It’s been a long time since I’ve had the emotional fortitude to write anything longer than a Whatsapp message.
asshole acquaintance telling me that I’d ‘let my audience down’ after my ’15 minutes of fame’ by not regularly updating my blog (insert wanking gesture here), I figured that most people would understand my need to insulate and isolate in the last couple of months, given that my life, as I knew it, has recently been razed to the ground.
For anyone who doesn’t know me that well, let me contextualise: The love of my life and my partner of seven years, Adam, passed away on the 23rd of October following an aggressive recurrence of the cancer he had been fighting since March. He was buried on the 24th of October, which would have been his thirtieth birthday. For nine months he endured hours of chemotherapy, followed by weeks of chemo-sickness, a six-hour long operation which cost one of his kidneys, and finally a 10-day long medically induced coma that he never woke from… And an infinite number of sad, scary, and sore moments in between.
I list all of these uncomfortably intimate details because I’m tired of sugar-coating his experience to strangers. He ‘passed away’ doesn’t seem enough to explain the visceral shock, or the sudden, brutal cruelty of having him wrenched from our lives.
Adam’s family and I have now joined the saddest, worst club in the world.
You see, there are there are the haves, and the have-nots. Those who have had their hearts torn from their chests, and those who cannot begin to imagine what it must feel like. Of course there are members of this club who have suffered far more than I have. Parents (like Adam’s parents) who’ve lost their children, victims of violent crime, people who’ve lost their entire families to war and disaster….
A peaceful hospital death, surrounded by loved ones, must seem like a merciful blessing in comparison. But I have to avoid making comparisons. Because if I compare my situation in one direction, I inevitably give in to the temptation to compare it in the other. And then all of the engagements, the weddings, the birth announcements, and the happy, sappy holiday snaps seem so overwhelmingly unfair that I feel physically ill.
As much as I have tried ‘to stay strong’ by picking up on work, planning for the future, and attempting (and often failing) to engage in social engagements, it’s become clear that nothing will ever be ‘back to normal’, because the thing that has changed most in my life without Adam, is me.
This loss has been like a massive wildfire, sweeping across every plane, and curling into every corner of my life. Nothing has been left untouched by the flames. Not one relationship, not one preconception, not one plan for the future. Every day, the reality of what has actually happened sinks in a little deeper, and becomes a little more concrete. Every day, I wake up to remember that he’s really gone, and every day I swallow the news like snake venom, hoping that one day I’ll be immune to it.
Enough time has passed now that the initial, awkward outpouring of condolences has long stopped. But this was, in itself, a learning experience for me. Sometimes people admit to not having the words, sometimes they try to placate with platitudes of ‘he’s in a better place’, or ‘at least he’s not suffering any more’. Sometimes they say truly insane things, like saying that ‘you’ll never, ever pick up the pieces’, ‘your life is over’ or asking whether or not we’d woken him from his coma to ‘tell him goodbye’… I mean, how many Hallmark movies do you have to watch to think that would be okay?
It’s not. It’s not okay to wake someone up just to tell them they’re going to die. Don’t ask that.
Still… as angry as I get- and I still get so fucking angry– I can, on some level, understand. Faced with the void of loss in someone else’s life, it’s natural to want to give them the right words to help fill it. After all, I used to be a have-not myself. In between missing Adam and missing the life we’ll now never have together, I have moments where the total inadequacy, or worse- flippancy- of my own comments to others in mourning come back to haunt me.
I don’t use the word ‘regret’ lightly. I don’t regret getting an almost-tribal tattoo, or spending 3 years on a mostly-useless degree. I don’t regret a single bar argument or even one bad haircut, and I have had many of both.
But I do regret that it’s cost so much to teach me how to speak to someone else who is wading waist-deep in strangling grief.
What I realised following another painful social encounter, is that as much as the insensitive comments, or uncomfortable questions about the loss of a loved one can hurt, the refusal to even acknowledge someone else’s loss cuts far deeper.
Someone again asked me about this blog the other night, and when I explained that I had stopped writing when Adam’s illness got really bad, the room quickly descended into silence. A quick topic change, and I was left feeling like I had just pulled down my shorts, shat into my hand, and lobbed my steaming faeces across the picnic table.
My grief, it seemed, had manifested like a kind of contagious disease. There are a few saints who dare to touch me, but there are others who seem afraid that they might catch my sadness if they get too close.
To any other friends of mine, or to any other have-nots struggling to find the right words, or the right reactions, let me just say this:
Mourning is not contagious, however it will also not simply ‘pass’ given enough time and wine. I will never ‘get over it’, although I am trying, every day, to live with it.
Most importantly, I want you to know that it’s okay to say Adam’s name. It’s okay to talk about him. I want to talk about him. I want you to talk about him. Every time we remember something good, or happy, or funny about him, it brings him back to life for just a minute.
And then, dearest friend, you give me the gift of your friendship, sweetened with the gift of his memory.