I love cookery books, but I find sticking to a recipe incredibly hard. Poor JS used to complain that we rarely got the same meal twice (unless it was from M&S) because I was always tweaking this and changing that, so that even if something was delicious, after a few sherries at the stove I couldn’t remember what changes I’d made and could never replicate ‘my’ recipe.
This blog has been the same. I’d start off planning to write about one subject, only to find that by the end I’d taken so many twists and turns, gone up blind alleys and digressed all over the place, not only had the post taken on an entirely different tone to the one I intended, it was also twice as long.
I am determined that this post will be different. I don’t want the message to be lost amongst digressions and amusing (to me) anecdotes, because this post isn’t just about me, it’s about Julie, a woman who has a number of things in common with me: she’s a widow, she’s my age and she’s a member of WAY: Widowed and Young.
The one thing we don’t have in common (as far as I am aware), is that she has terminal cancer.
Julie wrote a post on the WAY Facebook page which wasn’t just about living with the death of her husband, but living with the knowledge that she is dying. It is one of the most profound posts I have ever read, and the moment I read it, I felt its impact.
One of my first posts on an internet bereavement message board was along the lines of: So many people are writing that the only thing they have to live for is their children. I have no children. What do I have to live for?
I have written before about how desperate I was after JS drowned, how I truly felt that my life was over. Several times I purposefully walked out into the road without looking, my reasoning being (deeply flawed in retrospect) that if I was killed by a passing Geesinknorba refuse truck, this was fate, and I’d either be reunited with JS if there was this higher level/better place everyone else was banging on about, or, if there wasn’t, it was still better than living in hell on earth. My mind was so warped that I gave no thought to anyone who might suffer because of my actions, or that I might not be killed outright, but end up in the sort of state where I’d be sitting in nappies, dribbling. I’ve stood in the park screaming at the sky, willing to be hit by lightening. I’ve screwed my face up and vowed, “Right! I’m going to count to ten and then I am going to just die!” When, much to my disappointment, I found that I hadn’t spontaneously combusted, I planned to write letters and sit in the car. Friedrich Nietzsche once said: The thought of suicide is a great source of comfort; with it a calm passage is to be made across many a bad night, and it is true that the thought of ending it all was a comfort, because death seemed like the only escape from my empty pain-filled life. When a friend told me of someone she knew who had ended her life on the first anniversary of her husband’s death by hanging herself with the dog lead, her dog having died during that first year, I felt both relieved at the thought of a way out, yet frightened because I knew that my brain was, at times, a split second away from such a decision. I also knew from personal experience that suicide has a devastating and life-long effect on those left behind.
With two years between that first post and today, I now recognise that whether we are childless or have so many children we’d give that old woman in a shoe a run for her money, there is a stage in our grief where not only do we feel our life is over, but that we have nothing to live for, that our lives are worthless. We want our old lives back and if we can’t have that life, we no longer want a life.
I no longer plan my demise and I have more gratitude than grief in my life, but I am not immune from bouts of dark despair.
One recent Sunday morning, I woke up feeling particularly anxious and low, a state of mind which has been gaining momentum since the New Year. There is still so much uncertainty and hassle in my life, so many things that feel out of my control, I am finding it hard to keep a sense of perspective and balance. I lay in bed filled with early-morning anxiety, my heart racing and my stomach churning as my mind pored over all my problems, and for the first time in a long time the phrase “I want my old life back” popped into my head. My old life was far from perfect, but all the problems currently draining me would not have arisen in my old life or, if they had, JS would have known what to do about them. And done it.
In bed on that Sunday morning, I flipped open the case of my iPad and looked at the Facebook page of WAY. As with many bereavement sites, there were the usual heartfelt cries of despair and countless “Life is sh*t” posts. And then I read Julie’s post which was so profound, so touching and so powerful that I immediately contacted her to ask if I could reproduce it in my blog. My blog has far more readers from all over the world than the number of comments here and on the various message boards would suggest, and I felt that what Julie had to say should reach a wider audience.
Julie kindly agreed to let me use her words, and this is her post which I have only edited to preserve her anonymity.
It’s a year ago today that I lost my darling husband. I miss him as much now as I did then, but the hurting is not quite so bad. I have been reading everyone’s posts and they seem to reflect what I was saying a couple of months ago along the lines of “my life’s over” “I have nothing left in my life.” I would just like to say to you all that in February I was diagnosed with terminal cancer ten months after losing my husband. I’m sure that it was all the pain I had inside me after he passed. I too used to say ” I’ve got nothing left” when in fact I had everything, just not my husband. I wish I could have seen then what I can see now and maybe this last year would have been just that little bit easier. I am going to be leaving WAY at the end of the day, but I just wanted to do one last post just to say to you all “don’t look at what/who you haven’t got in your life but what/who you HAVE got” it really may help you because when the doctors tell you news like I had it makes you look at life through new eyes believe me. Good luck to you all and I hope, that even if its just a couple of people that they may find a small amount of hope for the future after reading this.xx
In the moments before I read Julie’s post I wanted my old life back , but her words gave me the metaphorical slap in the face I needed. Because Julie doesn’t just want her old life back.
She wants her life.
It would be unrealistic to expect that we will never again feel despair or that we have nothing to live for here on earth, that we won’t occasionally long for the comfort of our old lives. Such thoughts, particularly early on after bereavement are part of the process of grieving. But perhaps if we still find ourselves thinking these thoughts months, years after our loss, we can remember what Julie told us: If we have our life, we have everything.
The picture I chose for this post is of magnolia blossoms. JS loved magnolia trees; as we walked the dog around the avenues at this time of year he would comment on them. Every year he’d say the same thing about the magnificent showy blooms: enjoy them now because they’re over before you know it.
Thank you Julie. Thank you.