The heartache will always be there…
When her beloved husband died from lung cancer in March 2017 Nicola Bond faced life as a grieving widow.
By Jo Dunbar
When her beloved husband died from lung cancer in March 2017 Nicola Bond faced life as a grieving widow. Here she tells High Life North about how attitudes to grief need to change and why a passion for writing has helped her in the toughest of times.
Nicola Bond was thrust into widowhood aged 39 when her husband Paul died from lung cancer in 2017, despite never having smoked. Facing a situation many of us don’t experience until much later in life, Nicola struggled to find a path to navigate her bereavement. Nicola found putting her thoughts down in written form helped her to deal with her emotions. Today she has a blog: Reluctant Widow and it’s her aim to help others experiencing grief like hers. Nicola lives in Washington with her son.
Have you found people don’t know how to approach your grief?
It’s been over three years since Paul died and people tend to avoid the subject because they think I have finished grieving or at least I’m over the worst of it but actually, the repercussions are ongoing, and I won’t ever be over it. People often think they understand because most of us have experienced loss but losing your spouse is world-altering, that person was supposed to be beside you for the rest of your life – or at least until you were much older. You weren’t expecting that death would happen while your children were still growing up. The worst thing is the effect it will have on my son’s life. Paul idolised him and took him everywhere, even when he was a baby. He took him to the match when he was eight months old! Paul was an amazing dad, he did everything with him: he taught him how to ride a bike, tie his shoelaces, throw darts, play cricket – everything.
Has anything or anyone helped you navigate becoming a widow?
The biggest thing is connecting with people who understand. After Paul died, I was desperately reaching out for someone in the same position. One of the first things I did was look for books about young widows. I wanted to know that someone else had been in my situation. One person I have found really inspiring is someone called Nora McInerny. She wrote a book called the Hot Young Widows Club which is spot on. What she says is really refreshing because everyone has a perception of how they think they will behave if this happens to them. I thought I would just curl up in a ball and die of a broken heart but that doesn’t happen; you have to get up and you have to get on with life.
How did you first begin writing?
One of the first things that gave me comfort straight after Paul died was writing the eulogy for his funeral. I really wanted to speak at the funeral, and I wrote a letter – I re-drafted it something like 50 times! It was my last chance to tell everyone about Paul and about us and say goodbye to him. When you are in the very early days of grief, you’re in a complete haze. There were only two things that gave me any tiny bit of relief: writing the speech and listening to music that reminded me of Paul.
How did your Reluctant Widow blog come about?
My friend Joanne is always trying to find ways to help me and give me something to focus on and she suggested I give it a try. When I wrote my first post two years ago it was so scary. Even now I worry about posting such personal feelings and memories and how it will be perceived. When I started the blog, I got so much support and there were so many people commenting who were in my situation which is really what I wanted. I was relieved that people would say, “I know how you feel” – that really helped me.
Did writing have an immediate effect on you?
I felt empowered by doing it. I didn’t have to wait for anyone’s permission to open up or explain how I felt; I could just do it when I wanted to. I could explain “this has happened” or “this is how I feel today” and it was on my terms. I got into a flow of writing when I felt like it, but I’ve also tried to post when I’m having a good day, too. I want to include positive things so it’s not just a depressing read. Everything that happened when Paul died was so intense and now that things have settled down, I have flashbacks of things that happened. I felt that if I wrote it down, it wouldn’t be buzzing in my head anymore. It has been very therapeutic.
Do you think how we approach grief as a society needs to change?
I think people are generally afraid of grief. They are afraid to hear about something so tragic as they can’t bear to imagine it happening but most of all I think people are afraid of making you feel worse. I talk about Paul all the time; I recall funny anecdotes but I also let people know about some of what we went through. I think we have to start feeling more comfortable talking about illness, death and grief so that it is less shocking and isolating if it happens. When you have been bereaved, I think people feel the need to cheer you up all the time and distract you and sometimes you just want to get it off your chest and have people say, “yes what you suffered is horrendous’’ and ‘’yes it is unfair.’’ I am healing gradually but sometimes I just need someone to acknowledge that my heartache is always there.
What are the things that can help people who are grieving?
It’s important to do something rather than think, “I can’t fix it, so I won’t do anything.” No one could do what I really wanted, which was to bring Paul back, but my friends did other things for me, little things that really made a difference. There were so many gestures of love that made me feel less alone. Straight after Paul died, one of my friends ordered some food shopping and got it delivered to the house. A group of my friends made a box of treats for me and my son with things like essential oils and that was really comforting. Any act of kindness will have the desired effect, to show the person you care so my advice would be to do it.
Did lockdown amplify things for you?
Lockdown highlighted what my family now is. We locked down about a week before the anniversary of Paul’s death and his birthday is two days after that. I planned to do certain things to distract us and do something positive and it all just went out of the window. My friends and family are really supportive and always come over and make sure I’m not lonely. But it felt like lockdown locked everyone up in their perfect families at home and left us. My son and I have had some lovely quality time together but our house has also felt empty and quiet.
Can you look at the future?
It’s hard to get the balance between the past and the future. I need to keep Paul in my life, but I also need to move forward. Some days I feel like I could never leave our house and then other days I feel like it’s really unhealthy for us to stay. I still haven’t quite figured out which part I need to hold onto and which parts I need to let go of. There is a lot of loss: my marital status, my family, my career and my home life have all changed. It’s a lot to deal with. Everything that I thought the future was is now not there, so I am rebuilding my life.