I ran out of words… | HerCanberra

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I ran out of words…

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On the first anniversary of my husband’s death, I wrote an article about what I’d learned about grief.

Amongst other things, I said I’d been flown to America to speak at a conference in Jeff’s honour, and that going there was very hard, but not as hard as going to the local supermarket.

Anyone familiar with devastating loss knows supermarkets are the last bastion of ‘normal’. Every aisle is filled with items you no longer need. Ingredients for dishes he loved making, shaving cream and razors, the brand of toothpaste he preferred … And while you stand, frozen, in front of a wall of toiletries that are more confronting than toiletries ever should be, everyone around you goes about their shopping as if the whole world hasn’t been irrevocably shattered.

They walk amongst us — people in that state. Not making eye contact. Not smiling back in the queue. Not seeing the green light immediately. Disengaged in the next seat at the hairdresser, because it’s the funeral tomorrow and it’s excruciating just existing.

Lights are too bright. Things are too loud. People you know duck into the next aisle to avoid the awkwardness of having to speak to you.

Cashiers aren’t so shy. They ask how your day has been and what you’ve been up to and you say ‘fine’ and ‘not much’ because it wouldn’t be right to traumatise an unsuspecting teenager with the brutal truth that you’ve just come from the funeral director’s. You picked out your person’s coffin today. You’re flat out trying to keep yourself alive.

One reader left a comment under my anniversary article: ‘Travels overseas but can’t go to the supermarket…’

‘Grief shaming’ is where a person passes unnecessary and often ill-informed judgement on how someone else should grieve. It’s often bestowed upon people who are at their most emotionally vulnerable. That anniversary article was one of the last I wrote publicly about grief, before I ran out of words and turned inwards.

Sharing the story of grief as it unfolded had been cathartic. People had been extraordinarily kind and supportive. I will never forget the way the HerCanberra community enveloped and held our family. It was a shining example of the loving soul of this city.

I didn’t run out of words over just one comment. Over the years I’d learned to grow a thicker skin than that. It was just everything.

That he died.

That he stayed dead.

The life you imagined simply combusts. Violently. It’s a personal apocalypse that rocks you to your core. You’re forced to stagger to your feet and out of the rubble and rebuild everything. There are times when you have to cling hard to your own life, and to others, while they help you stay in a world that feels impossible without him.

Losing your partner is the first loss and then secondary losses hammer it home. Loss of relational identity and future goals. Loss of income and family structure. Loss of your co-parent and your intimate partner. Loss or change of house, lost travel plans, lost sense of security, lost focus. What you cook and how and when you eat changes, as does the time you go to bed and how you sleep. The way you spend your evenings is different. Weekends shift dramatically. Holidays are unrecognisable. And that’s before you endure all the significant celebrations.

Good news isn’t pure anymore. Happy days are tarnished. Problems are no longer halved — they’re carried whole, and then some. You lose your support person. Your champion. The one whose eyes you meet when your child does something gorgeous or funny, or is sick or goes in for surgery or asks questions you can’t answer or simply exhausts you the way kids do…

And then I lost my words.

I want the community who helped us so very much in 2016 to know that this is the place from which I’m now emerging. The words are coming back. If you stay this difficult course for long enough and gather enough support around you, eventually you arrive at a clearing.

Breathing space.


A blank page

And with its glaring emptiness that had once felt so terrifying, that blank page is no longer a reminder of all you have lost. It’s a delicious canvas for all you’re yet to write.

Stretching into the future now are endless unknowns. Countless possible directions. Choices and opportunities I hadn’t dared imagine, because until this happened I didn’t have to.

Here’s the thing I’m learning well into my third year without Jeff: There is another path to happiness. There’s an alternative reality. A parallel universe that is as unfamiliar as it is promising.

Mary Oliver asked, “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” It’s a question the grieving face, as we surrender to a new story.

A story where they stay dead. And we stay here.

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