Sunday, 5 July 2015

Shifting Realities

Louise took her life five months ago. I know this because the calendar tells me so but such has been the distortion in my subsequent perception of time and reality that it might just as easily have been five days ago, or even five years. I have become completely disconnected with the passage of time and confused about my relationship to the world around me - what is real and what is not.

The day that Louise died sits on a fault line. There is before and there is after and the way in which I sense and experience time and events is starkly different either side of that fissure. On one side sits reality and on the other something much less clearly defined. The problem comes in telling which is which.

Until very recently the real world was, emphatically, the one which Louise and I shared. It may have been months since I last saw her but our time together and her presence was so tangible that I felt I could reach out and touch her. It seemed as though it was only moments previously that we were cuddled up together on the sofa watching a DVD, walking down the road hand in hand or exploring the Sicilian countryside on our last holiday. I could feel her, smell her, hear her voice. I could very easily imagine her walking through the door or coming down the stairs at any moment. Louise may have been dead but her life and our relationship was still real and solid. It had presence and immediacy. 

Conversely the events since Louise's death felt as though they had unravelled in slow motion over an impossibly long time. Nothing that had happened in that period seemed remotely real, from the stunning shock of the night of the 23rd January through Louise's funeral and beyond into the small landmarks and 'firsts' of day to day life without her. I could remember the events, I had witnessed them but I barely felt them. It was as if I was watching a film portraying somebody else's life in 3D. It was immersive but somehow not quite real. Certainly not my personal experience. I couldn't relate to it or own it. 

Even the simple words 'Louise's death' baffled me. I rolled them round in my head and on my tongue, trying hard but failing to understand how Louise could be associated with a state which applied to.......well, the dead. Death was something which happened to the elderly, and people on TV - usually in a far distant country. If it touched people like us then it was restricted to those unlucky enough to be struck down with serious physical illness or affected by tragedy. Louise was young, physically healthy and, being my wife, clearly exempted from any form of tragedy. To apply the language of death, words like 'funeral', 'cremation', 'ashes', 'memorial', 'post mortem' or 'inquest' to her made no more sense  than it would if two different languages were used in the same sentence. I understood the meaning of both but couldn't work out how the words could possibly belong together.

But now things are even more muddled. There has been a partial reversal of my perception of reality in recent weeks. Sometimes I find myself accepting that the real world is the one that is all around me. Its now. Its widowhood, loneliness and a constant internal hum of sadness, sometimes louder, sometimes quieter but always present; the tinnitus of grief. Above all its the fact of Louise's death and our enforced separation. 

I still don't understand what has happened and find myself bewildered by it. No doubt this confusion isn't helped by the jangling juxtaposition of conflicting realities all around me. On the one hand the void created by Louise's physical absence speaks of loss and change. On the other, Louise's possessions remain in place. Her clothes are hanging up in the wardrobes, her books are on the bookshelf, her lotions and potions are in the bathroom, her medication is in the medicine cabinet. Her rucksack for home visits to patients is packed, her notes and reminders are on the fridge door. I am trying to understand what the finality of death means while being surrounded with the material evidence of life, a life merely paused and ready to be resumed at a moments notice.

But I am steadily beginning to acknowledge the new reality.  Less and less do I find myself shaking my head in disbelief and thinking 'this can't be happening to me'. It now sometimes feels more relevant and more accurate to describe myself as a widower than it does to say that I am married - even if the concept, the real meaning behind the term 'widower', remains far too large for me to grasp when I apply it to myself. 

This may be a healthy sign of acceptance and normalisation. However, at the same time as my focus is adjusted to bring the present into sharper definition, what went before is becoming distressingly blurred and indistinct. On occasion it's now difficult to believe that I was once married, that I shared my life with Louise. It feels fantastical, almost as if it were a figment of my imagination. I now need to listen to recordings to recall Louise's voice. The sight of her in a photo brings me up short, a sudden shock that reminds me of what really was. I look at my wedding ring and almost wonder how it got on my finger. The best 4 1/2 years of my life have been snatched away from me and converted into an increasingly distant memory, little more real to me now than the early years of my childhood. I have to stretch further and further if I still want to reach out and touch it. I am losing Louise and I am losing my sense of myself during our time together. My reality is shifting into the painful present but in doing so it is denying me my cherished past.


  1. Thinking of you Gary. It's 13 months since my husband took his own life aged 45..still feels a bit like he's on an extended times I'm totally consumed by the horror of it all and overwhelmed by the reality of being a widow and a single parent....I chose to move shakes everything up and I feel better in a new environment...but really I moved for practical reasons...Your words have helped me...when I've just felt rubbish...I've been able to find some description in your writing that has helped me identify the feeling. Thank you.

  2. Thank you Sarah. That means a lot to me. I am so sorry that you have to be on this journey too. Shaking things up is helpful sometimes. Its probably too easy for us all to get enmeshed in our grief and we need to do something to fight our way out of it.But its still a brave thing to make a house move so early on. My heart goes out to you. We are winning.

  3.'s the middle of the night again and I find myself reading your I once again find something I can identify with and someone who understands this foggy world I inhabit....Thank you again.

  4. Thank you Sarah. You inhabit the same hours as me. I hope that the fog begins to clear and the way forward becomes a little more visible. Take care.