I’ve never known a time like this before. It may seem obvious, but the awareness of it is with me most of the time. Sometimes the feeling that comes with the terrain is akin to fear or trepidation, anxiety or anticipation, or a mix of all of them. Most often it feels like a dead weight, a feeling of being fixed mentally, emotionally, physically into a gaping, yawning emptiness.
I spend a lot of time on my own. I’ve done that before, particularly in the couple of years or so before I met Mark, but loss has changed my perspective on so many of the things that I did with my time then. Socialising, spending times with friends, cultural pursuits – it’s not that I don’t enjoy them still, but even if I did have the energy to do the rounds as I did in my younger days, there’s still a lot of time left empty. Apart from that, there’s something in me that just can’t buy into them in the way I did before. Sometimes I worry that I’m heading towards depression, that I need to push myself a bit more, but other times I think this stillness is what I need.
Often I find myself watching and listening to people and feeling incredulous that they can just talk the way they do. That’s not to suggest my thoughts are loftier – I’m quite capable of trivia and seem to have an increasing capacity to absorb it, scrolling through social media as distractedly as I would a rubbish magazine in a doctors’s surgery. That’s just one of the many things that makes me frustrated with myself: so many of my habitual ways of thinking that shaped me for so long don’t fit any more, just as so many of the things I used to do with my time no longer work.
I used to get frustrated with myself for always focusing on the future, or going over things in the past, and for not focusing on the moment. Mark was good at that, and seeing it embodied so beautifully, I ‘got it’ more and more. When I think about the past now I remember small, seemingly inconsequential moments of happiness and I am grateful that we were able to appreciate them deeply, that we knew in those moments that we were happy, blessed, even. But that life has gone, and as for the future, I really can’t see it yet.
In the past, I think I used to imagine a version of myself that somehow met all the frustrations and lack of the present, but such a person is very difficult to concoct right now. Somehow I know that it won’t always be the case, I do have some sense that amid all the stillness, the shutting down, the withdrawal, there is an altogether different energy stirring somewhere. Again, it’s not familiar to me, but my sense is that it could be important to me in my efforts to rebuild my life.
But between the past and whatever the future might hold, this is it. The me here, the life here, this version of now. The woman who was so happy with Mark has already covered a huge distance since he died nearly 17 months ago. The awareness of what I’ve lost is with me always, but I’m not mourning him as I was. Mark’s shadow is everywhere and memories of him hover just in vision, but grief doesn’t dominate my life, I am learning to carry the sadness. But life now feels stripped and pared back, one dimensional, I don’t enjoy it very much. I do have a growing sense of my own responsibility in it though, an awareness that it’s my choices, my actions that will shape me and my life. I seem to be letting go of dependencies and props, the things, the relationships that sustained me before. If this continues into the long term it could become alarming, but I don’t think it will.
Winter has passed, spring is hovering, and all the while there’s energy at work that will soon bring in its fullness. That’s what I want to hope in for me too, that amid all the heaviness, bleakness and stillness, there is some kind of subterranean energy that’s capable of getting me through. At the moment all I can think to do is to keep moving, keep working, writing, reading, walking, running and at times just being still and quiet. It’s not what I would describe as a rich or fulfilling life, but doing those things is the only way forward I can see right now. They don’t constitute life, but are gestures towards something I can’t see, am not even sure is possible. But doing them feels like I am working an important muscle, a part of me that feels underused, and underworked. The quiet satisfaction that brings amid all the other feelings of sadness, loss and loneliness suggests it’s worth pursuing.