I always believed that grief is something we travel through, and not a lifetime sentence. Those who know more about these things say that the journey through grief typically takes between 6 and 18 months. Mine has taken 8 or 9 months, so I must be pretty average.
It’s been tough, but I’ve never given up with my positive attitude, and its served me well.
I hope this story encourages some to believe that getting through our grief is possible, and it helps them on this terrible journey.
EARLY DAYS OF RECOVERY
10 months ago, on April 18th my life changed when Penny died. After I had said my last goodbyes to her in the hospital, I walked out of the hospital in turmoil/panic/tears/shaking/fear etc. Every emotion known to man (and a few more) took over, and I thought “what do I do now?” I had no idea, but bit by bit I sorted it out in my head, and now, 10 months later, I’m pretty happy again. It’s not like it was of course, but I’ve not got to this point by forgetting Penny (that would be impossible) but I’m always thinking of her, grateful for her sharing 50 years of her life, creating loads of happy memories which I very often recall with a smile
When I first saw her sitting in a pub with her friends over 50 years ago, I thought she was prettiest girl I’d ever seen, and how could a young man like me ever get a girl like that. Remember that song, Some Enchanted Evening?? It was just like that. If someone had said I would finish up being married to that girl and share my life with her, I couldn’t have believed it.
She died one month before our golden wedding, and I can’t really recall that month. There were lots of practical things to do. We had two lovely little dogs, which she cared for nearly all the time, and I promised her that I would give them all the care and love she gave them. I had to register the death, I had to sort out the arrangements with banks etc. So that kept me busy.
The major thing to arrange was the funeral. We both hated traditional funerals, we weren’t religious, and saw them as morbid so I decided we would have a direct cremation with nobody attending. In the event myself and two of her bestest friends (plus her dogs) went to the crematorium at the appropriate time, sat in the garden outside, and said goodbye to her, then went off to breakfast and talked about her.
I couldn’t let her go without celebrating her life, so I booked a lovely separate room in a local pub, provided a buffet, and invited one and all to come along. It was our Golden Wedding anniversary, so it seemed appropriate. Many people wanted to speak and talked about her memory, photos of her life scrolled on a large screen. One of our musical friends wrote a guitar tune in her memory, I sang her favourite song to her. We had loads of hugs/tears and laughter, and we all went away as happy as it was possible to be, almost everybody said they now wanted to do the same.
I went home thinking, “right! My new life starts now, get on with it!!”
GETTING ON WITH IT
The first decision was that I would NOT have a shrine to her and nor would I have ”no go” areas. I didn’t need reminding she wasn’t there, I’d never forget that one!! So I immediately went and sat in “her” chair, and often talked to her about the successes and failures in my day, and what mischief the dogs had got up to. I often cried, but when that happened one of my dogs always hurtled onto my chest and stared into my eyes and licked my tears dry, as if to say “It’ll be ok Dad, I’m here!”
In the early days, I began to realise how many supportive friends we had. People calling in for a chat/cuppa and to listen to me offloading my thoughts, plus offering any practical help I needed. Not one of them said anything like “what you need to do is…….”
I sometimes have a bit of a “down” day, (don’t we all?) but my brother always points out that I had “down” days before she died, so that’s no issue is it!
I needed to sort out the things which needed to be done, such as sorting out her clothes, and the piles of shoes and handbags. Her 3 best female friends all got together and came over to do that! I sorted out her jewellery and gave it to our female friends and relatives. We forced ourselves to have a few laughs while doing it. All I kept was her wedding ring, which I now wear on my left hand, with my ring on my right.
I went up into the peak district with my caravan, to think. It didn’t really help because it was too early. But something happened which turned me in the right direction. I went into Bakewell to do some shopping, it was a stinking hot day, and I bought a coffee at a pavement café. There was very little shade except one table under a wisteria. There was a lady (about my age) sat there and she invited me to join her. We got chatting and she figured out not all was well with me, and she talked and listened to me. I remember she said “Well, how do you want your new life to be? I’d never given it a thought before!!. So I started writing my thoughts on a table napkin.
It had things like:
Stay in the house we shared for 50 years, but make it more suitable for a man 75 years old and increasing.
Become a gentle old man who chatted to strangers outside café’s
Live a simple frugal life, so money wouldn’t be an issue.
Never miss up an opportunity to make friends, and to accept invitations from people
Rejoin my ukulele groups, and buy a new guitar
Tour the Outer Hebrides
Buy an economical, reliable, newish car. (we had two cars before, so when my old bangers broke down (a frequent occurence) I could always borrow hers.)
It’s been refined as I go along, but it was a turning point, that realisation that I need a PLAN!!, and then ACTIONS to achieve it. If I just sat in misery, I’d do that for the rest of my life, that’s not on, Penny would hate it for me as well. We shouldn’t keep doing exactly the same thing, yet expect the result to be different (It Doesn’t happen!)
I’m pleased to say that the lady in Bakewell has remained a firm friend now
I started booking holidays. I’ve already been to the Outer Hebrides, I’ve booked a glamping holiday in Pembrokeshire, booked a motorhome to do a bit of touring, and booked a narrow boat. I’m looking forward to these. I’m even booked to fly a spitfire and have a dog fight (simulated, of course)
It’s probably appropriate to mention that I now have two new female friends with whom I go for walks and meals. One of them thought I was creating a hareem, and I call them hareem1 and hareem2. It was very strange to do anything with another woman, after having the same woman by my side for 50 years! But we almost immediately made it clear that none of us wanted anything more than a platonic friendship, so no stress!
One factor in the process of grief, is that I was fully aware that grief/tears etc are all caused by our thoughts.
I was very fortunate that I have suffered from PTSD, and that’s very similar to grief, with continually recycling thoughts with no possibility of resolving them. I’m not fortunate from having suffered from PTSD, but at least I had huge success with curing this by having hypnotherapy, and learnt how to stop my thoughts beating me up, and this skill has been a HUGE help in getting through my grief.
In common with almost all of us, we all seem to have regrets about our lives and my bereavement, and have thoughts like
What did she mean when she said that?
I wish I’d done that
I wish I hadn’t done that
I wish that didn’t happen, both caused by me, and caused by her. (We were both human, with human frailties)
When I calmed my brain down, it soon becomes obvious that most of the things we dream up are either unfounded, insignificant. so I could forget them, and I did! I forgave her, and forgave her (see The Lords Prayer)
WHERE AM I NOW?
I’m getting on with what remains of my life, reasonably content, without grieving, but with my memories of Penny always available to call on, and make me smile, remembering that I’m an extremely lucky man to have shared 50 years with her!
If I could give someone the most helpful advice, it would be to decide how you want your new life to be, and make a positive plan of action to make it happen. Without a plan, nothing will change and we risk staying deep in the pain of grief.
You can get through it, even though you might not see the way.
Good luck everybody!