“Life goes on” can be a cruelly truthful phrase. At first, when a loved one dies, or life changes irreversibly, you feel that everything has stood still for you, and watching the rest of the world carry on as if nothing has happened is a strange, and occasionally hurtful, experience. However, inevitably, as days lengthen into weeks and then months and years, your life does go on, and whilst the grief, or the change, doesn’t go away, you learn to live with it and your life grows around the scar that it caused until it’s almost invisible to everyone around you, sometimes even to you.
When E left, I kind of did the opposite. I wanted life to go on and I wanted it to move on quickly. I knew I was better off without him, and I was determined to celebrate the fact that he was out of my life. I was also really, really, busy. I had four (very upset) kids to look after, a job to do, and a household to cook, clean, and do the accounts for. There was crisis after crisis and so many day-to-day things to deal with, that I didn’t have time to think about grieving. Life went, quite aggressively, on, and I encouraged it to. I didn’t want to make space in my life to think about E and me or if I missed anything about the years we spent together.
This has largely worked and as time has gone by, the hurt that I felt in the early days has receded and I now mostly don’t feel anything (other than an increasing dislike) for E and even less (other than faint contempt) towards P. However, I am occasionally surprised by how sharply and suddenly I can feel the pain of what happened all over again. When this happens, it always takes me aback. It’s always a shock.
It happened yesterday – there I was in Tesco, stocking up on my favourite wine (snow was forecast, I didn’t want to be running out) when I caught sight of a brand of wine that I hadn’t seen for a while. All of a sudden I heard E’s voice as he came home with a bottle of it and telling me how lovely it was. I grabbed a bottle, to take home for him, thinking how much he’d love it, when it hit me that he’d gone that he’d been gone for two years, that my life had moved on.
I stood, stupidly, unsure what to do – with the bottle of wine in my hand – and all of a sudden, it felt like the floor had disappeared from under my feet. Every single memory of his betrayal, the women he’d seen, the lies he’d told, the way he’s acted since he left, all the way up to the contempt with which he’s treating me now, rushed at me with a force that took my breath away. I clutched the bottle of wine like a lifeline (not the first time I’ve done this, although, not usually in the middle of Tesco) and stood, stranded, in the middle of the aisle, unable to move, unable to process the thoughts and memories that were rushing through my head.
Over the course of just a few seconds, I was at our first home in Ampthill, Youngest Son was in one arm, my wine glass was in another and E was pouring me a glass of this wine, whilst telling me about his day, and juggling tricky questions from Oldest Son about where babies came from, whilst Youngest Daughter babbled about playgroup, and Oldest Daughter watched Max and Ruby in the living room. Then, all of a sudden, I was in Singapore, and E was proudly brandishing a bottle that he’d found in our local Cold Storage and heading out to the balcony of our condo to pour it for us. Youngest Son was still in my arms (although heavier now), and now Oldest Son was asking questions about who is more important ‘one pregnant horse or two non-pregnant horses’, Youngest Daughter was pretending to be a mermaid, and Oldest Daughter was in her ice-cold air conditioned room watching You Tube. Then, in a flash, I was looking at E’s laptop and reading again and again how deep his betrayal was and how many lies he’d told.
For a moment, everything stood still, then I realised I was stood in the middle of Tesco, looking like a twat, and staring helplessly at a bottle of wine. I put it back on the shelf, and carried on stockpiling my wine (I’ve always been a woman who can get her priorities straight), but for the rest of the day, I was haunted by how hurt I was feeling.
When I relaxed later yesterday evening (with a welcome glass of the wine I’d hunter-gathered earlier), it occurred to me that my life is so busy and I have so much to do, that I haven’t ever really had time to process the emotions involved in what’s happened. I was so determined for my life to move on, that I hadn’t really given myself time to acknowledge the effect that everything has had on me. I realised that perhaps I needed to take a bit of time to acknowledge what I’ve spent the last two years trying to ignore – that I had a whole life (over half my life) with someone and that, whilst I am so incredibly happy and grateful that E is no longer my partner, that perhaps there’s no shame in admitting that he made me cry, and that what happened can still, occasionally, make me cry.
I began to see that, life does go on, but even if it grows around the scars from the hurt that’s been caused, it’s important to treat those scars with respect, to acknowledge them, maybe even eventually to be fond of them, because they show that you have recovered, that you were hurt and you healed. For the first time since E left, I began to confront my feelings about ‘us’ and about the couple that we once were.
Its early days, and I’m still not sure I want to give too much space in my life to thinking about E, but yesterday made me realise that refusing to think about it will mean that moments like yesterday will keep happening. Maybe if I do confront my feelings, moments like yesterday will become fewer and further apart.
Life does go on, but sometimes, maybe, every now and then, we need a moment of stillness, to understand where it is going on from.