Monday, 23 February 2015

Carry on Breathing

My apologies to anybody who may have come to this site in the hope that it would contain tributes to Sid James, Kenneth Williams or Hattie Jacques. I am afraid that you will be disappointed. Much as I loved the 'Carry On' series as a child the  reference to Carry on Breathing in the blog title relates not to a previously undiscovered Ealing Comedy Classic but the best advice I have so far come across for dealing with the immediate aftermath of the suicide of your partner.

People often advise those who have experienced bereavement to 'take each day as it comes'. Its a well worn and well intentioned mantra which is no doubt useful further down the path in the long road to be travelled. But its actually wholly inadequate for the lightening bolt shock of the early days and weeks.

As I sat in the ambulance outside my house on the night I came home to discover that Louise had taken her life, being fussed over by kindly paramedics and questioned apologetically and gently by Police Officers, my mind was a swirling, reeling mix of thoughts and worries, some with enormous implications, some ludicrously trivial, some coherent, some not, some justified, some not. All I could really take in was that my life had been transformed, utterly and irrevocably, in an instant. I had gone to work in the morning with a wonderful, physically fit 40 year old wife, the financial security that comes from two very respectable salaries, a modest but pleasant home which felt safe and secure and a future life which seemed set to take a predictable path involving more of the same that we had enjoyed together over the previous 4 1/2 years.

Now, in the time it took me to read the note Louise left for me on the front door, trying to protect me, warning me to call the emergency services before entering the house and not to come in alone, everything was gone. I couldn't even begin at that stage to take in the enormity of Louise's death, the emotional torment and physical pain she had suffered and the fact that I would never see her again. Exactly one month on I still haven't properly processed any of that. But even in my stupor I was able to realise that nothing would ever be the same again, that all the certainties had been overturned and replaced with a complete void. The short term was as unknowable as the long term.

In these circumstances a day was an impossibly distant horizon. I had no idea how I would get from one minute to the next, let alone think in hours. The next fortnight to the funeral crept by in similar fashion, one heart wrenching, inconceivable trauma after another; the night without sleep on my sisters sofa, the return home the following day, the first night in bed without Louise alongside me, the phone calls to inform family and friends, the visit to the undertakers to arrange the funeral, dealing with the Coroners, the day of the post mortem and the knowledge of what was happening to Louise's wonderful body which I had held and loved so many times, the final visit to say goodbye the day prior to the funeral and then the service at the Crematorium and subsequent Memorial Service.

Each of these events, and the overwhelming sensations of grief, loss, guilt and bewilderment, needed to be endured, or at least survived. For once in my life the internet couldn't present a solution. No matter how many Google searches I undertook, none would be able to bring Louise back, allow us to do the 23rd January differently.

But I did stumble across a coping mechanism. I forget now where so unfortunately I can't attribute it. The advice, however, was simply to keep breathing. This instantly made sense. When everything is too much, too complicated, just too enormous to deal with all you need to do is concentrate on breathing. Its simple, even I was capable of that. Breath once, then again and again and gradually the minutes, hours and days would pass on their own. There was no need to go out and meet them. They would happen of their own accord and come to you. No pressure, no expectation just the steady passage of time as you travel through the eye of the storm.

I can't pretend that that this was transformative, that it made the process bearable. Of course it didn't. But it did provide me, for the first time since the already far distant and untouchable golden days before the 23rd January, with at least an illusion of control over events. A tool to help me get by. A tiny, hopelessly inadequate tool, but a tool nevertheless and for that I was extremely grateful.

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