The Tao of Sudden Death

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Many years ago I worked for a well-known chain of booksellers. The shop was in an out-of-town shopping mall near Bristol, and I once served Colin Jackson. (He bought the Guinness Book of World Records. Presumably to prove to his mother that he really was holder of the title for ‘Longest Peanut Throw’. No really, he was.)

The sales counter was always festooned with those irritating little books of quotations that are apt to be bought and then immediately misplaced behind the settee, and as booksellers we were required to promote them with each sale.

It always confounded me as to why anyone would buy these books. They seemed to contain nothing but a selection of mawkish quotes about life and love and ‘self-realisation’. Yet they were in perpetual need of being restocked.

Since Mark’s death, I have turned into the sort of person who would buy one. I have become a consumer of quotes and affirmations, one of those people who retweets schmaltz written in dreamy script set against an image of a tranquil Scottish loch.

Because in trying to make sense of Mark’s death, of its brutality and its unjustness, I have sought answers everywhere. But really, no-one knows what to say.

For example, I asked my Dad one night: “How can I ever accept this?”

Dad thought about this and poured himself another whisky. “You can’t because it is unacceptable,” he replied.

This is a man with a PhD and a good line in advice, whose word I tend believe more than any other. Yet when it came to sudden death, he was as clueless as everyone else.

Quotations are comforting in bereavement, even the twee ones, because they are proof that someone has been there before; and by consequence reach out to those of us who are stuck for words.

I’ll end with one I retweeted this week:

I keep myself busy with the things I do,
But every time I pause, I still think of you.

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28 thoughts on “The Tao of Sudden Death

  1. As ever a beautiful piece written straight from a burning heart. I was particularly taken with your father’s comment …. it is indeed a fact that however agile the brain it cannot possibly make sense of the absurdly senseless death of a loved one.

  2. I have saved pictures of all those twee sayings, so I was relieved to find I’m not alone. I’ve looked at them and then binned them because I know I can’t find the answers there. Your dad is obviously a very wise man. Much love my friend xxx

    • Relived I am not alone either in this Fi. It’s weird, I do find them comforting though. I have the following Dean Koontz one pinned up in my office and it does help a little: (and arguably it’s not a pithy quote, it’s an extract from a book…)

      Grief can destroy you –or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see that it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.”

      • Thank you for this extract, and I’m glad to have found your blog for the first time today. (Came to it following a mention today on the Merry Widow site where someone was wondering about the, er, history there). My husband has (had) the same name as yours and I hardly dare say it. It jolts me to read your words as it seems personal, how odd is that, nerves must be so close to the top. I have made a note of your Dad’s wise words and yours also. Keep going.

      • Hi Janey – so glad to receive your comment and thanks for reading. For the longest time I simply referred to him as ‘M’, as I couldn’t write the name. Even now I avoid saying it out loud. It seems to rebound off the walls…You keep going too. X

      • Well, probably not millions. By the way, I am also a people like you – became a widow – also in a shocking but different way at 45. I found Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart particularly comforting. Hey, we find it where and when we can, eh? Sending you strength and healing. x

  3. Oh how this has struck a chord with me. I have joined pinterest – and it seems my sole reason is to find endless quotes about how awful the situation is, how awful i feel, how i cant go on without him etc etc etc. I only stop myself from “re-pinning” when they mention any kind of religious persuasion… It helps me when i am feeling like I am coping, but it also helps me when all i want to do is sob! I can find all the really sad ones that just allow me to feel so sorry for myself.

    Your dad is a very wise man! My Dad has been equally appropriate in his comments, ultimately they wish they could take away our pain, but they know the awful truth is they can do nothing to ease their little girls hearts.

    As always you write so beautifully xx

    • God yes, pinterest, me too Donna!!! As if, like a crystal ball, it holds all the answers!!! I almost signed up for one of those ‘daily quote’ sites too the other day. What have I become??! X

  4. dear lucie,

    sometimes, there are no words, no answers, but I still keep looking for any that would shed even one iota of being helpful. the sudden death of your Mark is as senseless as life gets and so is the aftermath of positively reeling with the question, “why…”, which one often dares not ask aloud lest pesky platitudes pronounced should lead to fisticuffs.

    once again, you give us the gift of your beautiful writing and let us know we are not alone. I send you lots of warm hugs and thanks, to return the favor. you are not alone, sweet friend.

    much love and light,

    Karen xoxo

  5. “I keep myself busy with the things I do; but every time I pause, I still think of you.”

    I think that you got it exactly right with that quote, and I fear that it doesn’t really get any better than that. Which leaves me with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

    I am only 6 months into widowhood, but I am luckier than most. Except for the obvious fact that my husband died at all, there were no additional circumstances that many widows face and must come to terms with. He died, unexpectedly and at the somewhat young age of 60, of natural causes – no accident, no prolonged illness, no murder, no suicide, no lawsuits. It happened in just a few minutes, so he didn’t suffer long. He was retired and I’m the one still working at my career, so there has been no change in my financial position. No need to re-invent myself or find a career. No need to change housing. No young children – only one child of college age. No problems with in-laws. No guilt about anything left unsaid – we told each other on a daily basis that we loved each other. My last contact with him while he was conscious was a kiss as he was going outside. I was there when he collapsed, performed CPR until the paramedics arrived within 5 minutes. Everything that could be done was done. No medical malpractice of which I’m aware. Very good support from family and friends. Nothing to be angry about (unless I indulge in self-pity); nothing to take offense about. We had been together for 42 years, and married for 37 years.

    The only problem is that I miss him every second. I really, really miss him! I miss his love; I miss his companionship; I miss his humor; I miss his intelligence; I miss his competencies; I miss that he’s not around to remember our shared past experiences; I miss absolutely everything about him. And I am so sad that he didn’t get to finish his life and that he won’t be a part of my future or our daughter’s future, except in our memories. Such a devastating loss that has left a huge void that takes one’s breath away. A loss that can only be understood by another widow(er).

    I’ve read over two dozen books on loss and grieving so far and I’ve read at least another two dozen blogs. And even though they say that “it” gets better over time, none of them seem to have an antidote for the deep and profound loneliness the survivor feels after the loss of a spouse who was also a best friend, soulmate, or otherwise perfectly completed one as a couple. Yes, I have friends and family. Yes, I can find things to do to keep myself busy. Yes, I can focus on helping others. Yes, I am used to my own company. But it just isn’t the same. And even if I find someone else and become part of a couple again, it just won’t be the same. What we had is gone. And every time I pause, I think of him. And I feel sad. So very, very sad. I always will.

    Thank you for your blog. I just found it and read it through in one sitting. Fine writing. And it helped.

    • There is so much in this wonderful, sad, devastating, strangely uplifting comment, I don’t know where to begin. Firstly, thank you – for commenting and for taking the time to read. Your first paragraph is so beautifully expressed; your second so heart-wrenching and heartfelt, and so on the money about how life is on this strange new planet we all find ourselves on. I too have devoured literature and the words of others, seeking some kind of ‘antidote’, as you say, to the pain; a relentless search for answers. Sadness is actually one of the overwhelming emotions I feel too, plain, old-fashioned sadness, profound and persistent. How does one ever not feel sad about what our partners are missing? I am so terribly sorry for your loss – for all of our losses – and wish you strength. X

  6. I’ve been reading your blog all week, and although I’m not typically one to leave comments, I couldn’t help but post something here. I wanted to let you know that your beautiful, funny, honest words about dealing with the loss of Mark have been a lifeline to me these past few days. My husband died of leukemia 22 days ago. He was 31. He was sick for six months, and I suspect now that for the last month of his life, everyone knew he was dying but me. It was such a shock when he died. I still don’t quite believe that it’s happened. So far, I’ve been devouring literature about grief, widowhood, and death in general, in an attempt, I guess, to process what’s happened, and try to make sense of it. I haven’t had a ton of luck so far, I guess no words are wise enough to bring Andrew back, but I just wanted to tell you that when I came across your blog, I felt, for the first time since he died, that I might in fact survive this. So thank you. Although I wish you had no cause to blog, I am grateful that you do. xo

    • Wow, thank you Stephanie. What a gratifying comment to read. I am glad I have been able to provide some comfort, in some small way. I have reread the comment a couple of times to make sure I was correct in reading that you lost your husband just 22 days ago. I can imagine what you are going through, the range of emotions (or perhaps, no emotions whatsoever, nothing but sheer disbelief). This whole thing, especially the very early days, is a particular kind of hell and there is no antidote, although I think we all look for one. I recall reading books, talking to my counsellor, just wanting someone to tell me how to get through it. My eyes were down, looking at the road for the first months, only recently I have dared lift my gaze and look ahead. I find it hugely comforting though to hear from other widow/ers, just to prove I’m not alone. I am so sorry you have had to find me, but I’m pleased you did. Wishing you strength, Stephanie, and sending a massive hug. X

  7. I love that quotation! Often they are so nonsensical aren’t they but yes, on a sunny Sunday when I’m “busy” stopping the kids from killing each other, getting the washing dry and trying to keep of top of the constant cleaning a family house needs, I find myself stopping and missing my husband all the long day through. It’s like torture, and yes I think it’s unacceptable too. X

    • Some days Mark runs through my mind like a film reel, I just can’t stop thinking about him. Images of him make my guts lurch – shock, almost, that he’s really gone. Being busy is the only way to harness the mind, but some days, even that doesn’t work. Torture, indeed my friend. X

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