When I sent out that tweet the day after Gemma died on 24th November, I did it for nothing more then this simple reason – I just wanted people to know. I didn’t do it for attention, I didn’t do it to make me feel a bit better, and I certainly never expected the reaction it sparked. As I lay weeping on our bed on that grimmest of Saturday afternoons in complete and utter shock at what on earth had just happened, the messages of support started to flood in, and they didn’t stop on that day, they have continued ever since.
Whatever I write, whatever feeling I share, whatever photo I put on Instagram, I am constantly taken by surprise at just how many people this story appears to be touching.
I’m no more important than anyone else. My job is no more important than any other, in fact compared to most peoples jobs, mine is of very little importance, yet the last few weeks have at times taken my breath away. I’ve had messages from those that have lost loved ones and those that haven’t. I’ve had messages from those that have lost family and friends to the same devastating Leukaemia that took Gemma, and I’ve had messages from people here in the UK and messages from around the world, even a farmer in the Australian outback! At times its been the messages of encouragement, not just from my close friends, but also from complete strangers that have kept me going and kept me from drowning. The vast majority have been lovely, touching and really helpful, a few haven’t; but the recurring message has been ‘be strong.’
Now before I go any further, I know that the vast majority of people who have said this over the past nine weeks have said it because they care. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t bother to even write, but I want to explain why being strong is so very very hard and why actually, right now, I am anything but strong.
As I write now, it’s just after three thirty in the morning. I’m into the tenth week of severe sleep deprivation. One thirty is the earliest I’ve been up, four thirty feels like a lie in, and some nights I’ve not slept at all. I’ve tried most drugs, but nothing works anymore. I’ve stopped fighting it. I’ve stopped getting angry and come to realise that this is just another grim part of this strange path called grief. My body is weak. My mind is frazzled. I’ve taken peoples advice and tried to exercise, but after five lengths of the pool I’m exhausted (it’s only 25m). Gemma suffered with insomnia for many years, some nights she wouldn’t sleep at all and yet somehow was able to function the next day, but she always said that I was useless when I had nights like that. Most of the time now I do feel useless. Physically I feel the weakest I’ve ever felt, I couldn’t be strong even if I tried. But out of the weakness of my sleep deprived body I have managed to keep my head above the water. I manage to get my boy up each morning and get him ready for school, I manage to keep myself busy and not leave myself too many long periods alone in our house with my thoughts, and I somehow manage to get to the end of each day. I’m not being physically strong, I’m merely surviving at the moment until that day the sleep begins to return and my body starts to grow in strength again.
A wonderful Christian man called Pete Grieg posted this on social media yesterday and I was really struck by it, because in every way it speaks powerfully to me where I’m at now – “When life is tough they tell you to be strong. Don’t be strong. Be weak. Unclench your fists. Dare to vulnerable. Honest weakness takes courage. It affirms our common humanity, deepens friendship and elicits grace.” This is me. This is why I think my story has touched people in a way I never intended or expected, I have dared to be vulnerable, I have dared to admit I feel weak, and particularly for a bloke this isn’t something we do very well, if at all, but for me, I can’t be any other way. Part of the reason I got up in those early hours this morning was because my mind was gripped by fear, those recurring fears of the past few weeks were crashing in. How the hell can I do life without Gemma? How can I ever get used to life without the woman I loved beyond words? How on earth can I survive as a single parent when five minutes ago I was happily married? How can I ever sit in front of a TV camera again with the same confidence that has helped me through my career? What if I never get used to being in our beautiful house without the woman who was the heart and soul of our home? Will I have to move and start again? Will I ever smile properly again? When people ask me how I’m doing, I long for the day I can say with authenticity that I am OK; but right now I can’t say anything other than I’m not OK, I’m really struggling.
All I can do at the moment is unclench those fists, stop trying to be strong and just say to people this is me. This is what grief feels like.
This is what it feels like when the person you loved so deeply suddenly disappears from your life. This is what it feels like when your hopes, dreams and plans as a family get ripped apart and shredded. This is what vulnerability looks like, and right now I can’t be any other way, and as I’ve now discovered, this is what being strong actually looks like. I’ve been a Christian all my life and in a book in the Bible called 2 Corinthians it says this – “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” Tough though it might be to admit (some ignorant people might even call me a snowflake) but it is out of the weakness I feel now will come the strength to start a new life, to redraw and replan those hopes and dreams for the future with my boy.
Like Pete Grieg says, honest weakness takes courage and in doing that it affirms our common humanity. One day I will rise again from the ashes of these painful past few weeks, but for now this is me. Broken, fearful, weak, vulnerable and tear filled and if by admitting this it helps one person, then it’s worth it.
God bless you this week and don’t stay strong, be you.