I wrote the following article in January 2015, a little over 4 years after Maria passed. It was a pivotal time:
This is a profound moment. This article marks the end of one chapter of my life and the beginning of a new one. I use the analogy with a novel, because generally life is so like that, though a chapter might end and a new one start, there is a natural flow between them, some threads carry on, others are released or lost and new ones begin. But every now and again the story heads off in an almost entirely new direction – so maybe this is more than a new chapter, maybe it’s the Story of My Life Part 2.
As I write this I feel like am standing at the edge of a cliff, on the verge of letting go of pretty much everything from my past and launching into a new space – very much hoping that as I flap my newly formed wings, I am actually going to fly.
My last chapter was a four year period that has been the most devastating, painful and difficult of my life, a period of intense loss that started with the death of my life partner, Maria, with whom I had spent 17 happy years. It is also the most transformational and greatest period of learning and growth that I have been through since I was a child. And in that last sentence lies the essence of what I believe to be a fundamental understanding of the choices and attitudes we can make in the process of dealing with our grief, that can help to make recovery and healing more bearable and more positive.
It has taken me all of that four years to learn, struggle with, deny, try to avoid and ultimately finally accept that the only way for me to truly move forward and start my life again, is to let go of almost all of my past. My home, my belongings, my business, my beliefs, my limitations, my blocks, my insecurities… and to rebuild with a completely fresh sheet. I am heading out with a few treasured possessions, some loose goals, some fabulous people to connect with, an idea of what my purpose is – and a trust that where the wind, my spirit and my intuition blow me will deliver everything I need to lead a happier and more fulfilled life. It is at once terrifying and thrilling.
Grief can by utterly and totally devastating. It is complex and experienced uniquely be each individual. The extent and nature of our grief is also affected by the connection we have with those we lose and at what stage of our lives – and by the circumstances involved. Where loss is unexpected, outside our natural belief about life expectancy and involve traumatic events, that loss can have an enormous impact on our own lives (and those around us): in every respect. Trauma and shock are added to the loss. And we will carry that for the rest of our own days. There are those who have lost dear ones recently who will read this article and wonder how I can possibly talk about anything positive coming out of such loss, which I completely understand. I would have had the same reaction four years ago. Maria and I were each other’s core family and we both lived together and worked together. It was a happy, fulfilling relationship and we were rarely apart in those 17 years. So I felt like my life ended with Maria’s, that I would never to able to live without her. That I might as well die too. And the circumstances of her passing, which I have still only been able to share with a few people, added to the devastation. How could anything positive possibly come out of that? Well though it might be hard for you to believe, it can. And it is. Slowly.
And don’t get me wrong. I stand here on the verge of the writing of my new chapter, with my pen in hand and a blank sheet of paper, not because my grief has ended, far from it, but because I have finally come to understand that learning to live with it and through it every day, is the only I option I have if I want to fully experience my new path. The treasured memories are by far the largest part of my current life that I will carry forward with me. Though much of the last 4 years has been dark and tough, there have been moments and periods of bright light. I went through extreme emotions – for the first 9 months I did little more than cry. Sometimes all day. I barely slept, ate little. I couldn’t believe it had happened, I tried to deny it. I felt totally broken, empty, like my insides had been ripped out. I got angry, I tried to bargain – I would have given my life for just one more hour with her. I became depressed, had the darkest of thoughts and felt like I couldn’t carry on even another day. The pain and anguish seemed relentless.
And then after a year or so, I started to emerge. Gradually a little at a time. Still so many dark days, but also being lucky enough to know and meet some amazing people who helped me to join the world again – and even enjoy some of the best experiences of my life. Now I feel like I am finally coming out of the shadows and emerging more fully into that light, but knowing that I will still have days on which I will crumble and fall back into that darkness; when I will feel hopeless about that path or want to change direction. But now at least I know that all of that is ok. That I can get through it. That I can get through anything. And it will all somehow work out for the best.
There is so much I would like to share about those four years, but it will take a book to do it. There are some really key decisions though, learnings, understandings that I came to, that I believe have been absolutely essential to helping me get through to this point. I reached those decisions out of a desperate need to find answers. Even knowing that there were no answers. At the beginning I wanted to know why. Why did this have to happen? Why Maria? Why did she have to suffer? Why me? Why did I have to lose her? And I wanted to understand. What is the point to life when it gets taken away so cruelly? What happens after death? Where is Maria now? How can people believe in God when he takes away the good people? How do I deal with this? How will I ever get over it? Why? What? How? Over and over…
So I started to read and research and absorb and talk and to take action to try and help myself – and to accept the help of others – so that I could get through it. Sometimes I did the right things, sometimes I got it wrong. Very wrong. I tried to move forward before I had dealt with and let go of the pain of the past. I started on a path to self-healing and then diverted off it in a significant way. In a way that hurt me some more and also hurt others. I was more vulnerable than I have ever been in my life and my vulnerability both opened me to healing and to more pain and then to more healing. But all of it landed me in the place I am now.
Amongst the wise advice I received during this time, was that of an old friend from my childhood who lost both her parents within a short period of time during her late teens. It devastated and informed her life. She subsequently studied Psychology at University and told me something that had a profound impact on me. She said that when a major catastrophic event like this happens, the “schemas” that we have developed up to that point – our truths as we know them and the rules that we apply to our existence, get called into question. It’s like our understanding of what life is, of who we are and what we are meant to be here for, get thrown up in the air and we can no longer make sense of it. And at this point we stand at a critical crossroads. Do we re-establish our schemas as they were before, go back to a semblance of the same life as the same person, or do we take the opportunity to take a fresh look at it all and rebuild it based on a different understanding, a new series of perspectives, on the world, our connections and ourselves. I have chosen the latter. It is not the general choice. Most people settle back into a similar pattern. Often because of the commitments we have in our life that draw us back – dependents like children and family, careers – and the comfort and safety of familiarity.
In many ways, I have been very fortunate to be able to make the choice I have, not least of all because of Maria. She was an amazing woman. Kind, generous, intelligent, a beautiful soul with an innate sense of spirituality. Far more than I. And though I didn’t learn as much from her as I should have when she was here, I have since. And I know how much she would approve of me learning those lessons and being more positive and embracing of life in a new way. I was lucky also that we had time to talk, to say all the things we needed to say. Maria knew how to really live, how to appreciate and enjoy what she had. She dealt with her illness with such bravery and dignity and reached a level of understanding and acceptance that was beyond my own understanding at the time. She told me that her only regret was that she would no longer be here to take care of me. How telling that was – and how proud she would be that I am finally learning to do that for myself. And about time too. I also have extraordinary and wonderfully supportive family and friends, who I have come to appreciate more than I ever did – some I have known for years and some I have connected with more recently and I am so incredibly grateful for their love and support and for their patient kind and gentle guidance – especially at times when I have been too broken to make sensible decisions or to see clearly the error of my ways.
So this is it. I’m letting go. Hello today, I’m right here to enjoy you – and bring on tomorrow, I’ll be right there with you too.