Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Empty Bed

When I was first grasping for language and imagery which would somehow convey the scale of my loss and grief I tried to describe things by saying that  Louise's death profoundly affected every aspect of my life from the moment I got up to the moment I went to bed. But of course that is only half the story  because it omits the seven or eight hours in between which are the most intimate of any marriage.

In many ways it is precisely the period overnight when the loss of your partner is most obvious and stark. For much of the day it is relatively easy to explain Louise's absence away - she is in another room, at work or out at the shops. We wouldn't normally expect to be together the whole time. But in the middle of the night no such false reassurance can be found. The empty half of the bed to my left screams loss. Where I naturally expect to find the solid, warm and tender presence of Louise's body next to me, now there is just a void. As I stare across at the empty side it almost feels as though I am looking at myself with a limb cut off. Something natural and human which is integral to me isn't any longer where it should be.

Six weeks ago I went to bed with my wonderful wife every evening. The sharing of a bed signified love and togetherness and provided both warmth and comfort. Cold nights were made for snuggling up with each other. Nightmares were soothed instantly upon waking through the reassurance of knowing that Louise was there with me. No harm could come to me. No ghosts or spirits or demons could frighten me when I had my wife by my side.

Now, however, my companions are a hot water bottle to keep me warm and a low nightlight to help me feel secure. Even my dog generally disobligingly refuses to sleep on the bed to provide at least some company. When I wake from a nightmare, not only am I alone, I also remember that its true.

I struggled for a while to establish how to deal with the space next to me. I tried sleeping in the middle of the bed but that simply isn't practical for reaching the bedside table. It also meant moving Louise's pyjamas which, for the first few weeks lay where she had left them, on her pillows. I considered sleeping on Louise's own side of the bed since it would therefore no longer be empty, but this felt too much like crowding her out. I even tried placing a pillow in the bed where Louise lay in order to reduce the sensation of emptiness but if anything this was too effective. Louise often lay on a pillow to prevent twinges in her back and waking up on a morning to find a pillow once more next to me induced a split second illusion of normality which was reassuring for its duration but cruel the moment reality imposed itself.

So now I have accepted that the bed will remain lopsided, with me occupying only my normal half of it. This has its advantages. Most notably, by preserving Louise's half of the bed as distinct and separate it has come to represent the physical focal point for my grieving, a surrogate for a grave. Its my main point of communication with Louise. While I talk to her all the time, when I want to say anything particularly significant I head upstairs and sit on the bed, addressing her side of it.When I wanted to show Louise the DVD of her Memorial Service, to explain to her exactly how loved and well regarded she was by so many people, and to show her my Eulogy, I placed the laptop in front of her pillow and pressed play. When a new photobook of one of our last holidays arrived recently I placed it in the same position and turned the pages to show Louise the entire book. None of this might be rational but, as any number of people have advised me, the key to surviving bereavement is to do whatever it takes to find comfort, no matter how silly it may seem to others.

In time I might come up with a better solution. But it certainly won't be a single bed. This was and is our marital bed and since in my heart I am still very much married to Louise I draw some comfort from continuing to use it. Whilst its true that the emptiness of the bed starkly illustrates our enforced separation it also remains a potent symbol and reminder of our time together and enduring love. It is therefore a place where I can strongly feel (or imagine) Louise's presence. Somehow she manages in the bed to seem both so far away and so close simultaneously.

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