Category Archives: motherhood

Taking off the grief coat.

It is 16 months since Nicky died. I have shared much of our experience of that, our journey into and through grief and written too about the process of recovery. Recovery. Readjustment. Restoration. There are many words that are helpful here but the one I prefer most is rehabilitation. Learning to live again.

In my last post I hinted at something. ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’. You’ll have to ask a scientist about why this is the case, I’m not equipped to explain, but I know it’s true. I also know that a year ago the space Nicky left in our lives felt like a vacuum.

Now, 16 months on I am amazed and enchanted by the resilience of life, the tenacious way that it has swirled around and scratched at the bell jar of my sadness and found the chink.  Amazing too is the capacity we have for growth, recovery, change, evolution. We humans, we are extraordinary. Really, we are.

There’s two significant updates to come. Here’s the first:

I said a year ago when I bought the big yellow bike that I believed it would be our salvation. In the sweetest way it gives me hope and happiness as we ride around on it. But, beyond that it’s been a catalyst to change. A change of wardrobe if you will.  I am no longer wearing the grief coat quite so much.

The grief coat. I have written about this before. The grief coat hangs about the shoulders of the grieving. Absorbing light and energy it does the opposite of sparkle. I see them on others still,  I recognise the stance, the burden of this heavy vestment.  In Scotland recently I spoke seemingly at random to two strangers, within a minute we had clocked each other’s coats and shared our stories of widowhood. One, a farmer, 20 years alone with two young boys grown up now and fledged, held his life in memorial to a wife who still brought a smile to his face and whose loss a tear to his eye. His eyes betrayed the vulnerability of loneliness and the wisdom of loss. The other a woman, fifty odd, whose life at once upturned a dozen years ago had fled to a farm on Skye to bear her grief. She, by contrast, looked at me and twinkled. “A man came to mend my fences” she said. “He never left”. Stroking the hair of her ten year old lad she said, “I’m so lucky, to have loved not once but twice, lucky”. With that she left. And her grief coat had become an iridescent suit of armour.

When she was dying Nicky said more than once that I should not grieve alone for long. “You’re too good a man to be on your own.” Was what she said. Perhaps what she meant was “You’ll be shit at being on your own.” Either way I hope she had a point.

In early March not long after we gave Nicky’s ashes back to the earth we were
cycling along the sea front on the big yellow bike. Someone yelled out ‘nice bike’, we all returned the look and smiled. Now I’ll spare us all the detail of how we came to actually meet but the ‘nice bike’ yeller recognised us from a picture. Those of you familiar with the practicalities of modern courtship can fill in the gaps. I’ll spare some blushes too.

Now, Don’t get me wrong here. ‘Grief is forever’ I wrote that in the depths of it. I hold to it still. I, we, will alway grieve for Nicky, for what might have been, for the future lost. But I believe now that we the grieving have a choice. We can choose to inhabit the grief coat, to live in it and let become the costume of our lives. (I understand why some might do this, the grief coat becomes strangely comfortable and the bereaved are rightly forgiven a multitude of sins, why give that up?)  Or we can let life back in, let life rush in to fill the vacuum.


Arriving back in Newhaven after 3 days in Normandy

I wrote this blog as a means of sharing our recovery as a family. And that is happening, the girls are getting stronger, fitter and funnier.  I am no longer entirely alone. I’ve met a woman who Nicky would have liked, who the kids like, who makes me laugh and does the things I like to do. I feel stronger and happier, and I am a better Dad. We have all been camping together, and we cycle together and even combined the two. We can laugh about that.

A few of you have met Rona, some even know that she’s become a significant other. I think you’ll agree she’s good for me. Gentle, wise and kind. I built bridges for Nicky, Rona is mending my fences.

Mothering, motherliness and motherhood


Tilly and Betsy were 9 and 7 years old when Nicky died. There’s an old saying “Give me a child until (s)he is seven and I will give you the (wo)man”. As she was dying Nicky said to me that if one of us were to die it were better that it was her. “I’ve done the stuff you couldn’t do,” she said, “I’ve done my 7 years, and done it well I think so you can do the next, just do the best you can.” She was right of course, I’d never have had the patience , wit or wisdom to give the love she gave to the mewling puking infants of the early years, nevermind the boobs to match her insouciant breastfeeding in busy bars.


Where you go I’ll follow.

Mothers. Mothers. They know. They know their place, their power, the strength of their bonds. They understand that the ties that bind them to their children are as strong as any human bond. Strong, tight and eternal; a mother’s bond to a child cannot be undone.


Whilst the girls and I were away from home we enjoyed the power of being in control of whether people knew our story. At times we’d choose not to tell travelling companions, camping neighbours or nosey parkers why it was that a man would be travelling alone across France with two young children. At other times we would respond to the half asked question and explain the purpose of our journey. The girls, cringing, would watch like hawks for the reaction.

Mothering, motherliness and motherhood, three states in the same domain. Women with children who hear our story spin like tops between all three. It’s often hard to watch. The questions appear inside their heads. How would they would cope? How their children or partners would cope? How they should be or not be with the girls? How to help? Or not help? What’s too much help? Looking at our loss through the lens of their own lives and realising perhaps more viscerally than ever before that nothing, nothing is for certain means intuition and instinct are all in question.

A mother’s intuition.
Maternal instinct.

Gone from here and seemingly thrown into question for many of those around us. Death brings nought. Again and again and again. Cherish every moment.

We are getting used to being without a mother around the house. Vaida, the aupair, has started. She’s lovely. De-cluttering the chaos, my chaos, that was encroaching on every corner, surface and cupboard. It’s nice. Even though there is another woman in the house the fact that it is tidy again brings Nicky back into every room. It’s her house again. Not the house of man who was losing control of it without her.  Now, freed a little from the chores of running the house, I can start to work again, but more importantly I can try at least to do more of what she’d have wanted. Be a patient and loving parent and finish the job.