I have come to dread people asking me how I am. I don't know how to respond, to come even remotely close to articulating in a few passing words the confused, powerful and often contradictory emotions swirling around within me, to describe the deep lows, the occasional highs and the almost ever present and all encompassing dull void. If I had several hours, a good thesaurus and a skilled counsellor to help me give form to my thoughts I might be able to come close. In the absence of such resources I usually settle for 'as good as could reasonably be expected in the circumstances'.
And that's not far off the mark. By and large I am coping better than I might have feared and at least as well as most in a similar position. When I talk to widows and widowers at an earlier stage in their journey I find myself beginning to be able to offer hope based on my own experience. The rawness does begin to fade a little and daily life becomes that bit less unbearable. I know that I'm getting there, even if I don't know where 'there' is. The important thing is that isn't the place I have been inhabiting for the last five months. Anywhere but there.
But the shock of losing Louise in such sudden and violent circumstances is so profound, the depth of the pit of despair out of which I have to climb is so deep and the transformation of my life, both the immediate day to day and the long term future, is so complete, that my recovery is inevitably slow and fragile. It follows a path which is littered with obstacles, road blocks and diversions. I hit one of those obstacles today.
Visiting the local beauty spot where Louise's ashes are scattered is always emotional. But this evening, with the warm sun on my back I was carried away to other beautiful summer evenings in much happier circumstances; the numerous times we strolled together amidst the trendy metropolitan crowds on Louise's beloved South Bank, the long mid summer daylight hours enjoyed on the implausibly beautiful white beaches of Mull, watching the breathtaking sunsets of the Peloponnese, cycling the country lanes of Suffolk, listening to the hauntingly beautiful wail of the call to prayer echoing across ancient Istanbul, wandering in the hopelessly romantic, tangled and faded backstreets of old town Ragusa. To countless warm, peaceful evenings when we cuddled, held hands, kissed, loved and lived.
I yearned to be back there. Safely in Mull in 2012, the Peloponnese in 2013, Sicily in 2014. In a time when we were together, life was good and the future certain. I wanted, in fact, to be anywhere but here, in Surrey in 2015, lonely and lost.
As the sun set, barely 50 yards away a bride and groom were posing for a photographer who was attempting some of those almost obligatory ethereal shots of couples in bucolic surroundings and dreamy contemplation of everlasting love and devotion. Four years ago that was Louise and I, dazed and excited, taking directions from our wedding photographer. Now I was sitting on a bench telling a tree about my week. I wanted to shout out to the couple, to warn them not to take the future for granted, to grab and savour every precious moment, to appreciate it and live it as if it were their last together. Because one day, if not sooner then later, it will be.