The Six-Month Low
I know I have already said that grief will come and go over a long period of time, but in terms of what to prepare for, I feel I have to mention the six-month low. Six months is the time that people will start to leave you to get on with it, because they think that you must be over the worst. But six months is precisely the time that you need them most. It is the moment when the understanding that you are really alone finally hits home – big style.
You may well feel suicidal, you may well feel helpless in the face of what fate has dealt you, you may want to go out and find a totally unsuitable man, just so that you don’t have to be alone anymore. And if you do choose to get laid by a married man because he’s a sure thing and he only lives around the corner, then nothing I say will prevent that. What I can say is that at some point around this time you might find yourself reaching the limits of your emotional resources.
You will probably have noticed that your telephone is strangely silent in the evenings, where once it rang all the time. This leaves you with a lot of time to think – and thinking is a dangerous thing for a widow. When you have nothing to distract you, you will start to dwell on all the myriad implications of your enforced solitude. Soon the silence will stop being refreshing and start becoming oppressive.
You will find that Father’s Day lasts for a fortnight, and that everywhere you go there will be ideas for gifts that you still think about but can no longer buy. And just as the world is peopled by babies, for women who are struggling to conceive, so your world is now filled with couples, strolling hand in hand, stopping to kiss and touch each other. You will long to be kissed, you will long to be held, you will long to pick his socks up off the floor and iron his shirts. But all you can do is watch and wish your time away.
But you still need an answer. You will want to find something to help you understand why he died. You will be desperate to know if there was anything that you could have done which might have prolonged his life. You are entitled to see his medical records, and if you ask to see them then your doctor is duty-bound to hand them over to you. And if your husband died in a road accident then you will want to know if there was any way that it could have been prevented.
It is at this time that you might start to feel guilt. It is irrational and damaging to harbour feelings of guilt about the death of your husband, but you will feel it all the same. The guilt may take several forms; you might hate yourself for not giving him a hug before he left for work, not knowing that you would never have the chance to hug him again. You might blame yourself for the fact that he worked so hard and ended up dying of a coronary. You might wish that you’d been with him in hospital when he died, instead of sleeping at home with your children. You will go back in time and wish that certain things had not happened the way they had; you will try desperately to think of ways that could have made a difference to the final outcome.
And when you are tired of searching, when you are tired of wishing, you may think about stopping it all and joining the man you love. You will give in totally to the feeling of hopelessness and you will wish that you were dead. With all your heart you will wish it, but as long as you are a mother, as long as you have friends and family that care about you, something in your head will tell you that you cannot leave – that you have to stay.
You have touched bottom.
You have gone as low as you can go without actually killing yourself, and when you recognise that you have reached the limits of your endurance, only then will you will begin your recovery.
There is no blame to be apportioned, no secret formula that would have prolonged your husband’s life, but because you have nobody to blame, you will end up blaming yourself. It is hard to be thankful when life seems so hopeless, but if you try and focus on the happiness that you brought your husband, rather than all the things that you didn’t do, then you might start to see things differently.
I spent a long time blaming myself for so many things. I tried to piece together all of the important events which helped to shape the outcome of Charlie’s life, and then looked at the role that I had played. If only I had made Charlie visit the doctor when he began to feel unwell; if only he hadn’t been born with a leaking heart valve; if only he hadn’t succumbed to such a virulent virus; if only we had been able to enjoy a few more years together; if only Alice could remember her daddy. If only I had been able to tell him just how much I loved him as he lay dying.
With my last breath I would have done it. With my last breath I would have whispered my love for him. But I couldn’t whisper to him, all I could do was shout a God with every ounce of my strength for taking that man from me.
It wasn’t fair. Life isn’t fair, and nor is death.
You can spend the rest of your life trying to find answers, you can spend the rest of your life wishing things had been different.
But wishing won’t bring your husband back.
Nothing will bring him back to you, and the only way you will ever move on is if you can learn to accept what has happened.
You must stop wishing and start living.
I no longer blame myself. I believe that all things are meant; that some people are destined to die young and that we must be thankful if we have had the chance to love and be loved, for however short a time.
Forgiving myself took time and was only possible once I had plumbed the depths of my grief. Watching ‘Truly, Madly, deeply’ and drinking a whole bottle of Rioja certainly help that process, and I recommend it as the precursor to a really good rant at God for being so unfair. Once you have ranted, shouted and screamed at whosoever you feel like shouting at, then you will feel so much better. Just try not to do it in the supermarket, or on the bus, or people might mistake you for some kind of mentalist.
The recovery process is hard, but coming up out of depression is much easier than going down into it. It is a long, slow process, but once you have made the decision to look to the future, you will find it much easier to accept the past.