“When you left, I lost a part of me
It’s still so hard to believe
Come back, baby, please
‘Cause we belong together
Who else am I gonna lean on when times get rough?
Who’s gonna talk to me on the phone ’til the sun comes up?
Who’s gonna take your place? There ain’t nobody better”.
15 years ago today I told Karl that I loved him for the first time so I feel that it is fitting that I dedicate this post to him. I lost everything but he was the one who gave me an everything to lose – and for that, I will always be grateful.
I felt like I had to write this blog post because we are all living in a time of so much loss. I am constantly horrified by the numbers of lives lost during this pandemic (not just to Covid-19), and by the amount of people who have lost their jobs, have lost businesses they worked so hard to build up and people whose relationships and/or marriages have not survived the intensity and sheer boredom of perpetual lockdowns.
I am writing this for the person that feels like they have lost everything. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but what I do know is exactly how it feels to lose everything in one foul swoop. I know how it feels to not want to go on. I know how it feels to be angry that you are still alive.
I think every human being has something or someone that they just couldn’t bear to lose. The loss of such thing or person being a blow of such a devastating scale that it deprives life of all meaning. This thing or person/s goes to the heart of who we are, what we hold dear. It is a fundamental pillar within us all. To lose this pillar makes the whole pack of cards come crashing down.
For some people it is their health, for some people it is their wealth or status, for some people it is their job, for many people it is their children and for some people it is their spouse. For me it was Karl. I suppose that might be surprising, given that to the outside world I am a relatively successful lawyer with lots of friends and interests. But he was that everything to me.
I had spent my entire adult life with Karl. We were together for 11.5 years and my whole world revolved around him. I didn’t make a single decision in my life without considering him. I think that when you are together with someone for such a long time, from such a young age, you become so entwined with them that you can’t conceive of a world without them and you are so dependent on their existence because you literally don’t know any other way. For you, they are both the beginning and the end, of everything.
Walking in to my flat on 24 March 2017 to find Karl’s dead body was the moment that my life smashed into a million tiny pieces. I went to work a wife and I came home a widow. A widow who had never been single or even had another boyfriend. I felt like a little girl who was left silently screaming at her life. I had no idea how to cope with what had happened to me. It felt too big and too terrible.
I still remember how much it hurt my parents that I was hurting so much and they couldn’t do anything to make it better. I still remember my 1-year-old niece watching me cry and it seemed that even at such a young age she could sense something was terribly wrong and was trying to make it better, trying to make me better.
I was so angry to be alive after Karl died. It didn’t even make sense to me that I was still here when he was gone. I was enraged that I hadn’t had a heart attack and dropped down dead when I found his body. I was so angry with God, furious at the hand I got dealt in life. I am still angry about it if I am totally honest. I had spent my whole life trying to do everything right and Karl and I were these good little Christians and this was what happened to my life. It felt so unfair and it was so unfair.
At the time, I just didn’t want to stay and have to live in the ruins of my old life. My life held no value to me whatsoever. The only thing that kept me here were my family and friends who showered me with love. I stayed for them because I couldn’t bear to inflict the same pain on them that Karl had left behind.
If you are a person reading this who has just watched someone you love lose their everything then I can tell you that your support and your love might just be the reason that your loved one stays. Keep trying. Right now, they will be exhausted and overwhelmed but they will appreciate the fact that you are trying because it will show them that you love them and you are there for them when they are ready.
I remember in the early days after Karl’s death having so many people tell me that I had so much to live for: that I was so young, that I was beautiful, that I had an amazing job and that I would definitely marry again someday. The truth was that I really couldn’t have cared less about any of those things. My husband and my best friend in the whole world was gone and he was never coming back and I couldn’t fix it. That was the only thing that mattered to me at that time.
I honestly didn’t believe I could survive Karl’s death and I didn’t want to. All my dreams died with him. When I met Karl, I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to have kids and he told me it was a dealbreaker for him (at the age of 19!) if I didn’t want to have kids so we compromised (two months into the relationship) and agreed that we would have two kids. That was always the deal. Karl and I were literally in the process of trying to buy our first house when he died and we had decided we wanted to buy a house in Hanwell, London rather than a flat in Ealing because this would be better for a young family. I spent years imagining the beautiful, super smart, athletic kids we would have. So, when Karl died, I didn’t just lose him, I lost all of my hopes and dreams for the future. Without him, life to me felt like a cruel joke. It was a second-best life and I just didn’t want it.
I remember feeling that I was staying here for other people when what I really wanted was to die. There had never been any limits in my love for Karl and there were correspondingly no limits to my grief. It was infinite.
The girl who had been a scaredy-cat her whole life suddenly because an adrenaline sports junkie. If you aren’t afraid to die then you can bungee jump, sky-dive and open water jet-ski with ease because what is the worst thing that can happen to you? Oh yes, you might die.
In the months after Karl died, I walked around in a haze of grief. All my memories from that time are foggy. I was exhausted all the time and it was so hard for me to do anything. One of the resources that I think genuinely saved my life was an online suicide survivors group. I remember confessing to the group that I didn’t feel like I could survive and that I didn’t want to. One of the members of the group said to me in response: “All I am asking of you is that you stay here/alive for two years, if you feel the exact same way that you feel right now in two years’ time then I give you permission to kill yourself. But right now, you stay.”
I thought that was fair, so I agreed. That was really the point that my mindset changed (although there were many ups and downs after that point) and I decided that I would stay and I would give life my best shot for two years and see whether it gave me reasons to stay alive. It didn’t make sense to me to live as if I had died too so it was around the same time that I started my “happiness project”.
In those days it was absolutely inconceivable to me that I would ever be truly happy again so I decided I needed to focus on any moment in the day that was not unhappy and take a picture of that moment so that I would have a record of those moments of happiness even if the happiness only lasted seconds. I still remember the first day I had an entirely happy day, it was after I ran the Ealing Half Marathon 2017 six months exactly after Karl’s death. To this day, those pictures are so special to me.
I think in some ways the sole thing that kept me alive was this fragment of hope that maybe, just maybe one day I would be happy again and maybe I might even be happier than I was before. And I wanted to be here to see if that was the case.
In the years since Karl’s death, that fragment of hope has grown and grown so that now I am certain that I will live a happy life – because I will make sure of it. It is not hope anymore, it is certainty. A certainty that I have fought for. Because I am not a victim of my life. I will never be a victim and I will never let it be said that I didn’t fight for happiness as hard as I possibly could.
I think he would be proud of me and he would not be surprised. He always used to tell me that I was the strongest person he knew and I guess he was right because sometimes I still can’t believe that I managed to survive becoming a suicide widow, of all things, at such a young age. It was and is my worst nightmare but I am still here. What I do know is that if I could survive that, I can survive anything.
If you are reading this blog and feeling that you have lost everything, whatever that everything is to you, I promise you that you can survive because just reading this means that you want to. I promise you that time does heal. I say that from experience, not just as a trite statement said by someone who has no clue (I used to want to hit people who said that to me).
I will always be sad that Karl died by suicide but my life has grown and expanded so that the pain has lost the intensity it once had. It will happen to you too but the responsibility is on you and you alone to grow that new life.
But I will be there cheering you on because I know that if I survived, you can too. I am not special at all but I am very stubborn and when I decided that I would survive this, my survival became a fait accompli because I don’t quit anything! I kept my side of the deal, I stayed alive for two years and after two years I no longer wanted to die.
There is hope, I promise you, there is always hope. No matter how bad you feel right now, that feeling will not last forever and I am rooting for you. But you have to root for yourself harder than you have rooted for anything in your life and you need to become your biggest priority. That is not selfish… that is survival.