Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The clock ticks down..

I write this as the clock ticks down to 2014. I shall raise a glass shortly and propose a toast: "To my beloved Diane. I miss you so much. In the year to come, I pray you continue to inspire me and I promise I will strive not to disappoint you. Thank you for being there for me still. As for you, 2014, you'd better have had your Weetabix. I'm coming at ya!"

Monday, 30 December 2013

Leap of faith

Take a deep breath, close your eyes and get ready to take that leap into 2014.
Knowing now what lay just a little way ahead as we prepared for 2013 on this day exactly 12 months ago, it makes me nervous. I feel like I'm blindfolded and someone is leading me somewhere I have never been and is saying " It's OK, trust me." I trusted them last year and they let me down, left me in a dark place until friends rescued me.
But still I will do as they say. The rewards are worth the risk.
Here goes.
Good luck,everyone...

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A blank piece of paper...

2014. The start of a fresh new year full of hope and plans. The annual magical mystery tour into the next 12 months. We all try to plan the future, but the future has a habit of being a bit of a rebel. It doesn't like being told what to do.

So the future is always full of surprises. Tricks up its sleeve. Some of its mischief is a pleasant surprise. But sometimes what it had planned without telling us leaves us in despair. I think you can see where I'm going with this.

Or you might not. Like the future, this blog can be full of surprises.

Twelve months ago, as I made another cuppa for Diane to take up to her as she rested in bed trying to shake off this nasty bug we thought she had, 2013 still held a lot of promise. So much we were going to do.

How quickly the future sprang its devastating surprise on us and wrenched Diane from me in just a few weeks. It left me devastated, alone, our plans turned to dust.

The grief was unimaginable, even if I had been given time to imagine it. The shock, the pain, the anger, the rage. All these overwhelming emotions swirling around. Everyone expects those and, boy, they do not disappoint.

But there were still other surprises in store. Some good, even. Nobody is more surprised than me to lose shedloads of weight and be on the brink of my first marathon just a year since being 24 stones, diabetic and unable to get up a flight of stairs without joining Kermit’s nephew on the stair half way up for a breather and a catch-up.

I was literally shocked into getting fit - well, at least fitter - and I became a runner at 57 after a lifetime of being activity-averse, as Nigella might put it.

Now in just over 100 days off running my first marathon - inspired by my extraordinary wife Diane's courage - to raise cash for Breast Cancer Care UK and Derian House Children's Hospice in Chorley, Lancashire, around the streets of Rotterdam where she spent her childhood.

I want to tell you when that moment of surprise inspiration came. So pull up a seat and get comfy.
It was a short while after Diane's funeral.

I was sitting staring at, rather than watching, the TV and thinking, as usual, about Diane. I would do this for quite a while, trying to make sense of what had happened. I have not yet managed to solve that one. I’m told there’s no answer to that question: Why? So I reckon soon it will be time to stop asking it.
So there I was, when suddenly a thought came into my head, an image that has stayed with me ever since. I am at a desk on which there is nothing but a blank piece of paper. There is someone standing at my right shoulder. It feels like an authority figure, seems male. Not Diane, then so this isn’t one of those spooky “She came to me” stories. I think she sent him, though. Whoever he was. Maybe an old teacher. Maybe Mr Bogart, who taught her in Rotterdam and of whom she often spoke. Never mind. Probably not relevant.

The figure reaches out and hands me a pen. He points at the blank piece of paper. That's the rest of your life, he says, start writing it.

I realise in that moment that Diane wanted me to have a go. At anything I wanted to. She didn’t want me to sit and mope, she wanted me to get off my backside and sort myself out. She had always worried about how I’d cope on my own. This was her telling me to buck up and get on with it.
I realise that the future is all we have, even if it doesn’t do what we want it to. We must try, we must strive, we must do our utmost. And maybe, the future will from time to time be kind to us and let us achieve one of our dreams.

One thing is certain – not trying is not an option. Not trying is letting Diane down. Letting down everything she did when she was alive to get me to where I am now. She was the driving force behind all I did then and nothing has changed. She still drives me on. That’s what the black piece of paper was all about. Her motivating me, as she had always done in life, her telling me to reach higher, achieve more and be better.
I think that’s what is behind all this health kick and marathon lark.

So as we stand on the starting line of 2014, we should be reaching for our dreams. Tell yourself anything is possible, and then go for it for as long as the future lets you. You'll be surprised by how far you can get. It's a lot more than just 26 miles.

I was reminded of words Diane said in the early, bleak days following her diagnosis in 2006. We feared the worst, thought we had just a few months left together, and Di made me promise to live life without her to the full. She was sure I would struggle on my own, and was determined that I shouldn't face the future alone. So she has stuck around for a while, inspiring me to hopefully get more of it right than wrong.

Fast forward to 2013 and me at the desk. I take the pen and start to write. As we approach the end of this terrible year, I have nearly reached the end of the first chapter, which will come to its dramatic – and possibly hilarious - conclusion on Rotterdam's celebrated Coolsingel finishing straight in April.
Then when it is done, I will begin to write the next chapter of the rest of my life... and right now I have no idea what it will be.
And maybe one of the surprises the future will have up its sleeve in 2014 is to let me succeed at a few things I try to do.

So do we look back on 2013 or forward to 2014? I will always remember every awful moment of the last 12 months, and there are still moments to come when tears will return, when days will be bleak. January 5 would have been our 18th wedding anniversary, February 6 will mark 12 months since Diane died. Eight days later, 12 months ago, we all gathered to celebrate her life and say goodbye. Tough days ahead.

But 2013 is already written, already set in stone. We can’t change a word of it. That chapter is closed. So leave it and put it up there on the shelf next to 2011 and 2012.

As for 2014, that’s still up for grabs. I have already made a start. The paper's not blank anymore.
But there's still so much left to write…

Sunday, 22 December 2013

A Christmas prayer

They said this Christmas would be difficult. And they weren’t far wrong.

It's odd to think you could dread a time traditionally so full of warmth and happiness. But I was warned that Christmas 2013 was not going to be easy.

Last Christmas was when Diane first complained of being unwell. She didn't manage to eat anything on Christmas Day and it was the first time if we are honest that we suspected something wasn't quite right.

But there were so many bugs knocking about, we convinced ourselves it was just one of those. Diane was determined to shrug it off. She'd feel better in a few days, she insisted.

But it wasn't a bug...

This Christmas, it all feels very different. From making Diane feel too unwell to eat her Christmas dinner to taking her from me took this evil disease of cancer just six weeks. I remember sitting in the ante room on the hospital ward just minutes after her death wondering what had just happened. A few weeks before we had been making plans for the rest of 2013. Now she had been snatched away.

It made no sense.
And it still makes no sense.

I sit here, without her, sharing these thoughts with you. All I can do is wish she was with me once again in person rather than just filling my head 24/7. I wish I could see her across the room and watch her be ... well, just watch her be Diane, I guess.

But I cannot and no matter how much I beg, plead and beseech someone, anyone, somewhere, anywhere, to make it happen, I know it won't.

Sometimes, as Diane used to say, the answer to a prayer is "no".

Then it struck me. Or maybe she gave me one of those digs in the ribs when I’m being a bit slow to catch on. I’m not respecting her life and memory if I end up wasting what life is left to me by moping about. That life can still be full of surprises (yes even more than me losing seven stones and running a marathon). And she can still help me live it – we can still make this journey together.

The future is nothing but surprises. No-one knows how what's next. But it can only happen, it can only surprise me, if I grasp every chance I get. Only if I believe in it. Only if I’m positive.

There’s that word again. Positive. I love it. It’s my favourite word right now. It transforms darkness into light. It means there’s hope. You can achieve nothing by being negative but if you’re positive all things are possible. Not all of them will come off, clearly, but all of them will, for a short while at least, be possible. Everybody is capable of over-achieving if they want to.

It is, for example, possible to grieve for someone so dear as Diane and still carry a smile, still be optimistic and still over-achieve.

And I’m determined not to let her down by sitting alone at Christmas feeling sorry for myself. I can do nothing about the past. I need to make sure that whatever I do from now on is done in honour of her. If I think she’d be happy with what I’m doing and the way I’m doing it, then I’m happy too and I go ahead – no need to seek approval from anyone but her.

So I was determined Christmas 2013 wasn’t going to fill me with dread. This wasn’t going to be a terrible time.

This year, I decided to “do” Christmas.

The decorations were up in record time, I’ve tried some festive baking for the first time and I am determined to have a good Christmas in the company of the wonderful people I’m lucky enough to call my friends.

I even made it to the company Christmas party on Friday for the first time in God knows how long and I had a blast. The incredible friends I shared it with made it a very special evening.

And I’m off to visit more pals – some Diane’s, some mine – over the coming days. I will do my best to enjoy it all and I’m sure I’ll create memories to carry with me forever.

Of course, there’ll be quiet moments when I’m alone with Diane and a few tears will come. I’ll say what I have to say to her in private. I'll close my eyes and in my mind I’ll kiss her gently on the cheek and wish her a Merry Christmas from her adoring husband. That’s only to be expected. I miss her beyond words and wish she was beside me in person again.

But I know that can’t happen.

That’s why my Christmas prayer is not for her to be back, sitting opposite me in this room, sharing Christmas again with me in person. I already know the answer to that is "no".

No, my Christmas prayer is to you.

To you who are lucky enough to have yet to spend a family Christmas with someone as special as her missing. One Christmas yet to come - maybe not next year or the year after but certainly at some point – will be your first Christmas apart from someone you thought you couldn't live without.

So I pray you make the most of every precious second you have this week and all year round with your family, closest friends and neighbours.

I pray you promise from this day on never to be left wishing you had told them more often that you loved them.

I pray you decide to make sure you don't end up regretting that you hadn't made the effort to do more together, see each other more often, spend more time watching them be... well, just watch them be them.

And I pray the answer to this prayer is "yes".

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Sleepless in Bolton

I HAD a sleepless night last night. And while I lay awake, I remembered I wanted to share something with you…
It is – and has been for years - a constant source of much amusement in the office that the list of my Top 5 Films of All Time features the sugary-sweet Sleepless in Seattle, as shamelessly sentimental a movie as you could wish to find.
To be honest it would probably be in a list of my Top 1 Films of All Time. I’m shamelessly sentimental too. Rom coms are my guilty pleasure – but not guilty enough that I feel I have to make any apologies or excuses for. I love 'em and don’t care who knows it!
But there’s something very special about Sleepless in Seattle. It’s been one of my favourites since I first saw it. But this year it seemed to take on even more importance for me.
So settle in. Here’s the story…
A lot of you will be aware of the “plot”. Tom Hanks plays an architect struggling to come to terms with the death of his beautiful wife to cancer and at the same time tasked with easing the pain of their young son. To try to build a new life away from the places that remind him of her, he moves from Chicago to Seattle but the sense of loss is still as strong as ever. Except, in Chicago, it didn’t rain quite so much.
One night the young boy tricks his dad into speaking to a late night radio show to talk about his loss.
In a gentle, quiet scene, Hanks’s character Sam talks of how he is trying to cope. He tells the radio host: "Well, I'm gonna get out of bed every morning... breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out... and, then after a while, I won't have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while."
That line has come back to me a lot this year. I like Sam. I like the way he put this. Because it’s how I felt this year after losing Diane in February to cancer. How perfect I had it. How lucky I was. How much of a struggle it is to do without something that great.
I talk a lot in this column about Diane still being with me. Of course she is. As I’ve said many times, she’s with me when I run a race, I still feel her hand in mine and I still hear her voice in my ear. But her not physically being here does take its toll, all the same. I miss watching her sleep, I miss her scent, I simply miss her being there.
So I know where Sam, my fictional partner in grief, is coming from.
And last week I got a call from a lovely woman called Alison Butterworth who hosts a late night radio show across Lancashire and Manchester and who wants me to come on and talk about how I feel, and why I’m running this marathon in April in Rotterdam, the city where Diane grew up.
I’m hoping I get the chance to do that before Christmas. I’m definitely going to be on there on Thursday January 9 - just after my first half-marathon near Preston on January 5 - to talk about my weight loss and transformation from couch potato to distance runner in less than a year.
But I am also hoping to join her before then to talk about the Running With Diane campaign. I might even retell this story. It would seem appropriate on a late night radio show. Just like Sam did.
But there’s another reason why this film is forever in my heart. Back in 1993, when Diane and I were starting to see each other, the first film we saw together at the cinema was Sleepless in Seattle.
She loved it, too. And every time since then that it has been on TV we’ve smiled, had a little hug and thought back to that day when we were just starting out on our journey together with no idea where it would lead.
I’m so lucky to have been blessed with knowing her.
Like the man said, I had it great and perfect for a while…