Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Single Man

Today's outing was to see the new film, A Single Man. The film is an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's story about a gay professor, George, grieving the loss of his partner due to a car accident. The film takes a very deliberate pace, which allows the viewers to experience the intense level of pain that George feels in his grief. In the story George has decided that life is not worth living without his partner, and plans to commit suicide. From that point on, we are taken along with George, as he moves about a single day, getting his affairs in order. In the end, after a series of subtle events, George must come to his own conclusion about the value of life without Jim.

I went to see this film with my cousin, who lost a boyfriend many years ago. We both knew this film would be a difficult watch, due to his past loss, and my recent loss of Michael. What we experienced was a knowing identification with the character of George. We saw that there are so many universal feelings, and responses, to the loss of a lover. There is that initial hit of reality which cuts you right at the knees. Like a heavy blow to the body, it elicits a primal scream that seems almost inhuman.

The idea that George would seriously consider ending his life is going to be unsettling for many people. The idea that I identify with this aspect of George's grief will be unsettling for many as well. Just moving about my day takes an enormous amount of energy. I have to consciously keep myself from being pulled down into the dark waters of grief. Most days I am able to manage well enough, yet there are days when grief can overtake me, and I fear that I will succumb to it's strength.

Just as the joy of love can feel bigger than life, so can grief. This blog is about being authentic, wearing no veils. I too have looked at myself in the mirror, and asked whether life is worth one more day. Am I willing to trust that the pain will lessen, and that life will be worth living? I liken this experience to being pulled down in the undertow of the ocean's waves. You can either struggle, and be thrown about, or you can trust and let go. In that moment of letting go you realize that fighting the powerful undertow can be futile. Allowing yourself to be pulled under does not necessarily mean giving up. I think there is a temptation to feel that it is too much to bear, and in those moments I have cried out, please take me. Yet by carefully allowing myself to experience the depths of my pain, I am able to feel myself gradually rise.

Sometimes when we are caught up in the trauma of our grief, each moment can feel like an eternity. In time we need to trust in our process, and remember that we have been here before. By the fact that there is a familiarity to these moments we are able to bear witness to our own survival. We are able to reassure ourselves that we will get through this.

I have reminded myself on many occasions, that I will get through this. I have reminded myself that life is worth living.


  1. very eloquently put, Dan. Yes it will be uncomfortable reading for anyone who has not lost their spouse, but it is what it is. I think that most of us would say that we have wanted to "go and be with our husband/wife" ... it's natural to feel this way ... however we want it to happen TO us rather than actually doing something about it ... and boy are you right about jumping into the abyss ... once you have learned to embrace the pain instead of fight it, it does afford you less inner turmoil, however it also allows you to feel the pain more keenly.

    A wonderful post, thanks for sharing.

    Boo x

  2. it is a thought that has crossed my mind on more than one occasion. the grand argument. "to be or not to be." but the risk of going out that way and possibly not meeting up with the one you lost is the greater pain than bearing the here and now grief. so it stays only a passing thought. and it passes.

  3. Your posts are amazing in that they so vividly describe aspects of grief in such a clear, concise and understandable manner. The way you depicted giving up the fight of the undertow and only then feeling some relief in the midst of such agony is a perfect example. Your honesty helps put into words what so many of us feel but have difficulty relating to others.

    Suicidal thoughts abound in our minds. People cannot seem to comprehend this. Honesty about this is so important. We should not run away from this reality and nor should others. It is a part of the experience. In the end, like the character George, we must all reach our own conclusions about the continued meaning of life as we go on without our loves/partners/mates. I am glad someone had the courage to create a film about this - hopefully it will reach a wide audience including those who grieve and those who need to better understand.

  4. As I probably have said more than once, my purpose here is to grow through this grief. After being cast in the role of strong caretaker for so long, I must be willing to experience the vulnerability of grief.

    The other purpose to my blog is to be a resource for others that have the misfortune to follow behind me, behind all of us. This is an altruistic venture, so that others may see what movement through healing looks like.


  5. All I was thinking has already been stated so eloquently by the ladies above me. But one thing that really stood out for me in your powerful post was "We saw that there are so many universal feelings, and responses, to the loss of a lover." Which is why this little support group out here in cyberspace is so healing. No matter what our personal situation, the reality of losing our loves crosses all cultural, socio-economic, and racial groups. I am so thankful for all of you out there who write and read and comment. I really think you have been the difference for me between sanity and insanity on this journey.

    One quick comment back to the theme of the movie. I remember sitting by Austin's body, howling in agony, not able to comprehend that he was dead. And for a moment I asked God to let me go with him. I couldn't imagine living on this planet without him. If it wasn't for my children (who I knew were going to walk into the hospital any moment and I needed to go and tell them that their Dad was dead), I don't think I would have been able to step back from the metaphorical edge.

    Wow, that's a lot of words from someone who thought it had already been said! Thank you for your thought provoking post, Dan.


  6. When Chris died a friend of mine suggested I watch the Robin Williams film "What Dreams May Come".

    At the time of watching it was only a couple of weeks since Chris had died and my friend came over so that we could watch the movie together. It certainly tapped into the huge amount of grief that I held at the time.

    At the time I thought a lot about ending my life and even had a plan but fear of not seeing Chris again if I took action held me back. That, and although I feel foolish, and even ashamed to admit it, I didn't want to leave our cat on her own after all the love and loyalty she had given us.

    A couple of years latter I had to have our cat put to sleep due to illness. I carried on for about 6 months on my own before I finally did try to end my life.

    The psychiatrist who assessed me thought this was a positive sign that I was moving forward..... and I suppose he was right.

    Today I am more accepting of the loss of my partner and the consequences of this at many different levels.

    I used to feel "I would get over it", but now more accept that I cannot pretend these things didn't happen and therefore they will remain part of me, although over time, transmuted.

  7. I am proud to be among all of you. The only way we can truly come through this is by being brutally honest with ourselves. Without my children, or perhaps the dog and cat, I fear that I would have acted on it. Losing Michael has meant losing my belief in what binds me to this earth.