Stephanie Nimmo with her family
Stephanie Nimmo with her family

LIFE HONESTLY

Is resilience possible after losing a loved one?

When Stephanie Nimmo lost her husband and her daughter, she had to make a conscious decision to be strong 

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By Stephanie Nimmo on

I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t be as strong as you. How do you keep going? These tend to be the standard responses when I tell people my story.

If someone had given me a glimpse into what the future had in store on my wedding day, I would have run a mile. Yet, here I am, many years down the line – I’ve weathered more than my fair share of storms and each experience has strengthened my resilience, built my armour, reminded me that I can get through it. I’m made of the same stuff as the next person, but I have learnt that we all have the ability to get through when life does not go to plan, to keep going, to realise that we are all stronger than we think. Resilience – it’s like a muscle: the more we use it, the more it develops.

I met my husband, Andy, when I was at university. I was 20; he was 26. I didn’t like him at first – I thought he was a bit cocky, but we got past that and, four years later, we were married. We became a typical suburban couple – successful careers, three beautiful children and plans for a big house-renovation project. Then along came Daisy, our fourth, much-wanted child. She was going to complete our family. Turns out she did more than that. Daisy was born with the ultra-rare genetic condition, Costello syndrome. She had an extreme form of it. The doctors weren’t sure if she would even see her first birthday. This wasn’t in the plan? In fact, the plan had to be completely thrown out of the window. We were now making it up as we went along; we were in Daisy’s hands.

It takes strength I didn’t know I had to get up and face the day, when really all I want to do is sit in the corner and sob

Daisy defied the odds, health setbacks would happen and she would bounce back from near death, determined to get on with life. She taught us to live in the moment. Her future was so unpredictable there was no point in worrying about it. She personified resilience and we took our lead from her – if she could keep going when things got tough, then so could we. We learnt to seize the day and celebrate the little things – time together as a family, a shared meal; we learnt that these are actually the big things, the stuff you remember. Living with the knowledge that Daisy would not reach adulthood, we embraced every moment of our time together as a family of six. We found our own kind of normal, juggling hospital stays, medical procedures and all of Daisy’s increasingly complex needs with trying to create some normality for our other three children. Just when we thought we could relax, along came another unexpected turn in our lives. Andy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

 

Andy died at home, just before Daisy’s 11th birthday. We were meant to grow old together, we were meant to see our children grow up, we were meant to be there together when it was Daisy’s time. Now, all that had been taken away from me. I found strength I did not know I had in order to get through each day as I adjusted to being a widowed parent of four, caring for Daisy, to keep going. One foot in front of the other, just as we had always done since Daisy was born. I was just about holding it together then the unimaginable happened – Daisy passed away. Our family went from six to four in the space of a year. My world has been turned upside down, but I absolutely choose not to let it break me.

When her husband, Dave, died suddenly and unexpectedly, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg found herself in what she describes as “the void”. To escape those dark days of grief, she had to learn to embrace Option B, now that Option A – the life she had with Dave – had gone. Building resilience in order to get through the tough times is about being brave enough to look Option B in the face and say, “OK, let’s do this.” I have had to do this over and over.

If you met me, you’d think I had it all sorted, but there’s a lot of work involved in getting me up and out and functioning. It’s so tempting to pull the duvet over my head when the alarm goes off in the morning – it takes strength I didn’t know I had to get up and face the day, when really all I want to do is sit in the corner and sob. Every day, I have to give myself a good talking to – Andy and Daisy are not going to come back; I have to find a new normal. I have to work hard to embrace this new chapter in my life, this Option B, while mourning the end of a chapter that I didn’t want to end, ever.

This is what resilience looks and feels like: it’s that ability to overcome the overwhelming sadness, grief and despair and drag an unwilling body up and out to face the day. The strength to put one foot in front of the other when you feel weighed down, then to keep going. It’s about having the courage and belief to know that you will get through, that you will find a new normal.  

I’m not special, I’m not superwoman, but I have no choice. I have three older children who need me to be there for them, I need to be a strong and positive role model, I need them to believe in their own resilience and have the confidence to know that they will get through.

I need them to know that they will smile again. Life is different now; we are still finding our way, but I am determined that it can still be good

@stephnimmo

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Stephanie Nimmo with her family
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Grief
Marriage
Mental Health
kids

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