9) The emotional ‘wobbles’

There’s an element of ‘heat of the moment’ about this particular blog, given how I’m feeling as I write it, but maybe it’s the best time to do so.

The ‘wobbles’ is a term I’ve become more familiar with since being widowed – it’s used by the grieving fraternity to describe those moments where emotionally things get the better of you and you have an undefined period of time struggling on various levels to cope with what’s happening. All very natural, but not all that pleasant.

I’ve had a few of them, it goes without saying. Usually they don’t last that long and they tend to happen when I’m on my own. I just sort myself out, imagine Nicola telling me to pull myself together and get on with doing something else. Sometimes they last a bit longer and hit me like a steam train. You could apply the latter description to my last 24 hours.

I was actually writing a different blog post last night, which I’ll now put up another time. In the process of doing so I was seeking some photos to attach to it, and found myself watching a video I’d taken while Nicola and I were on a city break in Budapest four years ago.

It was a pretty innocuous sightseeing-type video – we were passengers on a hillside tram ascending above the city and I was filming the view, as you do.

But it was the last three seconds of the minute-long video that knocked me for six. I’d panned the camera round to where Nicola was sat and initially she wasn’t looking at it. Then she turned, saw me filming her, and sprouted into one her cheerful smiles and waved at the camera, saying ‘hi!’. Then the video stops, freeze-framed on this beautiful, bubbly, smiling lady in a pose I so often saw her in and looking straight at me.

It broke me.

I’ve viewed lots of videos and photos featuring Nicola in recent weeks and whilst they’re sad in the sense that we’re looking back at a time when she was alive and we long for her to be still with us, they’re also a comfort because they’re just a brief reminder of her personality, what she sounds like, and so on.

But for some reason this just felt different. I think the fact I wasn’t expecting it played a part – I can’t remember why I watched that particular video, nor why I watched it to the end given it wasn’t all that interesting, but those final few seconds were enough to unload a torrent of emotion that in the ten weeks since Nicola died I’ve not quite matched, albeit I’ve come close.

It just felt like she was suddenly there with me. There she was, on a laptop screen right in front of me, looking directly ‘at me’, waving and smiling. It was as if I’d just walked in a room and she was greeting me.

The slightly slowed down part of the video (without sound) that I’m referring to.  As you can tell, it doesn’t take a lot at times like this!

People say it’s ‘the little things’ that can trigger these wobbles and it’s very true. Maybe more will follow at times when I’m least expecting it. This seemed different to any of the grief I’ve been dealing with up to now, though, and perhaps emphasised just how many forms and extremes it can take.

With Grace having gone to my in-laws’ for a couple of days, I’m at home on my own. That’s not a bad thing – I’m usually fine in my own company even in this state of grief – but I think the fact I had nobody here meant the whole thing hit me that bit harder as I wasn’t afraid to ‘let it all out’.

I’m not even ashamed to be telling all and sundry about it – I know for a fact that lots of people read this blog who either are or have been in similar situations so can probably relate to it.

This sums things up quite well, I thought. No idea who said it but I couldn’t think of another pic to use…

It meant I had a pretty rough night, and the hope that I’d be OK by the morning was dashed pretty quickly after I woke up when the whole thing played through my head again. I was exhausted. I work from home, but my head simply wasn’t right to apply myself to that particular task. Thankfully, I’m blessed with work colleagues who have been very understanding throughout the last two years and taken on my workload when I’ve been unable to do it for any of the numerous reasons that have prevented me, and this was another example.

It’s the sheer power with which it’s hit me that has surprised me. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve had ‘wobbles’ before and they’ve affected me to varying degrees, but this one has hit me the hardest yet. I know it’s natural and part of the grieving process, but flippin’ eck…

Anyway, grieving is all it is. I don’t feel like I’m spiralling into any kind of depression or anything like that, nor do I anticipate that happening, but I guess on a temporary basis that’s the kind of thing it is. It’s crap, no doubt about it, but as I’ve mentioned already, it’s all part of the process for anyone going through this kind of experience. I don’t want it to look like I’m attention-seeking in any way – it just helps me to write about it.

To some extent, it’s as if the initial release I felt from the considerable shackles of Nicola’s illness, which perhaps overshadowed the actual grief felt from losing her, is now wearing off and the raw emotion is coming through again. The numbness I felt in the initial aftermath is now ebbing away. It’s almost like a delayed reaction.

I’ll be OK, and will distract myself with things that will hopefully cheer me up let alone catch up on the sleep I’ve lost, and whilst I know that these kinds of things are bound to happen from time to time, I’ll probably get better at coping with them.

There remains, however, one final, inescapable feeling that might never change.

It’s that no matter how well I may deal with things on the whole, no matter what great support I have around me, no matter how amazing Grace is at instantaneously improving my mood and no matter how true it might be that time will eventually be a healer, the fact remains that the only person I truly want here to help me through these times, that I truly want here to coach me, hug me, reassure me, to ‘smile me better’, and that I truly want here who could possibly help me through a wobble so profoundly induced by missing Nicola……..is Nicola.


8) Telling Grace

I’ve talked a lot in previous blogs about the impact Grace losing her mum has had on her, and was even asked to discuss it on BBC radio a few days ago, which you can listen to here.

Thankfully, as things stand, she seems to have taken things very well and although she clearly misses her mum, there haven’t been any obvious psychological effects on her and she remains a very happy and care-free three-year-old.

Despite that being the case, she’s still had to be told what has happened and just why the mummy that was a constant in her life since the day she was born is suddenly no longer around.

With Nicola having been ill for some time, there was at least some context to everything when it came to explaining things. Grace knew that Nicola was poorly and that she was in hospital a lot and that the doctors and nurses were trying to make her better, as doctors and nurses do. She’d got used to seeing Nicola ill in bed, knew that the ‘medicine’ had made her hair fall out and was used to Nicola going out and about in a wheelchair when her mobility became so affected.

However, given that for the last ten months of Nicola’s life she was terminally ill and we knew that eventually she’d succumb to the illness – and most likely whilst Grace was still very young – we’d had to decide how I’d approach it when the end finally came.

Nicola was very keen for me to assess things at the time, as it was hard to predict in advance just how things would develop and to what extent Grace will have been aware that her mummy was suddenly gone.

Grace wearing a pair of glasses that aren’t hers but really should be, to be honest
With Nicola having been in hospital for ten days, it was highly likely that no matter what we said to Grace, she’d still assume Nicola was there and indeed that proved to be the case for a few days after she died. After all, Nicola’s seizures and admittance to hospital for the final time all happened while Grace was fast asleep, and she was also at home asleep when Nicola died and I returned home, so there wasn’t a specific incident to which Grace could relate, which is perhaps thankful given something like witnessing the seizures could have traumatised her.

I decided I had to be quite frank with her. Using words like ‘died’ and telling her what cancer was played a part, mainly because I wanted to get across as much as I could that Nicola didn’t want to die, it wasn’t Nicola’s fault and above all it wasn’t Grace’s fault either. It was really important to ensure Grace didn’t feel like she’d done anything wrong or that she was in any way to blame for Nicola not being there.

To that end, telling her the news the morning after Nicola died was very difficult from my point of view. Inevitably, I was in tears trying to explain things and she saw I was upset and quickly wanted to ‘cuddle me better’. At the same time, she was trying to process what I was telling her.

Understandably, it perhaps didn’t register too much. I’d told her that the doctors and nurses couldn’t make Mummy better anymore and that she had died. There was, of course, the necessity to try and sugar coat things without telling her anything that might give her hope Nicola would one day come back, so explaining that Mummy was so special that she’d been chosen to go and be an angel in the sky was the first step towards that.

It’s an idea Grace likes the thought of and it’s now habitual for her to say goodnight to Nicola at her bedroom window every evening, insisting that whoever she’s with does the same! It’s heart-breaking, but at the same time a comfort – and not just to Grace. It’s this relative innocence that is usually a therapy to those around her at times like this.

It’s important not to overload her with facts. It’s also pointless given she can only take so much in – quite often I’ll be talking to her about it and she’ll swiftly go off and play rather than be bombarded with emotional chat.

Older children, depending on age, would pose different levels of understanding and may need more coaching through it all. At three, it’s often a case of dealing with the odd question or comment which can occur at random times and catch you off guard. Then she gets on with doing what she was doing.

Day to day, Grace mentions her mum here and there and we have plenty of photos and videos to cast our eyes over. As I’ve said in a previous blog, the videos in particular are difficult because the sounds of Nicola’s voice and laughter are immediately enough to have me pining for her, but for Grace it’s so important to keep those images and sounds fresh in her mind so I’m learning to go with it.

Grace in a photo taken a few months before she lost her mum. She’s been a huge therapy to us all.

Time will tell just how much Grace will be affected by what’s happened. Nicola was always pretty sure that somewhere along the line, she’ll be affected one way or another by not having one of her parents around and whilst I am sure that’s true, it doesn’t mean we can’t minimise that impact effectively. After all, as hard as it is for us to accept, Grace will live a vast proportion of her life without Nicola so will adapt accordingly and far better than the rest of us might, particularly given how young she was when she lost her.

Having read various accounts by other people on how they’ve dealt with similar situations, it’s clear, as with the grief process as a whole, that there’s no right or wrong way to do things and no guidebook to follow. It’s all down to knowing your child and understanding how their mind works, as well as looking out for any adverse reactions and addressing any quickly should they occur.

I’m pleased that so far things have gone well on that front and whilst it’s true that the road ahead will be a tough one, Grace’s personality, the days out we have together and the memories we create to add to those she has of her mum, will all be crucial factors in ensuring she grows up relatively unscathed by the events that have cast a shadow over her early years.