Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Relief of Numbness

'Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.'

I never swear. Ever. Well, hardly ever. I swear so infrequently that I feel incredibly self conscious whenever I do so. When I used to read to Louise as we lay in bed, my left arm always curled around her, holding up the book in my right hand, she would be amused whenever the dialogue demanded that I use industrial language, enjoying the novelty value of hearing me utter profanities, even if they were in the voice of another. David Nicholls provided her with much more of this form of entertainment than Dickens. 

And yet I find myself now sitting in my lounge involuntarily and angrily uttering this dubious one word mantra. On Friday I had what might pass for almost a normal pleasantly sociable meal out with a friend. She remarked on how I seemed to be in a much better place than when we had last met several weeks ago. She was right. But this weekend I'm weepy and emotional and the reality of the situation has taken hold of me again, prompting that heartfelt and, for me, remarkable, outburst. How can I go from that to this so quickly? How can such an all consuming emotion as grief be so transient, sometimes overwhelming me with its force, sometimes bewildering me with its absence?

The answer, I think, is that it isn't. Grief is constant, enduring. What changes is the extent to which the pain of grief can be masked by natures natural anaesthetic, numbness. The state of numbness is, by definition, difficult to describe since it is something of a void, but it disables my ability to feel or to grasp the concept of Louise's death. It has something of the character of an out of body experience. I can see and hear everything going on around me but cannot feel it.

When I am numb I theoretically understand that Louise is dead, that she is never coming back, but the meaning of it doesn't truly register. I repeat to myself over and over the words 'Louise is dead, Louise is dead' to try and fill this mental lacuna, almost as if I was slapping the face of a drunk to try and rouse them, but the words are meaningless. Its not so much disbelief as incomprehension. Its an odd thing to think that I can live with a straightforward fact for four whole months yet frequently not be able to understand it.

Numbness has been my regular companion throughout this journey. Initially I worried about its effect, thinking that there was something wrong with me, that I wasn't grieving appropriately, not showing Louise due respect and love.  But over time I have learnt to recognise it for what it is, vital respite from the physically and mentally exhausting task of grieving, and to be grateful for it. Numbness provides me with the ability to function. Numbness is what others mistake for strength.

Numbness got me through those first two weeks, the period from Louise's death to her funeral, not just enabling me to get out of bed and perform basic functions such as eating and sleeping but much more demanding tasks like planning the funeral and writing and delivering my Eulogy at the Memorial Service. Even now under its influence I can find myself talking matter of factly about the events surrounding Louise's death, the moment of breaking into the house (the front door had been locked from the inside) and finding her in the hallway, without emotion. I can see the shock, horror and pity on the face of the listener but I, the person that experienced it, feels nothing. I can concentrate, after a fashion, for seven hours a day at work, plan a holiday, live in a house surrounded by memories and reminders. I can make my dinner in the kitchen and barely give a second glance to the large crematorium issue plastic jar on top of the cupboards that looks for all the world as if it holds sweets but actually contains the remnants of Louise's ashes which I intend to scatter in the garden when it is looking more respectable.

While I am numb none of this is particularly difficult. Its when the anaesthetic wears off that I cannot cope, when despair and sadness reassert their grip. It usually happens without notice. I find myself sitting quietly on the sofa or in the car and am suddenly jolted by an electric current of a thought. 'Louise is dead'. And this time it registers. The raw and bleeding wound that is grief is exposed once again. I understand what it means, for her, for me, for us. The finality.

'Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.'


  1. Hello Gary, as always a "pleasure" to read through your blog - simply extraordinary how you put my similar thoughts into words so beautifully.

    "I can see and hear everything going on around me but cannot feel it" is completely spot on.

    Be good my friend and see you soon I hope!


  2. Thank you so much. I just wish that neither of us had to be here doing this. Take care and go gently.