Being new to the blogging world, I am amazed by the reaction from readers to non-fiction posts. It seems that people really do want access into the depths of the soul who is writing. They are searching for something real, and raw. They want the truth – the unedited and bravest version you can offer. This made me think that perhaps here is the place to share my memoir, ‘Loving Ellie’, for it is me at my most naked and honest. I offer it to you, chapter by chapter, as part of my own healing process …
Loving Ellie: Prologue
Grief knows no bounds. It is relentless. It is insidious. It is the emotion capable of inflicting the most damage on a human being – the only one able to reach into the confines of the soul and rip it apart, mercilessly. It does so slowly, and then suddenly, piece by piece – ruthlessly, cruelly, subtlety, cunningly. The only other emotion capable of producing such a profound effect on the human spirit is love. The reason grief is so powerful is because it is a product of love; it is the soul stripped of what it has loved dearly. Grief provides the devastating opposite of the experience of love. Both are inescapable, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Love can make your whole world. Grief can ruin it in an instant. Love builds a fortified reverie of comfort, meaning and security in your soul. Grief strips down those walls and burns all that stands within. Love can bring out the best in a person. Grief unveils the worst aspects of a human being’s fragility; it unearths the most primal and bestial elements in a person, forcing you to utter sounds of such raw emotion that they do not seem human at all.
Even as time flickers by and it seemingly gets better, you still have those moments – unpredictable and debilitating – when you suddenly remember what you have lost. This feels like someone catching you unawares by performing a swift Chinese burn on your heart.
This is a story of grief and of love, for they go hand in hand. It is a journal of one person’s process of grief. It is oftentimes sickening and confronting, and some of the thoughts and actions documented may legitimately be subject to harsh judgement. But it is the truth. It is not sugar-coated or designed for any other purpose but to tell the sordid truth of my life’s most difficult journey. Nothing is held back. It is the purging of grief in its most primal form.
This book is not going to be one of those inspirational, ‘human being struggles through life in the face of overwhelming adversity to reach an even more fulfilling existence,’ types of books. Frankly, that’s great for those writers, but I’ve had enough of their smug tales of superhuman strength. There will be no ultimate fulfilment at the end of this book. There will be some, I’m sure, but it will certainly be less than what I would have had minus the grief. This is a story of survival; not inspiration, not fulfilment, and not a journey to the interior confines of my soul to reveal some pearls of universal wisdom. There are no epiphanies in this story. Well, there are – but they are not your usual uplifting, ‘Oh, I finally see the light of nirvana!’ kind of epiphanies. They are epiphanies that simply help you cope with the fact that this time you got a pretty shitty deal out of life.
The day that someone you love is taken suddenly from you will not be the worst day of your life. When you are told that person, whom you loved so much, has died, your body will go into shock to self-preserve. You will not feel much. You will stumble through the day like a ghost. Everything will seem more vivid, yet strangely intangible. You will know it is real, but you will not feel like it is real. It will be like walking into a Salvador Dali painting – everything looks real enough, but it all feels so very, very wrong. You will amaze yourself with your ability to move and speak normally. The shock is a safety net you see – it allows you to survive the day. The rest of the world, working away as normal, will seem absurd to you. This is because death has dramatically altered the course of your life, and has done so in an instant. The earth will not have merely moved on its axis for you … it will have no axis.
As your brain tries to register what has happened, you will think that it is the worst day of your life. But it will not be. There will be two days to come that are far worse. The first will be the day after the death. You do not want to wake up the morning after someone you love has died. When you do the reality will begin to flicker in, and you will instantaneously remember what happened yesterday. You will realise that it was not a nightmare. The daunting reality of your changed life will stab at you like a million angry spears. Your body will still be in shock, but your mind will begin to comprehend the gravity of the situation. This will be more agonising than anything you could possibly imagine. And it will be made worse by your awareness of the coming days and weeks that you must endure. You are going to have to plan, make arrangements, organise a funeral and then enact that funeral. You will have to get out of bed. You will have to get dressed – in the actual clothes that you used to wear in your former life. You will have to talk to people. The day after someone dies you will become aware of all these insidious things, and the overwhelming task ahead will grow in monstrous proportions. You will feel like you cannot do it – any of it. You will want to fade into oblivion. You will want to cease to be. This will stay will you for at least 24 hours.
You will expect the next day to be the same, but it will surprise you. Your love for the person who has died will allow you to get out of bed and start doing what needs to be done. You will begin to make arrangements. You will make a conscious decision that the person you adored deserves the greatest farewell in history. Somehow your body will give you the strength you need to make this happen. The necessity of it will seize your being and spur you into manic action. You will also be able to be remarkably strong in your decision making. You will be driven by a deep need to make the funeral a beautiful demonstration of your love. You will surge ahead to make it happen and leave the grieving till afterwards.
For the next few days this is exactly what you will do. You will get up every morning, get dressed, meet with funeral directors, pick out flowers, look at coffins, select readings, write something yourself, work out who will speak, pick music, inform people, organise food and drinks, buy an outfit you won’t ever be able to wear again, pick photos for a montage, arrange for a cremation or a burial, write death notices, and numerous other hideous necessities. You will do all these things. The days will not seem quite as bad as you initially thought. But do not be deceived. The next worst day of your life will be upon you before you know it …
The day of the … funeral.
You will not want to do it. But you will be driven by a need to see it through to completion. You will drift through the final goodbye you have so carefully and lovingly organised, like a tower of strength that is crumbling from the inside out. You will think, as you are being driven to the place, ‘Right, I only have to do this once in my lifetime, so I will do it right!’ And you will. You may even astound yourself by getting up to personally speak. You will have written something with the intention of doing so. But as the day drew closer you probably doubted your ability to go through with it. Your love for the person you have lost will allow you to do it. Somehow you will … make it … through. You will feel a strange sense of beauty at the completion of it all. You will chat to people without really seeing or hearing them.
And then you will go home, and the tower will come crashing down. You will fragment, like glass shattering. You will honestly feel as though you cannot go on. What needed to be done has been done and your body will surrender its strength. You will have the sudden sickening thought, ‘What now?’ It will occur to you that the ‘what now’ is the grief. The grief will flood in and somehow you will have to forge a path through the wreckage. This will seem utterly insurmountable – a physical, mental and emotional impossibility. And the impossibility of it – of having lost something so precious while being asked to stay behind and survive – will make you melt into the floor, like blood seeping out of a freshly smashed skull.