I spend a lot of my time reading about death, dying, and grieving, participating in webinars and holding space sessions with grief experts, people who’ve developed wise perspective on what it is to love, to lose, and to continue living.
Apart from two moments since Mike’s death, I have never wanted to chuck it all in, to end my life. The two times I did, it was less of a desperation and more of a wondering. Once, some 18 months after he died, I stood by an icy running stream near where we live, and I wondered, just for some moments, what it would be like to lie face down in it and breathe in the water slowly.
Another time, in recent weeks, desperately missing both Julia and Mike I just wanted the pain of it all to end. The gut-wrenching sobbing, the heavy weight in my heart, the constant anxiety and fear in my belly. And while these times happen a lot, they don’t make me want to end my life.
I know I am lucky that way. Many in my community of Grieflings desperately want to join their dead loved ones. I don’t. I really don’t. I wish Mike and Julia (and Ed and Don) were here, but I don’t want to join them there. Not yet. Not for a long while. They can wait.
I feel so fortunate. I know, deep down in my marrow, that life is good, that I have a lot to live for, and most of all, that my family and circle does not need another dead body – not yet.
I have this river of “joie de vivre” running deep inside me. I love living, love learning, love loving, love working, love sleeping, love walking, love running, love swimming, love being, love breathing, love playing music, love listening to music… the list is endless.
I don’t love pain, and I don’t love loss and I don’t love the hurting and the fear and the deep deep sadness and anguish, but I can live with it. I can hold it, gently. Compassionately. With curiosity. I can meet it and know it’s normal, welcome, inevitable. Acceptable. Part of me. Always will be.
Both threads living side by side, like a rope, or DNA strands. The loving life strand and the deeply hurting strand inextricably joined, making up this tapestry of my life. Sometimes one strand is thinner than the other, and the bigger one takes hold. When it’s the joie de vivre strand that gets thin, that seems to disappear, it is truly awful. The questions, the unknowns, the missing and longing so overwhelming. There is nothing to do but to cry hard, very hard, to rant and rave and kick, and know that this too is normal.
I tried an experiment recently. I’d had a walloping insight with my therapist, Helen – that I am able to ask for help when I don’t need it, and unable to ask for help in the hardest moments when I really need it. I realised that even with Mike it was like that. Except he knew me so well that he read the signs long before I did and offered help before I knew I needed any. And truth be told, I so rarely had moments of great neediness in my “life before”. So I have only discovered this recently.
Medjool is too recent in my life to read me before I read myself. He doesn’t live with me, we have had closed borders, his mum has died, he’s had other priorities, so he doesn’t know the cues yet. He is also from the school of “if you need something I assume you will ask”. Which sounds all well and good and mature for high functioning adults. But Grieflings aren’t always high functioning. It’s not that I don’t know how to ask. In those moments I don’t even know that I need something. A straw breaks my camel’s back and the whole of life is on the floor in a mess and I wonder how it happened.
My Grief coach, Tom Zuba, (because, you know, I have two “therapists” – and this one is more specialised in Grief) was truly horrified when he learned that I didn’t feel I had “go to people” in a crisis. That while I have some very lovely and supportive friends, I won’t ever call them in my most desperately sad times. The most skilled ones have their own shit to deal with and are busy. He made me make a list of people I could call. So I did, and the number came to 7 which was amazing. I haven’t told the people concerned. I keep meaning to but don’t think I want to. I created a list of “Drop of a hat” friends covering the globe after Mike died and found I only used it to update friends when I was feeling okay. Never in a crisis. And then I saw people take themselves off the list. What a horror that was.
So the list is not a list, but people in my mind. The experiment was about 2-3 weeks ago when I was bawling my eyes out at 11pm, listening to songs that remind me of Julia, thinking about ways to commemorate her first deathiversary, and just feeling wretched at all of it. All of it.
I was bawling. Sobbing. In deep pain. Feeling so alone. And I remembered Tom and Helen’s gentle advice – to reach out for help, support, companioning, in those moments of most needing it. Not afterwards to tell them about it. I know enough to know that no-one can do anything to fix any of this, to lighten any of it. And all I want anyway is someone to witness, to be there. I chose Victoria. She is one of, I think, two people in my life who knew all four of my dead people. We go back to when I turned 18. I video whatsapped her. 10 pm her time in the UK. Ring… ring… ring… ring… ring… Oh shit, I have called too late. She’s not picking up. If she doesn’t pick up next ring I will hang up. And I know I won’t call anyone else. The moment has passed and I can’t think who.
She picked up. Took one look at me. Said, with real attention and gentle love in her voice, “Emma – what is it?” And I just said, “Julia”. And she said, “Oh sweetie”, and let me cry for the longest time. Which was probably only about 5 minutes. But she let me do it. She watched my face, all red and wet and contorted, listened to my sobs, acknowledged any utterances I might have made, and stayed there, present, loving, until the sobs lessened. And then we talked for a bit, maybe another 10 minutes, and that was it.
It was, for me, an extraordinary moment. Of trust in myself, trust in my friend’s skills. I had come to realise during the therapy conversations that I didn’t dare call anyone in those moments because my experience is that most people talk too much (which equates to rationalising, justifying, fixing in my mind). They can’t just “be” with me in the shit storm (as Gordon calls it)
I am learning to hold my grief in love, to meet my grief with love, to have a loving relationship with my grief. It’s not a one time insight and decision, but a moment by moment choice. To wrap my losses and pain in love. And again. And again.
A practice to practise. Loving life in spite of everything.