I wasn’t sure when to write this blog or even how to approach it, but it’s very much one that is worth writing, I think, especially as I’ve not posted for a long time. It’s also a long one, so bear with me, but such are the complexities of its content it probably needs to be!
The whole point of this overall blog was to talk about my experience of life both before and after losing Nicola and more specifically the challenges of bringing up Grace ‘on my own’.
Those first few months, as documented here, provided a combination of great relief as Grace coped so well with what had happened, as well as great sadness that Nicola wasn’t there to see her developing.
As for Grace now, well, she turned four-years-old in July and is thriving. She started at primary school in September, which she loves and where she excels, and is a clever and charismatic little girl who charms everyone she meets. She can be a proper little madam too, but how many of her age aren’t?!
As for me, well, the process of moving on which was so crucial to the rest of my life has been a difficult one but one which has ultimately resulted in both Grace and I being much happier and more positive.
Let’s first deal with the undeniable facts. When Nicola died, my world fell apart. I’d lost someone I thought I’d be with for the rest of my life and my young daughter had lost her mother. Our future was changed forever and the uncertainty attached to that was hard to deal with.
So quite how anything, or anybody, would be able to lift me from the gloom and sadness I was feeling would be anyone’s guess.
As time had progressed after losing Nicola, the full extent of what had happened over the previous three years had begun to hit me. There I was, caring more or less full-time for a young woman being destroyed by cancer, tending to her every need at all hours of the day and night, all whilst trying to maintain a full-time career and bring up a toddler.
The mental exhaustion didn’t really hit me until after Nicola had died, and when I look back at those three years which saw her first diagnosed, go through the illness, the elation of being ‘all clear’ and then the agony of the illness returning and literally watching her die, I honestly don’t know how I got through it bearing in mind all those other factors.
I’ve mentioned before about the release I felt from the shackles of those circumstances but that’s really only a short-term thing. Before long the feeling of loneliness sets in and times such as being sat alone at night after Grace had gone to bed were having a negative effect on me.
That doesn’t mean I decided that dating or a new relationship was the answer, far from it, but when, out of the blue, I met someone very special, I dared not deny myself the chance to at least see what effect it would have on my life which had so recently fallen apart.
When Nicola died, I was adamant that it would be some time before another relationship would even begin to be an option. I simply couldn’t imagine being with anyone else and whilst I knew that eventually I’d probably meet someone and find happiness again, it wasn’t the plan for that to happen too soon.
So, it came as a surprise to me as much as anyone else when, by the new year, I was seeing someone with whom I clicked on so many levels, who was fully understanding and respectful of everything I’d been through, and also who had lifted me out of a considerable gloom I’d found myself falling into.
That someone, (I’ll call her Kristen because, well, that’s her name), didn’t initially know how recently I’d been widowed, although she knew I had been. It eventually transpired she knew of Nicola because she knew people who had taught alongside her at one of the schools Nicola worked at, so the full extent of what had happened and when soon became apparent.
But rather than run a mile like most people probably would from a recently widowed man with a three-year-old daughter, she showed great understanding and in the end it was the fact we had so much in common and clicked on so many levels that out-weighed any concerns about recent events.
I had to think long and hard about what was happening, of course. It would have been all too easy to fall into the trap of quickly seeking some kind emotional and physical ‘replacement’ for Nicola and that’s the accusation levelled at many widowers when they start new relationships, whatever the timescale, but it wasn’t like that with me.
It had been very hard watching the Nicola I loved and married deteriorate as she did, and our life together become a total shadow of its former self long before she died and on so many levels.
The reaction of people to the fact a new relationship was happening so soon would, of course, vary. My own family and friends’ overriding feeling was that they were simply pleased to see me smiling again and could see that I was visibly lifted. Of course, the timing raised many an eyebrow and they would no doubt have naturally had concerns surrounding that, not least that if things didn’t work out with Kristen I’d potentially end up being very sad again, but as time went by and they all met her, those fears were allayed.
The people that found it toughest to digest were Nicola’s parents, but that was something I was well aware could be the case. My biggest fear, given how close I am to them, was upsetting them in any way.
I totally respected and understood why they found it hard and some very emotional conversations took place where I had to assure them that none of what was happening was for a second meant to be disrespectful to Nicola, nor was I ‘forgetting’ her in any way. That would be impossible on both counts, given how much she meant to me and everything we went through.
My primary concern in all I do remains Grace and that will always remain the case. In fact, Kristen’s presence has actually ended up enhancing not only my life but Grace’s too such are the experiences and opportunities that opened up as a result, so I hope that’s something that Nicola’s parents can see as being a huge positive to come out of it.
They’ve understandably found losing Nicola incredibly tough – losing a child at whatever age will inevitably do so and we come at our grief from entirely different angles. So the developments merely added to their upset and it’s something I felt awful about such is the love and respect I have for them. But I had to be a bit selfish in a way because not only my own happiness but primarily Grace’s had to be at the forefront of my mind. After all, if I’d sunk into any kind of depressive state then we’d all have suffered hugely from the knock-on effects.
We all still talk and see each other frequently and they often look after Grace as always given how important it is for them to spend time with her and vice-versa, but I know it’s a difficult subject for them to face up to and it’ll take time for them to accept. As much as neither Kristen or I had done anything wrong, emotions were still too raw to make it as instantly acceptable as it normally might be.
While so many factors have meant that it’s ended up working out for the better, I know not everyone can see things from the same angle as I do and fully respect that.
But, on the whole, the vast majority of people have been incredibly supportive of us as the relationship has grown, including those who were close to Nicola and loved her so much.
Kristen, at times, has found things very tough going, such are the judgements of her personally that sometimes become apparent, for example, our relationship being likened to an affair in some way.
Not only that, but she has to wrestle with the concept that were it not for Nicola dying, she wouldn’t be experiencing the happiness she now feels, and that carries with it a degree of guilt.
There’s also the fear that because someone I planned to spend my life with died, Kristen will only ever be a ‘substitute’ and never live up to Nicola on whatever level. Part of the challenge for me has been to dispel those fears and highlight that life, and the nature of fate, isn’t something that can often be reasoned with and that fears like those mentioned above shouldn’t be allowed to either ring true, nor dictate how we move forward.
I have, however, decided to sell the house Nicola and I bought just days before she became ill for the second time because, quite frankly, it has far more bad memories than good of our time here and I need to shake off whatever psychological shackles I can if I’m to really move on.
One of my motivating factors for continuing down this path is Nicola herself. I’m not huge on the whole spiritual side of things, but I’m almost certain that were she looking down on us and seeing how happy not only I, but in particular Grace is nearly a year-and-a-half on from her passing, she would be happy too. She’d probably bash me over the head for the timing of it all, I get that, but she’d trust me, and also know that she’s never forgotten and is talked about all of the time.
Kristen, who has a 13-year-old son of her own, regularly says she is so proud and honoured to be the person who is now playing such a big part in bringing up Nicola’s little girl. Perhaps more importantly, Grace bonds very strongly with Kristen and thrives from having a maternal figure in her life again. Nobody should be allowed to deny her that given one of the hardest things to accept about Nicola’s death would be that Grace would potentially not have that important female influence so close at hand.
Widows and widowers embarking on new relationships is something of a taboo subject. So often I’ve felt the need to defend myself for what’s happened, sometimes unnecessarily but other times when I’ve felt that I’m being judged unfairly and where people may be questioning my reasoning behind it all. I’m far from the first widower to be in this situation and I’ll be far from the last.
I’ll end this blog by saying this. I still miss and grieve for Nicola, of course I do. Grace talks about her but her physical memories are limited, and as hard as that is to accept it’s the sad reality. She’s taken Kristen on as a mother figure and having seen daily how that dynamic works, I am leaving it entirely up to Grace as to how she interprets Kristen’s role and how she identifies with her as I’m in no way inclined to upset or confuse her any more than she has been already. She’s happy, healthy and thriving, so that is all I can ask for.
As for me, I’m embarking on a fresh start in life and, as I prepare to turn 40 next year, I am grateful to have been able to do that given all that’s happened. I’ve gone from being that widowed daddy bringing up a young child alone, to being part of a couple raising two amazing children.
Our future looks bright, and as I’ve become only too aware in recent years, life is just too short to be sad.