The last blog talked about the funeral but this one kind of prequels that a bit because I’ll talk about how things felt immediately after Nicola died and in the run-up to her final farewell.
I promise I’ll get round to the whole ‘widowed daddy’ thing eventually like I’ve said I will…
Nicola passed away late on a Thursday evening and even though I didn’t sleep particularly well that night, despite being utterly drained from the previous few days, I knew I’d have to be pretty on the ball in the immediate aftermath.
For a start, I needed to make a lot of phone calls to inform various people, then there was the not insignificant challenge of how to tell Grace.
The phone calls came and went before I spoke to Grace, mainly because she woke up in a bit of a strop and wanted to be downstairs with my mum rather than talking to me! Suffice to say I let her cheer up for a couple of hours before broaching the subject.
Future blogs will go fully into how I’ve talked to Grace about all this and how she’s taken it, but initially it was just a case of being as honest as I could be with her and giving her the basic details. She listened, saw I was upset, cuddled me lots and even gave me one of her dolls’ dresses to help wipe away the tears, which as you can imagine broke my heart into even more pieces.
Those initial jobs done, the rest of the day actually felt quite surreal – in fact it has done ever since. For two years, I’d had the shackles of Nicola’s illness both in a mental and physical sense at the forefront of my life, yet suddenly I was faced with the fact that no matter how much I was always happy to, there was nothing I could do anymore to help her and that she didn’t need me to be fetching her medication every hour or so, and also that I wasn’t worried sick about how her illness would eventually take her away.
I’d hesitate to use the word ‘relief’, but there was certainly a sense of there being a degree of release from the very difficult bubble we’d all been in while she was ill, as well as a lot of comfort that the end came with her in no pain and with her immediate family sat with her.
It’s easy to be selfish and wish that she’d been around for a lot longer, but I had to remember that in Nicola’s case that would also have equated to a lot more suffering and although that was something she herself admitted she’d have been prepared to endure in order to witness things like Grace starting nursery or another Christmas as a family, the reality was that the nature of her illness meant it was causing more and more irreparable damage not just to Nicola but to all of us the longer it went on.
As anyone who’s lost a family member knows, there’s a lot of formalities that need to be carried out, sometimes quite quickly, and over the following week or two I spent an awful lot of time on the phone and online sorting various affairs out. That didn’t bother me because it kept me busy, and whilst I had many moments of grief and mourning as you’d expect, I was determined not to let that consume me to the point where I just ended up being a gibbering wreck the whole time, especially with Grace around.
Having family and friends around me was crucial as they gave me a psychological lift, but I also needed time alone to grieve rather than bottling it all up; I’m not keen on being overly-emotional in front of people if I can help it so preferred to do that alone.
One of the hardest parts of the first few days was the process of going through Nicola’s belongings. Our bedroom, for starters, contained lots of her clothes and personal effects but I felt like I needed to begin the sifting fairly quickly because every time I woke up in the morning I was looking right at her things and it was having a very saddening effect.
It’s been one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had to do. Clothes, for example, are just pieces of fabric, but they were pieces of fabric that Nicola chose and wore so well and many dresses and tops were synonymous with her given she wore some more than others. Those were the hardest to work out what to do with.
It simply didn’t feel right having to discard even the simplest things. A lot has been kept, such as things that are still of use to us and things that hold good memories, but there are some things that if kept would just sit ‘collecting dust’ and that didn’t hold enough sentimental value to keep. That said, it’s still hard to just toss them away – after all, they’re Nicola’s things and it’s hard to accept she can no longer use them.
The thing that’s stood out most over the five weeks it’s now been since Nicola died is simply the huge chasm she’s left behind. Such was her personality, vivacity, humour and charm, someone I spent so much of the last 11 years with suddenly not being there is almost impossible to get my head around.
I keep wanting to ask her things, check things with her, or simply hold her tight and reassure her, but I can’t do that anymore and it doesn’t feel right. A huge part of me is missing that will never be replaced.
That kind of reality is harder to take on some days than others, but nothing can change it and it’s a case of constantly trying to make the best out of it. One thing about knowing Nicola so well is that I could pretty accurately predict what she would have said or advised in certain situations (not that she’d admit it…) so she’s actually been helping me make a few decisions even though she’s no longer here.
That might refer to when I bought some clothes for Grace last week or a bigger decision such as something money-related – in no way do I yet feel that I’m making certain choices alone. Thankfully, Nicola was usually right about stuff, so it’s probably best that I bear her supposed thoughts in mind for a while yet!
The issues I’ve covered here are really just the tip of the iceberg. Overall, the last five weeks have been a massive roller coaster of emotion on so many levels. We knew Nicola was going to die from her illness, but nothing could have prepared any of us for the true sense of loss we’d feel simply due to not being able to see her, talk to her, laugh with her or hug her.
I’m not sure how long it’ll take for that to ease enough for it not to feel like my heart’s being ripped out, and I know it’s all part of the natural grieving process, but whilst it’s true that Nicola herself would be sitting here now telling me to get my backside in gear and start getting on with my life, I can’t help but feel it’s going to take a while.