By Bernard Bibby
Is there life after the death of your wife of 53 years? In my case the answer is yes!
Just a little over four years ago I lost the most amazing individual you could hope to find and live with for over two thirds of your life.
We met at a youth club where I was the only boy who could rock-and-roll a girl, much to the chagrin of most of the leather-clad lads standing around with a ton and a half of Brillcream holding they Gene Vincent hair in place.
We started dating, going to the pictures, dancing and visiting a very new experience the “Wimpy Bar” as a change from walking home eating steaming hot cod and chips out of an old newspaper wrapping.
As time past we made plans for the future and marriage. Our courtship lasted three years which was not uncommon for the early sixties. As we could only get a mortgage on my weekly wage, I took on two jobs to save up for it, plus a number of small enterprises to get as big a deposit as possible.
Celia being good at research found a new development in a small town in Kent which was on the mainline railway to London as we both would need to commute. The day came for that visit to the solicitors to sign the papers to take ownership of our very first property together.
On our wedding day she looked absolutely gorgeous, all in white in a dress she had made herself. It was my first time of public speaking, after the best man introduction, then off to the honeymoon in the Channel Isles.
The train ride from Victoria Station to Sittingbourne seemed strange as we were starting on a journey that would change our lives in so many ways. I did the right thing at the front door and carried her over the threshold into her new home and a new life for both of us.
It was April and we had a lot to do to get the garden with its added extras of old bricks, builders special, and three-foot-high weeds into shape, but we were young and thought that we could move the ‘World’. Celia, she who now must be obeyed, had me totally organised as we had six rooms to decorate all before winter and certainly by the time of the first party for friends and family to show off our new home.
Within eighteen months we had the arrival of our first screaming bundle of joy named Elizabeth Ann who became my second boss lady, small but perfectly formed for the job of getting inside dad.
As time went on and the now that Liz was just over a year old, we started to plan for the second child but before that we needed to move to a bigger property and as before Celia found a very old and dilapidated and run down old Victorian house on the other side of town.
During the renovation Celia became pregnant, I had started a new job and Liz turned two and a bit. This pregnancy did not go at all well for Celia. Due to the position of the baby and the pressure it placed on some of her internal organs, complications started requiring emergency hospitalization with the possibility of a termination. There was also the possibility that we could loss Celia and the new baby so not a very good time all round. Eventually his lordship arrived to a home delivery which was going to be very interesting as the local Midwives were having some industrial action and there was a possibility they might not be able to turn up for the delivery. So, thinking ahead, I prepared my marigolds and ran through my head what I could remember of baby delivering. As it was, they all turned up and we were blessed with a very big boy, now 6 foot 2.
All seemed to be OK, we got on with the refurbishment of the old house, Celia completed her academic requirement to get into Kent University and I got back into working for an America professional sound company. Life got into a routine with the children getting in to “O” s and “A” levels and then University and higher education.
My company being American then had a board meeting in Chicago and made the decision to axe Europe and I was out of a job. After living out of a suite case for 4 years, I started my own small maintenance and repair business and ODD JOB was borne. Coinciding with the start of the business was the big storm of the 1980s and my feet never stopped. I would be sitting on one roof carrying out repairs and the minute that I finished I was up the next and the next and the next. It was a mad time but what a boost to a new business. So, it was now two to three years that I had been working for myself and with my international business training could see that there was the potential to start a new trend, that of a building maintenance franchise. Plans were made to launch both in the UK and with some contacts I had in Europe.
Then came the bomb shell that was to change all our lives forever, Celia returned from Birmingham University with her Master’s in Human Factors Engineering “Ergonomics” and plans to work as a consultant across Europe. She went down with a cold which developed into a lung infection for which she was prescribed an antibiotic, then all hell let loose. This drug did very little to stem the chest infection, but it did deliver some devastating side effects for which Celia paid the price with her life later-on.
This first antibiotic caused an anaphylactic shock which can be fatal, but on this occasion medical intervention managed to control the situation and after a period it was recommended that the antibiotic was changed to a different family so that treatment for the lung condition could be continued.
Both antibiotics left problems that would later return to claim Celia and devastate the family but, for the time being life appeared to return to some semblance of normality with a few ups and downs as time went on. All this put pay to my plans for the new franchise due to the effects of Celia’s long-term health issues. I was put in the position of having to give up the business to become her fulltime carer with all the attended fallout. Moving from being self-employed to living off of state handouts takes a lot to get used to. Cutting back and seeing your living standards change is not easy to get used to after years to being the bread winner.
When we moved into the old house we purchased for £3000, we had done a lot of work to bring it up to living standards but due to changes in our circumstances the bank took the house to clear a small loan and the mortgage. At the time although the market value of the house was put at £250,000 we did not benefit at all from all our hard work and moved into rented accommodation.
Being the people we were we made the best of it and in time with the help of our son we moved into a small house and paid him rent. We then started our charity work opening the garden to raise money for Demelza, Help the Heroes and the Royal British Legion. We managed some holidays after our dog Jessie past away and that helped to make life a bit easier. On returning from one holiday we noticed what look like a splinter in Celia’s foot, but after trying to get it out as you do with a pin it did not then appear to be as simple as that.
Appointment made with GPs and then hospitals took so long to come through that the splinter had developed into a bigger problem which eventually required Celia to go for major surgery to the Queen Victoria Hospital East Grinstead for removal of a section of her heel.
On her return from the hospital and after a period of recuperation we made plans for a holiday to build her up and that meant a very cheap package holiday to her beloved Italy. We had intended to sell up in the UK and move to Italy, buy an old house for me to spend my days doing up and for Celia to travel round Europe doing psychology lectures.
A few more holidays came and went and then a return to the hospital for more operations and them more rehabilitation time. It was both clear from the types of operation and from Celia’s research that she was in the lap of the Gods. Her cancer turned out to be caused by the second antibiotic.
So, in 2014 we had what was to turn out to be our last holiday, a holiday to Rimini and the best hotel in the town. The weather was in the upper 30s and it was all day by the pool or in the sea whilst in the evening, it was dining and dancing. Celia took the opportunity to wear every colourful outfit she could fit into a case and a half, the remaining half was for my few things.
Celia was one for surprises and on this occasion, she pulled out a special day trip to Monaco and the international boat show. So, while I dreamt of big boys’ toys bobbing up and down on the water, she was drinking champagne and eating smoked salmon in the VIP marquee.
That was October 2014 but by January 10th, 2015, 7:30 she was dead. Standing by her side was our son who was a tower of strength, unlike his sister who sadly never turned up. I removed Celia’s wedding and engagement ring and placed them behind my wedding ring. They will never move until I leave this place.
You now move into a bit of a dream world with so many things to organise, all the funeral details, deciding who should be informed and arranging the wake.
You do get through it all and eventually you start to find a new life after the death of a love one. It effects people in different ways and that is their way of coping with the loss.
I had a very big debt of gratitude to Celia and I was not going to go into a state of decline. That would have been an insult to her life before her death and her enduring memory. Yes, some people do let themselves go and that is their decision or perhaps their fate.
I for one had a relationship with a lady that was full of joy even when she knew that her river of life was beginning to ebb. So, before her illness took hold, we agreed to get out everything out of life we possibly could. That is exactly what we did.
After her sad departure the very first thing I did was to sell the TV and get out with as many people as I could. By meeting as many different individuals as possible, from that interaction you begin to develop a new you. That is what you have to do after the death of a loved one, you have to find ‘You’. Taking into account your age and any financial limitations you may have you need to get out and grab life and hang on to it. Now I have reinvented myself.
Having sold the TV, I used the license fee to fund dance class, I started with tap then moved on to ballroom and then ballet. I enjoyed the music and movement and in the case of ballroom you can hold the ladies close and as long as you do not stand on their toes! We all have fun. I go around the supermarket and say good morning to all the staff and start conversations with all the shoppers mostly women. They agree with my views on shopping, we have a laugh and a little conversation and move on our way.
I was looking for some charity work, so I found an advert about raising money for a charity by hanging off a build 541 feet high and sliding down a rope. I registered and raised £541 for the charity. I am now the Kent Ambassador for the dedicated male cancer charity ORCHID. We deal with testicular, prostate and penile cancer, all can kill but early education and intervention can save lives.
I travel all over Kent, at my own expense, giving talks to the police, SAGA, private schools and commercial organisations. I also go into LGBT groups to get the message over to all about what is available to deal with these potential male cancers.
I am also a film and TV extra. I have been in Christophe Robin and recently did a days filming for Netfilx “Crown 3” due out some time next year.
Life after death is what you make it. I am 75 going on 50 or whatever I happen to feel in the morning as I jump out of bed. I want to be getting out with people of all ages. It makes you healthier and fitter in mind and body.
I am not telling you what to do, I am just telling you what I do and, if I can do it, so can you if you have the mind to!