In many ways my grieving process began a long time before Ben died. I suppose it probably began when he first got the terminal prognosis back in February 2012, almost a year earlier.
Throughout Ben’s last year (well, ten and a half months if being exact), I blocked my mind off from the possibility of Ben dying. I accepted the facts begrudgingly, but never dwelt on them. I think there was a naivety in there somewhere – not having experienced death close up, to someone young or someone I cared deeply about, it seemed impossible to imagine it really happening.
Despite my sanguine approach to it all, the reality was that Ben was changing. The mental and physical affects of the prognosis, disease and treatments were gradually stripping away his old self. He wrote about this in an extremely moving blog post called ‘Dark Days‘: six months after his ‘it’s terminal’ appointment, he described how his battle with melanoma had cost him his independence, his identity, his energy and mobility, his confidence and his relationships, not least with our then one year old daughter.
I remember my counsellor describing this as Ben ‘grieving’ for his own life. I thought it was an odd way to look at it – but now I see what she meant, and it has made me realise that I too had much to grieve during that time.
I didn’t lose Ben all at once on 3rd January. I had been losing him for a long time before that. Happily the real essence of Ben – his love, kindness, intelligence and humour – never left him and so I still had my husband and we could still love each other even to the end. But I had lost so much of the Ben I’d had before.
I lost my co-parent. Right from the beginning when Ben was suffering with back pain, he was unable to cope with the physical demands of nappy changing, lifting, getting down on the floor to play. I encouraged him to do other things, like the bedtime stories, but he was reluctant – looking back I see how painful it was for him to share such tender moments with Sas. In the earlier days he did spend some bedtimes with us, just sitting in the room if he didn’t feel up to reading. He often got tearful. Looking back it seems he gradually withdrew from all the parenting – partly because he physically couldn’t manage, but perhaps also to protect himself from the hurt. So so sad. Not to say he had no involvement with her – there were still happy moments together the three of us, and when Saskia was crying at night there was someone there for moral support and a second opinion – but these occasions became few and far between.
So whereas in Saskia’s first six months we shared the parenting – it was an exciting new adventure we were embarking on together – after that I effectively became a single parent. Much of the time I just got on with it and accepted that that was just the way things were for the time being, but sometimes it was hard. The worst was weekends, when my friends (mostly other mums) were spending family time with their husbands. I felt I couldn’t intrude on their time together so hung back from suggesting get togethers and so found it was just Sas and I all weekend – lovely for a while but I soon got lonely without adult conversation.
I’m not looking for sympathy about this – Ben was having a MUCH harder, and lonelier time. This is just to explain how I had to get used to the life of a single parent long before I actually became one.
I also lost Ben my companion in fun – we used to love cycling, surfing, trips to the pub, getting pissed together, visiting friends, having sex, hanging out with our baby girl. It all stopped over that year. We still made each other laugh and had great conversations, but by the last few months most of our time together was either in the evenings (as I was out and about with Saskia during the daytime) watching TV together, or during long trips to London for hospital appointments. All our ‘quality time’ was overshadowed by the gloom of Ben’s illness and the limitations it was placing on our relationship.
Ben was (and will always be) my rock, but he didn’t have the strength to hold me up as well as himself. Fortunately I had amazing support from my family and friends, but it was hard not to be able to share everything with him as we had always done before.
So as Ben had been suffering the loss of his former self, I was suffering that loss too – not in the same way, or to the same extent – but still I was losing the husband I’d had.
A few days ago was the six month anniversary of his death. I’ve often wondered at how well I’ve coped, but I think much of that is to do with the fact that I had to deal with some of the loss long before Ben went. As time goes by I miss him more – I feel maybe I developed a tough skin through last year which has stayed on until now. I’ve been strong and capable, because I had to be, and I haven’t felt sorry for myself much. Right now I really miss him though – I can’t sleep and I’m lonely here in bed and loads of stuff in the house is broken and he’s not here to fix them and I want a hug. Tears…
One thing I have learnt is that grieving is a complicated thing (Is it a process? I’m not sure). For me it has taken unexpected guises – often I have not recognised it as grieving at all.
The Ben I lost