The night that Louise died about the only thing that I grasped straight away was that my life had just been turned upside down. Nothing would ever be the same again. All the certainties were gone.
I had spent years uncertain of my future, always waiting and hoping at any moment to meet the right woman, somebody with whom I could settle down for the rest of my life. That, and only that, would determine where I lived and how I lived the rest of my days. With Louise I had found that certainty and the security that goes with it. It wasn't as if we had intricate long term plans but the framework was in place and the detail would look after itself. I knew that we were going to spend the rest of our lives in the house we had bought together, settling into the area and community to make it our own. I knew roughly what our financial position was likely to be as the years progressed and when semi retirement might be feasible. I knew who I would be living my life with, the family that I would be part of and what kind of lifestyle I would have - I knew the types of holidays we would have, the plays we would go to watch, the type of activities we would do together, who our friends would be. I knew because it would be more of the same.
Of course I didn't really explicitly think in those terms, or rarely so. You only tend to think about what the future holds when it can no longer be taken for granted. But unconsciously I had the security, for the first time, of knowing what my life would be and could take confidence and purpose from it. Over time our individual lives had slowly merged together and after 4 1/2 years (its indicative of what a short time we had together that I always include the half year) we had developed a joint existence, a merged identity. After a lot of hard work we were beginning to establish a common past and looking forward to a common future. We revelled in that oneness. And then that common future crumbled in the split second it took me to see the unusual way the lights had been left on as I approached the house that January evening and knew as a consequence exactly what had happened.
At that point everything that I thought I knew disappeared. My long term horizon shrunk from decades to minutes. Far from planning a home for the rest of my life I didn't even know where I would be staying in the coming days, what those days would look like, who I would spend them with or how I would get through them.
More than two months on there is at least some semblance of short term structure. I'm feeling comfortable enough around the house to be able to think of staying here for the time being. In fact at the moment its so important for me to be surrounded by the home we built together, which represents that common past, that it would take a crow bar to loosen my grip on it. I'm back at work and have a few entries in my social diary over the next few weeks. I have an offer of holiday with some of Louise's relatives in the summer. Its a start.
But the medium to long term future is completely unresolved. I can make no assumptions about where I will be, what I will be doing, who, if anybody, I will be with and what the shape, pace and texture of my life will be. People advise me not too look too far forward, that things will resolve themselves over time. Of course they are right but I can't help myself. I am walking through a wilderness and I need to be able to lift my head and see something in the future that makes this journey worthwhile, to give me hope and inspiration. But right now nothing is settled. I don't know how long I will be comfortable living in my house, how quickly it might turn from comforting sanctuary into a silent, stark reminder. As if to prevent myself from getting too confident I spent one evening recently suddenly petrified of the prospect of flashbacks and visions, terrified to move in my own home. It was just one evening but many more like that and things would become untenable. It was a glimpse into what things could be like.
I've no idea at this stage how I will adapt to being on my own. Up until now the quiet evenings alone have not been so bad. I've always quite enjoyed my own company and I've tried to treat every evening in isolation, pretending that its no different to those occasional evenings when Louise was out and I found pleasure in pottering about on my own. But its already becoming wearing day after day closing the front door when I get home from work and knowing that I won't see anybody again until the following morning. So how will I adapt? Will I flourish as a singleton, maintain sensible routines, develop new hobbies and interests, find myself joining groups and activities, broaden my horizons and experiences, or will I sink, lose the discipline of structure and withdraw into myself?
Not only do I not know what I will be doing, I don't know who I will be doing it with. I think and hope that I will always remain a part of Louise's family. Relationships were always good and have been further strengthened as we have tried to face these last couple of months together. I am very grateful for their support and the most practical way in which I can now help Louise is to stand in turn by her family, especially our nephews and nieces who represent a precious genetic link to her. I became their Uncle when I met Louise and will always remain so.
But will I be able to maintain contact with Louise's friends? I very much hope so. Not only are they rewarding people to know in their own right, but they also represent a valuable link to her, particularly those who go back many years into her student and school days. I may not be able to build new memories of Louise going forward but perhaps I can create new ones by reaching back into her past, before I met her, to live those times with her vicariously through the recollections of her friends.
And then there is possibly the biggest unknown of all. Will I eventually meet anybody else? I yearn desperately to do so one day and yet also recoil from the thought in horror. The only real balm I can think of to soothe my pain is to find a new relationship in time, to know again what it is like to love and be loved, to experience the simple pleasure of coming home from work to somebody who cares about me and allows me to care about them. Louise, in her farewell letter, willed me to do so, which should mean that I can think in these terms without guilt. But of course I can't. I am currently no more ready or able to betray my love for Louise by forming a relationship with another woman than I would have been had she still been alive. Louise is still my wife and always will be. I never for one moment wanted or needed another woman. The thought of sharing my home and bed with somebody else or removing my wedding ring repels me. Nobody, at present, would be able to bear comparison with Louise and I could not currently conceive of a relationship which looked and felt different from the one I have valued so much.
But the human heart has an infinite capacity for love and I have to hold on to the thought that at some indeterminate point in the future I will be able to move on from this, reconcile my continuing love for Louise with love for another and be in a place where I can recognise somebody for their own unique virtues, not how closely they can resemble Louise. If I am then lucky enough to find the right person, somebody who will allow me to continue to openly hold and honour Louise, I am immediately propelled into a whole new world in an unknown location with unknown family and an unknown lifestyle. Having long since accepted that my life would be without children, and become accustomed to both the welcome freedoms and the emptiness which that brings, I may even find that this new world changes even those certainties and completely reframes my understanding of what a relationship looks like. I am slowly and sadly beginning to understand that even if I do meet somebody else it will still be impossible to recreate what I once had with Louise. Things may be just as good in their own terms but they can never be the same.
I have a blank canvas, the opportunity to remake myself. But I don't want it. I spent years adapting myself to fit the relationship with Louise. It was hard work at times, stretching and challenging me to develop in all sorts of positive ways I could never have forseen. I did it successfully and loved the rewards it brought but I do not currently have the energy to start all over again. So the future opens up in front of me cold, frightening, uninviting, unknown. Its an odd feeling for somebody in their mid 40's who should be, and was, settled in life. I have almost no structure to cling on to and don't know where I am headed. I will find a way but I haven't a clue what it will be.