My Year of Firsts
First Published 11th May 2020
A year ago today, Michael and I were celebrating life and togetherness at our engagement party. It actually brings back lots of lovely memories and it all feels ok. I’ve shared a couple of video clips to capture the spirit of the night and how ‘happy’ life felt. I’ve watched his speech more times than I could ever remember, now reeling at the irony of his words saying he was ‘the happiest man alive’ - and how I was his best friend and soulmate and that he’d love me ‘until his dying day’. What once sounded only romantic and beautiful now adds to the forever unanswered questions. Michael also sang, as he always did, loving bringing energy and fun into all our lives.
But, there’s also another big day approaching - and I have to say, it’s unfortunately one that I’m absolutely dreading. And while in some ways I never want that day to come - like all things feared yet unavoidable, I also have an innate desire for it to just hurry up so I can just get it over with. That day is June 6th. The day on which Michael died last year. And the day which I believe I will always consider to be the worst day of my life (at least I hope so as despite now understanding my own strength, I’m also not sure I could ever cope with feeling anything like that all over again).
Wishing it away is by no means my wishing to ignore it’s importance or significance - on the contrary; it’s so god damn significant nothing seems quite large enough or small enough for it to feel quite right. And here lies my dilemma - how do I commemorate the significance of the passing of the man I loved without reliving the sheer brutality and trauma of all that it entailed? I want to celebrate something big enough to do justice to the huge and amazing life that was Michael, but something small enough that somehow shrinks the trauma and devastation of his death.
As I write this I’m not sure I’m really making much sense (part of my reason for writing is in fact to unravel some of my thoughts) but as I also recall the feelings surrounding the one year anniversary of my Dad’s death six years ago, I realise that they weren’t entirely dissimilar. As part of our grief we all seem somehow conditioned to remember, celebrate, toast, reflect etc etc on all those anniversary days. The birth, the death, the firsts of everything since everything changed. And the blur of the happy/sad, the bitter/sweet, seems all the more intense.
As I reflect on my first year, in some ways It’s been the less obvious ‘firsts’ that I’ve probably found trickier. The private memories of the little things we were doing ‘a year ago’ - a Facebook reminder of that happy feeling going to the races; then going to my first festival without him. Cooking my first roast that wasn’t for him. Putting up a Christmas tree; my first one without him. Getting out the garden furniture; my first time without him... all those little feelings and memories so very intimate and special between two people. Harder perhaps because they’ve each also taken me a bit by surprise - the bigger events we somehow manage to psychologically prepare ourselves for. I guess like I’m trying to do right now as I also reflect on the eleven months that have now passed. They’ve been both the shortest and the longest eleven months of my life; never quite sure if life being with MIchael feels like yesterday or an eternity ago. My concept of time, forever battered by the tragedy, trauma, tears and the long, slow and painful recovery of being without him.
And that’s the thing I’ve found. With trauma and grief comes many, many contrasts. Despite the sometimes excruciating pain - probably even because of the pain - I’ve also experienced great happiness. As my Dad always said, ‘we have to have the bad to appreciate the good’. And that in essence is why I think I am still able to have great days now - the sheer contrast is there and I also value and appreciate ‘normal’ times as ‘great’ times - in a way I probably never did before. So, however tough some days are, I can relax in the knowledge that better days always come - and that positivity keeps me looking and moving towards.
Slowly but surely I can honestly say that the better days are now beginning to outweigh the bad. Of course I cannot love every bit of my past (the memories still bring with them much pain and many tears) but I can choose to accept, and in many ways respect it, for I couldn’t be here living as the person I am today without having gone through those experiences. And I guess here lies my feelings of strength and accomplishment as I move towards the point of ‘one year on’. Despite all my doubts I did get through my first day, my first week, my first month, his birthday, my own...that feeling of strength for having ‘done it’ , however difficult, and I guess that’s exactly how I’ll see this next big first. I’ll wake up the morning after on June 7th, hopefully content in knowing that whatever I did, I managed to get through it. And that, I think, is all any of us who are grieving should aim for when the big dates loom.
I’ve learned so much about myself this year and a large part of me has undoubtedly shifted. I say shifted instead of changed as I was thankfully - with much and continued counselling - able to find a large part ‘old me’ again; albeit with a much shifted outlook on life. I’m sure it will continue to throw obstacles my way - but I feel so much more accepting of them and more confident in my ability to handle the troubles they might bring. None of us ever really know what lies around the corner; what each day will bring, what people we will meet, what adventures await, but having been on what’s felt like a trip to hell, I hope I can now just keep embracing each day; treading its uncertainty with feelings of hope instead of fear. Excitement instead of dread. And I have to believe that MIchael is up there still, in death as in life,supporting me every step of the way. He lived it to the max and I know he’d want me to also. So his legacy will live on, both in what his life has brought to my own, but I hope also in the good this Foundation will do for others.
So have I managed to successfully unravel my thoughts? I think I probably have. I realise that I need not really fret about what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for that day, as there never really will be a perfect answer. I realise that what matters most of all is just living that day - as I do each and every day now - which to me simply means living it as well as I possibly can. It’s with that level of acceptance that I‘m able to find some natural contentment. And the big thing this last year has shown me is that contentment is probably the most underrated emotion of them all.