Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
One of the worst things about grief is how entirely isolating it is. I tell my friends- if only I could take you by the hand and make you step inside it with me, even for just a few seconds, then you’d know and if and when I had an episode you would know why and exactly what that felt like- I say this to them and always see tears form in their eyes because I know they would jump in, in a second, just so I didn’t have to go through it alone. But they can’t. I have to walk this plank alone.
Mostly people say: ‘I just can’t imagine’- and they can’t, but I cannot tell you how irritating it is when heard for the hundredth time, however well meaning. What I’d like to say is….try….and if you are still struggling, then here’s what it’s like:
It’s like having your worst nightmare come true. We over-use the term nightmare, but imagine your absolute worst nightmare and then it’s real; it does in-fact actually come true. We have all had those dreams where your mum or husband dies and you wake up in a panic, only to be calmed immediately by the person next to you.
There is no rest bite, no break; you are day-to-day, moment-to-moment living an actual nightmare. It’s like being in one of Dante’s rings of hell, reserved for those too unlucky to occupy the other nine. This is a sub -level below murderers and rapists and our punishment is worst of all: deprivation of what we love most.
It’s like walking in treacle with the incessant dull buzz of white noise as your soundtrack. I could never have imagined pain on this level. I remember the day after James died, waking up and experiencing that Nano second where everything is okay and then it comes crashing like a wave, you see it coming before it hits you. This happens every morning but the time it takes for the wave to hit gets shorter. The panic of that moment was so overwhelming that I had to get out of bed and hop from one foot to the other in an effort to somehow get rid of it physically. I called someone, I can’t remember who but found I couldn’t speak. I must have also called my friend Josie because I found her on my doorstep ten minutes later.
The pain is like having contractions. Sometimes it’s short, other times it’s long but the worst thing about contractions is you are always waiting for the next one. And the panic and fear you feel that they will return is almost worse than the actual pain they cause. Grief is untidy.
Nobody ever tells you that when your heart is broken that you feel it in your mouth. You want to vomit, not cry and there is no sadness. Sadness is far too gentle an emotion; maybe this is what the disbelief and blind panic turn to in time. It’s total devastation. Total annihilation.
If you were to study grief, actually examine its D.N.A. under the microscope, it would be impossible to inspect. It moves and morphs and worst of all it adapts. Once you have figured out a way to treat it, it develops further; like drug resistance.
It never seems to sleep, nor does it need feeding. It seems to have taken a real shine to me for it won’t leave my side for a single second. It accompanies me everywhere. It never lets up. It has a seat beside me in whatever bar of cafe I happen to be in. It sleeps in my bed, swims beside me in the bath. It is a fellow passenger on aeroplanes, taxis and cars. It is loyal, I’ll give it that, and so, so very unrelenting. It is jealous when I spend time with others and forget for a second to include it, territorial and never lets me escape its meaty grip.
Grief is one thing, loss is quite another. When you suffer loss it’s not just the person you lose, you lose sleep, your senses: you feel neither hot nor cold. You don’t feel hungry or thirsty. All fear vanishes, genuinely, as well as caution because the very worst thing has happened to you, therefore there is nothing left to fear.
You change physically: Get thin, older quicker; nails get brittle and teenage acne returns, like a physical manifestation of pain.
You lose your life; that comes to an end too. For us that was: pancakes on the weekends while dancing round the kitchen to our favourite tracks (usually Digital Love) as our children were squashed with laughter. Endless cups of tea as we discussed parties the night before. Hours upon hours in Chiswick House throwing frisbees, riding bikes and laughing, so much laughing; probably more than a normal amount. Holidays and parties and films in bed on the laptop with the kids on Sunday mornings, and more tea. I can still taste a better life.
And food; always food. Food out, food in, food in our tiny garden by a fire pit, even if it was pouring (this often happened; James would never give in to the elements so I was allowed an umbrella but I had to stay, despite the fact that my burger was liquid). This was our life. But you loose this.
All of this has vanished. There is no more dancing to ‘Digital Love’ No more liquid, rainy burgers. No more laughing ’til you thought you might stop breathing, all is lost. All is harmed. It really is as W. H. Auden says; “nothing now can ever come to any good”. It’s so difficult to say goodbye to this life. It really is as simple as Old/good. New/bad. So very bad. This is my least favourite life.
I read a blog once where the writer said: Grief is Gollum. This is exactly what it feels like, a creature, all gnarly and knobbly about to jump on your back.
For Tara, who has saved me.
2 thoughts on “A brief History of pain.”
I stumbled across your blog and it has moved me so deeply I feel compelled to write to you.
I have recently lost my husband. He’s still alive and still tormenting and torturing me and making my life hell. Because we never had the love and joy you so eloquently describe. I married someone I didn’t really love because my biological clock was screaming at me to get the fuck on with it. But what I always longed for was the relationship that you describe and I feel raw aching pain in the beautiful things you have written about James and I am so so sorry for your loss.
When a shit thing happens in your life the most horrible thing about it is how isolating it is. But when you are experiencing pain the weirdest thing is you cannot actually feel it. That is the problem. You stop feeling. Your senses are dulled to a numbness. Just when you think you are drifting into a world of solitude never to return you see someone else in pain and you understand what they are experiencing with unprecedented clarity.
You are not alone. Every single person bears pain of some description in their lives.
Your circumstances and experience is unique…..just like everyone else. But the way in which you describe it in your writing is profoundly beautiful.
Thank you. You are very gifted and using your gift so wisely.
I wish you good luck on your journey.
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Yes I agree. Your description is so very accurate. I lost my daughter, not my husband, she was 26, beautiful, talented, funny, thoughtful, wise, interesting and interested. I miss all the things we used to do together. Whenever I go to an art exhibition I wish I could feel her by my side chatting about what we’re looking at. I go on my own so that I can think of all the times she was with me. Reading about others going through such painful grief does, indeed, make us feel less isolated xxxx
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