Grief hollows you out, both physically and mentally. I came to it already on my knees. While Louise's death was sudden and shockingly unexpected, we had together been fighting her severe depression for several months, managing the strains and pressures and the emotional distress this brought on a daily basis, the darkness pervading every aspect of our lives. During this same period Louise had lost her father in traumatic circumstances and my mother had been cripplingly disabled by a catastrophic stroke. Neither of us had any reserves of strength left to draw on. We agreed that we wouldn't have the capacity to deal with even the smallest further crisis.
And then I found myself dealing with the largest crisis of my life.
In the early days after Louise's death I was carried through by a cocktail of shock, numbness and a form of adrenalin. Friends and family were notified of the news, funeral arrangements were made, eulogies written, paperwork dealt with. I was rarely off the phone. The whole world, it seemed, wanted to talk to me. And I needed to talk to them. But gradually the formalities and rituals of death and commemoration were observed, the calls dried up, people returned to their lives and I was left to begin the process of coming to terms with my new reality, the grim day to day slog of life without Louise.
It's a wearisome journey in every respect, a supreme effort simply to maintain my composure, keep going and appear strong in public. The lack of sleep is physically punishing. Even those of us who once slept soundly find that in grief the facility deserts us. Four hours sleep a night is barely sustainable over seven months. Its not that I cannot sleep. In fact I am so tired its a constant struggle to remain awake. I find myself dozing off, my head dropping and eyes closing, while I am at work and talking to family and friends. I constantly fear doing so while behind the wheel of my car. The ability to drive while exhausted is, like driving while crying, a key survival technique the newly bereaved quickly acquire.
But I will not allow myself to sleep, even when I should do so, even when my body is screaming at me to switch off. My brain is so active processing thoughts, trying to make sense of what has happened that it is almost impossible to stop, even in the middle of the night. My natural body clock tends towards the late shift anyway but without Louise's restraining and moderating influences, or the motivation to discipline myself, I keep going, thinking, doing, turning night into day in the process.
The emotional intensity is sapping. Imagine just one thought on your mind almost every waking moment for seven months. And its a destructive, despairing one. Outside of work, and when I can escape into football on a Saturday afternoon, there has been barely no time since that January evening when I have stopped thinking about Louise's death or been doing something in some way connected with the consequences. The daily outbursts of tears, holding and processing the traumatic memories of the night itself and the events leading up to it, learning to live alone, trying to envisage and re-plan a future utterly different in every way to the one that I thought would be mine. And all the time, never far from the surface, the guilt and the 'if onlys' which play on a constant loop.
Then there is the seemingly never ending bureaucracy which needs to be attended to, the process of officially closing down Louise's life, from filing her final tax returns to returning her library books. And above all the compulsion, one which I am completely unable to resist, to spend every spare moment in some kind of activity to memorialise Louise, to honour her memory and record our lives together; to write this blog and my diary, to use recovery software to search for hours for lost fragments of video footage, to print out email and text conversations, to digitise hard copy photos and documents and print electronic ones in the interests of secure back up. I will not be able to rest until this process is complete, until I can be satisfied that Louise, the person and my marriage to her, is safely captured and stored for posterity in every possible way. It is the closest that I can come to keeping her alive, alongside me. This is now all I have left.
Before I returned to work I at least had the time and space to grieve. In those initial weeks I could devote myself almost whole time to my needs. But they have long since somehow had to be fitted in around the demanding responsibilities of daily working life and supporting my partially dependent Mother. And when I am not working or on caring duty I have tried hard to 'do the right thing' and resist the temptation to retreat into my shell, to sit at home licking my wounds. I try to make the effort to reach out to people. Not only to maintain contact with old friends and my place in Louise's family but also to meet and interact with new people through support groups. In doing so I am partly driven by a genuine desire to help others struggling along the same path as myself but I am also mindful that some of my old networks, those built around Louise, will fail and I need to look for new ones if I am not to risk bitter and lonely isolation.
This unsustainable whirl of activity and thought leaves me exhausted, my head full, my nerves frayed. I yearn for a break, to be able to find the off switch but it seems not to exist. Relaxation is beyond me. I cannot watch TV or read a book. I have no interest or energy to do so and my concentration span is shot to pieces. A holiday would be pointless. Whenever I think about the respite it might bring I realise I am chasing an illusion because my vision of a holiday is inextricably bound up in those I shared with Louise, moments and experiences that are now gone for ever. In any event, grief and loss cannot be escaped and would follow me wherever I went. Louise's absence would be as keenly felt on holiday as everywhere else, perhaps even more so since they were times when we were never parted.
It is somewhat ironic that as I find myself stabilising emotionally I realise that I am still at risk of breakdown. The difference is that now it is less likely to be from the despair of grief or the trauma of the experience than from sheer exhaustion. I urgently need rest. I need to be able to step outside the world I am trapped within, if only for a short period. I am, however, completely unable to work out how to do so.