This is the final part of a six-part series on grief and loss; part one is available here.
So, here we are. Seven weeks into widowhood and it’s been quite a journey.
I wrote quite a bit about our experiences following Pete’s diagnosis, and so many people got in touch to say that it had helped them, which gave us both a lot of comfort, so it seemed a bit selfish not to share the rest of the journey. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way, they are my experience, everyone’s grief is different.
This much I know
1. It feels surreal. Even though you know it’s coming, even though you have talked about it for months, and you were holding hands when he took his last breath, you saw the coffin at the crematorium and you’ve got his ashes in a container, it doesn’t feel quite real. I half expect him to come back through the door and tell us that it’s all some elaborate practical joke.
2. Preparation really helps, we talked about everything. We planned his funeral together, he chose the celebrant, the coffin, the colour of the flowers, the readings, the songs, and the venue for the wake. In fact, there were very few details we hadn’t discussed. This meant that organising his funeral felt like I was fulfilling his last wishes and made every decision so much easier. It made for an uplifting service; there was inevitable sadness, but we felt his presence. Lots of friends have discussed their wishes with each other as a result, and I would urge anyone who hasn’t done this to do so. It’s not a conversation anyone wants to have, but it’s an act of tremendous kindness towards those you leave behind.
3. The fact that nothing was left unsaid is a great comfort. A couple of days before he died, I asked Pete if there was anything he needed to say or anyone he wanted to see who he hadn’t. He said he was content that he had said everything he needed to, and that we all knew how he felt about us, and he knew how loved he was; he wasn’t scared and was ready to go. That’s given us all a lot of comfort.
4. The administration is time-consuming, frustrating, and exhausting. Even when you think you’ve prepared and have everything sorted, there are always complications.
5. People want to help and are really kind. Accepting their help makes them feel like they’re doing something useful.
6. The few days before the funeral are really hard. I don’t know if this was made worse by having bit of a gap between the death and the funeral; I don’t remember it being as hard when we buried my dad, but this time I found the last few days before the funeral really tough. By that stage, everything is organised and the funeral hangs over you like a cloud.
7. Having a lot of people at the funeral really makes a difference and gives comfort to the family. I will never be able to put into words how much it meant to us that so many people made the effort to come to send Pete on his final journey. I know it gave his children and parents a huge amount of comfort. Never underestimate how important it is to be there and always go if you can, no matter how hard.
What comes next?
8. Planning something after the funeral is important. Everything prior to that is building up to the funeral; you’re busy organising and making sure that everything is ok, and it can feel very flat afterward. My sister and friends who have lost partners warned me about this, so we planned a weekend in New York (go big or go home, right?). But anything – whether it’s a trip to the coast, afternoon tea with a friend, a picnic, anything – will help to focus on something different.
9. Having things to look forward to really matters. Once the funeral is out of the way time seems to stretch infinitely in the distance. Putting things in the diary, both work and play, help to fill up the time. I’ve booked some gigs, a holiday, gallery visits, gin school, a spa day, and some days out. I’m even toying with a festival or two.
10. Saturdays can be tricky. Maybe because that’s when most people are spending their time with loved ones, and the reality that he isn’t here anymore really hits. Maybe because he died on a Saturday. Who knows? Friends have been brilliant at making suggestions such as Saturday brunch club, to keep us busy and stop us from overthinking.
11. Getting on with it really helps. I’ve found myself having to deal with things that we would either have done together or Pete might have done because I’d be busy working. Just getting on with it without overthinking has meant that I have a sense of achievement, and I’ve accomplished quite a lot in a short time. For me, putting things off would have led to me thinking I couldn’t do it, so I’ve dived right in. What’s the worst that could happen?
12. Saying no is ok. I’ve had so many invitations to go out and do things, which is lovely, but sometimes I just want to be at home and not have to socialise. Friends understand this and are not offended if I tell them I’m staying at home.
13. Conversely, forcing yourself to do something when you may not really feel like can also be good.
14. It’s important to get the right balance. I’ve had a year of not working face to face with people. It would be so tempting to throw myself back into full-time work at 100mph but I’m really not ready for it. So, pacing myself has been my biggest challenge. Training myself to say ‘no’ is pretty much impossible, so instead, I’ve opted for, ‘not yet’ and so far everyone has been ok with that. I’m aware that this is a privilege of working for myself. The downside is that there will be less money coming in, but I think it will be a price worth paying in the short term because we all need to be there for each other right now.
It’s early days
15. Grief can be really tiring. Debilitatingly so. This is frustrating but the best thing to do is just accept it and rest.
16. You can be rumbling along quite nicely, and able to talk about all sorts of really difficult stuff without shedding a tear, then the most ridiculous thing will floor you out of the blue and you won’t be able to speak for a while.
17. Pete’s absence is a presence. This is the thing that I’ve found most striking. I’ve been used to working away for a few years now, I’m also used to Pete being at work and then in and out of the hospital so not always being at home. But since his death, his absence has become a presence in our house. I feel it when I wake up in our bed alone, I feel it when I walk into the empty house after dropping Hannah at school, I feel it when the girls have gone to take the dog for a walk. It’s almost tangible. I wonder if I will get used to it. It doesn’t disturb me; in a way I find it oddly comforting.
18. Getting a dog has been a life saver – I appreciate not everyone can do it, but I’m so glad we could. In my head I can hear Pete joking about, “being replaced by a bloody dog” but our pup has brought a great deal of joy to our house when we’re all tremendously sad, and that’s priceless.
19. It’s early days in the journey. I haven’t yet fallen apart but that doesn’t mean I won’t and if I do, I know I have some good people around me to help put me back together again. I know, because Pete told me, that he wanted me to go on and live life to the full. So that’s what I’m trying to do, one day at a time.
20. You have to keep on keeping on, because there isn’t an alternative, so you may as well make the most of it!
Our thanks go to Ruth for allowing us to share her story at Yorkshire Bylines. We know that so many people have benefited from reading this blog and taking the journey with her. Sending her all our love and best wishes.