An unexpected Christmas present found me in Iceland in early January on a five-day adventure. It may seem that all planes lead to Iceland at the moment, but if you find your chance to hop on one, I’d thoroughly recommend it.
Normally, I’d tell you to do your research/ watch TV travel programmes before you commit but this time I would say DON’T. Don’t watch Travel Man (either edition) because quite frankly, on watching them in preparation, my heart sank and the impression they gave, was of a crazy country obsessed with elves, but there is so much more to Iceland.
An ink splat of a country, sitting precariously on the Mid Atlantic Ridge in the North Atlantic Ocean, marking the boundary of the American plate and the Eurasian plate, it only has a population of just over 340,000 with 118,000 of them living in the capital Reykjavik. Its interior consists of lava fields, mountains and glaciers and it is these you will want to see, along with bathing in hot springs, geysers shooting up into the sky every 3-8 minutes, black beaches and wild, tempestuous seas.
Try not to arrive, like we did, in the worst storm the country has witnessed for decades…
causing a power cut at the hotel even before you have found your room. But never fear, most building are a maximum of five storeys high, so not too many stairs to puff your way up, bags in hand. And once you’ve conquered them, taking the lift will seem lame. If you’re lucky, the friendly bar man will take pity on you and give you a restorative beer even when you have no cash and his card machine is not working.
There are many tours and just as many tour companies on offer. We plumped for Reykjavik Excursions/Flybus. Day 2 found us up wrapped (the temperature only gets as high as 14 Celsius in the summer, so just imagine the winter temperature, and then take it a few degrees lower) and ready for our 8.30 pickup. It was just a shame no one had told the sun a lie in wasn’t permissible. It didn’t show up until 10.00 and then sloped off about 16.30.
The first stop on the Golden Circle Tour took us to where the North American and the Eurasian plates are seen above ground.
If you get a good tour guide, they will fill the journey with so many interesting snippets you will eventually become a walking encyclopaedia yourself. The plates are moving away from each other, and the gap is getting bigger all the time – not enough to worry about in my lifetime but nevertheless, fascinating.
Then it’s on to the Gullfoss waterfall ( Golden Waterfall) at 32 m high. Known for its multi-step cascade along a bend of the Hvitá River.
Finishing up to watch the bubbling water of the hot springs and the Strokkur geyser shoot it stuff at Haukadalur.
After that we chose an add-on tour to the Fontana Wellness spa. Here they showed you how they made and buried the traditional bread in the hot sand for 24 hours before digging it up. In true Blue Peter style they had one they’d made earlier for us to taste. It didn’t take long to get wrinkly lying around afterwards in the hot baths, but a dip in the lake soon sharpened the senses and made you go running to the sauna to warm up.
Returning to the hotel, TheMarina, we had time to grab some (very expensive) food from the bar before wrapping up again to go Northern Lights hunting. These beauties are temperamental. A lot rides on their showing up to the party and no amount of wishing by you or the tour guide will make them appear if the conditions aren’t right. At 24.00 we called it a day and the coach took us wearily and a little disappointedly back to the hotel and bed.
Day 3 saw us up, without the sun again, for a South Shore Adventure. This started out at Skogafoss Waterfall and ended up at Seljalandfoss Waterfall, (which you can walk behind in the summer,) with a trip to the Solheimajokull Glacier and the Black Sand beach in between where the waves are so ferocious the undercurrent can sweep you out in seconds AND according to our very, safety conscious guide, has indeed done to one poor tourist.
This was a LOOOONG, but worth it day,
ending with us returning to the hotel at 19.30.
But the best was yet to come. The next day after a morning wandering Reykjavik, we went to the Sky Lagoon. One of two, with its rival the Blue Lagoon, the Sky Lagoon, an oceanside, geothermal lagoon with the North Atlantic Ocean stretching out in front of you, will blow your mind. Especially if the sunset plays its part and puts on its best technicolour dreamcoat for you.
Push the boat out while you’re there and take the 7-step relaxation ritual, if only to experience the most amazing sauna known to man.
And as if Iceland wanted to send us off the next day with a final hurrah, our postponed Northern Lights tour that evening ( if you don’t see if the first time you can join another tour another night free of charge) produced a dazzling Corona of a show. Corona or crown, not because they’re trying to keep up with the times, but because we could see the lights all around us, not just in the Northern sky.
You can add many other adventures to your trip like, snowmobiling, glacier hiking or black sand beach horse riding, so make sure you do your research and pick the tours that float your boat.
Just one last thought, if you are lucky enough to fly home in the jet stream, remember to hold onto your hats (and stomach) because on the plus side, you may arrive a whole 40 minutes early but you will have bumped your way across the Atlantic, sick bag to hand.
If the opportunity comes your way to get your arse to Iceland… do not hesitate.
I’ve looked back over my previous posts at the journey we’ve taken since you died. At least I can write the word ‘died’ now without it tearing me apart. It has been one hell of a journey and although I know we’ve not finished yet, I can see that I’ve made progress. I can see I’m in a different place now. Life is becoming calmer, more settled and I have hope in my heart again. I’ve still been travelling as extensively as possible. It seems to be my thing… for now.
I think I’m coming to a place where I can understand what has happened. Not that I like it but I can accept that it is final now and want to find a place of peace where I can live… not the life I thought I’d have, but one which will be ok. Everyone goes at their own pace. It can’t be forced, nor can you be made to feel you should be ‘over it’ by now because it fits someone else’s agenda. It takes as long as it takes for each individual. You just have to keep plodding on, finding some way to take those steps, even when it feels as though you have gone backwards. Nobody knows what this is like until it happens to them.
You don’t get better from grief; you just get better at dealing with it. The void in my heart where Nick should be will always be there, I’m just growing around it rather than getting over it, and I’m finding new ways to get through. Triggers can still blow through me, causing me to crumble and tears to fall but they are not so frequent nor so intense. I’ve weaned myself off the antidepressants and feel more able to cope. Mind you, it’s not all roses, anxiety can still rear its ugly head at times but I’m learning to curb the negative thoughts and find the positive in things again. I am blessed, I have an amazing, loving family and supportive friends who have stuck by me through this all. Not everyone knows the comfort this can bring. So yes, I am blessed.
Moving has been the biggest positive for me. It doesn’t work for everyone but it does for me. I love my house on the hill. I’m excited to watch it take shape into the home I want but instead of my heart sinking whenever I went home to Kitley Lodge, I now look forward to coming home here. Even in the crisp mornings with the frost on the ground as far as the eye can see or those times when I wake up and the fog is so thick around us we could be on our own island, the only house in the world.
So just to update you, I’ve been out and about… just a tad.
I’ve had a few adventures I’d rather not have had. Two episodes of punctures on motorways. Time to get myself a more reliable car, with a spare tyre!!!.
Wrote… and ultimately laughed a lot.
At times it was tiring…
And now we’ve made it through another year and it is your birthday and Christmas. For the first time in four years, I’m once again looking forward to Christmas. It was always such a happy time for us, with you cooking and us clearing, amongst all the happy chaos. Life feels hopeful again and I am looking forward to going into 2022, whatever it brings. And that’s good enough, eh?
So, happy birthday my darling. I said at your funeral I couldn’t say goodbye to you…I still can’t and know I never will, but goodnight is good enough for now.
Love Teresa x
PS, I still can’t bring myself to write Christmas cards so apologise for not sending any, thank you for those I’ve received.
Sending love to all who read this, wishing you peace, health, and happiness for the year ahead.
I will be surfing over this 4th anniversary of losing Nick on the 5th September- that way there’ll be laughter as well as tears.
I was recently privileged to be interviewed for the Carrington Club Magazine. The topic for the summer edition was Change.
Here’s my interview:-
Teresa and her late husband Nick came to Carrington as clients back in 2016 for a financial overhaul and to create a plan for their retirement. Unexpectedly, Nick tragically lost his life to cancer in 2017 after a very brief period of illness, and we speak to Teresa about how she’s dealt with his loss, on top of other close family and friend bereavements in the years before. We hope that by sharing Teresa’s story, and the ways in which she’s coped with her loss and all the changes that it’s brought about, it will help others who have also experienced loss or grief, or have gone through a significant change, and we thank Teresa for being so open and honest with us about her journey.
Born: Croydon, South London, April 1959, Number 5 of 6 children
Live: Seend, Wiltshire
Family: Three children – Jo, Ellie & Harry
Pets: Two dogs, Dill & Roo
Favourite holiday: Skiing/Cornwall
Favourite quote: ‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And see a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour.’ William Blake.
Favourite book: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres (not the film version though).
Hobbies: tennis, surfing, cycling, walking and spending time with family and friends.
What makes you most happy/ how do you unwind/ relax: See above!
What could you not live without: My family – oh, and a good cup of coffee!
Favourite film: ‘Untouchable’ starring Omar Sy & Francois Cluzet
Tell us a little about your life now.
I’ve recently moved to a place called Seend, which is about three miles west of Devizes. It’s perfect in terms of location for visiting places like Bath and Bristol and has happily worked out to be a conveniently in the middle of my three children who are now in Cornwall, Manchester and Brighton. The new house is lovely – it’s on the side of a hill and has the most awesome views looking over towards Salisbury Plain. It was a totally random choice; I didn’t know where I wanted to go after Nick passed away. I had been thinking of selling the family home for a while but hadn’t a clue where to move to. When we originally bought our last house, it needed a LOT of work to make it into the lovely family home Nick and I both envisaged, but we always had it in mind when the time came, we’d sell it for our pension fund. So, it was always in the reckoning, it’s just happened a lot sooner than I expected.
Initially I thought I would never be able to leave the house because Nick was everywhere. I still saw him in so many places – pottering about in the garden (his favourite way to relax), at his desk in the office, or stretched out on the sofa, pencil behind his ear doing a cryptic crossword – but as the time went on, I needed to run away more and more from the cloak of grief that seemed to cover me whenever I was in the house. I would go and stay with kind friends all over the world and travelled as much as I could, just to feel a bit lighter, but each time I came up the drive again to return home, my heart would sink. I didn’t realise at the time but I was sinking into depression. It was just too difficult to pretend I was ok when I wasn’t. Everyone’s life seemed to have carried on whereas mine had stopped. Making the decision to sell the house was the hardest part and the thought of all I had to do to make a move possible caused me much anxiety, but I leant on family and friends who supported me to realise I only had to take it a step at a time. I knew a big change was the way for me to move forward and find a life again – some people find comfort in where they are,– but for me it’s different. Some people call me headstrong, but I know that for me, making a big change in life is what I have to do, I have to shake my life up – and okay I might get it wrong but hey, I’ve done something. And it’s better to do something than nothing at all – that’s how I feel. In my new house my grief is still with me, it will never go. Nick will always be tucked in my heart but I’m learning to grow around him and, as much as I love him, here, he’s not in my face all the time. I can choose what I tell new people I meet about my circumstances, and I don’t have constant triggers of the life I’ve lost when I’m going about my day.
How did you meet the Carrington team?
We met the guys at Carrington through a good friend of mine, Celia. We’d started the business and wanted to sort our finances out. We were talking to her one day when she said, “I use a great firm and can’t recommend them highly enough. ” We had a meeting with Mike in the autumn before Nick got diagnosed in the February – so from my point of view it was really fortuitous that we’d had such an in depth chat with him, and gone through all our finances in detail. When Nick was diagnosed, he and I had a conversation in the hospice. I said “Tell me now what you want and then we won’t talk about it again but concentrate on living. What do you want me to do – do you want to be cremated or buried?”, he replied “cremated” and I asked him “where do you want to be put?” He just looked at me and said, “I don’t care where I am as long as I’m with you.” I then asked him, “what should I do about the finances – what do I do about money, what do I do about pensions?” He then said one of the most comforting things I could hear at that moment, “leave it with Carringtons, leave it with Mike. I trust them, they’ll sort you out – they’ll look after you – just leave it with Mike”. At this point I was trying to cope with our whole lives imploding – Nick’s illness and the shock of his swift decline, doctors and oncology appointments, the family, whilst also running the company. It was such a comfort to put that side of things away – knowing Carrington would take care of everything and make sure that I was okay.
I very much feel that they’ve got my back, which is what I need in my situation. I’m very fortunate that with selling the house we renovated, I’m financially okay. Mike reassures me of that every time we have a meeting. He looks at the cash flow forecasts, with his red and blue graphs, and says “you’ll be fine.” He explains everything and I use this opportunity to tell him my future plans, usually ending with me asking, “will I be ok?’ That’s what I need to know. I’ve also ‘borrowed’ a close friend’s husband, Chris, who is in finance. He comes to the meetings with Carolyn and Mike and afterwards Chris and I go for a fine lunch somewhere as a treat, when he runs through everything again and reassures me I can rely on the advice they’re giving me. Now that I’ve sold the house, it’s a real comfort to know I’m okay financially, that I don’t need to rely on anyone else. I never expected to be in this situation and widowed at 58.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
My mother. She was a great inspiration to me. She was the most loving ,kind and generous person I know. She’d been married for 30 years with six children. My father was coming up for retirement and she was very unhappy. She decided she needed to make a big change and had the courage to leave her marriage. I’ve always believed that if you are unhappy with your life, it is your responsibility to do something about it. My first marriage wasn’t a success and my mother’s courage to do something about her unhappiness gave me the instigation to do something about mine. It certainly wasn’t an easy time and not something I’m proud of but I wasn’t going to blame anyone else that I’d had an unhappy life. I met Nick and it took us a few years to end up together as we were both determined to make sure our life plan was on the same page. The same need for change came about when I was diagnosed with cancer at 40 – we had a terrible five years. I was ill, I lost my mother and sister to cancer, Nick’s sister died from cancer and a close school friend and her family were lost in the Asian Tsunami. I went on a five-year cancer drug trial, and I remember saying to Nick, “unless we do something completely radical, I’m going to end up on Prozac”. I felt like I had lost my sense of hope.
Back then we had a year’s window to move the kids’ education before Jo went to into sixth form and Ellie to secondary school. Nick grew up in a village environment and we both wanted to move out of London and try a new place, so we moved the family from south London to Sussex, again we were lucky to find a lovely village by chance. We completely changed our lives to start again. So, I knew I could do it again, – I was just doing it on my own this time. I knew making a big change had worked for me in the past so I had to have a go with what I hoped would work in the future. But I had to give myself time, time to come to a place where it felt right.
I’m not the person I was. I’m just not. In the year before Nick was diagnosed, I lost my brother to cancer and Nick was sorting out his own brother’s estate while going through his treatment. Bereavement has changed me. I think what they say about grief is true, the first year you’re in shock, the second year you’re starting to wake up to your reality – and it can get better or implode at that stage. I think in the third year, because of the pandemic, as well as everything else, everything just fell apart for me. I could see no hope in life. I was diagnosed with depression, and it was the steadfast support of my family and friends that helped pull me through. But there’s a stubborn streak in me. What example am I to my kids if I don’t rise again? What example am I if I don’t show them that sh*t happens, and that life is sh*t sometimes, but if you don’t keep ploughing away, if you don’t keep getting up (and there are many times when I’ve not seen the point of getting up, I’ve just wanted to be under that duvet) what example is that? And I suppose in a way I feel I’m honouring Nick. He fell in love with this strong, gutsy woman, if I give in, what is that saying about him and me, and the woman he fell in love with? So, there are lots of things that make me get on and get up every day, and when I’m at my worst and having a bad day, I ring my sister or my girlfriends who will readily give me the prod I need to get back on track. I’m so lucky to have a great network of friends and family.
It’s really hard to know what to say to someone that’s grieving. A lot of people cross the road because they don’t know how to approach you. You are showing them their worst nightmare. They can’t say or do anything that is going to make the situation go away for you. You just want someone to acknowledge your grief and walk beside you, that’s all. Just say “yes, it’s horrible and it’s sh*t and it’s awful for you”, and just be there, and just listen when you want to bend their ear. No expectations, no words of platitude, just help you bear the pain of the grief by being there. I took girlfriends to appointments with me or asked them to make phone calls when I wasn’t able to say the words ‘I’m ringing because my husband’s died,’ when dealing with his estate and probate. Grief makes you so fragile, however strong you think you are; you can break down in the gentlest of breezes.
It’s been a really good move to come here – I feel a lot more hopeful; I feel I’m starting to get things in the right place – I’ve got my finances sorted, the kids have all picked up and are carving a path for themselves now, which is great to see and how it should be. I’ve always wanted to surf, but told myself I was too old/too stiff and that I needed to do more yoga! Last year, when we had that little window over the summer when lockdown eased, I said to a friend that I needed to go away and do something and mentioned to him that I’d always wanted to surf – he replied, “well go and surf then!” I found this surf company down in Cornwall who were brilliant, and I found a little Airbnb as I knew that I had to start doing things on my own. I realise, particularly going back to my flying days, that I love to travel – I like to check in at home, but I also like to go away a lot – so I told the kids I was going surfing. My daughter, Ellie, wanted to come with me. She did and she also loved it, and she’s now changed her direction in life and is working with the surfing company, which is fantastic. More recently I’ve been Zip Wiring over a quarry in Wales, cycled along the towpath of the Kennet and Avon canal to Bath and I’m learning to paddle board.
What advice would you give to someone going through grief or a period of change?
I think you’ve got to allow yourself time. Change is such a difficult thing, and you get so many emotions coming in – anxiety, insecurity, questioning whether it’s the right thing to do. There are so many questions that come to mind, you can easily talk yourself out of making a change – you can overthink it terribly, and then you risk not doing anything at all. I think if you’re going through a great change, you need to feel your way into it and just take your time. Lists are good – I love a list!
I’m very impatient, but I’ve learnt that things evolve, whether you want them to or not. You can make choices, but some choices are made for you that you’re not aware of and that you have no control over. It’s like the swan where you’re gliding along but there are things furiously going on underneath – sometimes you fight against them and it’s exhausting, change is exhausting. Sometimes you have to give yourself space, you’ve got to give yourself time to breathe, sit and reflect, and then move forward a bit more – and also be aware you can go two steps forward and one step back, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – because that gives you time to reassess, it gives time for other influences to come in, and you might then go in a different direction.
Don’t look at the mountain, just look at a step at a time – just do little bits and step by step you’ll get there. You’ve also got to be open to the fact that if you pushed one door and it didn’t quite open there might be another one behind it in the corner that you hadn’t seen, and that might be your door – but if you’re not opening the doors in the first place how are you ever going to know? That’s one thing I tell my kids, I think their twenties are the time to get out there and meet people and try things before responsibility, mortgages and life takes hold of you. Okay, so you don’t like that job so try another – it’s not the be all and end all – you’ve just got to keep pushing the doors until you find your fit.
What inspired you to start your blog?
The Empty Nest was all about when your kids have left home. There are so many blogs about toddlers and bringing up babies but there didn’t seem to be many about when they leave home, and how that feels for parents. Especially for women who are home builders and have brought up the family, they feel a big void. I’ve always tried to write humorous blogs – I used to write humorous articles on our relocation to Sussex from London for regional magazines such as Sussex Life – just about funny things that happened to us – such as me, the towny, being chased across a field by a ram in my sparkly, flip flops on the way to the school pickup. So, I asked the kids if they were okay with me writing about them and I just wrote about some of the funny things that happened to us. I love writing. Writing a novel is a long process and writing a blog is immediate – and I like the combination of the two. That’s why I started it – for my own entertainment but also to share funny family moments, and I thought that other families in the same situation would be able to relate to them and laugh! I just want people to read my posts and enjoy them, I want them to be light relief, there’s too many horrible things in the world, and I just see them as a bit of fun, humorous, and I’m very sarcastic!
Do you think it’s helped you by writing things down?
It’s helped me enormously – writing is my creative outlet, and I wasn’t going to publish the early posts on my blog after I lost Nick, because they are very personal and they’re very honest, and as with all writing, you’re opening yourself up and putting yourself out there, but I’ve had a lot of people come back to me and say that they’ve been helpful to read. It also helps me to see, when I go back to the first ones, what a different place I’m in now, because I told it as it was in the beginning, and it was dreadful, but now I can see it’s a lot more upbeat and my humour is coming through again. I only tend to blog on special anniversaries, and I often write it as a letter to Nick because it just helps me formulate my ideas. It’s like telling him how we’re coping without him, how he’s left a huge void in our lives but we’re getting there, we’re making our lives work again. I hope it helps other people to see that you don’t come through grief, you don’t move on, it’s the analogy of grief being a void in your heart and it’s huge, but you grow around it – you find a way to live with it – it doesn’t disappear, and when I have a thought that really touches deep down it brings it all back, but I can at least still go on every day – whereas in the beginning I couldn’t even face the day. So, it’s helped me enormously in that way.
I hope my blog is helping people, life’s hard and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I shamelessly ask anyone now who I think might help. I am quite a private person which sounds crazy, when I write a blog about my life, but this is my way of putting it out there, you have to just keep going, every day, a step at a time, that’s all you can ask of yourself.
What are your goals?
To be as popular as Adele Parks! I don’t have an agent or publisher at the moment, I just love writing – I wish I could make it pay and I could spend all day doing it. I’ve had lots of small successes: – my two novels, Love, Suzi (based on my diaries when I was cabin crew) and Choices are out in the world and I’m working on another book at the moment. I’ve written a children’s middle grade adventure, short stories and a poignant but humorous memoir of my year of cancer. They say never give up and I won’t, I’m obstinate – I think that’s what’s pulled me through.
Other goals include to travel more. When I was an air stewardess I really enjoyed coming and going and I miss that. But mainly my goal is just to be okay, it’s not such a huge goal anymore, just to be okay, okay is good. To be comfortable, to be contented, to enjoy my home & garden. Of course, there are things that I want to do but I’ve achieved a lot, I’ve had a lot in my life, I want my kids to be happy, I want to be part of their life – and just for everyone to be okay. I’m not bothered about getting old. After thinking my chips were down when I was 40, every birthday is a bonus. I want to enjoy the day, wake up, see the sunshine and watch it go down thinking “hey, today was a good day”. Whether I sat and read, cycled, went to work, did paddle boarding, or spent it with friends. There’s nothing I like more than having the kids and their friends round, eating and drinking, a lot of banter, lighting the firepit – that is the perfect day for me, just all being together.
Things I’ve learnt along the way
I’ve been thrust into retirement, not what we were planning – we were planning to work for another five years at least. And then we were going to downsize and retire – we were going to live by the coast as Nick wanted a boat, we were going to change our life and travel, and spend our “golden years” together after all the hard work. We did have a lot of times where we had very little money, but Nick could always see the bigger picture. When I got my cancer, I had to have all the lymph nodes taken out of my groin and so my leg swells up. I decided then that we couldn’t do “hot” holidays very well as a family because it’s a balance between the swelling and a heat rash with my leg– it’s okay if you’re lying down all day but you can’t lie down all day with young children! So, I thought “right, we’re going to enjoy cold holidays” so we took the children skiing and they have been the best holidays of our lives. Even now we can sit around the table and crease up with laughter recalling the funny antics of our group while skiing.
The years that we couldn’t afford to go skiing I’d say to Nick “we really shouldn’t do this” and he would say “don’t worry, we need to make memories now – we’ve got the money, it’s in the house, it’s in these bricks, we just don’t have it in our hands, don’t worry about it, we’re going skiing because we have to live for now”. I’m so glad that he did that because of course, now the bricks and mortar materialised, they paid up, and we’ve got the most fantastic family memories of holidays where we just laughed the whole time – if he hadn’t been able to see that bigger picture, I would have been too cautious.
Finances are a funny thing, I’ve always been very worried – I suppose because as a woman, having taken time out to raise the family and only doing part time jobs – I knew I couldn’t have afforded to keep myself and the children, on my salary. It depends what you do as a couple but I see it as team work. Nick was earning, he loved his job and he was earning more than me and initially when I was teaching I could work part time –not possible in his line of work. Then when we started up the construction company we worked together, (I learnt to do as I was told). That’s a test of any marriage – together 24/7. They were the choices we made, as a couple for our family. We each worked in our own way to ensure our family was financially safe and that everyone also felt loved, nurtured and happy. I asked Nick once if he worried about the kids and he replied, “no, I know you’ve got that one.”
Nick taught me a lot about things like that – not to worry about the small stuff – look at the bigger picture because the small stuff will often take care of itself, and by overthinking it you get caught up in anxiety and what’s the point of that? 90% of what we worry about doesn’t happen. Worry takes away from now, it takes away from the moment – we don’t have tomorrow yet, we’ve lost yesterday, we have now. We have to keep that in the forefront of our minds, and I know it’s hard because everyone worries – but you have to think about now. In the words of Randy Pausch “It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand,” that’s what it’s all about. You have to keep coming back to the now, now is the time to live – because who knows what’s happening tomorrow. On my bad days I think “okay, even if I take things a little slower, a little more gently, because I’m feeling a little fragile – that’s okay”. It’s important to just give yourself some time and do it for the now.
For all that has happened to me, and these last few years have been the hardest challenge I’ve ever had to face – I am blessed. I had a wonderful marriage to a truly wonderful man. I have three amazing children and I can live in this beautiful place – he has left me well provided for. I’m very thankful to him for that. It’s up to me now to make a life.
One of my favourite poets is William Blake, he wrote an inspirational poem about imagination, vision and seeing the bigger picture, –‘ To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And see a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour.’ That sums up life for me.
Another year, another wedding anniversary. ‘Time and tide wait for no one.’ Chaucer.
It still feels like being on holiday after the move, but the stack of boxes are diminishing, I’m getting used to where to find things and at the same time getting to know the staff at the local tip to get rid of more ‘Stuff’. It’s amazing how you can think you need something and then when it comes out of a packing case you realise that it isn’t the essential item you thought it was.
It seems I’ve managed to choose to buy a house in a lovely village again. Quite by chance, just like before, when you and I found Laughton. The neighbours are friendly, the village is very pretty…
…and it is in a brilliant position for getting to London, Bristol, Brighton, Cornwall and Manchester.
I’ve got out and about :- cycling in the New Forest, around Swanage and Weymouth…
and Portland Bill.
There is so much to do and explore
without the daily dog walks around the countryside and canals.
The ‘children’ have all dispersed for work and settled again. Jo to Brighton way,
Ellie to Cornwall
And Harry to Manchester.
It seems we’re at last finding our new directions in life.
I’m making plans to change the house to how I want it. There’s an en-suite to build in the roof, a wall to knock through in the kitchen and part of the garden to landscape. That’s ok, I like a project. Meanwhile, I have two trips to Cornwall planned in the near future ( surfing isn’t going to perfect itself without some practise), possibly a trip to the Peak District or Yorkshire and numerous weekends away (well, it can be anytime in the week really) sometimes in a campervan and sometimes roughing it.
It seems I really do like to flit here and there, travelling as much as possible with a stop off at home along the way. A bit like my flying days but without serving ‘chicken or beef, sir?’ in between. Retirement makes that possible. There’s so many places to go to and things to do. Until we can get abroad I’ll make do with coasteering in Cornwall, cycling along the canals…
eating mussels (I didn’t like them before I had Covid, now I just can’t taste them – nor anything else for that matter, so why not?)
Not the life we had planned for ourselves, Nick, and there have been times I couldn’t see the point of going on anymore, but as Joan said:-
I’m trying my best to make a life, preferably a terrific one. Now I’ve sold Kitley Lodge, it feels like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I can emerge from the constant grief, take time out and find the real me, the me who likes to try new things, meet new people and get out there and have fun. All your hard work has made this possible. Thank you.
I’ve only gone and done it! In the bastardized words of Bronte, ‘Reader, I moved.’
Safe to say, if I ever mention I’m thinking of moving again in the near future, remind me not to! It’s taken 3 skips, numerous carloads to a wonderful lady who runs jumble sales for the village, many trips to the dump and countless bags for charity shops (ready for when they open again) to squash a five bedroomed, family house full of twenty five years’ worth of ‘stuff’ into a couple of removal vans and our cars. Needless to say, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Opening the door to the removal guys on the morning they came to load the contents of the house, they could see I was stressed. ‘Don’t worry, we can deal with that.’ Huge shout out to GA Lomer & Sons for their calm professional manner. I can’t recommend them enough. Nothing was too much trouble, and when my stress level reached it’s peak and I called Harry a plonker for a minor misdemeanour, I was gently reminded that ‘no shouting was allowed on removal day,’ which made me smile instead at my rashness and grounded me again.
Thrusting the vacuum cleaner, mop and bucket into the last remaining space in the footwell of the passenger side of my car, I then found a tin of paint left in the porch. Unable to squeeze it in to the boot because of the dogs, I found a tiny bit of room left in the aforesaid passenger footwell, so I carefully wrapped it in a black plastic bag and jammed the door shut tight.
I’d decided I wasn’t going to overthink leaving Kitley Lodge for the last time, but pretend that I was just going out to the shops as usual. It wasn’t the time to be wracked with emotion. Stopping at the supermarket in Lewes to fill up with petrol, I’m glad I did because as I opened the passenger door to get my purse, I discovered the tin of paint had upended and spilt over the interior of the car, my favourite jumper and two jackets. (Remember there was a last-minute scramble to fit loose items in to the car, anything got thrust anywhere!) Unusually calm for me, I realised, if that was the worst to happen with moving, I had got away lightly. By the time we got to the new house, the removal men had delivered the beds and unloaded one truck, returning the next day with the rest of our furniture.
My new home, Bell Lodge, is wonderful!
The views are stunning,
the feeling of space is liberating
the walks by the canals are calming,
and the expanse of night sky is vast.
Already we’ve had a few unexpected visitors,
I’ve been told off ( nicely) by the local farmer (made me feel like a naughty schoolgirl), met the postman, figured out the heating system and discovered they do take away deliveries ( ok for you townies, but wonderful for us country folk and not available at K. L.) The curtains are up and it feels like home.
There’s loads for me to do with Bell Lodge. It is looking a little tired but that is the exciting bit. I can take my time and work on a few ideas I have and liven it up. A oak framed, garden room on the east side for example.
The morning sun shining through large windows will be a perfect place to read the paper at weekends while checking on what the cows in the field opposite are up to. A pizza oven next to the BBQ, could be something to enjoy on summer evenings and a sundowner in a new gazebo watching the colours of the sky fade as the twinkling lights of the night sky take over.
We have endured a lot recently, but I’m thrilled to say that at long last, life is picking up. I feel a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I am in a completely different place. Harry, Ellie and Jo have new jobs and will eventually have new places of their own to discover and to get excited about. Ellie to Cornwall ( I intend to visit often and practice my surfing), Harry to Manchester and Jo to Brighton. Making this move has been momentous, not only in the physical sense but for my own mental health. What a difference a year makes. From being in the depths of despair, I have clawed myself out of my dark hole, with the support of loved ones, to stand on the rim of expectation and hope. It seemed an enormous mountain to climb but, by taking one step at a time, I have got there. I have achieved more than I thought I was capable of. I am excited for what my life is going to bring and I am lucky enough to have the means and ability to do so much more with it…watch this space!
I was reminded recently that I must write. An old friend reached out and told me how my blogs were helping her to not feel alone after losing her husband. Writing is my happy place. Most people are still searching for their happy place – why neglect mine?
When I started the Empty Nest blog it was as an antidote to the gloom and doom surrounding me. I hoped humorous tales about our family life would make readers smile and bring a different slant on life. Unfortunately, as you know, our lives took such a dark turn I lost my way. For a while I couldn’t write. I couldn’t find joy in anything, but now I can see glimpses of light and laughter. I’ve read a lot about bereavement and grief. Just because I’m laughing doesn’t mean I’m ‘over it.’ That took a while to sink in, but it resonated. I’m allowed to be happy again. I’m allowed to find joy in simple things. So I must accept that and live it. So in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I decided to put more effort into life and be more proactive, with my writing in particular. There’s still a lot of gloom and doom in the world but nature remind us everything is cyclical. Those damn daffodils will still poke their joyous heads up above the earth for us to wonder at their beauty. The tulips will open again and bend towards the light and I will be able to plant sweetpeas wherever I am living and enjoy their transient colour and fragrance.
It won’t always be winter, rainy and cold but the buds will appear, the evenings will lighten and in the words of one of my favourite poets, William Blake, we can approach the world with cheerful optimism…
When the voices of children are heard on the green And laughing is heard on the hill, My heart is at rest within my breast And every thing else is still
So, after reading about the ‘golden hour,’ one hour after sunrise and before sunset (I’ve interpreted it for myself here to only include sunrise) I now wake up and open my laptop to work on my novel before I do anything else. This includes getting my cup of tea and for those who know me, this is sacrosanct to my morning ritual. This way I’ve nailed an hour at least a day of writing, even if I don’t return to it later. It’s amazing how sanctimonious I feel when I can mentally tick that box. I seem to far more productive throughout the day as well with this good start. I only hope my ‘ own brand of complacency’ which a tutor at University said I ‘coasted along on’ doesn’t kick into place any time soon. By the time I’ve done a cycle or dog walk afterwards, the day is off to a fine start. Another tick.
My move is progressing as it should. The admin side is kicking in and solicitors are doing their thing (I hope). I’ve found strength I didn’t know I had. I feel the real Teresa is emerging. I haven’t been single for over thirty-five years. I’ve been a wife for so long I’ve forgotten what it is to be me. Naturally I took a certain role within the relationship. I didn’t mind as I was very happy. It just evolved over the years. Before, Nick would have taken charge and dealt with any snags to do with the move and I would have been happy to let him, believing he was more able than me, but I realise I am more than capable. Issue with the retaining walls in the new property? No problem. Chat to a few friends asking their advice, then seek a builder in the area to give me a quote to find the depth of the problem and how much the repairs would cost. Find a reliable removal firm? Again, talking to people and a recommendation from a friend did the trick. Tick.
I’m now at the practical stage of packing up. I’ve been ruthless with culling my stash of books.
I’m listening to a lot on audible these days and really, if I need one… what are libraries for? I have a skip on the drive and the more I put in, the happier I am. I’ve sold sofas and lawn mowers, clothes and filing cabinets. I’m determined not to take ‘stuff’ I don’t need with me. This is my new start. My new life and I want to fill it with the things that make me happy, not clutter that drains me. And anyway, how will I fit my surfboard in if my house is full of stuff I don’t use?
It is liberating to clear out and exciting to feel a new start is approaching.
I try not to think about how we would have celebrated it had you lived. I would have booked a surprise something – a trip to Paris, like your 50th – or 60 presents! I would have thought of something to give you a day to remember, but thinking like this is like torturing myself or picking at a scab that doesn’t heal.
Instead I’m going to celebrate the wonderful 56 years you WERE here. From the young page boy at your sister’s wedding:-
To a favourite memory of you snoozing in the sunshine on a skiing holiday.
You were always hands on, be it building a snowman…
or a climbing frame when the kids were little…
having fun putting up a wind break while camping in Cornwall…
or at the family BBQ.
A family walk was a favourite pastime, where you would lead us off the path and we would blindly follow, once ending up climbing a sheer cliff face through trees hoisting the children and dog along with us!
You were always so proud of our three…
You and I had fun too – dressing up for functions…
snatched adventures abroad…
or fun with friends…
You were so big hearted. You kept us safe and guided us all through whatever life threw at us. It is only now you have gone that I realise just how much you held us together. How you cradled my heart in your hands and always put your family first, with me top of the list. I was special to you and you to me, I miss that very much. Even within our relationship we both allowed each other the freedom to grow and pursue our own interests but always made sure we were connected to each other.
You were my person I could just ‘do nothing’ with, the one I was always glad to be going home to at the end of the day. Not many couples know how wonderful this feels. I was blessed to be part of it.
You were such a fantastic dad, always having an abundance of the two things I think are fundamental to parenting – unconditional love and time to listen. It is a testimony to you that our three have become such well rounded, caring young people.
I miss our life together…
but I have to keep pushing forward. I have to make a new start, meet new people, explore new areas, make new memories if I am to live properly again. With that in mind I’ve sold our home and am moving to a completely new part of England. My new home has the most fantastic views. I’ve always loved a view! The feeling of space and freedom it gives me is liberating. The garden wraps around the house so I will be able to watch the sun come up and then enjoy the last of its rays from my bed as it says goodnight.
The house is near the canal system so I’m hoping in time, to buy a narrow boat and potter along, when and where the fancy takes me. There’s a whole new world out there to learn about – I’m sure I’ll find someone willing to give me the benefit of their boating knowledge!
I still intend to perfect my surfing technique…
keep cycling and have more adventures, travelling as soon as the world opens up, but as a good friend keeps reminding me, NOW is the time to enjoy life and have fun…
You will always betucked in my heart, Nick, but I’m going to get out there and live this life for the both of us. It is exciting to be starting something new… who knows where it will take me…
So, your 3-year anniversary is looming on the 5th September. If anyone had told me the morning you died that I would still be standing three years later, I would have screamed it would not be possible. I would have questioned how I could even make it to the next day let alone 3 years. But here we are. It’s been a very difficult road but hopefully things are changing.
I’ve made some decisions. Don’t laugh, the art of making decisions for me passed away with you. Me, who has coped with so many traumas already in my life and come out the other side. Me, who made you wait while I extracted myself from my first marriage, and me, who instigated our relocation from London to the country to change our lives once before.
I wonder sometimes if you would recognise me now. Like a flower in bud I have been forced by nature into life again. I have fallen to such lows. Sometimes it was hard to admit to myself just how low. Being in control is what holds me together and I was not in control of anything it seemed. Events forced me to wake up and take action, but I feel I’m coming out the other side and am at last getting excited for life again.
A few things have contributed to this. One is, I’ve decided to move. A big decision which forces lots of little ones. I need a new life. A new area to explore. New people to meet. A new start. So the house is on the market. We did it together before. This time I must forge my own way forward, but I can do it. Thinking about where to go and how I want to live has been interesting. Thank goodness for google earth and the internet making different areas easy to research. I’ve narrowed it down to the things I do want.
I want to be able to get to London and back by train in a day. Probably not high on everyone’s list but I like to have a fix of the fumes every now and again along with the galleries, exhibitions and a fine lunch somewhere. So that gives me a large circle around the capital and a good place to start. I also want to continue with tennis and cycling. I’m the fittest I’ve ever been. Lockdown was good for that at least and of course, there’s always the dogs to be walked. So the countryside along with pubs for those cosy lunches would be good. But I also need a little hustle and bustle around me so I feel connected with the world and not too isolated.
My latest adventure is surfing, so getting to Cornwall more easily would be ideal. I recently took a week’s course to learn and I laughed such a lot at my attempts to succeed, I immediately knew it was something I must continue. I need fun in my life. I’m determined to perfect my style. At the moment it is more gung-ho and cling on than spring up and glide, but who knows, I may take up sailing next?
Being thrust into retirement is difficult. Having a structure to my day is important but I’m getting used to allowing myself to take time out and sit and read during the day. And of course, there’s my novel to continue with.
A new home would need a few alterations to put my stamp on it so that could be another project. And that’s before I find something I can volunteer for. So, you see, at long last life is opening up and becoming exciting. There is lots going on. I am a restless soul. I like coming and going. If I can’t go out and about, I feel trapped.
So, this year I’ll be surfing on the 5th, Nick. The salty sea will mix with my tears as I think of you, but I know I will laugh as I plonk my body on that surfboard and paddle like mad to catch a wave.
I’m doing my best to find a new life without you. I have a way to go but as I recently discovered ‘nothing is too scary, the scary thing is doing nothing.’ There’s lots more adventures to be had and I’m going to grab every opportunity that comes my way. I know you would be right behind me, urging me on.
So today would have been my 20th wedding anniversary. My previous posts have told the trauma of that time. In 2000, I had just had surgery for cancer, and we didn’t know if it had spread and how long I would have left. Now 20 years later, miraculously, I’m still here but those of you who have been reading my previous blog posts know that life has been nothing if not challenging.
When Nick was diagnosed with kidney cancer in March 2017, we were led to believe we would have some time left together. Maybe we didn’t hear what the doctors were saying or they gave us conflicting views, but we believed there was some time. How much we didn’t know, but certainly not just the 3 months post-surgery following the removal of his cancerous kidney. To say my world was completely tipped over is an understatement. You have read the journey I have taken since I lost Nick. I’ve written it because it is cathartic, and I hope it may help others who are going through something similar. I want to tell you where I am now.
Throughout this time, I have been supported by my beloved family and friends.
Nick and I ran a construction company (he ran it, I did as I was told) and it has taken the last few years to wind this business up. All this time I have also been supported by a close friend of Nick’s also in the construction business who stepped in when Nick (and I) were floundering. I can still remember ringing him, seated in the hospice garden when I didn’t know where else to turn. He didn’t hesitate and has been invaluable in helping me complete the outstanding jobs and close the business. I could not have got to this point without him and I will always be so grateful to him for his unwavering support when I needed it most.
As time went on our friendship grew and my heart began to thaw. From living without any sunlight or hope through the darkness, he showed me I could find love again and that there was a life out there for me. Albeit a different one in every way from my expectations, it came as a surprise and for a while I was in denial, but nonetheless a happy and loving life. My head started to accept the change and hope entered my heart. I found happiness again from a completely unexpected place.
Unfortunately, things recently have taken a different path to the one I was hoping for. Just as I began to believe and have faith that, although things may be difficult, there was now something to look forward to, I had found someone to love and cherish again, everything changed. This was the person who had calmed me at my worst, wiping snot from my tearstained face when I was overwhelmingly consumed by grief and wanting to end it all. He stood by me for the worst two years of my life with patience, kindness and care. He gave me hope that there was a life out there again for me. Now my loving friend has decided he can no longer wait for me and he has to put his own needs first. Understandable, but a crushing blow as I come to terms with the heartache and disappointment of what was the possibility of a future together. Two years is nothing in the grieving process to come to a place of acceptance after the kind of relationship I had with Nick. I could see I was thawing from my shocked position and moving forward, learning and accepting that I was not dishonouring Nick by having feelings for someone else.
But it is not to be.
So, what now?
As hard as it has been and still is, I must somehow find a way to pick myself up, dust myself off and go forward again. My recent experience has shown me many things – that cloaking myself in my grief and building a wall around myself does not prove how much Nick meant to me. That having feelings for someone else is not being unfaithful or disloyal to Nick. That my heart isn’t finished with relationships yet. I like feeling special to someone and making them feel special too.
I’m not looking for another Nick. He was a one off. It’s a funny thing, losing a spouse. It’s not like divorce where you make choices. Even if you are the one left behind you know that person still exists, they still walk the earth. Losing Nick meant that no matter how hard I look through a crowd, I will never see his beloved, familiar face again. That part of my life was precious, but it’s gone. He will never be forgotten and to move forward I have to accept that. I believe he would want me to find someone else to make new memories with. But first I have to get my mojo back again and get myself to a place where I can function properly.
This recent world situation has made me think. What to do with my life and what is on my wish list? At the moment, probably like most of you, I’m taking it day by day, not looking too far ahead but maybe in time, walking the South West Coastal path? Going to live in southern France for a while? The Inca trail? Drive around New Zealand for a few months? Who knows what. There’s a lot out there to see and experience.
So, once the world is open, I will be making plans. I would like to find someone to share life’s adventures with again and while I’m doing that, I will have a few adventures of my own. This heart is open for business.
I hope you and your loved ones are well and happy.
If you are stuck for something to watch during these unprecedented times, I recommend taking a virtual walk around the Royal Academy wondering at the brilliance that is David Hockney. I went to see his exhibition The Bigger Picture in 2012, five times and even that wasn’t enough. Make yourself a cuppa, sit back and enjoy.