You know when you were younger, and you'd gotten into an argument with someone at school, and you woke up in the morning with a deep dark pit in your stomach? You dreaded what the day had in store for you, your mind was focused on only that situation. You didn't want to go in, you desperately wanted to avoid that situation, but you were forced to confront it - you had to go to school. You couldn't just not go into school again, ever. You were rooted in that situation, and it felt AWFUL.
This is what grief feels like. Every day. You wake up in it, you are surrounded by it. It's reminders that you are "IN this" are everywhere - not just in the photographs you want to keep up in your living room (but can't bear to look at yet without bursting into tears), not just in the bag of oats that he gave you for morning smoothies on your kitchen counter (sitting there, untouched), not just in smell of his cologne that you keep but ration yourself for fear of spoiling the memory of, but it's all over your mind, it's all over your memories, it's in your daily routine and the sudden and very noticeable absence - that your favourite part of your life has disappeared.
As C.S Lewis writes about the grief he felt when he lost his wife, "Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything."
I have found myself "in" this, every day for the last three months. The initial days and weeks were unbearable, I found myself howling like a wounded or lost animal at times, I grieved like a child, my heart sobbed for his return.
I felt every inch of my life move, I felt every time the grief changed and shifted. I felt it when it sat more comfortably, but just as heavily, on my back. I noticed on the day I woke up and didn't think of his death immediately, but instead noticed the sunshine through my window. I noticed when I made choices out of emotion, rather than rational thinking - I noticed my grief working it's long dark fingers through my mind and into my life, and I noticed when I bolted upright in defence of this.
It has been my quest, for a long time now, to be emotionally healthy. As an artist, suffering can be glorified easily, we can wallow in our pain and let it take us, sometimes our identities are so enmeshed with pain that we do not even recognise or know a self without it. This terrifies me, not one ounce of me wants to suffer through life - artist or not. It goes against everything I believe in to wallow in sadness, to offer despair a chair at your table. I stand up for smiling and kindness, for finding the good and the positive, for being greater than your suffering. If you were to cut my soul in half, you would find the essence of positivity there at the root.
Loss like this, however, is new to me. I didn't shy away from the experience of it, because any experience can be a strength maker, and I intend to live so intensely that I could die at any moment without regret. That said, I grossly underestimated the impact this would have. I thought that knowing someone would die (after all, we all do) and preparing myself for it, would somehow lessen the shock, or the pain of grief. It doesn't.
BUT, I thought. Surely if I learn to truly "live in the moment" with him, to soak up every wonderful moment I get to spend with him, to really cherish him and appreciate every second of life with him with all the gratitude I can muster - surely that would numb some of the loss? I mean, if I do that, then I won't ever look back and say "I wish I'd appreciated my time with him more"?
Well, yes and no. I am so grateful that I can say I savoured every moment with him, and that I truly acknowledged how precious it was, and that I felt true happiness with him, but living this way also invited this big dark cloud of entropy to hover over me. Feeling that elation and joy meant that one day I would be very much without that elation and joy, and I didn't know how that would feel - whether or not that would break me, break my positive spirit. The catch was, until he had actually died and I had learned that I could still access that happiness and joy, I just didn't know. So my joy and love was tinged with this overwhelming sadness that it was just so, so temporary. I couldn't crawl into those moments with him, in his arms, and stay there. Indeed, the last morning I spent with him on that day he left, we cuddled and laughed and smiled and told each other to have a wonderful day, and I let myself let him go. I thought, "he isn't mine to keep." You have to live like you won't die, like those you love won't die, otherwise you will be crippled by the attachment of having them. And eventually, this need for other people will contract and compound and you will be so afraid of losing things and of change, that you never dip your toe into the water that all life has to offer. I knew I couldn't do that. So every time we parted, I savoured the moment, and I let it go.
And looking back, I'm glad life didn't wrench me from him. I'm glad my last goodbye to him was as sweet as all the others.
So yes, this is where I am. I wake up and notice he is gone, but it is not immediate, it is not overwhelming as it was. I am currently more grateful for the memories I have, than sad that I cannot make more. Most days are enjoyable and I drive in the car and sing, I let myself enjoy what life has to offer, because he wanted me to do that and because I want to do that. Occasionally I have a bad day, like yesterday, when I just do not have the energy mentally to psych myself up for another day of positive living. And that's OK for me, too - as long as it's just a day, and as long as I don't wallow.
What I'm beginning to realise, is that grieving is also the same as healing. For me, to switch off the sadness would be to switch off the same emotion that gives me access to happiness, to gratitude, to appreciation, to peace. Grieving like this allows me to enjoy the lighter moments, knowing that I've truly felt the heavier ones. I let myself enjoy them, just as I let myself suffer the sad ones. It's cheating the guilt that comes with grieving - the guilt of feeling good and being able to carry on when you never thought it would come so easily without them.
The night before he died, we sat on his bed and I ate a bowl of peas and he ate chicken soup (he had a cold). We talked about what we wanted from life. He just wanted to always "be", and I just wanted to always "feel". It still stands - I never want to stop feeling, I never want to stop dipping my toe into what life has to offer, everyone deserves to. And he continues to "be", in my heart, in my head, in the things he taught me that I apply to life. He's alive in the stories I tell about him, he's alive in the mannerisms and language I picked up from him, in my photographs, in my memories. It's funny, because I suppose that's the solution to death, almost, keeping someone alive in you.