Christine Webber: Loneliness and emptiness hit me hardest when I lost my dear David
PUBLISHED: 16:43 08 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:53 11 March 2019
Former Anglia TV presenter turned psychotherapist and writer Christine Webber lost her husband David Delvin one year ago. Today she reflects on how she’s coped and found the spirit to carry on with her life
When I was younger, people used to say: ‘Good grief’, when something extraordinary happened. It was a curious expression. Perhaps that’s why we rarely hear it these days. After all, as anyone who’s grieving knows, there’s very little good about it.
Grief is something we experience several times in life – when we’re made redundant, when a partner dumps us, when our hair turns grey and so on. But I suppose it’s most keenly felt when we’re bereaved.
As I write this, it’s exactly a year since my husband, David Delvin, was taken into a hospice to die – which he did 11 days later.
In some ways, 12 months on – and despite him having been ill for ages before that – it still seems surprising that my wonderful, funny, clever, supportive and hugely romantic companion has gone forever.
I know that many people reading this will feel the same about someone they’ve lost. And for individuals who had no warning of a loved one’s death, the sense of disbelief must be 100 times worse than anything I can imagine. The process of grief must take longer too, because when you know that someone is not going to make it, you begin to grieve for the life you are losing long before it ends.
During my psychotherapy training, I’d learned that the stages of grief were denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And in my practice, I often worked with clients who were grief-stricken, and used those stages to help them. But I’m now unsure that we all progress through these precise emotions. Frankly, though I’ve been watching out for them, I haven’t recognised all of them in myself, and certainly not in that order. For me, and I suspect for masses of others, the overwhelming feeling is quite simple; it’s one of loss.
I realise now I wasn’t expecting that. I somehow thought that because David and I had had such a happy marriage, I would feel his spirit close to me constantly after he died. Indeed, I’d comforted myself with this belief while I got on with caring for him and trying to ensure that he had the sort of death he wanted.
So, despite my training, and experience of helping patients at crisis points in their lives, I was astonishingly ill-prepared for the cataclysmic sense of emptiness that was to come.
Like many people, I swung into action immediately after my husband died – phoning my stepchildren and our close friends, then booking the appointment to register the death, informing the DVLA, the DWP, insurance and pension companies and so on. But as I drew breath some 20 hours after he had breathed his last, I was assaulted by a desperate kind of aloneness as it hit me that – for the first time in over 30 years – I had no concept of where he was. In reality, of course, I knew his body was in a box in an undertaker’s premises, but where had the essence and spirit of him gone? I was panic-stricken at not knowing, and at the impact of realising that he was no longer on our planet.
And what else had I not expected? Well, that sleep would become completely unreliable, and that there was no pattern to its disruption. Some nights it eluded me totally. Other times I lay awake till the small hours and then dropped off. And not infrequently, I slipped easily into sleep only to find myself so annoyingly alert around three that I was forced to get up. Thank heavens for 24- hour television.
Also, I hadn’t a clue that some dates or anniversaries would feel much more raw than others. At 30 weeks for example, I was inconsolable that not only were we separated by death and geography but by such a long expanse of time; we who had never spent even a night apart except when he was in hospital.
Why do some things disturb us so greatly and others not? It’s a mystery, as so much of life is, and all of us are different in our response to it.
So, what helped?
I found it diverting and helpful to go to concerts, films and plays. I loved these activities before I met David. I enjoyed them during our decades together and they haven’t let me down now.
Another benefit came when I realised that as I now had time available that normally I’d have spent with him, I should devote these free hours to friends, and to getting involved with organisations who could use some hands-on help.
Feeling useful is a fundamental plank of happiness and it’s easy to lose it when the person you loved most is gone - especially when you realise that it’s not just today you’ve got to get through, or tomorrow, but every single day of your life from now on.
And what doesn’t help?
I found it tough when people said: ‘Have a fab weekend.’ It seemed completely inappropriate. And I winced at the crass message a distant relative put on her Christmas card: ‘It’s your time now. Get out and have some fun.’
As for the bloke who asked me if I was ‘seeing anyone’ because ‘you don’t want to be alone forever’, well, I’m afraid I had to stuff my hands in my pockets to stop myself hitting him!
But mostly, people are empathetic, kind and caring. And having moved back to Norwich, I’m surrounded by marvellous friends who knew us both and have been mates since the Anglia days.
I saw a YouTube clip recently, in which someone explained that the loss of a loved one is not something you ‘move on’ from. She said it remains at the centre of your being like a big hole. But she went on to say that you gradually construct a circle around that hole; a circle of hope and new experiences. That seems a good way of looking at it.
I will never stop missing David. I know that now. I hope, so very much that he knew it too. But I’m also grateful for the wonderful years we had. And aware that, unlike him, I still have the gift of life and it’s up to me to use it.