I really can’t speak for anyone else. Grief, I’ve discovered, is a very personal thing and by that I mean that everyone grieves differently and there are as many different versions of grief as there are people who are grieving and people they lost.
There’s no right way to grieve; no correct or incorrect way to be or to feel. There’s only your own way and I’m going to write about MY way. It may turn out to be the same as yours – or similar. It may be completely different. You may think I’m misguided or a saint. It really just doesn’t matter because there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
On 22 August it will be the anniversary of Nico’s death. That’s a terribly hard sentence to write and without being able to stop them, tears are coming into my eyes and falling down my face. It makes me wonder how many anniversaries will pass before I am able to type that sentence without the tears falling. Maybe never.
I can write about Nico’s life so easily. The words just flow and bring me joy and comfort. Remembering why we loved you so much, my darling boy, remembering all the happy (and not so happy) times we had together. Sharing stories of the people who were part of the journey, the highs and the lows, the laughs and the struggles. But when I come to write about my life without you, my darling boy, my own Mr Ginge, my Nicodemus, my fat boy, my baby……..that is so much harder. Now I must stop again as the tears are once again flowing and this time I’ve not only failed to wipe them away, but I’ve managed to get something in my eye.
I want to write about the passing of time after someone dies and what it means – or rather what it means to me and to do this I’m going to use the framework of two well-worn platitudes which I’ve come to loath, perhaps you do too.
“Time is a great healer”. No it’s not.
What the passage of time gives you is the ability to grow a second skin and get really good at knowing when you need to put it on. At work, in public, at social events and sadly, even with some friends and family members – you put on your new extra skin.
It holds in the ocean of tears, the sharp pricking behind your eyes and the lump in your throat. It holds in the wobble in your voice and the terrible staring eyes with that ghastly haunted look that they had in the moment that you were told the news. It holds in the ever repeating loop of events and the awful screams you try not to hear at night. It holds in that alternative but very real version of yourself which is always there, but you cannot show in public if you’re going to be able to function, work, walk and talk.
“Life goes on”. Well, yes and no.
For a long time 22 August was the day that time stopped and every day since was 22 August – or no date at all. The weather may be different, there may even be a Christmas tree in the corner, but it was always 22 August.
This is so strange to say and even stranger to live and it’s taken me a while to work this one out and at the moment the best I can say about it is this. The world as we knew it, our family life, our whole existence, the people we were and the way we related to each other and to the world around us – our “normal”, ceased abruptly on 22 August. The way we were on 21 August, the following morning ceased to exist. Not just Nico, but us too. Literally our lives, our normal, our reality – stopped.
Eventually we went back to work, we cleaned the house, we bought food and cooked it, we tidied the garden, and we attended social events and watched the tele. But somehow, instead of this being our “new normal” it only felt as if we existed in a strange parallel world – a new and very wrong reality.
It was like living in a science fiction film where everything is almost normal, but there’s one thing missing and that throws everything else askew. So we looked like us, sounded like us……but somehow we were never, ever us. We lived from day to day in this weird parallel world and every single day we expected to find Nico in the sitting room watching a film, or listening to music, or in the kitchen “helping” with the cooking or (and this was the strongest) at the front door waiting to be let in.
I began to believe that the walls of this new alternative reality were something that I could push through to find Nico waiting for me on the other side – if only I tried hard enough or knew the special code. This became an obsession. Left alone in the house for hours and days on end (while Ian was at work) I tried to be so quiet that no movement or sound I made would disturb this new parallel world in the hope it would give up its grip and let our real world come back. I held my breath or tried to breathe in tiny little breaths and I waited, day after day, for my Nico to come home.
He didn’t come. Instead I read and wrote long, complicated emails and letters. New people who talked in acronyms and legal jargon crowded into my new world. We had meetings with legal advisors and little by little this became our new normal. Over time, as the months went by this strange life became our new reality.
Caught between a past I cannot recapture and a present which is harsh, strange and bewildering, I squash down the sides of my mind, afraid to recall his smell, the way it felt to touch his face, to stroke his arm, the sound of his laugh, the sound of his voice, that special loving look in his eyes. I know that I could make all this come back to life in my mind, but I don’t because I wouldn’t be able to bear it.
But I live in terror of the day that I can no longer remember every single little thing about him and so I keep his room exactly the same, a room waiting for a happy boy who will never return to it and I curse myself for being such a fool.