I was talking to my Aunt on Tuesday. As I’ve mentioned on here before, we lost my lovely Uncle last year, and she is at the beginning of the long hard path of learning to live a life without him. She was saying that she’d seen an illustration about grief, which showed grief as a large black circle that had taken over the entirety of the bereaved person’s life. Most people might think that, because the intensity of grief fades over the years, it somehow gets smaller, however, the illustration suggests that what actually happens is that the size of the grief remains the same, but the person’s life gets bigger and expands around it.
My Uncle’s death represents a terrible life-altering loss for all of us. By contrast, despite the difficulties he has created, E’s departure from my life has been a genuinely life enhancing experience for me. However, my Aunt pointed out that there are comparisons between the grief of bereavement and the shock of a long-term relationship ending, particularly in terms of with the sudden departure and absence from our lives of someone we loved.
My Aunt isn’t the first person to compare what happened with E to a bereavement – another friend of mine who has been through a similar experience with her Ex has said the same thing – but it’s a comparison I have always resisted, particularly because I know a few people who have been widowed and, unlike them, I don’t feel that I have lost anything of value. On the contrary, I am grateful on a daily basis that E is no longer a part of my life.
However, talking about the experience of loss, has made me accept that, no matter how hard I try to deny it, what has happened to me has been similar to a bereavement, and that the stages I have moved through, and am still moving through, are almost identical to those experienced by someone who has lost a loved one.
There are various theories on the stages of grief, what they are, how many there are, and the order people move through them (or if there is, in fact an order at all), but they all seem to have a few basics in common. Grief usually starts with shock before moving through emotions such as anger and denial. There are then ways of trying to come to terms with it – with the self-persuasions and the ‘if only’s’ of bargaining before moving to a more peaceful acceptance of what has happened.
In some ways, I think I found a kind of acceptance on the day E left. I’d lived with his infidelity for ten years, so, whilst I was devastated, on the day he texted me to say he would leave I absolutely accepted that this was what had happened and was almost relieved that it had. Unlike a bereaved person, I never once felt that in losing E I had lost anything worth grieving over. However, my Aunt made me realise that, whilst E was no loss, the life I thought I had was, the loss of the love I thought we’d had was. The feelings that I’d had for E were genuine and deep, and the nature of his betrayal caused the same shock as a bereavement. One day he was there. The next day he was not. Deathlike, he vanished from my life. Talking to my Aunt, made me look back over the last two years, and realise how much time I have spent circling around and through the various emotional stages of grief – sometimes feeling just one emotion intensely, at others being overwhelmed by how many emotions I feel at once
The illustration of grief made me realise that I also had another, more positive, thing in common with the bereaved. Whilst the fact of what E did (and what he continues to do), remains as hard and as fixed as ever, two years ago that behaviour and that betrayal pretty much dominated my life, whereas now, two years on, my life has expanded beyond and around that betrayal. My life has become so much larger than it was when I was with E.
Before E left, my life was pretty much only about our family. I was studying, which I loved (and am hoping to start again next year), and doing a little freelancing, but apart from that my life was small. Where I lived was dictated by where E worked. I hadn’t resumed my career because the fact we had four children, and the nature of E’s working hours, meant that I wouldn’t be able to compete. E’s life was my life. I knew about his work and his colleagues. I supported him through financial and professional problems. I even moved the kids and I 7,000 miles across the world to support his career. I didn’t really have much that was ‘mine’. Even when I tried to claim the study as my own, E had a massive strop because he thought his books should be in it too (I ignored this and claimed the study anyway, but I was always aware that this had pissed him off).
Since E has left, my life has expanded in ways I could never have foreseen. My life is mine and mine alone. I don’t have to consider anyone else when I’m making plans (apart from the kids obviously, but that’s not an imposition). There is a freedom that comes from no longer worrying if he’s having an affair, and how I compare to whoever he’s seeing, which is incredibly liberating.
My life has also grown in other ways. I have a full time job now. It’s only local and it’s only admin, but it’s mine – I got it all by myself and I’m proud of myself. Through my job I have met the most incredible group of women. It’s often been observed that you spend more time with colleagues than you do with family, but, you don’t always become good friends with colleagues. I’ve been lucky enough to end up working with people who have also become friends and who have provided the most incredible support network.
Necessity being the mother of invention has also meant that I’ve started to try to expand my freelance work – I’m looking at tutoring students for English exams, and academic proofreading as well as trying to build up my writing work. It’s still very early stages (I’m not charging for tutoring yet and I’m awaiting my first dissertation), but I can see possibilities for myself that I never imagined before. I don’t have, and I never will have much money, but I feel that I have a future.
By contrast, I can’t help wondering If E’s life has got a little smaller? Before he left me he had work, he had P (or whoever he was seeing at the time) and he had his children and his family. Now, he has work and he has P. Whilst I’m sure they’re very loved up, I wonder if this makes up for what he’s rejected? He doesn’t see his daughters, he barely sees his sons, and he hasn’t spoken to his parents or his sister for over 18 months. If he’s to be believed he’s now in so much debt he can’t even pay child support. The man who assured me, and anyone who would listen, that his shares in the company would be worth around a million pounds one day is now unable to support his children. That looks like a life diminished to me.
Whilst my grief for the life, and the love, I once thought I had, will remain. Whilst I will always be sad at what happened and whilst I accept that I’ll still circle through all those grief emotions a few more times, I’ve begun to realise that the life I have built for the kids and I since E left is better that the one we had before. It’s more truthful. It’s happier. It’s bigger.