Imagine an average day without someone you love dearly, a child, spouse or close relative you live with – knowing that you’ll never see them again. It’s almost impossible to do, unless you’ve experienced it – I know this now. I could empathise with the anguish, the hurt, but actual continuing grief goes so much deeper and affects all aspects of life, from the mundane routine things to the complete outlook on life and faith.
Just over a month has passed since Abi’s death and I’m dipping back into work. To some this may seem too soon and they may wonder how I’m still able to hold a basic conversation, let alone work. I’ve had lots of advice about the best time to start work again – some say take a year off, but, for me, that would not be helpful. I believe it’s an entirely personal choice (money aside, if I wasn’t able to work then I wouldn’t even try). I feel that too much time would make it harder for me to get back into it. Working offers me some mental distraction from the grief, from the knowledge that we’ve just lost someone so precious to us and our days won’t be the same again.
So, I chose this week to establish my ‘new kind of normal’. I crave some kind of normality but also fear it like nothing else.
I’ve been unable to work since 6th February, when Abi collapsed, which, as I work for myself, was easy to do… I’m my own boss so can do what I like when I like, right? Ah, but by being my own boss, I also rely on my work to support the family income and I don’t get paid time off for bereavement or sick/holiday pay etc. Thankfully, I have professional people to help me, so my regular work was covered and any new enquiries I received I shared with them. Having a well-established business with a strong network has really paid dividends during this awful time.
But, it’s still my business, my work, a big part of my life, of our family life. Abigail had a strong work ethic, as do I. I believe she would have gone on to great things, because she had that self-drive and enthusiasm, which she applied to everything she put her mind to.
So, while I’ve battled internally with the purpose of what I do as a proofreader – spelling mistakes really didn’t seem important anymore – I’ve also realised that the written word is something I care greatly about and I’ve kept in mind why I started out in the first place.
My work can be immensely satisfying. I know Abi was proud of what I did and I wouldn’t want to change that just because she’s gone. However, working (earning) also gives me opportunities to do other things that I enjoy – keeping fit, eating out, going places, buying the kids treats.
Crucially, working for myself also gives me the chance to down tools for the morning or afternoon if I choose. To go see a friend for a coffee and a cry, to visit the church, to go for a head-clearing run whenever I want. I feel blessed that I have the strength to make the most of this opportunity. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in an office all day right now.
Work aside, I have a new perspective on life since Abi’s death – more about not ‘sweating the small stuff’ and really valuing family time rather than trying to juggle five things at once. It’s almost living life that little bit slower – not in physical pace, but internally. Being mindful of what is going on at every moment. Listening to myself. Taking time to pray. Making time for each other.
Sitting at my computer feels strange though. My desk is the same as a month ago, pretty much. Piles of paperwork not yet filed, books I’ve been planning to read, notes of things to do … lots of reminders of Abi. But, in order to progress, I have to bypass the thought that I’m acting ‘normal’, that I’m forgetting about her, that I’m pretending it’s not happened just because I’m working, and (almost) enjoying it! It’s a new element of maternal guilt that I’ve not experienced before.
So far it’s been ok, but I take frequent breaks and don’t do too much. It’s during those breaks that my mind pauses and I’ll remember. It’s a ‘normal’ school day yet I remember that she won’t be home. I think about what to cook for dinner, and remember that I don’t need to cook for Abi. I think of the after school activity for the day, and then remember Abi won’t be going anymore. It’s times like that that the tears and the stabbing, hollow feeling comes rushing to the surface again… and I don’t stop it, I just go and sit on her bed, cuddle her teddy and spend time ‘with’ her.
I’m no way near to establishing my new kind of normal, or even knowing what it will be like. All I know is that I can take small steps and they will one day feel less strenuous as things fall into place again.