My Grief

Part 1 - Two and a half months

 

Wednesday, 18th January 2006

It's been a difficult time, the last two and a half months since Julie died. That is, of course, an understatement.

If, three months ago, someone had predicted my future with great accuracy, and told me in great detail the pain and misery I would have to endure during the following three months, I would say that there is no way that I could bear it. But every day the sun rises, and with each new day, I wake and do what has to be done.

There is no joy.

There are times when I allow myself to be sufficiently distracted to laugh, but the sadness, the deep sadness (bordering on depression) is never far from the surface.

I have spoken to several counsellors, and several widows and one widower. One thing I have discovered is that although there are similarities between my loss and other people's losses, no one really knows how I feel. Each marriage was different, and each person is different, and so naturally, each person's grief is going to be different. Not just a little bit different, but wide-ranging differences. I am now convinced that no one can know how I feel even when I have a headache, or a sore toe. My experience of it will be different to anyone else's.

There is one person who comes close - very close indeed - to knowing how I feel. She hasn't suffered the same loss, but she seems to really understand how I am feeling in a way that no one else has been able to. The person to whom I refer is my dear mother.

Either due to conditioning, or because my brain is wired like her brain, we seem to be able to connect on an emotional level in a way that I can't with any other person. But surely not conditioning, otherwise brother Richard would be similar to me. I believe that sister Anne seems emotionally similar to me. But the reason for it doesn't matter. The fact is, that I have someone who seems to really know the emotional pain I'm feeling.

Several well-meaning people have given me books on the subject of grieving. When I read these books, they seemed so empty. But I said to myself that they must be doing me some good, because the people who wrote these books must know what they're talking about. It must be helping somehow, even if I'm not aware of it. I am here to declare that that thought is rubbish.

These books may very well be helpful to some people - maybe the majority of people who suffer grief. But not to me. They are no more helpful than the psychological trick some use of putting pillows in the bed to assist sleep because one may be subconsciously comforted by having a body-shaped lump in the bed. There was no way that trick was ever going to work for me.

There was one other person who seemed to have some understanding of my emotional pain. Sadly, that person is long since dead. He was the famous author C.S. Lewis.

I have recently finished reading a book written by him called, A Grief Observed. This is really just his diary jottings from about a month after his beloved wife, Joy died.

There are many differences in the way we grieved. For one, he spent a long time wishing he could have his wife back. While it is true to say that I will never forget Julie, I dismissed the fantasy of having her back very early on. No, my fantasy is now about moving on, finding someone else to love. This was never on Lewis's agenda.

I must be careful who I talk to about this. For some may interpret my urgent need for another woman to be a sign of unfaithfulness to Julie. This is not true. I remained faithful to the love of my life for nineteen and a half years. It was not always easy, and perhaps it would be right to confess (if somewhat embarrassingly) that during the difficult times of our marriage, I did not remain faithful mentally. But I can say, to my credit, that these fantasies were never put into practice. I am eternally grateful to God, who continually answered my earnest prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” for thankfully, I was never placed in a physical situation where my faithfulness needed to be tested. I would like to think that if I had been, I would have held out. But during the worst parts of the marriage, I am not sure it would have been possible, however much I am ashamed to confess it.

Back to the book by C.S. Lewis, there is much ranting and raving, some of it rational, but some of it seems irrational to me. He seems to have changed his mind on certain topics frequently. But then, this was not intended to be a teaching book. It was just his diary jottings, and very soon after Joyís death.

But there is enough in the book that I can really relate to, that I canít help thinking, “Was he writing about me, or about himself.”

I feel compelled to quote some sections of the book. I want to make it clear that the writings of Lewis did not make me think this way. He just expressed what I was already feeling but found impossible to express myself. He expressed it in such a brilliant way, that I read vast amounts of text, and just kept saying, “Yes, yes, yes! Finally, I have found a book written by someone who really knows how it feels.”

I ordered the book over the Internet, and had it sent to my work address. It arrived last Monday, and I was at risk of doing no work, for I read the first page, and was so captivated by it, that I was nearly compelled to put aside work and keep reading. (As it turns out, I did put the book down, and did a good day's work).

Here is the first page. This is exactly how I feel:

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don't really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man's life. I was happy before I ever met Joy. I've plenty of what are called “resources”. People get over these things. Come, I shan't do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little while to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory and all this “commonsense” vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace.

On the rebound one passes into tears and pathos. Maudlin tears. I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and honest. But the bath of self-pity, the wallow, the loathsome sticky-sweet pleasure of indulging in it - that disgusts me. And even while I'm doing it I know it leads me to misrepresent Joy herself. Give that mood its head and in a few minutes I shall have substituted for the real woman a mere doll to be blubbered over.

Thatís it in a nutshell - particularly the first two paragraphs.

I have frequently thought that if I didn't have Daniel to look after, there are some days when I would have trouble motivating myself to do anything.

Next, Lewis writes what I have felt, but might have been too ashamed to confess, particularly as people keep quoting Scriptures to me that talk about God being with me and helping me in my time of need.

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be - or so it feels - welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house.

Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

I tried to put some of these thoughts to C. this afternoon. He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: “Why hast thou forsaken me?” I know. Does that make it easier to understand?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not “So thereís no God after all,” but “So this is what Godís really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”

Of course, it was not only Christ who felt the loneliness of life without his Father, but more than half the Psalms seem to also be saying, “I'm in trouble, but where is God, why is there no help from Him when I need Him most?” However, most of the Psalms eventually come around to being in the right frame of mind.

In several of the sympathy cards that were sent to me, well-meaning people either said directly, or implied, “She will live on in your memory.” I remember thinking at the time what little consolation it was, but I couldn't have worded it nearly as well as Lewis did on page 17:

What pitiable cant to say “She will live forever in my memory!” Live? That is exactly what she won't do. You might as well think like the old Egyptians that you can keep the dead by embalming them. Will nothing persuade us that they are gone? What's left? A corpse, a memory, and (in some versions) a ghost. All mockeries or horrors. Three more ways of spelling the word dead. It was Joy I loved. As if I wanted to fall in love with my memory of her, an image in my own mind!

Another way people try to comfort me is by reminding me that we will see each other in heaven. This is no consolation to me, because I am aware that when I do see Julie again, she will not be my wife. Jesus Christ himself said that there is no marriage in heaven. I am sure that what awaits us in heaven is good beyond our wildest imaginings, but it won't be marriage as we know it here. That is what I'm now missing.

All I know is that God's ways are “higher than my ways”.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,” God is quoted in Isaiah chapter 55.

I have less chance of knowing what God is thinking, than a passing ant would have of knowing what I was thinking.

And even if God doesn't conform to what my idea of “good” is, I fall back on Peter's response in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, when Jesus' words were so hard to accept that a large number of disciples deserted. Peter said (and I say), “Lord, to whom shall we go?” In other words, I will worship God because I can't see any viable alternative.

There is little said about heaven in the Bible, but what is said, talks about it being good. And even if I don't understand what God's “good” means, I will trust that he knows what he's doing.

In Revelation chapter 21, we are told, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Personally, I would prefer there to be no tears to wipe away, but I suspect that I am being too literal. The passage continues, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

And that does give some hope. But it does nothing to reduce my intense loneliness. My second-last quote from Lewis's book, is my defence against so many people who try to comfort me by saying that “Time Heals”, as if I would ever recover from this. As long as I am lonely, I will never recover. But I could never argue that as well as Lewis did on page 49:

Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after heís had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently, he'll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has “got over it”. But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will simply have to written off.

So this excerpt, in particular, is one I relate to. So many people have said that time will heal. And I keep saying, “No it wonít.” I will heal when I have another lifelong companion. I was made to be a lover. It was my life's goal, and when it happened, my dream came true.

I am under no delusions about finding another “Julie”. There can be no one like her. Itís not even my desire to find someone like her. I'm not even under any delusions about the time frame. In my fantasy, I have met that special someone and married within a year. But it's okay, you don't have to worry. My fantasy and my reality are two very different things, and there is a clear line between them.

In thinking about all this, I am deeply troubled in my mind about the selfishness of life. Everything comes back to my selfishness. Even if I perfectly love a woman, that is to consider her happiness and welfare without any concern for myself, that then makes me feel good, and suddenly, it's about me.

I can worship God, not for what he's done, but for who he is, and again, that makes me feel good. Suddenly, it's about me again.

Keeping my conscience clear by doing the right thing - again, it's about my conscience being at peace. Giving time and money to charitable causes - gives one a sense of satisfaction. Is there anything I can do in this life that ultimately isn't about making me feel good?

This concept troubles me. But I haven't come to any conclusions about how to get out of it. It's only been two and a half months since Julie died. How can I expect to think clearly yet. Some use that as an excuse to suggest that I should not seeking a relationship with a woman yet. But is there a magical period of time after which I will be well enough to start a relationship? Why must I wait? The loneliness doesn't get any better by waiting. It doesn't even become more bearable. Will I really be thinking more clearly in a year's time? I certainly hope so, but it doesn't feel like it at the moment.

But waiting until I am completely over this is like denying oneself communion at church because one doesn't feel like one's good enough. If you don't feel that you're good enough, that's exactly when you should go to communion, to remind yourself that you need Jesus.

What's the point of waiting until I am over this (as if it were even possible). I am convinced that a relationship is precisely what I need to get over it. Counsellors' alarm bells ring wildly when I say this, but would it be better for me to lie about how I'm feeling?

I have two fears. One is that there will be no one, and that this loneliness is all I will ever know.

The second fear is that my desires will be stronger than my self control. For I am so lonely, that I may give in to the lure of the physical. My head-knowledge is good. I know full well that sex and affection do not make a relationship, any more than spaghetti sauce makes a meal. Thereís not enough nutrition, fibre and substance in spaghetti sauce to really make a meal of it. On the other hand, a big bowl of spaghetti with no sauce is a very bland meal indeed.

My problem right now, is that I am not eating anything - neither spaghetti or spaghetti sauce. I am surviving on an intravenous drip, and I am worried about how I will be able to control my appetite when a meal is made available to me.

Someone said to me that perhaps the woman I meet will be equally keen to keep sex reserved for marriage, and so together we can help each other. My problem with that is that unless the woman is as eager for touching and being touched as I am, then I will not be interested in her.

It sounds like I am being obsessed with sex, and in fact it seems from what I've written to be my highest priority. It isn't, but I keep coming back to the spaghetti allegory. And it is Julie's touch that I miss most. I enjoyed just being with her and there was a special thrill if ever I was able to do anything at all to make her happy. But if any part of her was touching me, then I was contented. Her hand in my hand, her touch as we passed each other, her hand resting on my leg as we drove somewhere, as shallow as it sounds, these are the things that made me contented. The more of her that touched me at once, the more contented I was, and I'm not just talking about sexual intercourse. In fact, I liked touching, cuddling, caressing and kissing more than intercourse. Intercourse always meant that the end was near. And I never wanted the touching, cuddling, caressing and kissing to end.

I think perhaps it is time to end this essay. I think I have been a bit one-track minded, and certainly have been thinking selfishly. I haven't reached any conclusions, nor have I solved any problems. I'm not entirely convinced that itís even healthy to look back on what I've written, but for better or worse, this is how I'm feeling, two and half months after the death of the love of my life.

The final word should go to Lewis, who wrote (on Page 14):

For the first time I have looked back and read these notes. They appal me. From the way I've been talking anyone would think that Joy's death mattered chiefly for its effect on myself. Her point of view seems to have dropped out of sight.

 

Music used under license from Freeplay Music, LLC, 1650 Broadway, Ste. 1108, New York, NY 10019 USA - freeplaymusic.com


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