Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Seven Year Bitch

Dear readers, I must apologise for being away so long. I thought I had nothing new to say about being widowed and I was trying to get on with making a new life rather than looking back but, for today at least, I am back.

I've been ill with a virus for the last ten days. Seven years ago today my husband died. These two statements are, I believe, related. If I can be a bit indelicate for a moment, I spent Saturday throwing up. I haven't been sick in many, many years. I pride myself on the ironcast quality of my stomach. The cold that I had had seemed to be on the mend but when I woke on Saturday I felt worse, not better and by eleven I was flabbergasted to find myself in that long-forgotten position on the floor of the bathroom. Then again, and again and on through the day until nothing was left.

As I retched, I found myself raging at all the wrongs that had been done to me over the last seven years (and before), the death, the loneliness, friends deserting me, opportunities lost, a desolate future. Every retch brought forth a mental torrent of anguish and anger. It was probably the closest I'll ever come to a primal scream (albeit an internal one). It was an unexpectedly vital experience. And, once the retching had finally stopped, I was forced to ask myself if I had been blocking these emotions all these years - oh, I knew about them, I even talked about them, but I never allowed myself actually to get emotional about them. I have hardly ever cried since he died because there was no-one I felt comfortable to cry with, and I didn't dare cry on my own - perhaps in case I never stopped.

What normal person would accept that you could still not have 'moved on' after seven years? Pre-widowhood, I certainly wouldn't. But the fact is you receive two life sentences when your spouse dies. The loss of them, their pain, the sadness and regret for all that they will never see or do - that's one. But the other is the silent one, the one that no-one talks about and that is the sentence of spending the rest of your life alone. Now, of course, plenty of people do remarry. But not everyone is lucky enough to find another love, and many people don't want to either.

If I had written this post a couple of weeks ago - pre-flu - it would have been a rant about older men marrying younger women. We'll save that for another day but the fact seems to be that men over fifty seem to expect to attract women well under fifty and any woman the same age as them is second best. So, let us just say that if you find yourself female, widowed and over fifty, a new relationship is not guaranteed. Back to the original point.

I have been quietly dying inside since the Golfer died and I haven't acknowledged it. I've been busy and dynamic, tried lots of new activities, moved house twice, started a business, made new friends. I come home every night to my house and pretend everything is okay. I surf the internet and play computer games, watch DVDs; recently I've even managed to start listening to music. But nobody witnesses it. Nobody notices that I've bought new clothes or that I've done a rare tidy-up. I've got no-one to cook for, no-one to grumble to about the irritations of the day, no-one to hold me. I realised at some point this year that I have been alone long enough now that being held by a man feels foreign to me. I have stopped feeling like someone who could be the subject of a man's affection.

And I think this has all collided, not by coincidence, at the seventh anniversary of the death of my husband, my best friend, my other half, who was with me before I was eighteen and who shaped the adult I became. Since I was sick, I've been very sleepy and a bit feverish from time to time, which has brought some strange dreams with it. My dreams are usually of no use to me in real life but a couple that I had during the last few days seemed to be very particular and, I guess, created by my brain to nudge me in the right direction.

So, what is that direction? Well, first I need to say that it's only been in the last couple of days that I've realised that I haven't put the Golfer behind me. And if you don't put your old love behind you, how can you seriously look for new love? I realised that for these long seven years I HAVEN'T been letting him go. As any widow will tell you, the loss of a spouse is a complicated emotional affair and, in my particular case, there was a lot of anger and guilt wrapped up in amongst the loss and the pain. So, when I put the anger and the guilt behind me I thought I'd put it all behind me.

Of course, I hadn't. I can't believe I didn't see it before but I have never allowed myself genuinely to grieve for my loss. I grieved for his loss - all the things he would never see, never experience - but I don't think I ever grieved for what I had lost. This illness has brought me (literally as well as figuratively) to my knees and it's only with that that I have been able to allow myself to suffer. I've felt so grotty, so weak, that it was only a short step to crack down those walls and let the pain out.

The virus isn't gone yet, though I am feeling a little better every day but I know now what I must do once I feel well enough. I must say goodbye to my husband now - really let him go, write the final words of his book, then close it and place it gently on the shelf next to all the others who have gone before - my brother, my parents, his parents. And then I need to find another love. It's the only thing that really matters - love. It may all go horribly wrong, or be embarrassing, or he might die a year after we meet. But isn't it worth the risk? And isn't it better than living in the shadow of a long-gone past waiting to die alone?