How I coped with losing my soulmate

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It was through the Kentishtowner that recently widowed musician David Gledhill started dating again. Here he describes a year of insurmountable grief – and the film that came out of it

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David and Tracey during their first week of romance (1997).
Photo: David Gledhill
Trying to navigate through bereavement is like trying to drive a car, blindfolded, on a busy street. Terrifying.

But I’m a fairly patient man, and ultimately this quality has been my saving grace. I’ve only been able to withstand the despair by clinging onto the hope that one day things might improve.

My name is David Gledhill. I’m a 41 year old musician (one half of the band Skint & Demoralized), film-maker – and widower. Last year, on the 17th of April, I sat by the bedside of my partner Tracey. As the clock read 11:26am, I held her hand. Her little body had been ravaged by cystic fibrosis and, despite battling the odds, she had lost the fight.

I met Tracey in 1997, 18 months after she’d had a double lung transplant. Tracey was born with the disease, which amongst other things, slowly destroys the lungs, usually leading to death before the age of 30. But she was one of the lucky ones. And when I met her, she was the healthiest she had been.

We spent 15 wonderful years together, achieving limited success with our band Gledhill (Tracey was backing singer and keyboardist, see her in our video for debut single Remain, above). But bereavement was inevitably a topic of many conversations. After all, she was chronically ill, and I was her carer. Yet rather than crumble with fear, she wanted to try and prepare me for what was to come. But the cold truth is that nothing can.

In the early stages, it’s not actually that bad. Leading up the funeral, it’s busy, everybody trying to help. You’re propped up, but at the same time you’re in a dream state. And you feel at the centre of those around you.

But then the funeral is over, and slowly but surely people go back to their own lives. Tracey wasn’t their partner, so for them it’s not the end of the world. Anger erupts because nobody else is feeling the same pain. Much worse is loneliness; it nearly swallowed me whole.

Tracey's final trip to the seaside (Filey 2012)
Tracey’s final trip to the seaside (Filey 2012)

After a month of sleeping on a friend’s sofa, I summoned enough courage to go back to the house I had shared with Tracey for 15 years. She had very limited mobility in the last years of her life, and she’d pant and pause as she made her way up the staircase. Eventually we moved our bedroom downstairs.

So the first thing I did now was move my bedroom back to its original location. I started rearranging furniture in other rooms, trying to create new patterns. I decided to get all of the photographs of her printed, a kind of irrational fear lest I forget her; it certainly was not helpful having her staring at me from every corner.

Recording the Gledhill album at Chapel Studios (2005)
Recording the Gledhill album at Chapel Studios (2005)

I’d see a picture of us on holiday or her favourite dress, and feel my throat suddenly contracting with the realisation that she wasn’t there. She brought that coat or dress to life; nobody else could have worn it with such exuberance. And now it sits, precariously balanced between the rubbish tip and the charity shop. It’s no longer a treasured possession or an indulgence, just a painful impracticality.

I think the best word to describe those first six months is numb. I was in so much pain and denial that I tried to turn down my emotions in the vain hope that the pain would decrease.

I kept expecting someone to tell me it had all been an awful joke. To go from being the most important person in someone else’s life to being “that poor bloke who lost his wife” is hard. 

You feel like you have a virus. And as much as Tracey had tried her best to prepare me, bereavement is so complex I hardly knew where to begin when people asked how I was coping.
 So many nuances, moments of hope, dashed by a lightning bolt of pain.

I’d seen a therapist several years ago to help me cope with the anxieties and stress of caring for somebody who is chronically ill.
 Returning, the first question I asked was, “So when do I remove Tracey’s picture from the lock screen on my phone?” His response: “Whenever you bloody want. There are no rules.”

Over that first year, I had to wrestle so much with what to do with Tracey’s things. It’s one of the hardest parts of grieving. When do you start going through possessions?

Blissfully happy at a friend's party (circa 2004)
Blissfully happy at a friend’s party (circa 2004)

Tracey loved to shop, so the prospect seemed endless. Take her favourite red shoes that she could hardly even wear due to increasingly swollen ankles. Only very recently did I summon the courage to remove them from the shoe-rack.

The final pillowcase that she used still carried the scent of her perfume. Smell has such a strong sensory effect that there was no way I could wash it. Closing my eyes, it was just like we were together in bed again. And once you’ve done that, opening them again is unbearable.

There are some darker and weirder sides to bereavement. One month after Tracey died, I wasn’t able to stop looking at women. My libido was insane. I declared myself a monster to my therapist, who pointed out that it was perfectly natural, but the guilt was still horrendous.

 And even flirting or just talking to women made me feel great, but then I would always return home and force myself to look at endless pictures of Tracey. So the healthy option was to stand up to my grief and not take the easy way out.

A Gledhill press shot from 2005
A Gledhill press shot from 2005 (David, far left)

I also told everyone that I would spread Tracey’s ashes on the first year anniversary of her death. One year arrived, and I bottled it. I couldn’t do it. Still can’t. And nobody can tell you when it’s the right time.

It’s worth adding that for me, I not only lost my partner, I lost my role as a carer. And that has been just as tough. Looking after someone gave me so much pleasure and a sense of worth. And I miss that too. I’m having to learn to try and be more selfish and think about what’s good for me now.

And so, finally, I had made it through the first year; I could stop counting the monthly anniversaries. And I’d survived without doing anything crazy, apart from spending £800 on a camper van for a film I’m shooting (more of which below). 
So was the darkness was just starting to lift a little?

Recently, I went on my first date. It was – coincidentally – through the Kentishtowner that we met.

 I was ridiculously nervous, yet it was good to feel that a little sunshine was creeping into my world. If I’m honest, however, the guilt did come afterwards. I didn’t want it to; but it did.

Although we had a few dates, this girl and I, things didn’t quite work out and we’ve since agreed to be just friends. But no matter: it was such a milestone for me that I feel much more confident moving forward.

Circa 1996
Tracey, circa 1996

Now, 17 months after her death, when the grief threatens to take over, I cling onto Tracey’s assertion that I will find happiness again. And not to try would be a slap in the face to everything that she stood for as a human being.

Her mantra? “We’re here for a good time, not a long time.”

And so that’s the title of the film I have just made, about what happens to a man in the twelve months after he loses his soulmate. It’s not out till next year but if you wish, you can watch the trailer below.

This is box title
We’re Here For A Good Time Not A Long Time is released in January 2014. Read the story behind the film here.  If you’re intrigued about David and Tracey’s old band Gledhill, click on our article by editor Stephen Emms from last year.

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  • Christine

    I was moved to tears reading the article and watching the trailer. It takes courage to reveal and share the pain of losing a loved one. I hope it helps others to cope with such a tragedy.

  • Claire Collins

    Thanks for sharing part of your lives. I wish you joy of a new kind. C

  • alisonchandlerwriter

    An incredibly moving and honest piece of writing. Thank you for sharing and good luck with your film – using such a devastating experience creatively is a very powerful thing.

  • LaYla

    Beautifully and honestly written and I cried like a baby too… I want to wrap you up in big warm blanket and cuddle you. be kind to yourself, you beautiful soul xxx

  • Eli

    Well done David, you’ve created something beautiful with all that pain. Hope that gift continues to bring radiance and healing to your life.

  • Pete Cole

    Love & respect David.

  • Lee

    Thank you x you helped me .

  • writerslodgemayoCatherine

    David thank you for honestly sharing you innermost feelings and thoughts with us. I have just lost my soulmate, and my heart is crushed ,split open and possibly bleeding. I know Peter was my soulmate of nine years as I still feel his gentle presence around me.

    This is the second time I have lost – I lost my husband twelve years ago, the pain was different after Patricks passing. I was younger had four children and a business to take care of. Good friends carried me for the first two weeks, then slowly one by on they dissappared. I coped fairly well for three years, lonely nights playing the radio all night to keep me company. I dreaded the dark winter nights, long summer afternoons were so lonely.

    The children left home for Collage one by one, sometimes the returned at weekends, barley taking time to sit and chat with me. They were young and vibrant and went out at night to catch up with their friends.

    Then after three years a miracle happened – I met Peter. Tall dark and handsome a replica of my late husband but a few years younger than me. Love blossomed and we shared an incredible nine years . of unconditional love and a deep friendship. I recently sold my home and business to relocate near him. We were just planning our next venture together – but on Saturday afternoon he suffered an asthma attack and passed away.

    I am alone once again and heartbroken. I miss his warm body, piercing blue eyes, his gentle touch. Most of all I miss the light and energy we shared.

    My children (from my marraige) are now grown up and have partners of their own, They have returned to their routine after the funeral. I have different friends now and only one of them has really supported me. I know I have to get up in the morning and face another day trying to put my life back together again. I have loved and lost two beautifull men, but the pain never goes away it just fades a little – like the evening Sunset..

    David I know how you are feeling, Believe in the future open your heart to new love.
    Light a candle and see what the new dawn brings. God Bless you.

  • David Gledhill

    Hi Catherine, thank you so much for your kind words. Your story is very moving and I am so, so sorry for your loss. But it sounds like you have had two incredible relationships, which is a rare and wonderful thing. You have been through an awful lot, but you seem very strong to me, so hopefully the future will bring you more joy & happiness. My thoughts are with you xx.

  • maropie

    I have lost my soulmate 8months ago and this pain is so intense and relentless. I wish he would come get me. We were married for 25yrs. What a beautiful man. I loved him my entire life and will until I go home.. Losing your soul mate is the worst pain ever..he was my other half, my reason for waking up.. How do I go on without him….

  • julie

    I lost my soulmate 3 weeks ago. We were born three days apart in the next hospital beds (his Mum told us she had known my mother who died when I was 10). He was my first ever boyfriend when I met him at 14 we had an instant electrical attraction, I felt as though I had known him for ever, I adored him and my happiest times as a teenager were with him. We parted and both went our separate ways although we were still friends and wrote to each other. At 19 we lived over200 miles apart he was still the one I held in a special place in my heart. . We both moved at the same time and lost touch. So at this time in our lives it was not meant to be we both had life lessons to learn…. I did the research on 2 abusive marriages and have 3 amazing children. Throughout these thirty years we both often tried to get in touch but life got in the way.
    Thirty years on fate intervened and we got in touch through friends reunited I sent him a message “Do you remember me?
    His answer was ” How could I ever forget you.”
    We agreed to meet up for lunch, we still lived over 200 miles from each other, a date was set for new year which was a few months away.
    One day he rang and said ” Would you like more than lunch?”
    “Yes” was my answer.
    “Shall I book a night in a hotel” he said
    “Book two” I said.
    When I came off the phone I was shocked at myself it certainly was not how I would normally behave.
    We met in a pub for coffee the day before just in case I changed my mind I had not seen him for thirty years. It was like stepping back in time… the way he smiled, the way he moved, so familiar I had never stopped loving him. When he picked me up the next day he took me to all the places we had been as teenagers a trip down memory lane learnt that all those times we shared had been treasured memories for him too. He had tried to find me over the years too.
    The two nights turned into a week and we loved every moment. We shared our life storys from the very first thing we could remember to present day. He had a wonderful son and had done the research on two marriages.
    We agreed that our relationship would be based on the love we felt for each other mutual respect and trust. The next 8 years have been fiilled with so many special moments filled with love, laughter,and precious memories that I am holding close to my heart.. Cancer took him away. I am being grateful for the moments we shared. the pain I feel is like nothing I have held before I need to feel the rawness of it, although I know one day I will be ok to let it go, Kev wanted me to live and love again thankyou for sharing your story it shows me that life is full of possibilites. X

  • Terry Graham

    David, I cannot know the pain of your loss. Bereavement over loss of a partner is a solo journey unique to each of us. However, I do have empathy! May, 2014 I lost Susan, my eternal soul mate and wife of 42 years. She died two weeks after the initial diagnosis of breast cancer. She’s been determined to be an official victim of above ground nuclear testing during the 1950s – early 60s – while in her mother’s womb and as a child she lived downwind of the testing.

    The day after meeting we both knew our destiny was to be together. Two weeks later I proposed – her response “You better not leave this county without me!” – knowing I was scheduled to volunteer overseas. Four months later we eloped, served overseas together, reveled in having each other, have two wonderful adult children and two very precious young grandsons. Susan was not here to celebrate the youngest one’s 1st birthday. She was the best wife, mother, grandmother humanly possible. Six months on, I’m crying like a newborn writing this. However, Susan had me promise to take care of myself and to move on with my life. I have faithfully done the former; the later is a journey fraught with loneliness, foreboding and uncertainty – cannot say I will be up to keeping it.

    David, I sincerely hope that you have some peace after your loss of Tracey.

  • anonymous

    Beautiful woman. Hope she’s watching over you.
    Hard to understand things like this.
    I miss my soul mate too.

  • Suzie

    Dear David and mourners above, please, accept a warm hug of sympathy.

    David, I will be ordering a copy of your movie tonight. Thank you for sharing your deepest pain with us. Your story is tragic, yet beautiful. I can relate to much of what you wrote above. =( I wish you wellness, comfort and peace through this storm. Your NOT alone.

    My Story:
    In a few more days, I will be facing the 3rd month without the man of my dreams, soul mate, best friend. The day before his 28th birthday, he was in a fatal accident. He went quick, without pain. His name is Rafael and he is still my relfection.

    Having known him since middle-school our paths only became intertwined romatically about three years ago. Felt like a lifetime. Rafael was the “one” for me. All along growing up. I knew the one for me was someone I knew, but the timing had to be ripe. Our paths crossed daily and weekly, after years apart, until we fell into one another metaphysically.

    We had plans to marry in 2015, have our first child (name picked out and all), purchase our family home and continue saving to obtain our retirement goals. Now, I am devasted. I’m taking life breath by difficult breath. If only I would have had decades more to love him…what I wouldn’t give or do. However, I am continuing on, being as strong as I can possibly be, living out our loving, giving, patient, faithful, kind, honest, loyal, respectful lives none the less.

    Two things that are helping me to survive until the day I can thrive again: Faith (in God) and Love (our love is so strong that it is carrying me).

    Numb, shocked, sick, lonely… but blessed to have been living Heaven on Earth, with Rafael.

    Sincerely his,

  • mick trench

    Thank you David’ I lost my wife of fourteen years on sept 29th 2014 about 14 weeks ago’ and I was relieved and reassured by your description of what you had felt in those early months. It is a mental whirl from the death to the funeral and I was lucky to have two children to look after which kept me anchored (just) I can relate to noticing other women’ that was and still is a very strong feeling as is the guilt that comes with it’ I think we must be drawn to the feminine that’s been ripped from us’ but its confusing because there’s no way I could even try and start with anyone else because not so deep down I still keep expecting Sharon to come through the door and its all been a stupid mistake . She was and still is my soulmate and I don’t believe its possible to find anyone else who could ever come close’ I know thats through my eyes only probably’ but it is all the little things that make you love someone.I don’t know what else to write there’s tons of stuff and nothing at all ‘I hope your right that things get easier’ even ever so slowly is something positive’ thank you again’ knowing other people have the same thoughts feelings emotions really dose give you a positive lift good luck to you.

  • Myasia

    My boyfriend Angelo recently died January 9th. When we first met we felt this energy when we held eachother of happiness & comfort we both describe this electric feeling. Everything happened so fast, like, love then he asked me to move in with him, we wanted to be with eachother all of the time. We loved eachother had a happy home with our 2 dogs. We both made eachother so happy, understanding eachother knew everything of eachother. He was very kind hearted, educated , funny. He got to live his dream of owning his own restaurant in Manhattan NYC , Rubirosa. He made me a better person than I was before I met him. He was my soul mate and I knew it. I remember telling him when I first met him he is either a blessing or a lesson. He was my blessing