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“Goodbyes are only for those who love with

their eyes. For those who love with their heart

and soul. There is no separation” – Rumi

Recently it was the first anniversary of my husband’s passing. We had been together for 38 years, soulmates, best friends, we ran his business together. The past 12 months have been a time of working through the grief process. Something that has no guide book, no manual, no time line. It wanders in and out of your life at will. You have no control over it. Sometimes it creeps in quietly. Then it thunders in, a tsunami that knocks you completely off your feet without warning. I learnt to go with it, to ride those waves, as erratic as they were, allowing whatever needed to happen. Days when I could not get out of bed, days when I could barely function, days when it felt like the tears and the heartache would never stop. I thought I had it sorted. After all, with 21 years age difference between us and John being 81 when he died, I always knew, with the law of averages, that he would go before me. People kept telling me I was so strong, so I believed I was, I convinced myself I was. And whenever I did that, grief hit the hardest. I see now how often I functioned on auto-pilot, numb, going through the motions of life.

For a brief moment this week I thought I had the Corona virus. 

I had developed a bit of a head cold, which is weird, considering how long I have been in lockdown, isolated, wearing a mask and sanitising every time I go out. Then I noticed this tightness in my chest. Like my heart hurt. But on closer inspection I realized it wasn’t Corona at all. It was the John space. The space in my heart that you occupy since you left me. It hurts this week because it’s coming up to THAT time.

The first anniversary. My head is crowded with memories. This time last year you were still alive. Just. Earlier on you had looked me in the eye and said “I’m done Babes”. I could see the tiredness, the struggle to move. The effort living took. You made the decision to go, once you knew I was going to be OK. It was this time last year that it finally hit me that you were leaving. I felt the intense fear. How was I going to go on after 38 years of you by my side? Always being there, my rock, my supporter, my best friend, my soulmate. I remember sitting in the upstairs lounge wailing, howling at the universe because I knew you were going. Then I curled up next to you on the bed. You were already unresponsive, deeply asleep, lost in your own process. I couldn’t reach you. I was alone. That was the first time I felt the heart pain that I feel today. In that space that would become yours.

The next few days are so clear in my mind. The phone calls, the visits. The waiting. And you so still, eyes closed, withdrawing breath by breath from the world. So peaceful. The lines softened as eternal sleep crept ever closer while life went on around you. Family arriving, saying their goodbyes. Part of me struggled to accept that the moment was finally here, the moment I had known my whole life would happen, when you would leave me. Part of me thought you would just carry on forever, larger than life, defying age. Until you couldn’t any more. Stepping over that line from youthfulness to frailty in such a short space of time.

The laboured breathing eased as you sank deeper and deeper into peace. So still. You didn’t move for 24 hours. Just that slow breathing. And then, the breathing stopped. At 7.45am on the 19th June we found out you were gone. Quietly, without fuss, you left.

And this heart pain began, not all the time, it comes and goes. Especially around the “firsts”. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries. Has it really been a year? Sometimes it feels longer. Sometimes it feels like no time at all. The heart pain reminds me of the loss. A deep ache that brings stinging tears, a lump to my throat, as I remember. And I mourn for the loss of the familiar, the small habits and routines we created over the years. The sight and sound and smell of you.

It’s not that I am unhappy, I love my new space, the new life I am creating for myself. It isn’t an easy journey but I’m getting there. But the John space reminds me of the love that I lost, reminds me of the grief that follows such great love. The John space holds that grief, that love, those memories and all that was special. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I will carry you with me as I move forward, making new memories, creating new experiences for myself. I will live with the pain of the John space because it reminds me of the great gift that I had. It is the John space that causes days like these, when I do nothing but remember and mourn. When I am still and I sleep and I just sit and gaze out the window at the view. Because mourning is human and natural and I will never deny it because to deny it is to deny you.

Tomorrow is a new day and I will pick myself up and carry on. Staying for a while in the John space gives me the strength to do that. The John space has become a part of me, and it reminds me it is there with this physical pain that I feel. Perhaps one day the John space will be less painful, as time eases the grief, for now I embrace what is, knowing you are always with me and that in itself is a comfort. 

Di Atherton

Author Di Atherton

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  • Kaylas says:

    Thank you Di for sharing your innermost pain and love. I too have a space…a Dad space. It certainly comes up unexpectedly. This past Saturday was 14 months. Not every day is heart rending but I know and accept that my Dad space will always be there. Sometimes peaceful. Sometimes loving and warm. Sometimes so so painful. I fully accept it will always be there and it’s a beautiful reminder of how much I was loved. By him more than anyone else in my life…

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