Oh my love. 


500 days have passed. 500 days without you in my world. 


How have I got through these days? I remember as clear as if it were yesterday the moment that you died, the sudden knowledge that everything – everything had changed. Everything about that moment is vivid in my mind, although the hours leading inexorably towards it are blurred and confused in my memory. But the instant of your death is seared in my heart forever. It was as if all the air was sucked from the room. At that instant, all of our life together came to an abrupt end, and the unknown rest of my days alone began. 


It’s inconceivable to me that so many days have come and gone since that moment. I have no idea how I managed to get to today. In the beginning, in the madness of those early crazed days of shock and fear and dread, I couldn’t imagine getting to this milestone. 


It was all I could do to get through each day, sometimes each hour. Every minute was endless, heavy with the weight of the unknown, the rawness of love turned to grief. I had to get used to it, to learn how to be. Who to be.


I didn’t recognise myself – I still don’t much of the time, but in those early days I was completely undone, like a shattered kaleidoscope. Picking up the pieces, such a literal expression of the work of grieving, you have to find the broken pieces of the person you used to be and try to reassemble them into something that feels a bit like the you that was. 


It’s so bloody hard. There are still days when I just can’t, when I function on autopilot, just getting through another day. This was every day, to begin with, but gradually, as the world turned and the seasons changed and time went by, these worst of days are fewer and fewer. I had to find my own remedies, to learn to trust that the awfulness would pass and to just endure.


I thought often of Jon Underwood in those early days, hearing his lovely gentle voice reminding me of the impermanence of everything, and of course he was right. Nothing stays the same, everything changes, the darkness is always followed by the light. Steve’s voice echoes in my mind too – “keep going, keep going”. 


And I did. I am. One day after another. One night after another. Getting days behind me since the day everything changed.


So here I am. 500 days done. Who knows how many ahead. Maybe not many, if the insanity in Ukraine explodes into a world war, or if a new variant of the virus that took Steve’s life emerges. Maybe thousands, if by some miracle I live another 20 years or more. Nobody knows. I understand this now, the uncertainty, the impermanence. Life is so very fragile, what we believe to be given is never guaranteed. Across the world, everyone learns this at some point in their lives, some brutally, with shocking surprise, some with resignation and acceptance. 


I have learned so much in these last 500 days. I am a different person now. I don’t know if this is a common thing, or whether it’s magnified by the experience of losing Steve to the pandemic that has changed all our lives. I think it’s probably the latter. This lived experience of trauma is shared by many others I have met and spoken to, it’s borne out by research and is the ongoing subject of many academic studies.


Grieving during a pandemic is not to be recommended, that’s for sure. The complexities and compounding factors are myriad, and far beyond my ability to articulate (not least because of the lingering impact of Long Covid which continues to affect my retrieval of words, along with a number of other unwelcome after-effects).


All I can do is try and capture where I am now, to time stamp the journey of my grief.


Apart from the presence of my beloved grandchildren, the concern of my daughters and the kindness and support of a few lovely friends, the gruelling endurance of the last 16 and a half months has only been made bearable by finding others who share this pain.


For me, this came in the shape of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, a campaign group fighting for an inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic; a cause that I instantly felt aligned to when I first heard about them.


From the first tentative steps in November 2020, when I wondered whether joining a group of bereaved people might be too overwhelming in the raw newness of my grief, to where I am now, part of the interim campaign team, heading up the volunteer group who look after the National Covid Memorial Wall and one of the official spokespeople for the group, it has been an immersive, enriching journey, one that has corralled and marshalled my grief into something meaningful and productive.


The ongoing campaign work has shaped the life I am living now, with a weekly commitment at the wall in London each week where I have found a group of wonderful new friends, and where I meet other people every time who are locked into their own personal hell of bereavement. These conversations are precious glimpses into the lives of other people who are living my experience, and I honour the memories and recollections that are shared with me in brief encounters alongside a wall of 180,00 painted hearts.


Being part of the campaign has catapulted me into a political arena, giving me the opportunity to meet  my heroes, the guys behind Led By Donkeys, to meet with the prime minister in the garden of Downing Street, to meet many opposition MPs,  the Mayor of London and the leader of Lambeth Council, to attend the first PMQs open to the public and then to have lunch with Fleur Anderson MP and to meet with a cabinet minister to discuss specialised bereavement support. 


It has offered me multiple interviews and airtime on all British and many international media channels, TV and radio and social media. I have learned how to do live to air interviews and keep to the key messages. I have been featured alongside politicians and commentators, speaking on behalf of hundreds of thousands of bereaved families across the country challenging the government in their handling of the pandemic.


I have had the privilege of appearing on Newsnight and then being invited back for two further interviews, the latest one with a highlight of Jacob Rees-Mogg MP being unable to look at the screen on which I was speaking. My grandchildren think it is normal to have a Nana on TV, they roll their eyes when they’re asked to be quiet when I appear on the screen.


The energy and focus of being part of this group has helped me immeasurably. I have something to do beyond trying to be the person I used to be, doing the things I used to do, and this is incredibly nurturing and nourishing for my new, diminished self. I feel I have something useful to do, on behalf of other people as well as myself. I have a new identity now, associated with the campaign group. 


The bitter irony is that the one person who I long to talk to about all this new-found life, all of the media, the focus, the purpose of what I’m doing – that person is gone. 


I hope he would be proud of me, 500 days on. I miss him beyond words.