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Why? Who? What's this blog about? It's about MEEEE!

Being a Widow

My experience of dealing with grief as a widow


About Jane's brain tumour journey: Astrocytoma.co.uk

A widow's dilemma

24 April 2013

When JD died, many people did not know what to say. Many people were very kind but many people kind of faded away. But everyone I knew at least got in touch and, for a while anyway, did their best to let me know that they were thinking of me or of JD and that they too were missing her. I understand that I was always gong to lose some friends and gain some unexpected new ones. I know that I may not have been as supportive as I could have been to some of my friends.


Pretty soon I will be in the same place as a person who used to be a friend of JD and me but from who I have not heard a SINGLE WORD since the day JD died. Nothing. Apart from a Facebook message on the day of JD's death. But nothing since then. I don't even think this person came to JD's funeral.  If they did, I did not notice them. I genuinely can not remember seeing them.

Either way, it made me angry at the time. And it is making me a bit angry again now. Should I have contacted this person? I was not very close friends but still, we went on holiday together a few times.

How should I behave when I see this person again? Pretend all is well? Let them know I was/am very angry? Should I let it go after nearly 2 years? I do not care to re-kindle a friendship with this person so I am not looking to repair relationships. I am simply looking for suggestions as to how to approach this person.

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Gay Paris

University is very stressful. So what can a girl do to relax? Indeed, a girl can take her lady to Paris. To celebrate our 1 year anniversary and her birthday, Girlfriend and I jetted off to the French capital for a well deserved break.

The weather was predicted to be a mixed bag so Girlfriend brought a pile of dresses and I brought my shorts. We managed to pack light so we only had hand luggage. A masterstroke from Girlfriend as it turned out. We sailed through customs and baggage collection (what with having no baggage to collect) and hopped on the train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Montmartre where our hotel was. I had warned Girlfriend about the tiny Parisian hotel rooms and that it might not be as clean as she might like, with French cleanliness standards not always being the same as hers (or mine. or any other clean person, frankly). So we were very happy with our tiny but perfectly clean hotel room in Hotel Montmartre Jean Gabriel. I'd totally go there again. It was clean, cheap, close to the Metro on Place de Clichy.

Safely sheltered from the rain on the Rue Lepic.
On the first evening we walked through Montmarte towards the Sacre Coeur and Place du Tertre. It RAINED. It rained really hard so after 15 minutes, we were forced to have our first break and sit down safely at a Brasserie to shelter from the rain. It turned out to be the first of many, many glasses of wine that we consumed over 4 days. I think it is safe to say we were moderately pickled most of the time. We walked along the Rue Lepic, which I had read about on my handy TripAdviser app. It was supposed to be foodie heaven. And it certainly looked it. Fromagerie after Fromagerie. Fresh fish from all over France. A superb selection of meat at a variety of butchers and wine shops and brasseries galore. It made me wish I had rented a self-catering apartment so we could take it ALL home and just spend our time in Paris eating.

You can just make out the occipital bone
Anyway, it was all lovely. The next day we went underground to discover Les Catacombes. When the cemeteries in Paris ran out of space, they were cleared of 6 million bones. These bones were stored underground. And we can visit these vaults. AWESOME. Bones, bones, bones. Lots of skulls. I am sure I actually learned something about anatomy by staring at someone's skull or the neck of their femur. It was very educational. Right. And spooky.

We had a picnic int he park where we ate far too much cheese and drank far too much wine. And it was awesome. We saw the cemetery of Pere Lachaise, we saw the Eiffel Tower. In fact, we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I will tell you more about that on another day. We saw the Notre Dame and we hung a padlock on the Pont des Arts. Padlock? Yes.

There is a nice new tradition of locking a padlock to a bridge to symbolise your love and then throwing the keys in to the river. Only when you can find the key to your padlock can your love be broken. Being the ultimate romantic that I am, I prepared and bought two padlocks whilst still at home. I had our names engraved in them.  There are two bridges leading to the Ile de la Cite where you can attach your padlocks. The Pont de l’ArchevĂȘchĂ© is where the padlocks go for your passionate love. The Pont des Arts is where you put yours if it is for your committed love. When we got to the Pont des Arts (with the help of my satnav and even then I fucked it up a few times...) we attached the padlocks to the bridge and had a nice snog. We are so cheesy. Two American gay guys minced up to us and offered to take our picture. They had seen us kiss and clearly felt a gay-kinship. They told us they were on their honeymoon so there were hugs all-round and we left feeling very happy. about the world and love in general.

Of course there was much more that happened. Girlfriend ate snails for the first time. We went to the Louvre (but only to shelter from the rain), we visited Pere Lachaise Cemetery, we walked, we walked, we walked and we had a cheese & wine picnic in a random park. Yes, there was a lot of wine.

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Margaret Thatcher is dead.

10 April 2013

Apparently we are only allowed to say nice things about the most hated politician in British history. When Glenda Jackson tries to add a note of discontent, she is met with howls of indignation. Go Glenda Jackson.

I am sock of people saying Thatcher was great for women. Yes she was the first female prime minister. But she hated feminism. And she did women a massive disservice. I agree something needed to be done about the power of the trade unions, but what she did still reverberates around the country now. Poverty, despair and heartache. I am not dancing on her grave but the outpouring of "she was great and to say anything else is disrespectful" makes me sick.

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Medicalising Grief

01 April 2013

This weekend, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 30-minute programme about grieving. Or, more accurately, about using medication to 'treat' grief. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ( DSM), written by the American Psychiatric Organisation now includes grieving as an abnormal mental state. This opens the door to pharmaceutical companies saying people need to be given medication to help them with their grieving.

In this world where we no longer accept anything other than perfect happiness, everything that stands in its way must be treated as soon as possible. Take a pill and it will all be better. And if an important medical text says that you have a DISORDER, then the threshold for prescribing that pill is severely lowered. The pharmaceutical industry stands to gain millions if all those grieving people were put on anti-depressants.

Grief makes you sad. Death makes you sad. That is not an illness. You have lost a person you loved. The sadness you feel about that is not depression. It is grief. Numbing that pain with medication that is designed for treating an illness, in my opinion, is wrong. You do not have an illness. Depression is often caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. It is an illness. It often has no particular event that causes it. People with a seemingly perfect life can be very depressed. Grief is caused by an event. It is caused by a loss. YOU WILL BE FEELING SAD! Duh. Apparently, according to this broadcast, people who experience a loss could fit the criteria for depression if they display symptoms of depression (sleeplessness, lack of appetite, poor concentration prolonged sadness) more than 2 months after the loss....2 MONTHS? Try a year.

My point is that profound sadness is not depression. If you treat your sadness with medication, you will not be able to fully 'go through the grief'. It will merely numb it for a while and hit you when you come off the pills. Because it is not an illness. It can not be cured. It is a reality you need to accept. You can not medicate it away. You can help yourself with grief therapy. And for some people, the grief is so all-consuming that they stop functioning as humans. In that case, medication might help. But that is not medication to 'cure' the grief. That is medication to help people function. Function so that they can address their loss and deal with the grief. If medication becomes the standard treatment for grief, people will never actually come to terms with their loss.

And in a completely unscientific opinion, I believe that if you do not come to terms with the loss, you will not be able to rebuild your life. It will hit you later on. And by then, you might think you are perfectly happy again and then it might actually lead to full-blown depression.

I grieved REALLY HARD for months. I cried whenever and wherever I wanted. In public, alone, in front of strangers, in front of friends. I did not hold back. I did not feel ashamed. I felt an all consuming sadness. Like a depressed person, I wasted hours, days, week in bed, staring at the wall, going through DVD box set after DVD box set. The difference? I knew WHY this was happening. There was a very clear reason. I had lost my wife. My life. My focus. Everything I thought my future was going to be was in tatters in front of me. I had 2 sessions of counselling and we decided that really, I just needed to do the grieving and that things would get better in time. And she was right. I strongly believe that diving head-first in to my grief, but with my eyes firmly on wanting to build a new life after I as done grieving, has made the pain much easier to live with.

I am not saying people should never use medication. Or that those who do are weak. My issue is with the premise that, as a starting point, grief should be treated as a mental disorder. This opens the door to pharmaceutical companies pressuring doctors to prescribe pills to people who really just need a shoulder to cry on. And it gives people false hope. That life will be better with pills, even though everything they loved has gone. That is simply not true.

Thankfully I am not the only one who thinks this is a dangerous direction. The Lancet, the world's foremost medical periodical, agrees with me and says it much more succinct that I ever can:

Medicalising grief, so that treatment is legitimized routinely with antidepressants, for example, is not only dangerously simplistic, but also flawed. The evidence base for treating recently bereaved people with standard antidepressant regimens is absent. In many people, grief may be a necessary response to bereavement that should not be suppressed or eliminated.

Building a life without the loved person who died cannot be expected to be quick, easy, or straightforward. Life cannot, nor should not, continue as normal. In a sense, a new life has to be created, and lived with.

For those who are grieving, doctors would do better to offer time, compassion, remembrance, and empathy, than pills.

The editorial is very much worth a read.

You can listen to the show here on BBC iPlayer until April 6th 2013: Medicalising Grief
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