Grief is the price you pay for love​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

 Tottie Aarvold.

My husband Peter died nearly 4 years ago and I am still grieving. He was given a prognosis of 2 years when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but he lived for 13 years. You would think that so many years of living with someone dying would prepare you for his death but it still came as a terrible shock. It’s like your rational brain knows what is happening but your emotional brain goes into total denial. Rather like childbirth, nothing can prepare you.

The week following his death was filled with funeral arrangements and paperwork, it was manic and unreal….then nothing. I kept on expecting him to come round the corner; I still do.
I found it very difficult when people didn’t acknowledge my husband’s death or avoided me. Even if they didn’t know what to say they could have just given me a hug. I needed people to be there for me, to let me cry or laugh, to let me talk about him, I still need that now. I learnt who my real friends were – some people I had known all my life stayed away and others I hardly knew were very supportive. I appreciated the kindness of strangers, the bear hugs and the letters (even if they made me cry). I had never lived on my own before and it terrified me – I thought I would go to bed and stay there with the curtains closed until I too stopped breathing. My family and friends kept me going, they organised my life when I couldn’t. Even though I often didn’t want to, I carried on living because I have two amazing children who had already lost so much and who I love beyond measure.

I got through each day, sometimes by the hour. I made myself do things, go out, keep busy. I managed to keep going to Art College, which gave me structure, deadlines, something else to think about and people to be with. All my art work is still about loss, I can’t seem to get away from it.

After Peter died my concentration and memory were terrible, I couldn’t take things in. I found it hard to read a book, I would watch a TV programme and couldn’t tell you what on earth it was about. My world became very small, I was in a bubble. I would spend hours wasting time on games on my ipad, anything to take my mind off things. I began using Facebook, I needed to see that there was life out there, that if people liked my posts they were somehow acknowledging I existed. Pathetic I know, but it helped. It helped me see that I too could have happy moments worth posting about. I found being outside in nature was my good place to be. I needed something in my diary every day, some reason to get dressed, somebody to meet up with, I still need that.

There is no right way to grieve, no right way to feel. I felt every emotion under the sun, I cried and laughed hysterically (often at the same time), I sometimes felt I was going mad (grief is a kind of madness), I felt numb then overwhelmed, that there was no hope then felt really positive, exhausted then full of energy. I learnt that all these feelings are ok and necessary. I needed to ‘feel’ it, not avoid it or deny it although that felt like a good idea at the time. I went to see a Cruse counsellor which did help me get things out that I didn’t want to burden others with, especially those who were also grieving. I still have support from the hospice social worker which has been invaluable. I learnt not to be afraid to ask for help, that I didn’t always need to be brave.

Right now I can’t imagine being with anyone else, I would certainly need to buy new underwear! The thought of dating horrifies me. I hope that one day I will want to meet someone to share the rest of my life with. When your partner dies people say “You can do what you want now”, but what is the point if you can’t go home and tell someone about what you have done, share it?

I felt very strongly that I needed to do what was right for me and my family, to do things at my own pace. Everyone meant well with their advice, but I had to follow my gut feelings. I waited a long time before I could take my husband’s clothes to a charity shop, buy a new sofa, one he‘d never sat on. I am only now starting to redecorate rooms in my house, to make changes he will never see.  Nearly four years on I still feel stuck in grief, but I have survived. I am still waiting for time to heal, but I am not sure that will ever happen. In some ways I don’t want to heal, I don’t want to forget. I have learnt to accept it, live with it, carry on. The desperation has become more like a containable constant ache.

I think about him every day, sometimes every hour still and when it hits me it still hurts like hell, still floors me but I now know I will get up again. The clocks stopped the day he died and a new life restarted, life does go on. I have learnt that love and laughter are the most important things in life and I am surrounded with both. I am beginning to see a future, a future watching my children, step-children and grandchildren grow. A future laughing with friends, going travelling and making art. A future that he will be part of because he is part of me and always will be.
Winnie the Pooh said  “If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together.. there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart.. I'll always be with you.”

He had wanted to die at home and we managed that with the help of wonderfully supportive family, friends and nurses. The evening he died, the house was full of the people he loved most. I helped the nurse gently wash his body which was very moving and felt like my last act of love. I slept with him that night, I wanted some time in peace, just the two of us. It felt right, his body, though cold, still felt like him. The next evening I had to be persuaded to let the undertakers come, I didn’t want him to be taken away, “this is where he belongs, this is his home”. Seeing him zipped into a black plastic bag was horrendous – that’s when it hit me “he is dead”. I went to see him several times in the chapel of rest,  I sat and cried, talked to him, put his favourite things in his coffin – his glasses, crosswords and pencil, a can of red bull, a bar of wholenut chocolate and some superglue (he liked to mend things). He wore his oldest jeans, his favourite waistcoat and dog chewed shoes.​​

Have I mentioned that I loved him? Well, I did – he wasn’t perfect, we’d had hard times but also so much laughter. We had been together since I was 18, my whole adult life. It had often been ‘us against the World’, now it would be me alone. I didn’t know how to do that.

We had been together since I was 18. Now it would be me alone.  I didn't know how to do that.​​​​​
We talk about Peter all the time, we laugh, we blame things on him! He is still part of our everyday lives. The house is full of things he made, his coat is still hanging by the door. People say I should move house, but why would I? He is still here. I keep finding bits of paper with his writing on, but now rather than making me cry they give me comfort. I talk to him every day sitting on his bench, I tell him that I love him. I still have the duvet from when he died and I used to wrap myself up in it and weep, I haven’t done that for a while. I find bedtime the loneliest, that empty space beside me a constant reminder.
I still feel married to him, I still wear my wedding rings and his. I still say ‘us’ and ‘ours’. But what is my identity now? What is my role in life? Fundamentally I am on my own, I have total responsibility for everything – my children, my animals and my home. Sometimes that feels too much, but then I realise how much I have learnt to do for myself and feel a sense of achievement. I have learnt how to use the tractor lawnmower, a drill, what days the bins go out!  

I still feel married to him, I still wear my wedding rings and his.  I still say 'us' and 'ours'.  But what is my identity now?