I’m at that difficult stage of writing a book where I’m absolutely sick and tired of reading my own words. It always happens at some point; the sparkling prose that gushed from the tips of my fingers now looks constipated. Disheartened, I start doing the grammatical hokey-cokey: You put your right comma in; your right comma out; in, out, in, out; move it all about. I take a break and read a book, only to be filled with despair at how brilliantly everyone else writes. I browse Facebook and notice that other bloggers have millions of ‘Likes’ on their page and wonder if I should cheat and ‘buy’ a block of fake fans to look popular. I start to worry that if I hate reading my own story, everyone else will too. I gnash my teeth that I’m in a position to write about death and its aftermath, instead of frothy novels about teenage girls snogging spotty boys.
It’s a desperate time and I know that it will pass because it always does, but this book is putting me through the emotional wringer in a way that writing fiction never has. It’s also made me realise that during that first year (at least) on Planet Grief, I was completely and utterly bonkers, way above my normal baseline of bonkers, so bonkers in fact, I felt I ought to warn my readers not to believe anything that they are about to read. I have written a disclaimer as part of the book’s introduction stating that just as grief doesn’t follow a straight line, nor does my writing, which back then was all over the place, just like my mind. One minute, I was never going to move house, the next I was planning on living in Ireland to sit in a bar and drink Guinness. I was never going to take my wedding ring off (I did), wear a bikini (I did), go on holiday abroad (I did), fall in love again (I did) or move out of London (I wish I hadn’t).
It wasn’t just me. We were all a bit bonkers. Reviewing the blog material, I’ve read comments from other widows who felt the same way. I smile because I know how their lives are panning out. So crushed by losing their partners, in the early days they could barely get out of bed. These lost souls have gone on to sail the world, climb mountains, have babies, re-marry, start businesses or simply get to a place where they can admit (sometimes with a tinge of guilt) that life has become good again, despite being adamant that it never would.
So, on reflection, I can completely understand why people were always banging on about not making any major decisions in the first year of widowhood. I don’t just mean other ‘been there, done that, bought the coffin’ people, but non-widowed strangers too, people I sobbed over in the street, at the bus stop or in supermarket queues. “I think the most important thing is not to make any decisions in the first year,” they would say gravely, studiously arranging their huge family shop on the conveyer belt in Sainsbury’s as I stood clutching a microwaveable meal for one and three bottles of cheap plonk, tears running down my face. Such was the desire to flee from my grief, it was entirely possible that I could now be living on a Greek Island, married to Stavros – a twenty-five year old olive-skinned god – and be working in the restaurant that his family own, but which I am bank-rolling. On the other hand, that doesn’t sound that terrible…
But seriously, ‘wait a year’ is a good rule of thumb. However together we think we are, it’s only when we look back that we realise that we were literally insane with grief. If I hadn’t written this blog, perhaps I wouldn’t have remembered just how warped with pain my mind was unless someone reminded me. I remember going to a meeting very soon after JS died and thinking how well I had done, how professional I had appeared. Months after that meeting, one of the people I had met confessed that I had appeared ‘manic’. I was so desperate for it to be ‘business as usual’, I obviously overdid the fake smiles. I do remember that I got on the bus and cried.
And now? For me, life is good. It’s not all rainbows and puppies, but then that’s life for all of us, widowed or not. At over four years, I still get pangs where I look up at the sky and think, “JS, come back and rescue me! The big experiment is over. You can come home now.” It’s not all roses round the door for those sailing/mountaineering/go-getting/baby-popping men and women, either. As someone wrote to me recently, “The more I do, the more I achieve, the further away I feel from him.”
We are all a work in progress, aren’t we? I’m pretty sure that I’m not as bonkers as I was during that first year, but who’s to say I won’t look back on the blogs I write now and think, “Goodness, I was bonkers back then…”
image via www.wakeup-world.com