I don’t know what it’s like for others who have lost their partners, but for me, the first year of life without Ant was largely spent in survival mode. For most of that first year, I couldn’t look forward into the future because it was unbearable to think of being part of a future that didn’t have Ant in it. The furthest I’d look ahead was that blessed moment each night where my eyes would close. That’s when I’d get seven hours to recharge for another day of playing the role of ‘functional human being’.
While survival mode is not a fun place to operate, it narrows your focus to the present moment. It dissociates you from the reality of your loss. And this goes a long and welcome way to numbing the pain of that reality.
Unfortunately, in Year Two, the three of us couldn’t avoid the reality of life without Ant any longer. We couldn’t restrict ‘the future’ to the moment in the evening where we fell asleep.
And that was hard.
Some days, the pain became too hard to manage and consequently, the kids missed more school due to sadness this year than last year. For them, the five or so weeks of COVID lockdown were actually a bright spot in the year – a chance for us three to bunker down, and be together 24/7 in our own little bubble.
When school and basketball started back, Monday mornings were the worst times in our house.
Jaden’s WABL game each Sunday was the thing that pulled him through the week. Win or lose, those 90 minutes of being fully absorbed in the game were always a high point. But the come down from that high would always start immediately after the game and hit its peak on Monday morning.
For Mia, the whole weekend was a high point because she would be with me for most of the time and Monday mornings brought with them terrible separation anxiety.
After a few months of dealing with this Mondayitis, we all had to make a pact with each other. We agreed that, yes, we were sad all the time. But we had it in us to do the hard thing of keeping moving forward despite that sadness. And the way we could do that was to put our sadness in metaphorical backpacks. Some days they’d feel relatively light. Other days, they’d feel full of bricks. But those backpacks would allow us to carry our sadness around in a way that would leave our hands, bodies and minds free to engage fully with the day.
This backpack analogy served us well for most of the year but I will admit, its weight got to be more than I could handle when my beautiful bestie, Nat, succumbed to the cancer she’d been living with for three years. Losing Nat in May was followed in close succession by Ant’s birthday, Jaden’s birthday, my birthday, Father’s Day and our wedding anniversary.
I battled hard to get through this period, calling on every tool and resource I had available to me: daily exercise, eating well, sleeping well, doing work that was meaningful for me, contributing to something bigger than myself (via my volunteer role with the Perth Redbacks), connecting with friends and family, seeing a psychologist, meditation and being grateful for all that was good in my life.
In the end, however, and to my great dismay, all these tools and techniques fell short. Having previously experienced depression, I knew that here it was again. I was quite frustrated because I’d worked so hard not to fall in that hole. When I’d had depression previously, Ant had been there to pick up the balls I dropped and carry a greater load in our family. I knew if Jaden and Mia cottoned on to how I was feeling, they would try to be the ones to carry that load. And bless them, but I didn’t really feel that was an appropriate thing for an 11 and 7-year-old to be trying to do.
So in the end, I tried the one resource/tool I’d not called on before and that was going on antidepressants. And in the same way anxiety medication changed my life many years ago when I first made use of it, so too has the antidepressant medication made a huge difference. All the energy I’d previously been channelling into maintaining a stable and neutral state of mind could now be redirected to being emotionally available to the kids and into my work. (These being the two things I really needed to feel like I was doing ‘well’ in order to maintain a sound sense of self.)
Which brings me to now. The second anniversary of losing Ant.
It’s shocking to me that it’s been two years. But here we are. I’m so proud of the two humans pictured here with me. They miss Ant SO much. To their minds, they had the perfect dad, the perfect family and the perfect life. It’s amazing to me that they manage to keep moving forward having had that all ripped away from them. But they do. And while people do like to give me the credit for that, it really has been a massive team effort, one that literally everyone in our life (family, friends, acquaintances and even people who don’t know us personally) has contributed to. So much so, if I started listing people, I’d never stop. (Or worse, I’d forget someone.)
I do, however, want to give a special shout out to the people I consider to be the kids’ ‘second families’. They know who they are. While the kids really struggle to be away from me, these two households are places where they feel safe and loved and are able to get a break from the heaviness of being at home (where they are highly attuned to my moods and thus always on high alert, looking out for me). These households are where they get to be ‘just Jaden’ and ‘just Mia’. And this has been absolutely priceless.
I also need to shout out my own ‘second family’.
When I joined the Perth Redbacks Board at the end of 2019, people thought I was crazy. But I was keen to do something that would keep me very busy and give me something to talk about other than how sad I am all the time. While being in any basketball environment is a constant reminder of Ant, it’s also a welcome and much-needed connection to him. This year, the basketball club has been a place where I can be ‘just Kelly’ and that’s been huge for me personally.
My work has provided me with that same refuge and I’m so grateful to the people who have provided me with employment during 2020. While my little family was appropriately insured for the situation we found ourselves in, I do still need to generate an income so that we can live life the way we’re used to. Having work and doing a good job for my clients is crucial for my mental health. So huge thanks to Kate, Martine, Claire, Bernadette, James, Josh, Tim, Ralph and Matt for trusting me with your book projects in 2020. And big thanks to Rob for snapping up 50% of my available working hours in 2021. This has removed a huge and ongoing stress for me.
And finally, thank you to YOU.
If you are reading this post, then please be assured, we know we have your love and support. I know people stress a lot about ‘not having been in touch’. But honestly, it’s not necessary. And truthfully, there is a load that goes with replying to ‘keeping in touch’ messages that I sometimes feel I handle poorly.
The important thing for you all to know is this. While I don’t know what this third year without Ant will hold, I do know that whatever we need to make it easier and more bearable, you are all there to help.
We are so grateful.