Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Cutting Through the Grief

Today was a numb day. That's good because disbelief and not feeling is better than the alternative of understanding and despair. And its especially good because it was a Bank Holiday, and I have already found them to be difficult days to navigate  - everybody appears to be out and about enjoying themselves whereas my day is empty and I can't stop thinking about what Louise and I would be doing in normal circumstances. I resent the holiday mood because it jars so much with my own.

I'm hoping that after several weeks of real struggle it marks some sort of upswing. Not permanent progress of course. Grief is not linear. While the classical model of the five stages of grief might sound as though there is some form of neatly packaged chronology of progression the emotions are actually experienced in a much more fluid, almost chaotic way. Rather than a straight road the journey through bereavement is more like a maze. You constantly go backwards and forwards, round and about, doubling up on yourself. Sometimes you think that you are close to finding the exit but its always an illusion and without warning you quickly find that you are hopelessly lost again.

Nevertheless, a temporary anaesthetic is better than none at all so, feeling slightly more capable than in recent days, I decided to tackle the garden, which has lain untouched since Louise died. Its nothing particularly grand, just an ordinary suburban back garden of the type found in thousands of inter-war semis and terraced houses. But its reasonably quiet and secluded and a vast improvement on the cramped back yard we previously had in a central London ground floor flat. It was one of the main reasons we bought the house. 

While I enjoy having a nice garden I'm not one of nature's gardeners. It was very much Louise's domain. It wasn't so much that Louise was an expert either, but as with most things in life, whereas I planned Louise did, and enjoyed doing. I haven't got a clue how the garden works and will have to take advice on that at some point- its one of those many domestic puzzles that I'm going to need to try and figure out now. I want to maintain it for Louise's sake. 

But one thing that always fell to me was cutting the grass. It was simple enough for me to manage and always left me feeling good, less for the aesthetics of the garden and more because it was one of those activities that made me feel properly married. After waiting so long in my life, here I was in my own garden, cutting my own lawn while my lovely wife was indoors preparing lunch. Its a cliched view of domesticity which might be derided by some but at heart I'm pretty conventional and it always made me feel good; about myself, my achievements in life and my marriage. I had to wait until I was well into my 40's but at last I was finally fulfilling the suburban domestic ideal. 

Mowing the lawn wasn't an easy task today. After months of grief induced neglect the grass was badly overgrown and difficult to cut. My progress was slowed further as I couldn't help but keep looking back at the house, wishing that I would be able to see Louise in the kitchen or sitting in the conservatory. The end result looked superficially respectable from a distance but it took only a cursory inspection to realise that it was all rather ragged, uneven and much of the lawn was brown, dead or dying, a pale shadow of the way it had been only a short time ago. It struck me that the state of the garden probably serves as a good metaphor for the life I am now leading. From the outside looking in it can appear as though there is some form of normality. I'm still standing, still just about functioning and slowly resuming some of my normal activities. But close to its apparent that nothing is as it was, nor will it ever be again. Everything is diminished, damaged. Just as the garden will take a lot of work even to maintain it in its present state, work which I don't have the energy, knowledge or skills to properly undertake, so too will I.


A newly cut lawn, however imperfect, demands garden furniture so it can be enjoyed. But how many chairs to take out of the shed? I put just the one out but am now feeling guilty. I haven't swapped the sofas for armchairs and nor have I exchanged the double bed for a single. Louise can still join me in the lounge and the bedroom. I can't exclude her from the garden. I'll put a chair out for her tomorrow. 

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