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Sunday, 3 January 2016

For Auld Lang Syne

The beat of the music from open air concerts on the trendy Waterfront district was interrupted by fireworks soaring into the air against the awe inspiring backdrop of Table Mountain and the drunken cheers of the sweltering crowds of locals and tourists densely thronging the streets and packing the quayside bars and restaurants. Cape Town was celebrating the arrival of the New Year with a carnival vibe and I found myself wondering whether or not to join everybody in welcoming it in or to regret the passing of the old year.

Louise and I never marked New Year. We preferred to spend the evening quietly at home and were often in bed before midnight. But soon after her death I had decided that it was important for me to be in the country of her birth on the last day of the last calendar year of her life. I was never entirely clear why. Louise was born to a British family and remembered virtually nothing of her early years in South Africa. The family connections with the African continent remained strong, however, and there was some nebulous sense of closing a loop, honouring her by bringing both ends of her existence together. 


Cape Town's New Year celebrations
And having travelled 6,000 miles for the occasion it seemed as though I should do more than sit in my hotel with a room service sandwich and quietly reflect and write. So as midnight approached I joined the crowds and counted down the final minutes of 2015. It was another surreal moment on this strange journey which has led me to the most unlikely of people, places, activities and achievements.

Rationally the New Year should have no particular significance. It's just a date. Just the start of another of the 340 or so days since Louise's death. But the symbolism is strong. While it might sound strange to want to hold on to a year which has brought so much misery, the worst of my life by a countless multiple, 
I can't help feeling as though the passing of the old year takes Louise further out of reach, placing her, for the first time, very firmly in the past.

I can no longer talk about what we were doing together this year. Since Louise died in January I can barely talk about what we were doing together last year either. Our last really precious memories and times together, our last holidays, our last Christmas, the last shows and family events we attended together, are now back in the apparently distant past of the year before last. 

I can no longer even say that my wife died 'earlier this year'. This is important because of the sense of remoteness it engenders. I worry that people hearing the story for the first time will fail to understand the continuing impact of it, assuming that at such a distance I must be 'over it'. And I worry that those who already know the story will begin to forget. To forget about Louise and, as the firsts turn into seconds, to forget about me. When you have lost your partner in a world designed for couples you forever fret about becoming invisible.

It also feels like a step away from Louise because she didn't know this new year. It's part of an ongoing process which will steadily leave her behind. Things that will over time become familiar to me; people, events, fashions, technology, will never be familiar to her. It will become more and more difficult for me to talk to Louise without having to explain background and context. Just as she will forever remain 40 while I continue to age, she will always remain in 2015. 

This divergence in experience and knowledge started the moment that Louise died and has continued with each day that passes, from major life events, she never knew our niece, born three months after she took her life, nor the baby daughter of one of her best friends, to mundane domestic rearrangement and refurbishment. She doesn't know that the temperamental dishwasher has now been replaced, the gift from a Guinean Olympic delegate who stayed with us during the London Games has finally been framed or that we (always still 'we' and 'ours', never 'I' or ''mine') have a new TV and broadband connection. Somehow the arrival of a new year accelerates this process. We are connected by the past and separated by the future. 

But while the distance from Louise that 2016 signifies is distressing, I welcome the fact that it also offers distance from the act itself, the days around it and the most acute stages of grief. Not a fresh start exactly, but a chance to clear my head and begin to try to live life again. I'm proud that I have at least survived to reach this point, a landmark that was so distant eleven months ago that I could barely even conceive of it. In some respects, contradictorily, the fact that people may treat me as a normal robust human again rather than a bereaved object of sympathy and pity is also good news. The coming year may bring less of the angled head and sympathetic eyes. I might still need to wrap myself in the cloak of widowhood much of the time but more and more frequently it feels liberating to discard it. 

The reason that Louise and I didn't celebrate New Year was because of the sense of uncertainty and foreboding associated with an unknown future. Last year, ironically, we agreed that for once this was absent. The previous twelve months had been so traumatic both for us and our respective families that we were grateful to escape into a year which we were convinced could only be better.

Perhaps it's foolish to tempt fate in the same way again. However, I have to believe that the coming twelve months will be more positive, a time when I am able to continue to honour and remember Louise but can also make space for other things and allow my eternally busy mind some respite. A time too when hope begins to be converted into something of substance as I lay the foundations for my new life. And a time, dare I say it, when I end a year happier than I begin it.

14 comments:

  1. Dear Gary, Louise was my doctor: I saw her every month for my own mental health problems from November 2010 up to the time she no longer came to the surgery. She was an empathic and careful listener, and - perhaps because of the formality of the doctor/patient relationship - hid her own depression so terribly well that I had no clue. (Usually I can pick up on someone else's suffering.) In retrospect I can see that there were two clues: first, she said that I was 'very intelligent'; and, second, she apologised for wearing trainers. I can see now that these remarks came from someone who had an underdose of self-esteem.
    If you have gone through Louise's papers you might have noticed a ca forty-page book chapter I gave her to describe the ways in which life became very shitty for me. She didn't give the chapter much credence because the shittiness I was describing was attributable to negative psychic phenomena which she didn't believe in.
    I learned about these, and how to counteract them, at the College of Psychic Studies in Kensington. What might interest you is that some people at the College offer 'evidence of survival', i.e. an opportunity to communicate with a deceased person through a medium. I must tell you that the whole business is very slippy, and that the cons possibly outweigh the pros. The only person I trust with this sort of thing is Angela Watkins, and she no longer works at the CPS (although she is contactable).
    It isn't my intention to add mysticism to the equation of your suffering. I have read all your posts. I can see why Louise married you. I wish she were still here.
    If you want to, you can contact me through YouTube by typing "Geoff Hannan", clicking on the first result, and then clicking 'About'. That will get you to my gmail address. Geoff.

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    1. Hi Geoff. Many thanks for your kind words about Louise. Yes, she was a very good listener - and not just with her patients either. She never missed anything because she concentrated so hard on what was being said. I imagine that the day she was wearing trainers was one of those when she cycled to work - she loved to do that. I'm afraid that I haven't gone through Louise's papers yet. It's a task that I keep on putting off and will no doubt do so bit by bit over time. I know a number of people in similar circumstances have contacted spiritualists but having made so many details public here in the blog there is probably little point me doing likewise - but I am very grateful for you taking the time to pass on your memories of Louise and I very much hope that life is now much kinder on you.

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    2. Thanks for your reply, Gary. I can't imagine what it must be like to survive the suicide of a spouse, although your writing about it is so clear.
      I'm just replying to your message because about a week ago a little fluffy white feather found its way onto my desk somehow, which made me recall the white feather you wrote about in a previous post. It made me think of Louise, and I hoped that she's happy. Geoff

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    3. Thank you Geoff. That's very kind of you. I hope so too, with all my heart.

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  2. Hi Gary. I'm so so sorry for your loss. I joined this terrible world of grief a month ago, when my beloved 37-year-old husband was killed in a cycling accident. Your writing is providing me with some comfort, so thank you for that. This piece struck a particular chord as I live in Cape Town's City Bowl and the road on which Dan was killed on, is one that leads up to Table Mountain. Thinking of you as you try to make sense of this new year without Louise in it. Meave.

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    1. Hi Meave. Thank you so much for your kind words. May I in turn send you my heartfelt condolences. I was so very sorry indeed to read your message about Dan. Hearing that others are having to experience this cuts me to the quick. And there is an added poignancy for me since I may well have travelled that same road up to Table Mountain this past couple of weeks. I should know what to say, but I don't. I can though promise that however tough things feel right now, the raw pain does ease. I know that lots of people dismiss the cliche that 'time is a great healer' but it really is. We don't forget - we wouldn't want to - but we do learn to grow our lives and our hearts around the loss so that we can manage it day by day. The power of human resilience never ceases to amaze me. Life is still lonely and bewildering nearly a year on, but its a whole lot easier than I could have dared hope for in the misery of those first weeks and months. Please do hold on to that thought. I am so incredibly glad, and rather humbled, that you have drawn some comfort from the blog. I hope that you have lots of support around you but I'm happy to email if you would like to chat properly. Wishing you peace, strength and hope.

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  3. Thank you Gary. I can't imagine the pain easing but I guess I know it will in time. Yes I have abundant support right now but it would be helpful to chat via email in due course. I'm in touch with another widow online and find that helps.
    I too was skeptical of the notion of signs and symbols prior to Dan's death but last night while putting my toddler to sleep, I read your piece about the feather on Louise's boots. Once he was down I walked into my room where he & I had been playing earlier. We'd placed two feather pillows on top of one of Dan's shoes!

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    1. Meave, no, its difficult to see at first but I promise it happens, almost imperceptibly. You don't realise until you turn round and look back to see how far you have come. I hope that the feather pillows brought you some comfort. I think its important, particularly in the early days, to draw solace from anything that works for us, even if it might seem strange to others, or we might previously have thought it strange. What counts is getting through. How we do it doesn't really matter. Do feel free to let me know if you want to 'chat'.

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  4. Hi Gary. It's Martin from Exeter here - we spoke on the boat over to Robben Island. I was very moved by your story but also inspired by the way you are dealing with everything. Thanks for mentioning your blog - it is both brave and uplifting; a great credit to you. Let me know if I can promote anything down this way. Very best wishes Martin PS Let's hope the Bees gets some more points soon!

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    1. Hi Martin, thanks very much for having look at the blog. I'm sorry that I probably put rather a downer on what you thought was going to be a pleasant afternoon out, but I actually found that conversation really helpful. It was the only opportunity I had whilst I was in Cape Town to really talk about Louise to anybody and the release was much appreciated. So thanks for listening - it meant a lot!

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  5. Hi Gary, I read your article in "WAY FORWARD". The positivity comes through very clearly as does what finding WAY has meant, a sanctuary for fellow travellers on the "journey". I have a very strong believe in what WAY can provide in practical as well as emotional support. It is in the end the membership of WAY who can take and give whatever you choose. I know that once you become supportive of others and finding that can be an enormous thing when folks are struggling at the edge of the pit. The membership about 2000 at the moment is a small fraction of the 30/40 thousand who find themselves bereaved under the age of 50 in the UK. Your article is such an inspirational overview. WAY FORWARD is limited by confidentiality to WAY members. If possible and you feel ok about it could you very kindly post the article anywhere that might give those 28k a chance to breathe. Brilliant blog. Best wishes Jim

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    1. Hi Jim. Thanks for your kind words. I entirely agree about the value of WAY and the pity that its reach isn't greater. I've heard figures of 100,000 plus eligible for membership calculated on the basis of benefits like WPA. That would make those membership totals look even more anaemic. I essentially gave Vicky Anning, the WAY media rep, permission to use the blog post in any way that she saw fit and I know that she linked to it on the WAY Facebook page which is open to the public (as distinct from our closed forums). I can tell from the blog stats that it's been read by several hundred people - so that's a start!

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  6. Thinking of you today...huge hugs
    Sarah x

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    1. Thanks so much Sarah. That's very kind of you.It's odd but the anniversary hasn't been as difficult as I anticipated. Emotional yes, but I've always been mindful that I would much rather be here in 2016 than going through what I did a year ago - and I would much rather Louise be at peace than going through her final traumatic moments again. Somehow it gives a real sense of progress even amongst all the sadness.

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