Strength in weakness.

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.

Simon


115 thoughts on “Strength in weakness.

  1. Hi Simon
    I am approaching 2 years into losing my husband to cancer. Grieving is so exhausting and being kind to yourself sounds so trite but I think is so important. Allowing yourself to feel vulnerable, wow, good for you, that takes guts and yet actually when I think about my grief I don’t think I had the choice, the feelings just came and I think courage for me implies a sense of choice which we don’t have. Yes you can try to avoid the feelings but they still come and usually at night when I’d spent all day distracting myself with activities. I learnt to give myself time during the day to let the feelings come which helped me sleep a bit better at night. Having a child is both a blessing and so hard sometimes when the grief feels overwhelming, take as much help as you can. Happy to chat if you ever want to. Take care

  2. Good Afternoon Simon,
    I just wanted to message and thank you for your openness and honesty about how you are getting on since your Wife died a couple of months back. It really is very helpful and inspiring.
    It seems there are a fair few parallels between your story and mine. I will further explain. In September 2015 my husband and I learnt the news that we were expecting our first child. A few months previously we had had a failed IVF attempt after 5 years of trying to conceive. We were delighted but the pregnancy was quite a anxious time. In March 2016 when I was heavily pregnant, my husband Mike found a lump on the back of his neck. My heart sank as we had no idea where this had come from. He went to the Doctors and was told it was likely to just be a infection as he was under a lot of stress.
    May came along and our daughter Hope was born. The lump was still there and in June Mike noticed further lumps on his lymph nodes. A biopsy was taken in July and he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia at the end of July. He was 28 years old and Hope was only 10 weeks old. We were told the chances of survival was about 20%. He started intensive chemotherapy straight away and went into remission relatively quickly. However, some of his cells had mutations which meant that it was highly likely he would relapse. It was therefore recommended that he had a bone marrow transplant. So in February 2017 Mike was admitted to Addenbrooks Hospital. We genuinely had no idea whether he would come out again as the transplant holds huge risks in itself.
    All seemed to be going OK post transplant, until in June we received the devastating news following a routine bone marrow sample being taken that Mike had unfortunately relapsed. We always knew there was a high chance of this but tried extremely intensive chemotherapy again in the hope this might do something. Unfortunately, on the same day in July as Mike was diagnosed the year before, we were told the news that the chemotherapy wasn’t working and that Mike had days or weeks left to live. In early August last year Mike was admitted into our local Hospice in Ipswich to receive end of life care and he died on 23rd August.
    Our Christian Faith was what kept us going. Our Church was absolutely fantastic. During that year Mike wrote a daily blog. He found it so helpful to write how he felt and to explain what the current situation was in terms of his treatment and care. It was brilliant as it meant we didn’t have to keep updating people individually as so many people read and followed the blog. He also spoke very openly about his faith and how important it is to him. Without it I don’t know how we would have managed. He found it was also a great space for him to process things, it wasn’t always a easy read but he certainly didn’t hold anything back. I firmly believe that through Mike’s blog it will touch so many people and they will come to know the Lord because of Mikes witness.
    I will continue to pray for you and your family. If your interesting in reading Mike’s blog the link can be found below.

    https://diaryofa20somethingcancerfighter.wordpress.com/

    Please feel free to share as well.

    God Bless

    Fiona

      1. Thank you Simon for your message. I saw the photo on your Instagram account of your wife giving you a huge hug. I can understand what you mean about having those moments again. It can be so easy to take things for granted. There have been a few Worship songs which I have found help me, these are The Joy of the Lord by Rend Collective. Oh My Soul, by Casting Crowns, I Am Not Alone by Kari Jobe and Messiah/You’re Beautiful by Phil Wickham. All help to give strength and comfort.
        I am looking at publishing Mike’s blog into a book. He wanted me to do this so it can help others and hopefully be a way of others learning something of our Lord. I was wondering would you be able to assist in this at all by pointing me in some directions which might be helpful? Not to worry if not, but I have no idea where to start!
        Thank you again and God Bless x

  3. Simon, you’re blogs and tweets are heartbreakingly beautifully honest. Like the psalmists you are lamenting with complete openness and honesty, to yourself to others and to your creator. I firmly believe that’s what he wants from us, always is honesty. As you said in our ‘weakness is when his strength comes into its own.’ A few weeks ago I remembered 13 years of my dad’s death, I was 19. It still hurts because he always was and will be my dad. My sister and I grieved very differently. So take all the time, grieve however you need to not how others think you should. For me my faith carried me through so I pray for you too that you will know God carrying you & Ethan at this time & that you will continue to see His light shining in the darkness. A x

  4. Dear Simon,
    I can not begin to understand how you must be feeling right now. I have not lost a partner through death but I have experienced trauma in other ways. I understand how sleep deprivation impacts your every day life as well as loss of appetite. It’s like all the lights have been switched off and it’s constantly dark. The dry mouth, the constant nauseating feeling in the pit of your stomach, the endless tears that appear from nowhere… smells, sounds, music, picture, memories….. the pain at times seems unbearable.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings…. it takes courage and strength
    My hope for you and your boy is that one day you both will truly find light in the darkness.
    Take care of you x

  5. This really hit a nerve, especially the quote. It was my biggest grudge being told I was strong and to stay strong… realised it makes you put expectations on yourself to be strong and therefore grief is a weakness. Ended up with anxiety issues as felt was loosing myself in grief by trying to hide. You have put it so perfectly and everything you say resounds so well. And you’re right, vulnerability and openness creates strength, not the other way around. My friends and I have never been closer because we’ve learnt to open up.
    You’re story is heartbreaking and your loss and grief must be immeasurable. You are doing Gemma proud and are breaking taboos with each public entry you make. I’m sure you write her letters too, or those private conversations in your head or things that make you smile because she would have smiled too.
    Well done for proving strength comes in the bravery of showing weakness when all people want is you to be strong and ok. A unique journey but hopefully we’ll all learn something in the end. Take care and best wishes

  6. Simon, I read your posts every day. I feel so much for you and your precious boy. I’m a mum of two boys myself. I have a friend going through similar. His wife (same age as me .46) died of cancer just before Christmas leaving him to bring up 2 girls ages 12 and 15. He’s struggling too. Life is so cruel at times to those who do not deserve such tragedy. I have no words.. I’m sorry..I just wanted to say I’m listening. Xx

  7. My husband just pointed me to your blog after seeing it on Twitter. I completely agree that once you take down the barriers and allow others to see your weaknesses, you can start the road to recovery. So sorry for what you’ve been through

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