“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us” – Albert Schweitzer
At the outset of this post, I want to stress that I am not grateful that Karl committed suicide or that I became a widow at such an unnaturally young age. Those are two things that I will never be capable of being grateful for. There will always be a part of me that will never understand why life dealt me such a horrible hand and will secretly still want to scream at the injustice of it all.
That said, whilst 2020 has been a year of grief, misery, frustration, boredom and stress for the whole world, it is the year that I finally found happiness again and some of my dreams came true and I am so incredibly grateful for that.
On 1 January 2020 I climbed to the summit of Rainbow Mountain in Peru, which is at an altitude of 5,200 meters above sea level (more than half the altitude of Everest). This was part of an epic group trip I had made to South America with other 18-35-year old’s where we visited Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and finally Brazil. If I am totally honest, I booked the trip because I couldn’t tolerate another unbearable Christmas in the UK feeling Karl’s absence every second of every day, being overwhelmed with happy pictures of young families all over social media and trying not to feel bitter and resentful about my life.
South America was exactly what I needed. I travelled with such an amazing group of young people (including my NYC Bestie Leah) and I have such good memories of the trip. We spent Christmas chilling in hot springs and ziplining in Peru. I have travelled so much since Karl died and travelling has been one of my ways of coping with his death but my trip to South America was my best trip since Karl died and I started the New Year overbrimming with positivity that this year was going to be better than the ones before.
The last leg of our trip was in Brazil and I fell totally in love. I would recommend Brazil to anyone. I visited Iguassu and Rio de Janeiro and both were breathtaking. Rio is a city of beautiful people – quite literally (I walked around in a state of shock at the sheer quantity of beautiful human beings walking the streets there 😉) and it’s a super cool, vibrant city situated beside multiple white sand beaches. Copacabana and Ipanema are exactly what they are cracked up to be!
As soon as I returned to the UK in January, I got sick. I remember thinking it was just a post-holiday cold as a result of the change of temperatures. But I can still remember feeling that I was unusually sick. I literally spent a week in my bed and I felt so ill and weak that I didn’t even go to the gym – (I’m a gym obsessive). I am asthmatic and so I am very used to getting colds which turn into chest infections and coughing up tons of yellow mucus from my lungs but I distinctly remember having a dry cough and pain in my chest which didn’t resolve for literally months afterwards. Of course, at that time the government was telling us that there were no cases of Covid-19 in the UK…
I spent January to March of 2020 not doing very much except working really hard and looking forward to my next adventure to Columbia which I was planning for the end of March 2020, to ensure that I was as far away from the UK as possible for the third anniversary of Karl’s death. My trip got cancelled of course and instead the UK entered lockdown on the 23 March 2020.
I still vividly remember meeting up with my friend Fran the weekend before the lockdown was announced but everything had already been shut and just walking around Hyde Park talking in the freezing cold for hours alternatively in English and Spanish. I remember that his fingers went purple because it was so cold and I stayed cold for hours after I finally got home but it was literally our last moment of freedom before lockdown. Fran is one of those human beings who inspire you not just because of what they do or what have they have achieved but just by who they are as a person.
I had a horrific time in lockdown. The High Court moved online the week before the first national lockdown in the UK so my job continued as normal. What was not normal was that we got plunged into lockdown with no notice. So, my living situation which was fine when I spent the majority of my life away from the flat was not fine when I had stay in the flat 24/7. I genuinely felt like I was in a prison cell. My bedroom was too small for me to comfortably fit a desk into it and all of the desks were sold out on Amazon in any event.
So, I spent weeks having to do trials, court hearings and zoom meetings with clients from my bed and arrange myself on Zoom so that it wasn’t obvious that I was in fact having to work on my bed. It was a truly ridiculous situation for a lawyer who frequently has to appear in the High Court but I had no alternative. I had not left London in time and so was prohibited from leaving London and going to stay with my family and it was not even possible to rent an Air B &B in London at that time because the guidance was to stay at home – without exception. As a really sociable extrovert, lockdown in such circumstances felt exactly like being in hell. Especially when it coincided with the anniversary of Karl’s death.
However, what the lockdown forced me to do was to sit down with my grief and feel it. My main coping mechanism after Karl’s death had been distraction. Travelling was my primary and healthiest distraction technique. Flooding the brain with new images and sensations really helps you stay in the moment and typically that moment is not full of pain, the pain lives in the past. But I was so desperate to be distracted that I was attracted to anything that would consume me and stop me from even thinking about Karl. I was incapable of being still, relaxing or being alone. I was almost manically hyperactive, barely slept and was trying so hard to be everything to every person. It is exhausting having to fake being OK every second of every day.
I was in total denial of the fact that I hadn’t grieved my husband and was refusing to do so. A good friend used to tell me repeatedly, after I reported one ridiculous drama in my life after the next to him, that I really needed to grieve Karl to which I would respond that he was wrong and I was already over it. But he was right and I was wrong! I am grateful for the time I spent trapped in lockdown because it forced me to think and process my grief and finally let go of Karl. I walked through fire and I came out the other side, stronger and ready to finally start over.
As ever, I didn’t do on my own. I have been so incredibly blessed by the best friends that anyone could ever wish for. I am hugely grateful to friends such as Fran who kept me sane and were a constant source of positivity and encouragement every single day during lockdown. And Kima who constantly checked up on me and sent me cakes to cheer me up – still have no idea how you even find the time to be such a good friend to me but I love you to the moon and back for it. Ricky, you are my brother and I love you and you and me both know the role you have played in my life. And Paul, I can’t thank you enough for our weekly runs and your friendship which are my only good memories of my time in lockdown in London. Tasha – thank you for always being there no matter what and always trying to support help me as much as you can. You have the best heart and I genuinely wish you all the happiness in the whole world because you deserve it.
I genuinely don’t know what I have ever done to deserve the kind of friends that I have.
I spent the second half of lockdown living with my friend Dave. He literally came and rescued me from my nightmare lockdown living situation (and refused to take no for an answer) and we spent the rest of lockdown together in his beautiful house in rural Kent. Dave is one of the warmest, most positive, kindest people I have ever met and he also happens to be a suicide widower. Lockdown changed for me as soon as I moved in with Dave who made me feel so at home at his house with my own bedroom, bathroom and study with views of his incredible garden! Living with Dave made realise once and for all that Karl’s death had nothing to do with me, he didn’t die because I was a bad wife or a bad person. I realised that because I could observe on a daily basis how amazing Dave is and yet that didn’t prevent his wife committing suicide. Living with someone for two months in lockdown is something that can either make or break a friendship and I feel so lucky that I can now call Dave one of my best friends. I wish you all the happiness in the world my lockdown husband and you can always count on me to be cheering you on and wishing you nothing less than joy– because you deserve it and I can think of few people who deserve it more.
It was on that freezing cold day in Hyde Park that I first seriously thought about moving to Spain. At that stage I was concerned about the effect of the inevitable lockdown on my job and I told Fran that if my work dried up, I was going to move to Spain. Actually that never happened and 2020 turned out to be one of my busiest working years ever.
I had started learning in Spanish in October 2019 and my decision to start studying Spanish was initially motivated by an intense need for distraction. I just needed to do something to occupy my brain and stop it from thinking. I had actually learned Spanish for 5 years at school but hadn’t studied it for more than 10 years when I decided to start learning again. I enrolled myself in an intermediate class at a college in London and was quite literally the worst person in the class and very conscious of this fact. If you know me at all you will realise this was a totally unacceptable situation for me hahaha. What I didn’t realise at the time was that my decision to study Spanish was going to change my life.
Both Karl and I had always dreamed of living in another country and becoming fluent in another language but I thought that opportunity had passed me by and I was now too old to ever do that. Looking back, I realise that Spanish has been a part of my life for such a long time. My first best friend as a 5-year-old was Spanish, my first trip abroad was to Santander in Spain, my first ever trip to the Caribbean was to the Dominican Republic and one of my best friends in the whole world (who I consider a sister) is from the Dominican Republic, Karl and I went on honeymoon first to Cuba and then went on an extended honeymoon to Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador and then after Karl died randomly one of my first and closest new friends was Spanish too. After everything that has happened in my life I no longer believe in coincidences. I believe everything that happened was something that would ultimately bring me to this point.
At the beginning of lockdown, I decided to enroll on a challenge to have a one hour online Spanish class every day for 3 months. This, together with my new Spanish friends improved my Spanish immeasurably and gave me the confidence to believe that I could uproot myself and move to Spain by myself when lockdown finally ended in July 2020, without knowing a single person. That decision was unquestionably the best decision I made in 2020. I still remember the feeling of freedom I felt when I arrived in Spain and the simple joy of seeing the sun every single day shining through my windows.
My time in Spain has exceeded my expectations in every single way. I made my first friend 4 days after I arrived and within a few weeks I had my own group of friends. I didn’t really experience any kind of culture shock in Spain and my experience of living in Spain has been an unequivocally positive experience (save possibly for my experience of Spanish bureaucracy). The Spanish are warm, friendly and funny and I have loved every minute spent exploring Spain.
One of the most unexpected developments of this year for me was that I have been approached by various brands to model for them on Instagram and I have since done modelling shoots in Madrid, Sevilla, Malaga and Marbella. I think I am happier in my own skin than I have ever been. I also managed to film a short film of my own writing and another short film which is still in production.
I can genuinely say that 2020 is the first year since Karl died that I have been genuinely happy. I am not the same person that I was when Karl died, that person died the day he did. But I like to think that actually I am now a better version of that girl. I am so much stronger, more independent, wiser and braver and I like to think that I am a better version of the person I was and that he would be proud of me.
I think I had to let Karl go completely so that I could be happy again without him. It is what he would want for me. I am proud of myself because it has been a hard and horrendous journey. But I fought so hard for the happiness I have now and I finally realise that it is exactly what I deserve.
I don’t believe in fairytales anymore and I’m not the same innocent girl who had no idea of the nuclear bomb that was about to hit her life. But I am not bitter or resentful for the hand I got dealt. I can recognise that in so many ways I am blessed and have been blessed all my life.
I always thought that my happily ever after would be falling in love again and marrying someone else because I was so young when I met Karl and I was with him for all of my adult life so that is basically all I ever knew of happiness. However, I can see now that maybe happiness for me is going to look different to that but that doesn’t mean that my life will be any less amazing.
It has taken me a really long time to get to this place but I am happy that I am alive, that I am still here and I am so excited about what the future holds for my life and I am open to the possibility that it may well be different than I ever expected.
As for the people who lit a flame within me this year:
B – there are no words to express how grateful I am to have you in my life. You are one of the kindest/ sweetest boys that I have ever met and I hope we stay friends forever. I am not quite sure what I would have done without you answering all of those inane but vital questions like where the bins are, how the blinds work and listening to all my rants in Spanish about the stresses of Spanish Bureaucracy. I am pretty sure you have never had to say tranquila to a friend more times in your life hahaha! Thanks for ALWAYS being there for me. TQMB.
Leah – my little pint-sized bundle of sass! I literally love you like a fat kid loves cake! You are the only person I know who repeatedly makes me snort/choke with laughter. You are so wise and always helping me grow and become a better person. You just get me every single time and I love the fact that you are such a loving and loyal supporter. Friends like you are hard to find. I adore you.
Belen – until I met you I had no idea that it was possible for me to have a friendship (in Spanish) which consists of so many jokes and laughing my head off constantly. We have had the best times together and some of my best memories of Spain are with you! I think as long as we both live, we will never forget the Medusa’s (Jellyfish) funeral at the beach in Huelva. I love your independent spirit, your positivity and our friendship and I look forward to making many more memories with you Tia 😉!
Jessica – you are like my soul sister and I love everything about you. Thanks for keeping me sane and for all those beach trips where we were the palest human beings on the beach and the reddest afterwards. I am so grateful for our friendship.
Kaesha – meeting you at F45 Ealing changed my life and my body hahaha! I can’t believe we have now been doing F45 Online for 7 months without fail 6-7 days a week. You make me laugh so much and I don’t know what I’d do without my first ever gym bestie! I love you and our little group! Every woman should be part of a group like ours. Thank you for the constant support and positivity my fellow Jamaican gyal xxx