There are many things I hope for in the coming year, many resolutions I would like to make, but over a sometimes difficult Christmas I’ve realised that there is a significant, yawning gap between my aspirations and what I’m able to achieve. This divide between where I am and where I want to be, and the frustration over my failure to get there is not new. My belief in my own capacity to to get there has always ebbed and flowed, but now I find myself baffled at the very prospect of how I am supposed to achieve anything, even, sometimes, how I can motivate myself to try.
Losing someone is very like suffering a serious physical injury, and I have spent the last 12-13 months surviving, getting through. There have been good times and bad times, periods of hope and resolution, times when the pain in my gut forces me to be still – it just hurts too much to move. But as the second year continues on, it’s becoming clearer that there are no quick fixes, that this is a long journey, far longer than I would naturally tolerate. The trouble is, too, that it’s not a straight journey from here to there, because there’s so much of the past to deal with. The empty chair, the silence, the physical memory of him, the longing that some enjoyable time on my own would be broken by the sound of the key in the door, the clatter and joy of him returning home. At Christmas I got some lovely gifts, but I ached when I remembered the exquisite ‘rightness’ of Mark’s presents, the way he seemed able to pick out a small thread or a tiny speck of colour in the tapestry of me and illuminate and enlarge it – he bought books that opened up new worlds and writers, luxuries of his choosing that spoke to somewhere deep in me. I missed that this year.
His once-presence and his absence are always scored into the days, even those in which I’m thinking less of him and am more focused on making sense of my life, trying to give it shape and meaning. There have been times when I feel hopeful and exuberant, and I am grateful for them, but it doesn’t seem practical to go on lurching between the two states of despair and energetic hope. They seem to view one another with increasing dread, warring against the other, seeking to banish it from my life. I need to find a more subtle approach, a way of carrying the tension of the two with me – life isn’t going to be happy as I once knew it, but I don’t want to give up, I want to find a way of moving forward – a more sustainable way.
When Mark died, I knew I had no narrative, no story line to attach to the experience, and that is still the case, but somehow I seem to be trying to revert to old narratives about me, about my life, about my work and my approach to getting things done, that just aren’t valid any more.
Sitting in this cafe, reading my book, writing, it feels like a privileged moment. I walked here along the Mall from Park Lane, remembering the times when I walked through the same park after meeting a friend, savouring some time alone before returning home. Now, I know that there will be no hoots of welcome, no hugs or kisses, no coffee and catching up in the kitchen. Reading, writing, walking, sitting in cafes, they all remain important to me, but often the enjoyment is shot through with pain, of memory, of longing, of the endless contrasts between a life that was full and exuberant, full of love, to one that is one of silent homecomings and lots of time alone.
With Mark around I could savour time alone, knowing that I could tune into that precious closeness we shared some time ahead, and I could handle the loneliness and isolation when it came because there was someone who I could reach out to. Now time alone is to be worked with, navigated, managed. How do I meet that need for connection, communication and understanding now? Writing and reading are vital, but doing them means I am often exposed to the chill of loneliness and it can shoot through me when I look up from the computer and it dawns on me again that he’s not in the other room, he’s not coming home, or when I leave the cafe knowing that Mark is not at home waiting for me. Life isn’t great at the moment. I want a better, meaningful life. How do we cross that divide when the hurt of the present is so strong?