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MICA Travels are a group of family and friends that are dedicated to raise awareness of Bile duct cancer and sepsis, two illnesses that claim 1000’s of lives each year and are barely known about. I lost my wife; our sons lost their mother and many others lost a dear friend. We as group will be doing a series of endurance activities to raise money for these charities as a lasting memorial to Carol, so that our sudden loss is not in vain.

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14/214 Fells completed


Posted in Coping With Bereavement by Mike Hall
two minds


Here I go again trying to explain partly for my own benefit in words a feeling that I just don’t understand and to be honest troubles me, it’s almost like I have two minds, one which controls fact, the truth of the situation and the other, fiction, that thinks it’s all just a dream. It might be just head and heart having their usual fight, but this time it’s more in the head and thoughts rather than sensations felt in the chest.

The “fact” side knows that she will never be behind the door when I go home; the “fiction” side wants the door to be opened by her and sometimes believes it to be just a dream as though she has just been away somewhere.

When people ask how I am, the fact side wants to say that you barely manage to get through the day and all you want to do is be with her wherever that is rather than be here on my own. The fiction side says, I’m fine, it’s all good, I’m getting better etc and when you couple this with not talking about how you feel and just appear to laugh and joke about normal stuff you can convince people that you are ok and that stops the need to justify just how crap your life is when you are questioned. I’m pleased to say that I’m getting good at doing this now, so at least publically you can get away with it.

There are many examples of this duality in the way you feel, but I’m sure this is all embedded within the subject of denial or the refusal to go forward further complicated by deep grief.  Many people don’t understand the torment that living a life like this is; they see grief as they feel it and they think you feel it the same. It’s no one’s fault and yes I know it’s a personal journey but the world keeps turning for most and all you can do is watch it from the side-lines, wanting to be part of it but at the same time can’t see the point of jumping back on to a life you don’t want to be part of.

So going forward with hope is a very hard thing to do, to be honest there isn’t much hope that I can see. If I can’t separate fact from fiction, how can I re-join society and look for happiness. I want to be happy, people want me to be happy, she would want me to be happy, but fiction still believes that she will open the door, so she still exists, but fact says she will never so just get on with life.

Being stuck in two minds makes you impose knowingly stupid restrictions upon yourself refusing any notion that you will ever enjoy life. Distractions or substitution dulls or even makes you forget and allows fact to take control, however, they are short lived because when you return to your castle, you wish the light to be on and a cuddle to greet and soothe your troubles waiting for you on the other side of the door, but you know that this will never be the case. Wow! Your two minds have a lot to answer for.

The swing……..

I have felt this swing from fact and fiction, for some time and while I fully understand the reality of fact, I know she will never be with me in this life and possibly not even in the next, the fictional or denial side does at times feel that she hasn’t gone, I do feel a presence of sorts, that’s how I can keep going, there are also signs, feathers, robins even the strength to be bold and go forward at times, even flashes of my old self and the desire to help others.

I want to unlock the good in me, but being locked in my sadness prevents me helping myself so how can I help others?  All I think of is others happiness, I care for those I know and love and want them to crack on with life and not be concerned with my situation. To me, I feel my life is a drama to those around me and that makes me absorb the feelings I have and live the life under the masquerade mask I wear. I feel that I’m turning into the worst version of myself which isn’t me. Another example of the two minds at polar opposite to each other. Fact says move on be yourself, that’s what everyone wants, they want to see a version of the person I was, my wife would want that, I want to be that and help others either with their grief journey or just being someone that they can rely on, a best friend of sorts with no hidden agenda. The fiction side or may be its denial, says you can’t do any of that, you mustn’t move forward and recover, your job is to grieve for years and shut yourself away and just live an existence, and wait patiently for death.

Have I had my fair share of happiness and a good life and therefore must stop caring or searching for things that can’t have.  It’s so hard to try and make sense of the two minds and why are they at loggerheads with each other?  I want to be a better person, I want to hope, be happier and have one mind that allows me to enjoy without feeling guilty or constantly feeling that I will be judged if I show any signs of getting on with my life. I’m surrounded by angels that just want to help me, the type that hide in plain sight, that see the good in me, see a way forward and know that the only person that is being hurt is me. Why can’t I just listen to them instead of my two minds and to some extent let my future be re-written by them.

Away and alone with my thoughts…………

Recently I went away on my own, well in the beginning I was with family but for the greater part I was on my own. I was attempting to get to grips with the fact that I am alone and very lonely so by forcing myself into an uncomfortable scenario, I had to get used to fending for myself. Initially it was awful, many a tear was shed, but after a few days I just went into practical survival mode. Whilst I manged to get on with things, I did feel things changing within me, and in hindsight, I don’t think it’s in a good way. When I was away and fending for myself, I thought to myself I could keep travelling but all I was doing was running away, starting afresh, escaping from all the things that reminded me of the life we had, but I knew I couldn’t keep running forever, it would be selfish as I would be hurting those that are hurting as well and adding more to their pain, but the more time I spent away, the more I was convincing myself that no one needed me, no one would miss me, plain and absurd  nonsense, my self-destruction is not just affecting me, it affects others so I must return and be there for them and not just think of myself.

I’m doing this on my own, I have tested the depth of water beneath me and it can’t get any worse so if this is what getting used to being alone is, then I can cope. But what I can’t cope with is the loneliness, the more I’m alone the more I’m lonely. Loneliness makes you wish for things but the things are the memories of the life you had, and to be honest that’s all we will be in time, a fading memory in others minds until we are just a name on a family tree, but you cannot and must not re-create the life that has past. It’s a fact that when you are in love you don’t need anything because love is everything and we are all born to give and receive love but when love leaves you, you have nothing. If you fall out of love due to a breakdown in relationship, you have a wild card given to you to start again however, if love is stolen from you through loss, you can’t just start again, but bluntly, what’s the difference? And why do your two minds just want you to suffer by denying yourself any form of release from the grips of grief. Is it just a matter of time so it becomes respectable to seek affection, is it guilt that you are disrespecting the memory of your loved one, is it judgement by others, by yourself from afar even? I have read that it takes 1 week for every year you have been together to regain your grip on life, well it certainly isn’t for me, but it’s a personal journey and  loss is unique to the individual.

But what I do know is that your two minds are the gatekeepers and you are locked behind those gates looking out at a world that is turning regardless as it has and will do for the foreseeable. You can see your family, your angels and know that the loved one you have lost would want you to be happy as you would want her to be happy in the world she now resides, so why so many self-imposed restrictions!

I mentioned that I felt things changing and they were not in a good way. Well my head is less affected by being alone and the fact I can manage and be independent shows that I’m changing, but my heart is having to get used to being lonely and that bluntly feels like I’m letting go of my past, the life that I had that was filled with love, affection and all the happy memories that are associated.

If this is “moving on” letting go and moving out of grief, well it’s so very painful. It just feels like to let go of grief you have to let go of your pasts hold on you, well that might have to be the case to allow a brighter future to blossom, however transitioning from one life to another hardens both your heart and mind. For me being the sensitive, loving, romantic old school gentleman type, I struggle with this concept. Why does “moving on” require you to give up the things that are important to me as a sacrifice, a payment to allow you forward passage? And if I do let go, do I want to be emotionally and socially separated from those feelings I clearly need to survive and remain disconnected from the life I want. It’s a tricky one isn’t it?

Dependant or independence …….

Being dependant for so many years you are protected by the love, attention and care of your loved one as they are protected by you in the same way. By forcing yourself to become independent, you become somewhat feral, it’s a bit like an equation, being loved and loving in return = dependence, not being loved and not loving in return = independence.

Once the burning ember within you dies a chunk of you dies as well. So I’m facing a dilemma, I need to be independent, so I force myself into situations where I must fend for myself, and that in return makes you feel you don’t need anyone, so the more you put yourself into that situation the more independent you become. Or in other words, the more you push the need to love and be loved out, the more you close the door to your heart. You seek independence as it’s a coping mechanism and it helps you manage being alone, but the more you are independent the lonelier you become.

From the outside looking in, people see you managing and the need for them to worry about you diminishes especially if you keep saying all is fine, but they don’t see you at home alone and that’s when you don’t have to keep up appearances so your guard is dropped and the raw emotion the you will probably be on your own forever coupled with getting older and more frail, what a hell on earth, it’s like living with a debilitating disease that slowly but surely feeds on your heart. I don’t say this lightly, what’s the point in saying its different when it isn’t, but it’s not a sob story full of self-pity either, it’s just what it is, fact!

Does it all come down to this……..

Even writing things like this shuts the door on any prospect of finding happiness in some form, the reader will see you as either a train wreck or someone who can’t get over the loss of his wife and therefore will avoid you at all costs. Pretty sure that’s the case and I wouldn’t blame them to be honest, so in time the door on your heart gets buried behind the creeping vines of protectionism and you become that poor old boy who lives on his own, a sad statistic that gets talked about in charity adverts at Christmas.

I don’t like being in this state, living with battling minds, shutting myself away, denying any access to my heart starving it of affection, hope, slowly killing it and its host, surrounding yourself in the protective walls of your castle, your prison, but the thought of letting your guard down panics you in case you say or do the wrong thing, be misinterpreted as a predator or just trying to fill the gap that’s been left behind, and perish the thought you might be turned down or shunned, so you don’t ask, or suggest anything to anyone playing directly into the open arms of being alone and lonely.

There is safety for all if you shut yourself away, but danger as well, you won’t get hurt or offend anyone, so any friendships irrespective of any mutual feelings, agreements or permissions that might exist will be forever at arm’s length once again driving you into the arms of loneliness. But hang on, is this right, I have a right to be alive and enjoy and who exactly is the one judging me in the end, is it the fear of what others might say, is it what your conscience says, is it your two minds simply refusing to agree? Are people that spiteful that they would judge you and therefore send you to a life in your prison under lock and key from your two minds, well at least your conscience will be free of any guilt? I suppose the question is at what point do you just say stuff all this and break free and live the life you want in whatever form that takes and embrace the few years you have being as happy as you can and perhaps making others happy in the process, or do you just take your shoe laces and tie them to the bars on your prison window and say “you win” as you kick the stool away, it’s not as bizarre as it sounds and unfortunately statistically high with men.

Being alone and being lonely………

When I look at the difference between being alone and being lonely, you realise that they are not even alike. Like many of us, I’m conscious of the difference of being alone and loneliness, to be fair its only since I have lost my wife that I even realised there was a difference between the two states. Now I think of my parent’s loss and ashamedly just brushed aside the thoughts of how they felt when they lost their partner. In my case, I lost my dad and didn’t think how my mum must have felt or even dealt with being alone and loneliness. If I just thought more outside my grief I might have been more considerate to the feelings that my mum was going through. The same must have been for my wife with her parents, just goes to prove that we all get wrapped up in our normal worlds and until you actually experience it directly, speaking for myself, I should have done better. Hindsight is powerful but you only tend to learn from experience.


Being alone takes some getting used to, and I’m nowhere close to getting to grip with it but better than I was. Necessity does force you into a routine of sorts. A routine based around functions you need to do, paying bills, getting food, cooking, housekeeping etc, all things that you either already did or have got to do. These are things you get used to doing on your own and does fill your day somewhat, so you get up and do them. Some things are harder than others going to the shops, walking about, you get used to doing, even going on holiday, which I have recently just done for the first time, I did get used to doing it and the more I do it the more I will get used to it. I remember the first time I sat in a restaurant at a table for one, it was awful, and I didn’t want to do it but had too. Instantly I felt the glances from other diners and the attentions of over attentive maître d but I have got used to that now I have done it a few times now. I had the same sort of looks in supermarkets when the typical conveyor belt load of food that a clueless single man would buy in an attempt to eat healthy using the minimum amount of ingredients and kitchen appliances. I’m not joking, in my early days of looking after myself I was clueless about so many things, I looked at the washing machine and oven with the same amount of bewilderment, but soon learnt that socks do burn in the oven! And chicken soup Marmite and beans don’t taste nice all in one bowl! So being alone you can manage if you have sufficient distraction, routine, hobbies, and people to visit or work to do. So I’m learning to be alone and to be honest, I don’t see that ever changing.


Well this is a whole different subject; it is an awful state of solitude, an emotional response to being separated and being unconnected to the world that you knew. It does produce a feeling of pain in your chest and has many cravings from intimacy to affection; you want a hand to help you, or a cuddle to soothe your troubles as you parents did when you were small. You miss the simple things like going shopping, conversation or even bickering.  At times just miss doing nothing or just deciding to share a desert at the end of meal out or that dance at a party, going to the pictures even, I could go on and on, but generally all the things that you used to do and are taken for granted when you are in a relationship. Now I realise that most of these are lost forever and unless you decide to form a relationship even the simple act of holding hands is out the question, maybe an arm hold is acceptable but that will be as good as it gets before your minds, guilt or judgement start to take control and you shrink back into your prison. So you battle with it using distraction or your mask to hide your feelings. I was walking the other day towards the flow of traffic and looked at all the faces in the cars as they approached. I wondered if they were happy, in a relationship, or lonely like me and then I thought how many people do I walk by that are hiding their pain behind the mask of routine and distraction. I could be sitting next to someone in a pub or café that feels exactly as I do but just hides it because they like me has lost hope of ever being anything but lonely.

How different we would be if we wore a badge saying how we feel, but unfortunately we are surrounded by nasty people that would pray on those who are struggling, I’m surprised that my stories are not attracting disparaging comments, perhaps privately they are, but just walk in my shoes before forming a judgement.

When I was away, I was alone and lonely, I managed the routine of survival, but everything I looked at or place I went, I just wanted to share the experience. Now let’s be clear here, I’m not gap filling or trying to replace the wife I had, that boat has sailed, it didn’t matter who it was, male or female just someone to share it with. That’s the problem with real solitude or loneliness it’s the detachment from any social interaction. We are not born to be lonely but we can live alone.               

I rushed around blending old and new experiences together while I was away and fitted the bits I needed to do to survive in the gaps in between. Loneliness only crept in at dinner or deciding where to go next however it was when it all came to the end and I had the prospect of a 5 hour journey home alone in the car at night. It started with the lack of conversation, and anyone that knows me will know I like to have a chat whilst driving, so the feeling of solitude was strong. The radio distracts you but the impending doom of getting home and turning the key on an empty home with  the same routine that you left a few days ago awaiting your return. It was like just putting on a coat of burdens, worries and sadness on as soon as you step over the threshold.

Now this last year or so has taught me is that my independence has been hard earned and I can’t see me giving that up but the loneliness that comes with it is hard to live with. The trouble is that loneliness can only be solved by the miracle of love, and that’s something I will probably never know again thanks to the power of guilt, judgement and of course two minds. So I have to live this life of solitude and loneliness. That’s stupid, but what’s the alternative, meanwhile the world keeps turning and everyone’s life carries on. Would anti-depressants allow me to fill the void and would people still judge me, but I wouldn’t care because the medication would block the bad things out and allow me to cope as an alto ego version of me, but a happier one. It’s pointless trying to sugar coat this bit, the fact of the matter I’m too tired to fight these feelings, I just want to hope and be happy but that’s all slipping away and I hide it behind the mask I wear and have to get used on living on the scraps of friendship like a lost dog is grateful for a discarded bit of food and a pat on the head by the passers-by.

So what have I learnt…….

Well I at least I understand who and what holds me prisoner, I can live alone, I can go on holiday and I can survive and be independent. I can convincingly hide behind a mask and even run away when I need to. I’m scared of the future, I want to hope and feel enjoyment of a life of sorts but think that is becoming more distant the more I shut myself away. I impose restrictions upon myself because I’m terrified of being judged, being turned down or being hurt. I want to be a different person free of all these trappings. I don’t want pills to make me a person I’m not; I want to go to bed content and not relying on prayers for strength and courage to get through the next day.             

Let’s hope that time does sort this out and I have enough life left in me to enjoy what it is when I find it.