Response

Response #
14
Person who died
Husband
Category
Current experience of grief
Respondent details
35-44 | Female | British
Q1: What was the nature of your relationship with the person who died?
My husband
Q2: How has the person’s death affected you during the hours, days, and weeks that followed?
It's a complete and total impact. Every aspect of your life is changed. I would say the shock lasted a lot longer than people around me realised. I think I was in shock for over a year. I seemed very rational and steady, but I felt high for a long time. I felt ecstatic and elated as well as very sad. I stopped sleeping and eating properly for over a year. I walked for miles every day as it was sometimes the only thing that helped. I drank a lot. I had a lot of sex. I think this surprised me the most. I needed to orgasm three times a day and be touched. Though I didn't want it to be with anyone who was kind to me - as that would have been harder to deal with. I saw a therapist all the way through. I lost all ability to focus - only now 2.5 years later can I settle with a book and read for an hour. I lost about 10 debit cards, and several sets of keys over the first 18 months. My memory was gone for a while and I think the physical nature of this kind of grief is very poorly understood. People expect low moods and sadness, but I felt hyper. My moods were extreme, and my general emotional state was dialled up to an extreme. I had more energy than I'd ever had before. The other thing I am left with is a general anxiety - I became obsessed with my own health and feel that I could drop dead at any point. I don't trust my body to keep me alive in the way I would have before.
Q3: How, if at all, have your relationships with other people (particular individuals and other people in general) been affected by the bereavement?
I had some good friends and family - enough to get me through, but my relationships are different. I care less about what some people think of me and have let some friends go because I didn't really like them that much before, and now am not planning to invest in them, or they were poor at showing up, so have let them drift off. I made new friends who were widows - in some way, my excess of energy was lucky as it meant I was able to reach out to new people. I didn't want to spend any time on my own, so had to find new people. All my good friends are married with small children, and I refused to go to any of my girlfriend's houses as I didn't want to see them happy with their partner and children. Most of my good female friends instinctively understood this and were happy to meet me out of the house when they could.
I often told strangers, at inappropriate moments. I went on a lot of dates using dating apps. I told them all on the first meeting.
Q4: Does the surrounding world seem any different to you while grieving? If so, how?
Yes, things are hyperreal, like you're on drugs. Things are sharper, both colours and emotions. I could appreciate nature more and felt more connected to the world, rather than people. People are on the other side of a river and you're not experiencing the same things. In some ways, I really like the extreme of grief - it feels like you're really alive - it's almost another loss to accept that the feelings start to recede and go back to a normal level. I enjoyed having so much energy, but people did say that I seemed hyper.
Q5: Has your experience of time changed in any way?
Yes, it does not feel like 2.5 years at all. I feel that I 'lost' time as much as the person. You go down into a set of experiences that suck time. It seems like a long time to others, but a year went by in a blink. I'd say my perception of time has gone back to normal now - but again it took a lot longer than the outside world realised.
Q6: Has your body felt any different during grief?
Yes, in the early days I stopped eating (this is very unusual for me, normally my stress response is to eat more) so lost a lot of weight - about 3 stone in 4 months. For the first time I felt very aware of my body and wanted to move more - hence the walking. I had a lot of pent up stress in my body which started to cause aches and pains - I am still not relaxed, and if I sit and try and relax, I can't - my body is still in flight mode. I'm undergoing acupuncture and osteo now to try and deal with this remaining physical tension.
Q7: Has grief interfered in any way with your ability and motivation to perform various tasks, including paid work?
Yes, I couldn't sit at my desk - or do any work really. My employer was very helpful and I did a phased return after 1 month. I did 5 mornings a week for a couple of months, then 3 full days a week for a further 3 months and then went full time. It took about 6 or 7 months to even start delivering any meaningful work. I just didn't care about work. As I did become more focussed I decided to move jobs and was fortunate to be able to take a 4 day a week job that though paid less was easier work and required less focus. I'd say that only now is my ability to focus on a work task returning and even then I struggle to remember meetings, and what I've said in previous meetings.
Q8: Is your experience of grief changing over time? If so, how?
Yes, I'm pretty much back to normal now. When I recall the experience I cry, but I do not experience the wracking sobs of the beginning. I can also make choices about when to talk about it now - whereas previously I just needed to tell everybody all the time.
It does change and it can be hard to let go of the intensity. For example, my sleep was bad for a long time - and I didn't want to take pills or do anything to help me sleep because I wanted the constant reminder of what I was going through - it's a very strange thing!
Q9: Have you ever found yourself looking for the person who died or expecting that person to appear?
Less that - and more that I see someone walking with a particular gait - or face shape and I can't believe how much they look like him - I do a double take.
Q10: Are there times, places, and occasions that have made you especially aware of the person’s absence?
The supermarket was the worst place. And home was awful for a long time. I'm not very sentimental about dates so this has never bothered me. Family situations are very weird as he would always have been there with me. I have a new boyfriend, and I don't really want him in my dad's house, as it's too strange to see him sitting where my husband should be.
Q11: People who are grieving often report experiencing the presence of the person who died. Have you had any experiences that you would describe in those terms?
No, and no dreams either.
Q12: Do you still feel a sense of connection with the person? If so, could you say something about when you feel this and what the experience is like?
No - no connection - but we were avowed atheists.
Q13: Since the person died, is there anything that you have been doing in order to feel close to them?
I have a bench and tree in a local park and often (about once a fortnight) go and sit on the bench and just get to feel like I'm connecting a bit with him.
Q14: Is there anything that you do in order to avoid being reminded of the person or of their death?
No
Q15: Has anything in particular helped you to cope with grief? Has anything made you feel better or worse?
The walking - steady, one foot in front of the other.
Connecting with other widows - like minded people who I could do 'death chat' with. Sex and drinking did help - It was obviously not the healthiest - but I had a therapist I could be honest with - and therapy did help.
Some family were good - others less so!
After a year a lot of people around me pulled back - they felt that they had done their duty and needed to say that I needed to get on with it - that felt hard. I think they didn't realise that I was still very out of it. That made me feel worse.
Q16: How understanding have other people been? Have others said or done anything that you've found especially helpful or unhelpful?
People have said massively unhelpful things - but to some extent I've been able to accept them for where they are - it's a very unknowable thing and we all respond to grief differently. I had my widows to complain to and there are lots of online spaces where you can go and let off steam. The most helpful were the people who just allowed me to be unfiltered and had no expectations about where I was/supposed to be/should be. It was the unconditionality that helped the most.
Q17: How, if at all, has your experience of bereavement changed you as a person?
I didn't want to be the same person and I have been a bit frustrated that in some ways I've not 'transformed'! But some things have shifted. I do my own thing more, ask less for permission and care less about what people think. I have more confidence because frankly once you've gone through this you've sort of proved you can do anything. I feel more resilient in some ways and less resilient in others.
Q18: How, if at all, does grief over the death of a person differ from other forms of loss that you have experienced?
My mum died when I was 19, so I knew the shape of grief - but I did react very differently. With my mum, I was very quiet and subdued. I was at university, so I really dropped out of social activities and kept to myself. It was very different this time.
Q19: Are there any aspects of grief that you find particularly puzzling or difficult to put into words?
No one tells you or others how physically exhausting it is -people think it's like depression, but it's not a numbing, it's a heightening - perhaps more like a bipolar experience than a depression. It's everything and it takes a lot longer to recover from than you or others realise. It's whole body and whole person.
Q20: Are there any important aspects of your experience that we have not addressed?
No