Saturday, 10 September 2016

A Candle of Hope

Every year the Samaritans publish a grim document; an annual review of suicide statistics in the UK. The latest edition reveals that there were 6,122 recorded suicides across the four home nations in 2014. Globally, the World Health Organisation estimates that around 800,000 people die by suicide each year.

Numbers of this magnitude are hard to relate to without being broken down into a more meaningful scale. Put another way, we can say that Louise's tragedy is repeated across the country approximately 16-17 times every single day and around the world every 40 seconds. In the time it takes you to read this blog post another four or five people will have killed themselves. But even these statistical devices do not begin to convey the real impact of suicide. The raw numbers represent thousands of individual stories of despair, thousands of lost hopes and dreams. Thousands of people who did not want to die but felt that they were unable to live any longer.

Friday, 12 August 2016

The End of the Beginning - Life in Year Two

I'd been trying all summer to leave work early enough to enable me to catch some Friday evening cricket at The Oval and now I had finally managed to do so. Sitting bathed in the mid summer sunshine, absorbing the laughter and high spirits of 23,000 spectators all around me, out to enjoy themselves at the start of that rarest of things, a sizzling hot weekend, I was overcome by a sense of liberation, even elation. 18 months almost to the day since Louise's death, my head was clear of the constant churn of thoughts that has occupied it for so long now. The tinnitus of grief had abated. In that moment, at least, I was relaxed and happy. More than that; I no longer felt such a separation from those around me. Their world was, once more, mine too. I could enjoy it as they were. It felt like a profound re-connection with normality.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Living with Death

Even as I stood staring up at Louise's body, numbed, bewildered, shocked and silently screaming in despair, I somehow found space in my brain to recognise the irony of the situation. In the course of her professional career Louise had seen, examined and dissected numerous dead bodies. Death was, to her, an unremarkable commonplace. While I returned home from work on an evening and talked over the dinner table of office politics, Louise might casually mention a death certificate she had signed or a patient with a terminal diagnosis as if it was no more important, and possibly less so, than my trivia. I came to understand that this normalisation of death and tragedy was not callous disregard for the suffering of fellow humans but a necessary coping mechanism common to all doctors. But now here was I encountering death close up for the very first time - and it was on a far more personal and horrific scale than anything Louise had ever witnessed herself. Now it would be me that needed to develop a similar coping mechanism.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The Book I Never Wanted to Have to Write


'Just Carry on Breathing - a year surviving suicide and widowhood', containing the collated content of the blog and much new material is available to purchase online now, in paperback and ebook form  (It is also available in the US on Amazon.com)

The book is raising money for two worthy causes close to my heart. All my royalties will be donated to WAY Widowed & Young, a charity which supports those widowed under the age of 50 and the Louise Tebboth Foundation, the charity established in my wife's memory to assist doctors at risk of suicide.  

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Grief Work

As I sat huddled in a foetal position on the floor of the ambulance the night that Louise died, I had no conception of what the future held. Everything that I knew about it, without exception, had been stripped away from me. I was staring into a void, both bewildering and terrifying for its complete lack of form. Five minutes was an impossibly distant and unknowable horizon. I had no clue what was going to happen once the paramedics and police had finished speaking to me, never mind where or how I was going to live from now on.

Friday, 26 February 2016

A Touch of Comfort

For a brief moment the dull but ever present ache of loneliness abated. Standing embracing a fellow widow in a prolonged hug of mutual understanding and support as we said farewell after meeting for coffee, I allowed myself to become lost in the sheer warmth and reassurance of the physical contact, momentarily snuggling into her and remembering all over again the pleasure of once more holding and being held by a woman, even if only platonically. Embarrassingly, the relief was so strong that I let out an involuntary low groan of sheer contentment. 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Longest Year

My Sweetheart, it's now exactly a year since the fog swirling around in your mind became so dense that it obscured all hope, a year since you took what you saw as the only practical solution open to you in order to ease the pain. It's a year since we cuddled up to each other in bed, a year since I heard you tell me that you love me, a year since I saw your smile, felt your touch or shared your presence. It's a year since I last read to you, made you your favourite cup of mint tea or massaged away the tensions of your day. It's been the longest year of my life, one in which I have hurt over you more than I ever thought it was possible to hurt, cried over you more than I ever thought it was possible to cry and loved you more than I ever thought it was possible to love.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

For Auld Lang Syne

The beat of the music from open air concerts on the trendy Waterfront district was interrupted by fireworks soaring into the air against the awe inspiring backdrop of Table Mountain and the drunken cheers of the sweltering crowds of locals and tourists densely thronging the streets and packing the quayside bars and restaurants. Cape Town was celebrating the arrival of the New Year with a carnival vibe and I found myself wondering whether or not to join everybody in welcoming it in or to regret the passing of the old year.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Making New Memories

I bought a mug last weekend. An unremarkable, cheap souvenir of a short continental city break. The kind that can be found in kitchens all over the country. But this particular mug represents something profound, something of incalculable value, something so unexpected that it has almost floored me. It symbolises the creation of new memories and in doing so marks the first genuine proof that this new life can still be worth living.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Pushing the Boundaries

Take a deep breath and keep on walking. Focus on the far side of the bridge. Don't glance at the spot where we had our photo taken after one of our first visits to the theatre together and where others are now posing for the camera. Don't think about the Whitehall Gardens immediately behind me, where we decided to give things another try after a short break up in the early days. Try not to look at the glittering night time panorama of London, sweeping across the Thames and taking in St Pauls Cathedral, the distant behemoths of the Square Mile and across to the Shard, the Oxo Tower and the South Bank.  Our skyline. Our city. Ignore the couples walking hand in hand, huddling together against the cold. Hand the beggar a pound because Louise would always do so. Choke back the welling tears and make it across.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Receiving Signs?

Perhaps Louise is closer to me than I dared hope. Barely a week after writing about the lack of signs, I left the house this morning to discover a small white feather sitting nestled between her muddy walking boots which still sit in our outer porch.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Waiting for Signs

I had resisted the temptation for months until finally I cracked. Sitting under the trees around which Louise's ashes were scattered, in a moment of desperation I choked back the tears for long enough to ask her for a sign, an indication that she was in heaven and that she was happy.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Maintaining Standards

When we moved into our current home the one luxury purchase that we allowed ourselves was a large and ever so slightly stylish dining room table. This was the house we were going to live in for the rest of our lives and we envisaged many years of entertaining large gatherings of family and friends. The rooms would be full of people we loved and admired and the walls would ring to the sound of their conversation and laughter. Now, even while the hopes and ambition mock me, that same dining room table is something of a symbol of my determination not to collapse into chaos.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Beginnings and Transitions

Its not often that I compare myself to a Roman God. In fact I am reasonably certain that I've never done so before, nor will I ever do so again. But at this particular moment in time there is something of a connection to a classical deity, albeit a rather unheroic one. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Changing Seasons

I remember the snow so vividly. I had been waiting impatiently for it all winter and now, as I stood in the middle of the road outside the house listening to the approaching emergency sirens draw ever closer, I noticed it had finally arrived. Just the lightest of flurries but nonetheless beautiful and mesmerising as it fell gently and silently. Even in the very moment that my world was falling apart I somehow managed to register the irony that it should do so in conditions which on any other occasion, on any other day, would have given me so much pleasure.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

A Letter on our Special Day

I haven't written to you Sweetheart since my reply to your farewell letter. The tear soaked one that I somehow managed to read out to you while sitting next to your coffin in the undertakers, stroking your hair for the last time. The one that accompanied you on your final journey. I haven't really needed to write. I can talk to you at any time, no matter where I am. But today is special.  This time four years ago we were walking on the clouds. It was the happiest moment of our lives. The day that we became man and wife. Our East End wedding.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The Bravest Act

Louise was normally a confident passenger, happy to sleep while I was driving long distances. But on this occasion she couldn't settle and sat watching the road ahead anxiously. It was 2am and we were driving a strange hire car in the dark on unfamiliar Sicilian motorways, returning to our holiday villa a couple of hours south after a long, happy but tiring day trip to Mount Etna and the chic resort of Taormina. I was tired, feeling unwell and driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. Louise was alert to the risk of an accident. Three months before she took her life her will to live, her instinctive desire for survival was strong. This was not somebody who treated life carelessly. She valued it and did not want to die.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Standstill

I've been kidding myself in recent weeks. Proud of my strength and resilience I had begun to believe that I had mastered grief, that I was exempt from the setbacks and continuing struggles experienced by others. I was beginning to find living tolerable again and, trying hard to think positively, even to sense hope and opportunity.  I know the theory. I've read the books, talked at length to those further on in this journey than myself.  I should have known better. Grief might temporarily relax its hold but it doesn't give it up that easily. It merely changes its grip, alters its character. 

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Help Along the WAY

An image sprang in to my mind the other day. It was of one of the iconic pieces of Great War film footage so often replayed on television; grainy and rudimentary newsreel coverage of injured troops, all of them blinded, marching unsteadily, their hands outstretched holding on to the shoulder of their comrade in front. None of them could see but despite their incapacity they were each able to help others suffering similarly. And by this means everybody was able to make the same journey along the road to safety. It struck me that there were parallels to be drawn with the young widowed community, a group of vulnerable, grieving but immensely resilient men and women groggily but generously helping each other through the most shattering of experiences.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Letting Go of Grief

At every point in this journey through grief I face loss. Louise's death represented not the end of the process but the beginning. The bewildering and shocking loss of her physical presence is reinforced and multiplied by hundreds, thousands, of smaller but still significant deaths. Whenever something which was part of her life, which stood as a proxy for her existence on this planet, her part in my life, disappears I mourn all over again. When I throw away her favourite food, cancel her driving licence, remove her toothbrush from the bathroom, I experience another break with the past. I take a further painful step away from the person, and the life, that I loved so much. But there is a loss which is rarely recognised as such; the loss of grief.