helped me the most through this last painful, horrifying and extraordinary year. i thought about doing nothing, hiding away and not talking to anyone but am so glad I chose to go out and celebrate my husband’s life and my own achievements this year. It was a very positive thing to do.

I’d like to share with you the things I have done which I think have helped me … this doesn’t mean I think they will work for anyone else, because everyone’s situation and reaction to it is different. But it’s always good to look at things from another perspective … this site has helped me so much in that way and many others.

1) Take it a day (or less) at a time. I still get so scared about the future, but when I scale back the what-ifs and where-will-I-be’s to a shorter timescale it helps me to realise I can do anything and keep going

2) Be positive. Pretty tough, but I thought … “my darling husband loved life, he lost his life too soon. So how DARE I complain about the life I have left to me, how dare I do anything that makes it less than positive.” OK it doesn’t work all the time but I have given myself a good talking to along these lines many a time and it’s helped to pick myself up again

3) I’ve been easy on myself ,.,. but not too easy! It’s so simple to decide to do nothing but it’s not always the best thing. sometimes facing life and its challenges turns out to be less difficult and more rewarding than I’ve thought. But when there’s something I always hated doing I haven’t forced myself. So I’ve avoided big parties with loads of people I don’t know … but I’ve been away for the weekend alone for the first time in my life. and it worked.

4) Change can be good. Perhaps not for change’s sake .. but because of my situation, I had no choice but to move back to the UK and find a new place to live. I didn’t have the opportunity to sit in the house I shared with my husband looking at all our things but had to get on and clear out. I sold everything that didn’t matter and kept everything that did, and shipped it back to the UK. I found a new flat that is all my own and furnished it to my taste. It is my haven and though it has reminders of my husband and our life together, it is a place that exists only for me and not for us. Sad in many ways but it has helped me move on in a good way.

5) Don’t take it out on strangers. OK I’ve never had some idiot say “cheer up love, it might never happen” but if he does he won’t know what’s hit him (literally). But in general I smile, say hello, exchange pleasantries with people in shops, on the bus, in the park. You get back what you put in and more often than not that little bit of human contact is worth putting in the effort for. After all the checkout girl doesn’t know my husband died, She’d probably be really sorry if she did but she’s not psychic and is quite pleased to have a pleasant smiley customer.

6) find a way to tell people you’re widowed. I only cracked this last week. I’d been avoiding situations where I’d meet new people because I couldn’t bring myself to tell them my situation, to utter the words “I’m widowed” or “my husband died” . But last week I met another new mum and found I could say quite simply and briefly that my husband had died while I was pregnant. The time was right to say it out loud and now I’ve done it once I will do it again. I am so pleased I didn’t push myself to say it though.

7) and finally … I’ve tried to count my blessings. I’m not one for trite sentimentality but I do tell myself, I have my health, my friends, family, our baby. I haven’t been through the experiences that some women in Africa, Darfur, Rwanda etc have been through. I have a life to lead, not the one I thought it would be, but the one I choose to make from now on. There are restrictions on my life and there is a deep scar of sadness that will never fully heal, But I still have a lot to be thankful for, and now I do enjoy a sunny blue-sky day whereas 9. 10, 11, 12 months ago I couldn’t have cared less.

This was a really long post and I hope it will be received in the way in which it’s intended ie positive reflections on a year I never though I would have to face and never thought I would survive.

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12 Comments

Caroline Mason
Reply March 2, 2012

Helen, how do you do it, time and time again, another absolutely fantastic blog, I for one hope you never stop writing. Thank you.

Holly
Reply March 2, 2012

Dear Helen
I remember Nicola T's post as well, and at the time I thought "yeah right" (I was feeling v sorry for myself at the time and thought that NO ONE would ever feel what I feel). But she was so very right, wasn't she?

Am absolutely proud to have walked this journey alongside you so far. At times we have run, staggered, fell ... but still got up again. And I think that Len and JS would be proud of us. I know they never met, maybe they're up there maybe enjoying a fine glass of some vintage and rolling their eyes at our antics :)

Sorry I haven't emailed you as I said I would but the nightmare court case with Alex's dad is on Monday and I've been running around like a 6ft blue arsed fly. But I digress ... as you would say ...

Don't mean to sound smug but I'm so glad that all the advice out there from those who are ahead of us was right in your case - the run up to the big day really is worse than the day itself. Told you so !!! :):):):):):)

Right McB ... you need to think about those suitcases. Will happily come and help you if it helps in any small way ... will have a lot more free time after Monday

Well done, babe ... you should be v v v v proud of yourself
Much love
H xxxx

ChrisJ
Reply March 2, 2012

A few years ago at work I used the onion analogy as a comment on a job I had been asked to do. Task brings tears to your eyes but the issue has many layers etc.. The remembered words and weird co-incidence bringing (nearly) another smile.

This week, my Meldrew mode being on, reacting to a newspaper article about Merry Widows following some recent research. I don't want to paste the link since I thought the story was insulting and offensive. My annoyance was caused because they seemed to totally ignore what a difficult challenge the loss of a partner brings. They were almost advocating that it was the best thing that could have happened thereby justifying a cheap headline in a so-called quality paper.

I think all the research was trying to say was that things do get better. What they totally forgot to mention was that this is hard, nay impossible, to believe at the start and it is a rollercoaster of a journey.

For my big finish and link back to PG - youtube - MUSE - Feeling Good.

Angie
Reply March 2, 2012

I had never read Nicola's post, but I wished I had found it during that first year. Very very occasionally in my early days of widowhood, a post of a similar ilk would pop up on Kate's site and I would read it, re-read it and mentally cling to its contents for all I was worth because I so desperately needed to know that there was hope, that a life of sorts could be had - those posts and the posts from people who had had something paranormal and spirityal happen were the ones that got me through every terrible day of that first year.

Really glad you are continuing the Blog, I love it, and it's the first thing I check for on FB each day; to see if you've made a new entry. As you say, there is so much more to cover, and your way with words says it so brilliantly, things we all relate to and saves us from at times feeling isolated. Moreover, one day maybe a few years from now you might consider writing a book for Widows?

Truly glad your day on J.S's Anniversary was better than the anticipation and the run up - that also proved to be my experience of the first Anniversary too last year, thank God. Sounds like the way you spent the day, and the way you honoured your man's memory was spot on P.G, well done.

If anyone were to ask me what year two was all about, I would say, reality (the fact that Malc wasn't coming back truly sank in), and the beginnings of cultivating a life for myself, beginning to realise what I wanted for myself and what I as an individual liked and enjoyed as well as disliked and annoyed. xx

Colin
Reply March 2, 2012

It was always my plan Helen to end my blog on the anniversary which is just under two months away. I changed my mind about that a good while back as writing my feelings has helped me so much and I know that year two will have different highs and lows. Also I know from the many emails and comments I get, my blog helps others and too just end it at the anniversary would be like leaving a story unfinished, I can't guarantee a totally happy ending to the story, but hopefully a positive ending when that time comes.
So pleased your day was far better than expected, you give me strength girl.

XX

Ian
Reply March 2, 2012

Helen your writing as always is spot on.

Your Blog and you have helped me in so many ways.

Wishing your mind and heart has a little more peace today than yesterday and that every tomorrow is a peaceful step forward.

OXO

    Emma
    Reply March 2, 2012

    Is there a 'like' button? xxxxxx

Lynsey
Reply March 2, 2012

H, you always put it so very well. Thank you for putting into words the things I find hard to express or explain. xx

Jules
Reply March 2, 2012

Dear Helen,

I myself am just about to enter Year 8 in the next couple of weeks! I cannot believe it has been 8 years already. It seems to have gone by in a flash that has lasted half my life. Too fast, yet so slow.

I can 100% confirm that it does get better. Things get slowly better anyway without us having to try at all, but to truly achieve a happy life again we have to really want it, and push and stretch that little bit further to reach it. The incentive for the extra push is different for everyone of course, but for me it was my children. I wanted them to have the happiest childhood they deserved, and for that they needed a happy mum. They are now 21 and 14 and they are happy. I had a long conversation only this evening with my 14yr old daughter about her dad, how things were after he died, and how all I ever wanted was for her and her brother to be happy children. She told me I was the best mum and had succeeded in my plans :), she is happy. I am happy.

Year 2 for me was the "realisation year" he really wasn't coming back, but it was also the "ok, so this is how it is now, I had better make the most of it" year. I think by the end of Year 2 I was definitely well on my way to a complete life, my new "normal" was almost in reach.

From reading your blog, I really feel that you are on your way towards your new normal. Nothing is ever the same of course, but it doesn't mean it can't be just as good.

Wishing you lots of love and happiness Helen, you really deserve it, keep writing, we all love your blog and for so many of us you manage to find the words that we can't. I would have loved to have passed on my "wisdom from experience" a bit more, but never feel that I can find the right words.

Love Jules1 xx

Sophie Day
Reply March 4, 2012

Thankyou. I'm feeling a mixture of elation about some new-found ideas for the future and intense sadness about being without Luke these days. It's tiring and a juggling act! But I agree with Nicola's post. What so many articles and things don't address is how much effort and energy it takes to progress positively, and how difficult it is in general to acknowledge positive progress in oneself under these circumstances. But in the last two years what I have realised is that it is so important to keep going and grieve actively and healthily. Openly, honestly and with a new appreciation of what life has to offer. Whilst being uninvited and devastating, this experience of grief has been life-changing for me and some times I can even see myself blossom. And on my best days I see other people responding to this and soaking up some of my genuine enthusiasm about life and what it has to offer. Sounds like you are going through a similar experience. It's strange eh? Loads of love to you xx

Sue ab
Reply March 4, 2012

Well done, gal and selfishly, am glad you're keeping the blog going.
One thing about year two is that you don't keep looking back and saying 'last year on this day WE were doing so and so.' I remember finding that hard at first but then quite liberating because in fact this time everything you can compare your day to was totally grim one year back and so you're actually measuring huge progress.
Thanks for printing Nicola's words, what an inspiration.
Bon courage as they say across the Channel,
Sue xx

Nancy
Reply May 16, 2012

Helen
I've only just got around to reading this but a great post as always. I hope you continue writing. And thank you for sharing Nicola's words - so very wise and certainly from my perspective, so very true. We will experience happiness again but I truly believe grieving has to be an active process, not one that we can just let happen to us.

I'm so glad that the collective widow experience was right about the anniversary and you were able to create such an enjoyable day.

Keep posting - please!

Much love
Nancy
xx