• My husband was the love of my life, my soulmate and the day he died a part of me died too.
• Over the next 12 months I turned to destructive coping ways such as alcohol, comfort eating.
When you hear the word cancer you never think it will touch your life in any way. And yet cancer not only touched my life – it devastated it when both my husband Jeremy and my father Ashok died from cancer only 18 months apart.
My husband was the love of my life, my soulmate and the day he died a part of me died too. Over the next 12 months I turned to destructive coping ways such as alcohol, comfort eating, substance abuse and shunning friends, family and society and becoming a recluse, just waiting for death to take me too. But death didn’t take me and instead I lived through the dark, tumultuous pain of grief.
Grief is a merciless master. It holds you in a vice like grip pulling you down to the very depths of despair. Grief is so universal and yet so very personal. It never quite leaves you – it just changes shape and intensity. Over time the grip of grief does loosen. I think of the pain that grief causes as a large stone that you carry. At first the stone is heavy and has very jagged edges. Those jagged edges keep piercing you in your heart causing unbearable pain. But, over time, those jagged edges smooth away and you are left with a dull, heavy ache. That ache, that heaviness never quite goes away. And nor should it. Because that ache – which is sometimes very strong, and sometimes weak – but always there – reminds you that you loved this person you have lost and that you were once loved by them. It reminds you that your love is eternal.
After Jeremy’s first death anniversary I began to write my memoir “Always With You – a true story of love, loss…and hope”. Writing about my passionate love story with Jeremy, our life together, my battle with depression, his diagnosis of cancer and then his death was a hugely cathartic process and helped me process everything I had been through in my life.
My father’s death a few months later was a turning point for me and it was as I spoke at his funeral that I realised I wanted to live again. I had seen two of the most important men in my life being completely ravaged by this awful disease and yet they had faced it with fortitude, humility and grace. And here I was, I had life and I was throwing it away.
I wanted to be happy again. But I had forgotten how to be happy.
And so, I turned to my practices of dance and mindfulness; and adopted other techniques such as compassion, altruism and gratitude in my endeavours to cultivate happiness. And it worked. These techniques are ones that I now embody in my everyday life. As a result, I am now able to face each day and all the challenges that come my way on an even keel and with more resilience and positivity.
Loss is something we will all face in life. Loss can you bring you down to your very knees. It can be paralysing in its intensity. But loss is also perhaps life’s greatest teacher. It breaks you, it humbles you and it teaches you life’s hardest lessons. But when you realise that this loss has broken you but it has not destroyed you, you begin to rise again. From this place of real vulnerability comes immense courage.
Since Jeremy died four years ago, my life has changed completely. Some of these changes have been thrust on me, and some have been of my own making. As I have healed, I realise that I will never move on from my beautiful husband, but I will move forward with my life. We are given this one life to live and I choose to live it fully and compassionately. It is a deliberate choice I have made.
With every passing day I remind myself that life is hard…but it is also beautiful. I know I will fall, but I will rise again; I will fail but I will learn from that failure; I will cry, but I will laugh too; I will love, and grow and live. Because this is life… hard but also beautiful. And in this life, I choose to be happy.
Shalini Bhalla-Lucas is an accredited mindfulness teacher, international mental health campaigner and End of Life Doula
Connect with Shalini on Facebook/Instagram @justjhoom or www.justjhoom.co.uk