Today it is 1,000 days since Steve died.
It feels right to acknowledge this somehow, at least by writing something. I don’t feel inclined to go and spend time by his grave, unlike at the more ancient markers of time, when the seasons turn at the solstices; I’m always drawn there then. Today is more thoughtful, less instinctive. A thousand is a made-up thing, a round number that’s not relatable to the rhythm of days and weeks and months and years, it’s just a familiar four digits, that denominate ‘a lot.’
A thousand days. I remember the disbelief of those very early hours and days after he died – the idea of a future me writing about living on for a thousand days without him was beyond my comprehension, and yet here I am. And I’m mostly ok. I think that that’s the point of this blog post.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t ‘moved on’, or ‘recovered’ or ‘got over it’ or any of those other hopeful phrases that people use, from the enviable perspective of not having experienced this. I’ve just kept getting up and getting through the days, gradually accepting the changed world that I inhabit without him. Without us. Without me, as I used to be. I am changed forever. Scarred forever. This is, I think, the work of a lifetime, this accepting of what is. This grieving. This living on.
And yet I do feel a distance from the horrors of those five weeks between our wedding and Steve’s funeral. How could I not? The sun has risen and set a thousand times since the day he died. Memories fade, the searing pain subsides. I am further along the road of the rest of my life.
I have a dear friend whose partner died suddenly, in January this year, and we talk on the phone every Sunday. She knew Steve and loved him, and they shared a birthday, so the friendship has a special root, albeit separated by hundreds of miles. When her partner died, she was suddenly plunged into the deep waters of grief where I had been two years before. And hard though it is to be confronted with these turbulent, powerful, painful emotions again, I know how important it is for me to keep showing up to be there for her. In those weekly, long-distance conversations, I feel as if I am a way ahead of her, travelling along a road that neither of us want to be on.
I hear in her pain and anger and tears the echoes of my own despair from those early days, and I recall the absolute kindness and generosity shown to me by other women who were ahead of me when I first found myself on this long, lonely path. Kind, generous women, whose husbands or partners had died, who recognised themselves in my loss and who took the time to call, to write, to text, to check in on me. Women who knew. I realise just how precious a gift they gave me. They held a light ahead of me, living their lives after unbearable loss, and they let me see that life would unfold and time would pass, and survival was possible.
I now find myself trying to do the same thing for my friend. Somehow, this feels like the natural order of things, to assume my role in turn, to reach out to the bewilderment and sadness of someone newly bereaved and face the memory of the horror of my own immediate past. I know that the only thing to do is to listen, bear witness, and at the same time, just by being, offer a glimpse of reassurance that there will be a future, of some kind. This is what was done for me, by brave women, carrying their own grief with kindness. Not trying to fix what can’t be fixed.
It’s as if there’s a long chain of us, each going forward and yet ready to look back and help someone arriving on this particular road. It took some time to be capable of this, of thinking of someone else instead of being immersed in my own sadness. I spent a lot of time trying to find ways to stop the pain before I realised that there was no way of doing so, I just had to keep going, keep feeling the sadness, keep putting one foot in front of another to get through the days stretching ahead.
I think it was some time after the first anniversaries had all rolled past that I emerged from the misery enough to begin to think of others. That first year is a bit of a blur, to be honest, but once I had hauled myself into the second year, after the anniversary of Steve’s funeral, the reconciling to the new normal began. It’s only time that helps ease the intensity of the pain, time – and distance from the maelstrom of emotions, the deep, deep grieving. As I said, I don’t believe there is such a comforting thing as ‘moving on’, not in my experience, more a ‘muddling through’, but, as the days and seasons turn, there is a settling.
That’s not to say that the raw anguish of grief disappears completely. I’ve found that it is always there, just under the surface, an unhealed wound with a fragile scar formed above it. And it takes just the smallest of things to rip open that scar and expose all the agony again – perhaps a refrain of a song, the sound of a familiar car, a glimpse of a stranger with a similar build. For people who aren’t burdened with the Long Covid long-term loss of taste and smell, I’m sure catching a scent must do the same, but I’m still in a muted world without these senses. That’s another layer of grief, but a different one.
But the fragility of the scars we form – just last week, I was queueing to pay for groceries, and a couple were in front of me at the till. She was talking to the cashier and packing the shopping away, and then he ambled up and reached into his back pocket for his wallet to pay, an easy, familiar movement that was so clearly something he’d done hundreds of times before. It was like a knife in my heart, witnessing this humdrum moment in strangers’ lives. That was us, from then, back in the day. Steve always did exactly that, just the same casual ‘I’m paying for this’ movement., And then, just like the unknown man did, he would always pick up the bags and carry them.
Moments like that sneak up on you and command your attention. That voice inside murmurs ‘this was you and him. And you didn’t appreciate the profoundness of the ordinary. Now you’ll never have that again’. I stood in the shop crying silently. And then I paid for my shopping and carried on.
This is the new normal. Carrying on. Carrying the sadness. . With a thousand days of learning how to be. And mostly ok.