Mondays Are My Thinking Days

After Terry died, my GP referred me to a bereavement charity called Cruse for some bereavement counseling. As it’s a volunteer-run charity, the waiting list in Oxfordshire was long, and when I moved to Northamptonshire the waiting list was even longer. In May I began attending weekly counselling sessions on Monday afternoons with a wonderful counselor who I found myself easily opening up to. Over the past two months we have discussed a lot of things and I have received a lot of comfort from our sessions together, although they are often emotionally painful and difficult. When my six allocated sessions ended, my counselor asked if I would like to attend a seventh, as she said that my grief felt very ‘profound.’ And so last Monday I had my seventh and last session of bereavement counselling through Cruse. Last weekend was really difficult and it was made slightly more so knowing that today I couldn’t talk it over with my counsellor, as I have become accustomed to doing. 

Mondays have been, for the past seven weeks, the day that I really open up about my grief and talk about the myriad of things involving my relationship with Terry and his death that I push aside during my normal week because they are too difficult and painful to deal with. Mondays are the days when I dedicate part of my day to my grief, grieving actively rather than passively. Mondays are difficult, but have been a big part of my healing process as I attempt to build a new life for myself in this new town. As I left my last session I felt a mix of emotions, but overall I am so very pleased with the bereavement counseling I have received and am sad to see it end. I have spent the past few days reflecting over my time with my bereavement counselling and thinking about what I have learned in such a few, short weeks. 

I have learned that everything that I feel is normal. This might seem obvious to you, but being widowed can be very socially isolating. Since Terry died I have thought about things that I had never in my darkest days considered and my emotions have been very different to how I felt with Terry, which has made me feel broken. Although new to me and sometimes frightening and confusing, all of these feelings are normal and okay for me to feel. 

I have learned that my grief is proportionate to the love I have for my husband. Just as I loved Terry with everything I had, so I grieve him with every ounce of what’s left of me. The pain is unbearable on the bad days, but it is only because I loved him so very much. 

I have learned that by focusing on work and building a new life for myself here in Northampton, I am taking the first steps into my new unwanted life. Just as toddlers fall as they are learning to walk, so will I stumble as I try to figure out what’s next. But what’s important is that I pick myself up and keep going. 

I have learned that I need to be kind to myself. Widows tell me this all the time, but my counsellor really emphasized that it was important that I have nice things lined up for the bad days, because there are many more bad days waiting for me yet. For me, I like to buy myself a cup of coffee from Starbucks or, if I’m too miserable to leave the house, I like to make a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows. Lots of marshmallows. I work on a cross-stitching project if I need to take my mind off of something particularly difficult and occasionally I play with Ninja, or cuddle up with him if I can’t get out of bed. 

I have learned that there is nothing wrong with throwing my duvet over my head and not getting out of bed for the day. It is not defeat, it is simply acknowledging that today is rubbish and I will pick myself up again tomorrow and give it another go. If this means calling out of work, that is acceptable and nothing to feel bad about. 

I have learned that there is joy to be found in little things. It took months after Terry died for me to feel even the slightest glimmer of happiness shining through the dark cloud of grief in which I had taken up residence. I remember that first glimmer of happiness clearly: it felt so normal for a split-second, and then I thought that I shouldn’t be feeling any happiness at all so soon after Terry died. I could practically hear Terry telling me that was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard and I allowed myself the smallest of smiles, which felt fake and forced on my newly bereaved face. Since then, the moments of joy and happiness have begun to present themselves to me and I find myself eager to grab onto them and hold them close, for so long as they last. This week, my My Little Box arrived and had the most beautiful blue nail polish, that I used immediately. And it made me happy. Not permanently so, but for a moment, and for that I am grateful. 

My new blue nail polish - isn't it gorgeous?

I have learned that Mondays are my thinking days. My bereavement counseling has now come to an end, but I have found myself thinking my grief through and reflecting upon it today the same as if it hadn’t. Sure, I’m talking to myself in the car or in my bedroom, but I am talking and thinking about my grief rather than pushing it aside for another time. Mondays are my thinking days, my grieving days and I hope to continue my thoughtful Mondays in the near future. 

Father’s Day

I’ve been struggling to write blog posts for a few weeks now. When I go silent it often means that I am experiencing a low week and can’t find it in me to write anything down, although occasionally it is because i have exciting plans and just can’t find the time. The past few weeks have been a mixture of both. I have spent a few weekends away with good friends, but the weeks have brought some unwanted lows. I left work in tears last week for the first time in months after a particularly bad day and I am grateful to my amazing coworkers for volunteering their free lessons to cover my own so that I could go home.

Father’s Day, like most happy days in my previous life, is no longer a cause for celebration. In fact, it’s a pretty tough day now. On Mother’s Day, I spent previous years celebrating all of the wonderful mothers I know and yet this year all I could seem to do is think about the fact that I may never be a mother. Similarly, today I woke up without a thought to any of the amazing fathers that I am lucky enough to know and instead remembered that Terry will never be a father and I started the day in tears. I was invited to a Father’s Day barbeque with his family, which I attended. The sun was shining, the food was delicious, the company was lovely, but I just stared at the fathers there and wished that Terry could have joined them. He really wanted children and if life had listened to our plans, this would have been his last Father’s Day without them. We would have spent the day excitedly dreaming about what future Father’s Days would bring, still blind to the fact that those plans might not work out.

Over lunch, I asked how Terry’s tree was getting on. Well, his sister told me. I asked how long before it would be fully grown and she estimated 10-15 years. I suddenly thought of 2024, which if I live to see will mean that I have survived ten years without my Terry and I wanted to hide myself away and just sob at the mere thought of ten years without him. I have recently been focusing on making it to the one year sadiversary in September, which I am dreading, and hadn’t realized that I have no idea what I will do after I survive a year without him. One year without my better half, my partner in crime, my everything seems so horribly unbearable to me, but a whole lifetime without him? It is literally too horrible and painful to think about.

When I can’t handle something big, I break it down into manageable tasks. And so, unable to think about an entire lifetime without Terry, I return to this first Father’s Day without him. Today I am incapable of celebrating the many brilliant fathers out there, because I cannot take my mind off of the man that I chose to father my children, who never got the chance to be the most amazing father in the whole wide world, which he undoubtedly would have become if life weren’t so horribly cruel and unfair.

Today is another difficult day in a difficult year that I am taking day by day until I can find it in me to celebrate once again.

Onwards And Straight Into A Wall

I get asked how are you doing? a lot – and I never know what to say. I used to love the saying ‘onwards and upwards,’ but these days it feels bit more like I’m moving onwards and straight into the nearest wall. Terry had a scar on his forehead from running into a wall when he was a little boy that I used to love to trace with my finger while he was sleeping. He was embarrassed of it but I loved it because it made him all the more unique. I, too, bear scars from running into these invisible hurdles that have been put in my way but mine are invisible to the naked eye.

Because no one can see my scars, people can forget that they are there. I have been struggling to get everything that’s being asked of me done at work recently and broke down in tears in my boss’ office and asked for some help (which was really hard for me). She looked absolutely shocked and after a moment’s silence said ‘I’m so sorry, Mandi. I should have offered you help from the get go, but you look like you’re doing OK and I had no idea you weren’t.’ I’ve mentioned before my surprise that others can’t see how much I struggle with the day to day, but how could I expect you to?

As you may already know, I like to monitor progress: I have a Chain of Debt on my wall as a visual reminder of how many months of debt payments I have left to make before I am debt free and I give myself a sticker on my calendar every time that I work out. Although I generally feel that i am making progress in this new and unwanted life, I find myself frustrated that I can’t measure how far I’ve come, and if I could it would be all the more frustrating on the bad days when I take a few natural steps back in my grief. For those of us who are planners, the immense unpredictability of grieving can be really hard to handle. On the good days I can feel like I’m making progress but on the bad days sometimes I feel like I’ve gone almost back to rock bottom.

Last weekend I got to spend the day in London with a good friend from the States who was in town on business. Over lunch she looked at me and said ‘you look a lot better than you did in December.’ I appreciated her words because she’s right, I have made some sort of progress since December: i have started working again, building my way slowly up to an almost full timetable, I have moved into a new house in a new city where I am working hard to make new friends and to get to know my coworkers better. I have survived some very difficult days and enjoyed some good days out with friends, all in the span of a few short months. As all of this is a continuous uphill struggle into a wall, I am rarely capable of noticing the progress that I have made for myself, but when I take a step back I can see it. Although I am not where I want to be (with Terry) neither am I where I was (in a heap on the floor) and that will just have to be enough.

And so I continue my journey onwards and straight into the next wall.

What On Earth Do You Say?

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me 

-A. Liar

Whoever said that words don’t hurt is a liar. Perhaps you shouldn’t let them hurt you but anyone who’s been made fun of or insulted knows that they hurt nonetheless. Our society doesn’t talk about death and as a result people genuinely don’t know what to say when your 30 year old husband dies suddenly. At all. Most have said such kind, supportive words, but in the eight months since my husband died I have been hurt by several well-meaning comments and sadly other widows that I’ve spoken with have been, too. To be honest, I don’t know what I would have said to a friend who lost their husband were I still happily married to Terry; I likely would have said something similarly well-meaning and potentially hurtful. These comments were not meant to hurt, but they hurt nonetheless and so I am writing this in the hopes that should anyone you know find yourself in my situation (and I genuinely hope they do not) those of you who have not been bereaved might have a better idea of what to say. This is not the ultimate guide for talking to widows, it is merely my thoughts on a recurring issue. 

You’re young, you’ll find someone else. You’re right, I am young. Too young to be a widow, that’s for damn sure and yet here I am. I know that Terry doesn’t want me to spend the rest of my life alone and I hope to have a family someday, but when I hear this it feels like you’re implying that Terry is replaceable, like a broken toothbrush. My Terry is not replaceable and should I be so lucky as to find someone else it could never be a replacement, merely a new chapter in a story that has thus far been quite tragic. 

Did you have children? No? That’s good then. Those of you that know me best know that the hardest part of Terry dying has been the loss of the family that we planned on having. It is like a knife in my soul when I think about the fact that I will never be able to have his children. We really wanted children and he would have been the best father. To imply that my loss is any easier without having children to look after is wrong and extremely hurtful. If you know any widows with children you may be aware that it is not any easier than being widowed without; it is only a different kind of pain. Please don’t imply that my inability to have my late husband’s children is a blessing in any way. It’s not. Should I ever be able to have children they will never be Terry’s and that, too, is incredibly difficult to deal with. 

So when are you moving back to America? Most people assume that now that my husband has died I will have to move back in with my parents in Nashville. Actually, I have Indefinite Leave to Remain (the UK equivalent of a Green Card) meaning I can live in the UK for the rest of my life if I so wish. I’ve lived in the UK for three and half years now and most every memory that I have with Terry is here. I understand when people ask if I plan on moving back to America, but to just assume that I will go ‘home’ belittles the fact that this, too, is my home. And it is in the UK that I built my home with Terry. I very well might move back to the States at some point, but I am giving myself enough time in the UK to make an informed decision as to what’s best for me and one that I will not regret. 

I don’t know how you do it – I couldn’t possibly (do what you’re doing) if my husband died. You may be right, but I didn’t spend my happily married years planning an emergency survival plan for when Terry died. I had never considered my husband dying a possibility, even while holding his hand in the ICU hours before the doctors told us that he had passed away. If I wasn’t surviving without Terry, I wouldn’t have believed myself capable either (although I still have my doubts about surviving this). Please don’t tell me that were you in my shoes you couldn’t do what I am being forced to do. I know you mean to imply that I am strong, but you have no idea what you would do if your husband died, and you are so lucky. On that note:

If my husband died I’d…. I’m going to stop you right there: has your husband died? If not, please keep these opinions to yourself. This sentence is usually ended with a decision opposite to the one that I’ve just made. Do I know what I’m doing in life? Not really. I feel like I’ve been drifting since Terry died. Have I made perfect decisions? Probably not, but I have made careful decisions and even the smallest of them has been very difficult to make without being able to consult with Terry, with whom I used to discuss everything. It’s hard making decisions on my own, please don’t minimise them by imagining that you would do something different were you in my position. If you’d asked me what I would have done if Terry died while he was still alive, I could never have imagined the past eight months. Truly you cannot possibly imagine until you find yourself in my situation. 

You didn’t change your maiden name? Oh that’s good, now you don’t have to change it back! I’m a lover, not a fighter, but I almost physically attacked the person who said this to me. Then I realized it wasn’t appropriate to hit people who obviously have a mental deficiency and went on with my life. 1) I didn’t keep my maiden name in the off-chance that my husband would drop dead and 2) if I had changed my maiden name I wouldn’t have changed it back just because my husband died. 

So what can I say to you, you madwoman? I know, I’m making it seem like there are a million things not to say to widows and you may well feel that it’s best to say nothing at all to avoid hurting us. We’re already hurting, but just as words can cut, they can also bring incredible comfort to a broken heart. Here’s what I would recommend saying to someone in my situation:

I don’t know what to say. Genuinely, most people don’t but saying this is such a simple, true statement that lets us know that if you could say something to help, you would.  

I’m so very sorry for your loss. This is the most simple way of expressing your condolences and one that I really appreciate.

Share your memories of Terry with me. It means so much when people take the time to share a beloved memory with my husband. Terry brought a smile to the face of everyone he met and I miss that so much, Your memories help to keep that gorgeous smile alive. Don’t be afraid that mentioning Terry will cause me pain; I’m already in pain. Although they may be bittersweet, I cherish each and every memory that I have left of my gorgeous man. 

If you don’t know what to say call me or spend time with me and listen to me talk about Terry. It’s been eight months and my husband is still my favourite topic of conversation. Talking about and remembering the nine amazing years that I spent with Terry is the most natural thing in the world to me. Please don’t think that I shouldn’t be talking about him after eight months, a year, eight years, a lifetime. I should talk about him as often as I feel up for it and a listening ear is much appreciated. 

Please keep in mind that all widows are different, but we are all in a nightmare of a situation and doing the best we can. Please don’t be afraid to talk to us (it hurts when you avoid us) but please just think about how the words you’ve chosen to help us heal might have the opposite affect. I do not mean to sound ungrateful for the kind words I have received from so many: I will never be able to thank you all enough for the support I have received, but I hope that this post helps to shed some light on what we all find to be a very complicated issue. 

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this post with me, please do get in touch.