1) Casseroles. Accept these from friends, neighbours and strangers, but do not feel bad about throwing them out after they’ve been sitting on the side for four days untouched and moulding because every time you contemplate food you want to vomit.
2) Platitudes. Accept these from friends, neighbours and strangers, but do not feel bad about secretly wanting to ask them to take their ‘Time heals’ and their ‘He’s in a better place’ and shove them where the sun don’t shine.
3) Alcohol. Accept that this may become both your best friend and your enemy over the next few months*. After all, red wine takes away the pain and helps you to forget. (Everything, including having sent inappropriate texts to the plumber last night.) *years
4) Bureaucracy. Accept that banks, insurance companies and letting agencies don’t care that the love of your life has just dropped dead. (They say they do, but I suspect otherwise, especially when they send a letter addressed to the deceased asking to see their death certificate.) The student on the end of the telephone doesn’t make the rules, so try to contain your rage.
5) Guides to grieving. Accept that everyone is different and that, though helpful to a point, no one rule universally applies.
6) The word Accept. Accept that you probably never will.
Mark died on February 11th, 2012. I spent the first month accepting and disposing of casseroles, accepting and ignoring platitudes, drinking alcohol and shouting down the telephone at automated option recordings.
The second month was mostly spent waiting for the joke to be over and for him to come back.
In the third month, I bought a notebook and wrote my first words since his death:
Thursday. Not a minute goes by when I don’t think about you. With love, with fear, with yearning, with a smile, with incredulity. I picture you so vividly, it is impossible to believe that you are gone…I just cannot conceive of never seeing you again.
I continued for two pages, cataloguing memories and thoughts. But entries thereafter were sporadic and rambling. Words didn’t, as they had in the past, seem to be working. He wasn’t coming back. The pain wasn’t abating. I still couldn’t eat. Besides, the effort of picking up a pen was too exhausting, never mind contriving something to say about how I was feeling.
The last entry is dated April 4th 2013, almost a year after I started. It reads:
I was remembering how you didn’t like being spooned at night because you got too hot, so I used to nestle my cheek between your shoulder blades instead.
The pages after that are filled with felt-tip drawings of aliens by my five year old child, which, if interpreted as depictions of grief, kind of sum it all up.
Seven days after that last entry, I started my blog, Wife After Death. I started it because I felt increasingly isolated and alone. I started it because I didn’t know what else to do. I started it in the hope that someone out there might be able to tell me. (I started it because my notebook was filled with drawings of aliens.)
Of course, no-one could tell me what to do. But writing to a responsive audience reassured me that I wasn’t going mad. Writing helped me to examine my grief, to express it in a way that I couldn’t manage with the spoken word. Writing allowed friends and family to see how I was doing, without having to bring out the platitudes. Writing the blog turned into writing the book, which turned into a sort of therapy all of its own.
Writing saved me in ways that guides to grieving never could. I highly recommend it.