My husband was in the forces and I can still vividly remember the worry of him being in the Falklands, of not being able to contact him and the panic felt at every news bulletin announcing the deaths of servicemen. Being a ‘military wife’ I had to learn how to function in the face of constant potential adversity, knowing that he was potentially in grave danger every single day and being helpless to do anything except remain stoic about it.
These experiences as a young woman made me fiercely independent and at the same time stunted my emotions as I developed a mindset of not allowing myself to be totally reliant on others due to the daily reality that they could be taken away from you. This was a big realisation and one that shaped me for a number of years.
In the last few years I was hit by the very sudden and devastating losses of my mum and then my partner, and they led me to question everything about my life, what I believed in and how I wanted to live it going forward. My mum, who was always the person that I could rely on the most, started feeling unwell in December 2012, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer on Valentine’s Day 2013 and was given 2-3 years by the specialist. She died only 3 months later in May.
I was totally unprepared for how quickly it happened having thrown myself into my work to avoid the pain of thinking about it too much.
“I thought I had at least a couple of years to come to terms with it and to make her last few years everything she would have wanted them to be, but life had other ideas.”
I continued to function well, but only now realise that this was because I was still pushing away the pain of her death and not entertaining the fact that I needed to grieve. It took me a couple of years to get to that point and by then I was mired in the stresses of my job and starting to resent the fact that I had not spent time with my mum when she was ill, when it counted the most. To this day I still find it hard to reconcile that.
Early last year I lost my partner unexpectedly in sudden and tragic circumstances whilst sharing a family holiday. Over the following months as his loss sunk in I thought, ‘what am I doing?’
Independence had been so important to me but I came to realise through loss that I had been trying to make myself an island to avoid the hurt of losing people.
“People can’t be truly independent, you can think that you are but you’re not really, you’re just putting barriers up around yourself.”
But as much as you try to avoid being hurt and damaged, in life it’s inevitable anyway; now I know that nothing can hurt me as much as what has already happened and if I can survive that then bring it on!
I have completely re-evaluated my values and re-defined myself. I had been someone that held my emotions in, that placed too high a priority on work, earning money and owning property. Things that I believed made me independent. Now I know how tenuous life can be I ask myself, what do I really want out of life, and if I had only 1 or 2 years left then how would I want to live?
Through all of this I have become a much less materialistic and much more emotional person – I’ve been surprised to discover just how many emotions I’ve got!
Looking back I wish I’d had a different attitude to my work. I would tell anybody not to make work your priority as I did. I look back at the things I missed through putting work first – my best friend’s wedding, time I could have spent in hospital with my mum – and wonder why did I do it, why did I do all of those extra hours?
“It didn’t make any difference to anybody, not really, except that is to my family and loved ones who lost out on all of that time that we could have spent making memories together.”
When I returned to work after losing my partner it was different because my values and attitude were different and I couldn’t listen to moans and complaints in the same way, I couldn’t tolerate things that seemed pathetic and petty to me in the grand scheme of life, and that wasn’t fair to those I was having to deal with. I left my job soon after.
Now it’s the people in my life that are most important to me and I’ve had to pay a massive price to realise that – having those I loved so much ripped away from me and being left to wish we had done this, wish we’d taken the time to do that. I’d rather do things to help others than to make money for myself, like helping my dad with the gardening and spending time with my daughters and granddaughters.
Through the hardest of lessons I now know to not sweat the small stuff, it really just doesn’t matter. You can’t control everything in your life so get your life priorities right and just live it and enjoy it while you can. I used to let my head rule my heart and I don’t do that anymore – or at least I am learning not to!
“Today I’d say to anybody, do the things that feed your heart and not your ego and then you’ll be happy. When all is said and done isn’t that what we all want out of life?”
Submitted by Pauline