Judith and I have just recorded the Christmas and New Year edition of the “Own It!” podcast. We recorded them back to back and used the Christmas edition to look back over 2016 and the New Year edition to look forwards, both from a business perspective.
As we move towards Christmas, that commercially fabricated day that really only means anything to people with young children or big families who all like to get together in one house each year, it’s worth a bit of a personal review I think.
Specifically a review of “Is It Working?”
The Christmas adverts ubiquitous on TV at the moment are making me think about it all, all over again. Making me think about the grief thing, certainly more than I was back in October or November. In those months I was just enjoying being somewhere different, somewhere prettier, somewhere warmer than England.
So is being here actually working?
Is it helping me get over my grief, or at least come to terms with losing Steve?
Is it worth being in a foreign country, albeit a beautiful one, for 6 months, with no sights of home, no home comforts like central heating or a car, no friends or grown up children to hang out with?
What does “working” even mean in this context and what would “working” or “not working” look like?
I think I felt somewhere, deep down, that a change of scene away from all the vivid memories of Steve and I spending time together in various locations in Shoreham over the last 13 or so years, would help me get used to him not being around.
That it would put some time and distance between the unimaginable horror of finding someone you love so much dead. Just curled up on the floor like he was sleeping (but not being able to wake him) and knowing that, even though the ambulance was on it’s way, it was just too way too late.
From the unimaginable horror (and I choose that word very carefully) of getting up each day, looking out of the window and seeing everything looking the same but knowing that everything has changed – and not in a good way, not in a way I have any control over, not in a way that feels like it’s going to come to an end any time soon.
When we came out here to Greece, I was in so much pain from that loss all the time, every minute, from my first waking minutes to the moment I went to sleep, the pain of losing Steve and the pain of not knowing how I was going to carry on. I kept saying “yes, I’m feeling better” to kind enquiries and I even managed to fool myself occasionally that yes, perhaps I was feeling a bit better.
But I wasn’t really. I felt appalling. All the time.
I just wanted it to stop. But I wasn’t brave enough to make it stop and I wasn’t selfish enough to make it stop.
How can emotional psychological pain hurt so much physically? How can it feel like your heart is, quite literally, broken?
Have You Joined The Secret Death Club Yet?
Unless you have experienced this kind of loss, it’s impossible to explain how it feels and I know this because I used to be totally immune to it too. Even when people I was quite close to, lost people they were close to, I felt sad for them but it’s impossible to feel it in the same way, when you have never felt it yourself.
Perhaps its like having a baby, you look at all the other new mums – or any mum at all really – with renewed respect because you know, you KNOW, what pain they have experienced. It’s like a secret club.
I’d never been a member of the secret club of loss, grief, bereavement.
No that’s still pussyfooting around it. I prefer to call a spade a spade.
I’d never joined the Death Club.
My biological father died when I was about 7 and he was in the Merchant Navy so we never know him really. He was just a big man who came home occasionally and threw his weight about in the discipline department, scaring us. There was no upside to his visits home. I only remember one of them, luckily.
The only people I’ve lost apart from that is my grand-parents. I was living in London and immersed in having babies and being newly married when they died, quite quickly within a couple of years of each other. I only spoke to my Nan on the phone occasionally and I saw her about 2-3 times a year, as we just didn’t go down to Worthing very much.
Just before Steve died, my sister Heather nursed two friends through the last stages of cancer, back to back. She took up the mantle of carer for them because their families were not stepping up and there was no-one else. She’s a very kind soul, my sister Heather, with a strong sense of duty, although she’s a straight talker nowadays too, death does that to you.
It’s not just the endless hours you have to devote to doing lots of little errands and jobs, not just the sitting around watching TV shows you hate (but they love), it’s all the physical stuff, the really horrid stuff, both treatment and symptom related kind of stuff, the stuff nobody talks about. The stuff nobody else knows about, unless you have also been been a member of the Death Club.
Heather felt some very complicated emotions after both deaths and she was offered grief counselling (two lots!) by the hospice which she took and found it very helpful.
I was also offered counselling via the doctors / mental health team after I broke down on a doctor one day (while talking about something else entirely) but didn’t find it at all helpful. To be honest, the counsellor was very basic level and I’ve done so much reading and personal development work, as well as a two year spell in paid therapy back when I was married, that a half hour a week talking about breathing in one colour air and breathing out another just didn’t help me at all.
We have also, as a society, distanced ourselves from sickness and death with fewer and fewer people being cared for by family, at home. This must be making it an every bigger psychological shock when someone dies. Because when Death is distanced like it is, it’s very easy to fall into acting as if it’s never going to happen to you or anyone you love.
How Big Is Your Grief?
They say you feel grief in direct proportion to the effect the loss of the person has on your day to day life.
If that grief equation is true, I shouldn’t be feeling so bad because Steve and I had a volatile relationship and when we didn’t live together, we often spent a couple of weeks not seeing each other at all, while we calmed down from some stupid row or other. I often accidentally wound him up and he certainly knew how to press my hot buttons. We had a very complicated relationship.
Even though we became great friends after Steve came to run my hotel and then even more so after my marriage finished, it took years for us to become anything more to each other. His self esteem issues disguised as arrogance and his own fear of loss were so great. His beloved younger brother and best friend had both died suddenly when he was in his late teens so he knew exactly what loss and grief feels like. His first serious girlfriend had also, around the same time, hurt him very badly and all of this added up to him fiercely resisted getting into a place where he could EVER be hurt again.
I am quite often attracted to emotionally unavailable men and though I saw the warning signs, and while I tried to resist, you can’t help who you fall in love with.
In the years when we shared a house, with him acting as stepfather to the kids, then the years when we didn’t live together but we still spent so much time together, then the last year or so when we were together all the time and working out if we could possibly ever live together again, he’d dominated my waking moments when not working or with my kids.
He was my best friend, we had so much in common, from our troubled childhoods to our taste in TV and Films, to our mutual love of house music and playing Texas Hold’em poker. He was one of the most intelligent men I know (and certainly the most emotionally intelligent person I’ve ever met).
He saw straight through me, he KNEW me, even when I thought I was putting a great front on for the world, even when I didn’t REALISE I was putting a front on for the world.
He made me more spontaneous, less of a scaredy cat, he made me have more fun. This picture above is the photo I love most, it was taken at Wildlife Festival in 2015 and while we were trying to be grown up and sensible, it was his idea to go last minute, he was ready to buy overpriced tickets – from the touts if necessary. Luckily there were still tickets on the door!
That’s why I know I’m unlikely to fall in love again. He’s going to be an impossible act to follow. I don’t WANT to ever fall in love again.
This blog post was luckily interrupted at this point by a random power cut. Good job too, because writing that last bit made me cry at that point. There was a power cut, my computer was about to run out of battery and Nina the Cleaner had just finished so we went for a walk to the village. We sat in Bar360 in the sun, drinking hot coffee (me) and hot chocolate (Sarah) because they have a gas ring and can heat water! We have experienced 3-4 power cuts in the 3 months we have been here and – typical Greek efficiency – apparently there’s a website where you can see if they are scheduled and how long they are going to last. We need to get a camping gas ring for making tea during them, or something…
What Next, Going Forwards?
So while I’m never going to allow myself to fall in love again, I’m going to need to build a local social life from scratch, and I just wasn’t ready to do that. Going to the Co-Op was a huge emotional mountain for me. This is why I thought coming here would give me a holiday from feeling like I need to go out and get social, before I’m good and ready.
Then when I go home to England, after travelling a bit, when I do, I could move to Brighton perhaps?
Apart from one or two business people I meet for lunch occasionally to catch up, and the lovely Sue in the Co-Op, the teens behind various bars in Shoreham there is only my oldest friend Kim locally, who I never see unless it’s for a haircut once a month or a quarterly “girls night out” for dinner. All my other friends are online, globally and I really only see them when I go to events.
I’m not that good at being pro-actively social nowadays but I’m going to have to change my ways. Social media contact alone doth not a real people orientated social life make!
I also know I can be lazy so I’ll need to make it easy for myself or I simply won’t do it.
I will have to make it really easy to have something to go out of the house for. In Brighton I’ll have a huge choice of live comedy, live jazz, all kinds of theatre, art galleries, great restaurants, shops, supper clubs etc., all within easy walking distance which will be healthy too.
Living in Brighton would make it easier to meet new people and easier to meet up with people, after they have been met.
Hey, it looks like it IS working, living here, because I’m starting to imagine not just a future without Steve, but apparently a fairly fun filled future too.
While I have a picture of him beside my bed, along with one of my favourite pics of the kids, his death is no longer the very first thing I think about in the morning or last thing at night.
I think about him regularly throughout the day, but more happily, as an amazing person who was in my life before but isn’t any more. The pain is a bit less or it’s changed from piercing to just very, very sad.
So apart from sending present for the kids, we’ll largely be ignoring Christmas this year and perhaps next year…. well, I might be ready for it again!