‘Do everything.’ That’s pretty much the message I’ve been dropping into conversations with a few couples close to me in recent weeks who are embarking on lives together or who hopefully have long ones ahead of them.
I wouldn’t normally be one to preach what others should do with their lives, it’s not my place to do so, but the last couple of years have shown me just how glad I am that Nicola and I did so much together.
Something that gives me a lot of comfort at the moment is that, quite simply, I don’t have any belief that my 11 years with Nicola were in any way unfulfilling. I don’t look back and wish we’d done more of anything, nor do I regret taking the decisions to do the things we did.
Of course, I feel robbed that I don’t have another 40-odd years of doing more of those things with her, but as I said in the eulogy I delivered at her funeral, the memories we created over our time together will go some way to easing that pain.
Perhaps more importantly, Nicola told me she felt the same. When she knew she was dying, she made it abundantly clear to me that she’d been happy, that she’d enjoyed her life, and that irrespective of the fact it was going to end prematurely, she’d do it all again. It’s something her family and I take great comfort from.
In terms of the portion of her life where I played a part, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to do so much. By that, I might mean travelling far and wide – we covered every inch of cities like New York, Budapest, Krakow, Prague, Amsterdam, Dublin, San Francisco, Edinburgh, to name but a few, as well as soaking up the rays on some spectacular beaches in places like Hawaii, Cape Verde, and, erm, Clacton.
Or I might mean making sure we filled our lives with fun and laughter in other ways and in the company of not only people we loved as much as possible, but perhaps above all, each other.
If we weren’t getting away to another country we’d have weekends in London taking in West End shows and getting a little tipsy in the odd bar here and there, or we’d head out to the countryside and walk for miles in more tranquil surroundings – although a pub usually featured in that activity too.
I even helped fulfil a wish of hers and took her to the ballet once. I actually quite enjoyed it, but for crying out loud don’t tell anyone…
Don’t get me wrong, we had our bad days like every couple, but those never diluted the overall fun we had together, something I’ve now become incredibly grateful for now that we can have no more.
We were together for eight years before having our daughter – something we again have no regrets over – so Grace’s arrival opened up a plethora of new opportunities to make new memories and we did just that, albeit it got harder once Nicola’s illness took hold. A few days spent at the coast together just two months before Nicola died will be a memory I’ll cherish perhaps above all others, even if it did rain for most of it…
Life’s fragility and unpredictability is something most people are aware of, particularly those who have lost someone close or been through serious illness, and it’s something I’ve been made acutely aware of in watching Nicola suffer as she did and then in losing her.
My task now that I don’t have Nicola to share new memories with is instead to create them with Grace. Travel will play a big part again – I was fortunate enough to do it a lot as a youngster and it’s something that’s benefited and educated me greatly, so ensuring Grace can experience the same will be so important. Likewise, surrounding her as much as possible with the people that make her happy will be so important.
But overall I want to give her a life that won’t differ too much from that she’d have had if her mum was still alive. It’s my role as a father to make sure she’s happy, and if I can do that then it’ll be another thing to look back at with pride.
I won’t rabbit on too much about this as I’m probably preaching to the converted in many cases, given it almost goes without saying that we all endeavour to enjoy our lives as much as possible. I guess I just have a different outlook on things now and don’t want to see people waste opportunities and lament doing so when it might be too late.
So, my message is this, and you can do with it what you will. We probably only get one crack at this thing they call life, so whatever you do, just enjoy it, because you don’t know just how short it might be.
Don’t put things off for too long, don’t pass over the opportunity to create a spectacular memory here and there whether it’s shared or personal. Don’t deny yourself the chance to be able to look back at your life at some point in the future and say, as my darling wife did in her final days: “I regret nothing!”