I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how the Illegal has naturally changed everything in some ways but I don’t think it has changed the fundamentals of my life in the way that Graeme’s tumour did.
Graeme’s diagnosis with a brain tumour in early 2005 was a life-changing bombshell in every sense.
At the time, I was only a few months into a new and exciting life as a trainee solicitor in London. I worked pretty hard at times, including the whole of my first weekend, although anything would be hard work compared to the soul-destroying boredom of law school the previous year! I enjoyed the work, I immediately clicked with some very special (in a good way!) colleagues and relished being thrown in at the deep end work-wise. I always work best under pressure: the tighter the deadline, the better for an adrenaline junkie like me!
I was also attracted by the excitement of being a simple Northern Gal in the Big City. The close proximity of our offices to the One Aldwych Lobby Bar was a big plus. As was working for an American firm with a penchant for flying its lawyers around the world to regular team-building “Retreats” and training events. Which 23-year without any commitments wouldn’t be happy to find out within a couple of months of starting work that an all-expenses-paid long weekend in Washington, D.C. was on the horizon?
From that exciting bubble, Graeme’s diagnosis changed the practicalities and motivations of my life as I switched my focus to spending as much time as I could with my brother, our parents and our circle of friends in Stockton. Most weekends and almost all holidays during the 20 or so months of his illness were spent travelling away from London to be with them.
I was a long-distance commuter with a busy working life that bore little resemblance to my weekend life dominated by brain cancer. Spending over five hours on the train each weekend was tiring. It didn’t help that I regularly travelled on the Friday night 7pm train out of London with a only seat on the floor in the vestibule if I was lucky (many years before Corbyn took my place – he’s welcome to it!).
Many colleagues at work (and certain individuals in particular, who would be mortified if I named them) were incredibly supportive, and I’m not just saying that because some of them might be reading this! With their help, somehow I muddled through and qualified as a solicitor in the final weeks of Graeme’s life. My admission ceremony at the Law Society was on my second day back at work just over two weeks after Graeme died.
At times during his illness, I definitely felt ambivalent about the importance of completing my training because my priority was supporting Team Graeme and our inspirational Team Captain above all. I now appreciate that I qualified as a lawyer when I did because it gave me a foundation on which to build a “new normal” life after Graeme died. Of course, if I hadn’t qualified as a lawyer when I did, I wouldn’t have blagged myself a job at Dicky Dees when I did and met “The Lovely Graham” on my first day, but that’s a different story…😍.
Everything Changed and Nothing Stayed the Same
Helplessly watching Graeme suffer and ultimately lose his life was awful for all of us. I only just about held on to my sanity and I felt at breaking point regularly. How could that not change everything?
Since then, I have tried to remind myself that, as we don’t know what “Unknown Unknowns” are lining up on the horizon, I should live accordingly. I have sought a balance between home, work, family and friends that makes sense to me.
I mostly enjoyed the challenge and professional satisfaction of my job in London and I gained invaluable experience; I enjoyed the prestige and salary of being a young professional in London; and, I enjoyed working with some amazing friends every day. The long hours I often worked gave me my fair share of sleep-deprivation but they also gave me a purpose for 18-months after Graeme died and I really do enjoy being a lawyer, strange creature that I am.*
However, I was plagued by a fear that my life in London was not enough for me. Partly because it didn’t allow me to be the supportive daughter I wanted to be to my dear, dear parents and partly because I wanted to live a more varied life than I had in the bubble of London lawyer life.
In other words, as every good child of the 1980s should, I took a look at myself and then made a change…and moved back Up North.
[*As I mentioned in my leaving speech, I would also never discount the possibility that my genuine affection for work came from Stockholm Syndrome 😂.]
Now Everything Changes and Everything Stays the Same
Since Graham and I have been a “serious thing” making future plans together, we have hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. We have aimed to make choices in our careers, parenting and everything else to plan for the future as well as make the most of all the many blessings we have.
We are not always successful in achieving our own expectations and hopes for the elusive work/life balance. We certainly don’t expect that our goals would satisfy everyone else even if we were to achieve them. Yet, we spend an awful lot of time and effort working out the options we have and what is best for our family; it colours everything we do. Add to this our weakness for bleak TV (Friday night is Nazi night after all!) and we are clearly a barrel of laughs. That’s probably why we have to resort to inviting ourselves to dinner parties!
The 2016 squatter has unquestionably changed a lot about our lives (our living arrangements for one!) and it brings a very big question mark over our family’s future. Nevertheless, it has not made me question for one second whether we need to re-assess our priorities and re-order our lives in the way that I was compelled to after Graeme died.
That assures me that we were on the right lines even before we were confronted with this “Known Unknown”.
I’m happy with that.