By Nicky Wake
I lost my soulmate and husband Andy Wake in March 2020. He was the John to my Yoko, a beautiful, wonderful gentle soul and the world is a much poorer place now that Andy isn’t here.
I met Andy during the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. We actually met online on datingdirect.com and we were both early adopters of tech and digital dating pioneers! I knew on our first day I had met the man I was going to marry. I remember on that first date he told me the songs he wanted to be played at his funeral and I thought then he must have thought I was a keeper. Little did I know that I’d be playing those songs so much earlier than expected.
We had a whirlwind romance and life was heavenly. We moved in together in December 2002 and married in Jamaica in a beachfront ceremony in February 2004 with our closest friends and family. Andy was working as deputy head of press for Greater Manchester Police and I was a Director in an events company. In 2005 I started my own business. Andy, ever the creative helped me name it Don’t Panic Events and built my website and designed my branding. We really were the dream team. As the business grew, Andy left his well-paid job to join my start-up world and became my biggest cheerleader.
We decided to start a family. We tried long and hard for a baby, we had a lot of fun trying and finally, with a little fertility treatment, we had our little miracle. Finn burst into the world in November 2007 and our lives were finally perfect. Andy was the world’s best Dad. He ran the family home and became the rock in our lives as a stay-at-home Dad while I was flying around the world delivering awards ceremonies. Andy did every school walk, cooked every meal and inspired Finn through books and music. We were deliriously happy and the perfect little family, I imagined we’d see Finn off to university and then grow old disgracefully.
In July 2017, my world started to fall apart. I returned from a business trip to find a rather anxious Andy. He’d experienced chest pains but didn’t want to tell me while I was away. My blood literally ran cold, it was like someone had walked over my grave. Obviously, being a man he hadn’t considered going to the doctors, honestly men?! I frog-marched him to the doctor the next morning and he was checked out while I waited in the waiting room. He came out smiling and said, “It’s nothing to worry about, the doctor thinks it’s stress and anxiety.”
Andy was literally the most chilled person I knew as he couldn’t even spell stressed let alone feel it. I wasn’t convinced as the chest pains continued and after three more doctor visits over three days, I insisted they did an ECG. That ECG showed he was actually having a heart attack and he was blue-lighted to the hospital while I followed on utterly distressed with Finn in the car. By the time we got to the hospital, Andy was in emergency surgery having a stent fitted. I brought him home a few days later and we were both thankful for what we thought was a lucky escape.
Later that night, Andy was tired and went for an early night, he was snoring like a trooper so I went to sleep in the spare room. I was awoken by a terrible noise at 6 a.m., I went charging upstairs to our bedroom to find Andy having another heart attack, the stent had failed. I called an ambulance and was on the phone with 999 being talked through how to do CPR. I did CPR for 25 minutes before the fire brigade and the ambulance arrived. The good news is I can do CPR, but unfortunately, I’m not very good at it!
Andy was admitted to ICU for heart surgery and put in an induced coma. I saved Andy’s life, but unfortunately, his brain was starved of oxygen and he suffered a catastrophic brain injury. An agonising two weeks followed of hopes and prayers, the hospital staff were obviously managing my expectations and eventually, it became so very clear that we weren’t going to get our happy ever after.
Andy was brought around from the coma and he was clearly hugely disabled, my heart broke into pieces. I had to come home and tell Finn that Daddy was probably never going to get better and was never coming home. Andy was admitted to a specialist brain injury rehab facility, the NHS threw everything it could at it, but there was little improvement. Andy clearly didn’t know who he was, where he was or who I was. Seeing your wonderful, clever husband in such an angry, confused place with little quality of life was utterly heartbreaking. I dreaded visiting him as it was so upsetting.
During this time I had to learn how to solo parent — how to cook, run and house, run a company and build a stronger relationship with Finn — all while experiencing anticipatory grief. It was the darkest period of my life, I was utterly heartbroken and if it wasn’t for Finn, I probably wouldn’t be here.
After six agonising months of rehab, Andy was moved into a specialist care home, he needed 24/7 care. The staff did everything they could to provide a quality environment, but I felt in a dreadful state of limbo. I’d lost my husband, but I couldn’t grieve for him and the loss of us.
Finn and I muddled through alone at home. We ran away on lots of adventures, visiting every Disney park in the world in one year — you don’t need to be a psychologist to work out what I was doing in running away.
In February 2020, COVID-19 was hitting the headlines, in particular the awful scenarios in care homes. I just knew that was going to be the end of our story. I had a call in early March to say Andy had a temperature… I knew what was about to happen. I couldn’t visit and Andy deteriorated over a few days. After a few agonising days, I got the call to say we’d lost him.
Naively I thought I’d done a lot of my grieving when he was ill, but it hit me like a train wreck. I couldn’t see friends or family and Finn and I clung to each other for love and strength. We were only allowed 20 people at the funeral, it was an awfully dark time.
I spent lots of time and money on counselling for me and Finn. I wholeheartedly suggest and recommend counselling, it definitely saved my sanity and helped me navigate my loss and the future. After some time I was conscious of just sad and lonely I felt. At 50 I was too young to spend the rest of my life alone and although I would never get over losing Andy or stop loving him, I needed to try and move forward, as widows we never move on.
I joined a U.K.-based charity called Widowed and Young, which was incredibly helpful, to talk to a network of people who understand and get it. I attended lots of their events and also met up with members for lunch and coffee. Around this time I also started taking the first tentative steps into dating. I tried mainstream dating apps Tinder and Bumble and quickly realised that online dating had changed significantly in the past 20 years! There were no rude pics or ghosting back in the day!
After a few disastrous dates, I realised there had to be a better way. I’d be blown away by the support of widow charities and widow Facebook groups. The talk at widow meet-ups very often turns to dating and the challenges of dating again. I decided to launch the U.K.’s only dating app for widows and widowers called Chapter 2 Dating. Its purpose is to create a safe and secure space for people to navigate their next chapter. There is a rigorous sign-up process, we ask all members to verify their widow status by sharing a link to an obituary or memoralised Facebook page or by sending in a photo of a death certificate. We review all sign-ups daily and reject any suspicious profiles.
I raised funding and the platform itself is funded by two widows. We are built by widows for widows and I’m so grateful for their support.
We believe widows and widowers are uniquely placed to understand each other and respect what has gone before. Chapter 2 is much more than a dating site, we are a community. The site features a blog, advice, resources and a forum. Running alongside the site will be a series of face-to-face events and meet-ups.
I genuinely want to create a force for good. If I can help widows or widowers find some joy and find their next chapter then that will help me make sense of my loss, I think and I hope Andy would be proud that I’m making lemonade out of lemons and creating a legacy for Finn.
Please tell any widows you know about Chapter 2, whether they are looking for support, friendship, companionship or a relationship, we can help. They can sign up here for free.
For more information about Nicky, you can check out her website.
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