Today would have been the 45th birthday of my beautiful Isobel. My Belle. It has been five years and four days since she left us after such a short and unfair battle with an unseen, ugly and unfair illness. Cancer of course. So much unfairness. So many hundreds and hundreds of days have passed and yet the hole that exists inside me is still such a wide void that it takes all I have to carry it and less than I have to fill it. Why am I writing this? To honour her memory. To recognise the unfamiliar experience my children and I have been on? To share a story? Because sometimes people who think they have it tough need to hear someone else’s story. People who take those around them for granted or worse need a good kick in the conscience every so often.
Sometimes it is good therapy to share and release so much pain. Sometimes, just to shout at the world that it is still all so fucking unfair. Important to understand that, unless you have held the hand of your best friend, lover, partner, mother of your children or child as she took her last breath, only then can you truly appreciate the power of grief. And that grief has no calendar. No kindness or care for what else is going on around you or in your life, or that of your children. That it has a very limited social vocabulary. A limited social understanding. Perhaps that is a lost experience in our communities. That patience is needed from everyone. That it never goes away on its own. The turning of a page on a diary or the spin of the sun can never, ever take something like that away. Not completely. Yet, people will surprise you.
Grief-Fatigue is a term I use often to talk to people, including fellow widows and widowers, about the loss of focus and understanding one receives when discussing the loss of someone. What our children experience from friends, teacher and members of the community. And even from members of their own family. For most, her death was brief but was a long, long time ago. Five years ago now! For most, their lives have moved on. They assume yours has too. Think on what you have achieved in the last five years. Can you remember what you were doing on this date five years ago? This moment? This exact time on the clock? What has changed for you? What have your own life challenges been? I bet you cannot summarise it neatly nor recall it completely.
But for the grieving, all too often, little has changed. Little has improved or moved. Grief fatigue can often see the loss of long term friends who don’t get the inability for a grieving person to move on. Or the loss of friends who truly don’t and perhaps cannot comprehend that level of pain and loss. I have experienced it and it has only increased my collective grief experience. Perhaps for them it is too intense and too real. I don’t blame them in some ways. It is too fucking intense and too fucking real for me! People often throw at me to move on, to put my chin up, get our there. But even that, most times, is beyond my grasp or understanding. It has been quite eye opening.
On this day five year ago, instead of celebrating my girl’s Birthday with family and friends, I hosted 300 plus people to celebrate the life that she had and lost. To stand before everyone we knew and acknowledge her death, her hopes and dreams lost. Four days after she left us, I stood before a crowded space of family, friends, colleges and admirers and told the world that all, eventually, would be well. I just didn’t have the courage to tell myself that. I still don’t. After all it had only been four days. Four days since I walked away from the empty shell that had been the beauty and love and essence of my adult life. I try to comprehend all that I must have done in those four days and it baffles me. Perhaps I needed a new purpose to take my mind off what had just happened. But I arranged her funeral and memorial services. Interviewed a celebrant. I must have made hundreds of phone calls to friends and family. I wrote a eulogy and organised a slide show and music. I booked a venue and arranged a million other little things. But I cannot recall doing any of it. I guess during those days I had a sort of traumatised amnesia.
Five years later and it still feels recent for the most part. At other times it feels a million years ago. Grief does that. It changes your relationship with time. I am not ready to let go. I wasn’t then and I am not now. And why should I let go. We were meant to be forever. Happily ever after. My process will take some time still. And in the very beginning, to commence that process, I had to at least say good-bye. Here is part of what I said…
Now. Today was to be, still is, Isobel’s 40th Birthday. A stark realisation I know. Not a cruel twist of fate but rather a perfect opportunity to hold today’s memorial service on this day so that we could face her passing but also celebrate her life and her 40 trips around the sun. I had planned since this time last year to hold a big party for Isobel’s 40th. To show her just how much she is loved. Whilst there are no balloons and streamers, I am confident I got the guest list right today.
In April this year, we celebrated our 18th Anniversary of being partners, lovers and most importantly the best of friends. We shared a level of love and a bond that many complimented us on and admired. But to us, it was just us being us. We fit well together. We were meant to be. My Ying to her Yang. All of the clichés. But it was true. We held hands while we slept. We could give each other a look that would make our elbows hurt like an electric shock. We could say just the right thing that would make each other’s toes curl. She could read me like a book. In trying to read her, I sometime had trouble getting past the table of contents but I skipped a few chapters and got the hang of it pretty quickly. I grieve for all of these things and for the girl who I loved with all my heart and soul…
…Isobel dedicated her life to children. None more so than her own. She revolved her life around the nurturing, care and development of Sebastian and Indigo with pure intent to make them, much like her, into caring, loving, free thinking people who would one day make a difference to the world we live in. In her last days, I made a solemn promise to her that I would continue her vision for our children. That despite all that has happened in the last four months, I would bring them through the other side stronger and equipped to take on the world and make a difference. I extend this promise to Sebastian and Indigo and of course Brendon. We are a family, one of the best, and we will make mama proud…
…Happy Birthday babe.
I am not looking for shock or sympathy here. I am not pity-fishing or buying support. I have the support and love I need from friends and family. I have always said this blog is about connecting with my community. My safe place to communicate. The purpose of this post is to recognise the journey. The journey that Isobel took. The journey that I am still on and that of my children also. And perhaps the journey that you, the reader may be on. Perhaps in my sharing this then you or someone you know may be comforted in the knowledge that other people can never dictate your grief experience for you. I am happy beyond words to report that the children have each worked through the core dirty parts of their grief. It will never leave them. But they have each turned a corner this year. I have seen it even if they have not yet. But they have each grown significantly in the last year. And I am so proud of them. Beyond words.
As for me? Well we are all a work in progress are we not? Especially as adults in this equation. My grief does not define me so much anymore. Nor does it control my interactions with the world around me quite as much as it once did. For the most part anyway. I have found breathing-holes to surface and taste life. My photography has been key to that. As has my need to role model to my children. To be available to them for the last five years has meant more than all the therapy money can buy. This site of mine has been nothing but therapeutic to me. And rewarding in return. The road ahead seems not so dark as it once did. And if I can see that, and communicate that effectively to my children so they can see the same or similar, then fuck me I am doing the best I can by those guys. They give me reason to rise every single day and face whatever may come. Despite how my grief can double or treble its weight in the blink of an eye. And I guess thanks to them I am never truly alone. Nor will they be. And that is where the fatigue of grief finally starts to fall away. When we each start to grow a little more from it.
This bit is the most important message I can share as the writer and owner of this blog – If you, someone you know or someone you love, needs help with tough times, then please seek support. Below are some local Australian services that are designed for those dealing with challenging situations, grief, loss or mental illness. Whilst these are not global, there are services like these the world over. Above all else, tell the people that mean the most to you that you love them. Hug your kids. Hug your love. Hell, hug your mates and tell them they are important to you. Forgive quickly and don’t bother with the small stuff. G
R U OK? – https://www.ruok.org.au
Beyond Blue – https://www.beyondblue.org.au
Lifeline Australia – https://www.lifeline.org.au
Kids Helpline – https://kidshelpline.com.au