Stages of Grief by Cin McGuigan

Updated: Feb 26

I’m not ready. I can’t bear to face the world right now. My thoughts are racing. Those

pitying looks and the distant nods from across the street had actually hurt; it’s almost

like they needed to avoid me in case it was catching. It wasn’t. It’s unfortunate but

not contagious. Nobody really has a clue what to say to me, not that that’s stopped

them trying. The ones who don’t know how to shut up are the worst. I can’t bear the

sympathetic looks and gentle questions from friends and family either, that’s why I

switched the phone off.

For the time being I’m still trying to pretend that you’re working away. It isn’t

that far from a version of the truth; it’s your version though, not mine. But if I

imagine you are working with Mike, on a site somewhere, then I’m sure that nothing

can go wrong. If you’re there then what actually happened couldn’t have. Mike

wouldn’t allow anything to happen to you. He loved you; you know that, you were

more than his business partner you were his best mate. I hold tightly to that thought, I

try to convince myself that nothing can go wrong if you’re still with Mike.

More and more each day I find myself drowning; trapped in a world full of

grief and self-recrimination. Could I have done more? Could I have done something,

anything, to have you still here? But there is nothing, what happened was not of my

doing. I couldn’t have stopped this. I remember again the call from Mike wondering

where you were. I’d told him what I knew, that you were working on-site, Scotland I

think you’d said. It’s hard to remember it all now, so much has happened since then.

I end up turning back on the answer-phone but I mute the volume, I can’t bear

hearing sympathy filtered through the machine. I don’t want to hear how sorry they

are, how sorry for me they feel. I don’t need to hear them tell me how they know

plenty of people this had happened to if I wanted to talk. I don’t need to chat to

anyone that professes an ability to help me through this. I definitely don’t need to be

told how they’d managed when the unthinkable happened to them. I already have

friends who have lived through this hell; this nightmare that has dragged me beneath

its depths. I’m told I should lean on them, that I should take them up on their offers of

support. You’d think they would know better, though, having been there, having lived

through this. You’d think they would know I need space. They have to have known

that I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be living through this. There are still

moments that I wish I were dead.

I hear the click of the machine again and with a beep comes yet another one. I

can’t bear to hear any more anguish, all the ‘sorry’ calls, the ‘you’ll get through this’

calls; worse still were the ‘I’m so sorry, is there anything I can do to make it better?’

ones. Of course there is something you could do. You could make it stop. You could

rewind time. You could be like Superman and fly around the world anti-clockwise

and undo what’s happened. Each time I get a call it drags me back to that day, that

phone call. Every message makes me re-live that moment over and over again. I’m

not ready to face anyone. I figure I can listen when I’m stronger.

Since Mike told me what’d happened I’d been numb. I’m struggling to come

to terms with this new reality; a world without you by my side. For the last 26 years

you’d been my life; my soul mate, my partner, my absolute everything. Our love was

the rock on which we intended to build a dynasty, but now… well, now you’re gone.

It’s all over. I have to find a way to readjust to a life without you in it. And I will; that

I can assure you.

I keep asking myself ‘who am I now you’re gone, who am I without you?’ We

were always Debbie and Ged, you know that, like one word; DebbieanGed. What the

hell am I meant to do now? Now I am ‘Just Debbie’. How the hell is the world still

turning? How is everyone still going about their daily lives like mine hadn’t just

imploded? Why can’t they feel that everything has changed? Because it has;

everything is different now. I have to get paperwork sorted, get things changed into

my name. Shit Ged, you always did all of that stuff. I haven’t even changed a light

bulb in over two decades.

Christ almighty, we had 26 years together, that’s a hell of a long time to spend

with one person, and I willing spent that time with you. You had been my whole

world, but you know what? It’s actually kind of sad thinking about the stuff I

could’ve done on my own. But I didn’t, I got a husband instead of a career. I got a

marriage, I got this life. And if I look closely at what I have left now; I have nothing.

Not even a child. You said you didn’t want to share me with a baby. That you needed

all of my attention and, I’ll be honest Ged, back then I was happy to give it to you.

There was no job for me either, for the same reasons. You said that a wife should be

at home looking after her man. Though I can’t say Mum was happy about that, I was.

I’d always wanted to be looked after by my man, and I thought I was lucky when I

found you; a man who wanted the same.

Under any other circumstances, I would call my best friend Laura. She

would’ve come over to help me through this devastation, but I can’t do that this time.

This is one of those things that come around that you just have to deal with on your

own. There is no real help that anyone can give me for getting through this. This is

uncharted territory for me, as it is for every other person in my shoes. I will just have

to try to find the best way to help myself through this nightmare. It’s clear that I need

to find the courage to do this on my own. It’s just me now. It’s Just Debbie and Just

Debbie needs to get on with putting her world back in order.

I pick myself up as it starts to sink in that this isn’t going to get any easier any

time soon, and I decide to battle through the worst of it while I’m still numb. I may

not be of any use to myself once my feelings start coming back. The books I’ve been

reading tell me I need to get closure. I can’t see that happening in a hurry, so instead I

attempt to get some physical closure. I start with boxing away stuff that has too many

memories of us, well of you mostly if I’m being completely honest. The idea is that

this physical closure, which in my case means without having everything you own

staring me in the face, I can maybe start coming to terms with the emotional loss.

I pull myself together as much as I can and spend the rest of the day packing

away your belongings. It seems such a small amount for a marriage as long as ours.

Where are the Hawaiian shirts you always wore on holiday? Where are your linen

trousers? The ones that you hated in the mornings because they looked crumpled, but

you loved again 20 minutes later when the heat had dropped the creases out. Where

are the fancy dress clothes that you wore religiously every Halloween, did we rent

them all? I thought you had a secret stash of dressing up clothes. I know you have a

jewellery box too, where’s that? All of your watches and the Sovereign that your Dad

left you, the one that you refused to wear cos it was no longer 1987. Where is all that


Throughout this, I occasionally break down in tears, once when I spot your

favourite t-shirt, and again when I catch the whiff of your signature cologne on one of

your work suits; it forces me to relive our years together. How could you do this Ged?

How could you leave me to face the future alone? Didn’t you swear before God to

love honour and cherish me? You do remember that right?

I walk the length of the house to look for anything of yours that may I have

inadvertently left behind and my hand grazes our wedding photo. The one treasured

memory that I am not yet ready to give up. In it we’re standing outside the church in

the spring sunshine. The day was perfect. We were young, and stupid and madly in

love. On your right is Mike, your best man, and Laura his new wife and my maid of

honour, is on my left. We all look so happy back then; never suspecting that tragedy

was always there, waiting to blow us apart.

Back then we were warned not to rush into anything. Both of our families

wanted us to wait. But we knew best. And we were happy, weren’t we? For a quarter

of a century we were happy. And now; oh crap, the tears come again. I’ve been lucky

really, overall. We didn’t have the sort of marriage where I’d cried a lot. Some

women have the kind of relationship where they cry every day, so at least I can take

comfort in that. In fact I think I may have cried more in this last week than I did

during the whole of our relationship.

This was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but eventually

I’ve gathered all of your belongings together and they are bagged, tagged and ready

for collection. I can’t keep them in our home a minute longer. I need to be able to

breathe and I can’t when all I can see is the remnants of our life together. No matter

how happy that life was, I find that I can’t stand to see anything that reminds me of

what we used to be. I carry everything outside; and lay the bags down at the far end

of the garden, beside the rubbish bins, so I don’t have to see them from the window.

Of course, the wine has helped tremendously throughout this whole ordeal.

I’m not even sure at what point I open the first bottle. It seems like a glass of red just

appeared in my hand as if it belonged there; which it obviously did.

Two bottles later, and I am lying in our bed watching Love Actually on repeat with

tissues strewn around the duvet like confetti.

I awoke this morning with a start and squinted over at the clock, 11:47. Jesus Christ, I

can’t remember the last time I got up after nine. How in the hell did I slept a whole

morning away? I needed it though; the rest. Sleep catches up with you so you need to

‘listen to your body’, that’s another thing the books would tell you to do. They reckon

it’s part of a ‘cycle of self-care’ whatever the hell that meant.

I can hear someone banging on the door. I pull the pillow over my head and

ignore the noise as best I can. I must have polished off another bottle last night since

there are three empties glaring at me from the coffee table. Ah, coffee, good idea; I

can get on that once the idiot at the door pisses off.

“Debbie!” I hear you shouting. “Open the door! What the hell are you playing


So … you’ve finally returned from your ‘business trip’. I bet you’re annoyed

to find that I’d changed the locks, aren’t you? But nowhere near as annoyed as you

will be when you find that the bin-men took all of your stuff first thing this morning.

And definitely not as annoyed as I was when I found out that you had buggered off to

Hawaii for a fortnight with your latest floozy. Mike didn’t have a clue, the poor sod,

he’d just thought you were off sick, but we soon discovered the truth between us.

You’re still at the door yelling out obscenities like they were ‘open sesame’ but I’ve

steeled my heart against your rants; there’s no way back this time. I’m determined to

keep you out. You’re dead to me now, as is that two-faced cheating cow, Laura.

All images belong to author.


Cin McGuigan is an aspiring author, currently collating the work done on her Creative Writing degrees into a collection that she hopes to launch at the end of the year. She is also actively involved in the Open University Students Association, both as Vice President Education and as the Chair of the very best of their societies: Write Club. She is also membership secretary of Women Aloud NI a great collective of women who write both from and in Northern Ireland. She does this in the hopes that some of the writing greatness that she surrounds herself with on a daily basis will rub off on her.