Published: ‘Speak your griefs softly’, Unapologetic Magazine

‘Speak your griefs softly’ part of my memoir writing is published in Unapologetic Magazine issue 3, on Invisibility & Ambiguity. Available in print and online at link.

For all those that carry hidden losses everyday.

Thank you to co-editors Sandrine Ndahiro and Fiona O’Kearney.

Full text:

Speak your griefs softly

We, people, the populous, the general, do not deal well with the aftermath of death; this comes as a shock to me. People are dying all the time, it’s an everyday happening, yet we don’t know how to deal with it. I don’t know how to deal with it. I don’t know how to deal with myself, and I don’t think the people around me do either. I long for bygone days of traditions, signals, taught and learned manners, of black crepe gowns and armbands. Back then, forty was not so young to die. Forty, not so young to become a widow. I would not shock or cause pity as I do. A sympathy I am acutely aware of and, with it, my re-categorisation to ‘other’.

Grieving is not a verb; it is not a doing; it is a being, a forever coexisting. An allogeneic transfusion, pumping through my veins, feeding my skin, my brain, making my eyes misty and my nose run. I am grief. I am a widow. I have not read the guidebooks to this valley of sorrow; I have felt my way, fingertips on the jagged Braille of self. Here is my typography, my peaks of understanding in the aftermath of losing my love.

My grief is like a sea, sounding – ebb and flow. I clench the sand between my toes as it creeps higher ‘til I can’t stand – till I am swallowing water, gasping, coughing, flailing, under, then back to my feet. I am vulnerable, unbalanced, unsteady. I am tears encased in a thin membrane, a jellyfish, washed up on this shore.

I divide this grief – You: You are dead. You do not get to be in the world anymore. This is immovable, immutable, unchangeable. You are not in the world, and you are not coming back. Me: I do not have you in my life; I do not have your love, our family, our happiness. I do not get to be the person I was with you, and I do not know who to be now.

“How are you?” Such a greeting sends me pinging around my head, trying to decipher how I am to provide an accurate response. So as not to stand vacantly silent, I prepare replies that do not discommode or discomfort – “I’m fine”,” I’m busy”. I tell you about the band I manage or my dog; dogs are endlessly useful as diversions. Here now, I’ll tell you how I’ve been –

During my first-year post-bereavement, I run in cycles of adrenalin and depletion. Warrior pose, I am getting out of bed, confounding the bystander’s barometer of well-being; I am winning at widowhood. Then I withdraw, shutting the world out, wanting only to be in our house with our dog, to be left utterly alone. Go out, embrace the world, then retreat. Repeat. A shook engine, driving too fast, then intermittently pulling into lay-bys to break down, key in the ignition, trying, trying, to figure it out, trying to make a life without him.
The days exhort him to come home,
I get tired of you being gone. It’s been long enough, too long. I have tried, and I am tired. Come home. I am only good when I am with you. Come home. I am only happy when I am with you. Come home.
I am a messy creature, struggling to come to terms with myself and where I am now, to settle into this groove, this track, this briar-bound path, to break down my life and force it to jump fences.

Year two – in Élís Ní Duibhne Twelve thousand days1, Maurice, “the assistant keeper grade one, who supervises the assistant keepers grade two,” says about widowhood, “…it gets easier as you get used to it” and “the first two years are the hardest’. Some days I accept this position and my situation; I want so much to be that happy woman, in love and sated, but I do not get to be her. I don’t want to suffer or be locked into endless loss, yearning for what I can’t have, yet I don’t want to let go either. As if to stop would mean I don’t care; this is my conundrum, my seesaw, my search for balance in living. It gets easier as you get used to it.

A composer sends me C.S Lewis’s A Grief Observed, but I don’t read it for three years. It takes three years to step out of the mire, look at myself, and observe my grief. When I first pick up the slim blue volume, I am startled by its modernity, though first published in 1961. Was I expecting that grief would have evolved or modernised? CS Lewis describes his experience of mourning as “like being mildly drunk, or concussed.2” I concur; in my ‘up’ version, I am not quite in my mind; I am out of it, escaping it; not only do I feel drunk, but sometimes I am drunk. In likeness, we do not allow time to feel sorry for ourselves, “Maudlin tears. I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and honest. But the bath of self-pity, the wallow, the loathsome sticky-sweet pleasure of indulging it – that disgusts me. And even while I’m doing it, I know it leads me to misrepresent H. herself. Give that mood its head and in a few minutes I shall have substituted for the real woman a mere doll to be blubbered over”2. He would hate that, my love; he would hate me making something of us that wasn’t. What we had was quiet, personal, intimate, glorious in its ordinariness and the rare joy that is the completeness of love. So here, no slush, but have it all.

I have many ‘good’ things, a home, a job, friends, and our dog. A home – I do not worry about a landlord and rent; this is good. An interesting career with kind people that earns enough money not to stress; this is good. A dog, a body who loves me and keeps a thaw in my heart; this is good. I do not have cancer, as he did. But there are other actualities; I do not have you, I do not have our twined happiness, our adventure-filled possibility of life, our contentment. I do not have your head to gaze at while we work in contented silence. I do not have your body next to mine as I sleep. This is factual. I will not have children now; this is factual. I do not have hope. I have a constricted feeling where hope should be. I am a hollow cylinder, which, if I pack to the brim, will constitute a human.

Let me put it more plainly, perhaps explain to myself; I am trying. I am trying to put things in place to have a semblance of a life. And yet I am not whole-hearted; I am doing things that make me look like I’m ‘doing great’. I’m spending so much time constructing this new life, this unwanted plan B, that I do not know if I am spending enough time just missing him. What are the quotas to be filled or allowed? So, I am trying; I will make art, I will write, I will learn to drive, I will laugh and regale people with stories, and I will let people kiss me and gaze at me sideways longingly. In this way, I will look like a human. I am building a compromise – to look like something but to feel so much less. In time I will believe that what I have built is enough, that it is a life. I am trying.

1. Twelve thousand days, a memoir of love and loss by Élís Ní Duibhne, tells the story of losing her husband, Bo Almvqvist.
2. A Grief Observed, by C.S Lewis, is a collection of writings on bereavement following the death of his wife, Joy Davidman.