Sunday, 2 August 2015

Describing the Indescribable

This blog now amounts to something like 43 posts and thousands of words on grief and loss. I am honoured and humbled when people thank me for articulating their own emotions. But I feel a fraud for purporting to be able to write on the subject. The truth is that no words can adequately explain the agony and despair of the death of your partner, and particularly perhaps when that death comes at such a young age, so suddenly and so violently. 

Neither my imagination nor my vocabulary is capable of conveying what it feels like to be left behind in this way; the loneliness, the confusion, the exhaustion, the shock, the guilt and the all consuming sadness which comes to form such an established part of your daily life that you begin to forget there was a time without it.

I cannot come close to describing what it feels like to experience the complete and instant loss of love, hope, happiness and purpose from your life. I cannot begin to explain what it is like to know how much the person closest to you in life hurt and suffered, how much you hurt and suffer on their behalf.  It is impossible for me to tell you what it feels like, what it truly feels like, to realise that everything which you loved about your partner and your relationship; the way you interacted, the way you spent your time together, is gone forever and can never be recaptured or recreated. Nothing can properly describe the experience of lying on the floor convulsed in tears, crying with the whole of your body, waiting only for sheer exhaustion to bring respite and relief. I do not know how to share with you the feeling when you wake from a nightmare at 4am and instead of the reassuring and warm presence of your wife next to you there is just a void and the realisation that the nightmare is reality.

And certainly nothing can express the sense of waste which accompanies suicide, the bewilderment at the needless and senseless loss of a precious, gifted and beautiful life. The bewilderment too at the way somebody who loved life so intensely could, in the midst of  a temporary darkness, deny themselves of it and in doing so deny you of them and extinguish the spark which lit your own life. Nobody can describe what it feels like to be driven to stand, in despair, cuddling the bannisters on which you last saw your wife in an attempt to reach out and try to metaphorically comfort and love her. 

If you are a widow(er) yourself then you know all or most of this. You feel it deeply, viscerally. Our journeys through bereavement may all take slightly different paths  but the basic human response is universal. 

If you are fortunate enough not to be in that position then I am not capable of describing the experience to you. I have to use words because I have nothing else but they do not begin to tell you what it is like to walk in my shoes. You see me when I am strong, or appear to be strong. When it is easier for me to be distracted while I am at work or amongst friends. You see me when I am struggling with all my might to be normal, or at least to seem normal. You see me on the days when I allow myself to be seen.

I wish that I could explain how it is when you do not see me. When I come home from work, or the last dinner party guests leave and I close the door behind me and am left alone. When I remove the mask that I wear in public, the one which tries to reassure everybody that I am coping. When the effort of being strong, maintaining a degree of hope and optimism, pretending to take an interest in other peoples lives, becomes too much for me and I crumple, exhausted and completely hollowed out. I wish you could hear my silent scream at the disbelief and unfairness that this should happen to my amazing and wonderful, life affirming wife - and to me. I wish that there was something you, or anybody else, could do to take the hurt away, to return me to my old life.

Grief is tidal. It comes in and it goes out like the sea. Today the waters came in and brought with them the full force of a shrieking, raging, merciless storm, one from which it is useless to even attempt to seek shelter. Today I broke down again. And while words may be inadequate to convey how it feels to grieve for Louise, to miss her from my life, I reached for them here to calm myself and to process and order my thoughts. I remain locked within a world which is beyond description but I still hope and believe in a future where the waters are calmer.


  1. Hello Gary. Thank you for once again attempting to find some words to express the inexpressible. The tide is a good metaphor..if only recovery was linear. Mostly I feel like I'm stuck up a tree with a bad tempered tiger underneath me, occasionally the tiger wanders off and I think it might be safe to come down but somehow he always returns sometimes when I least expect it. Mainly I'm exhausted and feel very isolated and I struggle with my mind constantly trying to make sense of my husbands death....I have a continuous feeling of existential nausea for which there is no treatment..
    Be gentle with yourself Gary. The tide will retreat again and you will find some peace. Thinking of you. S

  2. Thank you Sarah. I have struggled in recent days as grief has unaccountably returned with the full force of the first few weeks. But I know that there is better round the corner. Or at least 'easier'. I love the tiger analogy, much more imaginative than my own! I guess the easy response to it would be to say that tigers can be tamed but you and I both know how much work that will take and, as a wild animal, we can never at any stage trust it not to turn on us again. Exhaustion, yes. That is now my principal concern too. I will write about it soon......when I have the energy! My best wishes go out to you too Sarah.

  3. Your words are spot on. Even though as you say words can't come close to the despair we feel deep within us. My husband was my biggest source of love, comfort, joy, fun... The dad of my child and he loved life as well. He also took his life in a moment of inexplicable darkness that I have come close to now myself. His desperate pain has been placed on me and I feel so heavy like I'm trudging through cement. I go to bed at 8pm when my son does because what else is there to do? I have no life now. He was my world. My world has now crumbled and I'm exhausted by that time anyway. Lonely barley describes how alone we truly are. I've been cut in half. I have a 1 year old yes but he's not very affectionate and extremely needy. It's tough not to have my partner in crime to help with him... I feel so much guilt
    I let him down. Both of them in not being able to save my husband, my child is now fatherless.

    I feel like an actor out in the world pretending to have it together. I hear them tell me how well I'm doing or how strong I am. I want to laugh in their face because I cried all the way there, and will cry all the way home. I will cry when I wake up and cry myself to sleep. I'm not saying I'm not strong... Because I've made it 78 days alone. But I am not doing well. I am not okay at all.

    I have had so many people as of late say maybe I should be more grateful and positive. To look at the good things in my life. I say walk in my shoes for one day. And then tell me that... And I never wanted to become a bitter depressed person but it's the weight of it all. It's so hard and no one understands...

    1. Steph, you are right, it is so hard, but you are not completely alone however it may feel. I understand and so to do others who have experienced similar - and sadly there are lots of us around. I hope that you have access to a good 'real life' support group and the company of those who can and do walk in shoes very similar to your own. I found an enormous sense of relief when I first walked into a room and found myself surrounded by people who just 'got it'.

      I know that these words will have little effect because they have little effect on me when others use them in my direction, but please don't hold yourself responsible. You did not let your husband down. In her farewell note Louise said 'ultimately no one person can ever fully hold another'. That was both very generous and insightful. I had been working hard to support her for 4 1/2 years but in that moment nothing was going to be enough to hold her and she wanted me to know not to blame myself. Of course I do anyway but the point is that I shouldn't, and neither should you.

      My heart goes out to you Steph. If you want to talk 'offline' let me know and I will send you my email address. We will win through. We have to because our partners want us to.