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.