So here we are, two years since Katherine left us. Two years since I said goodbye to my love, my best friend, wife and mother to my daughter. Two years since I became a new person. Two years since my heart was broken. Two years since I experienced the loneliness, the depression, the shock and the MMMBop.
It was only seven days ago I had to carry the weight of our fourth wedding anniversary. Today is another hurdle to get over. It also marks the end of the second cycle and the beginning of the third. Margot and I have been through the first of everything important without Katherine and we’ve already begun to encounter them all over again – birthdays, Christmas time, family holiday’s, Mother’s and Father’s Day, numerous anniversaries. We’re still here, getting stronger and I’m still writing about it. I think I’ll be doing this for a long time. It is by far the best tool I have discovered to express my feelings. Not only for me but for others and to help my daughter in the future.
When I look back at the last two years. It doesn’t get any less painful to have lost Katherine, but it does slowly get easier to get through each day. Because of all the incredible support Margot and I received from our loved ones. After surviving the first year, people often asked me “how are you so positive?” or even “how did you get yourself out of bed every day?”!
Well for me, it came in three parts. Let me break my experience down for you.
In simple terms, I had no choice. I’m both Mum and Dad to my little baby girl. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself and it wasn’t going to get me anywhere in the process. I had to eventually let the grief take hold of me. This is the most important and hardest part to discover. By embracing it all, it has made me more logical today.
I’ve always said that everybody deals with grief very differently, a partner’s grief is different to a parent’s grief or a child’s grief or a friend’s grief and everybody copes in different ways. My philosophy on this still remains the same two years on. I cannot change what has happened, no matter how much I want to, so I need to try and make the best of my situation. If I can swing my legs out of my bed in the morning and I’m feeling well, and my daughter is healthy and happy, then anything else that happens that day is just a big fat juicy bonus. The important factor is, you let it take you. Don’t repress it.
This came from the experience I gained from dealing with the first anniversary. This is what really helped me mentally and emotionally get to where I am now . Back then, I made a conscious decision not to be around our family home. Or even the UK for that matter. By that point, the memories of sadness in our family home had hugely top trumped all the happy ones we created. The darkness was too much for me to handle. Instead, I had devised a masterplan. I chose not to challenge the inevitable pain in the battleground of our home. I had to face it head-on in a more positive environment. To essentially balance this beast of sadness with a little influx of happiness.
I chose to endure the first anniversary within the realm of fantasy, magic and make-believe! This came in the form of Orlando, Florida, USA.
For Katherine, Orlando was the happiest place on earth. It held so many joyful memories for us and for her childhood memories. We had got engaged at Disney’s Magic Kingdom back in October 2013. We also spent our honeymoon here at this exact point in time back in May 2015. Another reason why I wanted to rekindle my fondness of the time we had together.
On the flipside of all of this, my brothers 40th birthday was approaching the week before Katherine’s first anniversary. I’d realised that I hadn’t bought him anything for this monumental birthday. It also occurred to me that in the forty years of our brotherhood, we had never actually been on holiday together. Just the two of us.
I’m very close to my older brother Karl. He’s the only brother I have and the funniest person I’ve ever known. If anyone could attempt to lift my spirit to cloud #9 during this spell- it was him. Katherine adored him, and he adored her. The perfect brother and sister in laws. This opportunity was so right in every way. Not only to take my best man from our wedding but to also have my best and closest friend by my side each step of the way.
A deep downside for any victim of Sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS) is the fact that the heart of the victim is inspected to discover the cause prior to the diagnosis of SADS. I hadn’t received Katherine’s heart back till after the funeral. This meant that all of her original ashes had already been buried at this point in time. When I eventually received her heart back from the pathologist, I managed to have it privately cremated and presented to me in a small but beautiful box made of pure English Oak.
I remember one evening sitting in my kitchen, just stirring at it for a long time. Realising how perfect it was in size and weight to travel. Here, the perfect opportunity had presented itself to me. I could spread the ashes of her beautiful and kind heart within the domain of her favourite Disney resort. Two had suddenly become three for the trip.
Words could not describe how amazing the two-week adventure turned out to be. I experienced vast amounts of high and lows from both theme park rides and the triggered memories of my wife. My brother and I had also been given the chance to connect back to our own childhood. It was simply ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’.
I’ll always remember one specific moment in Orlando when I gained a slice of mental ‘closure’. It was midday at Universal Studios, we’d just finished our lunch in a restaurant by the entrance to the park. As we began to leave, my brother Karl expressed the need to use the restroom. He went back in, as I proceeded to wait outside. In true Orlando fashion, it was the most stunning day. No matter how I felt on the inside, my outside was being drenched by the most beautiful rays of happiness. I casually leaned against a wall and watched the world go by in its droves.
For just a short moment it went bizarrely quiet, my senses started to sharpen, it really made me take more notice of my surroundings. I thought of Katherine and just how much she would approve of my actions. I pondered just how much she would love everything Karl and I were doing. At that exact moment, a song pierced through the air into my ears from afar, the melody was catchy and uplifting. I didn’t have a clue who the artist was nor the title of the song. If anything was spiritually possible, these unknown lyrics had just given this moment a voice. It made me cry and smile at the same time. It was exactly the kind of words she would say to me. It was a really bizarre but happy experience that gave me so much strength.
Near the end of the trip and thanks to Google, I eventually discovered the details of the song (Anywhere by Passenger, released in 2016). Since then I’ve added the song to my funeral wishes in my will. One day, my daughter Margot will appreciate reading this explanation for my choice.
So, going all the way back to the original question here ‘how are you so positive?’ I’m trying to make the best of the situation I find myself in. I can’t change it but I’m sure as hell not going to let it ruin me or my daughter. It’s now two years and our lives still need living too. Since I became a widower I’m definitely more of a ‘cup half full’ sort of person. I always look for the positives in everything now, I reflect a lot more and I’m very grateful. Grateful that I had Katherine in my life, grateful for her legacy – our daughter.
For me, everything I do and describe in my words will explain how much I loved her. Sadly this is also why the pain of my grief is so deep. I guess we’re all in the same boat as survivors of bereavement. To have felt love like this means that unfortunately, as widowers, we’re going to feel such hurt when we have lost that person. Which leads me to the famous quote by Rose Tremain; “Life is not a dress rehearsal”; one chance is all we get.
Some may wonder why I have used the song title ‘MMMBop’ as the main title of this post. The reason being, it carries a weight to the meaning of Katherine’s passing and to what I’m saying now.
‘MMMBop’ as a word, represents how time and life goes by in an instant. If you have ever listened to the lyrics in the song. I am hoping most will have figured this it out. You have to hold onto the things you’ve got. Live for the day and let that special person know how much you love them. Enjoy each moment together and every once in a while, take a step back and disengage from your ego, just stop and take a look around. Everything moves so fast in life. If you have never noticed the meaning in the song I can only suggest you give it another whirl and listen carefully.
This year, I’ll be in the UK for the second anniversary, in my new family home remembering Katherine. I’ll be giving thanks for having so much support in my life. Giving thanks for all those who have supported Margot to develop into the most gorgeous and humorous little girl.
Margot continues to give my life meaning and I find the strength to put one foot in front of the other. I’ve put all my energy into loving and caring for her, I’m so grateful that I’m still able to. I’m very humble to have so many opportunities still present in my life. I look forward to taking them all, day by day, month by month and year by year.
I’m sure those who knew and loved Katherine will give some of your time to her legacy, Margot. I’m sure you’ll all raise a glass of prosecco, make chili con carne for tea, eat some chocolateand break into a smile over a memory or even shed a tear.
Just remember, life never goes to plan, if it did I certainly wouldn’t be here writing this post. You probably wouldn’t be reading it too. 🌈
Grief is like a ball in a bucket. To begin with, it fills every space, and there is no room for anything else. But over time the bucket grows. It becomes a room, then a floor, then a whole house. The ball never gets any smaller, but your life grows and you have more space to move around your ball.
Over time there are days when you may not see the ball at all. Other days you open a door in your life and it trips you up. Some days it corners you. But as time passes you have more space to move the ball out of the way.
I’ve heard people say that the ball grows smaller and smaller and eventually vanishes. That is not the case. It will always be the same size.
For me, on anniversaries and similar reminders, I seek my ball out. I carry it around with me, and I hold it. These are the days I want and need my ball with me, no matter how much it hurts. And when I put it down again, it’s no longer crammed into a small space but it’s encompassed into my new life, becoming part of it.
This is the first guest post for my blog by Joannah Thelwell. I thought it would be a good idea for other victims of SADS to use this blog as a channel to share insights into our grief and how we pick up the pieces, as best we can.
Joannah is the mother of 2 boys. She was widowed by Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS) back in 2013. Here she shares her story of how fiancé and daddy to her boys, Nathan Jenkins, was taken away from her family at the age of just 41.
I feel like I have shared my story hundreds of times but still, it’s not enough. Even after 5 and a half years, the pain is still very real. Though within that time I have moved on to, what I like to call, my second life. Nathan is still a massive part of it all, especially my children’s lives.
Let me take you back to the 22nd of July 2013. For the family, it was just like any other day, my eldest son Gabriel, then 3, had just finished nursery for the summer holidays. We were at home, relaxing and anticipating what we could all be doing during the weeks ahead. My youngest child Roman was only 11 months old.
Nathan was my long-term partner and fiancé of 15 years. He’d only just arrived home after a long hard day at work. We both sat down for a celebratory drink whilst watching the pending arrival of Prince George on the TV. We then put the boys to bed, ordered a takeaway, ate, chatted and then went to bed. An absolutely normal day in the life. I’ll always remember that this was also the only night in the first 4 and half years of Roman’s life that he didn’t wake up at any point in the night. I thank God for this!
Nathan and I kissed each other goodnight. I was that tired, my eyes were shut when he kissed me, something I’ll always regret. This is just one of the little details that really matter now. I’m not exactly sure how long we were in bed asleep, but it must have been around 11pm when I was woken by a loud sigh. I turned to see Nathan’s eyes rolling, his body had stopped breathing. I panicked and ran downstairs to grab the phone. I was hysterical. I called 999. With help from the person on the phone, I’m not sure if it was a man or a woman, it was all too much of a blur. I begin to work on Nathan for around 12 minutes or so. I suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis and I was in a terrible flare that night, so my hands were not working very well. I still feel like my CPR attempts were not really helping. My eldest child Gabriel woke up during all this. Paramedics then arrived and started to work on Nathan further.
Nathan was pronounced dead on the 23rd July 2013 at the age of 41. All the while trying to reassure my eldest child that Daddy was feeling unwell and the doctors were helping him.
After the masses of people left, police, paramedics, family, there was just me. I sat staring at the television right through the night until Gabriel woke at 6am to ask where Daddy was. The nightmare began. The coroner could not find any stress to Nathan’s heart and so put it down to Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS), something I had not heard of. The boys now have tests, frequently. Thankfully they are both clear at the moment. There is a small issue with Roman, but the doctors are not concerned for now.
My life, well, it changed beyond comprehension. My boys have been through absolute hell. I was totally lost for the 9 months afterwards, I don’t really remember being in the room, so to speak!! One day, it was like a switch had been turned on in my head. I had to get my life back on track, not just for me, but more importantly for my boys, they needed their Mum. That year Roman celebrated his first birthday, my 40th and Gabriel’s 4th Birthday all within 6 weeks of losing Nathan. All the while, trying to keep it together.
As time went by, I just wanted to help others so I decided to complete my first fundraiser with my best friend. We managed to purchase and install a public defibrillator locally in our area. I have also raised further money to help research purposes of this devastating condition. I really like to help raise awareness of SADS and I’m still continuing to raise more money in support of C-R-Y and the British Heart Foundation. Currently, as part of Whitchurch Ladies RUFC, I’m in training for a mountain trek to the summit of Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons. I intend to raise additional funds for C-R-Y. If anyone would like to donate to the cause, more information can be found here.
My life has moved forward recently, and I am now with my new partner Rich who is such a lovely man. He understands a lot about what happened and lets me grieve. We also talk about Nathan openly, as he lives on in my boys. I understand I will never ever get over losing Nathan, I still love him dearly. I thought we would be together for forever. A life lesson learnt from my traumatic experience is the importance of living for today as tomorrow is never promised.
If you would like to pen a guest post, please contact me directly either via email email@example.com, Facebook or Twitter (see links below). I will only publish posts about the issues and insights surrounding bereavement and grief.