Jo Cox's family have said how much it has helped them to have so much public love and support. I'm sure that's true and I am very glad for them. Other people's care gives a life-force to bereavement that makes the unbelievable bearable, to start with at least.
And then the moment after the funeral arrives when everyone else moves on with their life. They have to. That is when the horror finally bites with jaws as strong as Armageddon. This will not be over for you; this will not be salved; he/she is not coming back; there is no alternative to the long journey of grief and you are changed forever.
My first husband died in 1990, one year after our wedding. I have long been married again and life is happy and good. But I can still remember the echoing void which is summed up by the phrase, "life must go on."
Life does not go on. It stops and has to be reborn. The world becomes something completely different; even colours are different. Different things matter, many things that used to matter don't.
People try to help and you have to be nice to them when they get it wrong, even though you want to scream with anger and grief. A male friend of mine re-recorded my answerphone message for me, not realising that he had erased the last sound of Henry's voice. On the same day, my mother said "you're wearing too much black, dear" and a friend said, "do you really think you should be seen out with Alan? What will people think?" (Alan was a former boyfriend). I honestly don't know how I survived that day.
But the final straw was having supper with an old friend who said "don't cry" when I shed some tears over my meal. "Don't cry"? Two months after Henry died, don't cry? Of course he was trying to say it to comfort me but trust me, it didn't work.
What can you do to endure this time of mourning? Many of us will experience it and for nearly all of us, it will be out of the spotlight of public support. The price of true love will always be bereavement for one or other of the lovers. We must all do what is right for us but we'll never know what that is until the worst happens.
I ran away.
I needed to be somewhere where I could begin to find 'me' again on a blank canvas. You have to think clearly when you are somewhere new so I got on a plane to Australia.
It wasn't totally stupid; I had friends who were already travelling there and I could meet up with them.
I arrived in Cairns, Queensland, the night before my birthday. My friends were hoping to arrive within the next 48 hours so I had nothing to do but settle into my hotel room and walk around the town, which was mostly shut, it being a Sunday. There are only so many baths you can reasonably have in a day so by 6pm I was done and, tentatively, went down to the hotel bar with a book to pass an hour or two prior to deciding what and where to eat. I thought I'd have a glass of wine and read in a public place; you cry a lot less in public.
Within 15 minutes of my being there, a young Australian man threw himself into the seat next to me. I looked up, surprised and he landed me with the worst chat-up line in the world.
"Me and my mates at the bar got a bet on," he said. "I bet them ten bucks you can't be as mean as you look."
Actually it worked. I was so nonplussed and so lonely that I talked to him, explaining why I looked so unappealing. He was a true Aussie bloke and thought I should just cheer up and get on with things. After all, that's what Henry would want me to do, right? He managed to persuade me to go for a walk with him by the levée and we bought fish and chips which we ate, sitting by the water. We even went to a broken-down bar and danced in the gloaming with about a dozen others and, surprisingly, dancing was just what I needed to shake the misery out of my body if only for an hour.
But I went back to the hotel alone. My Aussie friend was quite sure that Henry wouldn't mind if I slept with him but I had no such intention. I didn't even kiss him and he ended up being quite sure that he'd lost his bet. "You'd feel a lot better for a decent shag," he said.
I didn't agree. I was still holding the memory of Henry's body close to mine and wearing as many of his clothes that would fit--and which still retained his scent. But I'll always be grateful to my first Aussie friend for helping me through that first evening on the other side of the world.
So, if you want to help Brendan Cox, or any bereaved friend, remember that the pain goes on for them. And on, and on, and on. You can help. Just be there. Take them out, let them cry, realise that they are a newborn trying to find out who they are going to become now that the world has ended. They will remember your kindness (or your stupidity) forever.Suggest a correction