Sunday was the 10 week anniversary of my wife’s death. Like clockwork, at 12.30pm every Sunday, my subconscious kicks in and no matter where I am I know that it’s time for me to pause and reflect. Last week on the 9th anniversary it was in the middle of a long bike ride. I had to dismount and have a moment to myself by the side of the road. Each time is different in how it touches me. From quiet reflection to a sense of overwhelming loss, I never know which will accompany the time. Simultaneously that specific time means both everything and nothing to me.
Everything, because I think about Lou and see her beautiful face in front of me and I can’t help but smile and feel an absolutely overwhelming sense of love and warmth.
Nothing, because reality bites hard and I feel desolate knowing that she is no longer here. I also remember how utterly powerless I was as I watched Lou slip away in front of me but could do nothing about it. That’s something I haven’t been able to deal with, just yet.
These last 10 weeks have been a bit of a blur really. I’ve busied myself with the practicalities of sorting out Lou’s estate, packaging gifts with hand-written notes that Lou left behind, delivering some by hand and dispatching others to different corners of the globe. Sadly she didn’t get to complete every one that she wished to write. But each one that she did complete is extremely precious, a gift from a woman who knew she was dying. Each one is uniquely special. Lou hoped they would make the people she cared for smile. And so far they have.
I’ve also had to do the things that I’ve found harder, because in reality what it feels like I’ve been doing is closing Lou’s life down and eradicating her very existence. Who would think that removing a jar of extra crunchy peanut butter from a cupboard and changing the names on the council tax could weaken you to your very core. The peanut butter is still there by the way, I just couldn’t get rid of it.
Whilst the first couple of weeks passed slowly, now time passes quickly. Too quickly. It’s a constant reminder that the time between when I last saw and held Lou grows ever greater. That last hug meant everything to me and is one of the things that I miss most.
I recently went out for dinner with a friend and told her about how I missed Lou’s hugs and how when someone gives me a hug now, I think I cling on just that little bit longer as I don’t want it to end. Post dinner when we said goodbye she gave me a long hug, in her words, ‘To keep me going’. It was a simple but wonderfully kind gesture. It was all I could do to hold things together until she was safely in a cab.
Then there are other days when I smile, laugh and can celebrate life being as happy as Lou told me she wanted me to be. I know she loved me and will always be with me and that makes me feel happy. And I know that the one present, for the rest of my birthdays and Christmases that she wanted to give me was enduring, regret-free, true happiness. I know this because she wrote it in my birthday card three weeks before she died.
And of course there are some days that I feel like I have nothing to look forward to. But at those bleak times, because of the remarkable things that Lou achieved in her last few months, I can play her documentary (BBC Culture Show – Rankin: Alive in the face of Death), read this blog, a card she wrote me or listen to her radio recording (Advice from the edge of life – BBC Radio Scotland) or even see her picture in a gallery (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and suddenly feel like she is there again. It’s never going to be everything or enough, that’s gone, but it’s special because I’m never left with nothing. So I am truly thankful because I know that not everyone has that.
And now I am back at work I know people ask some of the friends I am closest to if I am ok and coping, but they don’t ask me. I can understand why. It’s an awkward conversation to have. And to be honest I don’t know what to say sometimes, when someone does ask me directly. Inside I feel like the guy who had everything and now has nothing. Though I know that is selfish and unfair to the many friends and family who have continued to be there for me. But you know what I mean. I hope.
And I can imagine that there are people out there who’ll maybe think that given the time that has passed that maybe I should be a little bit into the healing journey. Some days I’d maybe agree, I’ve started walking. But then on others I can assure you that it feels like I haven’t even taken the very first step. The truth is I feel every ounce of sadness and loss I felt 10 weeks ago. I just try and mask it.
I think the whole experience and life I have had with Lou, especially these last few months, has changed me. For the better I think. I’ve seen and lived everyday with amazing courage, positivity and love by being beside a truly incredible person. Lou, my wife. I’ve also experienced kindness, generosity and love from a special group of family, friends and colleagues who have shared our journey with us, every step, from near and far. What I need to do now is make sure I don’t waste the legacy that Lou left behind, I know that would annoy her.
And yes I do feel a little hollow, lacking direction and scared what the future may hold. Healing? No. More living with a wound that there is no panacea for. As my mum says and I agree, you have to learn how to live with it. This is what Lou did with her cancer and it didn’t stop her being happy, so it won’t stop me.
Up until now the documentaries on TV and radio have given me a focus and allowed me to look forward to something. But once the final piece airs this coming week, I know there will be nothing and I need to look at the reality of the future with a different but positive perspective. And I will.
So what does that mean for me today, 10 weeks on.
If I was to use one word, it would be sadness. Though I’m not sure any phrase or word fully sums it up.
Sadness because the person I shared my life with is no longer here and never will be again. And I miss her, she was my best friend.
Sadness because no matter what moments of happiness I do have are always followed by a crippling sense of loss, guilt at that momentary happiness and sometimes there is a fear at what lies ahead.
Sadness too because we had plans for the future, bright happy plans that we spent many hours talking about. Plans that would see us happily together well into old age.
Sadness because I think not just about my own loss but that of our friends, our families and particularly Lou’s Mum & Dad. This is the second time they have lost a child. I am acutely aware that we have all lost someone special, every time I see them.
But you know what, I wouldn’t change a thing of what I had with Lou. Apart from the ending of course. I had everything with Lou and without her ever being in my life I genuinely believe I would have had nothing. As the lyrics in our wedding song echo (Louis Armstrong’s version of La Vie en Rose was our tune):
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La vie en rose
And our life was. And we did have everything. And she hasn’t left me with nothing. She’s told me to go out there and be happy. And I will. Because if I don’t, she joked that she would come back and haunt me.
Though right now I’d rather like it if she did.
Lou’s radio programme – Voice from the edge of Life airs tomorrow 30th July at 1.30pm BBC Radio Scotland.