The Bottle Responses

It’s 6:34am and I woke up early today, the sun just starting to rise over the garden wall. I sat out with a coffee and Duke — the two of us catching up with all the messages I’d received whilst asleep.

Brazil, Turkey, the USA, South Africa, Portugal, Greece, China, Japan, Korea and South London — it’s been an amazingly broad and deeply emotional clutch of messages that have come my way.

I’ve cried three times this morning before finishing my coffee. There’s nothing bad about this or wrong about it (that’s one thing boys and men need to be taught) — it was just the way they touched me so deeply.

Although every message and story is as unique as a fingerprint, there are some common themes. I lost or am losing my partner like you. I hated dating sites. I struggled with my grief. You made me laugh. You made me keep going. You inspired my search. You are incurable romantic. You reminded me of my partner I lost. I’d like to be your Penpal. You touched me across the human ocean without the need for a physical bottle.

So that is why I cried — the first time because someone had actually mentioned Julia. Out of all the newspapers, only one actually asked about her — what was she like? Why was she such an amazing woman? What was her story? Why was her loss to the world such a huge thing?

They told me in the message that it was a wonderful and crazy idea I had — both in celebration of her life, as well as opening a new chapter for myself. They told me to give all their love to Julia. That is what made me cry.

The second time was when someone wrote a message explaining that despite the stupid parts of the story, which we all know by now, they wondered about several parts behind the story.

Why would I have knowingly invited this level of emotion, contact, randomness, chance — unless I both felt I had the emotional strength to survive what it would bring up in me but also the capacity to listen to all this, to hear everything, to be open to feeling it all, to try to understand.

I cried again — because I think they read me better than myself. It was probably the finest articulation I’ve read of my motives, craziness but also the love, honesty and openness — my capacity to both love greatly yet also to share hurt with others. To be both strong and determined and yet open, emotional and vulnerable. I was struck by both how accurate it was and how well it was written — it touched me deeply.

The Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire” springs to mind. I’ve watched it several times and I still don’t understand everything completely, but that’s the allure. It’s not an action flick. In this film, there are Angels, quite invisible, who walk amongst us. They can hear our thoughts and listen to them — our pain, our burdens, our worries, our anger and loss. They listen and they feel for us all.

It’s a wonderful film and I’m certainly not comparing myself to an angel — but I felt like I’ve somehow heard things that HAD to be said. That I can listen by your shoulder and I will hear and understand. Sometimes all we want is to be listened to and understood — our story heard and acknowledged, by someone who really really listens.

The third time for tears was when I read a message from someone who lost their partner. About 20% of the messages I’ve received are from people who have lost a child, a partner, husband, wife — and these are some of the most detailed and hardest to read.

Not hard as in oh my god my poor self can’t stand reading this, because I’m just too affected by them or find it harrowing.

I mean really f***ing hard to read because they are so raw, truthful, pared to the emotional bone. To read them is sometimes for me, to be transported back in a Tardis to an earlier time in my own grief. There is no easy way to read these.

There is no artifice or posturing — these are just raw, unfiltered, honest messages from one heart to another. Our usual translation layer of dressing things up is simply not present here. I get some honest, brutal and wonderfully inspiring messages.

Sometimes, when I read one, it’s like a little bell has just gone off — like some resonance in an orchestra that has vibrated me and my body. As Iris Murdoch said “The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved”.

Whilst I wouldn’t agree 100%, particularly with some of my friends who are very empathetic souls — it is broadly true.

Sometimes reading these things there is a language only we can see — our broken hearts can read. Sometimes this bell rings only for us, the bereaved, like a church with a congregation you are not yet invited to. We know this sound, that no other soul without this loss can hear or feel.

So — the person who wrote about me inviting this all into my life in order to see it all branch into a heap of new outcomes — was spot on. Some of this I knew about and some I had no preparation for.

What is always true is that there is faith and love in reading these messages and that crying doesn’t make me weaker — it makes me stronger, more understanding of what I’m feeling and it shares me a moment, a connection, with your grief or loss.

I can never know your situation but in that moment, we are bound by the same thing, despite being thousands of miles apart.

I’m going to get another coffee and get some work done in the garden. Don’t worry that I’ve been crying — because I’m smiling now. I’m possibly the only person round here who has cried themselves hoarse before 8am but still feels like the richest person in the world.

I’ll leave you with this — it deeply touched me, when I was listening on radio 4 the other night, on my journey. This rang a LOT of bells for me and is such a wonderfully spoken articulation of grief: