Friday, 16 October 2015

Beginnings and Transitions

Its not often that I compare myself to a Roman God. In fact I am reasonably certain that I've never done so before, nor will I ever do so again. But at this particular moment in time there is something of a connection to a classical deity, albeit a rather unheroic one. 

Just like Janus, the God of beginnings and transitions who looked simultaneously to both past and future, I increasingly find myself with a foot in both worlds. Since Louise's death I have focused almost entirely on the past. Insofar as I have thought of the future at all it was only in terms of what has been lost, the future that I can no longer have. But while I remain partly trapped within these memories, still mourn Louise's absence, and will no doubt continue to do so for the rest of my days, I have reached a point on this journey where I am also able to, indeed need to, lift my head and look forward. I am beginning to devote more and more time to thinking about the future that I can still have. I am starting to work on the blank canvas that is the rest of my life. 

Less than a year ago the pattern of that life was settled. I knew who I was, where I belonged and where I was going. Now everything is up for grabs. All the certainties were swept away in seconds that January night. I instinctively recognised this immediately. Even as I stumbled out of the house after finding Louise's body, prominent amongst the explosion of thoughts ricocheting around my reeling brain was the realisation that nothing would ever be the same again.

But its only now, nearly nine months later, that I am beginning to understand the full transformational impact of the events of that evening. I no longer know where I fit, who I am or who I will be. Everything is challenged, everything is possible. Its frightening, destabilising, disorientating and full of risk - but there is also the seed of excitement and opportunity. This is the mother of all mid life crises.

The questions tumble out in a jumbled confusion, fighting for space in my head, challenging almost everything that forms the foundation of my life. Where will I live? How shall I live? How do I honour Louise and find meaning in life, to make a difference to the world? Do I reappraise my career path in order to do so? Will I be alone or will I find another partner? Will I thrive in this new life or will I have to accept that the 4 1/2 years with Louise were as good as it ever gets?

Perhaps the most pressing question is where I will find myself living. How much longer will I be able to stay in the house that was once our home but is now just four walls and a roof? I can't continue to live here but nor can I move away. The horrific memories of the night itself, both those that are first hand (the things that I did and witnessed) and the vicarious (the re-created pictures in my mind of Louise in her final minutes) weigh me down. I need to escape, seek a fresh start where the reminders are less vivid. But this is the home that we built together. It is where I feel closest to Louise, where she is most alive. Her imprint is still visible on everything. When it is not weighing me down it comforts me. Breaking that link will be indescribably painful.

Even if I do move, where do I go? Family ties pull me in one direction, the desire to remain as close as possible to the spot where Louise's ashes are scattered drag me in another. And what type of accommodation does my new single self need? A bachelor pad or something larger in the hope of eventually finding love again? Do I accept and plan for the immediate reality of a solitary existence or try and second guess an unknown future? Somehow, having known a family home it would be extraordinarily difficult to step down to something smaller. Downsizing in my 40's was never on the agenda.

And if I am lucky enough to find that love once more, what will it bring? While my heart clings to the hope that it would recreate what I had with Louise my head tells me that it will inevitably be different. Indeed it must be different for the sake of all of those involved, not least the new partner.

But different is unimaginable. Marriage and absorption into your partners lifestyle and family can change who and what you are, defining your outlook, activities and opportunities. I had settled happily and proudly into Louise's world, my social status and everything that goes with it elevated into the educated middle classes. How much of this connection will I retain? How much will be altered? There would be new places to live in and visit, new family and friends, new shared activities, a new rhythm to life, perhaps new values. Even the possibility that children will, after all, feature in my life. This chasm of uncertainty may persist for years until the 'right' person presents themselves, if they ever do. I know no more about my future than I did at 21, freshly graduated from university.

Perhaps in some respects I know even less than I did back then. I have found myself questioning my sense of self, direction and purpose in ways that I didn't all those years ago. This is not a drive to cleanse myself of the past but to absorb it, to fully embrace Louise within me, to honour her and ensure that, through me, she can continue to live. In the process I am becoming a different person, both consciously and unconsciously. I do not yet know how far these changes will go and where they will take me, but I know that they are happening.

And the search for meaning, the sudden desire to make a difference in Louise's name, causes me to question yet another of the cornerstones of my life which I had thought was settled upon entering the adult world; my career direction. The perspective that I have acquired during the course of Louise's illness and the subsequent events has lead me to belatedly realise that there were more worthwhile career paths I could and should have chosen 25 years ago, paths which would have allowed me, like Louise, to assist people in need every day of my working life, particularly in the field of mental health. I find myself picking up and playing with radical ideas for a complete change of direction; psychology, psychiatric nursing, counselling. Anything that can tend to that most wonderful but sometimes troubled of human features, the mind.

These are romantic indulgences. Is it realistically possible to start a new career at 47? Do I have the energy and courage to give up everything I have worked for, seniority, salary, status, in order to start again, with years of study ahead of me before I even reach the very bottom rung and find myself in a position to make that difference? My head and heart differ. Perhaps more realistically the question I ask myself is how can I use my recent experiences to make that difference in other ways, through charitable and voluntary work And how can I use the power of personal narrative, of our story (my story and Louise's are two sides of the same coin) to affect the change in peoples lives that would make at least some sense of Louise's death and cause her to be so pleased and proud?

This restlessness and self examination is, like so many things on the long journey through grief, exhausting. But it is a necessary process. I cannot just revert to my former life prior to meeting Louise. She changed me too much for that. And clearly I cannot continue entirely as I was with her. So I must find a new direction.

My life has been on hold for the past nine months, during which time I have been focused entirely on survival. I don't underrate the achievement of that goal. Its the greatest of my life. But I am increasingly impatient to begin the task of moving forward since I know so painfully well how short life can be and want to lose as little of the time left to me as possible. There is enormous sadness that this must happen without Louise but she would be the first to point out that continuing to love her does not require me to stop living. On the contrary, the greatest memorial to Louise will be to take what she gave me and made me and learn to live better still.

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