One of the things I’ve struggled with the most is trying to explain to people the frustration and sheer pain involved in not knowing where Gail is. When I broach this people think I’m talking about religion of spiritualism or some form of after-life or I’ve simply not come to terms with death, but it’s actually beyond that. It doesn’t feel to me as if it’s something I have the words for, but being as that’s one of the reasons I started this thing, I suppose I have to try.
The first stage is just the incredulity that the person you love beyond anything else is simply not there any more. The night I left the hospital, I made sure Gail was comfortable (although I could see she wasn’t), asked her if there was anything else she needed, told her I loved her and then left. I thought I’d see her again the following day… but, of course, although I did ‘see her’ I didn’t really. She’d gone.
The initial stage of that loss is just the incomprehension. All the plans you made, the things you said you’d do, the home you set up together, your whole life, everything, is just reduced to nothing. You feel empty and hollow, angry and frustrated and without any direction and, for all that I’ve done since, I’d have to say that feeling doesn’t really go away.
Within that though, you start to live another existence – not one you want or necessarily care about – but one that you’re forced to partake in. You get hungry so you feed yourself, you get tired so you sleep, the cats want feeding so you feed them and, bit by bit, you get through one day and then another. You may not see anything worthwhile in anything, but you’re aware of others; parents, children, siblings, friends, colleagues who may want to talk to you, ask your advice, be with you or need your help. Through the ennui, you just plod on and start to do other things and slowly build a sort of life.
Now this is necessary, horrible and painful but it’s not what I found crushed me the most. The only way I can think to describe the feeling is, it is like being on the ground floor of the home that you’ve known for a decade or more, moving a cabinet or some flooring, and finding another level below the one you’re standing on. What makes it worse is the banality of it.
Gail loved travel programmes; like many, she was someone who was happiest with an azure sky, a blue sea and a whitewashed panorama of buildings on a steep cliff. She always talked about us moving somewhere warm when I retired. One of the TV shows that captured this best for her was ‘The Durrells’. She loved the whole idea of moving to a Greek Island and this programme really caught her imagination. She got excited when it was on and I’d sit with her as she wrapped herself in the story
I hadn’t given any thought to the show until I was watching TV in April 2018 and a trailer came on announcing the ‘third and final series of the Durrell’s’. I remember just being gripped by an overwhelming sensation. The final series…? but Gail wouldn’t see it! I recall my stomach lurching like I was on a fairground ride. How could there be a series of her favourite show she wouldn’t be able to see? That didn’t make sense; she must be able to see it, must be somewhere where she could watch it.
I said I was having trouble putting this into words and I still am. Even as I type this I can feel that emotion but the words don’t come to close to describing it. Panic is the nearest perhaps, but it’s not the same as that; it’s like the world is tipping and you think you’ll slide off.
It’s just the conventionality and vapidity that claws at you. Just a stupid TV show. With all the things I missed about Gail in my life, all the things I felt every day – and here I was desperately trying to grasp the fact that she wouldn’t be able to see that show unless there’s some sort of Valhalla showing box sets and football matches.
Then you think: ‘This isn’t right, she must be able to see this. I don’t know how or where but she must be somewhere to see this because otherwise there is no point to it. No point to anything. So where is she to watch it? Can she see it?’
Now, of course, essentially this then just looks like the age-old philosophical debate on existence or a theological issue of God – and there are much better places for that than here. In any case I’m pretty sure nobody is seriously putting forward the idea of an after-life where you get to see your favourite soaps for all eternity. But it isn’t that for me. It’s an actual sense of feeling a deeper level here and now; something below what most people think you’re going through with grief (and, as I’ve explained elsewhere, some people can’t even understand the top level!) and something I’ve not heard anyone talking about before.
Naturally, there isn’t an answer to this – in fact, I know I’ve come nowhere near to expressing the question! – but, for me at least, it’s one of the worst, and totally surprising, aspects of grief. The only way I could cope with it was to leave the TV show on where she was, watch it myself and then discuss with it her after. Insane? Perhaps. But I didn’t care; still don’t. I had to know she’d seen that series.
Have I come close to expressing the feeling? I doubt it. The TV series was just a ‘in’ to something that has become a touchstone for something where I just don’t struggle to find an answer, but I can’t even find how to even pose the question. It’s reoccurred since in missing conversations and physical longing – but I’m not going down that particular alley at the moment.
All I’ll ask is how long it took you to read this. Five minutes? Ten if it was too dense. Well, it took me over a week to write it and I’ve read it dozens of times since, but I’m still left with a sense I’ve explained nothing. It will be interesting to see if anyone else has this and has a better insight.
I know the impossible feeling you are trying to describe. After 2 1/2 years I still find myself asking Scott “where are you?”. It’s so much more than just needing to know if there is a “heaven”. I simply can’t grasp fully that life has dared to go on without him. I want so badly to go and get him, rescue him and make him safe again. Maybe this is guilt I feel from not being able to keep him alive. Thank you Mr. B for your beautiful way with words.
Thank you for your kind words, Laura. Small comfort but nice to see you’ve struggled with the same dilemma.