...how the reluctant widow was born…
I have always found that writing has helped. I’ve kept a journal since I was 10, over 30 years of writing my innermost thoughts as a means to process life, so it came as no great surprise that on the death of my husband, I chose to write as a way to help me grieve, process and to heal.
I soon found that I just couldn’t write quickly enough. My thoughts, feelings, emotions all just tripped from my brain in a tangled ramble and the process felt frustrating, so I decided to start a private blog on Facebook, so I could type and capture the thoughts as they fell.
Being a bit technically dim, what I “thought” was private, wasn’t. After a few posts, I began to get notifications to say people liked and commented on my thoughts and felt so vulnerable. I immediately deleted the posts and didn’t post for a good few months. I started to think about the lovely comments, how people said they understood, that my words could almost be their own, and it made me wonder if I had the chance to do something good here. I could keep writing, or rambling as I prefer to call it, and let others take comfort in the familiarity of my pain. So here I am, two years on, still rambling.
My ramblings are not elegant or crafted, I don’t ever read them back, I write as I feel whatever it is I am writing about. That is part of the healing for me, and I don’t go backwards, always forward. My words are felt deeply, and yes, sometimes grammatical errors and spelling mistakes creep in, but the words are real, nothing contrived or meditated.
A bit like Forrest Gump, I just kept going, and going. Before I knew it, the page had over 2,500 followers, and it warmed my heart. Whilst deeply sad that these people all “got it”, I just hoped that my ramblings gave them a little comforting hug, knowing that they’re not alone in their thoughts anymore.
The Reluctant Widow facebook page has always remained public, and always will do. My focus has always been to support people in the public arena. I wanted to try to reach as many people as possible, to show them they're not alone.
This website was borne from a deep desire to reach out to as many people as I can, to let them know they’re not alone in their grief, and to enable them to take comfort in my ramblings.
So here I am, almost three years on from when I set up the Facebook account, finally with a website to share with you all!
...life before him...
If you want the very short version:
2 brief dates, and I fell for him. Hard.
If you like a good love story, read on.....
I’m always honest, so I won’t change that now, but life before him was a nothingness. I’d been in a series of loveless relationships for most of my adult life, they gradually broke my spirit, destroyed my confidence and made me feel like I didn’t deserve anything better, so I just spent my life falling from one bad relationship to the next.
I never had the confidence to walk away, my self-esteem was just so low, so I was a right mess by the time my path crossed with my amazing wonderful man. I can honestly say I’d never experienced being loved until I met him.
So about Him. My love, my soulmate, my one and only. I just didn’t know it when we met.
Our paths crossed through work. Only occasionally, but we always got on really well. He had a really cheeky sense of humour and was always laughing and joking, and life and soul of the party, unlike me, little shy wallflower that I am. He was given the unlucky task of mentoring me in part of my role, and from there, we just seemed to really gel, and chat with ease.
After a few months, I noticed he wasn’t at work, and asked the boss where he was. He was off sick, they said, so fair enough, there’s my answer. But the days off turned into weeks, then a few months. I talked to a couple of his friends, and just asked about him, and they pulled me aside to tell me he was very ill, and having chemotherapy. To say I was floored was an understatement, he’d been ill from the moment we’d met, but just ploughed on with a smile and a laugh.
He was invited to our staff Christmas party a few months later, it was so lovely to see him, my heart did a little skip when I saw him, he greeted me with a huge hug and a hello, but spent a lot of the night with friends. I watched as girls flirted with him and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a wee pang of jealousy.
The next morning, he messaged me to say he was sorry we’d not had a chance to chat at the party, and would I like to catch up sometime for lunch, and I have to admit that my heart did a little flip, so of course, the answer was yes. I told myself not to read anything in to it, it was just lunch, not a date. Who in this world would want to date me?
So we met. We chatted, we laughed, talked about everything under the sun, the hours flew by and before we knew it, it was closing time at the pub. We’d been sitting for 12 hours chatting and drinking coffee, had lunch and dinner, and it felt like no time at all. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.
I didn’t sleep that night. All I could think about was how alive he made me feel, he made me feel like the most important, most interesting, most beautiful and the funniest person on the planet, and it made me feel amazing. I felt someone, not a no one anymore. My face was fixed with a smile.
I wondered if he’d ask me out again, and he did.
Our second date was in a lovely little restaurant. I can recall every detail so clearly, we were sitting by the window, and we just talked, people watched, and giggled at all kinds of silly stuff for hours. I loved that he had the same sense of humour as me. It was just effortless. We went for a wander through town afterwards, I bought him a notebook so he could write me letters when he went away the following day, and he bought me a silly pencil with a nodding cat head. I loved it.
He was due to go to a specialist hospital the following day for a series of tests and investigations, so I wasn’t going to be able to see him for 8 days. When he walked me home, I hugged him tightly, and told him I’d be thinking of him and sending lots of positive vibes. He looked at me, you know that way that someone looks into your eyes, and you feel like they’re searching for an answer from your soul? It was that kinda look. He said to me “I’ll be thinking about you a lot, and I promise to write you letters”. He kissed me gently on the top of my head, I looked up at him, and just smiled.
...life with him...
During those hellishly long eight days, we kept in touch, calls, emails, texts, we both even wrote letters. His words were beautiful, he talked of falling in love and told me that I’d captured him. I felt so full of happiness and joy that this incredible man had such strong feelings towards me, and by the time he was due to come home, we’d decided to move in together.
It moved so fast, and I know my friends and family were concerned for me, but I just knew this was right. He made me smile like a cheshire cat, he made me laugh, he made me cry, he made me feel so incredibly loved, and quite honestly, I was on cloud nine. I had everything that I wanted in my life, plus things that I didn’t want in my life.
He had cancer. He was currently just living with it when we met, but within our first 6 weeks of being together, he’d had an emergency hospital admission and regular trips to the hospital for check ups and medication to keep him ticking over.
He absolutely inspired me, every single day. He was living with so many health issues, yet always managed a smile for everyone, he’d ask how they were and generally mean it. It’s fair to say that since the moment he had been diagnosed, he’d lived every single day like it was his last. As soon as he’d finished his first set of chemo, he’d gone on holiday for a month, exploring places he’d always wanted to visit. He knew life was precious, and because of that, we then made every day count too.
Everything we did was an adventure, and we had photos to remember these magical days by. It’s the one thing I am so grateful for. I love photography, and I took photos and videos of everything we did. Now, they are the most precious memories I have, and I am so glad I got on his nerves by producing a camera at every possible moment. Those memories are all I have left, and they mean everything to me.
We danced in the rain, we paddled in rivers, we hugged trees and danced around them like a pair of loons, we made snow angels when the snow fell, we’d often drive out in the rain and just sit somewhere, listening to the rain. Everything felt special, even the mundane things. We often made pillow forts and had a picnic under them, we’d go on to YouTube and spend hours showing each other our favourite songs and dance around like no one was watching.
His zest for life was infectious. He just found something to live for every single day, because he knew every single day really counted. We always knew his days were numbered, we just didn’t realise how few days we’d actually have together.
We married a year and a day after our first date, and it was just a perfect day. I nervously giggled through the church service, and when it was announced that we were now husband and wife, I did a little happy dance and flung my arms around his neck, and he whispered “you are perfect, I’m so proud you are mine”. There is a photo taken of us at that exact moment, and honestly, the love just emanates from us both.
We had just under 4 years and 7 months of happiness. Or 1671 days, if you’re counting. Every day was precious.
I don’t want to dwell too much on his illness, because it makes me feel like I’m reliving it all over again, and it hurts. He suffered, and I wanted nothing more than to be able to take the pain away from him. Watching him suffer time and time again was unbearable. We had some many trips to hospital where they’d tell me “this was it”, that this was the time I’d lose him. He was stronger than anyone gave him credit for, and he just kept bouncing back, time and time again.
I have to be honest and say that it was an utter head wrecker. I had to start seeing a counsellor because I felt constantly on edge, wondering if the next time he went to hospital would be his last.
He was amazing, and just fought, with me at his side. His friends and family all said that when we got together, they saw such a change in him. That I’d given him something to live for, and I tell you, that boy, he lived.
The day he died. I am not sure I have the words to explain how it felt. It was such a shock, it all happened in the space of 6 hours, he was there, then he was gone. My world fell apart. He WAS my world, and I really didn’t know how I was going to live without him. Did I ever want to live?
I gave him the funeral he wanted, and a beautiful celebration of life afterwards, everyone told me stories about him, so many people I’d never met turned up to pay their respects to him. So many people promised they’d be there for me, take care of me, guide me through the horrible times ahead, and I foolishly believed them.
The minute the funeral was over, and they’d said their sad goodbyes, their pain was pretty much over. They had the closure they needed. They’d witnessed his burial, perhaps shed some tears, and then walked away, back in their normal lives.
For me, this is where the pain really started.
...life after him...
As it stands today, it has been 8 years since his death. I prefer the word death to lost, because I didn’t lose him. He didn’t fall down the back of the sofa, he died. Never to return. I found it easier to use straightforward language when it came to talking about his death.
The only thing lost was me. I was utterly bereft and had no idea how to navigate this new life I’d found myself in. I remember those first few weeks after he died, everyone was offering support and help, there was enough homecooked food in my fridge to feed Yorkshire and then some. My phone never stopped buzzing with calls, texts, emails, it was exhausting trying to keep up with it all, I told them I was ok and doing fine. I just kept busy to stop myself from feeling. I arranged his headstone, sorted a memorial tree for him, arranged fundraising events for a charity that'd provided both of us with counselling, and just occupied my day with being busy.
After a few weeks, my workplace decided it would be good for me to be at work, to have a routine, and to be around friends. It didn't feel like the right decision, but I didn't have the energy to argue. I felt like a deep heavy fog sat over my brain all the time. Every day, it took every ounce of energy I had, and I did my job, just liked I'd done before, I smiled, I carried on, then the moment I got home, the front door closed, and I sat on the bottom of the stairs and sobbed.
I hid everything behind a mask because I realise that no-one really wanted to know how you were when they asked, they just wanted you to say I'm fine, so it's what I did. All the feelings of sorrow, pain, anger, loneliness, fear, stayed hidden.
Hidden, until I just snapped. It was incredibly random. Someone came into our office one day and asked how I was. Standard reply, "I'm fine thanks", to which they replied, "how are you really?"
I just looked at them, they held my gaze, and the tears just started to roll down my face silently, soon to be joined by silent sobs, that soon just turned into a floodgate of tears, snot and a red blotchy face as I just sat and cried hysterically. I started to wail, holding my head, my fingers knarled in my hair. I remember pulling it as I wailed, when the noise stopped, it just became silent screams. The floodgate had opened, and there was so much trapped in my poor heart and mind that just needed to come out now.
I bet he wished he'd never asked, but I am so glad he did.
I ran from the office, drove home and barricaded myself inside and called my doctor, and told her I needed help. This was the start of my real grieving process, and how I started to heal finally, six months after his death.
You'll be reading lots about my healing process in various blogs that I'll be writing over the coming months, but my grieving started by being very honest with those close to me about how I felt. I didn't want to hide it anymore - I couldn't, it hurt far too much.
A lot of my healing process was about being honest with myself, and also with others. I needed to feel the pain and the grief and to start to recognise and name all of those emotions that were whizzing around my head at 160mph and never stopping. I actually sat with the grief, in the grief, instead of running around doing anything but process what I felt. After 6 months of ignoring the pain I was going through, I was finally ready to let it all out.
It was amazing how everyone's attitude changed towards me in the coming months. Because I'd "soldiered on", "been so brave", "been so strong", people were now deeply shocked to find out I wasn't as ok as I'd pretended to be, and they either got bored of hearing my "whining" (also known as grieving) or they stuck around, and tried to understand.
Grieving is hard, it's not just about the death of someone you loved more than life itself, it's about all of those other things that cease to be too. You can lose confidence, your sense of identity shattered, you lose the future you'd planned for, the holidays you'd wanted to take. I'll definitely be talking more about this in blogs, so keep your eyes open for more insights.
What helped me to heal most was writing. I wrote about my memories of him, of places we'd visited, I wrote letters to him, to say the things I'd never got the chance to say, I wrote to the hospital who neglected to diagnose him quickly enough in hospital and ultimately caused his death, I wrote letters to myself, to tell me I could do this, because I was strong, and because he'd want me to keep going on, to live the life he'd been deprived of. I wrote about my innermost feelings because it helped me to work through them, and from there, the Facebook page began, and then this lovely pretty website!
...about the trw’ers...
Who are TRW’ers, I hear you ask? That’s the pet name I adopted for followers of “the reluctant widow” Facebook page.
What can I say about this amazing bunch of humans…… They are nothing short of incredible.
They support each other, and me, and are always there to rally on those who are feeling low, and just need someone to lean on, and tell them that they get it. You cannot put a price on that level of understanding and connection that takes place between those who really know what grief feels like and how it touches every single part of your life.
They really are amazing, and every single one of them is inspirational, because they’ve all experienced grief, yet still find the space in their hearts to be kind to others, with endless encouragement, it just warms my heart completely.
The story ends with meeting a rather incredible young lady who offered to help create this website, you will know her on this site as Est.North. I know her as Rachel, a warm, kind-spirited human who donated her time and knowledge for nothing, to enable this lovely page to exist. I will always be indebted to her for her incredible skill, and mostly for her never ending patience as I asked for the hundredth time "is this possible?" :-)
I wish for nothing but good things for this young lady, and I know her future is bright.
On this lovely cheery note, I shall bid you farewell. I hope that reading my rambles help you, feel free to leave a little like or a comment, I'd love to know where you're reading this website from, and your feedback is always welcome.
I send love and hugs to you all, today and always.