Tag Archives: grief

Planning a rolling recovery – distraction therapy for the bereaved.

Grief is a miserable fucker. It’s variously been described to me as a black dog, an old coat or an ocean. Whichever metaphor you choose the fact is you can neither kick it out the house, take it off , or swim across it. In the immediate aftermath of a death it’s just there, a constant.  Gradually you learn that if  you occupy your mind fully enough with something else you can take a break from it. Distraction Therapy.  It’s not a long term answer because once the distraction is over you are right back where you started, walking the dog, hot under the collar or caught in the undertow. However it does help to release the mind a little.

I am bereft, four months ago I lost the love of my life and the beloved mother of my children. I have decided I needed a big plan to take my mind off this unhappy circumstance, some major distraction therapy. So my plan is to cycle our girls, Tilly and Betsy, from Bordeaux to the Mediterranean. We will cycle along the canal du midi, the canal lateral and the Garonne. We will camp where possible. We are cycling on a Thorn Tandem Triple, I’ll write more about our kit another time. We’ve christened the bike the Meand’em. It seems to work.

We will leave on the 30th of July and thanks to the kindness of John Partington we’ll be driven, Meand’em, trailer and kit to our starting point just north of Bordeaux. Ferries are booked. Maps are bought. We are ready. Ish.


Beware the inconsolate

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about where we are at since Nicky died. Over the last few months many people have talked to me about strategies for coping with grief and I have come to realise that recovery from inconsolable loss is beyond everything else a personal journey. All those affected by a sudden and tragic death changing experience must seek out and take their own path through the complex emotional responses they will have.

There are no short cuts. There are however cul de sacs and closes that will scupper the unwary inconsolate and I am grateful to a therapist for helping me to avoid some of them. It is a bleak and lonesome journey because death brings nothing. It brings a void, a space. A space that was once occupied, vital and warm is now barren, still, cold, a tundra; grief is the long walk across it . Sadly everyone’s walk will be unique, and largely an isolated experience. I say largely isolated because on my walk i have sometimes encountered and sometimes sought out others doing a similar walk. It is a curious thing but I see grief hanging off people’s shoulders like an old coat, I recognise it almost immediately. Strangers on trains, single drinkers, weathered faced walkers, the lonely man who delivers shit to the allotment. Mutterers and starers all. Some wear their coats better than others, often I’ll stop and chat with them.

Each and everyone’s journey is different then. If you hear talk of the 5 ‘stages of grief’ think not of a linear series of steps but of each step mingling, and twisting and turning with and amidst the others. It is not 5 but an mathematical infinity of alternative possible experiences. There is no right way to do it, it just must be done.

the shed

The shed

To help me do it I needed to do something physical. And for those of you wondering what I’ve been doing for the last 6 weeks I have lost myself in digging, mixing, pouring, marking, cutting, screwing, gluing, painting and planting. In short I have built a shed. My dear friend Tom Harrison, a designer, creative and craftsman has been the driving force. Tom is a hugely talented man I have been his skivvy and apprentice (and not a very good one). He’s put up with my tears, my mutterings, my wanderings off, my inability to measure twice or cut once but we have together created a rather beautiful space. I can’t thank him enough for his vision, resilience and carefulness. The shed has a vast amount of storage for my bikes and tools, it has a desk with a neat foldy down bit to keep the dust away and it has three tonnes of earth on the roof that already grows into a beautiful meadow.

The shed is a means to an end. It means that I can think and make and do out of the house and specifically out of the attic wherein Nicky and I once dreamed and built a beautiful vision of our future. It means that I can get an au pair, which means that I can start to work again. It means that we can all have a space to be creative. All this is good. It’s my hope that the space is as much the girls domain as mine as they grow up. Nicky was a maker and Betsy has inherited that, her head down, legs crossed, brow neutral in loom band and hamma beaded concentration. It’s a meditation I am sure, and she already wields a drill quite well. Tilly hits the shit out of a tennis ball, her strength and eye another of Nick’s legacies.

We all grieve. To live without Nick we must live without Nick. Slowly and gradually emerging from the grey is a possible alternative future. Different, sadder and less certain. But it appears, as people said it would. The spaces between the bouts of despair lengthen, but when it hits the sadness is evermore concentrated. Music, poetry, literature are all still impossible. Hopeless.

People have been amazing. We have had so much support and continue to do so. Every offer of assistance of course is a reminder of our loss, but everyone knows that. It’s just tough. I am still an emotional Samson, nothing phases.

Thanks all for your support, if i don’t respond keep trying. I am beginning to put my head above the parapet

The grief Demon

This will not be a comfortable read, don’t bother if you’ve not the stomach for it.

I cannot pretend otherwise, the grief I am enduring is unimaginable. It’s around me always, like a shadow. It’s always with me. I’ve no real experience of depression but I’ve heard tell of a ‘black dog’. I understand this now. My shadow of grief is an ever-present brooding, sometimes snarling, spectre. This my friends is a new manifestation of the malignant motherfucker that has wreaked so much pain, chaos and despair.

It is seven days since Nicky died. This time last week I carried my sleeping children to their own beds and enfolded my darling wife in my arms for the last time. I curled around her. She’d not been conscious for some 15 hours by this time, the morphine driver imperceptibly twisting, bringing relief to her and a sense of inevitable anguish to me.

“Sleep baby, if you want to, let go love.”

She died in my arms, although I could not tell you when. As day dawned and wakefulness returned I reached to touch her head. Her porcelain perfect skin, youthful and clear, was china cool.

Seven days. Shock has metamorphosed into something much darker..

Often these days I am making funeral plans and my shadow is polite enough to respect my busy body trifling. Busy Busy Busy. The spectre bides his time around the house, brooding over her diary entries, flicking through our photo albums, absent mindedly examining the kitchen cupboards or contents of her drawers.

Ding Dong, it’s the door again.

Visitors and friends arrive to hug me and tell me I am loved. Contrary to their desired intention this often serves to rouse my shadow from its temporary ambivalence. Tears, hugs, ‘I’m so sorries’ and reminders of the good times are, let me tell you, music for a grief demon and at once he begins an unmerry dance around my head. Firmer hugs and a few good laughs will eventually tire him, thank god.

But other times he’s far less accommodating and (when the mood takes him) the ferociousness of his attack is physical. I am bent double, I lose breath, focus and balance, and then the shadow envelopes me as thick and black as treacle. I teeter in the edge of a precipice, below me an abysmal infinity. It is very very very dark in here. Nicky was the brightest light. I loved her unequivocally. She was my soulmate, my lover, my best friend. My loss is profound.

From the many cards and messages i realise she was a light to many many others. So it seems everyone around me is in mourning too. We meet and reach out to one another like drunks at a disco, as each of us I guess is dancing with our own kind of grief demon.

I fear for myself, and I fear for the girls. How must it be for them? I’ll do my best, and am doing my best but I’ll always fall short. Nicky was an exceptional mother, with infinite patience and endless love. How can I ever match or replace her? And what is their loss? How much more profound it must be for them. In every movement, look and smile they make I see Nicky’s face and grace, and what must they see in me? I am at a loss. Betsy Bubble is hiding in corners, angry yet unable to find a voice to vent it. Tilly weeps each night, and is, like me, swept up in a hideous ballroom with her own grief demon to a relentless tune she neither knows, nor understands. A Dervish has her ‘in hold’, poor sweet Tilly.

We burn Nicky Barber ‘s remains on Friday. Perhaps then I will find the strength to wrestle this evil, foul breathed, merciless, cruel malevolence from our house. Or maybe I will just get used to him. An uninvited houseguest, unwelcome and wearing his muddy sodding boots on Nicky’s new grey hearth rug. Someone please tell him to get the fuck out.