Julie


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.

17 Comments

Karen W
Reply May 9, 2013

Hi,

I missed her post, so I am so glad you posted it. Julie is right, when Steve died suddenly 8 months ago I wished it was me, I even wished it was Tia our daughter (4 then) as she had nearly died when she was 9 months old, a few months in i stopped felling like this.

Now i worry that it will be me and what will happen to my children, how will they cope with a double loss.

I have of course but plans in place for them both, my son is 16 and he will go to my friends, my daughter who is now five will got to Steve's family.

Life is hard, horrible, painful, depressing BUT, as my dad told me early on, "you only get one life even it is shit so you had best make the most of it"....

Life is also full of joy, fun, light, LOVE and friendship.

Elke Barber
Reply May 9, 2013

I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I have been so touched by this post. Unfortunately I didn't see the original post by Julie, so I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing it here with us, and thank you Julie, for giving Helen permission to use your words. Luckily I wasn't diagnosed with terminal cancer, but I WAS diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer last year, and, due to some unfortunate coincidences at the time, for a week I thought it might be terminal. I thought having lost a husband to a sudden heart attack aged 34 had taught me all the lessons I needed to know. But being diagnosed with cancer, being so close to your own mortality, is a completely different kettle of fish. I don't know why I should've been so lucky and responded to treatment, when so many other people don't get that chance. But I DO know that I am grateful, and I mean truly grateful, for every day, every minute I get to be here, every day, every hour and every minute I get to spend with my loved ones. Yes, things happen, stressful ones, awful ones too, but they don't matter so much any more. I don't know what to say. Just thank you for sharing. xxx

Deb
Reply May 9, 2013

This is such a profound post - thank you so much Helen for posting this and thank you Julie for your thought-provoking and heartfelt words. So much food for thought. I don't often bring God into things but in this instance I want to say God Bless You Julie. Love, Deb xxx

Lynsey
Reply May 9, 2013

Tears in my eyes, this grasps the perspective we all, whether widowed or not, sometimes lose when things appear to get too much. I try always to be be grateful for what I had and still have, and sometimes it can all appear too much. We plough on through. Thank you to Helen & to Julie for this - I promise I will remember this, and share with widowed and non widowed friends and encourage us to think. xxx

Gill
Reply May 9, 2013

I have again read Julie's post through your blog and find myself with similar tears rolling down my face as I had that day I read the original post ... Profound and as you say a metaphorical slap around the face.

I do constantly try to look on the positive side but sometimes that self pitying cloud descends even after all this time ... It is good to be reminded that actually as much as I love/d my husband life truly does go on and it is only when it appears it may not we realise the folly of our ways :(

Julie is so brave and so thoughtful knowing what awaits yet still finding the time to help others in such a deep meaningful way.

Thanks for sharing her words Helen xxx

Halina Goldstein
Reply May 9, 2013

I am so deeply touched by your post. Strangely, I had a guest article published just yesterday about finding a new reason to live. It's very simple and not near as bold as the message here.

I mean, even if I had come up with such a powerful statement as "If we have our life, we have everything", I'd probably wouldn't dare to say it just like that, in public, to people that I didn't know yet. I'd think there would be too many ways to reject it, too many defenses rising, for all kinds of good reasons.

And yet, it is saying it that changes lives for real, and makes all the difference and all the impact. So I'm going back there and posting the link to your article there.

Julie, you're changing lives now, you're helping people creating new lives. As does Helen here.

Thank you from all my heart!

Halina

PS: The article is at http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/how-to-find-a-new-reason-to-live-when-the-meaning-of-your-life-has-died/

Shelley Whitehead
Reply May 10, 2013

What a metaphorical slap. Just what I needed to read Helen Darling. Thank you for sharing this, it will resonate with so many. Much love x

Denise - Queen of Herts
Reply May 13, 2013

I, like you Helen found Julie's post very moving, I felt very humble and actually almost pathetic for sometimes feeling so sorry for myself. Acceptance is the key I feel, life will not be the same, so make the life ahead a good one. You owe that to yourself, your children and your dear departed.
Julie if you read this I wish you peace, love and calm. You are one very brave inspirational lady.

Sue ab
Reply May 20, 2013

Can only agree with what others have said. Been spending a bit of time on 'Planet Empty' recently (in the same galaxy as Planet Flat and next one along from Planet What's the Point) - yes, sadly, even oldies at this game have their down times but your post made me sit up and think. Maybe where I've been is actually Planet Wallow and I need a rocket up my backside.
Anyway enough of this space odyssey. Please convey my thanks to Julie whose simple courage has made me rethink my attitudes. I think she's helped a lot of people and I hope she is aware of this.

Jacqui
Reply May 22, 2013

Why am I the only one here who has lost touch with what we are all grieving for, not just our 'lost lives' but the fact that our husbands have lost theirs. We are not feeling sorry for ourselves or wallowing in self pity. We surely are heartbroken and cry for what our husbands went through and hope they did not suffer at the end, and so I for one dwell on all that. I cry for him not myself.
For Julie I think, where there's life there's hope, whatever the doctors say. They are not G-d.

Julia Cho
Reply June 5, 2013

This was what I needed tonight as well. Thank you for posting.
It's funny- a few months ago, I had to get a biopsy and while waiting for results, I realized that I really did want to live- even though it's so hard without him- and I thought I would have a new lease on life if the Dr. called with good results...but this is the flaw of the close call- after I got good results- I had that perspective for about...one week. I will try to hold on longer this time...

    Halina Goldstein
    Reply June 5, 2013

    Julia, if you don't mind me tuning in: In my experience, opening to a new perspective happens in waves and spirals. It might be a week in the beginning (or just hours sometimes), and it gets longer and deeper along the road. The periods in the old perspective (where you forget the new insight completely) are very valuable as well - this is where we struggle with, work through, digest and transform the difficult stuff. Chances are that along the way it all melts together in a renewed will to live and also joy of living.

    Best wishes

    Halina

Lindsay
Reply July 11, 2013

I am fortunate to have never felt that I didn't want to live - life without James was bad, but the prospect of no life myself always felt worse, and I am grateful for this. I absolutely agree with this post - we have so much in our lives, and so much to be happy about, sometimes we need that "slap in the face" to realise it. Losing James was a terrible terrible thing, but I appreciate what I do have more now. I am about to embark on an amazing journey, sailing around the world, and I feel that life stretches in front of me, filled with a million possibilities and opportunities. Hoorah!

ChrisJ
Reply October 24, 2013

Reminded and prompted to visit PG when I saw an advert during Scooby Doo - Mystery Incorporated. It was for a game called doggiedoo - feed the brown plastic DASCHUND and wait for the stuff to come out at the other - tail - end. What a strange concept for a game. Well weird. Such is society. I suppose it is just an extension from dolls that could just close their eyes, then talk at a pull of the string to tamagotchi and pet rocks.
Anyway, PG pages were down for a few days due to some issues with bandwidth but I remembered to try again later.
Nothing much to add to the above - it is often a question of perspective and the trick is having insight. But, this is NEVER easy. I was going to pop-in an Aurelius quote but it may be seen as pretentious and risks a slap - which is what I do not need.

jan
Reply January 24, 2015

I understand this is an older post and I find it very moving and beautiful.
Life is fragile and short...so true.
I struggle as I have nobody in my life...no children and no family.
I fear for my soul as it is lost and alone and the pain is enormous.

I wish you all the best and thanks for the post

    Planet Grief
    Reply January 26, 2015

    Jan, I don't know where you are in this journey of grief, but your pain is palpable. I have no children and I remember in the early days of bereavement reading many statements such as "I'm only keeping going for my children" or, "If it wasn't for my children, I'd have nothing." I'd think, "Who and what do I keep going for?"

    I have met and corresponded with many widows and widowers in the same situation and whilst there is no doubt we have been through some dark and terrifying lows, we did keep going, firstly in the dark and then with a chink of light of hope.

    Those widowed years before me used to say that life would get better, that a new 'normal' would emerge again. I didn't believe them, but they were right. You don't have to believe me when I say you won't always feel as lost and in pain as you do now, but just trust me, please.

    xxxx

Halina Goldstein
Reply January 26, 2015

I'm really moved by your words, Jan. I know there are many resources and amazing people out there (online and offline) who have been through the depths of grief and are helping others now. Including Planet Grief! See also http://planetgrief.com/books/. I hope you will find your way to some of those.

If you're looking for a community for people that live alone or feel alone (for different reasons), I'm currently building one at http://solosouls.net.

Many warm greetings,
Halina