New year, new start. It’s a bit of a cliché I suppose but it’s one I’ve tried to adhere to a little bit as I try and put what was, quite frankly, a pretty horrific 2017 behind me.
From the very start of the year right until mid-August, Nicola was terminally ill and then passed away. After that it was dealing with the aftermath, the grief, and trying to make sense of it all. Not a good year in anyone’s book.
The latter part of the year was very strange in many ways. I spent a lot of time crying, reflecting, pining for the lady I’d lost, feeling quite lonely at times and wondering just how low I’d get.
But I also had Grace to pick me up, lift me out of the bad moments and to concentrate on as she began nursery and continued to grow ridiculously fast in both mind and body.
All of that, coupled with spending a while sorting out the various formalities that one faces in such situations, meant the whole period between August and Christmas was something of a blur.
There was one big factor, however, that I had to make sure I kept under control and which at times looked like I’d struggle to. My own state of mind.
Everything that had happened over the past two years had really taken its toll on me mentally. At the time, I just dealt with it, going into some kind of autopilot as I juggled looking after a very ill person and all that comes with that, caring for a toddler and also continuing to work.
But looking back, I don’t quite know how I got through it given those very factors. It was only on quiet nights to myself after Nicola had died that I suddenly realised just how much I’d had to go through and how I was still reverberating from it all – indeed the quiet nights were that much more conspicuous given they’d been almost non-existent beforehand.
What began to happen, however, was that as the raw emotions wore off and reality began to sink in, a degree of anxiety started to announce itself and that would reflect in my mood and my entire outlook.
It was something I saw coming, to an extent, but became that bit more apparent at certain times. I was fine when surrounded by family and friends and would enjoy those times, but when they’d all dispersed and I was plunged back into the reality that Nicola wasn’t here with me, it got hard for me to adjust.
The problem was, it began to affect too much. My sleep was affected, which in turn made me tired and perhaps a bit more moody, and that then began to affect how things were with Grace as I might have been a bit more snappy at her than she deserved. I soon realised that I didn’t want that to happen.
Therefore, I had to give myself a good talking to and think just how I was going to be. Was I going to let myself be consumed by the grief and have it control me, or was I going to instead look at all the positives I have in my life and let those be what drive me forward?
Nicola would have been the first person in line to bash me around the head was I to let the first scenario happen, if nothing else for Grace’s sake as well as my own, and that alone helped me realise that she wouldn’t have wanted the inevitable sadness of her absence be what controlled and defined me for too long. In fact, she’d told me as much in conversations we had before she died.
I’m 38-years-old. All being well I’ve probably got half of my life ahead of me. I couldn’t let the rest of it be destroyed when there were other things I could look forward to. Yes, of course Nicola not being there to enjoy them with us was hard to comprehend, especially things revolving around Grace and doing up the great house we’d bought together, but I have no control over that and instead take solace from how proud she’d be if she WAS here.
Grace started ballet classes in January – she’s a constant performer and loves singing and dancing around the house. Having had two or three classes she turned to me recently and said: “I miss my mummy. I wish she could see me doing ballet.” It broke my heart, as you can imagine, but I talked to her and tried to assure her that Mummy would be so proud of her and was watching down on her dancing all the time.
Grace, who is now three-and-a-half and starting to apply a little more logic to the whole situation, protested that Mummy couldn’t see her because ‘she’s up too high!’ before swiftly changing the subject and doing something else. Not 30 seconds later, a song came on the TV programme Grace was watching at the time that Nicola used to sing to her a lot. As I’ve said before, I’m never sure how to truly interpret things like that, but at that moment it was as if Nicola WAS watching down and wanted to let Grace know she was with her always. It wasn’t lost on Grace, and it’s fair to say it left me with more than a lump in my throat too!
Those kinds of things are bound to happen but whilst in the past they’d have been enough to reduce me to a blubbering wreck for a few hours, now I try and raise a smile about it and, to coin a phrase, keep calm and carry on.
Various events and people have helped give me more reasons to be cheerful, the importance of which can never be underestimated at times like this, and I know Nicola would wholly endorse anything that had that positive effect on me, Grace, or both of us. Decisions I now make are a lot more rational than they might have been at first and I’m thinking hard about the effect the bigger ones will have on our future.
Different people cope with grief in different ways. For a time, I was really struggling, facing up to life without the person I thought would be in it forever and struggling to comprehend how I’d bring Grace up to be the girl/lady she has huge potential to be.
Now, whilst I still feel sad and inevitably have the odd ‘wobble’ here and there, I’ve had to try and control the grief rather than let the grief control not only me, but also decisions I make that could impact me negatively further down the line, and I feel a lot better for it.