It was the speed with which John died that stunned me.
He’d felt tired and under the weather, and I told him to go and see the doctor. I was sure it was nothing more than a diplomatic bout of flu, as he was fed up at work.
Perhaps we should have suspected something was wrong when he was referred for further tests, but it took the mention of an operation to make us realise this was serious.
In the three weeks between his first visit to the doctor and his death, we never faced the possibility that his cancer was terminal. We kept reassuring each other something could be done.
It seemed unreal, telling our three-year-old daughter that Daddy had gone to heaven.
On the night John died, our families and a number of friends were at our house – as had been the case ever since we shared news of his illness. His brother was helping him upstairs when John called to me, sounding so urgent and desperate that I dropped our baby into my mum’s arms and ran to him. He died there, at the foot of the stairs, with his brother and me holding him.
People talk about living in a blur, and that’s the only way I can describe the next few weeks. Nobody expects to die at 30. It seemed unreal, telling our three-year-old daughter that Daddy had gone to heaven. Our son was still a baby at 11 months and our family and friends, who were equally shocked, looked after everything for me to begin with.
John proposed on the day we graduated and we decided to get married the following summer.
John and I met at university when we were both 19. Despite being totally different — or perhaps because of it – we were instantly inseparable. I adored him, with his relaxed attitude to life, especially as I’ve always been a bit of a control freak.
We worked well together; I made sure he attended most of his lectures, and he persuaded me there was more to student life than studying. Our first three years together were so happy, and as the only ‘settled’ couple we got a lot of teasing from friends.
John proposed on the day we graduated and we decided to get married the following summer, which meant a lot of saving and organising. Suddenly, we were being very grown-up. Or rather I was, with John hovering in the background.
I realised then I’d assumed John would become more focused and organised once we started work. I’m a psychologist, so in the three years after university I was studying for my doctorate as well as working.
He couldn’t grasp that still living like a student meant he wasn’t being taken seriously.
John, a lawyer, never felt he should help out more or concentrate on his own career. His work attendance record was dreadful, usually thanks to hangovers, and he got really annoyed when the first firm he worked in didn’t offer him a partnership. He refused to accept he didn’t seem committed enough.
He moved to another firm, only for the same thing to happen two years later; again, he couldn’t grasp that still living like a student meant he wasn’t being taken seriously.
I probably colluded in his delusion – it was easier for me to manage the family finances and organise our lives than depend on him to do it.
When I became pregnant, we were delighted. John was a wonderful father to both our children, and I still found him irresistible most of the time. (Sometimes, though, I was just too tired to appreciate a spontaneous night out or unexpected bottle of champagne.)
When he died, it felt like the end of the world. I didn’t know you could miss someone so desperately but still get on with life.
When he died, it felt like the end of the world. I didn’t know you could miss someone so desperately but still manage to get on with the ordinary demands of life. With young children, you just don’t have a choice.
But the second shock was realising how financially comfortable I and the kids were. The mortgage was paid off and John’s pension scheme kicked in immediately. I’d always made sure we were both well insured, and there was now a considerable sum of money in the bank.
While I missed John, I didn’t miss the unreliability which was a part of everything he did.
It was an odd feeling, because John believed in living beyond our means, while I’d had a gnawing anxiety about money ever since we took out our first mortgage. Mixed in with my grief was relief that I no longer had to worry.
As the months passed I realised that, while I still missed John, I didn’t miss the unreliability which was a part of everything he did. He was engaging, lots of fun and completely charming – but, sometimes, you just need to get the chores done.
I know he loved me dearly, but I also know he felt I’d become immersed in domesticity, something that’s hard to avoid when you’re juggling a job and caring for young children.
Over the years I’d become less lively and put on weight, but the utter misery of those first few months without John resulted in me losing every extra kilo and more. I don’t exactly dress to go out on the town, but I do feel a lot more confident about my looks. Six months after John’s death, I was asked on a date by a divorced dad I knew vaguely as I enrolled my daughter at nursery; it was flattering to be asked, but I had no intention of going.
I’m done with drama; now, I just want a quiet life.
I lay in bed that night and thought about everything that had happened over the previous six months. I’m organising life and the family single-handed, the way I always did, but now I’m not panicking about our lack of money or any other disruptions. Friends still involve me and the kids in their lives, both families are happy to babysit, and I’m back at work.
Life goes on in the same way for the children, although we do miss John. But I’m done with drama; now, I just want a quiet life and to bring up my children to be responsible little people.
It’s a terrible thing to admit, but now I’m over the worst of the shock and the grief, I think I honestly prefer life this way.
All names have been changed.