Death of an Ex

When I discovered that the man I’d lived with for four years in my early twenties had died, I was devastated. Worse, I didn’t find out for more than two years after he’d passed away. I’d lost contact with him and his family some years ago, and so there was no reason for them to seek me out.

Despite the passage of time, it came as a shock. A big shock. I was 23 when we met and in Tenerife recovering from back surgery. He was 34. He worked out regularly (and had a rather impressive six pack), played a mean guitar, never smoked, drank in moderation… and suffered a fatal heart attack at 52.

Visiting Tenerife recently – the island where we met and lived together – brought back the memories of our life there and, now also his passing. S was a very loving soul and we had a lot of fun together. Our mates were musicians and in fact, we’d met when I auditioned for his band (I didn’t get the job, not that one any way).

What ultimately drove us apart was the age gap. Simply, we were at different stages of our lives. I wanted to move back to London to work as a journalist, while he was done with his London years, and preferred to stay on the island, run his business and make his music. After much soul searching, and a brief attempt to live in two countries, we went our separate ways.

He was generous, protective and had a great sense of humour, and as I’ve continued on life’s journey, and subsequently had relationships with men who were anything but, I’ve come to realise just how genuine a guy he was. In other words, I didn’t know how lucky I was. That makes his young death even more senseless.

I found out in an unusual way.

Earlier that afternoon, I’d walked to the supermarket and saw the wine we used to drink; Faustino VII. Friends would laugh because we chose to pay an astounding 300 pesetas for a bottle, while they would glug the cheapo battery acid that came in boxes and passed for wine.

For old time’s sake, I bought a bottle. Mum asked me what S was up to and I told her I didn’t know, so I Googled his name, thinking I’d find out what band he was playing in.

Instead, I found a two-year-old obituary.

I walked out onto the patio, looked across the ocean and stood there rooted to the spot, stunned.

I’ve lost many people in my life, notably all my grandparents and my Dad but this was the first contemporary of mine. He was also a man that I had loved, and lived with. It did not compute.

I discovered – online – that he’d been married for the eight years before he passed away, and had two step-children. I was happy that he’d found a family. He hadn’t wanted kids back then (neither did I) but clearly, by the time he’d reached his mid-forties, he was ready for the responsibility.

Oddly (or not?), when I first found out, I felt the need to acknowledge his passing but unsure what to do, I slept on it. The next day, I found a contact address and sent his brother-in-law my brief (and very late) condolences via email. He was kind in his response, and I’m glad I reached out. We left it at that.

I feel it was no coincidence that I’d discovered all this on a trip to see my mum on the island. S and I lived together less than ten minutes from where my mum and brother now live. The grief though was unusual.

How do you grieve for an ex who is no longer in your life? What right do you have?

And is it harder when you haven’t replaced that man with another at such a late stage in your life?

Back on the island a couple of weeks ago, I again felt the same strung-out, displaced grief I’d experienced two years ago. I think the deep feeling continues to linger because I haven’t had a satisfying relationship in a very long time. I could always trust S – and I wish I’d known how important that was. My last boyfriend was immature, the one before that a bully, and the one before that insecure. I never felt safe with any of them. I always felt safe with S.

I stood on the balcony of my brother’s apartment, which also used to belong to my late father, looking up at the stars – a modern day cliche enjoying an internal movie moment – wondering, if in fact, S had been the love of my life?

Surrounded by ghosts, I wondered if I was destined to be alone forever? Being somehow punished for my poor choices.

I grappled with that question (and spotted The Plough), until my brother called out to see if I wanted a cup of tea. And that’s when it struck me that maybe I was being too hard on myself.

But it’s true, that what infuriates me over everything now is that I didn’t find another man to love me like S did…at a time when I was ready to receive it. I was too young then. And now it feels like I’m too old for anyone to want to give it.

So maybe now I’m also grieving for what I’ve lost?

One day I went with Mum for coffee in a little town called Las Galletas, and while we were sitting there a woman came up to our table and told me that she remembered my Dad. He died a long time ago so it was a lovely moment and made me realise that as long as we remember, they won’t be forgotten.

Forgetting is actually harder than it sounds. But maybe I should forget, if not entirely, then a little more.

Even so, I still bought another bottle of Faustino VII, and toasted S’s memory.

Then drowned my sorrows.

That’s really the only thing you can do with a sorrow isn’t it?

Soak it liberally in red wine and keep moving forward…

Spinny out.

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