I will be surfing over this 4th anniversary of losing Nick on the 5th September- that way there’ll be laughter as well as tears.
I was recently privileged to be interviewed for the Carrington Club Magazine. The topic for the summer edition was Change.
Here’s my interview:-
Teresa and her late husband Nick came to Carrington as clients back in 2016 for a financial overhaul and to create a plan for their retirement. Unexpectedly, Nick tragically lost his life to cancer in 2017 after a very brief period of illness, and we speak to Teresa about how she’s dealt with his loss, on top of other close family and friend bereavements in the years before. We hope that by sharing Teresa’s story, and the ways in which she’s coped with her loss and all the changes that it’s brought about, it will help others who have also experienced loss or grief, or have gone through a significant change, and we thank Teresa for being so open and honest with us about her journey.
- Vital statistics
- Born: Croydon, South London, April 1959, Number 5 of 6 children
- Live: Seend, Wiltshire
- Family: Three children – Jo, Ellie & Harry
- Pets: Two dogs, Dill & Roo
- Favourite holiday: Skiing/Cornwall
- Favourite quote: ‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And see a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour.’ William Blake.
- Favourite book: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres (not the film version though).
- Hobbies: tennis, surfing, cycling, walking and spending time with family and friends.
- What makes you most happy/ how do you unwind/ relax: See above!
- What could you not live without: My family – oh, and a good cup of coffee!
- Favourite film: ‘Untouchable’ starring Omar Sy & Francois Cluzet
Tell us a little about your life now.
I’ve recently moved to a place called Seend, which is about three miles west of Devizes. It’s perfect in terms of location for visiting places like Bath and Bristol and has happily worked out to be a conveniently in the middle of my three children who are now in Cornwall, Manchester and Brighton. The new house is lovely – it’s on the side of a hill and has the most awesome views looking over towards Salisbury Plain. It was a totally random choice; I didn’t know where I wanted to go after Nick passed away. I had been thinking of selling the family home for a while but hadn’t a clue where to move to. When we originally bought our last house, it needed a LOT of work to make it into the lovely family home Nick and I both envisaged, but we always had it in mind when the time came, we’d sell it for our pension fund. So, it was always in the reckoning, it’s just happened a lot sooner than I expected.
Initially I thought I would never be able to leave the house because Nick was everywhere. I still saw him in so many places – pottering about in the garden (his favourite way to relax), at his desk in the office, or stretched out on the sofa, pencil behind his ear doing a cryptic crossword – but as the time went on, I needed to run away more and more from the cloak of grief that seemed to cover me whenever I was in the house. I would go and stay with kind friends all over the world and travelled as much as I could, just to feel a bit lighter, but each time I came up the drive again to return home, my heart would sink. I didn’t realise at the time but I was sinking into depression. It was just too difficult to pretend I was ok when I wasn’t. Everyone’s life seemed to have carried on whereas mine had stopped. Making the decision to sell the house was the hardest part and the thought of all I had to do to make a move possible caused me much anxiety, but I leant on family and friends who supported me to realise I only had to take it a step at a time. I knew a big change was the way for me to move forward and find a life again – some people find comfort in where they are,– but for me it’s different. Some people call me headstrong, but I know that for me, making a big change in life is what I have to do, I have to shake my life up – and okay I might get it wrong but hey, I’ve done something. And it’s better to do something than nothing at all – that’s how I feel. In my new house my grief is still with me, it will never go. Nick will always be tucked in my heart but I’m learning to grow around him and, as much as I love him, here, he’s not in my face all the time. I can choose what I tell new people I meet about my circumstances, and I don’t have constant triggers of the life I’ve lost when I’m going about my day.
How did you meet the Carrington team?
We met the guys at Carrington through a good friend of mine, Celia. We’d started the business and wanted to sort our finances out. We were talking to her one day when she said, “I use a great firm and can’t recommend them highly enough. ” We had a meeting with Mike in the autumn before Nick got diagnosed in the February – so from my point of view it was really fortuitous that we’d had such an in depth chat with him, and gone through all our finances in detail. When Nick was diagnosed, he and I had a conversation in the hospice. I said “Tell me now what you want and then we won’t talk about it again but concentrate on living. What do you want me to do – do you want to be cremated or buried?”, he replied “cremated” and I asked him “where do you want to be put?” He just looked at me and said, “I don’t care where I am as long as I’m with you.” I then asked him, “what should I do about the finances – what do I do about money, what do I do about pensions?” He then said one of the most comforting things I could hear at that moment, “leave it with Carringtons, leave it with Mike. I trust them, they’ll sort you out – they’ll look after you – just leave it with Mike”. At this point I was trying to cope with our whole lives imploding – Nick’s illness and the shock of his swift decline, doctors and oncology appointments, the family, whilst also running the company. It was such a comfort to put that side of things away – knowing Carrington would take care of everything and make sure that I was okay.
I very much feel that they’ve got my back, which is what I need in my situation. I’m very fortunate that with selling the house we renovated, I’m financially okay. Mike reassures me of that every time we have a meeting. He looks at the cash flow forecasts, with his red and blue graphs, and says “you’ll be fine.” He explains everything and I use this opportunity to tell him my future plans, usually ending with me asking, “will I be ok?’ That’s what I need to know. I’ve also ‘borrowed’ a close friend’s husband, Chris, who is in finance. He comes to the meetings with Carolyn and Mike and afterwards Chris and I go for a fine lunch somewhere as a treat, when he runs through everything again and reassures me I can rely on the advice they’re giving me. Now that I’ve sold the house, it’s a real comfort to know I’m okay financially, that I don’t need to rely on anyone else. I never expected to be in this situation and widowed at 58.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
My mother. She was a great inspiration to me. She was the most loving ,kind and generous person I know. She’d been married for 30 years with six children. My father was coming up for retirement and she was very unhappy. She decided she needed to make a big change and had the courage to leave her marriage. I’ve always believed that if you are unhappy with your life, it is your responsibility to do something about it. My first marriage wasn’t a success and my mother’s courage to do something about her unhappiness gave me the instigation to do something about mine. It certainly wasn’t an easy time and not something I’m proud of but I wasn’t going to blame anyone else that I’d had an unhappy life. I met Nick and it took us a few years to end up together as we were both determined to make sure our life plan was on the same page. The same need for change came about when I was diagnosed with cancer at 40 – we had a terrible five years. I was ill, I lost my mother and sister to cancer, Nick’s sister died from cancer and a close school friend and her family were lost in the Asian Tsunami. I went on a five-year cancer drug trial, and I remember saying to Nick, “unless we do something completely radical, I’m going to end up on Prozac”. I felt like I had lost my sense of hope.
Back then we had a year’s window to move the kids’ education before Jo went to into sixth form and Ellie to secondary school. Nick grew up in a village environment and we both wanted to move out of London and try a new place, so we moved the family from south London to Sussex, again we were lucky to find a lovely village by chance. We completely changed our lives to start again. So, I knew I could do it again, – I was just doing it on my own this time. I knew making a big change had worked for me in the past so I had to have a go with what I hoped would work in the future. But I had to give myself time, time to come to a place where it felt right.
I’m not the person I was. I’m just not. In the year before Nick was diagnosed, I lost my brother to cancer and Nick was sorting out his own brother’s estate while going through his treatment. Bereavement has changed me. I think what they say about grief is true, the first year you’re in shock, the second year you’re starting to wake up to your reality – and it can get better or implode at that stage. I think in the third year, because of the pandemic, as well as everything else, everything just fell apart for me. I could see no hope in life. I was diagnosed with depression, and it was the steadfast support of my family and friends that helped pull me through. But there’s a stubborn streak in me. What example am I to my kids if I don’t rise again? What example am I if I don’t show them that sh*t happens, and that life is sh*t sometimes, but if you don’t keep ploughing away, if you don’t keep getting up (and there are many times when I’ve not seen the point of getting up, I’ve just wanted to be under that duvet) what example is that? And I suppose in a way I feel I’m honouring Nick. He fell in love with this strong, gutsy woman, if I give in, what is that saying about him and me, and the woman he fell in love with? So, there are lots of things that make me get on and get up every day, and when I’m at my worst and having a bad day, I ring my sister or my girlfriends who will readily give me the prod I need to get back on track. I’m so lucky to have a great network of friends and family.
It’s really hard to know what to say to someone that’s grieving. A lot of people cross the road because they don’t know how to approach you. You are showing them their worst nightmare. They can’t say or do anything that is going to make the situation go away for you. You just want someone to acknowledge your grief and walk beside you, that’s all. Just say “yes, it’s horrible and it’s sh*t and it’s awful for you”, and just be there, and just listen when you want to bend their ear. No expectations, no words of platitude, just help you bear the pain of the grief by being there. I took girlfriends to appointments with me or asked them to make phone calls when I wasn’t able to say the words ‘I’m ringing because my husband’s died,’ when dealing with his estate and probate. Grief makes you so fragile, however strong you think you are; you can break down in the gentlest of breezes.
It’s been a really good move to come here – I feel a lot more hopeful; I feel I’m starting to get things in the right place – I’ve got my finances sorted, the kids have all picked up and are carving a path for themselves now, which is great to see and how it should be. I’ve always wanted to surf, but told myself I was too old/too stiff and that I needed to do more yoga! Last year, when we had that little window over the summer when lockdown eased, I said to a friend that I needed to go away and do something and mentioned to him that I’d always wanted to surf – he replied, “well go and surf then!” I found this surf company down in Cornwall who were brilliant, and I found a little Airbnb as I knew that I had to start doing things on my own. I realise, particularly going back to my flying days, that I love to travel – I like to check in at home, but I also like to go away a lot – so I told the kids I was going surfing. My daughter, Ellie, wanted to come with me. She did and she also loved it, and she’s now changed her direction in life and is working with the surfing company, which is fantastic. More recently I’ve been Zip Wiring over a quarry in Wales, cycled along the towpath of the Kennet and Avon canal to Bath and I’m learning to paddle board.
What advice would you give to someone going through grief or a period of change?
I think you’ve got to allow yourself time. Change is such a difficult thing, and you get so many emotions coming in – anxiety, insecurity, questioning whether it’s the right thing to do. There are so many questions that come to mind, you can easily talk yourself out of making a change – you can overthink it terribly, and then you risk not doing anything at all. I think if you’re going through a great change, you need to feel your way into it and just take your time. Lists are good – I love a list!
I’m very impatient, but I’ve learnt that things evolve, whether you want them to or not. You can make choices, but some choices are made for you that you’re not aware of and that you have no control over. It’s like the swan where you’re gliding along but there are things furiously going on underneath – sometimes you fight against them and it’s exhausting, change is exhausting. Sometimes you have to give yourself space, you’ve got to give yourself time to breathe, sit and reflect, and then move forward a bit more – and also be aware you can go two steps forward and one step back, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – because that gives you time to reassess, it gives time for other influences to come in, and you might then go in a different direction.
Don’t look at the mountain, just look at a step at a time – just do little bits and step by step you’ll get there. You’ve also got to be open to the fact that if you pushed one door and it didn’t quite open there might be another one behind it in the corner that you hadn’t seen, and that might be your door – but if you’re not opening the doors in the first place how are you ever going to know? That’s one thing I tell my kids, I think their twenties are the time to get out there and meet people and try things before responsibility, mortgages and life takes hold of you. Okay, so you don’t like that job so try another – it’s not the be all and end all – you’ve just got to keep pushing the doors until you find your fit.
What inspired you to start your blog?
The Empty Nest was all about when your kids have left home. There are so many blogs about toddlers and bringing up babies but there didn’t seem to be many about when they leave home, and how that feels for parents. Especially for women who are home builders and have brought up the family, they feel a big void. I’ve always tried to write humorous blogs – I used to write humorous articles on our relocation to Sussex from London for regional magazines such as Sussex Life – just about funny things that happened to us – such as me, the towny, being chased across a field by a ram in my sparkly, flip flops on the way to the school pickup. So, I asked the kids if they were okay with me writing about them and I just wrote about some of the funny things that happened to us. I love writing. Writing a novel is a long process and writing a blog is immediate – and I like the combination of the two. That’s why I started it – for my own entertainment but also to share funny family moments, and I thought that other families in the same situation would be able to relate to them and laugh! I just want people to read my posts and enjoy them, I want them to be light relief, there’s too many horrible things in the world, and I just see them as a bit of fun, humorous, and I’m very sarcastic!
Do you think it’s helped you by writing things down?
It’s helped me enormously – writing is my creative outlet, and I wasn’t going to publish the early posts on my blog after I lost Nick, because they are very personal and they’re very honest, and as with all writing, you’re opening yourself up and putting yourself out there, but I’ve had a lot of people come back to me and say that they’ve been helpful to read. It also helps me to see, when I go back to the first ones, what a different place I’m in now, because I told it as it was in the beginning, and it was dreadful, but now I can see it’s a lot more upbeat and my humour is coming through again. I only tend to blog on special anniversaries, and I often write it as a letter to Nick because it just helps me formulate my ideas. It’s like telling him how we’re coping without him, how he’s left a huge void in our lives but we’re getting there, we’re making our lives work again. I hope it helps other people to see that you don’t come through grief, you don’t move on, it’s the analogy of grief being a void in your heart and it’s huge, but you grow around it – you find a way to live with it – it doesn’t disappear, and when I have a thought that really touches deep down it brings it all back, but I can at least still go on every day – whereas in the beginning I couldn’t even face the day. So, it’s helped me enormously in that way.
I hope my blog is helping people, life’s hard and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I shamelessly ask anyone now who I think might help. I am quite a private person which sounds crazy, when I write a blog about my life, but this is my way of putting it out there, you have to just keep going, every day, a step at a time, that’s all you can ask of yourself.
What are your goals?
To be as popular as Adele Parks! I don’t have an agent or publisher at the moment, I just love writing – I wish I could make it pay and I could spend all day doing it. I’ve had lots of small successes: – my two novels, Love, Suzi (based on my diaries when I was cabin crew) and Choices are out in the world and I’m working on another book at the moment. I’ve written a children’s middle grade adventure, short stories and a poignant but humorous memoir of my year of cancer. They say never give up and I won’t, I’m obstinate – I think that’s what’s pulled me through.
Other goals include to travel more. When I was an air stewardess I really enjoyed coming and going and I miss that. But mainly my goal is just to be okay, it’s not such a huge goal anymore, just to be okay, okay is good. To be comfortable, to be contented, to enjoy my home & garden. Of course, there are things that I want to do but I’ve achieved a lot, I’ve had a lot in my life, I want my kids to be happy, I want to be part of their life – and just for everyone to be okay. I’m not bothered about getting old. After thinking my chips were down when I was 40, every birthday is a bonus. I want to enjoy the day, wake up, see the sunshine and watch it go down thinking “hey, today was a good day”. Whether I sat and read, cycled, went to work, did paddle boarding, or spent it with friends. There’s nothing I like more than having the kids and their friends round, eating and drinking, a lot of banter, lighting the firepit – that is the perfect day for me, just all being together.
Things I’ve learnt along the way
I’ve been thrust into retirement, not what we were planning – we were planning to work for another five years at least. And then we were going to downsize and retire – we were going to live by the coast as Nick wanted a boat, we were going to change our life and travel, and spend our “golden years” together after all the hard work. We did have a lot of times where we had very little money, but Nick could always see the bigger picture. When I got my cancer, I had to have all the lymph nodes taken out of my groin and so my leg swells up. I decided then that we couldn’t do “hot” holidays very well as a family because it’s a balance between the swelling and a heat rash with my leg– it’s okay if you’re lying down all day but you can’t lie down all day with young children! So, I thought “right, we’re going to enjoy cold holidays” so we took the children skiing and they have been the best holidays of our lives. Even now we can sit around the table and crease up with laughter recalling the funny antics of our group while skiing.
The years that we couldn’t afford to go skiing I’d say to Nick “we really shouldn’t do this” and he would say “don’t worry, we need to make memories now – we’ve got the money, it’s in the house, it’s in these bricks, we just don’t have it in our hands, don’t worry about it, we’re going skiing because we have to live for now”. I’m so glad that he did that because of course, now the bricks and mortar materialised, they paid up, and we’ve got the most fantastic family memories of holidays where we just laughed the whole time – if he hadn’t been able to see that bigger picture, I would have been too cautious.
Finances are a funny thing, I’ve always been very worried – I suppose because as a woman, having taken time out to raise the family and only doing part time jobs – I knew I couldn’t have afforded to keep myself and the children, on my salary. It depends what you do as a couple but I see it as team work. Nick was earning, he loved his job and he was earning more than me and initially when I was teaching I could work part time –not possible in his line of work. Then when we started up the construction company we worked together, (I learnt to do as I was told). That’s a test of any marriage – together 24/7. They were the choices we made, as a couple for our family. We each worked in our own way to ensure our family was financially safe and that everyone also felt loved, nurtured and happy. I asked Nick once if he worried about the kids and he replied, “no, I know you’ve got that one.”
Nick taught me a lot about things like that – not to worry about the small stuff – look at the bigger picture because the small stuff will often take care of itself, and by overthinking it you get caught up in anxiety and what’s the point of that? 90% of what we worry about doesn’t happen. Worry takes away from now, it takes away from the moment – we don’t have tomorrow yet, we’ve lost yesterday, we have now. We have to keep that in the forefront of our minds, and I know it’s hard because everyone worries – but you have to think about now. In the words of Randy Pausch “It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand,” that’s what it’s all about. You have to keep coming back to the now, now is the time to live – because who knows what’s happening tomorrow. On my bad days I think “okay, even if I take things a little slower, a little more gently, because I’m feeling a little fragile – that’s okay”. It’s important to just give yourself some time and do it for the now.
For all that has happened to me, and these last few years have been the hardest challenge I’ve ever had to face – I am blessed. I had a wonderful marriage to a truly wonderful man. I have three amazing children and I can live in this beautiful place – he has left me well provided for. I’m very thankful to him for that. It’s up to me now to make a life.
One of my favourite poets is William Blake, he wrote an inspirational poem about imagination, vision and seeing the bigger picture, –‘ To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And see a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour.’ That sums up life for me.
Love, Suzi & Choices are available on Amazon.