- Every time I walk past Pronovias (a Spanish wedding dress designer) because I got married in a Pronovias wedding dress. I think it burns because it reminds me of how perfect my wedding day was, yet my marriage only lasted for 2.5 years. The more time that passes, the more surreal it feels to think that I was married and was once a wife and loved it.
- Remembering how much he wanted children. I’ll never ever understand why he killed himself when he had so much more life to live and so many more dreams to make a reality. We had even picked a name for our first child. Arabella Norrington will never ever exist.
- His birthday which is exactly six months after mine but he will forever be 31. He will never get a grey hair; he will never lose his hair or get wrinkles whereas I am getting older every single day and leaving him behind. We were supposed to do that together.
- Being the sole keeper of our memories. That nobody else remembers the funny things that happened to us, 11.5 years of laughter, just me.
- Oxford the setting of my love story and where I got married. I only have happy memories of Oxford but they burn nevertheless.
- Medical TV dramas. I can’t watch them; they remind me too much of him and what my life as a Dr’s WAG used to be like.
- Looking at my face in photographs of us. I can’t bear to look at that girl. A girl who was so innocent and naively believed that she had life all figured out and sorted because she had him. A girl who had no idea of what was about to hit her. They say ignorance is bliss and it is true.
- The thought that I wasn’t enough for him to stay still haunts me. A uber perfectionist is not best suited to be a suicide widow. Logically I know that he was very unwell and his suicide wasn’t about me. But it still burns.
- The sense of failure that in some way I failed as a wife because I didn’t keep him alive. I will always wish that I could have saved him despite logically being aware that it was entirely out of my hands.
- Fictional deaths every single time someone loses a partner in a book or a film or a TV series I cry my eyes out. Because I know exactly what that feels like. I know exactly what it feels like to wail and scream at paramedics to save my husband. I know what it is to lie on top of a cold, dead body and beg it to come back to me. That isn’t something you will ever forget.
- Weddings, baby showers and father’s days. For the reasons above.
- His TV shows: Breaking Bad, The Wire, Better call Saul, Black Mirror, The Sopranos. He had good taste; all of those shows are critically acclaimed but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch any of them.
A widowed millenial’s reflections on love – four years out
“Everyone says love hurts, but that is not true. Loneliness hurts. Rejection hurts. Losing someone hurts. Envy hurts. Everyone gets these things confused with love, but in reality love is the only thing in this world that covers up all pain and makes someone feel wonderful again. Love is the only thing in this world that does not hurt.”
In one of my Spanish classes, we had to discuss our views about love: what it means, what is most important, what is permissible in a relationship etc. The majority of my classmates are Generation Z and most of them, together with our teacher, said that they don’t believe in love.
Tinder, Bumble etc have a lot to answer for it would seem… and I feel like an ancient Granny writing that hahaha.
However, what that discussion made me realise is that even after surviving my husband’s suicide, I still believe in love with all of my heart. I am not bitter about love and I never will be. Loving Karl did not hurt me, losing Karl hurt me.
Losing the person, I loved best and who loved me more than anyone in the world hurt me more than words will ever be able to express. But it hurt so much BECAUSE of how much I loved him and how much I was loved by him.
I still remember that at Karl’s funeral I had friends and relatives come up to me and tell me that I was lucky to have experienced a love like that and that some people don’t get to experience a love like that their whole lives. I remember trying my best to be polite but screaming inside.
As if being told that would make me feel better, that I had an amazing love but I had lost it so young and I would have to live the rest of my life without it. I couldn’t even process that and it is fair to say that it was hard to feel lucky on the day of my 31-year-old husband’s funeral.
But four years later, I look back and realise that they were right and that I was lucky to find a love like that. An exceptional love. It is still the only love I have ever known.
I was with Karl for nearly 12 years – more than a third of my life and he adored me and I felt that. I never ever questioned whether he loved me until the day that he died. Karl and I were best friends, that was the foundation of everything. I genuinely was so happy to come from work every day and see him – even after more than 10 years of being with him. He was funny and smiley and kind and I loved talking to him because he was also smart and interesting. I felt like that my capacity to love him was infinite and I would just keep loving him more and more every day and every year that passed. I told him that many times.
I stayed “in love” with a dead person for 2.5 years after Karl died. Being “in love” with a dead person is a horrendous thing, in my opinion. You still have intense feelings for the person but those feelings are not returned so it is a species of unrequited love but more toxic because the feelings are stronger because you know that those feelings, that you still have, were reciprocated by the dead person (so it isn’t just some fantasy in your own mind).
I stayed in love with Karl much longer than I wanted to. I tried to force myself to fall out of love with him by telling myself I was over it and dating new guys but I was not remotely in the right place to be doing that. Initially, every time I even kissed a new guy, I would feel such extreme guilt afterwards… as if I had just been cheating on my husband. It took me a long time to stop feeling that.
It says a lot, that out of the guys I dated at that time, the one I felt most chemistry with, was so similar to Karl in his attributes that when he asked me to be his girlfriend, on our first date, on the basis that “he felt like he had known me all his life” I genuinely felt that maybe reincarnation was a real thing after all and maybe this guy was Karl come back for me… Oh dear…
Surprisingly enough, that little romance was short lived.
It wasn’t until September 2019 that I realised that I wasn’t in love with Karl any longer. That I didn’t think of him 24/7 every single day. To be honest, I felt nothing but relief when I realised that. Being “in love” with a dead person felt awful to me. It is an inevitable side effect of loving someone intensely when they are alive and losing them suddenly. But is entirely incompatible with moving forward. At least for me. I am someone who puts 100% into everything and I love with all my heart so staying in love with Karl was keeping me in the grave with him.
Karl will always be the first person I loved and he will always be the person who owns all of my firsts. But I don’t expect him to be the only one. At least I hope not. He is the person who showed me how to love someone, how to be in a relationship. I will ALWAYS be grateful for the way he loved me. I know what it is to be adored and to never ever question whether the person you are with loves you.
As a consequence, I will never be able to settle for a relationship or a marriage that is average or mediocre. I know what it is to have something exceptional and I don’t want anything less than that. I know he would want that for me too.
It is really hard being a young widow. We are still so rare that society’s expectations of us are still really messed up. We live in a society where it is entirely acceptable to throw divorce parties but if a widow dates within the first year she gets judged. I had multiple people ask me if, given how much I loved Karl, I was now going to be single all of my life… that they would understand if that was my decision…
I am a millennial so that would be a really long time to be single…
In fact, Karl and I randomly had a conversation about this about a year before he died and I told him that: I was sorry but if he died, I would remarry because I didn’t want to be on my own forever. I’m a sociable extrovert who hates being on my own, so I like to hope that being Miss Haversham: sitting alone in my wedding dress (well I have three so I could rotate them) when I am 60 years old is not my destiny…
Kicking the shit out of option B – Four years on from my husband’s suicide
A couple of weeks after Karl died my best friend sent me the book “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg – (Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and fellow widow). I told her that I thought it was way too soon for me to be considering Option B but it turned out that that book became my bible of how to navigate widowhood. I remember crying my eyes out because every single word in that book resonated with me and the way she wrote about her pain enabled me to feel mine and let it out.
My favourite quote in the book is the following:
“I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave. I want option A.” He put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”
It took me a very long time to accept that my Option A was not available. That I wasn’t going to grow old with Karl, that I wasn’t going to have children with him, that my life wasn’t going to be the one I dreamed of. I didn’t want Option B at all.
I had had no experience of living an Option B. As a typical type A personality, there had only ever existed a dichotomy in my head: Option A or failure. That is just how I am wired and explains the two first class degrees from Oxford and my career choice. It also explains why I chose Karl. The good looking, super smart, sporty, funny and kind Cardiologist. I was so proud to be married to him. Everybody loved him and I felt like I had the won the jackpot in life in having him love me so much.
So for me, Option B was something that sucked. My starting point was that Option B was going to be a second-best life. That option B was not the life I had chosen and that being forced to live it was a punishment.
And Option B was hard, I was so traumatised in the aftermath of Karl’s death that I felt like a child having to learn to do everything again. For months afterwards I felt totally overwhelmed if I had to socialise with more than one person at a time and this is coming from someone who has always been a sociable extrovert.
However, at the same time I was determined that I wasn’t going to live my life as if I was in the grave too; that nothing and nobody (not even Karl) was going to ruin my life and I was determined that I was never going to ever be a “damaged” person. Therefore, I kept forcing myself to do things, things that scared me and to say yes to every opportunity that life offered me.
In August 2017, five months after Karl’s death, I travelled alone for the very first time to New Zealand and Australia. I remember telling a friend in Australia (thanks Michelle) that before Karl died all I wanted was a normal life: children, a family, a comfortable home. Nothing really more than that. But after he died, so suddenly, leaving me widowed at a stupidly young age, I decided that I wasn’t ever going to settle for an ordinary life. That, after everything that had happened, I needed a life that was going to be extraordinary to make up for the horror show that life had dealt me.
I have spent 4 years trying to kick the shit out of Option B and I genuinely don’t think I could have done more. Probably what is more important is that I have realised that an Option B can be great. That an Option B can contain things that were never a part of Option A. That sometimes Option B is better than Option A. Nothing will ever change the fact that Option A was the first choice but we can all turn the tables and make Option B count too.
Before Karl died, my career was a genuine disaster. I was stuck in a dead-end chambers with practically zero opportunities. I felt like a failure in my career every single day (because I had had such high expectations of myself) and I was seriously considering leaving the profession because it is depressingly difficult to move chambers as a baby barrister.
After Karl died, some of my best friends (who are barristers) advised me that the easiest thing for me now would be to leave the profession and go and work for a law firm instead and earn a salary. But I am stubborn and ultimately, I refused to follow their advice on the basis that I didn’t want to have one more thing to forgive Karl for and because I loved being a Barrister. My best guy friend later told me he was really proud of me for not following his advice and that meant a lot.
So, seven months after Karl died, I moved chambers and entirely transformed my career. I now work on the kind of high value cases with QCs that I always dreamed that I would and I am financially more independent and successful than I have ever been in my life. I am the Chair of the Junior Commercial Bar Association and sit on a committee which consists solely of High Court judges and Silks pertaining to the Commercial Court of England and Wales.
However, outside of my profession, I had dreamed of being an actress since I was a little girl and it was always my dream to go to drama school. It was one of those dreams that I had wanted to achieve before I had kids. One of those things that you need to get out of your system before settling down I guess.
So, after Karl died, I figured that I now had a massive void in my life and nothing to lose so I enrolled in drama school in September 2017. I graduated from drama school in July 2019 and going to drama school was one of the best decisions I could have made for my life. I have memories that will last forever and I have made friends that I will be friends with for the rest of my life. I think it was necessary for me to really explore all the facets of my personality and decide who I wanted to be and what I wanted my life to look like now. Covid-19 threw a massive spanner in the works regarding acting opportunities but I love acting and will find a way to keep doing it post Covid.
I have also always loved travelling but I always used to travel with Karl. We travelled to over 20 different countries together. It was our thing. So, when he died, I just couldn’t imagine travelling without him. However, even with Covid-19 grounding me for a year, I have travelled to 25 countries since he died. I have travelled solo, I have visited friends who live abroad and I have travelled with groups of 18–35-year-olds. I have some of the best experiences of my life during my travels. Pre-Covid it was my dream to visit every country in the world because I have always felt that if there is more to see, if there is more to explore, then that, in and of itself, is a reason to live.
Part of my journey since Karl’s death has involved me realising that there are so many things that I never experienced because I was in such a serious relationship from such a young age. I will never regret the path my life took but I never grew up independently from Karl. I grew with him and so when he died, I literally had no clue and there were so many things I needed to learn, for the first time.
I am not the same innocent, naïve girl that I used to be but I am stronger, more compassionate and more grateful for what I have. Karl’s death forced me to learn how to love myself, for the first time, because I no longer had him to do it for me. I had to develop self-worth that wasn’t based on being an adored girlfriend or wife and as a consequence I am now more comfortable in my own skin and with who I am than I have probably ever been. I no longer make apologies for who I am or try and convince people to stay in my life who want to leave. I am unapologetically who I am so you can take me or leave me but you don’t get to change me.
I have had some truly amazing experiences since Karl died. Trinidad Carnival 2019 instantly comes to mind because I met Usain Bolt and ended up dancing with him at a party. It also happens to be true that there were hundreds of girls at that party and he danced with two girls and one of them was me hahahhahaha. Oh, and a couple of days later at another party he poured champagne into my mouth… and when Usain and his boys came to party in London, they called me up to come and party with them again in the VIP area of a swanky west end club in London. I am never going to stop talking about that hahaha (I am an athletics super-fan of Jamaican descent after all)!
However, I think my proudest achievement since Karl died was my decision to move to Spain in July 2020. I moved to a city where I didn’t know anybody and where English is not widely spoken and I built a life there. An amazing life, full of sunshine and laughter and human beings I adore. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime and I love the Spanish culture, the warmth and openness of the people. On top of that, I started learning Spanish in October 2019 and I think I am now fluent in Spanish – at least that is what my Spanish friends tell me, so I will take that.
And my friends in general… my Option B has been so filled with love. I feel so loved by my friends, many of whom I would never even have met if I was living my Option A. I have so many friends that have my back and for that reason alone I consider myself blessed beyond measure. Thank you so much – you know who you are.
I guess I have proved to myself that Option B can be pretty damn amazing. I am still not sure I have achieved my (self-imposed – told you I am Type A) holy grail of an extraordinary life but I am definitely working on it.
I still struggle sometimes with feeling like a failure, feeling that I have not achieved enough, that my life is not yet where I want it to be and that I have fundamentally failed to replace my old life: I am not re-married, I am not in a relationship and I don’t have kids.
But I am positive that if those things are meant for me, they will find me (thank you for never letting me forget this Leah) and I will continue kicking the shit out of Option B for as long as I have breath in my lungs.
Because I don’t want Option B to be a second-best life, I want it to be better. I want it to be the life that I didn’t choose but a life that I made awesome, by myself, against all odds, and I am confident that I can do that.
And if I can, you can do it too. Option B is not failure, option B is a second chance and if you want it to be, it is a chance to be better and to do better this time round.
As much as it pains me to say it, I have realised that my destiny is not tied to Karl. He will always be a part of my story and who I am but his role in my story is over.
How to survive losing everything
“When you left, I lost a part of me
It’s still so hard to believe
Come back, baby, please
‘Cause we belong together
Who else am I gonna lean on when times get rough?
Who’s gonna talk to me on the phone ’til the sun comes up?
Who’s gonna take your place? There ain’t nobody better”.
15 years ago today I told Karl that I loved him for the first time so I feel that it is fitting that I dedicate this post to him. I lost everything but he was the one who gave me an everything to lose – and for that, I will always be grateful.
I felt like I had to write this blog post because we are all living in a time of so much loss. I am constantly horrified by the numbers of lives lost during this pandemic (not just to Covid-19), and by the amount of people who have lost their jobs, have lost businesses they worked so hard to build up and people whose relationships and/or marriages have not survived the intensity and sheer boredom of perpetual lockdowns.
I am writing this for the person that feels like they have lost everything. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but what I do know is exactly how it feels to lose everything in one foul swoop. I know how it feels to not want to go on. I know how it feels to be angry that you are still alive.
I think every human being has something or someone that they just couldn’t bear to lose. The loss of such thing or person being a blow of such a devastating scale that it deprives life of all meaning. This thing or person/s goes to the heart of who we are, what we hold dear. It is a fundamental pillar within us all. To lose this pillar makes the whole pack of cards come crashing down.
For some people it is their health, for some people it is their wealth or status, for some people it is their job, for many people it is their children and for some people it is their spouse. For me it was Karl. I suppose that might be surprising, given that to the outside world I am a relatively successful lawyer with lots of friends and interests. But he was that everything to me.
I had spent my entire adult life with Karl. We were together for 11.5 years and my whole world revolved around him. I didn’t make a single decision in my life without considering him. I think that when you are together with someone for such a long time, from such a young age, you become so entwined with them that you can’t conceive of a world without them and you are so dependent on their existence because you literally don’t know any other way. For you, they are both the beginning and the end, of everything.
Walking in to my flat on 24 March 2017 to find Karl’s dead body was the moment that my life smashed into a million tiny pieces. I went to work a wife and I came home a widow. A widow who had never been single or even had another boyfriend. I felt like a little girl who was left silently screaming at her life. I had no idea how to cope with what had happened to me. It felt too big and too terrible.
I still remember how much it hurt my parents that I was hurting so much and they couldn’t do anything to make it better. I still remember my 1-year-old niece watching me cry and it seemed that even at such a young age she could sense something was terribly wrong and was trying to make it better, trying to make me better.
I was so angry to be alive after Karl died. It didn’t even make sense to me that I was still here when he was gone. I was enraged that I hadn’t had a heart attack and dropped down dead when I found his body. I was so angry with God, furious at the hand I got dealt in life. I am still angry about it if I am totally honest. I had spent my whole life trying to do everything right and Karl and I were these good little Christians and this was what happened to my life. It felt so unfair and it was so unfair.
At the time, I just didn’t want to stay and have to live in the ruins of my old life. My life held no value to me whatsoever. The only thing that kept me here were my family and friends who showered me with love. I stayed for them because I couldn’t bear to inflict the same pain on them that Karl had left behind.
If you are a person reading this who has just watched someone you love lose their everything then I can tell you that your support and your love might just be the reason that your loved one stays. Keep trying. Right now, they will be exhausted and overwhelmed but they will appreciate the fact that you are trying because it will show them that you love them and you are there for them when they are ready.
I remember in the early days after Karl’s death having so many people tell me that I had so much to live for: that I was so young, that I was beautiful, that I had an amazing job and that I would definitely marry again someday. The truth was that I really couldn’t have cared less about any of those things. My husband and my best friend in the whole world was gone and he was never coming back and I couldn’t fix it. That was the only thing that mattered to me at that time.
I honestly didn’t believe I could survive Karl’s death and I didn’t want to. All my dreams died with him. When I met Karl, I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to have kids and he told me it was a dealbreaker for him (at the age of 19!) if I didn’t want to have kids so we compromised (two months into the relationship) and agreed that we would have two kids. That was always the deal. Karl and I were literally in the process of trying to buy our first house when he died and we had decided we wanted to buy a house in Hanwell, London rather than a flat in Ealing because this would be better for a young family. I spent years imagining the beautiful, super smart, athletic kids we would have. So, when Karl died, I didn’t just lose him, I lost all of my hopes and dreams for the future. Without him, life to me felt like a cruel joke. It was a second-best life and I just didn’t want it.
I remember feeling that I was staying here for other people when what I really wanted was to die. There had never been any limits in my love for Karl and there were correspondingly no limits to my grief. It was infinite.
The girl who had been a scaredy-cat her whole life suddenly because an adrenaline sports junkie. If you aren’t afraid to die then you can bungee jump, sky-dive and open water jet-ski with ease because what is the worst thing that can happen to you? Oh yes, you might die.
In the months after Karl died, I walked around in a haze of grief. All my memories from that time are foggy. I was exhausted all the time and it was so hard for me to do anything. One of the resources that I think genuinely saved my life was an online suicide survivors group. I remember confessing to the group that I didn’t feel like I could survive and that I didn’t want to. One of the members of the group said to me in response: “All I am asking of you is that you stay here/alive for two years, if you feel the exact same way that you feel right now in two years’ time then I give you permission to kill yourself. But right now, you stay.”
I thought that was fair, so I agreed. That was really the point that my mindset changed (although there were many ups and downs after that point) and I decided that I would stay and I would give life my best shot for two years and see whether it gave me reasons to stay alive. It didn’t make sense to me to live as if I had died too so it was around the same time that I started my “happiness project”.
In those days it was absolutely inconceivable to me that I would ever be truly happy again so I decided I needed to focus on any moment in the day that was not unhappy and take a picture of that moment so that I would have a record of those moments of happiness even if the happiness only lasted seconds. I still remember the first day I had an entirely happy day, it was after I ran the Ealing Half Marathon 2017 six months exactly after Karl’s death. To this day, those pictures are so special to me.
I think in some ways the sole thing that kept me alive was this fragment of hope that maybe, just maybe one day I would be happy again and maybe I might even be happier than I was before. And I wanted to be here to see if that was the case.
In the years since Karl’s death, that fragment of hope has grown and grown so that now I am certain that I will live a happy life – because I will make sure of it. It is not hope anymore, it is certainty. A certainty that I have fought for. Because I am not a victim of my life. I will never be a victim and I will never let it be said that I didn’t fight for happiness as hard as I possibly could.
I think he would be proud of me and he would not be surprised. He always used to tell me that I was the strongest person he knew and I guess he was right because sometimes I still can’t believe that I managed to survive becoming a suicide widow, of all things, at such a young age. It was and is my worst nightmare but I am still here. What I do know is that if I could survive that, I can survive anything.
If you are reading this blog and feeling that you have lost everything, whatever that everything is to you, I promise you that you can survive because just reading this means that you want to. I promise you that time does heal. I say that from experience, not just as a trite statement said by someone who has no clue (I used to want to hit people who said that to me).
I will always be sad that Karl died by suicide but my life has grown and expanded so that the pain has lost the intensity it once had. It will happen to you too but the responsibility is on you and you alone to grow that new life.
But I will be there cheering you on because I know that if I survived, you can too. I am not special at all but I am very stubborn and when I decided that I would survive this, my survival became a fait accompli because I don’t quit anything! I kept my side of the deal, I stayed alive for two years and after two years I no longer wanted to die.
There is hope, I promise you, there is always hope. No matter how bad you feel right now, that feeling will not last forever and I am rooting for you. But you have to root for yourself harder than you have rooted for anything in your life and you need to become your biggest priority. That is not selfish… that is survival.
I wish you knew…
As promised, please find below my short film of my poem “I wish you knew” created by the wonderful and insanely talented Carlos Hernandez. The beauty of this film is entirely due to his magic.
Just to give you some background on the creation of the film. This film was originally created to be a part of a virtual concert entitled “A night with CTC” which streamed on the 5 December 2020 – what would have been Karl’s 35th birthday. We raised £1275 of which 50% went to the charity Applause for Thought (an incredible charity which provides low cost mental health support, talks and workshops to those working in the entertainment industry) and 50% to enable CTC company to put on 8-10 FREE Mental Health Inspired Workshops around the UK to provide young people with education and awareness of the importance of Mental Health. I think we can all agree that this is even more crucial in the context of the current pandemic and the consequences flowing from a succession of lockdowns and restrictions.
I consider myself extremely privileged to have been able to perform with such an incredible selection of performers. My involvement with CTC company started after I watched Identity – a magnificent piece of dance theatre choreographed by the incredible Christopher Tendai. We chatted after the show (he also happens to be my cousin’s best friend!) and I was so impressed both with the work that he was doing in producing theatre which touched on the theme of mental health in a innovative and creative way but also by him. Chris is one of the most talented and committed performers I have ever met and I am incredibly inspired by his vision.
I decided immediately that I wanted to be part of the work Chris was doing because I feel that by the time I met Karl, it was already too late. He had already tried to commit suicide when he was 19 years old but maybe, just maybe, if you can reach children who might have suffered trauma or mental health problems you might be able to change the outcome, in a way that it can’t now be changed for Karl.
If you want to watch the show that genuinely changed my life, it is streaming live this Saturday (6th Feb) and you can get your tickets here www.ctcdancecompany.com/identity
I also have to thank my incredible friend Zen because this film would probably not have been possible without your support. Zen and I met at drama school. I decided to make one of my childhood dreams come true and went to drama school for two years between 2017 and 2019. I started drama school less than 6 months after Karl died. In some ways it saved me. It gave me a space to be Kira and it gave me a space away from thinking about Karl 24/7 every second of the day. It was hard. Drama school is hard. We were constantly being prepared for the brutality of “the industry” and our confidence was bashed and we were told off a million times. The demands of the second year of drama school were unending. In our second year, in the lead up to the final show we frequently had to rehearse 6-7 days a week. After leaving drama school I felt so traumatised that I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep acting but Zen refused to allow me to give up. She was always encouraging me, constantly giving me a kick up the ass to get my act together and just incredibly patient with me. When Chris asked me to be part of the show and record some of my writing she was the best cheerleader I could have wished for and really made me believe that I could do it and that this was an amazing opportunity to put my acting skills to use. I love you Babygirl and I appreciate your support so much.
Nearly four years on from the suicide of my husband and I’m grateful
“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
Dear suicidal person/ the letter I wish I could go back in time and send to my late husband
Right now your brain is lying to you. Your brain is telling you that if you leave, everyone will be better off, everyone will happier. This is fundamentally untrue. It is, in fact, the opposite of the truth. If you leave, your exit will cause a nuclear bomb to explode into the lives of everyone who loves you. You will not get rid of the pain you feel you will simply pass it on to the people you love you.
The scale of the explosion will be directly proportionate to the amount of the love that that person had for you. So, you will hurt the ones who loved you the most, the worst. It is accepted by psychologists that the trauma of being a suicide survivor is equivalent to being a concentration camp survivor. That trauma is multiplied exponentially if you leave your loved one to find your dead body.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife, who is always smiling and is always positive, will come home from work, will open the door of the flat you shared with her and find your dead body hanging waiting for her. In that moment, in one foul swoop, you will destroy her innocence and she will never be the same.
She will be all alone when she finds you and she will be so scared because hanging is a violent death and your corpse looks like something out of a horror movie to her. Initially, she will not even be able to process what she is looking at. It is too shocking to her and it is too scary. But when she realises, she will have no idea what to do and she will just start screaming.
The neighbours will hear her screams and they will come to help her. Your wife will try to do CPR even though she basically has no clue how to do it. She will be scared to touch you because you look so horrible. Your wife will have to witness paramedics pretending to try and resuscitate you. They will keep telling her they are giving you “really good chest compressions”. This is bullshit and she knows it. She is a Cardiologist’s wife after all. You have told her before that the only way of saving someone who has had a cardiac arrest outside hospital is with a defibrillator. The paramedics will not use a defibrillator on you because you are dead and she knows it and they know it too. But she will have to watch the charade.
If you kill yourself, after you die your flat will be flooded with police officers who will ask YOUR wife, who is in shock, questions. Everything will be a blur to her and all she will focus on is how many people are coming into their flat, with its white carpets, with their dirty shoes on. She will be unable to process anything. To her, this situation cannot possibly be real, so she will focus on the fact that now the flat is dirty and needs to be cleaned. This will be the start of the first stage of her grief: denial that you are dead and that you are never coming back.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife will inform YOUR siblings- in law by WhatsApp message that she has found you hanging. They will initially think this is some kind of sick joke. They will hope it is a joke, but instead they will come up to London on a Friday night and see your dead body lying on the floor of the kitchen. It is the first time that any of them have seen a dead body and it is your body. The body of somebody they really loved. The body of a 31-year-old who shouldn’t be dead.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife, who knows nothing of darkness and has never thought about suicide before in her whole life, will think about slitting her wrists right there and then in the kitchen with your dead body. She will ask to be left alone with you and she will open the kitchen drawer and run her finger down a knife and wonder whether it is sharp enough. She will feel like she is Sleeping Beauty walking towards the poisoned spinning needle because that is how compelling the thought is to her that if you are dead she should be dead too. It will feel logical to her. The only thing that will prevents her from trying to kill herself with that knife, is that she worries about who will arrange your funeral if she is gone too? She sees it as her responsibility, as your wife.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife will lie on top of your dead body until you go cold because she doesn’t want anyone to take you away from her. She doesn’t want you to go somewhere that she cannot go. She will finally let the undertakers take you away after the undertakers tell her that if she doesn’t let them take you away you will start to decay. She doesn’t want you to rot so she will allow them to take you away, her younger brother will have to hold her so that she doesn’t see you leave the flat in a body bag.
If your kill yourself, YOUR wife will go into such a state of shock that the paramedics will suggest she should be sedated. She will refuse this and she will experience night terrors (nightmares that happen when you are still awake) that night for the first time in her life.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife, will spend the next two weeks of her life trying to ensure that you have the best coffin and funeral and she will go searching, with her siblings, for the most attractive cemetery for you. She is a millennial and all her friends are getting married and having babies and she is organising a funeral for her husband.
She shouldn’t know how to arrange a funeral, but she does now. She will try to arrange the best funeral she possibly can. Even in your death, she wants you to have the best of everything and she is so desperate to make you proud of her.
If you kill yourself, one Christian pastor will refuse to give a speech at your funeral because he feels that he cannot say that you are heaven because you committed suicide. This will add to YOUR wife’s anguish because she will now have to come to terms with the fact that some Christians genuinely believe that you are now in Hell.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife will spend hours in the funeral parlour, saying goodbye to you. She will cry and cry and cry and ask you how you could have left her, how you could have possibly thought that she was going to be OK without you. She will find the idea of you being buried and leaving her forever unbearable. For the first time in her life, life will feel like a punishment. She will never understand why she got dealt such an awful hand in life and she will question whether she somehow deserves this.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife will think about flinging herself into your grave at the funeral, but she will realise if she does that, she will just probably break a few bones and survive and look ridiculous and crazy so after reflecting on it, she decides not to do that. Her younger brother grips her arm, whilst your coffin is lowered into the ground, just to make sure she doesn’t jump. She will cry as your coffin is buried and her sobs will sound like a wounded animal.
But what she doesn’t know if that this is only the start of her agony that is only just beginning. Planning the funeral, writing your eulogy, speaking to everyone at the funeral kept her busy. The reality will hit after the funeral that this is a nightmare that she will never wake up from.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife will not sleep for more than 4 hours a night for 2.5 years. Your same wife who loved sleeping and used to sleep like a baby for 8 hours a night will have chronic insomnia that she has to take benzodiazepines for, because without this she will go for days without sleeping even one minute. She will be so sleep-deprived that she will start to fantasise about sleeping. In fact, she will wish every day that she was in a coma and could wake up in five years’ time because life is unbearably painful to her. She will only let go of this “fantasy” when she realises that to be in a coma, she would have to suffer some form of brain damage.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife will lose so much weight in the year after your death that size 6 (UK) clothes will be baggy on her, she will have no boobs and no butt left whatsoever. Her face will also be totally gaunt, like a witch and every time she tries to force a smile a million wrinkles will appear that were never there before.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife’s hair will fall out. Her beautiful, thick waist length hair will become stringy and short. It will take 3 years for it to grow back fully.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife will have night sweats for a year, that is, she will wake up every morning in a freezing cold puddle of sweat. This is what the trauma of finding your dead body will do to her.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife, who was so independent, will not be able to bear to be left in a house on her own because she is genuinely terrified that if she is alone, dead hanging people are going to jump of cupboards, be in the bathroom, wardrobe, anywhere dark waiting for her. She will feel terrified. She will know this isn’t rational but she has already found one dead body unexpectedly, who is to say that it won’t happen again?
If you kill yourself, every second of every day for more than a year your suicide will swirl around her mind 24/7, whatever she is doing, whoever she is talking to, it will always be there tormenting her. For a long time, she will imagine that if she can solve the puzzle, if she can understand why you killed yourself, then she can bring you back. She won’t be able to focus on anything except the fact that you killed yourself.
She will be unable to watch television for months. Anything happy, anything about love, anything about having children will provoke a physical pain in her chest so sharp that she will feel as if she is dying. She will watch Fast and Furious 8 and spend the rest of the evening after watching the film curled in a corner at her parents’ house crying her eyes out because Vin Diesel’s character becomes a dad and you will never ever get to be one.
If you kill yourself, your wife will torment herself every second of every single day, analysing every single thing you said to her in the months before you died, trying to work out for the millionth time whether there was something she missed. She will be so angry at herself, that she could have been so stupid that she didn’t see this coming.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife will be so convinced that this is her fault, that she fundamentally failed as a wife that she will want to die. She will think about it and plan ways that she could kill herself. Thankfully, these are just thoughts because she conjures up these plans whilst lying in her bed which is where she spends most of her time for the first 6 months after your death. She doesn’t have any energy to go anywhere.
If you kill yourself, YOUR wife will question whether you ever loved her and whether she even knew you. She will need all of her and your friends to tell her over and over again that of course you loved her. Even believing you really did love her doesn’t make it any better because then she truly believes that she could and should have saved you and that she failed. That thought will return to haunt her over and over again.
If you kill yourself, you will steal an innocence from YOUR wife that can never be replaced. She will be afraid of happiness, afraid that if she is happy again it will be taken away too. You will introduce her to a darkness that she has never experienced before. It is your darkness not hers.
If you kill yourself, somehow YOUR wife will survive. She will be one of the “lucky ones”. She will survive because she is a fighter and she will fight for happiness and for her life harder than she has fought for anything in her whole life. However, the fact that she somehow manages to survive and every achievement in her life, will not be because of you, they will be in spite of you.
Thousands of suicide survivors all around the world will not be so lucky. The suicides of their loved ones will cause them to kill themselves, will cause them to suffer with mental illness, will cause them to lose their homes and their jobs and their happiness and joy in life. This is the antithesis of everyone being better off without the suicide victim. You may be in peace but they won’t be.
If you kill yourself, you will always be the person that hurt her the most and that will be something you can never take back and you can never make right.
Is that really what you want? YOUR wife, and everyone who loves you deserves better and so do YOU.
Get some professional help please! Do everything you can to stay. Things can and will get better if you fight hard enough… speak to your wife, she loves you so, so much and she would do anything in the world to help you.
A Suicide Survivor’s perspective on Suicide Prevention Month
I should stress at the outset that, by Suicide Survivor I mean a person who has had to survive the suicide of a loved one, not a person who has survived a suicide attempt.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. I am relieved that it is over. I have lost count of the amount of viral posts that I have seen that suggest that “being kind” and that a random chat with an acquaintance might somehow prevent a suicide.
In the vast majority of cases, suicide is the action of a person who is extremely unwell. Survival is written into our DNA and it goes against every human instinct to murder oneself. A chat with a stranger or acquaintance isn’t going to magically make a mentally ill person healthy. You can’t talk, reason or love someone out of mental illness, I have tried (after Karl’s death) and it just doesn’t work like that.
One of the biggest and most damaging fallacies about suicide is that a person who commits suicide didn’t have anyone who talk to about the way they were feeling. That the person who commits suicide is a lonely person, who wasn’t loved and didn’t have a support network.
This is exactly why with so many suicides nobody ever sees them coming because the suicide victim doesn’t remotely fit the stereotype of a suicidal person.
I have literally lost count of the number of suicide victims that I have seen who were good looking, with spouses/partners that loved them, had successful careers and on the surface seemed to have everything going for them.
My husband was so loved, not just by me, he had close friends who really loved him (and who have supported me so much since he died), he had an incredible career ahead of him. He spoke to his best friend the day before he died, he spoke to a close friend and his brother (who he adored) on the day he died. If he wanted to talk, he had so many people who would have listened, so many people who would have done anything to stop what was about to happen.
But he chose not to do that, he didn’t tell anyone what was really going on in his head. Because he was really sick (and I had no idea of it whatsoever) and even if he had told us what was going on his head, we would still have been powerless to prevent a suicide. Because he needed professional help.
My husband’s story is not unique. I have heard so many stories from suicide survivors and, more often than not, the suicide victim was the life and soul of every party, the person who was always smiling, the person who everyone loved – not a person without a friend in the world and in need of a stranger.
A suicidal person needs professional help. Usually medication and counselling, not a chat.
Since Karl died, I have spoken to suicidal people and my advice is always the same – please get professional help. It is 100% OK to not be OK but get help.
I know that a suicidal person doesn’t intend to hurt the people left behind but, irrespective of their intention, they leave behind an endless tidal wave of pain which affects all of the people that loved them. Suicide doesn’t end pain it just passes it on to the ones left behind who are left staring into an abyss of destruction. I refuse to sugar-coat it; it is a horrendous legacy to leave behind.
A part of my heart will always be broken because Karl died. A death isn’t anything like a breakup. Karl isn’t living a life happily with someone else. I grieve not only my loss but the fact that he lost everything. He was an amazing human being and he deserved better than that ending. Even if I live to 100, I will always feel that.
Karl never ever got help. I wish he had. I do not and will never ever think that suicide is brave but I think getting help is. My husband suffered various traumas in his childhood. I used to marvel at the fact that he was so undamaged, so smiley, so positive. But I realise now that it was a mask. Trauma needs to be dealt with. It cannot be hidden or ignored; it will always resurface until it is treated. There is and should be no shame in that.
Personally, I have decided that I am not going to dedicate my life to suicide prevention. I can’t. From a selfish perspective, the one suicide that I would have given anything to prevent, can no longer be prevented.
But most importantly, for me, suicide is something that I hate with every ounce of my being. Suicide destroyed a life that I loved and stole the person that I loved more than I loved myself. Suicide is something that came extremely close to destroying me until I fought back with every bit of energy that I possessed. Suicide is something that I have turned my back on, something that was never a part of me and something that I will never ever allow to define my life.
But mental illness, changing the way that society views mental illness and trying to encourage people who are facing a situation that feels un-survivable that they can make it, is something that I am passionate about.
We still live in a society where little boys are told not to cry, where men are taught that it is not masculine to talk about their feelings and that they should be strong all the time. Nothing could be more toxic and until we change that suicide is going to remain the biggest killer of men under 50, not cancer, not car accidents, not Covid-19 – suicide!
Society is finally changing but mental illness is still not being treated in the same way as physical illness. If a loved one came to us and told us they had serious symptoms of a terminal illness we wouldn’t imagine for one second that they could be “healed” by loving them or that their death could be prevented by having a chat with them. We would tell them to go to a doctor urgently. That is what we should be saying to anyone who tells us that they feel suicidal. In most cases, suicide is a symptom of an underlying mental disease (depression, bipolar, schizophrenia etc) which needs to be treated by doctors like any other disease.
The pandemic truly exposed the dichotomy between mental and physical illnesses. I lost count of the times that I saw posts on social media where anyone who complained about the effect of the lockdown on their mental health was basically told to stop being selfish, and/or childish and that the virus was killing people so they should suck it up and stay home… seemingly ignorant of the fact that the isolation of being in lockdown was genuinely making people suicidal. But somehow those deaths or the risk of death didn’t count because it was only in people’s heads… (therein lies the fundamental problem).
Society would be a much better place if people genuinely showed compassion and tried to put themselves in the shoes of people less fortunate than they are.
Please also spare a thought for those Suicide Survivors who have to constantly read posts throughout the month of September suggesting that all that a suicidal person needs is someone to listen to them, intensifying the guilt and blame that Suicide Survivors already feel. We were there, we listened, we loved with all our hearts and it still happened.
I am writing this for you – because I am one of you xxx
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 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.