I received a very welcome phone call from CRUSE (a national bereavement charity) yesterday that I was finally at the top of the waiting list and have been scheduled to start 6 sessions of free bereavement counseling soon. I mentioned this to my housemate last night and his response was do you think you still need it? I was confused that anyone could question my need for counselling after the sudden, unexpected death of my beloved husband six months ago. We were sitting in the back garden drinking a beer, BBQing dinner and generally chatting about the mundane things that housemates often do and I suddenly realised that I must look fine on the outside, which shocked me. I felt a sudden wave of emotion: should I look fine so soon after my husband’s death? Should I be crying more? How dare he think that I’m fine?! I’m not fine! Am I fine? These are just a few of the questions that ran through my head for the rest of last night and most of today as I continue to question how on earth I can possibly look fine to the outside world.
I wondered all day today as I taught my various classes and interacted with my colleagues; as I made myself yet another cup of coffee and laughed at my students’ ridiculous ideas about French grammar and I have come to the realization that truly I do look fine. I get up in the morning, I drive myself to work, I do my job – even doing it well on somedays – go home, cook dinner with my housemates, wash up, watch TV and then pack myself off to bed before repeating the same thing the next day. Surely nothing could be more normal.
But what is invisible to the naked eye is the reality of being a young widow: I wake up in the same bed that I shared with my husband, but in a different room. Most mornings I remember this but occasionally I wake up and feel a sudden wave of confusion before it hits: Terry is dead and I have moved to Northampton. I drive the short 5 minutes to work, grateful to be rid of my 50 minute commute and then feel guilty for enjoying my new commute because I would drive 50 minutes for the rest of my life if only I could have Terry back. Working with teenagers is brilliantly unpredictable and my students can be incredibly kind and thoughtful, even on the worst of days, but they can break my heart without meaning to. Today, while discussing the upcoming UK election, my students asked me who I was voting for. I explained that I wasn’t eligible to vote as I’m not a citizen. They asked me if I wanted to become a citizen and I told them that I had always planned to become a citizen when I had children, but that now I wasn’t sure if I would have children, or if they would be British, so I just don’t know anymore. After school I stayed to finish up some work and as I finished up I reached to text Terry before it hit me that I can’t text him anymore. I changed the radio station when a song that Terry used to sing to me comes on because I just don’t want to cry about it at the moment, so I push it to the back of my mind and think about what I have to do at work tomorrow. I think about him a million times a day, but no one knows unless I tell them.
To the naked eye I am upright, (mostly) dry-eyed and functioning as I used to do, so I must be the same person. Inside I don’t even recognize myself. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just to say that I remember how I was when I was married to Terry: blissfully happy and relatively emotionally stable, my perfect future all mapped out and just waiting to be lived. I remember her, but I am keenly aware that I am no longer her. I am no longer Terry’s wife, but Terry’s widow and I can never be that version of myself again after that one day in September. I am now the keeper of every single precious memory that I made with Terry, for there is no one else to remember them. I am now capable of happiness, but it is balanced with sorrow; they often co-exist in a way that confuses me and that i could have never comprehended in my previous life. I have taken on many of Terry’s traits that i loved best without even meaning to me, but such is the relationship between husband and wife that your souls intertwine so gradually that neither of you realizes it at the time. I am still a teacher, but I am no longer so concerned about things that I used to worry about. I have survived the worst thing that could ever have happened, so not marking a set of books for a few weeks doesn’t cause me much distress.
Please do not confuse the message of this post to be one of self-pity (although I do have a healthy amount of that). I am not a worse person for having loved Terry. Indeed I am the luckiest person in the world to have loved and been loved by my Terry. I am not entirely sure that I dislike the new me, on good days I find her brave and capable of things that the old me could never have fathomed. I am stronger than I ever wanted to be and although I am still very much finding my way down this new path, I can see that there is a path to be followed.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that although I look like the old me, I am not. I am unsure of who I will become, but I think I just might be fine in the end, which was unthinkable six months ago. I am very much looking forward to my bereavement counseling and i hope that it is helpful as I continue to discover the new me.