Category: Grief & healing
I wasn’t going to write this post. If you’ve lost a loved one you might be able to relate. I wanted this day to be just another day in the long line of days that is my life. I’ve grieved all my grief and healed my pain, and he remains in my heart but as a friend of lifetimes. I miss him sometimes, and once in a while i’ll find myself wondering what we’d be doing now if he was still here. I don’t even know if we’d still be together. Perhaps not, who knows? But as it is, he and I are still in touch, through the dreams that have never left me. The feathers he lays in my path wherever I happen to be in the world. The books with his messages. The random things I find in impossible places. Eight years later and I’ve let go of all the anger and frustration i once felt towards him. I’ve learned the lessons of our relationship, and built a life around me that’s honest and independent and all mine. That I don’t share it with a significant other is less to do with my attachment to him (for I no longer am) and more to do with circumstances and fate.
I flew to New York last week for a few days, my 40th birthday present to myself. While there I got my new tattoo, the one I’ve been planning for months. I’ve been searching for years to find the right artist, and when I discovered the work of Cris Cleen I knew I’d found my man. His style, his philosophy and the integrity I see in his work drew me in immediately, and when I saw his interpretation of a swallow, I just knew.
Swallows are a traditional tattoo motif — historically sailors used them to show off their sailing experience. From Wikipedia:
“Of British origin in the early days of sailing, it was the image of a Barn Swallow, usually tattooed on the chest, hands or neck. According to one legend, a sailor tattooed with one swallow had travelled over 5,000 nautical miles (9,260 km); a sailor with two swallows had travelled 10,000 nautical miles (18,520 km).Travelling these great distances was extremely difficult and dangerous in the early days of sailing, so one or more swallow tattoos denoted a very experienced and valuable sailor. Another legend holds that since swallows return to the same location every year to mate and nest, the swallow will guarantee the sailor returns home safely. A sailor would have one swallow tattooed before setting out on a journey, and the second swallow tattooed at the end of their tour of duty, upon return to their home port. It is also said that if the sailor drowns, the swallows will carry their soul to heaven. The swallow also represents love, care and affection towards family and friends, showing the loyalty of the person always returning to them. The bird also represents freedom and hope.”
To me, the swallow represents my independence and my freedom, a reminder of qualities I will always posess even if I fall in love again. She marks the completion of the healing journey I have taken, flying in the direction of my heart to show I will always return home — to myself and to my loved ones.
On a purely practical note, I placed her on my right forearm to balance the tattoo I have planned for my left arm. She’s my most visible tattoo to date and that feels right to me. I know tattoos aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but to me they are bold and beautiful, permanent adornment infused with meaning.
My love didn’t have any tattoos himself but he appreciated mine as they were a part of me. In the last eight years there have been many changes: my weight has fluctuated, my eyesight has worsened. My hair has sprouted grey in places and creases have formed where they weren’t there before… But this bird inked on my arm is the most radical change of all and it’s one he will never see — at least not with physical eyes. And that is as it should be, for this swallow will be appreciated by another lover one day, his fingertips tracing the outline that ghostly hands cannot.
And I welcome that day’s arrival with an open heart.
five years | four years | two years
I remember making a Valentine card for the boy I liked in my class. His name was Justin and we were probably about eight or nine — it’s so long ago I can’t really remember. But I can see the card — it had a big red heart on the front (of course) and I dowsed it in perfume. It reeked to high heaven. I left the card by his coat peg. I don’t remember if he responded (unlikely) but I remember it felt good to tell that sweet blonde-haired boy who was good at football how I felt.
There have been many Valentine cards sent and received over the years. I remember our last Valentine’s Day dinner, eight years ago. I remember our conversation, the wine, his hand on my thigh. I remember the long kiss standing outside the front door before heading inside to bed, to the solace of each other’s arms. Three weeks later he was dead. No more cards, none I can see with my eyes, anyway. But I know he’s here today, my old companion from another lifetime.
I have known big love, and I am sure I will know it again. I have no one to buy a Valentine card for today, and none are coming through my door, but I am perfectly okay with that. I have my own sweet company, and that is a lot, my friends.
To me, that is everything.
Happy Valentine’s Day x
A lot of people have asked me how I’ve managed to get my flat looking so pulled together in such a short space of time, and the truth is I started before I moved. I got back from the book tour knowing I had to move house and plunged into decluttering while still jetlagged. I also visited the new flat twice so I could measure up the space to ensure my furniture would fit. At one point I drew a diagram of the rooms to help me figure out what would go where — i even decided what would go in the kitchen cupboards beforehand. Yes, i really am that
anal organised. It really made all the difference and meant I could get the basics done quickly, leaving me headspace to grapple with the more emotional challenges that come with a big move.
One of the great things about moving house is the opportunity to touch every single thing you possess. It’s like doing a really thorough life edit, scrutinising each item to decide whether it stays or goes. I got rid of a lot of furniture, but it’s the smaller stuff that’s most satisfying to weed out. The last couple of days I’ve been organising my photographs and journals, and have indulged in a few meaders down memory lane. I’ve some photos dating back to my childhood but the majority are from my 20s, when I was in a relationship and tirelessly chronicled our holidays, birthdays and evolutions. I’ll be turning 40 in February and what I am loving most about being older is having proof that I can survive when bad things happen.
I survived the end of that 10-year relationship in 2003 — a very sad but necessary ending that was deeply painful for both of us. We were two people clinging to each other out of fear of the unknown yet were both so fundamentally unhappy. We knew something had to change. I feel proud of 30-year-old me for being brave and making her escape. He went on to find love again and is now married and has two gorgeous kids. For me, it was the first step onto the path I am now on, one that brought much deeper pain with it a few years later, yet I know without a doubt that this is how life was supposed to unfold. How it IS unfolding. I wanted more love, more passion, more thrills and spills. I wanted to become a bigger version of myself, and to get to that place I had to dismantle the safe numbing life I had and re-enter the world like a newborn. If I’d have known what I know now the transition might have been less bumpy, but sometimes you have to go through the shit to find out what you’re made of. To find your true strength. To let the fire of change burn away the old to make way for the new. To have a chance at finding real happiness further along the path.
‘It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.’ ~ ee cummings
I’ve been dreaming about that time a lot lately… unsurprisingly. Where I live now is not far from the flat she escaped to and I’m planning to take a walk there soon, to step back into her shoes for a while. Memory lane can be a perilous stretch of road, and i absolutely knew that I’d be walking it if I came back to the city, so rather than skip around it I’ve got a compass and walking boots and am striding down that mother at full speed. The only way to heal painful stuff is to feel it, full on, full tilt. I don’t want to push any of this back down. I’m not going to hide from it.
So 30-year-old me made her escape, and because I’d never been on my own before I fell into another relationship very quickly — and you know how that ended. I’ve had a lot of time to wonder why it happened — what my life would have been if he hadn’t died. If I hadn’t met him. If I’d stayed together with my ex. Yet when I look at all the possible paths, the only one that feels right is the one I’m on now. Alone (for now) and more fully myself than I have ever been, knowing I can survive. Knowing that when it all falls apart I really can rely on myself <—- that actually makes me quite teary
It’s all blowing my mind a bit today.
And I know that so much of this is because I’m back here in my beloved city of memories. I am so ready to make new memories here, but right now I want to sink into the past and really taste it. I want to work through this to be freed from it. No more fear or regret. No more sadness. No more what-ifs.
We have to clear out our cupboards for the new stuff we want in our lives. The upgraded even better stuff. The stuff we can’t even imagine right now, but it’s out there waiting for us to bravely make space for it. 30-year-old me couldn’t have imagined I’d be where I am today. Nearly 40-year-old me doesn’t have a clue where I’ll be in another 10 years, though I have some hopes and wishes about that.
A snippet from When Death Comes by Mary Oliver:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing, and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
There are moments when being on your own is excruciating.
I have been on my own for seven years. The first half of that I couldn’t contemplate being with another man — how could I, when my whole heart and head was still attached to another? Bereavement is a difficult beast, a space where you experience the past as if it were the present, when every memory is relived — every conversation, every argument, every moment, is examined as if it were happening now. I grieved for years. I relived every moment of our relationship. I relived the flaws and the magic; I felt ALL OF IT. And then I moved through it. I found work that meant something to me; I found a way to live through the pain — to accept it — to process my loss and find a place for it. I found my way to the other shore.
And here I am, on that other shore, filled with hope and expectation and the small tentative belief that if I just let myself be seen, if I let another SEE ME, I will find love again. And it scares the shit out of me. Even now I find it so hard to believe that all I have to offer — all that I am — will be accepted by another man. That I can be loved. That I am loveable. That I am worthy of love.
And so I took a chance. I took that first wobbly step out into the world. I knew it had been too long — I knew I was still bruised, still so full of doubts. But I did it — I reached out. I took the training wheels off and rode out into the world of dating. And then, when I least expected, I was shot down. And it’s so curious to be sitting here now, with the heavy weight of disappointment pressing me to the floor. Because it’s not just me. There’s another person who’s dealing with their own shit, their own confusion, their own fucked up head. And I can’t help them—i am not the person they need. And that’s a hard one to sit with, because I’m so used to being the healer, the one who makes sense of it all. But when they look you in the eye and tell you they can’t do it, all you can do is smile, and nod, and say yes, you understand. Because in some strange, unexpected way, I do understand. I get it. But it doesn’t stop the disappointment.
I know this is just another chapter in the book of my life. I know this is just the beginning of the future path I have stepped onto.
But, fucking hell, it hurts.
This is my truth tonight.