Grief is Good

There are an awful lot of twee sayings about grief, some speak of the grief being as a result of the fact that a person still feels so much love but has nowhere for it to go, some talk about grief being the price of love and yet others talk about the proper ‘grief process’.

For me, the most accurate commentary on grief was that sent to the Queen Mother by one of her sympathetic correspondents some years after the death of her husband.

It [grief] never gets better. You just get better at it.

What I can safely say now, is that, like all emotions, grief is different for everyone and some people need more help and time to process it.

Since 2014 I’ve been having counselling every week, – I’m aware that my mental health has never been in the best shape, so I set out to put a routine in place to support better mental health practices.

Housekeeping helps, – tidying and organising helps me to feel calm, regardless of the fact my spaces usually end up looking like a bombsite, it’s a bombsite in which I know where everything has landed.

‘psychological housekeeping’

Counselling is my psychological housekeeping, – it helps me to organise and understand the way I think and process things and to learn more about myself. – I am most definitely still learning.

Some time ago at counselling I was talking about relationships. Specifically, about relationships ending.

I am and have, despite a few brief forays into dating territory, been single for a while now.

My counsellor and I had been discussing relationships generally and how I felt about things when they ended. I responded that I have never been particularly cut up at the end of a relationship. Once the decision is made, that’s it, done, thank you very much. All rather tidy and practical.

It looked like an interesting seam to mine, we went deeper.

‘We hit gold’

We considered why it was that when, in a typically difficult period, I just seemed to not care – we examined whether this was because I didn’t care to begin with and then whether I had ever had a relationship that did provoke that depth of emotion.

Suddenly, we hit gold.

As soon as the question was asked, something inside me cracked. I felt it break, as though some wiry, shadowy creature had wrapped it’s long fingers around my ribs, my breast bone and fractured them all.

I felt a warm stinging sensation in the corners of my eyes, felt the heat rising, felt my throat contract and realised I was crying.

Stuart was my first boyfriend. My first in a lot of things really.

We met young and became boyfriends when I was 14 and he was 16.

He was a little taller than me, with thick, brown hair and deep blue eyes. He was skinny, but had the kind of body that, when fleshed out, could have been carved from marble.

In the mornings, he would get dressed in a rush, so usually ended up with his buttons out of line looking scruffy, but in an adorable, puppy dog style.

‘I can never know what would have become of both of us had he lived’

In the four years we were together we were a solid team. Stuart and Steve. Of course I can never know what would have become of both of us had he lived. Nor can I know whether we would have endured together. I can only go on what we had, and it was good.

Mutual exploration, spending time being together among trees, rivers, keeping things secret, snatched moments. Moving as we grew older into day’s out, dreaming of the future, seeing glimpses of the men we would grow to be. Laughing at how we’d grow together, at how we’d introduce one another to our families.

The quiet, routine, over-looked moments, getting a coffee, buying a new shirt, gentle kisses, passionate kisses, being held and feeling safe.

His death was quick. He was driving home, aquaplaned and wrapped his car around a tree, snapping his neck.

‘I never got to say goodbye’

I never got to say goodbye. Never got to hold him, tell him that I loved him and that everything would be alright. I never got to look into his beautiful eyes again.

The year after Stuart died was full of loss, – in the March my paternal grandad died, followed in the August, by my maternal grandmother.

Each loss floored me.

It was the February of the following year, 2006, when, under well-meant advice from friends, I decided to go on a date with a guy.

M, the man I have written about here was my first date after Stuart and that was… it.

The reality was that since then, since those two experiences, I have never wanted to feel that deeply again. The result of this subconscious defence, which has proved more effective than I could have ever expected, is that the men I have dated (and at this stage I shall apologise to them, – sorry guys) I didn’t really care about.

In the intervening years, I had become emotionally ambivalent. I wanted the companionship, certainly, but couldn’t bear to feel anything. So I meandered from relationship to relationship. Some long, some short, for years, and never addressed the void that Stuart’s death had left.

I had always felt that he was ‘it’. He was my ‘one’. Losing him after 4 short years, I felt I had been cast into the wilderness where I would remain, alone, – because after him everything mattered….less. I wanted to go with him.

How, after something that good and that special, could anything possibly measure up? Better, more sensible, not to try, and to spare myself from feeling that bad ever again.

‘gilded, bulletproof memories’

Over time, anyone that came into my life had been measured against not just him, but my memories of him. My gilded, bulletproof memories. I have never felt about anyone the way I did about him and so learnt to live with the fear that it may never feel that good again. That I may never find anyone who made me feel it, or at least similar. Which meant it would never be quite good enough.

At the end of the counselling session, we discussed how to manage the feelings that may emerge over the course of the next week and decided that writing may help.

That is one of the reasons for writing this blog. Though to be honest, once the initial wave of emotion had broken over me, the sense of relief, the understanding that had been acquired, was so fundamental that suddenly, inexplicably, I felt lighter.

I realised afterwards that, in not talking about the grief I felt, I had been carrying it with me. All that time.

‘ It wanted to be free’

Holding that fear that I would live the rest of my life never knowing that depth of love again. The creature that cracked its way through my chest that night was an accumulation of years of untapped grief.

It wanted to be free.

A few days ago, I went for a walk. I drove down to the coast with a small square of paper in my pocket with Stuart’s name written on it. Walking along the beach where we had spent so much time, I finally allowed the memories to come back.

I sat for a while feeling the sun on me, listening to the water and I spoke to him.

I told him that, even now, so many years on, I still loved him. As i began to cry, I told him that I would give anything to have him back. To re-button his shirt and run my fingers through his hair.

As the tears rolled, I closed my eyes and I remembered his face, his eyes and I once again heard the quiet rhythm of his voice in my head.

As the sun set, I walked out into the water. I took the square of paper from my pocket, placed it on the waves and released it.

I stood there, watching it drift away, feeling the water ebb and flow around me. Feeling some of the larger waves try and knock me off my feet, and I said goodbye.

I then turned my back on the sea and drove away.