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.

How can anyone not love this guy?!!!!

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.

This was the before pic, you should have seen how red and streaky we were afterwards hahaha

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. 

Hiking in the sunshine in Andalucía!

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

Two hearts that beat as one

Our lives have just begun”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll go back to black – The End

“You went back to what you knew

So far removed from all that we went through

And I tread a troubled track

My odds are stacked

I’ll go back to black”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Date

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

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

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

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

The Third Date

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being without you

“Chemistry was crazy from the get-go

Neither one of us knew why

We didn’t build nothing overnight

Cuz a love like this takes some time

People swore it off as a phase

Said we can’t see that

Now from top to bottom

They see that we did that (yes)

It’s so true that (yes)

We’ve been through it (yes)

We got real sh** (yes)

See baby we been…

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

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

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

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

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

I freaked out. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But finally, I am able to BE without you.

Birthdays after loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all fairytales have a happy ending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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