Louise's death provides me with a new reference point from which I measure the passage of time and my own personal development. In a sense a new self was born on 23rd January; wiser, sadder, hopefully more gentle, loving and understanding and with different ambitions and goals to the one that had existed before. There is no other single event in my life which has so defined and reshaped me - and will no doubt continue to do so in ways which I cannot currently imagine.
I have become used to thinking of this new life in terms of weeks - three weeks since Louise died, four, five, six....But now I am surprised to realise that its two months. I'm not quite sure how I've managed to get to this point, the time seems both to have crawled and sped along. And whilst in some respects I welcome the distance that is now emerging between that hideous day and the present, the protective barrier that time erects, I am also deeply saddened by it because it represents an ever growing distance between Louise and myself.
It's an odd stage to be at. The all consuming patterns of grief, shock and mourning in the early days are clear, as are the expectations that some sort of recovery, of new normality, will have asserted itself several months down the line. But at this point, I'm stuck somewhere in the middle. Everything is still fresh and raw but different pattern and ways of thinking are beginning to emerge.
The collective hug, the love bombing, which I experienced in the time between Louise's death and the funeral from family, friends and almost complete strangers has ended. No more sympathy cards come through the door. Most of my email is, once more, spam. People remain, by and large, very supportive, a small handful, to whom I shall be grateful for the rest of my life, exceptionally so. I have been very lucky with mine - and Louise's - friends and family.
But nevertheless life inevitably and understandably moves on for others and I am aware of an inequality of grief. Whereas initially all of us connected with Louise were in a state of shock most people have now been able to resume their lives with relatively little daily impact. That is, of course, completely impossible for me. I remain stuck way behind, still on the starting line of the race for recovery. I'm still in shock, still mourning albeit perhaps in different and less intense ways from the very early days.
The outward signs of acute shock, the shivering and nausea, have gone, my appetite is largely restored. I am beginning to re-engage with the world around me. I am going to my club's football matches, watching a little cricket on TV, browsing websites for the new camera lenses I have promised to treat myself to, and am beginning to plan a holiday. I have even begun my phased return to work. Now, for periods in the day I feel very little. There is obviously no happiness but neither is there necessarily an overwhelming sense of sadness or despair. I function, albeit with little energy, and can deal with simple day to day transactions. I find myself thinking 'I can live this life - it won't be so bad'.
I have surprised myself by how relatively comfortable I am around the house. It still feels like my home and I am increasingly confident even in and around the hallway. Sometimes I am even brave enough to turn the bedroom light off at night. It feels like a place where I can stay. That, at least, is one part of my short to medium term future decided.
In short I'm getting by. I'm doing Ok, or at least as well as could reasonably be expected. The days come to me and I deal with them, which is all I can manage at present.
But the pain and sadness doesn't go away. It just takes different forms, one where the inner hurt is less outwardly apparent. I am tired and lethargic, everything seems such an effort. I frequently carry a knotted, twisted gnawing ache in the pit of my stomach. For the first time in my life I suffer from night sweats - my pillow is soaked by the time I wake up every morning. It is not a case of whether I will break down and cry each day but when. Usually it happens two or three times a day. I may think that I'm coping well but suddenly find myself overwhelmed by grief and break down in tears. Sometimes there are obvious triggers - a photo, a memory, sight of an object around the house, sitting down to eat at the dining room table on my own - but often there is no apparent reason. It can happen anywhere; in the park while walking my dog, while shaving, in the middle of the shops. Sometimes the tears trickle gently. On other occasions, but much less frequently now, its a tsunami of hysteria which rises from the pit of my stomach, twists and racks my whole body to the extent that I physically writhe around, my mouth wide open screaming noiselessly for what seems like an eternity but is probably only a few minutes.
I am still wrapped in a blanket of numbness and shock. I am missing Louise's presence very badly, but in the kind of way where she might be on holiday and I am expecting her back any moment. I can't accept that she isn't coming back. The concept is too incredible to absorb. I have written the words 'Louise's death' countless times, read and filled out numerous official forms referring to her as 'the late' or 'the deceased' but the words still don't make sense. Its as if they refer to somebody else. It seems like only moments ago that she was standing in front of me, talking, breathing, laughing, loving. Somebody who was so present to me simply cannot be dead.
And I am still overwhelmed by love. I have never known love so intense and pure, so gentle and tender. I always knew that I loved Louise but its only now, when I know what I am missing, that I fully understand exactly how much she meant to me - and still means to me. Sometimes I think that its not so much that I'm mourning, I'm actually loving.
I miss her most at night. Sometimes I make the mistake of turning to look to my left, towards Louise's side of the bed. Nothing drives her absence home more than this void in the middle of the night. During the day there can be all sorts of reasons why Louise isn't around, but not then. The empty side of the bed screams loss. I try not to touch her part of the bed, partly because when I extend my feet out I expect to meet hers, and partly because the sheets feel so cold and obviously unslept on.
I even miss Louise where she wouldn't normally have been found. When I am at work I keep on involuntarily checking my phone, waiting for her regular texts. It strikes me that bereavement would be much easier to bear if the afterlife had sufficiently good 4G signal to at least allow regular text communication with this world. And I would be prepared to bet that in those circumstances Louise's celestial mobile phone would still be the simplest handset possible, with her trademark elastic band round it to hold the battery in place.
Most of the house is still untouched from the day Louise died. Most of her possessions remain where they would normally be, visible and ready for use. All the sympathy cards are still on display, as is the Valentines card that I bought her three weeks after her death. I have found this a great comfort but notice my feelings begin to change. Sometimes now I look at something and shudder. It brings back too many memories. Its only a matter of time before I am compelled to remove some of these items from sight.
For the moment I cope by following little rituals which have unconsciously developed, talking to Louise while walking the dog, kissing her woolly hat left by the front door each time that I go in and out and at intervals in between, hugging the bannisters where I last saw here whenever I am most distressed. And I work incessantly to memorialise her, to capture our relationship for posterity; writing my diary and this blog, creating photobooks, hunting desperately for lost video clips, writing the various obituaries that are falling to me for one diverse publication or another, printing out copies of our texts and emails and all Louise's letters and other significant documents, researching information for the establishment of her charity. I won't rest, or be able to feel as though I can lift my head and properly begin to look forward, until this task is completed.
Two whole months without you Louise. Its really time that you came home now Sweetheart, I love you and I'm missing you so very much.