Widowhood, My Chapter One

Roger and all of us July 2015

Roger and all of us July 2015

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

Rog, Flo and Sam

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.

x Julia

Party Rog Jules and Flo

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  • Reply
    Rachel Lander
    January 25, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    You should keep going with your book that was amazing and I can imagine other young people experiencing what you are describing nodding their heads and finding comfort that they aren’t going mad and they will still be able to function when they are at their lowest xx

  • Reply
    January 25, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Ok so from a selfish point of view, after reading that, all I want to do now is read more. I imagine it’s only natural that you’re doubting whether it’s something you should be doing it or not. One step/chapter at a time maybe? Very moving yet sensitively written xx

  • Reply
    Seaside Sparkles
    January 25, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    Julia you write so well and I would love to read your book, what a legacy it will be to your family and others. Please believe in yourself, your story and talent and enjoy the writing. x

  • Reply
    Emily Jane Clark
    January 25, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    It’s brilliant. This book will really help people going through this. The only bad thing is I WANT TO READ MORE. Keep on keeping on, lady!! And when it’s done. We shall drink Sambuca x

  • Reply
    January 25, 2018 at 8:17 pm

    You must write it Julia, I think it will help other people and will even help you. It might well be helpful for your children one day. If it’s playing on your mind then I think it’s there for a reason. First chapter done and I’m wanting to read more. Keep going. xx

  • Reply
    Karen Beddow
    January 25, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    Yes it’s the book people want to read, it’s the book that should have been there, but please make sure it’s the right thing for you. The rest of the world can wait. It’s taken a lot from you. It is however fantastic! You write sooo well.

  • Reply
    Kerry smith
    January 25, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    It’s going to be an amazing book. I don’t know how you have kept going. Roger would be so proud. X

  • Reply
    Emily Inman
    January 25, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    Beautiful words and a brilliant way to share a story of love and hope! Keep writing it!!

  • Reply
    January 25, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    Your story will not only help others going through the same experience but actually I think everyone benefits from thinking/ reading about death and dying not in a morbid way but as a way of appreciating life to the full. Keep going x

  • Reply
    Carrie - Flying With A Baby
    January 25, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    What a brave, well written and poignant start to your book.

  • Reply
    Sophie Hillock
    January 25, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    Wonderful. Your husband would be so proud of you. Keep going with it. I’m very much looking forward to reading more ❤️

  • Reply
    Caro | The Twinkle Diaries
    January 25, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    You are a bloody marvel. YES – keep going with it!!! Tell your story. For Sam and Flo. For you. For Rog. And for the others that are going through the same thing and looking for a beacon in the dark.

    You’ve been SO amazingly strong. I know how hard it’s been – and I’ve seen how well you’ve handled everything.

    I’m so proud of you, my lovely friend. I don’t think this book will finish you off. I think it will be the making of you. Keep going xxxxxxxx

  • Reply
    January 25, 2018 at 10:21 pm

    Write it. For all of you. For all the other women. Imagine how proud he would be x

  • Reply
    January 25, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    For years I have been trying to write about losing my mum. An agent at britmums liked the idea years ago when I pitched it but I keep stopping and starting, like you I am never sure if it is procrastination or emotional energy stopping me. I have piles of words to bring together. I found books and writing so helpful when I was grieving. My Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion really saved me. I really love the way you write, it’s very readable, soulful and calm which I think is probably what people who are grieving need when reading. Keep going! If you ever want to swap notes, maybe we can help each other.

  • Reply
    Sara Crosby
    January 25, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    Please write it. Your blog is an inspiration and your potential book would help so many who are in similar positions and so many others on the sidelines. You are an inspiration please keep going.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2018 at 11:12 pm

    I think you need to keep going. Your children might not understand why you’re doing it now but I’m sure they will be grateful to read about their parents love for each other when their old enough to understand. Your husband would be so proud of you so do it for all of you. One day and one chapter at a time x

  • Reply
    January 26, 2018 at 12:04 am

    Julia this is the most moving, honest and loving piece of writing I have ever read and I do hope you can find the strength to write the next chapter and the next and the next. Not for anyone else but for yourself. I think you need to tell this story to heal yourself and one day to help your children who will have questions and wonder why them? Do it for yourself, do it in your own time and do it whichever way you please. But do it because one day you will be glad you did. Because no one ever regrets the things they do half as much as the things they don’t. Sending you lots of love xxxxx

  • Reply
    Colin Moneypenny
    January 26, 2018 at 12:11 am

    It’s a yes from me Jules. Roger was right death is something that everyone will want to read about as it’s something we all have to do. Do it for him, do it for the kids and do it for you but make sure it’s honest and true and record the life and laughs as well as the heartache and pain. You’re a natural writer so have confidence in your ability and write it.

  • Reply
    Gill Russell
    January 26, 2018 at 12:12 am

    Please continue Julia. X

  • Reply
    January 26, 2018 at 1:20 am

    Please continue Julia. For the children and for Roger and for other bereft people but mainly for yourself. You are a writer so writing is an integral part of you and you have been widowed so that is also now an integral part of you so you need to keep them both together and continue the journey.

  • Reply
    Vikki Cashmore
    January 26, 2018 at 10:09 am

    You phrase it all so beautifully, you’re a natural writer, reading your posts feels like having a chat with you. The book would be fantastic and unless you think writing it would harm you or hold you back, for what it’s worth I think you should go for it.

  • Reply
    Lynne Rhodes
    January 26, 2018 at 10:58 am

    This is fabulous – please keep writing!

  • Reply
    Isabella mckay
    January 26, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    You must finish your book no matter how long it takes, the feelings you share will never change for any other person on this journey., truly blessed to share with you and yours..x

  • Reply
    January 26, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    Your blog has already helped me. I am a forty something mummy of three children aged 8,10 and 21 and my husband has inoperable pancreatic cancer. I know what is ahead of us but don’t know how or when. People don’t talk about death and reading your blog has given me comfort and strength and the feeling that it is possible to live as a family afterwards. I live on the Wirral and your story seemed even more pertinent because of that.
    Please know that you have helped me enormously. If you do carry on writing about your loss then it would be helpful to so many people, however the ultimate decision is yours and you should do what is best for you and your lovely family. Thank you for what you have already given of yourself. X

  • Reply
    January 27, 2018 at 6:48 am

    I started mentally composing this on Thursday, before there were any other responses; now after reading the others, I’m a bit nervous of posting this.

    But I did realize you already have somebody who knows you far better saying the right things: Sam. He’s asking the perfect questions.

    You would write an amazing book — the outpouring of love in the other comments confirms that. But you don’t owe anybody anything. Write it if its what you want to do, to spend your time on.

    Everybody I know who was written a book, it’s completely taken over their lives for years — the writing taking longer than anticipated, then editing, changes, correcting proofs, And then the marketing taking as long again, needing to lug themselves around the country just to get the book noticed. Even The Grove Bookshop hasn’t stocked or sold a single copy of Eeh Bah Mum’s book, and she’s local. Unfortunately, it’s possible to spend more hours working on a book than the time it takes everybody who buys it to read it added together.

    Inevitably, if you write this (amazing!) book, there are some other (amazing!) things that you wouldn’t be doing instead. Maybe pause and try to think what would get squeezed, or what other opportunities you would have if you weren’t committed to getting the book finished — whether doing more exercise, or writing other things, seeing friends, drinking, dating, planning parties, trying out new recipes, or just relaxing.

    Your writing is beautiful and moving, and will have already helped people. Even if you stop now, that’s an accomplishment you can be proud of.

    I only know Rog through your writing, but it sounds like being an amazing mum to Sam and Flo, and enjoying your own life, is already a fantastic way to honour him. Write this book if it’s what you want, for you. But don’t feel you need to have this taking over your life — and make sure you can explain it to Sam.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    I can’t tell you what to do but, as a fellow journalist and blogger, I know how much writing helps me to process things (and I know from comments that my writing occasionally helps other people too). It sounds like Sam’s inherited some of his dad’s sub-editor tendencies, they are good questions he asked. I think you know you have the skill to write it, it’s just how much you want to do it that’s probably the next question to answer. Sending you my best wishes.

  • Reply
    Becky | Spirited Puddle Jumper
    January 29, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    Your writing is always beautiful, Julia, and as many others have said upthread, I do really want to keep on reading. I think in many ways it doesn’t matter ‘who it’s for’ as long as you get something personally out of the process of writing it and it doesn’t impact on your day-to-day happiness doing so (if you see what I mean?) xx

  • Reply
    January 30, 2018 at 12:00 am

    “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.”

    One hundred times yes – I hope you continue writing

  • Reply
    Becky Cowley
    January 31, 2018 at 11:18 pm

    What I want to say has already been said. I didn’t want to read without commenting though. A book I’d read xxx

  • Reply
    February 2, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    Hi Julia, if you can I think you should keep going! Firstly because I think you would feel a masssive sense of achievement , and secondly for someone like me who is in the same boat as you, widowed, not under 40 (41!); and with two children, it would be incredibly helpful. I recently read sheryl sandberg’s(COO OF FACEBOOK ) book ‘option b ‘ and loved it. I’m going to read it again, because like you said when something like this happens thankfully there are not many people who have been through them he same experience. An experience like this makes you feel incredibly lonely at times, and so-reading about someone else’s experience makes you realise you not alone!! . Wishing you all the best! x

  • Reply
    April 18, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    I don’t know what to advise you my love, but you are a beautiful writer.

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