3rd November 2019: Albert

Sunday 3rd November 2019: this was the day my father died.

I say ‘this was’ rather than ‘today’ or ‘yesterday’  because, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, I either didn’t feel the need to record it at the time or didn’t want to. I’m writing this over five months later but putting it into date order on this blog because otherwise it makes no sense.

Although he was 91, quite frail and at that age you could expect things to go from one state to another very quickly, my father’s passing was nonetheless a bit of a shock. The day before he passed he was perfectly well.  I was going to football and I’d intended on dropping into my parents before going on to the ground. I’d told them I would be coming, but I later decided I didn’t want to see them. In time-honoured fashion, I lied and didn’t tell them this; instead I said I’d decided not to go to football, even though I did.

I got a phone call shortly after 8 am on the Sunday morning from my mother telling me my dad had complained he didn’t feel well after a bad night and he’d asked her to call the ambulance. This was significant as my dad hated ‘making a fuss’ and must have felt something was wrong. I told her I’d leave straight away and go to the hospital. I didn’t.

Why I didn’t is part of something bigger; something I can neither easily explain or want to attempt to explain. Suffice to say that the inability to actually do something and then lie about it is one of the reasons I’d eventually decided, a month or so earlier, that I should get some counselling. Of course, I’d had nothing like the death of my father to talk about in the previous weeks but, over the course of the following months, I was to work out all the things I was worried about in real-time. I’d imagine it’s a Psychotherapist’s dream.

On that Sunday morning, Gail would have told me off for ‘fannying around’. She’d have been right as usual. I was. I had a shower, made breakfast, fed the cats all at a leisurely pace  and – well, what exactly? – I have no idea but I bet it involved looking at my PC. Look! Who an I kidding? I KNOW it involved looking at my PC.

About two and a half hours after I got the call, I was leaving the house and had got as far as starting the car and pulling out into my road when a neighbour of my mum’s rung to ask if I’d left yet. “I’m on way”. I didn’t say I hadn’t even got out of first gear yet but I wasn’t exactly lying either.

I’d got barely ten miles down the road when my mum rung to tell me the hospital had called and my dad had died.

I was intending to stop at Starbucks for a coffee and I did just that. One of those things you do that you wonder about after. The man responsible for bringing me into the world had just left it and I was in ordering a latte and a doughnut less than five minutes later. Did I choke the words out? Hold onto the counter to stop the world from spinning? No, I just did what I’d done all the dozens of times I visited that establishment before; paid, thanked them and took my coffee. At times like that, it’s like you’re watching yourself in a film; everything in the scene looks mundane but you know something is going to dramatically happen in the next because you’ve seen the trailer.

I went straight to the hospital and saw my father. He’d apparently slipped away quietly, he’d been sitting up and talking earlier, then he’d laid down, gone to sleep and not woken up. It seemed a good way to go. I asked to see him, said goodbye, kissed him on the forehead, thanked him for everything he’d done for me, took his effects and left and went to see my mum. Before leaving I asked what time he had passed and was told it was just after 11 am. I could have left home in plenty of time and been there when he’d died but, like Gail, I’d found other inconsequential things to do.

I dreaded seeing my mum. I knew exactly what she was going through, recognised the emotions, the incredulity and the lack of understanding. I was horribly aware that she was going to experience the same emotions that she’d completely failed to see in my circumstances and I wouldn’t even be able to say ‘So NOW you know what it’s like!’

I also realised that, in other ways, I wouldn’t fully grasp what she was experiencing. My mother and father had known each other for over 70 years; grown old together. He’d lived a staggering 35 years longer than Gail and he had spent it all with my mother. But in that recognition, there was a burning truth.

Because even at the point of one of the most significant moments in anybody’s life – the one where you lose your own parents – here I was just equating everything  back to Gail and my own grief.

With my father leaving behind my mother – a woman he had been married to for an incredible 69 years – things became very hard very quickly. My mum couldn’t really function without my dad and, as she struggled, I set about trying to do the things that you’re forced to do at these times; arranging the funeral, contacting the relevant people, trying to put Widow’s pensions in place and a myriad of other things. My mum – bless her – wasn’t able to do much more than sit and look at his empty chair.

As I discovered with Gail, and I was to tragically revisit again six weeks later, these times following a death can be seen as part of a  project. I actually get solace from them. A sense I was getting on and doing things and – something I vaguely recognised from the evening when I’d walked home after Gail’s funeral – that nice feeling you get when you’ve  done something for someone who could no longer thank you and instinctively know that, if they could, they would be appreciative of your efforts.

But emotion? No nothing. I never cried once at my fathers passing, nor at the funeral and nothing since, never even felt a lump in my throat and that’s not in a manly ‘I can handle this’ way either. I simply didn’t feel anything and I didn’t know why that was; all that I was aware of is this relationship with my parents would almost certainly form the basis of my therapy sessions in the coming months.

And did it!

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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…


The trouble with grief is that it seems to make everything prescient.

Morris was our second cat, he moved in with us when our first cat Puss-Puss brought him back one bright summer morning. I can see that morning as if it was yesterday; Puss sitting stock still in the middle of the garden and looking at me in an odd way and, when I asked him why he was acting so strangely, he simply turned his head to the fence where a smaller black cat peered back nervously. This was Morris.

It transpired that Morris originally lived at No: 1 in our road but the owners bought a dog so Morris moved out, made friends with Puss – in itself an odd event as Puss wasn’t a cat that suffered other feline company well – and first appeared in our garden while Gail was away with a friend in Turkey. I rung her to tell her we had someone new coming in and she insisted it was something to do with her Grandfather passing away earlier that year. Gail was one for things like that.

It took a battle with the original owners but it was clear Morris wasn’t moving out and when a neighbour reported that ‘our cat’ had spent a week living in our front garden while we was away on holiday, I realised we had to do something. Reluctantly, the original owners – who still insisted Morris was eating food from their house even when I knew he’d been asleep on my bed all night – relented, passed over his papers and we registered Morris as our own. He lived with us for all bar his first four years.

Morris had a good life with us but developed hyperthyroidism later, he lost a lot of weight and had to go onto a constant diet of tablets. This prompted Gail to respond to questions about our cats – by this time Puss had sadly passed on and he’d been replaced by three others in an effort to fill the gap he’d left – by replying that “Morris is dying”. This annoyed me intensely and I always responded “We’re all dying Gail, Morris is just getting old but he has a few good years left him in yet”.

He did indeed have a good few years in him. Morris lived with his thyroid condition for well over four years and, in a twist of fate, eventually survived Gail. It prompted friends to say “I can’t believe Gail has gone and Morris is still here” and, in truth, it was something I was only too aware of. I had to speak to Morris about it – at the time of Gail’s passing he was already 18 – and explain that, whatever happened, I needed him to live ‘at least another year’. The idea of losing my oldest pet so soon after Gail would have ripped me apart, and so it was I set about trying to keep Morris alive for as long as I could.

Many people don’t understand pet grief but all anyone needs to know is that a pet is part of the family dynamic. You talk to them, interact with them, respond when they want to sit with you or demand food from you. Morris, for example, was my lap cat. After Gail passed and on those long nights when I couldn’t sleep or I’d woken and couldn’t get back, Morris would simply curl up on my lap and I’d be asleep in minutes. I can’t calculate the extra hours sleep I must have got purely because of Morris in that first year. But he, along with my three other cats Buzz, Gus and Ziggy, kept me sane in the months after Gail passed.

Morris did indeed survive the year and, although obviously frail and – judging by the way he ignored the Dyson – totally deaf, he was a functioning member of the family unit until 48 hours before I was due to go on holiday with my Son and Daughter-in-law. With horrible timing and with me due to fly out on Friday, Morris started to deteriorate on Wednesday, I prayed he would at least last until I came back from the holiday as I couldn’t afford to cancel it and, being a teacher and consigned to specific times of the year, it was the only week my Son could make. You can read too much into these things but I think Morris may have spared me the pain of holding him while watching his life ebb away. As it was, it was the Cat-sitter who had to hold Morris as he was put to sleep with me watching on Skype 1500 miles away, sobbing my eyes out at a hotel pool.

By the time I got back, the Cat Sitter had retrieved Morris’ ashes from the vet and placed them with some flowers and a card next to a photo of Gail. It was a lovely gesture and it was nice to open the door after returning from holiday and find Morris’ little casket. I’d hoped I’d be able to shed some tears however they wouldn’t come. Apart from the morning I sat in swimming trunks by a pool in Madeira, watching on a Samsung Notepad as Morris had his injection, I’ve not been able to cry.

I’m upset, of course, but it seems as if the intensity and upset of the last year has become so all-pervading that I don’t have any tears to give. Either that or I’m subconsciously bottling it up and there will be a major meltdown. On the other hand, I’ve never felt I cried enough for Gail either; for someone who gets as emotional as me with books, films and music, this seems strange.

I’m wondering if I use or lose the emotions in the persuasive way I throw myself into mundane tasks and, with the first anniversary of Gail’s funeral approaching and another day I have to set aside, I’ve decided I need to see if I can find out. I’ve strenuously avoided it so far but I’m thinking it might be time to see a Counsellor.


Wouldn’t It Be Nice

‘Back when I were a lad – before I had me sex change’ (A patented Gail joke there) – a legend was someone who who pulled a sword from a stone or stole from the rich to give to the poor. But as we approach the second decade of the 21st Century, legendary status now seems to be enough to confer on someone who brings back three packets of Cheese and Onion crisps from the bar without being asked.

Language is constantly changing and so it should, but it is difficult sometimes to keep up with these new innovations. For example, it’s no longer socially acceptable to just say goodbye to someone; you now how to be effusive, telling them how you’ll miss them or even that you love them even when you patently won’t or don’t. Everything is great, astounding or, indeed, awesome.

Similarly you can now damn with faint praise very easily. Liking something isn’t enough – even on Facebook it doesn’t seem to do justice to your appreciation of a post – and, if someone buys you a present it is a poor indictment of your delight for you to just say “Thanks, it’s nice”. More often or not that will now elicit the response “Don’t you like it? I have the receipt”

That’s a shame. Because when you’re grieving you’ll have a lot of really nice days. Really nice days. Providing you force yourself out, accept invitations, take holidays, try and go to events that you have been to previously and from which you got pleasure,or even open the curtains and see the sun streaming in through a window; you will find it is perfectly feasible to have a nice day.

Don’t be afraid of nice days but, equally, don’t be surprised if you struggle with the concept of having nice days that you think should be better. It’s unlikely you’ll have a great day or a wonderful day and you’ll just have to accept that. And that will confuse people. If, for example, you are on holiday and looking at something quite wondrous or, perhaps, doing something you’ve wanted to do for a while but never had the opportunity to do before, it is very easy to wonder why you don’t feel greater enthusiasm for what you’re seeing or doing. In your heart, you’ll know the reason of course, but someone outside won’t recognise this and that is where the problem lies.

I’ve found I’ve had to bite my tongue on numerous occasions when people have taken my lack of enthusiasm over something as a sign that, whatever it was I’d been doing, had been a disappointment. “That’s a shame you’ve always wanted to do that”, they say. It’s not that, of course, it’s just that hovering over you the whole time is the reality of why you’re doing what you’re doing and it permeates your every thought. ‘If Gail was here I wouldn’t be able to afford this / couldn’t have come here because the flight was too long / couldn’t have done this trip so easily’.

Death also underlines everything with it’s grim finality. On several occasions I’ve thought ‘I’ve always fancied going there / seeing that – I’ll do that next year’ Then, realising how you know only too well how everything can crumple in a few months let alone a year, I’ve immediately booked to go / see whatever it was I wanted to do safe in the knowledge that not only is there no time like the present, sometimes there is no time but the present.

I’ll feel guilty though! Oh yea, never make it easy on yourself. I’m always sure to remind myself that I wouldn’t be doing this had Gail been here or, she would have wanted to do this too and I’d denied her the opportunity previously, only selfishly going when she wasn’t around to enjoy it. I mean, don’t be hung for a sheep when you can go for the whole flock.

Even sitting in the sun with a glass of wine or a decent coffee, perhaps reading a book or listening to your favourite music, those days when you think ‘Well, isn’t this nice?’ will suddenly turn around and swipe you. You’ll suddenly feel angry at being able to enjoy the moment when someone else can’t.

It’s an endless cycle of sadness, fortitude, determination, anger, regret and sadness again. But there are some nice days.

Cape Verde 2018


One Year

29th July 2019. Exactly one year since Gail left and I sit here wondering what to do. Unlike last year when it was (appropriately) a miserable day weather-wise in what was a long hot summer, today is sunny and warm. A nice day to go out

I did have plans for today, but both my parents are in hospital and, as my plan involved a bit of travel and that would have meant I’d have been away for a few days, I’ve had to shelve that and stay at home in case I’m needed. Not that it will happen today. One of the advantages of being a bit of a loner is you can easily switch off the phone or refuse to answer it. I won’t even know if the hospital ring today. I’m fully incommunicado.

In some ways, the fact I’ve had to stay here today may have been the best course of action anyway. I feel the need to be near Gail’s ashes and I don’t ever want to have to take her away again.

Although this is the big one, I’ve found the best way to deal with these days – Gail’s birthday, my birthday, our Anniversary and Valentines Day are the major ones so far – is to do something life-affirming. I like trying the food from the country’s top chefs, so I try and book a meal somewhere special and just pretend Gail is with me. I’m quite good at that. I once spent six years pretending Gail was with me when she wasn’t.

During that previous period, the hope was that one day I’d be able to reverse things and we could be together. I was fortunate that eventually proved to be the case. There’s no such hope now, of course but I do wonder about that six year period. Can I last another six years without her? Or conceivably another 26?

I’ve looked online and seen the heartfelt messages about Gail. All her friends are missing her, no-one seems to have ‘moved on’, nobody thinks it has got any easier. None of them have known her anywhere near as long as I have; none of them saw her each and every day. If her friends can’t get past it how can I? More importantly, why should I?

One year. It could be one day, it could be a lifetime. It’s hell – but it’s another day. A nice day. I’ll go out. And pretend…

Now I don’t even have the solace of saying ‘This time last year’

Holding Back The Year

Sunday 28th July 2019. 365 days. Apparently a year, although it doesn’t seem like it. It seems like Gail left last week and it was just a few nights ago I said ‘I love you, see you tomorrow’ and I never did.

A year since I last heard that voice, the voice that sustained me through the first four months of our fledgling relationship. Because, of course, as we never did anything normally, we fell in love over the telephone, and the physical embodiment of that voice was only seen a few months later when we finally met. Not that it was a disappointment when I did meet her, I must stress. I thought she was the most stunning woman I’d ever seen. That never changed.

It was odd though. Had I seen her first then I’m sure I would have just stopped dead and looked at her; wondered how I could talk to her knowing full well I never would have had the confidence to approach her. It worked both ways though; through speaking to her on the phone she knew me before she saw me, fell in love with the person behind the voice before actually meeting me. Had I approached her in a pub or club and tried to engage her in conversation I’d have got short shrift. We both knew that was true, we discussed it, and I know it was something Gail thought very deeply about. Eventually we came to see our relationship as a series of misadventures and coincidences and we felt it was different. That may sound arrogant, but all I can say is most people who knew us thought it was different too. We both liked that.

And although the actual first anniversary will be on Monday 29th July, it’s today, the Sunday, that is forever burnt into my mind. Leaving that hospital, walking out of that door into a morning not entirely unlike the one that I can see as I write this, knowing my whole world was back behind me lying lifeless on a hospital bed and wondering how I was going to go on without her.

I’m not at all religious but I went to church that morning. I tried to go this morning too, had it all planned, but I woke up very early feeling as if I’d been physically mauled and I knew I needed a bit longer to rest. That rest took me most of the rest of the morning and I slept through everything I wanted to do. It’s strange how the mind can tell your body it’s had enough and you’re not physically up to this but I’m sure that’s what has just happened.

Today I’m just reliving that Sunday in 2018 again oddly knowing that what I didn’t know last year – how I was going to survive without Gail – hasn’t changed but one iota. The only difference between then and now is time. And please don’t believe people when they tell you time makes it better. It doesn’t. But through doing what I’m doing now as I write this I’ve at least found a few dozen people who say exactly the same thing. I’ve found that comforting; not the lie that ‘it gets better’, just the succour of knowing that the pain you’re going through means you were good once, and that is better than some people ever have.

I cried this morning. Racking, dribbling sobs over the phone to someone who is in hospital and is in a far worse place than me and much worse health than me; someone who will never do the things that I am planning to do – and hopefully may do – over the coming months and, perhaps, years.

And that, my friend, is grief. It makes you selfish and miserable, self-centered and self-aggrandising. It’s – and please excuse the term – shit.

But I feel like this because I lost Gail, but at least I had Gail once. It’s all I have – and it will have to do because there is nothing else.

Grief Is The Word

“Grief is like being ill when you’re not ill” B.Blagg 2019

I know you’re always on shaky ground when you quote yourself, but I’ve Googled it and no-one else seems to have said it, so I’m claiming it for my own.

I used it recently as I tried to explain to a friend I’d not seen in a long time, exactly why I looked and sounded like I did. He seemed surprised; as if rebuilding a life without the person you love would somehow be, if not easy, at least something you should embrace and try to hurdle. Apparently I ‘look well’ and should therefore have a bit more pizzazz about me, but nothing is guaranteed to get me more angry than someone asking me if I’ve ‘come to terms with things yet’

As the first anniversary of Gail’s passing approaches – a passage of time I can barely contemplate – a friend who also lost her husband a year ago said something more profound “Bereavement bends time. A year goes in a flash but it feels like a hundred years since you saw each other last”

That’s so true and it does.

I thought one of the best ways to sum up grief as I’m currently experiencing it is to demonstrate it in the form of a fictitious conversation, made up of part conversations I have had elsewhere, one that could quite easily take place in reality. It goes like this:

“You’re looking well, I hear you went to the Amalfi Coast? Sorrento, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri? Sounds fantastic”

“Yes, It was it was a wonderful week”

“And didn’t you go to Hong Kong earlier this year? And you’re going to Madeira next month? You’re certainly getting around! And how was the Grand Prix?”

“It was a good experience thanks. Yes, I’m trying to get out a bit more; get to the cinema, the theatre, some summer outdoor gigs

“Well, that’ll be why you look so well, you’re nicely tanned. You look healthy”

“Yes, my health is pretty good. No major issues”

“SO great, life is pretty good for you then!”

“No, it’s shit”

“Eh? I though you’d done all these things and seen these places and things are getting better, you’re moving on. Of course, you still miss Gail but she wouldn’t want you to be miserable….” And so on

Now, apart from the highly-amusing thought that Gail would, most certainly want me to be miserable without her – I think she’d be livid to see me enjoying myself and pretty much told me as much during past conversations (You’d need a deep insight into our relationship to fully understand the part-humour, part seriousness behind that), you’re still stuck with the realisation that, not unnaturally, for everyone else things have moved on and you’re just lurking there like a spectre at the feast, clinging on to something you can never get back.

The fact is though I haven’t moved on and I don’t really see why I should or how I can. Because for all the things I’ve done since Gail left, all the things I’ve seen and tried to partake in, nothing compares to doing them either with Gail or, as would often happen, without her, but still knowing I’d be returning to her after I’d done whatever it was I felt the need to do.

Most nights though I just ache to just sit on the sofa with a TV show on I don’t want to watch, massaging Gail’s gorgeous feet and listening to her voice. Nothing more. Because for all the things you can see and do in this world, its doing the small things with the one you love that makes the rest special.

And time doesn’t help that.

Where Are You Now?

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.

Sweet Dreams

There’s one place you can see your loved one again; one place you can go and no-one else can.

The sub-conscious mind is a wonderful thing. At its finest – when we dream we’ve exchanged cheeses with the Queen in Botswana, accompanied only by Freddie Mercury and the Dali Lama on a unicorn – we marvel at how the mind comes up with such stuff and, unless we’re one of those who believes we can interpret this stuff – an Oneirocritic – -who then says “Ahhh…well cheese means…” etc., we just have a laugh and move on with our day.

Once we lose someone though, things take on an altogether darker turn. Elsewhere, I’ve described a dream I had after Gail died in which I instinctively knew I’d been working somewhere else in the country and I was driving home knowing Gail and I had had an argument and we hadn’t spoken for days. This was a lucid dream though, I knew that as soon as I got home and got in that door, I would see Gail again for the first time since July, and my subconscious wouldn’t let me do it. As I put the key in the dream door I woke up. I was utterly crushed.

As I write this I still don’t feel I’ve dreamt about Gail properly. For well over six months I simply never dreamt of her at all. After seven or eight months she started to be in them but somehow out of sight. Gail’s friends would tell me they’d dreamt about her, they’d spoken to her and she to them, but I had nothing. I’ll admit, it was starting to upset me. I discussed it online with a grieving friend – someone I’d never met – who had lost her husband in similarly health-related circumstances and she admitted to similar thoughts to mine. You almost start to ask ‘Why are YOU dreaming about the love of MY life and I’m not?’. You get angry at others for it. Illogical and self-defeating but that’s how the grieving mind turns.

After about eight months the desire to dream about Gail changed as she started to drop in under upsetting circumstances but never as I knew her; it was almost easier to return to the frustrating days when I couldn’t see her. Without fail these latest dreams are really distressing, leaving me shaken and upset when I wake up.

Always in my current dreams, we’ve broken up, she’s left me for someone else, she’s come back to get her clothes after moving out or something equally upsetting. These aren’t lucid dreams either. These are so real that my first thought on waking is always ”She’s left me and I’ve lost her’, to be replaced moments later with the realisation that the situation is real, but for an entirely different reason. It’s like being kicked when you’re down with your assailant then walking on you as they leave the room. These nights – and, frankly, whole days sometimes – can just leave you deflated; bereft all over again for what you’ve lost and angry for whatever the dream situation left you in.

I’m no Oneirocritic, but I understand it’s said that dreaming about being cheated on refers to feelings of insecurity. I’m not sure I feel insecure in myself, but I can guess you don’t need to be a Greek Philosopher to say that a certain amount of self-doubt is inevitable now Gail has gone.

With over 11 months passed as I write this, I’ve got to the stage where I dread to dream. During the months following July I could barely sleep, lying awake for hours going over things in my mind. Then I slept like a log for a few months before ending up in my current state where I stay awake as long as possible to stave off an unwanted dream. Quite where this cycle will go I have no idea of knowing.

I know how Hamlet felt at least.