I was widowed in November 2011. It's a shame that I didn't find this site at the time, a blog like this would have been useful as I was trying to make sense of where I was and where I was going. All-in-all I'm OK at the moment, but I've still got quite a lot to work out about this grief stuff, so now's a good time to look back at where my path has taken me since Sharon's death. And my puzzlement about where I am and where I am going is an old friend that's been with me as long as I can remember and who shows no sign of wandering off any time soon.
To set the scene here's an open letter that I wrote the first night after Sharon's death. Sleep wasn't an option and writing it is how I got through that night (along with the company of my furry feline support team).
Just over a year ago in November Sharon started to get nerve pain in her leg and foot. She went to see her GP who said it was probably a back problem that would clear up in six to eight weeks. That was the start of the story. Over the year the diagnosis changed to piriformis syndrome and ham string inflammation but the level of pain didn’t change. Every morning Sharon would wake up knowing she had to face another day of torture, with every second spent wanting to scream in agony, and every doctor, physiotherapist, chiropractor, angel therapist, acupuncturist, pain specialist and all the other healers that she could find coming up with a different diagnosis but saying the same thing: "It can be fixed, you’ll be better again in a few weeks time".
"You’ll be out of pain by spring time." "This should be sorted by the summer." "There’s no way you’ll still be in pain in September." "Go on, book that yoga course in November, you’ll be fit enough to go by then." After a year "you’ll be better soon" looses its meaning no matter how well founded the prognosis is.
The pain wore Sharon down until today when she decided to stop it by using the only guaranteed method she thought there was. Her end would have been peaceful, she took travel sickness pills followed by a massive dose of barbiturates, it’s the same technique as Dignitas use, she would have just fallen asleep and died.
There wasn’t anything anyone could have done to stop her. She rang me at work, she sounded fed up but positive. I know now that she was hiding how she felt, aware that if I suspected what she was going to do I would have tried to stop her. It wasn’t a cry for help, she knew exactly what she was doing and she wasn’t going to let anyone stop her. Sharon wasn’t depressed or deluded or striking out at anyone, she was desperate to get out of the pain.
Sharon loved her friends and family; it broke her heart to think about what it would do to them if she committed suicide. She held on for as long as she could stand the unremitting torture, she gave everything she had to try to protect us from the pain we are feeling, but she eventually reached the end of her reserves.
I wish with all my heart that Sharon had held on a few weeks more, maybe this time the physiotherapist would prove to have been right. I wish I could grow old with my Snugglepup. The only comfort I have comes from the knowledge that even with the pain I’m feeling now and the pain I have in store as I try to rebuild my life without Sharon, I am much better off for having been loved by such a strong, honest, caring soul then I would be if we had never met.
Patrick - 29 November 2011
Reading it back eighteen months later there are two things about it that predicted the course my grief would take. The first is the fact that I felt the need and was able to write it during that first night was down to the strength of philosophical impulses in me. Even on days when the pain left me unable to do anything other than hug myself as I sobbed there was a little voice in my head saying “Well this is an interesting new experience”. Losing Sharon left me in a bewildering new world, it was like being stuck in those moments between waking up after dozing off and realising where you are, you can see shapes and hear noises but none of it resolves itself into perceiving anything. I have never been as grateful for being a philosopher as I was during thoses weeks of utter confusion.
The other thing is the positive note in the last sentence. Pain and unhappiness are two very different things, and although the pain was overwhelming I saw Sharon’s in the context of our whole relationship and the nine years we had together was and is something that makes me happy. On it’s own overwhelming grief is debilitating but tolerable, it’s unhappiness that makes it into unbearable grief and, to my complete shock, I was spared that.