(For Philippe - may the Swallows bring peaceful days with them)
Its 12 weeks today since Louise died. I've stopped counting the individual days but the number of weeks which have passed still comes to me as naturally as breathing. Its become a mark of my identity. I'm not alone. I've noticed that whenever people who are recently widowed gather together in support groups, whether online or in the real world, the passage of time since the loss of our partner is one of our first self descriptors, handy shorthand for the condition we currently find ourselves in, not dissimilar to women in pregnancy. 'I'm at 6/10/12/15 weeks' is often enough to tell others much about our current mental state and ability to deal with the world.
And while all our journeys are different, many people further down the path than myself will highlight the three month mark as perhaps the lowest point. I didn't quite get this initially. How could anything be worse than the blood red raw pain and despair in the immediate aftermath of loss? Well of course its not, but it is a different kind of low. I'm now close enough to the marker to be feeling the same effects and I see the truth in it. Just when I thought, at 10 or so weeks, that I was gaining some kind of control over the situation, the last week has been my toughest since the very early days. There has been more emotion, more tears and a heavier overlay of sadness than I have experienced for some time.
I have been more vulnerable to the slightest trigger. Seeing an advert on TV showing a couple journeying through the stages of life together after successfully applying for a mortgage was enough to induce a 15 minute breakdown. Finding the (still unwritten) Valentines card Louise had bought for me before her death, tucked away safely in her bedside cabinet drawer, left me gasping for breath for a couple of days. After surviving the first couple of weeks back at work without any major breakdowns, almost every day in the last week has seen me rush for the privacy of an empty meeting room, or failing that a toilet cubicle so that I can sob my heart out without alerting the rest of the office. I feel enough of a freak as it is, the person everybody is taking about in hushed tones, without breaking down in front of all my colleagues. But I need to be quick because I usually only have a few seconds warning of what is about to overtake me.
I shouldn't need to ask myself why things are tougher at the moment. I should just accept it and save what little energy I have for getting through. But I'm not Louise's husband for nothing (the present tense will always apply) and just like her I need to analyse why this is a more difficult period.
I'm sure its largely due to the fact that the shock is subsiding and the numbness and disbelief which have acted as my protective shell are therefore beginning to wear off. My brain has allowed itself to begin to process the new reality. The sheer passage of time for which Louise has been absent forces me to begin to accept that she isn't coming back. Things feel more real than they did a few weeks ago. More than ever before I find memories and thoughts of Louise are instantly accompanied by the crushing thought that we will never again do whatever it was I was fondly remembering, whereas previously that same thought was too incomprehensible to absorb.
And at the very same time as I am struggling to deal with this new more exposed and vulnerable self, the external support dwindles as friends inevitably and properly return to their own lives. That's not intended as a criticism. It happens in every case at this stage. It would be impossible to maintain those initial levels of support and frankly I wouldn't have the energy to respond to such a volume of emails, texts and phone calls anyway. I don't like Facebook at the best of times but find it even more difficult than usual at present, seeing the news streams from friends fill up once more with photos of family, jokes and political comment. Life for others resumes. It has to. I understand that. But it can't for me.
There is however, another factor at present. Spring. The recent sunny and mild weather has been difficult for me to deal with. Like most people Louise loved this time of year. I recall a text from her sent to me at work during a period in December when she was struggling. She told me that she had been planting daffodils in the garden and she was 'looking forward to Spring'. Every morning when I get up I now see those daffodils, and the tulips with which our garden is also ablaze, and it breaks my heart afresh that Louise hasn't got to see them, nor ever will again. I can feel the general uplift in peoples spirits out on the streets and feel utterly disconnected from it, alienated by it. Even the bird song seems to mock the fact that Louise will no longer be able to hear it. I was going to get the garden furniture out of its winter hibernation when temperatures soared the other day but didn't have the heart. I just couldn't bring myself to only get one chair out of the shed.
With every sunny day I find myself wondering what Louise and I would have been doing had things been different. Maybe we would have visited family and friends, or gone on a bike ride. Perhaps we would have played tennis or gone to a National Trust property, or been for a stroll on Louise's beloved South Bank. Whatever we would have been doing I most certainly wouldn't have been laying in bed until lunchtime on a weekend, trying to summon up the courage and the energy to start another day and hating myself for my lethargy and lack of structure. Spring somehow brings the contrast between what was and what is into ever sharper focus. At the moment I wish it was Autumn. Maybe by then I will be counting in months rather than weeks.