When your world goes into tailspin after a loss, you cling onto dear life as best you can. You use whatever techniques you can to keep going and, at least in the immediate aftermath, other people are also in firefighter mode, trying to work with you to stop you falling. You fixate on the practical stuff. Phone up Avios to transfer the air miles into your name. Call the council tax people to get the single person’s 25% discount. Go shopping for pretty things. Book expensive Caribbean holidays. But then, sometimes, you just don’t give a shit anymore and don’t want to cope. Coping with the loss of the love of your life is EXHAUSTING and what’s the fucking point?
I’ve had moments where I just wanted to let go, to let myself crash, to die. Actually, I admit I’ve had more than moments. I’ve had full blown longer periods where I came close to ending my life. I made my will, I wrote my suicide notes, I tidied my house, I binned my vibrators (funny how I was worried about being embarrassed even though I would have been dead), I made sure my life insurance covered suicide, and as I stood at the top of Niagara Falls just a few months ago, right at the spot where the water is about to tip, I considered throwing myself over the surprisingly low railings. Then I thought about the fact that a couple of people have survived the drop – I wanted to make sure I would be dead. So, I decided the Niagara Falls suicide method wasn’t going to cut it. Did people have a clue I was suicidal? No, they didn’t – not until I had the sense to go to my psychiatrist and get drugs to make me better. The drugs can’t cure the grief, but they can reduce the desire to kill oneself. Thank God. Actually, living has become rather fun again and I’ve found coping methods which work enough for me.
M Stroebe’s study, The Broken Heart: suicidal ideation in bereavement (reported in Volume 162, Issue 11, 2005, American Journal of Psychiatry) found that “suicidal ideation was higher among widowed people than married people who were bereaved and was most excessive for widows. The effect disappeared when there was control for emotional loneliness.” I’m quoting the abstract but I, and several other wid friends of mine, definitely would have been at home with the other subjects of that study.
Wids. I love you. If any of you are feeling suicidal, please, please seek help. I promise, it gets better.
Part of my healing journey has been to accept that certain things cannot change (She’s really, really fucking dead,proper dead, and I can only see her in my mind and dreams), but to also recognise that I can take control of certain aspects of my life. Control helps. I agree with the study. Control makes me feel like I can do this shit. I’ve sought out things I can control. One in particular is food. It’s been helpful to know that I can eat, or not eat, what I want, when I want and where I want. Nobody else has a say in that. Gone are the days of force feeding suffragettes.
I am a slight, petite thing anyway so when my wife died and I lost all appetite and will to live, I dropped 6kg in an extremely short space of time. Like 2 weeks. You Americans will have to ask Siri how much that is in pounds, but it’s basically a shit load when you only weighed 51kg in the first place. I went from a UK size 8/10 to not even a 4. I was thinner than I was as a 9 year old. They don’t even make size 4 here, apart from in Reiss where Kate Middleton shops. I had widowrexia. My mind fell apart, my body fell apart, my world fell apart. What was the fucking point in eating? I wished my body would stop working of its own volition and that I’d just die without having to kill myself. That would have been great.
With time, things changed. As the ability to eat gradually rentered my life, along with the ability to brush my teeth twice a day and wear mascara without it being streaked across my face in a matter of single digit minutes, the physical and psychological benefits of having nutrients in my body were clear. Healthy body means healthy mind and so, for the first time since I was a child, I recognised is was important to eat three meals a day. Achieving this is a success, a win, a thing for which to self congratulate (with grief shopping, of course). I liked the control. I still do. I took things a step further and became a vegetarian – ultimate control over what is in my food, knowing, for the most part, where it has come from. Ok, maybe not ultimate. I could have been fruitarian but it’s too much for widow brain to figure out. Vegetarian food prep , however, takes time and I have plenty of time on a lonely evening.
My wife would have hated vegetarianism. She’d say I was turning into a stereotypical lesbian. So, in a way, being vegetarian has been a bit of a “fuck you for going and dying” to woman too because, although I forgive, I am still hacked off at her sometimes. What she thinks can’t have a bearing on my life anymore so, to me, control is good. Control has even helped me put some weight back on in a healthy, sustainable way. I’m up to a size 6 and kinda now want to stay like this because, to toot my own trumpet, I look really fucking hot in a bikini. My cellulite is gone, my skin is clearer, my stomach is flatter than ever and when I (finally) have sex with Boy Widower (eek!), at least I’ll look amazing, albeit feel terrified. I can control the way I look. Hurrah.
A quick aside – another grief copying tool is distraction. As you can tell, I’ve had distraction aplenty in the form of mistake doctor ex-girlfriend, Tinder dates, Boy Widower and travelling the globe. So I won’t go into that here. It’s fairly obvious that distraction is my main technique, supplemented by wine.
But an interesting grief coping tool – one which I believe is unhealthy but many fall foul to – is avoidance. Avoidance of situations, things, places, people that trigger memories of my wife. The night my wife died, I vowed I would never again go back in my home. There, I suffered trauma, I was horrified in the real, true sense of the word and I laid on the floor next to her dead body, stroking her hair as I prayed for strength to be able to keep breathing and for her to start breathing again. How could I ever go back? Well, a few months later, I moved back in and now I am happily living in my home again, much to the horror of many others. Is it because I feel closer to my wife there? Well maybe. But I think it’s more of a control thing – a “fuck you, I can do this” thing. I took control, redecorated, bought a new bed and now fall asleep every night in the room where the worst time of my life happened. This is just one example out of many situations I have confronted, but probably the most pronounced. Therefore, I thought it was doing pretty well and not using unhealthy avoidance techniques thing.
That was until today. Stripper Friendly Gin Drinker and I were talking about things that make us cry. It emerged that both of us recently cried over baking. I literally cried over this cake.
Why? Well, it’s food control related. I realised I’ve been avoiding the food items that my wife made. I’ve been in control. Our go-to meals of chili con carne, steak with sweet potato chippies, and sweet and sour chicken are no longer part of my life. I haven’t had a proper British fry up in a year and a half. So back to the cake. Why did I cry? Well, it’s the first time I’ve baked ever. Like ever. Wife would bake. I would lick the spoon and, on occasion, sieve shit. Lumpishly. I have her cookbook, the blue fabric covered one (impractical for sticky fingers) she grew up with, and I haven’t a fucking clue how to make the stuff in it. But for some reason, last Sunday, something possessed me to make chocolate cupcakes. It actually went pretty well. Then I cried into the remaining Green and Blacks cocoa infused, ergo expensive, batter.
I realised that I avoid the food wife made because it upsets me. I want to have control over the food, control over my body and as much of my mind as possible. It needs to be on my terms. But, that means avoiding what she used to make me. Avoiding is bad. I should confront my fears. I don’t really know where I want to go with writing this. I guess I will figure it out in the future. My steak eating days are over (well, when I go to South America for six months I may cave out of lack of alternatives) but I will at some point be confronted by a freshly baked scone or a pancake – the two things I truly, truly cannot ever make the way she did. I will be THAT #crazyladyinthecorner crying at my traditional English afternoon tea. Sigh.
And the next thing I need to take control of – alcohol. Another sigh.