That instinctively doesn't sound right does it? Over the course of the past few weeks I've read extensively about bereavement, and coping with the loss of a partner. And one subject that seem to be rarely addressed is the sense of loss the surviving partner experiences for the sexual relationship we enjoyed with our loved one.
I can see why this is. In our memory of them, our natural need to remember and celebrate the positive aspects of our partner, they become idealised, almost sanctified. The ritual of mourning serves to strengthen this further; the tributes from family, friends and colleagues, the memorial service, the way in which, for those with faith, or at least hope of faith, God and the Church become almost the intermediary between us and our partners as we begin to communicate with them, or about them, through prayer and worship and hope for heavenly happiness.
There is a wonderful purity about this remembrance. Yet our real life relationships with our partners were built on more human, more messy and down to earth emotion, need and love. And however much it might jar now, part of that was about the physical relationship. The screensaver on my laptop is a photo of Louise and myself taken at my sister's house at Christmas a couple of years ago. Its one of my favourite photos of Louise because it captures her at her most beautiful and radiant. I love the way that she had her hair that day, she was wearing a dress that always made me fancy her like mad and her smile perfectly captured her kindness and gentleness. I look at it now and I feel a deep craving for her.
This almost feels wrong, inappropriate. As if it risks spoiling the purity of my love because of baser human need. Yet its a reality. As I suppose is the case in all good marriages after the passing of the initial high intensity passion, sex was, for us, primarily an expression of our love for each other. It was about warmth, tenderness and togetherness. I know that Louise would express it in that way. There can nothing to be ashamed about in this.
And there is nothing to be ashamed about in having continuing longing and desires for our partners. We are only human and our needs and emotions don't die with our loved one. They survive with us. This is only natural, perhaps particularly so in the case of suicide. We didn't decide to divorce or separate. there was no loss of love. We didn't choose to be parted from each other ('choice' in suicide implies a free will that surely cannot exist alongside the torment and desperation of the darkest of depression). Nor was there a long period of physical illness prior to our partner's death which perhaps accustomed us to a lack of physicality in our lives. Our loss was involuntary and sudden. Our feelings for our partner remain intact, perhaps they are even heightened by the intensity of our emotional state as we experience bereavement.
In the immediate aftermath we are so shocked, so numbed, that perhaps there is no room for any thoughts about the physical relationship. They are crowded out by too many other things. At least, that was the way it was for me. But as the weeks go by its inevitable that we become aware that amongst all the other loss, the warmth and love and togetherness of our physical relationship is now also denied us. What was once ours is now completely unattainable.
I have no answer to this. I am confused about how I should feel and deal with it. It feels slightly shocking and wrong to learn that I can have an intense physical attraction and desire for somebody who is dead. Yet at the same time its entirely right and appropriate because its another expression of my continuing love for Louise, another compliment to my wonderful wife. It reminds me yet again, as if I needed further reminding, that Louise's loss truly and deeply affects every single facet of my existence and every single need and emotion. And it also presents problems and dilemmas that I had never previously imagined but are now real, urgent and bewildering.