For a while now I’ve been trying to write a book. My motivation is going, I’m questioning whether it’s something I can do and whether it would help me or hold me back.
I chatted to my son about it last night and he just said why would you want to do that? Well, I said, I thought it might help. Help who? he said. I don’t know is the honest answer. Is it for me, or is it for other people going through the same thing? And more importantly, have I got it in me to finish it, or will it finish me off?
Writers are often full of self-doubt, and I know this because I am friends with a fair few of them and not one of them has gone forwards without questioning themselves.
So instead of sitting at my kitchen table wondering where to go from here, I thought I’d share my chapter one with you, to see honestly what you thought.
The photographs were taken at my daughter Florence’s second birthday party, at our old house in Wirral, six days before Roger died.
So here goes…
My Chapter One
Being widowed and under 40 is something not many people have experience of. When it happens to you, you don’t know many other people it has happened to, you have no reference point, no blueprint and you just don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to do.
Think of the word widow and you might think of an old lady in a black cape, either walking across a windy field like in that old insurance ad, or sitting at home feeling sorry for herself and resigning herself to a life on her own.
When I found out it was going to happen to me, I certainly didn’t know what to expect and couldn’t imagine how a young, outgoing mum like myself would fit into that mould.
I was – and still am – a happy, smiley person who loves to talk, laugh loudly, drink gin, swear and buy lots of shoes. I wrote a blog. I was forever on Instagram sharing the beautiful parts of our lives.
I was happy in my marriage, I’d truly found my other half and married my best friend and we’d just had our second child.
Before Roger fell ill, everything I’d wanted in life was lining up and I was drinking it all in. I wasn’t ready for it all to be taken away. What the hell would I do?
The only thing I had to lean on was that when I was told Roger had cancer and it was terminal, I’d had a dress rehearsal for these feelings. In May 2013, when I was seven months pregnant with our daughter Florence, Roger collapsed and I was told he might die.
I’d had all those thoughts of “but this can’t happen”, “what will I tell my son”, “how will I live without him”. I’d had all that and when he pulled through, I’d talked it all over with him. I’d shared these feelings with my husband, and so when we were told almost two years later that he had cancer and there was no treatment, we both knew what we thought of it and those horrendous, life-altering, worst feelings in the world came back.
In shock and feeling alone, there was nothing anybody could say that would make me feel better.
There were no words that would stop Roger from dying; we didn’t know when, we didn’t really know how, but it was going to happen and it was going to be soon.
Many people who go through shocking and unexpected experiences say things like “it was like a scene from a film”, or “it felt like it wasn’t happening to me”. Well I’m going to say the same thing, because even looking back I can’t believe we went through these things and that I at least came out the other side.
If it hadn’t been for my blog and the solace I found in being able to write down how I felt and document our journey, I don’t know how I would have got through it.
Cancer is not instagrammable. Dying is not something many people blog about compared with like make-up, fashion or photography. When people ask me why I did it, I can’t really answer them other than to say because that’s what I do.
I know it sounds strange but writing about death was normal for me, it came naturally and it was probably the only way I knew I could express myself.
I remember after the diagnosis came and we talked about whether I would blog about it or not. A somewhat surreal conversation for two journalists to have, when we were so used to discussing stories to be written about the extraordinary things that happen in other people’s lives, but not really in our own.
At work, Rog was my sub-editor, the one everyone went to for a brutal account of how good (or not) their features were. He was a tough cookie, but he was sharp and knew a story when he saw one.
‘Who wants to read about death and dying?’, I asked him.
‘Everyone!’, he replied.
I guess by trying to write a book now I‘m hoping it will be as cathartic for my next stage of life as it was in the last.
Because it’s not just the navigating through death and bereavement part, it’s the moving forward part, the keeping going part that can be the really hard slog. And there’s certainly no rule book for that, just pure grit and bloody-mindedness is needed to get you through.
That’s why I wanted to write, to be able to get down these feelings on paper and maybe share them with people going through the same thing. Write the book you want to read, they said, so as a young (ish) woman who was desperate for support, I hope this is the book I wanted – and still want – to read.