When death strikes, whether you knew it was coming, or it comes as a complete shock, there are stages that we go through.
Now I have read online and in some books that there are different stages to grief, but what I didn't realise is that these stages aren't like a process you go through and bam, then it's all hunky dory. Nope, sometimes you revisit those lessons perhaps in a different way. The grief is still there, if you're like me, it's there as soon as you wake up and the last minute you close your eyes. Even now I get hit by grief out of the blue and I'm now in my 21st month, but who's counting lol.
My first lesson from death looking back after my husband Glenn had died was awakening. Sounds strange doesn't it? But death forces us to feel things. Straight after Glenn died I felt numb. The normal routine of life felt surreal, as though I was in a dream. In the meantime, I had a hurricane of different emotions rising and falling inside of me. A little bit like being on a roller-coaster that you can't get off and hate every minute of it.
But as those feelings sift and swirl inside you, you begin to awaken to the realisation, well I did anyway, that I felt completely empty. I was devoid of feeling, caring, hope, purpose, and yes, even love.
Losing my husband, I knew deep inside I was loved by my children, a few close friends, and yet my ability to feel love was numbed in some way. Perhaps it's your body's way of protecting you from the pain of death being just too much.
The only thing I could do, was just to keep experiencing what I was experiencing. Sometimes you have to go through intense dark periods in your life to come out into the light somewhere further down the line.
So I believe the first part of a soul's journey after the death of a loved one is awakening. That numbness you feel gifts you, yes you read that right, gifts you, the opportunity to step outside of everything for a while. Whether that's because your soul has moved from fear and pain into survival mode, I don't really know. But those first few days of feeling numb, offer us a tiny sliver of peace. I like to think of it as my angels covering me in a huge duvet, so it drowns out everything external,so I can just be, rather than be at the mercy of my thoughts and my feelings.
Death teaches us the lesson of awakening. The moment someone we love dies, something within us is born. It may seem a strange analogy, but death not only is transformation for the dearly departed, but it also applies for those left behind, and for me, awakening is the first lesson we have to face from death.
The reason I believe we begin being in a state of awakening is, because you slowly awaken to the realisation that life will never be the same. You may look the same, you may have the same routine and things around you, but you also realise at some point, that you are no longer the same inside. For me, I was no longer the wife, the lover, the nurse, the friend, the person who was loved and cherished every day by her husband. The laughs we shared, the tender touches, the kisses I would never have that again with him.
So without those labels who was I? I think at this early stage the answer was I didn't know. For me it was really scary to envision a life without Glenn and heartbreaking. Particularly if you're middle-aged or older. Does this mean you're meant to live without a reassuring hug, kiss or hand-to-hold for the rest of your life?
This doesn't mean I was thinking of a new partner. To be completely open, if anything, the thought of another person is not something I could nor still can perceive of, at all. But it is still a sad prospect when you think of a future where it's meals for one, holidays for one and anything else you did together. I always remember saying to my husband and kids, most stuff means nothing without someone to share it with.
I was also, during this process, awakening to the idea that the dreams we had planned no longer applied either. Everything I had, knew and dreamed of was gone, and slowly, so very slowly, you begin to realise that you have to learn to think for yourself.
Before, I used to consider or ask my husband, what he thought or felt. Initially after Glenn's passing, I still asked myself what would Glenn do? I found myself doing and thinking about what Glenn would do. It's quite a shock when one particular day my thoughts suddenly said, "It isn't about what Glenn would do or like anymore, It's about what you'd like". That gave me quite a jolt. But it was true, and yet, it was one of the most scariest moments because it was then I realised I didn't know the answer. I did not know what 'I' would do, or like.
I began to realise I really didn't know what I liked anymore. "I' had been a 'WE' for over 25 years. 'WE' had usually made the decisions. 'WE' normally found the solution that suited us both. How do you go from 'WE' back to 'I'?
I remember sat drinking coffee thinking 'how' had I lost me, and more importantly, 'when' did I lose me?
For over 25 years I had been so busy with life, with working, getting involved in bringing up a family, I really couldn't remember what I was or who I was before.
What had happened to the girl I use to be? Was she lost forever? Questions like had I been awake the last 25+years came to my mind. I know I was awake really, but this new awakening was also scary.
I felt a bit like Julie Roberts in the film 'The Run Away Bride', where she cooked eggs in different ways because she didn't know which eggs she liked. Glenn hated boiled eggs, so I rarely cooked them and it struck me that when we are in a relationship, particularly for women, we tend to put our desires, our needs, our dreams on a back-burner and should kids arrive well, they get moved back a whole lot further.
Looking back those first few weeks after Glenn died, life moved 'around' me whilst I felt I wasn't moving at all. As Lady Gaga sings, "the world keeps turning around and I ain't moving on". I'd wander around my home unable to settle. I didn't want to sit in the lounge where we used to cuddle up together on the settee. The room suddenly felt so large, and I felt, so very small and alone. I couldn't go in the room where Glenn had died. Even though the room had been cleaned, ventiliated and put back to how it was before all the medical furniture arrived, I could still smell death. (Even a year on, when I had sold the house, the day I moved out even though no one else could, I could still smell death).
It's easy to wonder when you lose your loved one if you will ever smile, laugh, feel alive and find happiness again. Well, I suppose you will, it will just be a little different that's all, and the best thing you can do, is give yourself time.
Death has a way of making you reprioritise your life. I also believe it forces you to deal with those things on the inside that you failed to heal in your past. That numbness that I spoke about earlier, I think it enables us time to slowly begin to awaken to the new emotional experiences that are taking place.
For so long, I had been used to one particular framework of who I was and how I expressed myself, now every part of that framework was being challenged and had to be rebuilt from the ground up.
Everything I had taken as normal, for granted, all those things, which created my sense of emotional security had been removed, and this numbness I felt was like returning back to the womb, because after all, death I realised, was offering me, no, perhaps forcing me to learn to establish a new identity. I believe death was teaching me that despite everything I had ever experienced in life, I had to learn to be the source of my own emotional security.
The prospect of a new life, being alone without Glenn, filled me with anxiety. It still does sometimes, even now. As the days passed that anxiety began to take a new shape or meaning. I knew I had to deal with everything as it was. I could either stay fixed, scared and unable to function; or, I could try to embrace the prospect of change. Glenn had a saying "You can't saw, sawdust. When it's gone, it's gone." The sawdust of my life would not sustain me, it was time to awaken to a new beginning.
This awakening to a new beginning rekindles within us, faith, trust and hope not in others, but within ourselves. Well that, is something I'll talk about next, because after awakening, the lesson death brought me was all about control, and that is one lesson I realised was going to be a real kick in the backside.