Five Years (Preface)

Back in the summer on the 4th anniversary of Gail’s death, I posted on Facebook from Porto where I’d gone for my getaway

‘Four years ago tonight was the last time I spoke to Gail. This seems utterly bizarre. Like picking up a telescope in the dark, never sure what way round it is, I’m uncertain if she will be so far away that the whole relationship seems like a febrile fantasy or so close that I can just shout out and she’ll answer.’

I wrote it late in the evening just about the time I had last spoken to her. I was in a great City that she would have loved, seeing places she’d have liked, eating food she’d have approved of and I’d had a few reds too – which she would definitely have enjoyed! When I read it back later it seemed unbearably poignant but also something I was pleased with as it captured my immediate feeling so accurately. What was nice was that many people contacted me to say that they ‘got it’ and felt the same.

That phrase became the subject of another thought later though as I realised that short reflections like that were exactly the type of thing that prompted me to start this blog in the first place, but somehow, over the years, that had fallen away and I had only posted here if I had something specific that would make up a few hundred word post. I realised that social media is still the best place to get a short consideration like that out. This isn’t the place for a fifty word idea.

This brought me back to something that had concerned me soon after I started this blog; which is how long exactly should I continue to do it? I think I mentioned elsewhere that a lot of places I visited on the web seemed to stop after the first year. I felt that was wrong as it gives the impression that after a full cycle has been completed, grief gets easier and it buys into the whole myth of ‘time being a great healer’. Conversely, I did see the issue with continuing after the year; essentially most people just assume you’ve come to terms with it and are back on the road and sympathy for your feelings are – if not exactly non-existent – certainly strained. The only people who understand are those it has happened too.

I’m now approaching my fifth Christmas without Gail and, honestly, none of them have been any easier than the first one. In fact, apart from odd incidents that have stuck I’m not even sure I have had five. Whole Christmas Days seem to have blocked from my mind; Boxing days are virtually non-existent. I’ve even found myself counting up on occasion to make sure I have the dates right. Was the third one the lockdown? No, that was the second, wasn’t it?

So here’s what I’ve decided. I’m going to open up a page called ‘Five Years’ and post various thoughts that strike me during the year and then – at the end of the five year anniversary in August next year I’m going to stop and just leave the blog here for posterity (in reality when I die and no-one is going to pay the annual fee!).

I think I’ve done what I needed to do. I think Gail would have appreciated what I’ve done but mostly I’ve done it because it’s helped me.

So that’s it. Five years, stuck on my eyes perhaps.

On The Beach

Life’s rich tapestry, eh?

If you’d told me five years ago I’d be on holiday in Dubrovnik on Gail’s birthday with my son and daughter-in-law, daughter and son-in-law, I’d have suggested you get a lint-free cloth and polish up your crystal ball a little better.

To say Gail and I were a self-contained unit would be putting it mildly. We never needed other people and were perfectly happy just being in each other’s company. In my case, people would nod and say ‘Of course he’d be happy just being with her’ but with Gail the supposition seemed to be that she wanted more dynamism is her life and somehow I was holding her back. Nothing could be further from the truth. I never wanted to hold Gail back from anything she wanted to do, and I actively encouraged her to try things she might otherwise not have experienced even if they didn’t involve me. But she often complained to me about the expectations that people had of her, wondering why people only saw a side of her that – while it existed – wasn’t her full personality.

While I knew full well what it was that people got from her company, it was very difficult to describe what happened when someone came into her orbit. Somehow, once they’d met her, they wanted more from her than she was often able to give. It’s difficult standing outside and seeing a personality bubble and shine, yourself a victim of it of sorts, but also with a different perspective on it that nobody else seemed to grasp (This isn’t me giving myself some side here either; Gail told me as much herself).

We’d met people on holiday before and, while happy to make their acquaintance, we didn’t want to spend more than a meal time or an evening drink with them. Gail had said to me ‘Let’s go out for the day so we can get away from [whoever]. The thing is that would suggest we didn’t like these people or didn’t get along with them but that isn’t the case. Inevitably though, the blame for her not being around for these people was down to me as it was assumed Gail would never have turned on her back on their company. I have to be careful here but one of the couples – much older than us – we grew very fond of and I am still in touch with; the other – well, let’s just say the male half was a TV personality – and he and his wife gave the impression that they thought I was locking her in the room so they couldn’t see her. “He doesn’t like you” was all Gail said, barely supressing a giggle.

As far as family were concerned we were both of the opinion that you nurtured children through the early part of their life and they then went their own way. We used to holiday together when they were younger but the teenage years put an end to that – they were Gail’s step-children so it was unfair to foist that trial on her – and while Gail did occasionally go on short breaks with her own daughter – usually to Marmaris to do shopping – the idea of us all going on holiday together just wouldn’t have arisen. Since Gail’s passing, I had been on holiday with both my children and their spouses as couples – itself a major development – but there was no denying this extended Fam thing was a new venture.

Of course, some see this as chance to put that tick next to the box that says ‘Moving On’ or ‘Making New Memories’ and, much as I despise it, it’s pretty difficult to argue against that. I am moving forward at least; I’m still here and determined to do , experience and see things and the fact I was away on Gail’s birthday was certainly no coincidence. I’m need to be somewhere on those days and this holiday, originally planned in 2019, was another opportunity to cover one of them. Of course, it was great spending time with my kids; seeing your offspring becoming fully-rounded adults dealing with life on their own terms is extremely rewarding.

I woke early on the morning of the 3rd and decided to go for a walk. I called up Gail’s music on my phone and went to the nearby Copacabana Beach. The gang and I had spent the morning there a few days before and it was a lovely spot; not crowded even then. Today, it was beautiful morning, warm sunshine and a gorgeous early light reflecting off the Adriatic but with absolutely no-one in sight. I just sat down and played the songs that meant a lot to us. It was very emotional and I felt very close to her. It got the day off to a reverential start for me and it felt good. I distanced myself a bit during the day but the birthday was never mentioned and in the evening we all went into the walled town and had out a big meal. It made a huge hole in the budget but it wouldn’t have been right to do anything else.

We all agreed that Dubrovnik really is a fantastic destination and my kids – better travelled than me even – reckoned it was one of the most beautiful places they’d ever seen. There wasn’t an hour that passed that week though, when I didn’t think ‘Gail would have loved this’. I still feel she’s holidaying with me and I know I don’t ever want that to change.

6am Copacabana Beach, Dubrovnik


I’ve always been fascinated with language. The ability to capture an emotion, mood, nuance or feeling in a song, story or poem seems to me to be the greatest thing. I’m also always astonished when I find a word in another language that doesn’t have an English equivalent. How does that happen?

This is the 3rd Anniversary of Gail’s passing and I’ve done what I’ve done for every other significant day and that is to get away and try to do something different. This year sees me in Portmeirion, a place I’ve wanted to visit since I watched the TV series ‘The Prisoner’ as a boy, more years ago than I’d like to recount.

I know some people see what I do as ‘making new memories’ but it doesn’t seem like that to me. I have to do something with the day; I can’t ignore it or work through it some way, and it just seems better to be able to associate it with something I’ve always wanted to do. Three years away and even during COVID I can look back and recount where I’ve been on each successive anniversary – be it wedding, birthday, ‘D’ (No word for the day of death?) or Funeral day – and that seems a worthwhile thing. Like Hong Kong in 2019 and Egypt in 2020 I feel as if she’d have approved at me trying to do things, and in a way I feel closer to her if I can do and see things for her. Wrapped up in that though is a curious consequence.

Although I don’t remember it ever being discussed, let alone dismissed as a bad idea, the fact is coming to Portmeirion with Gail would have been extremely difficult. Due to her Lupus her mobility was always impaired and although she successfully got around Ephesus as relatively recently as 2010, Portmeirion would have been far too much. Coming to these places then means I’m doing things I wouldn’t have done had she been here and it’s too easy to see that as, if not a exactly a positive, then certainly a light in the darkness, a sense I’m – please no! – ‘moving on’. I try not to look at it like that.

For me there’s not one single aspect of my life that is better without Gail in it. However, the fact is I’ve done things, seen things, met people that I wouldn’t have done had she still been alive. All those things I’ve done and everyone I’ve met have been positive experiences – even when they might not have seemed it later on – and I’m happy and grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to do them while wishing with all my heart that it had never been necessary.

Because I posted some photos of Portmeirion on social media, I got a lot of support and positivity from people – many of whom I have never met. In amongst the wishes was the inevitable ‘It gets easier’ or ‘Time is a great healer’. I used to wonder about that three years ago. What exactly was going to happen when that time came and how would I recognise it? Would I have days where I simply wouldn’t think about Gail and what would fill that void instead?

What I’ve discovered after three years is that no-one has the language to adequately describe what actually happens. People generally are trying to help but, like those who tell me I will ‘see her again’ – something that rankles with me as it surmises a belief that shouldn’t be assumed – telling me it gets easier is just a collection of words designed to console.

To confuse matters, some who tell me it gets easier have occasionally experienced the same loss but are just a year or two or three further down the line; suggesting their is some end point I’ve not yet reached. However, that thought was expunged when, on one occasion, I discovered one consoler actually lost their partner more recently than me, but just assumed my loss must be more recent because of the pain I was describing. Did that person then actually feel better than me? Had they discovered some biblical-style grace that meant they felt the loss less keenly?

So let’s put this thing into some type of context. It doesn’t get easier, time isn’t a great healer, but what happens is it gets different. It isn’t more fun, you don’t relish the freedom, it’s not better to have an Anniversary meal on your own, you don’t think how lucky you are that you’ve now got the opportunity to visit this place you’d not have seen, you don’t count all the new relationships you’ve made.

What you do is the only thing left to you – you just get on with it and hope you find some nice times and thoughts to go with the ones you already had and lost.

So, a word for that please?

The Bed’s Too Big Without You

I commemorate the big days – the birthday, the wedding anniversary, the D-Day – but I tend not to count the months. That way madness lies.

Having said that though, I notice as I type this that is has been exactly 30 months to the day I lost Gail. That’s significant. I understand a lack of sleep in the first year or so of grieving; I know how the mind races looking for answers to questions it can’t possibly find the answer to. But 30 months? Surely, in that time one or two decent nights sleep are not too much to ask for?

I’ve discussed this before (Sweet Dreams) but things seem to have gotten worse rather than better and I’m not seeing any real end to it. Lack of sleep, disquieting dreams, night sweats and awful, nerve shredding nightmares are one of the worst side-effects of grief. I know from speaking to others in a similar situation that they all suffer from them and all find them upsetting and bewildering but I rarely see anything written about it. I wonder why that is? The lack of acknowledgment is fascinating considering the surfeit of advice and self-help I’ve received for every other aspect of dealing with my life post-Gail.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, there’s a lot of well-intentioned nonsense to be had from others trying to console and encourage you as you attempt to recover from losing a loved one, in fact only today I was told I was ‘doing grand’ by someone I’ve not seen in two years. Depending on my mood, it can be very funny or faintly annoying; on a bad day it can induce Grief Tourette’s, but the only advice I’ve ever had on bad nightmares is ‘they can’t hurt you’. And there lies the rub.

Because for all the exercise, contemplation, meeting people, spending time on my own, going out, staying in, yoga, transcendental meditation – insert as applicable – that has been suggested for my wellbeing, nobody – and particularly me – has any advice on what I can instruct my head to do when I go to sleep. And, oh my God, it does some strange and terrible things.

One thing I think it’s vital to point out is that it never lets me dream about Gail as I knew her. Good or bad she is simply not there like that. This seems awfully cruel. After all, we’ve penning sonnets and writing love songs for centuries in which the protagonist gets to dream about his or her loved one. Poor Roy Orbison – and there was a man who had more than his share of tragedy – made a whole career out of dreamin’. I dream about Gail but never of her, she’s always on the periphery somewhere, usually somewhere I can’t get to her and I’m searching for her or just full of the knowledge that she’s unobtainable.

For many nights I searched a theatre that I knew she was in, going up and down aisles seeing if I could see her. Often I’d return to an aisle where I thought I’d glimpsed her only to find it was blocked off. I’d awake from these dreams, stressed and anxious and deeply disturbed. They would impinge on my day and be difficult to shake and yet, of course, they couldn’t harm me, they were just my brain’s way of dealing with a situation. So what can I do to make my brain have ‘nice thoughts’ and give me a decent night’s rest? Well, there seems to a marked lack of advice on what I can do about that!

Strangely, the theatre dream disappeared after I told someone about it and I did briefly contemplate ringing someone randomly every day to tell them of last night’s dream in the hope it would expunge it from brain once uttered but figured what few friends I had might disappear altogether if I carried on like that. My current dreams often involve Gail’s ex-husband – a man I’d never met and not considered for one moment in 30 years (I knew her before him and she left him for me – long story! – so it’s not as if I’ve any axe to grind). They make no sense and I genuinely don’t believe I have or had any deep-rooted issue with the man; rather I think my brain is trying to tell me something or get something out but I can’t figure out what it is.

Just two months after Gail passed I bought a new bed. I couldn’t bear to sleep any longer in something that she’d been in and would never be in again, so I decided to make a wholesale change and sell the divan base as well as the mattress and just get new. I thought I researched it well at the time but I’ve began wondering if I was just so desperate to make a change that I made the wrong choice so, even though it’s less than two years since I bought the new bed I decided I needed to make more changes.

So yes, the big news is I have something new in my life now; something that is supposed to make my life better. I’m just getting used to it but the cats seem to have already decided and they are perfectly happy with the change. Allow me to introduce you to Emma. Emma Mattress. I’ll let you know if this is a match that is going to last.

The Long and Winding Road

It’s been over three months since I’ve last updated here, and I’m aware that’s significant.

It’s not through tardiness or waning interest in this project – far from it – but I will concede my criticisms of those blogs that have a one year timeline might have been a bit hasty. If you decide to chart your progress – or lack of it – by a period of time then you have some end to it. I’m worried some people might come here and think ‘Oh, he’s still rambling on, is he? It’s been x years now. Get on with it man!’

But then again that is what scares me; that circular concern that some people looking for some sort of solace from grief will think it either wanes after a period or, conversely, it never ends and there is no hope from it. I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. Some find other things in life to focus on. Others find a way of working around it, while some are unable to move one iota and it lives on in them forever.

Someone I met this year – someone I liked a lot and wouldn’t have met had I not been widowed – described every day as like ‘walking through treacle’. I quite liked the analogy but being the awkward so and so I am I couldn’t help but put the analogy through its paces to see if it could keep up. I was wondering if you ever get free of the treacle and you move as you used to? Or do you eventually build up some strength through the constant movement and it makes it easier to walk? Or does nothing change and you just get used to walking through treacle? (OK too far, I know!)

It’s interesting how we are prepared to face some things in life but find it hard to accept the inevitability in death. For example, if a 60-year-old could run as fast as he could when he was 16 then that would be a wondrous thing – but he can’t, of course and wouldn’t expect to. It would be wrong to say we like that fact but we at least understand it and accept it; to do otherwise would be pointless. But surely that’s the same with grief? We can’t be like we were when that special person was around but somehow we refuse to accept it.

Anyway, a lot has been going on – although in many ways nothing has been going on! – in 2020 and it has affected me enormously. Since January, I have been emptying my parents home. I’m an only child and I can’t and won’t ask for help as I feel it is my duty and, in any case, any help will still amount to the same thing i.e ‘What do you want to do with this?’ I may as well keep it simple.

I won’t lie, there have been days when I’ve got a boost from achieving something over there, but those trips to East London are also mentally wearing, knowing I’ve done them at least twice a week since I left home at 21 and now I’m doing exactly the same thing but without having anyone either with me as I travel, or having anyone to greet me when I arrive. I had considered renting out the property but I realise now I can’t do that. It will tie me to the house and the need to revisit. I need to let it go.

And now it’s December, and the house that used to be baking hot with a roaring fire in the living room, smelling of Christmas as my father burnt chestnuts with regular abandon, is cold and almost empty. People I don’t know are walking through it. Last week, I decided to bury my parents’ ashes in the garden and I invited the Vicar to say a few words in front of a small gathering; my daughter and son-in-law were there but my son couldn’t travel because of the pandemic, a couple of good neighbours attended but we couldn’t hug or even stay close together. It summed up the grim reality of the year so well.

The rest of the year has been concerned with those highs and lows that everyone suffers. I know if I threw a stone down the High Street and asked each person it hit to come and relate their year then I would gather a wealth of different stories by the end of the day. Probably few of those stories would mean that much to the listener -though many might – but each will be important to the person telling it. So it is with me, but this is not the place for it. All I’ll say is I’ve been elated and battered in equal measure by something I thought I was looking for but now realise I can’t deal with. The result of that is has left me hurt and confused and not sure where I go from here.

My third Christmas without Gail approaches and I feel like the Page following King Wenceslas; treading in some deep, well-dug steps, trying to stop a battering from the wind and huddling behind something to stop me freezing but unaware of where I am going. And yes, I know that will get me a place in Pseuds Corner but I’d love that anyway, that is something that makes sense.

A Very Merry Unbirthday

Bad news here, I’m afraid.

Twenty-two months in and the pain is no better; in many ways it’s worse. I apologise for anyone visiting this site and looking for stories of a quick fix, but I can only sadly say there isn’t any.

I know, it’s crap isn’t it? Sorry. You can claim your refund at the box office.

Today was the second of Gail’s birthday’s she has missed, a kind of Unbirthday if you like or, as a similarly grieving friend neatly put it, an Anniversary birthday. I like that and have adopted it.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is nothing you can do with these days. You can’t ignore them – or at least, I can’t – but you can’t really celebrate them either.

Up until today I’ve practised diversion therapy; I’ve either been away for the event or I’ve organised something life-affirming or something I’ve always wanted to try. Stuck in COVID19 lockdown though, it was depressing to see how many things I did this time last year that are unavailable to me this. I could get to London still, but the restaurants are closed, so are the bars, the hotels and even the church. I couldn’t even light a candle today.

Not that that would have been an issue as I’d decided to leave the country instead. I’d booked a short break in Porto but Coronavirus put paid to that though, and I was left twisting in the wind, trying to decide what to do.

The problem was that the dark pit was looming and I knew I had to get out, so I did. I even put her ashes in the car, something I know a lot of people baulk at but she specifically said she wanted to remain with me, so I just can’t get my head round to treating them like a pile of dust. If she wanted to be with me then that’s her, which, strictly speaking, it is anyway, even if some are uncomfortable with the idea.

Anyway, when we first lived together we moved into a new flat in a place called Southend – a coastal town in Essex for those unacquainted – and that was where I went back to today. Our flat was handily placed, not in a great area in terms of silence or salubriousness, but useful for a ten-minute walk that took you down to the sea in one direction, the town shopping in another and – important factor here – a rather lovely park in another.

Gail loved this park and could often be found there on a warm afternoon or a summer evening. Sometimes she’s ring me from work and say ‘Guess where I am?’ and it was usually the park – although there was a really nice pub (sadly long gone) in the other direction! Surprisingly, I found our old flat was empty and I was able to peer in through the window. Seeing the flat exactly as I saw it when we went to view it together another lifetime ago seemed heart achingly poignant. To make things worse as I tried to move away I found the branches I’d leaned over that were covering the lower half of the wall  were actually thorn’s. It took me several minutes to unpick myself. To see the real irony of this, you’ll have to do some homework.

I’ll leave it with you.

After I went down to the park; a place where Gail spent many hours, sitting reading on a bench, feeding the duck or – on a really good day – watching the Terrapins that came to bask on the side of the lake. She had names of all of these and would often ring me at work to tell me ‘they’re here’ meaning I would know instantly where she was. I loved the childlike excitement she got from seeing these creatures and  I wondered if I might be lucky enough to see them. I needn’t have worried. The terrapins had obviously entered their own breeding program since the days we frequented the park and I counted nearly a dozen including some small ones. She’d have loved it.

I sat for several hours on the bench, having lunch and just watching the lake. The distraction almost worked but floundered on the difficulty of extending the day further. Although lockdown had eased, there was still nowhere to go after, our favourite Greek restaurant was still closed and the seafront coned off to stop people parking. There was nothing to do other than come home and face what I know will be a difficult evening.


In fact, it turned out to be far worse than anything I’d imagined.

I’d being feeling unsteady about the anniversary for a couple of days prior to the park visit, but put it down to just the rising tension of the expectation of the day. Afterwards I saw it for what it was, realising I’d had a full meltdown. During that time,  I was either on the verge of tears or actually sobbing, I was utterly depressed. It was the only time since the previous January, when I wished I could have called my mum.

I talked it through with a few souls who understood but I was extremely low for well over a week. This was more than a general sadness or realisation that all the things I wanted I could never have again. This was dark and dangerous depression and I would say, in retrospect, that I was as low as at any point since Gail passed.

There’s nothing else I can say about it but, in terms of the reason for writing about this whole horrible experience it’s worth remembering that there’s no time-limit on even the smallest part of grief.

Sweet Charity

All charities are suffering under the Coronavirus lockdown, so it was no great surprise when I got an urgent appeal through from the Hospice who provided counselling to me last year.

I’m happy to help obviously and I have several large bags of clothes they can have too when this madness ends. In the short term though, they have suffered a devastating loss of income recently and I feel it’s only right to donate, particularly as the six sessions I had with this Hospice were completely free. The centre helps people facing incurable illness and bereavement, providing support for them, their families, friends and carers, visiting them in their homes and providing 24/7 advice and care. It would be churlish not to support them.

That being the case though, it’s quite difficult to write about my own experiences with them. Having tried Psychotherapy after, I was asked on one occasion by my Counsellor there  ‘What did I expect to get from the sessions?’ and I found it hard to answer. In essence I suppose, I expected to get something I wasn’t expecting; some insight into bereavement that I hadn’t considered, something that might make it easier for me. In real terms, of course, this meant I couldn’t truthfully answer the question; how I could describe what I wanted when I didn’t know what was on offer? Frankly, six months after I’m still really not sure what I made of it.

I’ve spoken of the circumstances of what happened in Cut A Long Story  and in terms of fairness I need to deal with the two sessions separately. So the charity first: Well, in real terms, this just seemed like to somewhere to go for a chat and talk about Gail with someone who had never met her. I felt like I spent the six weeks explaining why she was important to me but didn’t get any further than that.

When I’ve seen therapy depicted on TV or in books, the therapist usually asks pertinent questions designed to encourage the patient (is that what I would be? ) to open up and expand on things they may have difficult confronting. But my Counsellor didn’t seem to say anything and I found the whole transaction emotionally draining (Or is that the point perhaps?). I feel I should have something to show for the experience but other than a poignant memory of the sessions themselves, I can’t seem to recollect anything said either way. To be perfectly honest, at the barrel of a gun I couldn’t even tell you the name of the woman I spoke to for six weeks. That may be my failing, of course. Who can say?

There must be more to doing the job than just listening though or surely everyone could do it? I didn’t feel it was enough to pick up on what I was saying and feed back the usual platitudes that you hear when you’re grieving; I’d heard them all and I needed more but wasn’t sure what I needed more of.

My overriding feeling about grief counselling was it was somewhere to talk about Gail for six hours in that difficult period leading up to Christmas. It was nice to talk about her and I did get upset and release some pent-up emotion during it, gulping back air and swallowing something hard and jagged on occasion, but I never released the wracking sobs and tears of frustration I felt inside. I did get some immediate relief – a slightly euphoric feel just after leaving – but it didn’t last long and I become frustrated by what I wasn’t saying.

Perhaps I spoke too much? I have wondered. At a party last New Year someone was talking to me about Gail and then suddenly stopped, held a hand against their throat and whispered “I’m so sorry, do you mind if I talk about her?”. The dramatic gesture made me laugh and I had to explain that talking about her wasn’t the issue, it was NOT talking about her that caused me problems. So perhaps that’s it? The counsellor maybe didn’t get a word in or thought it best to allow me to keep talking? I don’t know.

In many ways I’d have quite like to have got some appraisal at the end. You know the type of thing: ‘This gentleman obviously loved his wife but seems to have had trouble recognising his failure in dealing with her illness and I sense his feelings of loss mask inadequacies in his own life’ or something like that.

So, helping out an admirable establishment at  a time of crisis? That’s fine. But hand on heart I would have to say I would have been very upset if I’d actually paid for the sessions.

Which brings me to Psychotherapy.

To Cut A Long Story Short

As I said at the start of it all, this is a blog about grief. Something to find and dip into, think about perhaps, dismiss, laugh at, cry over, love or plain hate. Whatever you get or don’t get from it isn’t supposed to impact on anything else; it’s not date-stamped with reference to the outside world.

Having said all that I need to place a reference here.

Regular visitors to this site may have become confused by some posts appearing in the timeline where they hadn’t been previously, while other posts have appeared and then been deleted. I feel the need to explain.

Following the Vinny blog in October, I wrote nothing else for over five months until a blog I entitled ‘A Reason To Feel – Part One’ (for reasons I will explain later ) that has subsequently been deleted. This blog explained why I hadn’t written anything and why I had, effectively, gone against my own protestations about blogs that only went on for a year and then ended; as if grief only had a shelf life of twelve months.

The fact was I’d been undergoing grief and psychotherapy counselling during this period and, frankly without even thinking about it, it had somehow dulled my appetite for writing about things. This is pretty surprising – astonishing even! – considering what had happened to me personally during that period. Then COVID19 appeared and the world turned upside-down.

I tried re-editing  ‘A Reason To Feel – Part One’ numerous times but it become a mess, mainly because what I was trying to explain was a precis version of an event that shapes everyone’s life – the death of your parents. I eventually decided that, for my own peace of mind even if for no other reason, I needed to go back and re-live the six months where I hadn’t been writing and insert them into the blog in chronological order.

Once I’d started writing again, I felt awful about what I had missed, as I  covered the death of my father; the brief period when my mum was a widow before she followed my dad just six weeks later, my second Christmas without Gail and my failed attempt to change things, and then my visit to Egypt to cope with the triumvirate of Valentine’s, what would have been (was?) our 16th Wedding Anniversary and my birthday.

Why this should be the case is something I am still struggling through, and it’s significant that this hiatus in my writing should coincide with a six month period of counselling. It’s also significant that the cessation of counselling – due initially to the COVID19 lockdown – should open up the blockage.

Whatever, I think it’s important in terms of why I started this blog, in processing my grief and getting counselling, to let anyone interested know how it affected me and to understand that the previous four blogs to this were written months after they occurred.

So: about counselling.

A month or so after I lost Gail, I thought I’d contact a local charity to find out about grief counselling. They were solidly booked up but said they would add me to their waiting list. Not knowing what else to do, I turned more to social media and found the support I got there helped me, and I began to dovetail it all with this blog.

Fourteen months later and urged on by some people I knew and some I didn’t, I began thinking perhaps I should really consider counselling again; not necessarily to directly help with the grief aspect – although that was still prevalent – but also because what I knew to be my worst excesses, kept in check by Gail when she was here, had now lost their natural barrier. I feared for where my head was going. Not having heard from the local charity still, I set about finding some other support. I didn’t have to go far.

In the town centre is one of the country’s leading private counselling & psychotherapy centres; a centre that conducts its own national workshops and seminars and whose own counsellors provide expert advice to other practitioners around the country. Also a place I’d already visited a few years back – but I’ll park that for the time being if you don’t mind. I rang and was given a list of available counsellors.

Now I’m not lighting cigars with fivers here but I figured I could afford to budget a certain amount of money to this exercise and, working on an estimated number of sessions, decided I could – and should – pay to see the leading Psychotherapy Counsellor available. This Counsellor, a leading advocate of psycho-dynamic therapy – a word so improbable it shows up as an error in my dictionary – was not cheap, but I didn’t want to waste time and money seeing someone who didn’t help and then regret it later.

Inevitably of course, as happens in these things, the day after I booked my first session, I got a call from the local charity to say that a place had come up in their grief counselling and did I want to take it? I decided to run both together and see what transpired.

I began both sessions in early October explaining in both how the grief over the loss of Gail ran parallel with an unwanted resentment that my elderly parents were alive while my wife wasn’t. Outside of this and in exactly the same way that I had been doing since losing Gail a year earlier, I was still nominally running my business – although I had cut work back to an average of 2/3 days a week – while caring for my parents; trying to juggle the myriad of things to put in place to provide them with social care in their home and visiting them as regularly as I could to make sure they had everything they needed.

Then about four weeks after I started counselling, my father died. I was too busy dealing with funeral arrangements, trying to sort out all the complexities of  contacting everyone, dealing with banks, Solicitors etc while – pretty unsuccessfully – consoling my mother (The temptation to say “See I told you what it’s like” was overwhelming but successfully resisted), to think how this would reflect in the counselling, but I realised six months later this must have been fascinating to see this development in my personal circumstances in what might be described as ‘real time’.

I’d barely got through my second Christmas without Gail and the first without my father – my mother suffering the cruelty of the first Christmas alone; something  I afterwards wished she hadn’t had to tolerate given what was to happen – when my mum went into hospital. She was taken in on New Year’s Day, came out briefly for a few days then went back in and never returned home, passing away in the second week of January barely six weeks after my father.

My charity grief counselling had covered my father dying, but the maximum six sessions finished just before Christmas. The centre counselling continued however and ended acrimoniously – and yes! I’ll cover this later too – when the lockdown for Coronavirus occurred in March and I was asked to continue session via Skype – something I wasn’t prepared to entertain.

So this is where we are now; six months from the start of counselling with one lot of sessions completed and the other nominally continuing (although I’ve decided I won’t return) during which I’ve lost both of my parents and am now in solitary isolation from a threat the world hasn’t seen the like of in over a century.

So plenty of time to think and write, I guess. And catch up.


My Friend Vinny

Former footballer and now Hollywood actor Vinny Jones was on TV this morning talking about losing his wife Tanya.

In a mesmerising interview on Breakfast TV, Jones spoke eloquently and movingly about losing his wife to cancer and how the grief following Tanya’s death hit him like a ‘sledgehammer’.

Jones had been married to Tanya for 25 years, marrying her in July 1994, interestingly for me, exactly the same time as I first moved in with Gail. It made the passage of time all the more prevalent.

Jones spoke for everyone grieving when he explained “The hardest part of all for me to adjust to is – even that day [she died] – was everybody’s life goes on. You’re looking around and you’re going ‘this is the biggest tragedy of my life and they’re still going to work, they’re they’re still queuing up for Starbucks.’ The enormity of it all is just heavy.”

Perhaps the biggest contribution that Jones’s interview made though was just to highlight his grief and see how raw and emotional he was trying to explain his feelings. As most know, Jones’ role as the hard man in Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ team during his football days, transferred to the big screen as his film career took off, so seeing him crying on TV before 9am seems to have awoken some emotions in others that they might not have otherwise considered. The interview made the front page on many newspapers and was widely covered on the web and in social media. It seemed – for a brief while at least – everyone was thinking about grief.

Unfortunately, there were the usual comments associated after; even Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid praising Jones’s ‘bravery’. Everyone grieving knows that knuckle-biting pain of hearing someone struggling to find the appropriate words and coming up with something awful. I’d had the ‘brave’ epithet handed to me on a couple of occasions and it wasn’t one I could accept. “Going into a cave to rescue some kids, knowing you may die in the attempt is brave. Waking up and getting through a day isn’t”.

There’ s nothing brave about talking about your grief and there’s nothing brave about showing your emotion either; even if you do have a hard man persona and you’re crying on TV while most people are eating their breakfast. In fact, describing having your world crashing down and losing the love of your life as ‘brave’ just cheapens the emotional anguish.

Similarly, Vinny Jones trying to quantify the emotion of seeing everyone go about their normal life is understandable but also misleading. It’s when you’re ripped apart with grief but you yourself need to eat or get a coffee is when the enormity engulfs you. ‘Why am I hungry?’ ‘Why am I buying this vanilla latte and a shortbread?’. It’s something I struggle with still. Sitting beside Gail’s bed in hospital with hunger gnawing at you; wanting to stay and do the right thing but desperate to get home and just pop a ready-meal in the oven. Other people may not see it but in your own head you know.

Vinny Jones was able to be with his wife when she died. The fact I wasn’t and I possibly could have – had I been able to get out of the house – is an issue I’m now needing to address. Similarly, Tanya left her husband a video. It’s a lovely gesture and a nice ending that must surely help Vinnie Jones as he tries to negotiate the rest of his life. Sadly though, that neat gesture rarely occurs.

In fact, in fiction and in comforting news bulletins; people often slip away in bed, surrounded by loving family and passing on some kind words before leaving this Earth. Even in the otherwise excellent Ricky Gervais TV show ‘Afterlife’ – for those who’ve not encountered it it’s the story of a man trying to live a meaningful life after the loss of his wife (sound familiar?) – Gervais’ character Tony is comforted by a video his dead wife has left for him.

In reality, you’re more likely to find an agonising email or a stray Word document written when the person writing it may not have been at their best; perhaps written at a time when you may have done something or said something stupid to prompt them to respond. In life, you can file that away and forget about it but if someone is grieving and they find that thing it can completely destroy you.

But those are emotions and hurdles for later on. When even the first stage of grief is so misunderstood, its perhaps understandable that we shouldn’t try to run before we can walk. That’s why – and whoever thought I’d ever say this – Vinny Jones has my full admiration. On football field or big screen, it may be his best-ever performance.


Day After Day

I’ve noticed that many of the grief blogs I’ve looked at stopped after a year. It’s as if getting through 365 days is all that’s required. It’s not. In fact, after 14 months I’m starting to believe the second year may even be worse than the first.

Stripped of the opportunity to say ‘Well, this time last year’, I’ve found the days longer and lonelier and the nights darker and heavier, and while the movement of warm, sunny days to the chillier months of autumn felt somewhat in keeping with my general sense of ennui last year, this year they seem to have become more what the Germans refer to as weltschmerz; an increased world-pain and dissatisfaction. I have a growing sense that nothing I thought I knew applies anymore.

Now the difficulty I have in keeping this blog now is that I am now wandering dangerously into that territory that everyone always asks about but only those that are grieving can comprehend.

I’ve already mentioned elsewhere that I hate terms like ‘moving on’ or ‘going forward’. Not only do I not find those type of things relevant or helpful, I also believe there is an implication in the phrases that the words don’t actually possess.

Take ‘moving on’, for example, taken literally it’s barely worth saying – I mean, if you’re alive and not suicidal, then what else can you do? By dint of waking up every morning you’re surely moving on? No, what people really mean when they ask you that is, ‘Have you met anyone else yet?’ or, at least ‘Are you thinking of going out to meet someone else yet?’. For ‘moving on’ insert ‘moving upwards’; if not intentionally upwards from the relationship you had previously, then at least upwards from where you’re perceived to be in the dark pit of grief.

Now a lot of this I’ve covered in previous blogs and I don’t want to reiterate it again now, but you can always laugh at something again, have nice holidays, good days out, meet different people, see and do things you may not have even done had your loved one not passed away. (N.B. Note it’s 14 months but I still can’t use the D word!). If you live then, by definition, you’re moving on.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here, is it? We’re talking about opening yourself up to the possibilities of meeting someone, finding another relationship, and perhaps loving again. I know people who’ve done it, some of you reading this may do too. It happens. We’re talking about – arghh! I hate the word – dating.

Now we’re back with someone I mentioned previously in  My Precious – Part One the Television Presenter Simon Thomas, who gave a voice to grief when he tragically lost his wife to Leukaemia in 2017. Just today, I saw an interesting article about his new relationship and finding love after grief. In a piece in which he thanks his new girlfriend, Thomas is quoted as describing her as ‘A woman of boundless love, kindness and compassion who has loved me when I was hard to love, picked me up when I was in pieces.’ It’s touching and it would be a mean-spirited person who would deny him his happiness.

Interestingly though later – and I only saw this after I’d started this blog – I note he ‘struggles to describe his new relationship as ‘moving on’. ‘We only have two choices’ he says. I’d love to meet Simon; I’m sure we’d have some fascinating conversations.

My difficulty here though is how far I can take any experiences I have personally regarding – I’m sorry! – dating and correlate it with my grief. Has one anything to do with the other?

Just to explain this fully, I had occasion to speak to someone last week who had gone through a hideous divorce. Unable to cope with the situation, this person had eventually decided to get some counselling, and was astonished to find, in the course of his sessions, that he was diagnosed with several personality traits / disorders that meant his inability to cope with the collapse of his marriage wasn’t entirely down to the divorce itself and, in fact, these very traits, led him to discover things about himself that may even have led to reasons why his marriage didn’t survive in the first place.

While I’ve not gone the grief counselling route yet – although if things continue as they are I may well still try it – I am concerned that I may well find out things about myself that are affecting the way I think now. Frankly, it wouldn’t be a major surprise. In turn, if that does occur, then anything gleaned as a single man trying mature dating, may well say more about me and how I perceive myself, than anything to do with – look, let’s just go with once, eh? – moving on.

There is a serious danger that certain circumstances may move this from being a grief blog to one about senior dating, and I don’t want that. I’ve also not even covered the part that leads to these first steps anyway; the loneliness, the need for female company and, hell yes!, the need for sex. My parents, friends, family or my children could read this. Do I want that?

You can see why this blog took the best part of two weeks to complete. I’ve got a bit to think about here…