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Friday, 29 April 2016

The Book I Never Wanted to Have to Write


'Just Carry on Breathing - a year surviving suicide and widowhood', containing the collated content of the blog and much new material is available to purchase online now, in paperback and ebook form  (It is also available in the US on Amazon.com)

The book is raising money for two worthy causes close to my heart. All my royalties will be donated to WAY Widowed & Young, a charity which supports those widowed under the age of 50 and the Louise Tebboth Foundation, the charity established in my wife's memory to assist doctors at risk of suicide.  
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I always thought that I might one day write a book. It would be a nice project in retirement. Probably something on football, or possibly an aspect of local history. Never, in my worst nightmares, did I imagine that it might be the story of a year surviving suicide and widowhood. My year surviving suicide and widowhood. 

Nothing can prepare you for the loss of your partner, at any age or by any means. The shock is profound, the devastation complete. You are mourning not one loss but many; the loss of your life partner, the loss of the joint living organism that was 'Us', the loss of a way of life, the loss of shared memory, the loss of everything that you thought you knew about your future, the loss of innocence, the loss of the person that you were. Suicide overlays a further noxious cocktail of guilt, anger, bewilderment and, often, a sense of betrayal (though I have at least been spared the latter. Louise was escaping from herself, not me). Even now, 15 months on, I sometimes think that if I were to sit very still in a quiet room I would be able to feel my body quivering with the shock. 

There is no shortcut through grief. We can't go over it, round it or under it. And we certainly can't turn round and go back from where we came. That place is gone. The only option is to own the journey, accept that we must walk through the desert. But that doesn't mean that we need to be passive, completely helpless against the storms raging around us. We quickly come to develop coping mechanisms, to understand what dulls the pain, diverts us, provides a sense of purpose, perhaps even gives us energy and hope. For some that might be running, music or charity fundraising. For many it's the responsibilities and the rewards of parenthood. For me it has been writing, first in my diary, then on this blog and subsequently for the book. 

At my lowest point I would invariably reach for my laptop and type through the tears until the eye of the storm had passed. Occasionally I still do. The discipline it required was calming and there was a tremendous release to find the words which gave at least some expression to my distress, inadequate though language is to convey the overwhelming pain in the pit of the stomach and the bottom of the heart. Writing allowed me to process my response to the 
destruction of my world, make sense of suicide, adjust to the new realities of my life as a widower and to better understand my grief, as well as connecting me with so many others walking a similar path.

But there was something else just as significant. I can't make a difference to the world in the way that Louise did. I don't have her professional skills, knowledge and experience. I do, however, possess the power of our story and I will use it wherever I can to enable Louise to continue, indirectly, to reach out and help others even now, just as she would wish.

I could not do this by writing a self-help manual. There is no one way in which we should mourn. Although the emotions we encounter on that journey through the desert are almost universal, our responses to them are uniquely individual. Everybody finds their own way through, and must do so alone. Nobody can ease this burden for us, however difficult that may be for family and friends to come to terms with.

Nevertheless, I know how closely I watched others some months further down this path than myself. I was desperately looking for reassurance that I was not the only one making the journey, that the maelstrom of confusing and often contradictory thoughts, worries and emotions that swirled constantly around me were normal, that my tears, fatigue, loneliness and, sometimes, my curious ability to continue to function, did not make me a freak.

And I was also looking for hope, signs that the journey could be survived and a new, happy and fulfilling life subsequently established. One that was inevitably different, but still good. I was scared that at 46 the short period of happiness which it had taken me so long to find, and which had been so quickly and cruelly snatched away from me, was as good as it got. I feared that the rest of my life 
would merely consist of a restless search for a poor substitute of what I had once, briefly, enjoyed.

That fear persists. A year is not sufficient time to build a new life. 
I do, however, now know enough to be clear that this is a journey which can be navigated. We may not realise it until we turn round and look back to see how far we have come, but even within those lonely and bewildering early months – slowly, almost imperceptibly – daily living becomes easier; the shock, rawness and physical pain begins to subside and we commence the long process of readjustment. The strength of human resilience is a remarkable and humbling thing.

So I now share my journey through the first year surviving suicide and widowhood in order to offer others on a similar path both the reassurance that they are not alone in their distress and the hope that it can and will be survived. It is possible to live again.

There is, of course, one other, very personal, reason, for the book. It has become obvious to me during the course of this cruellest of years that grief is, essentially, about love. It cannot exist without its oxygen. This is, therefore, my token of love for my beautiful wife, my means of honouring her. Regardless of the pain and trauma I have experienced these past months, and the sadness that I will now always hold within me, for the privilege of having been Louise’s husband – I remain the luckiest man in the world.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Gary,

    I just wanted to thank you for writing about your experiences here. I'm also in my forties, with no children, and came home one day in February to find that my wife had done the same thing Louise did. So much of what you have written is very familiar.

    Most people are widowed later in life, women tend to outlive their husbands, most suicides are male, most men in their forties have children. That doesn't leave much of the Venn diagram. Your blog is the first thing I've come across that really resonates.

    I found your blog while I was researching the WAY Foundation. I've signed up, it looks as if it has been good for you.

    Best wishes,

    Steve

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Steve. I'm so sorry for your loss and wish that neither of us featured anywhere on this particular Venn diagram. I hope that you find WAY as helpful as I have - I'll look forward to talking to you on the other side of the closed forums. There is an active sub-group of WAYers who have been bereaved by suicide and if you live within striking distance of London you would be very welcome to join us at one of our regular meet ups.

      Take care.

      Gary

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