Valentine’s Day

Thank you to all of you that sent me love and positive thoughts on Valentine’s day and again to those who checked in on me to let me know that you were thinking of me on that most difficult of days for the newly bereaved. Your words meant a lot to me.

A lot of you have been asking and probably more of you wondering how my Valentine’s Day went so I will tell you: Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, was a very difficult day. I knew in advance that it would be difficult and so I made plans to make it less horrible than it needed to be.

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How I was expecting to feel on Valentine’s Day

I woke up in the morning sad, like many days without Terry. I made myself a cup of coffee and dug out the last Valentine’s Day cards that Terry and I had exchanged just one year ago when the world was perfect and right and we were able to celebrate our love together. For those of you that may not have known Terry very well, Terry LOVED Valentine’s Day. I understand those who complain about it being commercial, but deep down I knew that Valentine;s Day was created for men like Terry who loved love. Terry loved being in love with me and spoiled me rotten every single year that we were together. In the early days he would send me care packaged filled with my favourite chocolates and when we lived together he would make me breakfast in bed and shower me with love. I sobbed as I read the cards we gave each other last year. We were pretty broke last year, which was usual for us at the time, so I made Terry a card and a list of reasons that I loved him. One year later and in the wake of his death, those reasons ring even more true. He gave me a card with a button on it that read ‘Perfect Wife’ which I wore to school even though I thought it was a bit cheesy and all of my students  admired it, saying how romantic my husband was. They were right, of course.

I worked last year on Valentine’s Day and after work Terry took me out to dinner at our favourite Thai restaurant in Bicester where we ordered our favourite crab cakes that tasted just like the ones we made at the cooking class we took on our honeymoon. We  ate crab cakes and reminisced about our honeymoon and where we would like to celebrate our upcoming fourth wedding anniversary. We had decided on Devon last year for our fourth wedding anniversary and were undecided about where to spend our fifth, but we were constantly dreaming up places to celebrate.

Like most important dates, Valentine’s Day this year was divided between reliving every second of our last Valentine’s Day together in excruciating detail and thinking about what we would have done if he had been alive for this one. I spent hours remembering the way he smiled at me and held my hand over dinner, the look on his face as I opened and read his card and the look on his as he read the list of reasons that I love him out loud to me and then put it on the fridge using our Cheers From Belgium magnet, where it stayed for months. While sobbing and asking Terry how this could happen to us and how our love could end like this, I dreamt of what we would be doing if he were here with me. We would still be in our lovely home in Bicester and we would have paid off almost £18,000 in debt, which we would have spent most of the day talking about. I would have baked him chocolate chip cookies, his favourite, and we would have exchanged handmade cards before cooking ourselves a lovely dinner and cuddling up on the couch in front of a movie. We wouldn’t have spent any money this year, but would have talked in detail about our forthcoming weekend in Oxford when the credit cards were paid off. We would have dreamt of our future and never would it have occurred to either of us that we would ever celebrate a Valentine’s Day one without the other. That was unthinkable.

Valentine’s Day morning was emotional, as I had anticipated, but I made plans for dinner in with my housemates to give myself something to look forward to. I drove myself to Starbucks for a treat, then went grocery shopping with my housemate where we picked up steaks for dinner and then I baked pink, hearth shaped chocolate chip cookies that Terry would have loved and ate steak and drank prosecco while watching The Other Guys. We laughed and had a good time.

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Homemade Valentine’s Day Cookies – they tasted just as good as they look 🙂

Valentine’s Day had it’s highs and lows but was survived this year. Like Christmas, I hope that next year I may be in a position to celebrate rather than just survive it, but only time will tell what the next Valentine’s Day will bring, for if you had asked me last year what this year’s Valentine’s Day would bring me, I could never have imagined this.

The Story of Us

A few members of a widowed support group to which I belong have been writing down the stories of how they met their partners and how they found themselves widowed as a way to get to know each other. I was so inspired by other members’ stories that I decided to write a very brief story of Terry and Mandi. The words just flowed and it was painful to write, but cathartic at the same time. As many of you only knew Terry and I briefly, or for one part of our relationship, and others of you don’t know me at all, I decided to share it here: Terry and I met at London Gatwick airport in May 2006. How romantic, people would say when we told them this, just like in a movie! In truth, Terry’s dad worked in motorsport and had moved the family to Indianapolis in the states when they were younger and they ended up living right next door to the man who would marry my sister. Terry was best friends with his younger brother and when I studied French in Toulouse while at university, my sister recommended that I travel to England and stay with this family that her husband had introduced her to when they lived in London. My brother in law sent an email to Terry asking if he could host me for a few days and he responded by jokingly asking if I was hot. In hindsight, she said she knew that we were both single, but had no idea that we would hit it off as well as we did. Terry picked me up from Gatwick aiport on a flight that arrived 2 hours late from Dublin. I spotted him first as he had fallen asleep waiting in a Costa Coffee. He was gorgeous. I still reread my travel journals from those couple days where I wrote down my reaction to meeting my future husband for the very first time. I was to stay at his house for two nights and then spend two nights down in London before flying home to Nashville, however we got on so well that I cancelled my trip to London and spent the entire four days with Terry. We took a few hikes to some local pubs and explored Oxford together. He was a rubbish tourist guide, but oh so cute! I couldn’t understand everything that he said, but I absolutely adored him. We kept in touch via e-mail over the summer and I booked a flight back to the UK to visit in December where he introduced me to all of his friends and family as his girlfriend. I graduated from university in July 2007 and was offered a job in West Africa doing small business development with the Peace Corps. It was my dream job, but my mom told me that if I accepted the job Terry would break up with me as no man would just sit around and wait for me for two years. I was terrified to tell Terry that I had taken the job offer, but he was so proud of me! He thought it was the most amazing opportunity that he had ever heard of and immediately made plans to visit me. I moved to Senegal, West Africa in September 2007 and lived there for 2 years. During that time Terry came to visit me twice and my whole town fell in love with him, as did my coworkers. I flew up to England to visit twice as well. There were 43 of us that arrived in Senegal together, many of whom were in relationships, but at the end of those two years Terry and I were the only couple that was still together. We knew then that our love could survive anything. I moved back to the States after my contract in Senegal was up and took a job at a call centre to raise money for a huge backpacking trip that Terry and I spent hours on the phone planning. When he came to visit me in December of 2009 he proposed. As we were saving up all of our money for a backpacking adventure, his mother recommended that we get married first and turn our trip into a honeymoon. She meant have a proper wedding, but Terry and I booked a two day stopover in Las Vegas and were married on March 8, 2010 at the Chapel of the Flowers, with Elvis singing I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You, I had always wanted to get married in Vegas in a fabulous dress and shoes and we were so happy with our wedding, Feelings were hurt that we eloped and didn’t invite many to the actual wedding, but we were so very happy. The next day, having won $300 on Keno machines the night before, slightly hung-over and feeling like the luckiest two people in the whole world we flew to Hong Kong to begin our six month honeymoon throughout Southeast Asia and the USA. We spent 14 weeks backpacking around Asia before flying home to the States where we began a two month road trip to visit our friends and family that were scattered across the country. Terry loved the idea of a big American road trip, he loved being able to drive for 24 straight hours and still be in the same country, and he loved nothing more than buying big cups of root beer for less than a dollar, which he did at every gas station before he put on Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again as we took off to our next destination. While on honeymoon in Southeast Asia, I got a job offer to teach English in the north of France. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t take it, I told Terry. When he asked me why not, I said because we were now married so I couldn’t just move to France. He told me that was the silliest thing that he’d ever heard and that he would rather I spend a year in France if that’s what I wanted to do than listen to me complain about that one time I could have moved to France but didn’t for the rest of his life. Go, he said, and I never loved him more than in that moment. And go I did to Amiens where I taught English to primary students for seven wonderful months, spending all of my weekends exploring Paris, which was only an hour away by train. Terry came to visit at least once a month and we had so much fun exploring the north of France together. While in France, I applied for my UK Spouse Visa through the Paris consulate and we were devastated to find that our application had been refused on the grounds that they didn’t think that Terry could support me on his salary alone with accessing benefits to which I was not entitled. We appealed the decision and were ultimately successful, but I cried every day for the ten months that it took us to win the appeal. I was finally able to move to the UK on 28 December 2011 and we were so happy. We moved into a beautiful one bedroom house in Bicester, close to my beloved Oxford. I took a job at Starbucks in Bicester Village while Terry continued to work as a carbon fibre technician for his dad’s company. I was accepted to train to teach at Oxford University and Terry was so proud of me. He bought me a bottle of champagne and cooked me steak-frites – his specialty – to celebrate. Terry hadn’t done very well in school, failing most of his GCSEs and was so proud of his clever wife. He used to hope and pray that our children got my brains – while I used to hope and pray that they got his common sense and his beautiful blue eyes. I finished my teacher training and got a job at a wonderful girls school where I passed my first year of teaching with flying colors. Terry was so supportive and would run to the store for Ben & Jerry’s when he came home to find me crying after a bad day at work. I love you, he would tell me, everything will be fine! And it was. We both had jobs that we loved and, having spent five years living in different countries we were finally together and we loved every single day that we got to spend together, truly we did. As a result of so many years of international flights, an Oxford education and some compulsive spending habits, Terry and I found ourselves £50,000 in debt. We knew we were in over our heads and vowed to become financially stable before starting the family that we so wanted to have. Beginning in March 2014 Terry and I decided to stop spending money unnecessarily and to put all of our extra money towards our debts, aiming to be debt free in March 2017. We paid off over £10,000 in the first seven months alone and we celebrated with a bottle of prosecco and steak frites on Saturday 27 September 2014. The next day Terry went to a race with some friends and came home with a sore throat. He went to bed early and was up all night violently ill. We both thought that he had food poisoning. He stayed home from work on Monday with a fever and texted me at lunch time to let me know that he had called the doctors, who had told him that it was most likely a viral infection, so he took some ibuprofen. I left work as soon as school was over to go home and care for him, only to find him unconscious on the couch. When I hear the word unconscious, I think of someone lying there peacefully, but in truth it was nothing like that. He was breathing, but was making a horrible noise doing so, I called 999 and the ambulance rushed my husband to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where he had been born thirty years earlier. His family rushed to meet me and we stayed by his side until the early morning. The doctors suspected that it was bacterial meningitis and told us to hope for the best, but to prepare for the fact that my husband might die. We went home to try and sleep and were back by Terry’s side early the next morning. Hours later, the doctors would perform a brain apnea test that Terry would fail and Terry would be officially pronounced dead, 36 hours after coming home with a sore throat. Everything went black, and then numb. Hours after his death, Terry fulfilled his lifelong wish of donating all of his organs and his donations saved 6 lives, which makes me so very proud, Afterwards, many of our friends would register to donate their organs in Terry’s honour. Terry and I were together for 9 years, were married for 4 ½, but only lived in the same country for less than 3 years. Ours is an unusual love story but, as I used to tell Terry, ours is one of life’s great love stories. When I said those words to my husband so many times, I pictured a happy ending to our love story, but ours was destined to be a tragedy. I try so hard not to cry that it’s over, but to smile because it happened at all and truly I was blessed to love and be loved so deeply by such an amazing man as Terry. For a few short years, I was the luckiest woman in the world.

What Goes Up…

…must come down, so they say. Remember when I worked out that I could be debt free in 4 years through careful budgeting and sheer determination? February was off to a very promising start until I logged into my bank account today to see if my deposit had been returned and noticed that the estate agents for our previous home had withdrawn rent for the entire month of February – £690 – with no notice and the deposit had still not been paid into my account. Because I wasn’t anticipating paying that rent – the rent for my current property didn’t go through due to insufficient funds.

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My face when I saw my bank account today photo credit: MissBlythe via photopin cc

And so February’s optimism has been well and truly crushed – by the second. I have contacted the estate agents and they have promised to refund both my deposit and February’s rent. Here’s to hoping that this gets sorted soon and I can once again try to sort out my finances. Le sigh.

My New Debt Free Plan

January’s enthusiasm was lost on me as I struggled to comprehend how a new year could begin without Terry in it while moving house, paying rent for both my new house and the old one and beginning back at work again after over three months away. Thankfully, our old house rented and the estate agents are no longer charging me rent there meaning that February is shaping up to be the first month since Terry died that my expenses will be less than my salary. I will be able to live within my means, which is really important to me. The past four months have held so many things to worry about that I hardly had a moment to spare to think about my finances – thank goodness as they are a mess!

I currently have approximately £30,000 ($45,000) of student loans and a little over £6,000 to pay off of my car and I am just stable enough to really start thinking about paying it off on my own. I have created a new budget for myself allowing £100 for groceries (small, but doable I hope) and £100 for social activities and adventures each month. If I can stick to my budget and put all extra money towards my debts, I am hoping to pay off £36,000 of debt by December 2018. Yes, you read it here first: I am aiming to begin 2019 DEBT FREE.

As I embark on the second attempt at paying off my debt, I feel much more forgiving and lenient with my finances than I was the first attempt only 11 months ago. I am prioritising fun but am putting a realistic limit on it so that I can indulge within reason. Today may be the first day of February, but it feels like the start of a new year to me – January was rubbish, so I’m just ripping that page out of the calendar and looking to see which cat with a hat February holds (thanks for the calendar Erin!)

As February is the beginning of my new year of budgeting, I tried out a new frugal recipe for lardy buns – a basic version of the pain aux raisin that I’ve been craving – resulting in a delicious smelling home and these bad boys:

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I managed to save a few for breakfast tomorrow at school as I begin my first full workweek since Terry died. Wish me luck!