Not long after Emma died, I remember asking my friend Julia how long I could expect to feel like this. Julia lost her brother Mark in a motorbike accident over 20 years ago. She told me that everyone is different but that it doesn't ever really 'end', it just gets easier. You might accept it and come to terms with it but it's not something that ever leaves you. Julia still has her moments when she remembers her brother Mark. His birthday and the anniverary of his death are etched indelibly into the lives of her and her family. Small reminders will always bring back the pang of loss.
My dad's here with me at the moment and today's cycle is dedicated to a childhood friend of ours called Warren. Warren's father Graham used to work with my dad and he and his wife Sonia are close family friends. Warren died tragically of cancer when we were much younger and nearly 25 years later, his father Graham has admitted to me that he still has his little moments of grief.
I emailed them to ask permission to dedicate today's cycle to Warren and here was his reply
you're doing a great job. You will never forget Emma just as we never forget Warren, but time really does help us to remember the good times. Thank you for dedicating a day to him.
He passed away 14th January 1991, age 16.
All the very best of luck for the remainder of your cycle ride.
Graham and Sonia"
Years ago cancer was far less common than it is today and Warren's death shook us all to the core. To lose our friend, who we played with and holidayed with - a boy so active and full of life was difficult to comprehend. I can't begin to imagine losing a child. It must be the most devastating loss.
As Graham and Sonia - and my friend Julia can all confirm, no matter how much time has passed grief never truly goes away. There is no 'getting over it'.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist perhaps best known for her theory on the 5 stages of grief. While I prefer not to compartmentalise grief, there is one quote of hers that is rather poignant.
"The reality is you will grieve forever. You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same again. Nor should you be the same, nor should you want to."
With the help of my CRUSE counsellor Marion, this is something I have come to understand - I am still healing and rebuilding. It is difficult not to want to impose time limits on myself, feeling that each anniversary or special date will make me feel differently, and feeling slightly disappointed that it doesn't. I look for closure, but that's not really the right word. Closure implies end, and it never will. It will just get easier until I can remember Emma more with happy memories rather than the terrible ache of missing her.
And if I am setting these expectations of myself, it's only natural for other people to do the same of me. It's a common observation from people who've shared their story with me ... they feel under pressure to get over it. They are acutely aware of a clock ticking counting down the 'normal time' they are permitted to grieve. "Isn't it time you moved on?", "I wish you could go back to being you again"; "When do you think you'll feel better?"
Grief isn't a disease. You don't recover. You eventually learn to accept - and eventually has no time limit. But 'getting over it' is never going to happen. Grief is like a tattoo or a branding. It's painful, stings and burns and is very raw. Even when the hurt stops, it leaves its mark. It might fade but it will always be there.
So how do I cope? Other than keeping busy, plodding on and climbing mountains? I try to remind myself to focus on positive things. Emma had a favourite saying and this sign was constantly on display in her shop.
"Every day might not be good, but there is something good in every day"
Even when she was recovering from surgery or going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Emma lived by this rule and I try to too. Even on my dark days, I try to find at least one good thing about it ... I take my strength from Emma's example and that will help me carry on putting one foot in front of the other until I reach acceptance.