In this blog, Olivia shares her experience of grieving for her husband. She reflects on her experience of the journey of grief and starting this process early – grieving before a loved one has passed.
From a night out to a life changed
The 18th of March 2019 is a date that has been etched into my heart forever, a permanent scar in my memory which will never fully heal. On that day I watched the love of my life, my best friend, my everything, die. After a nearly three-year battle (and I know some patients think that word is clichéd, but trust me, life had become exactly that) with chondrosarcoma, a rare cancer, my husband drew his final breaths.
Dave and I met aged 18, working at a supermarket. We didn’t actually talk that much at work, however one evening bumped into each other on a night out with our friends. We made the most of the evening’s Dutch courage with a dance and a kiss, swapped numbers, and I suppose you’d say the rest is history.
Fast forward seven and a half years and I am widowed at 26. Life, changed forever.
The first few days after Dave’s death are somewhat blurry. I remember barely eating (not like me!), crying in the supermarket because I couldn’t decide what to buy, and having a meltdown about getting in the shower. It was probably because I just didn’t feel motivated – what was the point in doing anything at all now that Dave was dead?
Nearly eight months on and every day still hurts, but the levels vary. Grief is a very personal journey, and everyone’s experience is different.
I started grieving for Dave when he was still alive, and other widows and widowers have told me the same of their terminal partners. I believe it’s partly because I started this process “early” that I’m coping relatively well, better than I expected.
There are other factors which help. I have an amazing network of family and friends, I’m in touch with my emotions and how to manage them, I’m an open person and don’t often bottle things up. Most importantly, I’m comforted knowing that Dave isn’t suffering any more, trapped in a body which by the end only enabled him to exist (and in agony at that), not to live. Even coping well, though, has its own issues – feeling guilty and the fear of being judged (I’ve learnt these feelings are quite common amongst widows and widowers).
The difference between coping and happiness
Coping well and not being fundamentally happy, though, are not mutually exclusive. Because I’m able to socialise, go out, and have fun doesn’t mean that I don’t live with pain in my heart every single day. Because I’m able to enjoy doing nice things for myself doesn’t mean I don’t constantly miss and think about Dave. Because I’m able to find another person attractive doesn’t mean I wasn’t and won’t forever be deeply in love with Dave; we’ll always be together. Because I’m able to genuinely smile and laugh doesn’t mean there aren’t nights when I cry myself to sleep. Because I don’t feel completely broken all of the time does not mean I feel whole.
I have felt married, widowed, and single all at the same time.
I hate dreaming of Dave because waking up is awful – but at least in dreams I get to be in his company. I can’t bring myself to watch Bake Off or Gogglebox if it can’t be with him. I dread future Easter seasons (his birthday, our wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of his death all fall around then). I can’t bear the thought of Christmas without him. I experience triggers, and have flashbacks to his dying moments, out of nowhere and then feel I could cry forever.
“Everyone you have loved is still loved”
Some of these things may change over time, some may not. The unpredictability of grief can be hard to process. It’s also horrible having to accept that my life will now contain moments of indescribable pain, and that nothing I can do will ever change that, because Dave is gone.
But he is only gone in person. It feels appropriate to end this blog post with a quote from his funeral:
“Everything you have done is still done. Everyone you loved is still loved. You will live on in our hearts, and in stories that will be told for generations to come.”
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