I’m sitting in our garden on an early summer’s evening under a cloudless sky. Swallows are chasing angels in their blue heaven and the garden is imitating a palette of colours.
Two years ago I buried Christine’s ashes here in what has become her final resting place, a scene of daily reverie. I’m close to it now, no more than ten feet away and, as always happens, my thoughts turn to her. What wouldn’t I give to have her by my side now, to share the pleasures of her garden, to tell her how much I love her, how dreadfully I miss her?
Life seems normal at times, but I know that this can’t be so; nothing will ever be normal again. There is an immeasurable void in my life, an all-pervading absence that is intense and ever-present. Does she miss me equally? Where is she now, my best friend and lover, that blithe spirit that was for so long the centre of my life, the very reason for my existence? Is she at peace? Is she happy? Can she recognise either attribute? Or does she know only a huge void, similar to mine? Are we sharing this awful sense of….nothing, this endless silence?
My advanced age played a major role in the drama of bereavement, I discovered. Christine was so much younger than I and, in the autumn of my days, the future became a wasteland without her by my side.
As the mental shock of the loss slowly gave way to grief, then remorse, followed by endless sorrow and loneliness, only the memories of our years together sustained me in the darkest days and nights: recalling the delightful intimacies of a loving union, physical and emotional; the joys, the happiness, the little secrets shared, the recognition of idiosyncrasies, the occasional sadness, all the things that mark the shadows and highlights of a life together, of two lives well spent.
All this has now gone, with nothing to replace it but a debilitating solitude. Memories remain, of course, but these days they merely serve to emphasise the loss. It’s said of bereavement that “grief is only love with nowhere else to go,” but I view grief as a thief that has run off with all I once held dear, leaving me with empty rooms, an empty heart and a soul bereft of love.
How to affect a compromise, to find a reason, a motive, to continue this journey we call life? There has to be a way because I know it’s what Christine would have wished, what she would have done had the positions been reversed, had I gone first, as we tacitly anticipated because of our age difference.
Eventually, I discovered that loneliness holds the key to grief; that being alone unlocks the remorse, the immeasurable sadness, the dark days common to those living the loss of one so dearly loved. The dreadful solitude of seemingly unending days and nights of loneliness create an almost physical shock that no medication can alleviate.
And so I learned to lock out loneliness, to be with others as frequently as possible, to find distraction from grief. There’s the key word: distraction. It’s a therapy and it may be discovered in any form of physical or creative activity that includes other people: a yoga club, a painting class, a book or chess club, any type of gathering that entails regular attendance and encourages new routines, new friendships.
I learned how to survive through a form of group therapy in golf. The game has been a passion, as well as my livelihood for many years, but in the aftermath of loss I couldn’t contemplate it. Grief dominated my days and stole my motivation for any form of social or physical activity, even gentle gardening.
Until, some months later, my golfing chums enticed me back, to pick up a normal thread of life. It was a hesitant resumption that initially brought a tenuous grasp of reality until my feelings of guilt gradually faded in the face of the mental and physical challenge of the game, and the group therapy found in the companionship of friends.
The demands of the five mile walk that golf involves brought a sense of physical well-being, a fitness I had missed. I began sleeping more soundly, my appetite improved. Soon I was anticipating my three mornings of golf each week; the camaraderie, the exercise, the technical challenge, the sheer good fun. I learned to smile again, to laugh even… For three mornings each week my life has resumed a form of normality. I’m once again able to make plans. Eight of us have joined for annual golfing holidays, in Spain and France and are considering Turkey this autumn. Christine would be pleased.
I still know the occasional dark days, but they are now less frequent, less intense. The emptiness returns when I’m alone, particularly in the evening because, like her photographs, Christine’s spirit is in every room of the home she created. I’m constantly aware of her presence and never cease thinking about her. Nor would I wish to. She was a part of me in life and will be forever in death: my lover, my sweetheart, my best friend.
So now and then, particularly on a sun-dappled summer evening, I sit by her corner and tell her so. I know she’s listening….
* This is an excerpt from Remembering Christine, my book In Memoriam to my late wife and a guide to grief for the bereaved. It is available from Amazon and Kindle.