We are now well into 2017. The first year I have had to face without Grace by my side since 1985. I know it is just a change of one number on the calendar but for me it felt more significant. I felt it as a signal to start moving forward. Moving to what exactly I don’t know yet, but I do know that I have to begin to create a new life for myself. I can’t go on living a pale imitation of my previous life with Grace.
The first time that I said the words “Grace died last year”, shocked me. I think that they brought home the fact that Grace is gone and that there is, much as I might wish it were otherwise, nothing I can do to change that. After I had let them sink in, I found them to be liberating as well. Not liberating in the sense of no longer grieving, but liberating in the sense of giving me some distance from the actual event of Grace’s death, freeing me to move forward and begin to reshape my life. Which I am sure she would want me to do.
Part of it is finding out who the new me is.
This is something I wrote back in July last year but never published:
johnm55 was who I used to be, (as far as this blog was concerned) before I morphed into “A Scotsman in Suburbia” a couple of years ago.
There have been many adjustments that I have had to make to my life in the weeks since Grace passed away. Getting used to being on my own, cooking just for one, working out what to do with my time are some of them. The biggest one has been trying to find out who exactly I am.
When you are in a relationship, especially a long-lasting one ,there is a tendency to define who I am as who we are. I don’t think that is wrong. Grace and I did not live in each other’s pockets. We each had our own friends and our own interests. However there was a lot more that we did together. We might at times have been Grace and John, separate people, but even more so we were Grace&John partners.
I have never been in a relationship that ended before,(unless you count drifting apart and mutually agreed “It’s not really working” episodes with a few girlfriends thirty-five or forty years ago) so I have no experience to fall back on. Even so I suspect that the emotional impact of a long-term relationship that ends with the death of your partner is different to that of a relationship that ends in separation.
I’m still working on who I am, and what my new life might be, though it is becoming clearer. I’m building a picture of who I would like to become, or to be more exact some of the characteristics that I want to build into my life. I want to be a kinder person. Not just someone who tries not to hurt people, but someone who actively tries to make the world, or at least my small corner of it, a happier place. Grace lived her life that way.
I want – need to become a bit more adventurous. I have always had a tendency to retreat to what I feel are my safe spaces. Even more so since Grace passed away. I need to break out of that.
I am discovering that not having to take into account what Grace would have liked or wanted opens up new possibilities. I don’t mean that in the negative way that it could sound. We made our decisions together, she would take my likes and desires into account as much as I would hers. Just two small examples of what I mean; the first is going to the cinema.
Because we liked to go to the cinema together we would almost always choose a film that Grace would like. She hated violence or more than the very occasional four letter word. So it normally had to be a 12A certificate or better. For example T2:Trainspotting would definitely have been ruled out and probably Rogue 1. Just before Christmas I realised that I hadn’t gone to the cinema since Grace died, not because I hadn’t wanted to, but because I hadn’t seen a film that I thought that she would have liked. I decided that was being stupid, because our taste in films may have overlapped but there was a large section of the Venn Diagram that said John’s film choice that didn’t fit into the overlap. I have started going back to the cinema.
The second is bed linen. I decided that I needed some new bed linen last weekend. Normally that would have been something that Grace chose with little or no input from me. My theory was that it didn’t really matter what it looked like, because most of the time I wouldn’t see it because I would be asleep. I chose my new duvet cover with sheets and pillow cases to match. I like them. The cover is mid grey with thin satiny stripes with lighter grey sheets and pillowcases. Grace would not have chosen them. “Too dark” she would have said and gone off to pick something a lot lighter and probably with flowers. I realised that for better or worse that sort of thing is now my call.
Also while football (or sport other tennis) weren’t really Grace’s thing she didn’t mind me going along occasionally to watch AFC Wimbledon but she didn’t encourage it either. I stopped going completely after she became ill. If she was feeling well we would go out and do something and if she wasn’t I didn’t like to leave her. Thanks to my brother Jim persuading me to go along to watch Hibs, of all the football teams in the world, on Christmas Eve, and my finding that I actually enjoyed the game, I have started going along to watch AFC Wimbledon on a regular basis. It gives me ninety minutes of existential escapism. where – for that period of time – all that matters is what is happening on the pitch. It also gives a chance to connect with friends over a beer after the match.
Reading this article in The Guardian a few weeks ago nudged me along the way. The author (Adam Golightly is a pseudonym) lost his wife to cancer about the same time that I lost Grace. He is younger than me and has a couple of kids, so his situation is not the same as mine. but never the less I have found his story interesting and helpful. One bit in particular jumped out and grabbed me;
“You’ve been recalibrating normality – not just to a future in which you’re only OK without Helen but to the thought that you might have a new life as fantastic as the old one. The weight for you, mate, is not that the future could be bright but that you’ll feel guilty if it is.”
I stop chewing and stare at him, questioning but calm. To those unused to Pete’s caring nature, this link between Indian appetisers and my beautiful late wife might seem crass – but it’s the man, and doesn’t offend.
He munches on. “Also, your survivor’s guilt has been getting worse, not at being left alive but that you might waste that privilege. What’s happening now is these two forces are meeting with the fear of failing to create a brilliant new life for you all being greater than the fear of the guilt if you succeed.”
The sense that I will feel guilty if I do manage to create a new life that is just as wonderful as the life I had with Grace is real for me as well. Equally I don’t think she would want me to live a life where I am just OK without her. I don’t know what my future holds but I do know that I need to move forward into it.