Nor do we have two heads or carry leprosy. We walk among you unnoticed until normal little everyday things force us to fall apart in public and reveal ourselves. This is my place to vent my frustrations, wallow when I need to and discover a new future because the unthinkable did happen and my husband died suddenly at 38 leaving me and our two little babies under the age of two behind.
Since Col died I have had many versions of the following said to me. “You’re amazing. I couldn’t do what you’re doing.” People often follow that up with, “I would simply fall apart if [insert their various partners’ names here] died.” Really? Do you think so? I am not so sure. I wanted to fall apart and yes I actually did a little bit in those early weeks. I wept inconsolably, instead of looking after my children I crumbled and let others take the brunt of their care, I didn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I saw no future and I had split seconds where I thought as there is no future I will walk out in front of that car. But not keeping on going just wasn’t an option and most placed in this horrific position manage to do so too. It’s not like I was sent this particular life challenge because I am more resilient, amazing or otherwise than the next person. I am not. If or when your life takes this awful turn you too will keep going, albeit by the skin of your teeth, and you will also be told you are amazing. I am not one to turn away a compliment, of course, so every man and his dog can tell me what a fabulous human being I am if they want, but I know that there are countless men and women like me, just keeping on going in this life as best they can just when they don’t want to anymore.
However, in low moments, when I think I am a static lump of unachieving widowness, I also pat myself on my back for some of my amazing feats in the face of death. Just as you should too when it happens to you, if it hasn’t already of course. And if it has done, well I am so sorry for your loss, but please do this list as you’ll see at the end of it that you are amazing too. Oh I know my list may not look like much to some but these are giant leaps for widowkind in my little world of survival. These are the things that will make me believe it a tiny bit the next time someone tells me how fabulous I am for being a grade one, expert widow who is doing so fantastically well, better than anyone ever who has ever trod this path before. Aye right.
Just some of my amazing Widow Year One feats:
1. Keeping on breathing.
2. Waking up everyday.
3. Bringing up two children under two. OK that’s getting easier as Evie is nearly three now but hey I managed to breastfeed a baby while grieving a husband. I like to think that’s quite an achievement.
4. Driving. I’ve always been a rubbish driver. Colin was our designated driver while I was limited to trips to soft play centres or supermarkets. I have now driven the length of the UK several times and that’s astounding in itself. Nevermind that Col pretty much died at the wheel of our car. In the week after his death I got back in and drove and didn’t let my head think about the hands that had gripped that wheel less than a week previously. I simply had to because I wanted to be the one that took his suit, his shoes, his cufflinks and his tie to the funeral directors. It was the last thing I could do to care for him. So I had to drive that car. I had to be in control of the hideous task at hand. And I know that I am not alone.
5. Seeing his body. I went to see his body at the funeral parlour. I had to do this. His death was so unreal. He hadn’t been ill for months. He walked out the door fully healthy and didn’t come home. I wanted to see him from the moment I learnt of his death but had to wait almost a week. It was horrific. His body was not him. I could barely touch him and had to almost turn and run. But I had to have that last goodbye.
6. Speaking at his funeral. I stood up in front of 400 plus people and spoke to Colin as if I were talking to him directly as I said his eulogy at his memorial. I knew all those people were there, judges, barristers, his clients, his colleagues, our friends and our families, but as I spoke I felt like it was our personal conversation. 6. I bought a house. Negotiated the price and bought a house. I packed us up and moved us out and moved us on hopefully to start a new future.
Considering it’s in my blog’s name ‘widow’ is a word I actually haven’t said aloud that often in relation to myself. ‘I am a widow.’ Nope, still does not compute even after 12 months. When I do say it I say it almost with a hidden ‘Haha’ tagged on the end of it. Not because it’s funny but because I think I still think it is a joke that this weirdy word describes my status in the world. How can that be? Well, we all know the answer to that question but it’s a word with such negative connotations from history, literature, films and society in general that it’s horrible to have it define you. It marks you out. You are not ‘normal’. In some cultures it leads to exclusion and in others it leaves your fate to the whim of your husband’s male relatives. A few hundred years ago in the UK it could leave you as penniless and ostracised from social interaction with anybody but your immediate family. While nowadays you’re left to get on with it, to fall back into place and cope with no special marker on you, no black garb to ward the world away and on top of that there are the stereotypes that people can and do place upon you, some assume you’re rich and others perhaps think you’re on the prowl for stealing a husband or two. It’s a widows perogative to keep them guessing as to you whether you are or not but really we are quite busy catching our breath after the death of our partner and mourning their loss that stealing husbands is quite low down our priority list.
I have just spent much of the weekend at the WAY – Widowed and Young charity’s AGM having a laugh and chatting with people who also sit under the shadow of this word widow, and indeed its male equivelant, widower. As I did, I saw the word become less of a negative and more of a positive before my very eyes. OK that’s a push, it’s never going to be a big, fat happy word but it lost some of its sharper edges and became easier to digest. I have said widow more times in the last 24 hours than I have in the last year. And I have said it with a proper laugh, sharing some of it’s ridiculousness, or the ridiculousness that comes with the chaos being a widow throws your way, with people going through the same rubbish as me. A room full of widows doesn’t sound like a barrel of fun for a Saturday night but I was encouraged that all those people in that room were finding a way through and redifining what it is a to be a widow/widower today. I didn’t come away feeling that WAY had solved it for me and I had found my spiritual home with these many merry fellow widows. However, I came away realising that this is not WAY’s problem. It’s mine. I am only just admitting to myself ‘I am a Widow’ so I sat on the fringes thinking ‘this is so not me’. I think as I change my mindset to admit that yes I do have something in common with those WAYers then it’s a charity that could help me and many others move forward. So there it is…I am a widow, widow, widow.
Getting to the anniversary of Colin’s death was like travelling toward the little flag on my Sat Nav that marks the end of a journey except this flag waved D for D Day, day of death as well as destination. The 25th of February was something to travel towards but when I reached that place on Monday I wasn’t quite sure where next. I certainly don’t want to go back to origin like my Sat Nav usually asks when I get to where I want to go as that would take me right back to the first day of this journey of grief. And that would be quite rubbish. However, I don’t know what we are aiming for now that I am over my year of firsts, all those anniversaries, birthdays and Christmas that have now all been done once without Col. Now he feels even further away because every day that gets lived now now adds up to a year and another day without him. Hmmm. I can no longer say it’s less than a year since he died and I don’t quite know how that makes me feel. Yes it means we have managed and got through the 12 month mark but what destination should I be typing in the Sat Nav now? I have no idea.
I do know that there is absolutely no way I would have got to that one year mark without the amazing people I spent Sunday and Monday with. The mix of kids and adults there all had one thing in common – missing Colin. We all had our moments of sadness and the Colin shaped hole did loom over all the fun and conversations but all the gatherings proved to me that the girls and I have a solid support network of friends and that each of them will be part of our journey, wherever it takes us.
I have told my sad tale so many times over the last year, particularly over the last week, that I became disconnected from it. Telling it was easy because it felt like it was a story. I am nearly 49 hours and 14 minutes from the second that Colin was pronounced dead a year ago and I have realised once again that this is not some film script or novel plot, this is my life. As I approach that minute when my world turned a familiar feeling has come back to haunt me. Nausea. I felt sick for months after Col died. I think I managed to eat one square of chocolate and a pot of yoghurt a day for the first two weeks after. Today that feeling of completely and utter horror that I am never going to see my love again and it’s a nearly a year since we spoke, shared the same air and physically touched each other has returned and I’ve been weeping.
A journalist noted this week that I was stoic and tearless. I am not. I had just forgotten how to feel and I’ve just remembered and now I want to forget to again because I simply feel like I did on February 25th last year. Sick and horrified and absolutely bereft. Oh Col……I love you.
Evie asked me last night for some new wings. When I asked her why she said it was because she wanted to fly to Daddy In The Sky and her current wings (four pairs) weren’t good enough because they were pretendy wings.
The last week has been all about me in my head and I have forgotten two other major players in this drama called “Our Lives After Colin”. I’ve made a couple of major decisions and not really thought about the two girls. On D Day I want to be with the support network of friends in London that was so important to me in those first weeks after the trauma of Col’s sudden death. I didn’t really think about how it is for Evie. She now connects her memories of London life directly to Colin. It’s as if she thinks we just left him there and when I told her that we fly down on Sunday to stay with his friends for a special day she asked me if Daddy would be there. When I said not in person but in a sense we might feel close to him by all being together and remembering how funny he was she said, ‘but he’s very far away, isn’t he?’.
It’s so hard to know what to say. I feel I have been remiss with Evie this week as the blog stuff went mental. I was all over the place, taking calls, talking about Col in front of her to strangers, considering mad dashes to London and having reporters in our house ask questions about Daddy and his death and its aftermath with her on my knee. What an idiot? I don’t think my brain was fully engaged. My gut reaction was to ask them here when she wasn’t around but I didn’t stick with it. She’s coped so well considering but I am going to keep the girls out of it from now in. It’s simply not fair. The journalists were very nice and very lovely to her and myself but still…idiot, idiot, idiot.
I know myself that she’s continually working things out. She’s obsessed with daddies. Ask her if she wants a Peppa Pig yoghurt and it’s usually the one with dumb, old Daddy Pig on it. When we go to soft play places and there is a rare daddy there (I never go at weekends and whatever you say it is usually a female dominant domain from Monday to Friday) , she kind of hangs on the edge of the poor man playing with his kids until he has to involve her. Just as when couple friends come to visit she ends up being quite cuddly and loving to the male partner. And she is simply besotted by my brother-in-laws.
She will love this weekend because all those close friends of Col’s who promised to be in my children’s lives after he died are popping by during our visit. But there will be an element of why are all these people here for My Daddy, why is he not here when there are all these daddies here for the other kids. But that’s no different to her other days really. It will just feel sadder because when all of us do gather, these amazing friends, I simply keep remembering the man that brought us altogether in life and death and Evie and Isla will only have our memories to get to know him through. No amount of wing flapping, real or pretendy, will ever bring them close to him physically in this world of ours.
It was of course hard to miss that yesterday was Valentine’s Day and it would be so easy to write a negative post about how rubbish it felt to not feel to be part of the world’s big gush of love. But some lovely friends, old and new, and kind family members worked their magic to make it all easily passable. So big love to them. To be honest, out of all the commercial ‘happy’ days in the year it is by no means the hardest…I’ll save that honour for the now rather irksome Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but that’s a whole other blog post.
So what does a widow do on Valentine’s Day? I spent an anti-Valentine’s Night Out with my new widow friend and we discussed, amongst other cheery things, children’s grief. I had switched my TV on for five minutes during the day yesterday and it just so happened to be blogging widower Benjamin Brooks-Dutton and Jeff Brazier on ITV’s This Morning talking about how to cope with young children coping with losing a parent. It left me thinking for the rest of the day about how I have spent the last year preoccupied with how my two-year-old Evie is coming to terms with life without her daddy and I haven’t spent half as much brain space wondering how it will be for Isla. Benjamin and Jeff were on the sofa discussing their children missing their mothers and I was bamboozled thinking yes Evie misses daddy because she remembers him. How will Isla, who was nine-weeks old when he died, feel when she realises she had less time with him, a few blurry shared photos with him and no real moments that she can conjure up in her head? I’ve had people say to me it will be easier for her to deal with as she’ll just grow up knowing that’s how it is, she has no daddy, it’s simply the status quo. But is this right? Surely it may be worse for her because she’ll know that Evie had more time with him?
My friend’s little girl wasn’t even born when her husband died and she’s had similar comments. How can we really know that its worse for our toddlers than for our babies? We can’t.
Now that I look back on our first year with Evie I admit, though I never would have done at the time as it was a sensitive topic, that she was a really hard work baby. But Colin adored every minute with her. I can remember the way he drank her in with a deep breath as he gently kissed her head goodnight, the way he proudly walked with her as she took her first steps and the way he over-worried about her as she careered around playgrounds. I then think to when I was pregnant with Isla as all these things were going on and how he told me he worried that he wouldn’t be able to love another human being the way he loved Evie. He shouldn’t have worried at all because on her arrival he fell instantly in love with Isla Baby. But it’s so wrong that he only had nine weeks to drink her in, isn’t it? If he could see her now he’d be overwhelmed by how loveable she is. She’s now walking. He’d be boring work colleagues with her feats. She looks like him. He’d be pretending that he felt sorry for her for being ‘so Campbell’ but inside he’d be fit to burst with the pride of it. She is easygoing. He’d be telling me that she’d taken after him in personality too. She charms rooms full of people. Again he’d secretly take that as a bit of a chip off the old block. I just so wish that he could be here so he could see it all, all the Islaness of her and then people wouldn’t be telling me that it’s going to be easier for Isla. It’s not. It’s just going to be different.
Happy Valentines chat, eh?! Actually, aside from quite a bit of widowness chat we did have a few giggles over a nice meal with wine…but I’m not sure our table topics would have been that popular with the loved up populace. Ach well.
This blog was always meant to be an honest account of how this journey through grief is going. Sometimes it’s hard to be honest as I know many of the people now reading these meanderings. But I must stick to my pledge so here comes a most honest post.
It’s official I am suffering moderate depression according to my GP today. I think she knew it and I knew it as the tears fell out of my eyes, silently, as I ticked the box answers on the NHS depression assessment form. It went something like this…
1.Do you find yourself thinking there’s no point to life – A few days a month, half of the month or everyday?
Answer: Er somewhere in between half the month and everyday?? (Not going well already).
2. Do you have little or no value of yourself – A few days a month, half of the month or everyday?
Answer: Hmmm probably just a few days…(doing bit better here).
3. Do you feel like throwing yourself out the window/in front of cars/bashing headlong into a wall – A few days a month, half of the month or everyday?
Answer: Never, just tiny moments of thinking it once a week and dismissing it as an option…much better.
4. Do you find it hard to settle – A few days a month, half of the month or everyday?
Answer: Er, every evening that I am on my own (which is pretty much every evening).
5. Have you little or no interest in food or are overeating – A few days a month, half of the month or everyday?
Answer: Meals? What are they? Great for my waistline but probably not a good longterm situation.
I have never been one for failing tests and exams so, depending on how you look at it, I totally aced this one.
The outcome, as I stated, is moderate depression. Oops. Well, what with Christmas, shingles (X2), chicken pox (X2), loneliness, three weeks until the anniversary of his death, I’d say moderate is quite an achievement. I challenge many to not have developed an extreme version of this mental health issue.
So what can I do about it? Well, I have ‘moderate’ anti-depressant drugs or happy pills as I like to call them to start from today. We’ll see if they work and magically make life a little less hopeless when the lows come. But on a more positive note, I am so, so, so bored of my sofa and watching the baby monitor for kicks of an evening that I have decided to book in a few personal training slots and plead with family members to come sit for me during the week while I run my ass off (or what’s left of it after the above admission to having no interest in food at all) on the treadmill at the gym. Firstly, it will fill those dull evenings that I currently can’t bear. Secondly, it will get those happier hormones coursing through my brain a little more often. Thirdly, it’s not before time, as I stupidly have enrolled myself and a large crowd of Col’s friends to run the Edinburgh half marathon for the British Heart Foundation, which takes place on what would have been his 40th birthday, May 26th.
We shall see. Moderate or not I am determined that this state of mind will be overcome and the additional benefit will be a body that Elle Macpherson would be jealous of. Now that’s something to cheer me.
Oh and if you’re reading this and want to donate….click!
This time last year I was preparing for a new future with two children and my husband. I had Christmas all booked up via M&S and Amazon, practically by the end of November. Our due date was December 28th so I wanted all preparations sorted by first week of December, just in case. Colin was irking me with his last minute contributions of what we should have bought Evie and his many Godchildren. I was easily irked at this point in pregnancy so this was no surprise. Whenever it was slow at work Col was quite google-tastic so everyday there was another thing he thought I should have bought or sorted pinging its way as a link on email. It made me mad. I would give my whole left arm and a part of my leg to be feeling that this year.
It is impossible not to draw comparisons this year as I go through the motions of Christmas prep. Everyday I sink lower into the depths of this weird despair. Everyone looks so happy. I am getting Christmas cards for ‘The Campbell girls’ or ‘The Campbell family’. I don’t feel like a family. I feel like Evie, Isla and I are broken and not worthy of the label ‘family’ because we have one major family member missing.
I keep weeping and Evie is seeing me sadder than I have been. But you know what she has begun to have it sorted in her head. Yesterday, she asked me: “Are you sad?”. I replied: “Yes my sweet, I am a little today. I am really missing Daddy.” I was flabbergasted when I asked her if she missed him too. “No,” she replied with a matter of fact shake of the head while sticking pieces of paper together. I was all set to be even more griefstricken thinking that she had forgotten him or had been able to move on. But no, she simply said: “I’m with him everyday.” Astounding. I need to take a leaf out of her book as I head for some horrific milestone dates: Isla’s first birthday, Christmas, New Year and beyond to the anniversary of his death.
In passing at the Zoo last week I told Evie that Daddy used to call her the Monkey Child. She has obviously stored this little nugget of information because she announced it as fact to myself and my dad yesterday. She has got such a good memory for detail especially when it comes to things I tell her about her daddy. Colin used to sing “She is the monkey child” at Evie to the tune of We Went To The Animal Fair. It started after we had seen a TV trailer for a Channel 5 documentary called My Monkey Baby. Poor Evie. She was born almost two weeks premature and was quite tiny and hirsute with it at birth. When all this hair stuck around for a few weeks we worried that she was not only looking like a monkey version of Colin but had also inherited his Wookiee-like carpet covering. We even had a discussion at about six weeks about what to do with her ear hair if she still had it at school age. I said that we’d make her paranoid if we made a fuss but Colin insisted that we would have to pluck it and to lessen her paranoia we would simply have to make it part of the bedtime routine. He said: “We could just do bath, book, ear pluck and bed.” I retorted: “But what about when she starts going to sleepovers? She’ll work it out or she’ll embarrass herself completely. We just can’t do that to her.” These conversations were obviously only half serious and all her unwelcome hair did fall out but her monkey name remained.
Colin had a name for everyone he was close to so it was inevitable that his child would have more than one. So Monkey Child was one of oh-so many for Evie. I called her Weevie and Weevil Bug and I think Col developed those to another level when he called her Dr Evil (pronounced EEEEEVAAL). I worried that this one would scar her more than any monkey child moniker but he loved it. Evie has spirit and while Col did have a few concerns that she was a very naughty little girl he was also secretly proud of the fact that she was no wallflower. I think that’s why he loved her as Dr Evil.
Then there was The Inspector. This tended to be used when she was waking through the night in the early days. She would kick off and he would sleepily turn to me and tell me that The Inspector calls. It was also used in reference to the fact that Evie ruled our roost. Will the inspector allow us this or that was the general theme to this nickname.
My personal favourite was when he called her Uncle Fester. This was simply because she looked like the balding simpleton in The Addams family according to her father. It helped that around that time Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out was getting loads of radio play. There is a line in that song that references Uncle Fester and everytime we heard it on in the car we would sing the lyric to each other and think we were hilarious. Oh dear.
Isla Baby was only in Colin’s life for nine weeks so unfortunately her role call of names is a lot shorter. In fact I feel quite terrible that I can only ever really remember him calling her the Chicken. I even had to ask a friend about the other name we developed for her. I think we called her The Difficult Child because she was the complete opposite. Half the time we barely noticed poor Isla Baby because toddlers are scene stealers in family life. Little monkeys.
As I journeyed in my taxi to my sister’s 40th birthday in Edinburgh on Saturday night I felt utterly alone and lonely. I have noticed this before. After years of going to events as a couple and returning home as a two, well, it just feels odd. I knew I had to shake myself out of my maudlin mood so I did what I have from day one. Since Colin died one of my coping mechanisms to keep me sane is to conjure up images of him in my mind’s eye whenever I need to feel him near. Perhaps this little trick in itself is a sign of the madness brought on by my grief at this loss and I am therefore far from sane. On the day he died I saw him lying reading in our bath in Huntspill Street while I took the longest, hottest shower to wash away the hideousness of the day. Just as I could see the empty bath before me I could also fill it with him with the many images I had of him lying in it reading (it was one of his favourite luxuries to lie until prune-like in our bath reading his many books).
In the days after his death I had to rely on family to put our babies to bed but when I finally did it for myself again, a few evenings after he had gone, I sat on the chair in Evie’s room reading her her bedtime story while pretending I could see his beady eye looking at me through the crack in the door. He used to do this if he got home from work early enough. He liked to survey the domestic scene of me snuggling our bathed little girl and talking her through the pictorial feast of her favourite book Each Peach Pear Plum while she interjected with her observations, ‘dummy, bunny, tootootoot trumpet’ without interrupting us. He would then break in at the last moment to delighted screams of ‘Daddy, Daddy’ and he would grab an enthusiastic cuddle for himself and get the final glory of putting her in the cot.
On the day of his funeral we had to follow his coffin in that awful hearse and I thought I cannot even bear to look ahead of me and imagine him in that wooden box. He is not there. I had been to see his body at the funeral home and I needed to not think of what I had seen that afternoon because that corpse was not the terribly alive man I knew and loved. Instead I looked out of the window as we looped a ridiculous journey to Putney Crematorium and I let my head conjure up Colin as I remembered him. I saw him throwing Evie over his shoulder as we passed one Common or another. He was wearing his black wool jacket that I loved him in (I’ve kept it) and he was laughing, open-mouthed with joy at his little girl. In another instant I saw him in his stupid, ill-fitting beige puffy jacket that I hated because he wore it so badly. It was hanging off his shoulders because it was only ever done up halfway and he was tugging at his hair, trying to bouff it up and create his infamous moussed style on a day that he’d not used a skoosh of his Shockwaves (he is the only person post-Eighties that still bought the stuff I am convinced). In another moment he was in his shorts and green T-shirt dragging his flip-flopped feet while talking on his mobile. I saw him pushing Isla’s buggy making faces for her and I saw him walking comedy quickly with a tennis racket while smoking a cigarette because he would have been running late for whoever he was meeting. I just went through a Roladex of moments in my head that would stop me even thinking about that coffin in front of us.
Nearly eight months on and I still do this on a daily basis. I imagine him in our new house trying to lie out in the new bath while complaining it is too small. I can see him in the garden with the girls. I can see him walking into the kitchen in his grey coat and pinstriped suit after a day at work standing at the fridge and grazing on celery and raw carrots even though dinner is on its way. It’s weird but it helps me feel less alone in this big old house with two little people.
After that cab journey to the bar on Saturday evening I made myself imagine him walking in front of me down Edinburgh’s cobbled streets. He was wearing a black shirt, jeans and his toddler-style lace-up shoes. I know so many people reading this will be able to see him wearing this, his familiar night out attire too. Anyway, every so often throughout Jo’s birthday do I let myself envisage him standing at the bar insisting on buying a large round of hideous shots to get the drunken drunker and instead of feeling maudlin I felt quite happy and normal and surrounded by lots of family and friends. My first normal, large social gathering all done and ticked off.