Happy birthday Joey

Today is Joseph’s birthday. He’s six years old. In some ways he behaves exactly the way a six year old should. He’s cheeky, messy, doesn’t do as he’s told, fights with his sister and is generally a little boy. But he’s also amazing, clever, very well behaved, adores his sister and is the sort of son that makes me intensely proud.

As was the case last year, Joey had a birthday card from Rosie waiting for him. She had written it just days before she died. Last year he opened the card, smiled and put it to one side. This year he went very quiet, then asked where it had come from. When I told him that mummy had written it before she had died he started to cry. Not gushing, just tears in his eyes. Talking to him later I asked what he was thinking or feeling when he saw the card. All he would say was that he was nervous.

The stab of sadness that comes out of nowhere for me as an adult is bad enough. What it must be like for a little six year old I have no idea. It reminds me, as if I need reminding, that Rosie’s absence is with us every single day, especially on days like today. But, and this is the big but, I know that despite her physical absence she is in his mind constantly. And although I worry about him and his sister from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn I can see that they’re both growing up incredibly well adjusted. After all they’re Rosie’s children…

Elliot

The rhythm of life

It’s been too long without Rosie. Fact. One single day without her would have been long enough. Day to day it’s simply rubbish that she’s not here. Now there’s an understatement. Emotions aside life is challenging enough without the complexity of having to do everything alone. Caring for my children is the hardest and most rewarding task. There we have it, a series of statements of the bleeding obvious.

When Joey says, “all the other children have mummies”, it’s then that I feel truly alone. Without Ro by my side I feel myself foundering. Now of course that’s melodramatic. I’m not sinking, by no means am I. Life has thrown all sorts of challenges at us since Rosie left and yet I keep kicking as hard as I can to keep my head above the water line. Part of that is thanks to the support of family. Part of that is because of close, close friends, both old and new.

But for me I truly believe that life is meant to be shared. Not necessarily all of it with everyone but with the right people in the right way. The highs, the lows, the sorrows and happiness. And the joys and challenges of having children. One of Joey’s constant refrains is “when will I have a new mummy?”. To which I say that he won’t have a new mummy but one day he will have a step-mummy – if I find the right person to be with. How do you explain the concept of love to a five-year old? I’m not sure I could explain it to an adult. Plenty of people far cleverer than me have given it a go and failed, so what hope do I have?

From what I’ve just written you might think that I’m morose or depressed. I’m really not. Because with those new and old friends, with my family and with my two wonderful children I feel supported, inspired and driven to success. And no matter how challenging life feels at times I know that I have a bunch of people rooting for us.

As an aside, yesterday, 15th October would have been Rosie’s 40th birthday. In the 40 days running up to the big day, Secondary1st published 40 facts about secondary breast cancer. There were also videos from her friends and family recounting some of their favourite memories of Rosie. #40forRosie was the tagline. You can check it out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It was so inspiring to see it come to life. And on her birthday dozens of people posted photos of cakes, biscuits, pieces of fudge and much more besides, all with lit candles atop.

Philosophers through the ages have tried to answer the question “why are we here?”, and I’ll be damned if I can give a decent answer. But for me it’s about creating a wave of happiness that sustains us and the people around us. My children need to see that despite life’s challenges, life does carry on, and it’s simply better to tackle it with head held high, shoulders back than it is to feel low and defeated.

And that’s the point of this blog. I have two choices. One, allow the pressures of life to weigh me down and ultimately take me down. Or two, accept that life is challenging. Smile. Be happy with what I do have and just get on with it.

It’s the second one that I choose. It’s the second one that Rosie chose, right to the very end. So come on life, bring it on.

Elliot

 

Getting over the hump

As time goes by life becomes just that little bit easier. Without Rosie I must find my own course through challenges and obstacles, through life. What I do with and for my children is now entirely my decision. It’s up to me to interpret what I feel is best for Natalie and Joseph based on Rosie’s letter to her closest friends, our past discussions and my intuition. The same goes for the rest of my life; what I do, how I find happiness.

My life has in some ways become something that I never anticipated, never contemplated, never imagined. But despite the obvious upheavals I am beginning to rediscover my self-confidence. Actually, if the truth be told it’s not so much a rediscovery but a personal awakening. Before I met Rosie it is fair to say that I wasn’t the most confident of people. Over our years together she instilled in me a sense of self-worth, and confidence. It is with that confidence that I am starting to rebuild who I am. Yes I still doubt myself. Yes I still question my value compared to others. But I know, for the sake of my children and more importantly myself that I can and will become a stronger person, with greater self belief; much as I was when Rosie was by my side.

This morning I’ve been watching an amazing online masterclass given by Aaron Sorkin on the craft of screenwriting. For those of you who don’t know Sorkin, he is the brilliant writer behind numerous films, plays and TV series. But the one which will always be the one for me is ‘The West Wing’. Rosie and I watched all seven series over and over again. At times I could recite whole tracts of script or précis any episode, recalling the name and the episode number in question. Sad? Yes I know, but everyone has to have something that gets them going!!

As I have written before, in her final letters to me Rosie gave numerous instructions. Most were big, some were life-affirming and some were difficult to carry out. In amongst those letters was one innocuous direction, “make sure you watch West Wing with the children”. On the face of it that seems like an odd thing to add to one’s final letters. But I know Rosie and know what she meant by that. Firstly, she knew that no matter how old the series would appear to our delightful little children there were still lessons to be learned. Friendship is priceless; be honourable; stand by your principles; stand your ground; don’t be swayed if you know you’re right; always do the right thing, no matter how hard it might be. But second, she knew how much we enjoyed watching it together, and that by watching it with the children I would remember her fondly. And she was right.

The problem is that since she died I really couldn’t ever see myself watching the programme again without her. Until today. In that masterclass Sorkin references some of the classic scenes, which are then shown. Having watched those clips I now realise that I am ready to see The West Wing again. And with that realisation I also recognise a number of other aspects of life that I am ready to begin re-engaging with. Life really is for living. No it’s not straightforward, and it certainly isn’t like an episode of The West Wing with a neat and tidy ending. But the life I’m living is the one I choose to live, in the best way I know. I have no idea what the outcomes will be but I will certainly never regret trying. What’s next?*

Elliot

 

*a little nod to Jed Batlet

Moving on

It’s been a while since I wrote anything here. If the truth be told I’ve been shattered, mentally, and have done all I can to keep the train on the tracks. Establishing the charity has been an entirely all-consuming task. As a group we have expended masses of positive energy in making Secondary1st a reality. Getting to the launch required a massive burst of energy but it was absolutely worth it. We now have groups of people doing their own thing to raise money: cake bakes, marathons, cycle rides, reflexology sessions, auctions of all sorts. If you have a fundraising idea then please get in touch at info@secondary1st.org.uk

But now that the charity is up and running it’s time to turn my attention back to myself, for a brief period. It’s not something I’m very good at doing. I’ve been criticised recently for neglecting myself, it’s just that I can’t help it. In years gone by Rosie used to think and care about me so that I didn’t have to. “Elliot, I think it’s time to get some new clothes” or “Elliot, do you fancy going away to x this year”, she would say. Over the past year my focus has been on caring for the children, and of course that will never change. The way that they continue to grow and blossom, despite the loss of the most important figure in their lives, is awe-inspiring. They both ooze their mum’s personality. They make me so very proud.

With the benefit of time I am now starting to reassess what my life without Rosie means. Not the practical implications, those have been apparent since before she died. I’m talking about the things that nourish the heart and soul. Rosie will never leave my side. Never. But I am a social animal and am not good alone. So as time goes by I need to work out what I want from life. I met someone recently who had been divorced. She made a fairly obvious, yet thought-provoking statement. “None of us knows how life will play out”. Planning works to a point, but you never know what life has in store.

Rosie and I were the arch planners – we planned our holidays, our meals, our lives. I will never cease to plan for the children (when you have as many friends and admirers as they do it’s impossible not to). But for me I’m trying out a new approach; go with the flow. Life is for living and so I’m going to live it, to the fullest, if I possibly can. Let’s see how that goes!

Elliot

And now for the hard work

​Last night was another one of those milestones. In a year of milestones this one felt like a biggie. Launching Rosie’s charity, Secondary1st, in front of 200 friends and family, was daunting. Yet at the same time it felt like a huge relief. 
I really wasn’t sure how the evening would go. Behind the scenes everyone involved had done so much work. On paper it had to work. But I’m somewhat of a pessimist and I usually expect the worst; when it goes well I’m pleasantly surprised. Last night went well by every measure.

So this week we’ve done it. We’ve fulfilled one for Rosie’s dying wishes. There is now a charity called Secondary1st which will raise funds to research secondary breast cancer. It is indelibly linked to a truly wonderful woman and I hope, if she’s looking down on us, that she approves.

Now friends, it’s over to you. Please join us in making Secondary1st a success. Tell your friends and family about it. Tell your work colleagues. If you work for a company then persuade them to chose Secondary1st as its charity of the year. Please donate, please support our events, please run your own fundraising events. This charity wouldn’t exist without the selfless contributions of time, expertise  and money of so many people. Now we need the contributions of many, many more .

The website should answer any questions you might have. You can donate or even set up a regular payment. If you have any questions then just email us. And I wish you the best of luck in helping us to grow Secondary1st into something that will last a lifetime.

Elliot

Trying to make a difference

This week is going to be a big one, and in no way do I refer to Brexit. For almost a year now a dedicated group of friends, family and professionals from across a wide spectrum of backgrounds have been toiling away to build what I have told the children is “Mummy’s charity”. Secondary1st is the result of a conversation I had with Rosie in the final few days of her life. She wanted a charity to be established which would raise funds for research into secondary breast cancer. The charity is now here and on Tuesday evening we will be launching it.

There will be plenty to say about it, and I hope those of you who have continued to follow Rosie’s blog (for although I have taken over authorship, this is still Rosie’s home) will support Secondary1st in whatever way you can.

For now though, I’m tired, my children are asleep and I’m going to curl up on the sofa and watch Glastonbury on TV.

Elliot

A year of thank yous

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”, so goes the saying. Well with Rosie that simply wasn’t the case. Over the last year I’ve learned a few extra nuggets about this wonderful woman but essentially the lady I fell in love with was the same woman I lost on 16th June 2015.

The past year has been painful. It’s been one which I wish I had never experienced. I don’t much care to remember the previous year either. In the last year of Rosie’s life we made some phenomenal memories together. Our tenth wedding anniversary, 12 years spent together, birthdays, holidays, amazing meals, special times with our children, so, so much.

But those memories are currently being drowned out. I’m sure that as time goes by the good memories will break through to the surface, but for now the overriding emotion is one of loss.

The human condition is an odd one. You meet someone, you enjoy their company, you create a life together. Before you know it you have become inseparable and have no idea how you could possibly live without them. I often joked with Ro that when the time came, that I would have to pop off first because I wouldn’t be able to live alone. I half joked. In reality I knew that life without her would be unbearable. And it is.

However, our wonderful friends and family have supported me and our children through this living nightmare. I won’t single out any individuals but there are a significant band of people who have been there to look after us. You know who you are. Thank you.

Since her death life has taken on a certain inevitable rhythm. It must. One can’t constantly live a grieving life, and nor would I want to. I’ve discovered people anew. People who have been on the periphery but who now help to make life that much more enjoyable.

I’ve learned to be a single father with the massive support of our wonderful nanny and ever-present family. But when the door closes at night, and the nightmares intrude on the children’s sleep, it is I who they turn to. It’s tiring, as any parent can testify to, but worth it. And the impetus that Natalie and Joseph have given me to get out of bed each and every morning is immeasurable.

So what of the future? I can’t really say. I know that today isn’t as hard as yesterday and with a bit of luck tomorrow will be easier than today. For now the memory of Rosie serves to remind me what we’ve all lost but also supports me into the future. My love and thanks will always be there for you, my darling Rosie xxx

Elliot

The day after our engagement in Venice, 23rd November 2003
The day after our engagement in Venice, 23rd November 2003

Time to stop and reflect

So the day has come when we consecrate Rosie’s gravestone. It’s the last of a long line of emotional tasks that we as a family are mandated to do in this first year since our darling Ro died. I’m not really sure how I will deal with the ceremony. I know there will be many people there. I know that we have the support of many friends and family from far and wide.

I know it’s going to be overwhelming; but I know that it’s a necessary ceremony. I’m not talking from a religious perspective, but from a cathartic one. There are a great many people who loved and cared for Rosie, and a great many more who were touched by her. Many of those people will be there today and will be most welcome.

This morning I’m alone at home. Natalie and Joseph have had a sleepover with my parents giving me an opportunity to have a lie in. The only problem is that there are too many things to do to take advantage of a lie in! I’ve spent the first part of the morning going through photos of Rosie to be used on the new Secondary1st website. On the surface, to the outside world, I am getting on just fine. But then when I stop I realise that perhaps I’m not so fine. Of course I’m not, Rosie isn’t here.

Last night I spent a wonderful evening with one of my oldest friends and his adorable wife. He’s a tour guide. He was telling me that at significant points on his trips he tells his young tourees (is that a word?) to put down their cameras. Why? Because he wants them to understand that their memories aren’t what they record on their camera phones but what they absorb with their own eyes.

Going through our photos I feel slightly detached from the memories. Yes I was there, and yes I took most of the photos. But my memories of Rosie, together with the children, are far richer than any photo could convey. And that’s how today feels. Yes we will place a stone on her grave. And yes it records the salient details of who she was and who misses her. But it is really just a snapshot of a rich, beautiful, incredibly important life. The impact she has made on hundreds of lives in myriad different ways is impossible to capture. But I know that she will live on forever in those many memories.

Elliot

 

An iron man

In two days time Craig Fisher, one of Rosie’s closest friends, will be running, swimming and cycling to raise money for Secondary1st, the charity which has been established in her memory. As he competes in the half Ironman in Majorca I know he’ll be thinking about some very special women who have played a massive role in his life. I’m wishing him massive love and luck and want him to know that we small band of Chouekas will be willing him on. If you’d like to support him you can make donations here:

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/craigfisher2

Good luck our friend.

Elliot, Natalie and Joseph xxx

It’s the little things

It’s been a long time since I last posted on Fighting Genghis mainly because I haven’t really had a great deal to say that isn’t repetitive of my earlier musings. Life carries on. It must. Two little children are an incredibly powerful reason to get out of bed in the morning. Without them I’m not entirely sure what the point would be. That’s not meant to be melodramatic or a plea for help, it’s merely a statement of fact.

Yes of course friends and family give one a purpose. And doubtless, without the creation, establishment and running of a charity in Rosie’s memory (more of that in the coming weeks) I’d have very much more spare time on my hands. With that spare time though, who knows what I would do.

Walking along with one of my good friends last week he asked me how I am doing. Not an unusual question, and one that usually elicits the answer, “Oh you know, I’m getting on”. That’s my way of saying “I don’t have the energy to get into a deep discussion”. However on this occasion I chose to answer truthfully. People say that time is a great healer. I’m not sure it is really. Time helps with readjusting to loss, but it doesn’t really heal anything. The hole left behind by Rosie isn’t ever going to heal. The gap left in my children’s lives won’t ever be filled.

Of course no longer having my wife with me by my side has left a huge gaping hole. Not having her around has reminded me of some small but important things she did for us. The other day Natalie needed a hot water bottle to soothe her tummy ache, but I couldn’t remember where Rosie kept it. Another day, Natalie asked me what names Rosie and I had considered for her before she was born. I couldn’t remember. Rosie made sure I never needed to remember things, because she always remembered…everything. Are you starting to get the picture? Now, no longer having that amazing person with us, I feel doubly sad. What else have I forgotten?

I’m still telling Natalie stories about her mummy every night. In an odd sort of way it’s my attempt to sear the stories into my memory. But also it’s important that Natalie has memories, her own and others’, to keep Rosie close by.

Joey on the other hand is a different kettle of fish. His memories are already on the wane. He remembers broad things like mummy’s hair, her smile, her eyes. But details already seem to have gone. My hope is that between us we are able to restore plenty of memories about Rosie for Joey to draw on as he grows up.

In the meantime my life is entirely about the children. But then which parent doesn’t single-mindedly concentrate on their children?

Elliot