I once travelled happily alone. Then the most beautiful thing happened and suddenly I was half of two; two became one. But before I could start to document our life together, his life was tragically gone. My darling Ems is now in the bright lights of Heaven and I remain. This is the story of my journey from here. Gratefully a journey that One whose ways are above all of ours takes with me. One day I'll reach those bright lights for myself but until I do, join me on my journey, keeping memories close.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The reality of it all

Not that I’ve ever faltered from it but I’m warning you that you’re about to hear the honesty I’ve promised you all along. I wish I could have a warning for the different depths of this journey, the different hurts that lay ahead. When I wrote last week about the dawn of November and the grief and fears it presented, I had no idea how raw, how fresh, how agonisingly all-consuming the pain could be again.

There is no other word for it than agony. It isn’t any better than just under a year ago when it was new. It isn’t any better than a few months in when the shock started to wear off. It isn’t like a medical condition that improves with time. Perhaps because I’m young there are different expectations because of all that I’m physically still able to do, but like the old widows with whom I’ve shared many conversations confirm, it doesn’t get better – it gets worse. It’s just different.

Car journeys have never been the same since Ems died. It’s not just his absence because I was often in the car without him; it’s that rather than simply be a mindless journey from one place to another, they’re now burdened with emotional heaviness as I have no escape from my own thoughtful company. Lately I find I rarely take a journey alone, long or short, without crying at some point if not all the way. I’d thought those days were behind me, saved now for the odd ‘special’ occasion, but no.

I’m unable to work out where on my face the burning pain is worse because both eyes and cheeks sting ferociously from relentless tears. Yet they both pale into insignificance compared to the weighty, excruciating throbbing of my shattered heart.

Tears spill into day time, into ordinary moments while daylight is upon us, rather than reserving themselves for the loneliness of nights without sweet Ems at my side. For a while I thought I had mastered control of my tears in public, grasped the ability to play it cool and not upset anyone, to make it easier for others. Now I once more find myself being asked by my boss if I’m 'ok' and without warning rivers flow; Now I stand in church singing and open my eyes to see the droplets of tears on the floor below me; Now I just can’t always promise to keep back the tears, hard as I try at times.

There is no monopoly on hurt. Many hurt around me and I hate it. I often wish that I had the monopoly on pain; that I wouldn’t have to see others suffer too. The one advantage of a broken heart is that it makes you far more sensitive to other’s pain. I've realised that God doesn’t just use us in spite of our brokenness; He actually uses our brokenness to reach out to others. There really needs to be some re-shift in our thinking that the most useful and effective people are the ones with no worries, no hurts, no pain, with the hard exteriors and perfect faces. When we let it, pain will fix our minds on something far greater because the only alternative is to focus on our pain and its harrowing affect on our lives, and that only ever leaves us in despair.

I scream ‘why me’ but I know I have no more rights than the next person. I have no right over anyone else to a long marriage. None of us do. I had no right over anyone else to the beauty of being in love with a man who was as equally and beautifully in love with me. I still don’t hold that right but I’m blessed with it.

I don’t love Ems any less than anyone who loves the husband right next to them. I don’t desire or need him any less. I don’t want to share the little details of the day with him any less. The love, the wants, the needs - they remain. The difference is solely that he’s not here. The wants and the needs remain frustrated; the love it continues to grow. Until you experience it you can’t possibly imagine it but though the days apart grow longer, the love grows deeper and the heart misses more; the love does not switch off – it is stronger than death and doesn’t change. You just begin to learn to live with only memories of whispers coming back your way; of his arms to hold you after the tough days; of him, your confidant, sharing your deepest fears and desires and fighting for them alongside you.

You begin to learn to live with it; but you still hate it.

I refuse to wallow in self pity. I have never demanded special treatment because of the pain I relentlessly carry. Though I cannot control my feelings, I can control what I choose to do or say, what passions I choose to run with, what purpose I’ll seek to fulfil. We can all choose that.

And so it goes, in the brutal honesty I have promised you; be encouraged that I still believe there is purpose in pain, but don’t think that the pain goes away. I run not because I am pain free, but in spite of it, because of it, knowing that the final destination will make all this worthwhile.

I remember when Ems died not just wishing I had the monopoly on hurt, that no one else would have to feel like I did, but also naively thinking that nothing else could hurt me now. How I wish we all had a quota so that once it was full we could feel no more hurt. But alas, even though my love and grief infiltrate every second and action of my waking day, and I start to believe I couldn’t possibly feel greater loss, more pain, there it is. And just as the grief surprises you with increased vigour, so other hurts are magnified in the light of your open wound. There is no hard shell for hurts to bounce off; it’s all absorbed, deeper and deeper into the gashes that one sweet day will be but memories themselves.

Running with an injury can make the injury flair up at times. But this isn’t a broken leg which can be rested before training resumes. Waiting for my broken-heart to heal is as little an option as waiting for Ems to walk back through the door. So do I stop? There are moments when desperation comes over me to run away from it all; but there is no escape route, there’s nowhere to run to, this isn’t a choice. I can choose to stop but I won’t; I’ll keep running. The stitch will pound and the knees will buckle, there’ll be dehydration, and long, slow hills, but I will run; not in spite of it all, but because of it all, and one day I’ll win.

[Memory #23 The "running" episode
Ems was a man who could teach us all a thing or two about perseverance. As you'll have read in earlier blogs he suffered with Seasonal Affective Disorder in these winter months and yet never let it conquer him. It would reduce the amount he could do, yes, but he never caved into bitterness, never took it out on others, never stopped being grateful for the things he did have, never took his eyes off the main thing, he always always loved. One day, lacking energy as he did, he decided that in spite of it, he was going to start running that night in order to increase his (already fairly high) fitness levels.
As I watched the rain begin, then start to pour, outside my office window I expected his resolve to be postponed to another day. But not Ems, he was determined. As soon as we were in through the door, he was up the stairs, changed, then back down, asking me how long dinner would take, before setting out for his 'first' run in the pouring rain. He ran hard despite the elements and got back just in time for dinner!]

Monday, 1 November 2010


I usually write in the darkness of night but this morning I woke with a heaviness I haven't had for a while. I had to write.

It's not like I usually spring out of bed carefree; thoughts of Ems are with me within seconds of waking, just after acknowledging that 'ok, I'm still here'. 'Ok, I'm still here' because I have a strong conviction that if I'm still here it's because there is still purpose yet for me to fulfil. Somehow it makes the pain more bearable, it makes life bigger than me.

The mornings aren't like they were in the first few months after Ems died, when I'd wake with a physically aching heart with just a few seconds before things slotted into place in my mind and I realised afresh - 'Ems is gone'. It was like losing him anew every morning.

Now, there is no denial that he is gone from here. It feels like forever. There's the odd moment when it feels like it did when he was here; if I'm lost in work, for example, it's only when I stop that it hits me.

'Hits me' is a very appropriate phrase.

On the whole though, he's gone from here and it feels like forever. Being without him, much as I hate it, becomes something I'm almost 'used to', yet my love for him remains as full and fresh as the last time I saw him and the amount I miss him increases by the day.

The feeling of losing Ems afresh each day may have gone but he's never here now. I wake and I miss him and I wish he were here.

I'm remembering the way we'd always kiss one another before getting out of bed. Or the way I'd tiptoe around the bed on the days he wasn't working, doing my best to get ready without waking him, yet always kneeling down and sharing a kiss and a few gentle words before I left.

Mornings aren't the same now. This morning wasn't the same.

It's November.


November - the name of this month has been on my lips more than it has any other year in my life.

'Last November'.

'When did he die?', 'When did you lose him?', 'When did it happen?', the last time I saw him, the last time I held him, 'there's been an incident...'. All these things - 'last November'.

And so, when this month comes to an end, it'll be 'the November before last'.
I'll no longer say or hear the words 'it hasn't even been a year yet' despite the security that comes with it - what will others expectations be of me now? To me it may feel like a year 'already', to others a year may seem a long time. In some situations, it really isn't.

Though it feels like an eternity since I've seen the man I love, I can't believe it's almost been a year. I still feel like such a beginner on this journey. I may accept it, there are moments when I'm 'used to it', but I hate it.

But when we hate something, we don't fear its loss. Instead, I will just grapple with God and fall into the purpose for which, heavy hearted as I felt, I woke this morning.

[Memory #22 The 'bacon' episode
I can remember the cosy Saturday morning lie-ins together that we'd follow up with a good breakfast. They were never planned and so we'd be out of eggs or milk or another essential ingredient which would mean plans to enjoy it in our dressing gowns were soon halted as Ems made a quick dash for the local shop as I started the grill. No DIY was mentioned as we prepared breakfast, enjoying the peace and togetherness of a post lie-in breakfast; Ems setting the table, pouring the juice, leaving me to rule the stove. Leaving me that is until the bacon started. Mum reminded me the other day how fussy Ems was with his bacon. He liked gammon but didn't like his bacon too thick. He liked it crisp but not hard. He didn't like too much fat but didn't like it with the fat cut off! He was very particular about the bacon but once it was cooked to his exceptionally high standards, the 'mmmms' that enthusiastically flowed from him as he ate it were well worth the effort. Outside of cooking bacon, he caused me very few stresses. We had food and love in our tummies and were ready for the day and DIY ahead.]