Painful as it was I knew I had to keep on working on 'Letting Go' of my pain of losing my wife. My good friends checked in on me regularly. I had to get healthy again and I knew endorphins were needed to prevent depression. I needed new goals.
O.K. The dust has settled on death, so to speak. We had been surrounded about awesome Supportive Friends and now it was time to 'let go' of all of the trauma of cancer and death and get on with life.
That's sounds like great advice. Right? I thought so however how do you that? How do I help my son as well?
I asked a friend who had lost her Mum to cancer when she was a little bit older than my son. I could see that it was still traumatic thirty years later for her to talk to me about it. God love her, she shared the best advice:
"Paul, the part I loved about what my Dad did after my Mum died, was to just keep on doing all the things we normally did, even though it hurt to know that Mum would not be there with us. Be stable for him. Be there for your son. He needs to know that you are going to keep on living. Do as many of the things that you normally did in the past. Be the same as best you can."
So we did. All of the normal activities resumed. Pick ups and drop offs. Domestics resumed. We talked about his Mum too. We made it a regular discussion.
It was bizarre. How had my life returned to this normality, that we had not known for thirteen years.
I had 'grief frustration' that I needed to work out while my son was at school. So I started demolishing the backyard and house for renovations, as my own physical and grieving therapy. It felt great to break things! Smash things! Rip things apart.
At one stage, I was sitting on the roof on my house with a crowbar in my hand, crying uncontrollably with my sunglasses on. Then I started laughing at what the neighbours must think if they could see me. Then I got down and had afternoon with my son when he came home.
I sought counselling for myself with my regular supporter. She is the best. Also, the hospice team offered counselling services at the hospital. I was so proud of myself when I rang up and organised my first session.
I was so proud of myself when I walked into the hospice for the first session. It is hard to take the first step to healing and letting go in all aspects of your life. I needed to understand my version of grief. We talked and I cried. I asked all of my questions.
Even though, this lady was a very intuitive and helpful counsellor, I still felt like I was in a B Grade Cancer movie with maybe Coldplay's Sky Full of Stars playing in the background. I knew I would end up in counselling after my wife died. It just felt surreal to be sitting there actually talking about my wife now that she had died.
I allowed myself to go home and reflect on what I had learnt about myself and my grief, after each appointment. I reflected. I cried. I laughed about the funny things too. Then I would return weekly with more questions and more reflections on what I have learnt.
One of the most surreal things was organising a memorial plaque for the graveside. How do you do that? What do you say? Where's the template? 😂 (There is no template, Paul.)
It took me so long to do a simple task. There was a brochure. There were options. My son and I celebrate his Mum whenever we want to, wherever we want to. I could not understand why my wife wanted a burial?
A year after my wife died, I was in London celebrating my brother's wedding. I just wrote the first version and it finally dawned on me that I could say anything on the plaque!
Here is my graveside plaque template 😉
I noticed that all of the graveside plaques that I read over the years, none of them mentioned the loved one's friends. We can't have that! My wife had so many friends. My parents were her friends too. Her friends helped to keep her alive. I need to honour the special part friends played in this experience.
My son reviewed the first version when I returned to Australia. He gave his stamp of approval.
Out of respect to a very supportive mother in law, father in law and brother in law, I showed them the second version. There were some minor changes and I sent off the final version to the cemetery team.
Why did it take me so long to come up with the final version I thought? I have done so many more challenging things in my life.
It finally occurred to me: How do you capture the essence of a person you have loved for over 26 years in eight lines for perpetuity (eternity)?