Life after a Fairy tale (the wedding, and the wedding anniversaries when your spouse is dead) – Endless love

“And your eyes

Your eyes, your eyes

They tell me how much you care

Ooh yes, you will always be

My endless love

Two hearts

Two hearts that beat as one

Our lives have just begun”

Six years ago, on Friday 29 August 2014 I married Karl David Francis McFarlane Norrington.  It was the happiest day of my life.  Karl and I had first talked about marriage within months of getting together.  It was always our plan; it was only ever a question of time. 

But the day we finally married, nearly 9 years after we met, was a day without comparison in our lives.  I was over brimming with happiness at the fact that we had publicly declared that we were one and had vowed that that was how we would remain until “death do us part”.

In some ways I am a total cliché.  One of my nicknames is “Princess” or “PK” short for Princess Kira on account of the way I behave – apparently 😉.  My favourite colour is pink.  I love clothes, handbags, shoes and all things girly.  My favourite drink is champagne.  I love being the centre of attention… so I suspect it is hardly surprising that I was a girl who wanted the fairy tale wedding. 

I was only planning to do it once so everything had to be perfect, and it was.

Karl and I married in Oxford, the city where we had met, where we fell in love, the city of our Alma Mater.  The city where we had spent countless hours together and the city where we were so happy.  The wedding ceremony took place in Brasenose College Chapel – Karl’s college (also former Prime Minister- David Cameron’s college!).  We then hosted our Wedding Reception at my college – St Hugh’s College, Oxford (also former Prime Minister- Theresa May’s college!). 

Every single detail of our wedding day was perfect and uniquely us.   I wore three dresses (the only other person I know of that wore three wedding dresses on their wedding day is Kim Kardashian!!).  I adored my wedding dresses.  A long sleeved, lace, A line Intuzuri dress for the ceremony, a fitted fishtail Pronovias dress for the reception and a backless, lace, knee length dress for our wedding dance.  To this day, I don’t think I could have picked more beautiful dresses to get married in.

I entered Brasenose Chapel to Pachelbel’s Canon in D played on the organ.  There are no words to describe how I felt to see Karl waiting for me in the church at the end of the aisle.  I didn’t cry but I came very close to it and I felt overwhelmed by the emotion of seeing Karl and all the people we loved best in the world there to witness our marriage.  Karl looked so handsome and so nervous in his navy-blue morning suit.   Our wedding was officiated by both my childhood Jamaican pastor and the Chaplain of Brasenose College and we had a gospel praise and worship band.  I am 100% sure that Brasenose College had never had a wedding like that hosted in it before.

Our wedding reception started with a champagne reception at St Hugh’s followed by a Champagne Afternoon Tea accompanied with a classical harpist providing background music.  We later had a food truck which provided American soul food for our guests.  We broke all the rules about speeches and had speeches given by the mother of the bride, brothers of the bride and groom, our bridesmaids, our ushers and me.  Of course, Karl’s speech was the highlight and he delivered an incredible speech in his typical unassuming, funny but super competent way.

Our wedding dance was a dance breakdown which started off with Kci and Jojo’s “All my Life” and finished with a choreographed salsa routine to a Soca remix of “La vida es un Carnival” by the probably the most famous (and Trinidadian) Soca Artist of all time Machel Montano.  Our DJ played Soca, Bashment, Hip Hop and R&B and Karl and I exited our wedding reception to Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love”.

We spent our wedding night in Suite no. 12 at the Crazy Bear Luxury Hotel in Stadhampton.  It is unquestionably the most amazing hotel room that I have ever stayed in.  I remember to this day how I felt waking up the next morning and realising that we had really done it and were married.  I remember going to breakfast with my hair piled up into a messy bun with remnants of my wedding makeup around my eyes making me look like a panda and just feeling like the happiest girl in the world because I was his wife and he couldn’t have been prouder of that fact.

So when Karl died, I felt like my perfect fairy-tale wedding was ruined.  I was so annoyed because I felt like in the future, I would need to re-create that fairy-tale wedding with someone else and I had no idea how I could do better than the first time. 

For the first 3 years, I found the anniversary of my wedding day the most exquisitely painful day imaginable.   For me it was and is the most painful of all of the anniversaries because it was a reminder of the scale of my gigantic loss.   I would feel a creeping darkness for the whole of August and I couldn’t bear to stay in the UK for my wedding anniversary.    I ran as far away from the UK and especially Oxford as I could possibly go. 

I couldn’t bear to think of my wedding day on the 29th August so I ensured that I had the best distractions in the world to keep me from thinking about it.  So, I spent my first wedding anniversary without Karl in New Zealand and the girly (and previous) scaredy-cat jumped 15,000 ft out of a plane over the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, the week after doing the world’s tallest Bungee Swing in Christchurch, New Zealand.  It felt amazing and it was easy for me to do it because I just asked myself what was the worst thing that would happen to me if it went wrong: I would die and that was no longer something that scared, or mattered to, me.

I spent the second wedding anniversary on a cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam on a Contiki (18-35) trip and the third in St Petersburg, Russia again on a Contiki.  I had decided that I would spend the wedding anniversaries doing and seeing amazing things as a celebration of the fact that I was still here and still alive.  But the truth was that I was desperately seeking the biggest distractions I could find so that I would not have to think about my wedding day.  I was smiling and laughing but inside I felt shitty for the entirety of the month of August.

2020 has been the year that I have finally found peace and it has been the first time that August has not been a horror show for me.   I think the 29th August will always be a day that is tinged with sadness and I still have moments of despair but it is not the same overwhelming sadness that would turn my whole world black.  I have made peace with the fact that I had my fairy tale wedding and that whilst there was no fairy tale ending for me, I do not need to re-create the fairy tale. 

The fairy tale happened, the fairy tale ended and my life went on.  I got what I wanted, I got what I dreamed of and whilst it didn’t last, my dream came true.  That is something that can never be taken away from me.

If I get married again, which I hope I will one day, I will not try to re-create a fairy tale because I don’t need to.  Not least, because a fairy tale looks different to me now.   For me, a fairy tale now would simply be someone that I would grow old with, who is strong enough to stay.

So today I am going to celebrate being me, being the girl who got her fairy tale, who lost everything but stayed standing.  I am proud of her.

And to Karl, I wish we had more time.  I will always be so grateful for all the happiness you gave me and the way you loved me.  So much of who I am today is because of you.  Thank you for giving me the fairy-tale and making my dreams come true. I just wish love had been enough to save you.

I’ll go back to black – The End

“You went back to what you knew

So far removed from all that we went through

And I tread a troubled track

My odds are stacked

I’ll go back to black”

It was Friday 24 March 2017.  A horrible, grey, bleak day.  The girl didn’t sleep well, neither did the boy.  The boy had hurt the girl, badly, in fact he had broken her heart and she was angry and devastated because she had thought that the boy was an angel, who was incapable of doing anything wrong.  The girl felt awful.  She had no idea what to do.  The boy was the person she always ran to but at that moment in time she wanted to run away from him.

So she ran, all the way to her work (10 miles) one of the worst and slowest runs of her life and even the run didn’t make her feel better.  She stopped after 2 miles and almost turned back and went home.  She could have worked from home that day.  She could have stayed with the boy but she thought it was better that they have some space from each other.  After all, they were going to spend the whole weekend together.

In any event, the girl spent her whole morning at work talking to the boy on the phone.  The boy cried.  The boy never ever cried.  But the girl thought that the boy was crying because he was really sorry. 

The boy told the girl that “if he thought that he had lost her he would kill himself”.  The boy had never said anything like that before and the girl told her best friend and asked her if she should be worried and her best friend reassured her that the boy didn’t mean it.  That he couldn’t mean that because nobody ever meant those words.

But the girl felt terrible.  Like something was dreadfully wrong.  She didn’t know what to do.  So she decided that she would do what she what she always did when she was stressed:  go to the gym.  She was still speaking to the boy on the phone when she went into the underground station to get to her gym and the phone cut out.  The girl was late for her spinning class so she ran all the way there from the station and thought she would just call the boy back when she got out of the gym.

All she did during her spinning class was think about the boy and as soon as she got out of the gym she called the boy.  But he didn’t pick up.  She called the boy over and over again and emailed him telling him to pick up his phone.  But she heard nothing from the boy.

She had a meeting scheduled with a client that afternoon and the girl went to the meeting.  She put on a brave face and tried to act normally, hoping that once she returned to her office she would find a missed call from the boy on her phone.  But there was nothing. 

At that moment the girl started to worry because it had dawned on her that the boy was a doctor and if wanted to hurt himself he would know exactly what to do.

The girl was scared and all she wanted to do was to get home and see the boy.  She was so scared and worried that she realised that she would forgive him anything.  She just needed to get home and be with him.  Nothing else mattered. 

She calculated that, at almost rush hour and having to travel through Central London, it would be quickest if she caught the tube home and ran home from the tube station.   The girl kept trying to reach the boy and she prayed to God that the boy would be safe.  She prayed the most desperate prayers of her entire life that the boy was OK because the boy was EVERYTHING to the girl. The girl got out of the tube station and despite the fact that she was heavily laden with work folders, like a bag lady as always, she ran as fast as she could to their flat.

The first thing she noticed when she got to the flat was that the curtains were drawn.  She tried to be positive because her gut was telling her something was very wrong.  But she rung the bell to her flat because she wanted the boy to come down and open the door for her.  Because if he opened the door for her, everything would be OK.  But he didn’t open the door.  

She unlocked the door and for a moment felt positive because the door wasn’t double locked which always meant that the boy was at home.  She looked up the stairs and she saw the boy and for one moment she thought the boy was waiting for her at the top of the stairs like he had so many times in the past.

But when she looked properly at the boy she realised that his eyes were open but he wasn’t looking at her, he wasn’t looking at anything and the beautiful, beautiful boy that she loved didn’t look right, he looked like something out of a horror movie. 

He had hung himself in the flat that the boy and the girl shared, the flat that they had loved, the flat that was full of happy memories, the first flat of the blissfully happy newlyweds.  It was now the flat where the boy died.

And in that instant the girl felt a pain that can never be described.  A pain that was blinding and raw and unthinkable.  A pain that in one instant obliterated every ounce of positivity that the girl possessed.  A pain that broke her soul and left behind a shell.  Because the boy was dead and the girl could do nothing about it.  The girl couldn’t stop it, she couldn’t reverse it, the girl couldn’t save him.   There are no words that will ever be able to describe how helpless the girl felt when she realised that she was too late and there was nothing she could do.  The boy was gone.  The boy who was both her only and her everything was not there anymore and he was never ever coming back.  The girl froze and then she screamed and she kept screaming.  She would have screamed for the rest of her life if she could have.  She knew the boy was dead and at that moment every single bit of colour and light and happiness drained out of the girl’s world and it went black.

It dawned on her that the boy had done this before, had tried to kill himself once, before he met her.   When he was a teenager and stressed about his exams.  She realised, after he died, that they had met 4 months after his suicide attempt.   

But suicide and darkness was no part of who THEY were and if they were a part of him, it was a part of him that he hid from her completely and that he also hid from everybody that knew him.

A neighbour called an ambulance and the neighbour and the girl tried to do CPR on the boy.  The girl had no clue what she was doing but she knew it didn’t any make any difference because she had felt the boy’s hand and it was stiff.  The girl knew that people who are alive don’t have rigor mortis and she had been in a love with a Dr for long enough to realise that this was what it was.

The girl was in shock and everything was a blur and suddenly it seemed like their London flat was full of people.  Strangers.  Ambulance staff, paramedics, the police – all of these strangers in her flat with their dirty shoes on the white carpet.

Her closest friends and family came to be with her.  But for the girl nothing mattered at all.  The only thing that mattered was that the boy was gone.  The girl’s existence didn’t make sense anymore.  Because in the girl’s mind,  the two of them were supposed to exist together forever.  Kira and Karl.  Without the boy, the girl’s life had no meaning.  In the girl’s head, they were like Romeo and Juliet and if Karl was dead, Kira should be dead too.  It was logical.

The girl begged the police to leave her in the kitchen alone with her husband and she climbed on top of him and hugged him in the way she had done a million times before. The last time she would ever come close to feeling what it felt like to be in his arms.  But he was cold and the longer she laid on top of him the more that cold chilled her and transferred to every cell of her body. 

She thought about getting a kitchen knife and cutting her wrists and dying too – because it made sense to her.  For her, the idea of a life without him was a life that was worthless.  A life that would always be inferior because he was gone.  The love of her life was dead.  All of her dreams for the future had died too.  The children that they had dreamed of for 11.5 years and even named,  would never happen.  For her, all that existed in that moment, was an inexorable logic. That if he had died, she should die too.  The girl’s life was going to be totally different now and she didn’t want any of it.  All she wanted was her old life back, all she wanted was the boy back and she was never ever going to get what she wanted more than anything in the whole world.

She wouldn’t let them take the boy away.  She refused to let him go, she had to be prised off of him and then they wouldn’t let her see as they took him away.  She wanted to stay in their flat that night but her parents refused to allow that and took her home with them.  If they hadn’t done that, she would not have survived because she was like a zombie in a trance and all she wanted to do was die so that she would be with him again.

That was the first day in the girl’s life that her world turned to black.  

What the girl didn’t know at the time was that her world would turn black many more times, sometimes with no warning and like clockwork every single birthday, Christmas, or anniversary.  But she also didn’t know, that one day, three years later, she would become strong enough to stop letting the darkness steal her life away too.

All my life I’ve prayed for someone like you – The Beginning

“I will never find another lover sweeter than you,
Sweeter than you
And I will never find another lover more precious than you
More precious than you
you are close to me you’re like my mother,
Close to me you’re like my father,
Close to me you’re like my sister,
Close to me you’re like my brother
You are the only one my everything and for you this song I sing

And all my life I’ve prayed for someone like you
And I thank God that I, that I finally found you
All my life I’ve prayed for someone like you
And I hope that you feel the same way too
Yes, I pray that you do love me too”

I was a child when I first heard Kci and JoJo’s: “All My Life”.   I didn’t have the life experience or the maturity to truly understand what the song meant but I thought it was beautiful.  I remember, even then, hoping that someday, someone would love me like that.

I met Karl on an October evening in Oxford.  I remember he was wearing a checked shirt and he looked super preppy.  Like many girls my age, at the time, I had always been attracted to the bad boys and Karl was not that.  He was the first person I spoke to that night and I remember him being super friendly and enthusiastic. 

­­He was a cute, mixed race boy and for some reason as soon as I saw him I decided that he probably had a girlfriend and that we would have nothing in common.    He proved me wrong almost immediately as we began speaking about athletics and he encouraged me to get down to the athletics track and start training again – something that I was not keen to do (and he didn’t have a girlfriend).  We had a perfectly pleasant conversation but it was to my mind unremarkable.

I made my way around the room chatting to everyone and then finally I came across Karl again.  We chatted again but embarrassingly I had already forgotten his name.  A fact he never allowed me to forget.  However, this time was different to the first.  Karl started talking about his grandma who lived in Tobago and he used a colloquial Caribbean slang term.  As soon as he said that, everything changed and we ended up speaking to each other for the rest of the night.  He gave me his number and asked me to text him my number.  I distinctly remember thinking to myself that, if nothing else, this boy had the potential to be the best friend that I had ever had in my life.

The First Date

Just over a week later Karl and I went on our first date on a quiet Saturday evening in Oxford.  He took me to a restaurant called Bistro Je T’Aime, a small independent, lovely French restaurant.  I had never been to a restaurant like that before, let alone on a date.  I was hugely impressed.   It was my first introduction to French food, which, to this day, is my favourite. 

Conversation flowed so easily between us; it blew my mind how much we had in common.  After the restaurant, we ended up going to Oxford’s late-night ice cream parlour, G&D’s, where we continued to chat about everything in our lives.

We were so similar.  He wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to be a lawyer.   I had seriously considered becoming a doctor and he had similarly seriously thought about becoming a lawyer.  We were both Christian and had very similar tastes in music.  We were both mixed race of Caribbean descent. 

Our first date was the first time I really noticed how cute Karl was.   He had the biggest, deepest dimples I had ever seen. 

The Third Date

Our second date was unremarkable, we watched Sin City in Karl’s room.  We had a great time but it was unremarkable because despite the intimate setting nothing whatsoever happened between us.

The third date we went to a formal dinner and then afterwards went clubbing together for the first time.  I love dancing and at the time I remember it being really important to me that any guy I went out with, could dance.  Thankfully, Karl could dance.  We were really close all night and then at one point I realised that Karl had kissed my neck.  I really wanted him to kiss me properly so I moved my head so that we were face to face and we kissed for the first time. 

It was not my first kiss but it was by far the best kiss I had ever experienced at that point in my life.  It just felt so natural.  Like we were two people who were always destined to do that.    I think we ended up kissing for the rest of the night and then Karl, at 2am, like the gentleman he was, walked me home which was a one-hour round trip from where he lived.

After the kiss we were essentially together, there was no formal conversation about whether we were now boyfriend and girlfriend, Karl just assumed that I was obviously his girlfriend.

In the early days, when we were apart we would speak on the phone for hours and hours and when we were together we would kiss for hours.    I think our personal record was spending SIX HOURS kissing!  I remember walking around with constantly swollen lips, which I was secretly kind of proud of.

And without even realising that it was happening, Kci & JoJo’s song became “Our Song”.  Karl was my soulmate.  He was the best guy I had ever met in my whole life and he was mine.

So this was the beginning of our love story, a love that was profound, that was pure, that felt predestined.  The type of love that becomes everything.  The type of love that makes life shine so much brighter, the type of love where every single thing in the world pales into insignificance because that love is both the beginning and the end of everything, the type of love that makes everything OK if you have it and the type of love that destroys you if you lose it.

Being without you

“Chemistry was crazy from the get-go

Neither one of us knew why

We didn’t build nothing overnight

Cuz a love like this takes some time

People swore it off as a phase

Said we can’t see that

Now from top to bottom

They see that we did that (yes)

It’s so true that (yes)

We’ve been through it (yes)

We got real sh** (yes)

See baby we been…

Too strong for too long (and I can’t be without you baby)

And I’ll be waiting up until you get home (cuz I can’t sleep without you baby)”

“Be without you” by Mary J Blige was one of the songs that most epitomized our relationship.   Karl and I had a love that grew and grew until it became everything, to both of us.  We faced so many trials together, family issues, career issues, so many challenges.  But we knew that we would always survive them.  That it was the two of us against the world.

So when Karl died, I had absolutely no idea how to be without him.  I have always considered myself to be super independent but the reality was that I had been with Karl for all of my adult life.  He was the first and only person that I had loved.  He was a part of me and when he died it felt like I was walking around with a massive hole inside of me that I kept trying to fill in anyway that I could.  I did not sleep for nearly 2.5 years after he died.

As at today’s date, the United Kingdom has been in lockdown in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic for 83 days.   As ever in my life,  the timing of the lockdown was brilliant,  the lockdown provisions were announced in the evening of the 23 March 2020 – the night before the 3rd anniversary of Karl’s death. 

I freaked out. 

I was supposed fly to Colombia on the 27 March 2020, a trip deliberately organised as a wonderful escape, a distraction from everything in my life that I didn’t want to deal with. 

Instead, lockdown meant that  I was to be trapped in my flat, totally isolated and alone for the anniversary of the worst day of my life.

At the beginning of March, when a quarantine was looking likely, I started feeling really sad and lonely because I knew that the only person I could have enjoyed being in a quarantine with, was Karl.  But as the weeks passed, I began to face reality.  If Karl was still here, he would still be a doctor and he would have been in the hospital fighting Covid-19 (without PPE!!!!!!!).  As an asthmatic and therefore in the higher risk category,  the actual reality is that we would probably have had to live apart.

I spent 3 years of my life wishing that Karl come could back to me.  But the Covid-19 pandemic forced me to truthfully ask myself that question again.  I can only imagine that it must be hellish to be a doctor right now, with such limited resources, increased demand and all the hysteria.  I know Karl would never  have left medicine, as much as he sometimes hated it. 

Therefore, I realised that it wasn’t right for me to wish Karl back here.  That I didn’t want him back just so that he would suffer… just because it would make my life better.

That is how I eventually made peace with my Grandma’s death, 6 weeks before our wedding.  That whilst I wanted her to be there because I loved her so much, that was what was best for me. I wanted to be able to say goodbye… because that would have been better for me.  But that wasn’t what was best for her.  If she had lived, she was going to die a really painful death.  So, I made peace with it because it was what was best for her. 

I realised that I feel the same way about Karl.   I used to feel so sad about all of the amazing things that Karl was missing out on.  Every incredible thing I saw on my travels, I would feel sad that Karl wasn’t seeing it too.  But life is not just the amazing things.

Life has ups and downs (the Covid 19 pandemic proves that probably more clearly than anything in my lifetime) and we have to be able to deal with the downs.   For whatever reason, I think the downs hurt Karl more than they hurt other people so life as a whole was more painful for him than it is for me.  

We were so happy for a really long time and I will treasure the memories I have with Karl forever.  But I have been forced to accept that I am not magic,  I am not superhuman and  I can’t make life a 100% positive thing.  My journey has shown me that one person cannot make another person happy.  You can contribute to someone’s happiness, you can be a positive in someone’s life but you cannot make that person happy.  Happiness is a choice that each of us has to make for ourselves and is independent of any other human being.

Each of us is alone responsible for our own happiness.  When I realised that, I realised I couldn’t say that it was definitively better for Karl to be alive and to be here.  Who am I to make that judgment?  How can I come to any conclusion when I don’t know what Karl felt and I was powerless to fix it or make it better. I don’t wish Karl out of the peace he has right now to be back here in the crazy chaos that we live in at the moment. 

I think that is what unconditional love is, wanting the best for someone, even if it isn’t the best thing for you.  Sometimes love means letting go.

I loved Karl more than words can ever express.  But his suicide left me feeling unloved and abandoned,  left all alone by myself in a huge, catastrophic mess.  The day that Karl died it felt like a nuclear bomb hit my life and the person who threw the nuclear bomb at me was Karl. 

I spent a long time telling myself I really hated Karl, that I didn’t forgive him and blaming him for every negative thing in my life.  I ran into the arms of people who definitely didn’t love me, embraced behaviour that was the opposite of how he treated me, because I told myself that if it was different from the way that Karl treated me then it was great.  So, I gave so much of myself to people who had not earned my love and did not ever deserve it.

I have finally accepted that, even if I didn’t realise it at the time, Karl was really unwell and his actions were of a sick person that wasn’t in their right mind.  That it didn’t say anything about me or my value and worth.  I made so many mistakes in the aftermath of Karl’s death and I blamed him for every single one of them. I  realise now that only I am responsible if I make bad decisions.  The chain of causation is broken.

The 11.5 years  I spent with Karl were amazing, so much laughter, so much fun and just so much love.  The biggest irony is that the way Karl loved me and gave me such stability in his love was one of the things that made me strong enough to deal with his death.  I will never forget how proud he was of me and his illness and suicide don’t change that.

I finally forgave him.  I hope that he rests in peace.  I hope that he can see me still and he is proud.

I woke up early on the 24 March 2020 and used my once daily exercise allowance to run to the graveyard to see Karl’s grave.  I hadn’t been for a long time.  I was too angry to go and I didn’t want to remind myself that I had a husband who was in a grave.  I just wanted to forget him.  I realise now that whilst it is OK for me to not hold onto to Karl’s suicide, the impact he had on my life overall was so positive and I do myself a disservice in forgetting it.  

I was surprisingly OK until I got to the graveyard.  But when I got to Karl’s grave it looked so forlorn.  It looked like Karl was a person that wasn’t loved,  like nobody cared that he died. It has taken my three years but it is finally time for me to arrange for Karl to have a headstone – after the Covid-19 pandemic is over.  I ran home and for the first time since Karl died, I didn’t have a massive meltdown after visiting his grave. 

I realised that by forgiving Karl and making peace with his death, I finally let him go.  The anger I felt towards him tied me to him indefinitely.  It was still something, a tie, something that bound us together still.  After I forgave him, I felt like there was nothing tying us together anymore.

That there was no longer any Kira and Karl, just Kira, figuring her own life out for herself.  It may have taken me 3 years but I am finally at peace with Karl’s death.  I finally understand that some of us are just only meant to only be here for 31 years, even if we are amazing. That that is enough.  And that whilst that means you miss out on some great things, you miss out on some terrible things too.

The quarantine has unexpectedly benefitted me.  It has forced me to be quiet.  The aftermath of Karl’s death made me so desperate to have other people make my life OK, make my life bearable.  But the quarantine finally made me realise that I can be OK on my own, that I can be quiet and still and that sometimes I need to be.  Because there are some things in life that other people can’t make better for you. 

But finally, I am able to BE without you.

Birthdays after loss

Today is my birthday and so I thought today was a fitting moment to talk about what it feels like to “celebrate” a birthday after losing a spouse.

As anyone who knows me well will attest, I love parties, I love dressing up, I love dancing and I love being the center of attention.   Therefore, I suppose it is unsurprising that I used to absolutely love my birthday.  I used to celebrate my birthday for about a week every single year… separate celebrations with Karl, my best friend, family and some kind of dinner/party with a group of friends.   Essentially, birthdays to me were special.

Looking back at my last birthday with Karl (even though I had no idea it was the last one) it was really special.  He took me to Hawksmoor and we had the tasting menu there and the next day he took me for a luxury spa day at the Nirvana Spa in Berkshire (my favorite spa resort in the UK).

This was the last birthday card I ever received from my husband.  If you can’t read his terrible handwriting it reads:

“Dear Kira, I really hope that you have a wonderful birthday as you deserve. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for strategically placing you in my life where you continually want to bring out the best in me.  I only hope that I can give you a morsel of what you are due in return.  With unending love your husband Karl.”

One year later, the 5 June 2017, was a day that was blindingly painful for me.  My first birthday after Karl died, just over 2 months after his death.  It was my first “first”. “Firsts” are a term that widow/ers use to refer to all of the first times they reached a milestone without their spouse whether that be birthdays, wedding anniversaries or the anniversary of the death itself.

I think that I was still in total shock at that stage.  I had celebrated 11 birthdays with Karl and spent my entire adult life with Karl. I had no idea how to do life without him.  How to do life as a single person.  My mind could not even begin to process the fact that he was never going to celebrate my birthday with me ever again.

This was me on my birthday in 2017.   When I look at the picture, I feel sad for that girl.   I spent my birthday at a luxury spa resort in the Caribbean on a white sand beach, having a massage and drinking cocktails with my best friend in the world.    Which probably sounds like a dream come true to many people, except it wasn’t. 

Because for me, I had absolutely nothing to celebrate.  I was still totally traumatised by Karl’s death, not sleeping, walking around like a half zombie, super skinny, only able to tolerate being around a few people at a time.   My birthday felt like a cruel joke, like how could this possibly count and why would I ever want to celebrate getting older without him.

My memories from the time are hazy because I think at the time I was only half present.  Every single moment of every single day I was trying to make sense of the tragedy.  Desperately trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.  Convinced that if, somehow, I solved the mystery of what had happened to my life, I could just reverse it and bring him back.

However, what I want to focus on today is one of the things that saved me or rather one of the people who did.   A person who will always be a part of my story, a person who helped me rebuild my life and take charge of my narrative again so that it is one of survival and not of destruction. 

I have lost count of how many times people have told me I am strong but I did not do it by myself.   I think a huge contributing factor to my survival was the fact that I had and have such amazing family and friends.  You probably won’t know that the number one complaint of widows/ers is that after they lost their person, they also lost all their friends.   I am so grateful that that was not my experience.  My friends and family came through (en-masse) for me in ways that still takes my breath away and I am so grateful.

So today I want to write about just one of them: Akima, the person who made my first birthday special even in the midst of my terrible grief.  There will never be words to express how much I love this incredible woman.  She isn’t my friend, she is my sister and we are family.  She is the big sister that I always wanted that I picked for myself. 

Akima and I met through a mutual friend who informed us that we would get along.  Both of us were sceptical!  Then, finally, at the same friend’s wedding we met and we instantly connected.  We spent the whole wedding together, dancing and laughing and then we started going to these networking events where we would spend the whole time just talking to each other and laughing.  One of my funniest and earliest memories is of us comparing the totally inappropriate outfits that we wore (and thought were appropriate) at our respective Oxford and Cambridge formal dinners which consisted of mini-skirts, see-through blouses and a leather dress!

Over the years we became closer and closer with so many parties, holidays abroad, Akima planning my hen party, being one of my bridesmaids and finally for me the absolute highlight, honour and privilege of being asked to be Godmother to Aren. 

But the real test of any friendship is whether it endures during the hard times as well as the happy ones.

The same day that Karl died, Akima came straight over to the flat to be with me on the worst day of my life.  She came despite the fact she lived on literally the other side of London and was nursing a newborn at the time.  I will never ever forget the fact that Akima then called me every single day after Karl died to make sure that I was OK sometimes multiple times a day. You have to have met Aren as a newborn to realise what a huge deal this was.   

A few months later, Akima invited me to spend my birthday with her in Grenada.  I stayed at Akima’s mum’s house in St Mark’s in the countryside of Grenada.  It was so good for me to escape the UK and I loved St Mark’s.  I was not in any kind of state to be fun or any kind of good company but Akima drove me all over the island, we went to rooftop bars, we went to a chocolate factory, we even went for hilly runs with Akima accompanying me in a car!!! It was Akima who organised the spa day for my birthday.  She never stopped trying and she will always do anything she can to make my life happier.

These words are totally inadequate to express what an amazing friend I have in Akima or how much I love and appreciate her.  Everyone who meets Akima loves her, she is passionate, funny, full of energy, super smart but also has the kindest heart.  She is Counsel at a top US law firm, Grenada’s ambassador to the Vatican, a former Calypso Monarch in Grenada (she is literally famous in Grenada) and on top of that an incredible wife to Sean and a mother to Aren. I am constantly inspired by the woman that she is and humbled by the fact that she makes time for me no matter what.  No matter what petty disaster I have gotten myself into in my life, she is always there.   Always prepared to listen.  I am so proud of her and I want nothing less for her than the absolute best that life has to offer.

As for birthdays, it is fair to say I do not feel the same way about them that I used to.  I think it is easy to celebrate getting older when everything in your life is in place or at least that you are at peace with where you are currently.  I am so proud of myself for the life I have rebuilt from scratch and I am blessed in many ways.  I have given just one example but, as a collective, I have the most incredible friends that a person could wish for and in that respect I am the luckiest girl in the entire world.

But I am not going to pretend that my current life is enough.  I want more and I need more and I know one day I will find the happiness that I seek ,again, which means I will celebrate every minute of my birthday… for a week! 

I’m not there yet but I know I will get there some day soon.  In the meantime, I will enjoy every moment spent with the people who bring nothing but happiness to my life.

Not all fairytales have a happy ending

Once upon a time there was a girl.  The girl had big dreams and she had planned out exactly how she would achieve them. The girl was super independent and ambitious and she didn’t want to allow anyone or anything to stand in the way of her achieving her dreams. 

But the girl loved and she loved deeply.   Both her family and her friends.  Yet the girl was afraid of commitment and a boyfriend was not part of the plan.  She wanted to be married and have children eventually but she was a girl who saw being in a relationship when she was so young as a distraction and a waste of her time.   After all, no one ever ends up marrying their first (proper) boyfriend…

The girl danced, she sang, she acted, she ran.  She loved parties and laughing and spending time with her friends.  The girl wanted it all and believed she was capable of having it all.  Oxford followed by Harvard, being a top lawyer – those were all part of her plans.

But life doesn’t always happen the way we plan it will, and one day the girl met the boy at a party.  The boy started talking to the girl about running because they were both high-school athletes and the girl thought the boy was nice but she wasn’t interested.  She forgot his name instantly. 

Later that same evening, the girl came across the boy a second time and she was embarrassed because he remembered her name whilst she had forgotten his.  But this time round the boy made an impact on the girl.  He made a joke using a Caribbean slang term and the girl laughed and realised in the same instant that this boy could become the best friend she had ever had.

The boy was six-foot-tall and muscular, he was super cute and he had the deepest dimples that the girl had ever seen.  But the best thing about the boy was that he was so kind.  He was always smiling.  Always.  The boy was super smart. 

The boy had even better grades than the girl did and he wanted to be a doctor.  But the boy was also really sporty, he was an incredible sprinter and he also played cricket and rugby to a high level and the violin also.   He was also a insanely talented linguist and talented writer. The boy was good at everything he ever turned his hand to. 

And the boy was so young but from the very beginning he was so mature and knew exactly what he wanted from life. The boy was a good influence on the girl and she liked the boy a lot but he was not part of her plan.  Therefore, she decided she would enjoy being in a relationship with the boy for 3 months but she would break up with the boy after Christmas to focus on her goals.  But Christmas came and she just couldn’t break up with the boy.  She liked him too much.

After two months, the boy told the girl he loved her and the girl thanked him and told him she wasn’t sure she was even capable of loving anyone like that.  She was afraid of love.  It seemed to her that if you loved someone you gave them the power to hurt you and she didn’t want to be hurt.  Three months later the girl realised that she loved the boy too but even then she was too much of a coward to say it, so she wrote it in a Valentine’s card.

Then the boy and girl did life.  The girl was still fiercely independent but she realised that she could achieve every single thing she wanted for her life with the boy by her side.  The boy was so easy to love.  He was so generous, so good and he inspired the girl to become the best version of herself that she could be.  The girl blossomed and grew and she loved the boy more with every day that passed.  She believed, and she told him frequently, that her capacity to love him was infinite.

The girl loved talking to the boy because the boy was smart and interesting and he was always happy.  He was never moody and he was always positive.  The boy was so proud of the girl and he supported her in her every endeavour.  The boy believed in the girl more than the girl believed in herself and he felt every injustice she faced because he felt that she deserved the best and only the best.  He told the girl that she was the strongest person that he knew. 

From the girl’s perspective the boy was one of those rare people who are just fundamentally good.  The girl felt blessed beyond measure to be loved by a person like that.   The girl would have given up her own life to protect the boy.

The years passed and there were many difficulties and obstacles that the boy and girl faced.  Being everyone’s favourite “Power Couple” came at a cost.  Law and medicine are not complimentary professions and sometimes the boy and girl were ships in the night.  But the girl was insanely proud of the boy.  He excelled in every single thing he did and ended up as a Cardiologist working in one of the most competitive medical deaneries in the country.  He was on track to going to become a Professor of Cardiology and everyone was going to know his name and she knew it.

After 8 years together the boy and the girl got married.  The girl got to be a princess for the day and wore 3 dresses.  It was a fairy tale and it was the happiest day of their lives.

But the marriage was even better than the wedding.   The boy and girl lived together for the first time and they loved it.  After many crazy years of sharing with housemates finally the girl got to live with her best friend.  The girl thought it was the best thing ever.  Even after they had been together for over 10 years, the girl would rush home as fast as she could when she finished work, because she was excited to see the boy and tell him about her day.

The boy was the sun, moon and the whole world to the girl.  She loved to watch him when he was sleeping because he looked as peaceful as an angel.  She loved to be held by the boy because he was big and strong and when she was in his arms, she felt safe.  The girl and the boy lived in a bubble and the boy protected the girl from the world.

Then one day the girl came home from work and she found the dead body of the boy in their home.   The girl screamed and screamed and screamed but it was already too late.  In that moment, when the girl realised that it was all over, that she couldn’t save the boy, her heart shattered into a million tiny pieces.

The girl’s family came to take the girl home with them.  If they hadn’t, she would have killed herself too.   Because in an instant the girl had lost everything.  She lost the person she loved more than anyone or anything in the whole world and she lost all her hopes and dreams of how her life would be.  Life as she knew it was over.

I am the girl and Karl Norrington was the boy and this is our story.

And at the point where our story ends, mine begins…