The famous self-help guru Tony Robbins has identified the following six fundamental and interlinked human needs which everybody, knowingly or not, attempts to meet in order to live a fulfilling life. They are:
1. Certainty: the assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others.
Caring for a partner with a chronic disease fulfils all of these needs, although, of course, it is not a situation that anybody would consciously choose for themselves or for their loved ones.
Having small dependent children meant that all my needs did not go unfulfilled after Clare’s death. I had the certainty of the daily routine, a bit of variety, I felt needed and I found significance and contribution through my role as a parent. But as the dust settled it was clear that there were major gaps that would be difficult to fill. Of course there was and will always remain my massive and eternal love for Jack and Ben, but that is not the kind of love and connection you have with a partner; and although I was growing in certain ways I also felt contracted and stifled by the situation in which I found myself.
Clare had anticipated my need for love and companionship in those weeks and months before her death and although Jack and Ben’s welfare was her number one priority, she was also very concerned for my well-being. She would regularly bring up the fact that I needed to find that special person after she had gone.
While Clare was living at home she did not have any tangible outlets for her matchmaking machinations. But this changed once she moved into Room 3 of the Weston Hospice. There were quite a few single nurses and carers; and Clare wasted no time in assessing their suitability for the post of the future Mrs Mauremootoo! When I came to visit in those first few days I could sense that I was under surveillance and I would often hear suppressed giggles as I made my way to Clare’s room.
I knew Clare well enough to know the reason why. By doing what she was doing she was fulfilling some of her human needs in the best way she knew! When questioned, she confessed to her efforts to ensure my future happiness. We did not talk about much about it but Clare’s cupid impression continued unabated, even as her life force was failing. She was on a mission.
Joking aside, I did really appreciate the fact that Clare gave me permission to find somebody new. It was an act of generosity and foresight that does not come easily to everybody. The opposite attitude is illustrated in an extreme form in the Simpsons episode in which Homer has a triple heart bypass. Marge comes to visit him in hospital before the operation and the following dialogue ensues:
Homer: Now Marge, if the unthinkable should happen, you're going to be lonely.
Marge: Oh Homer, I could never remarry.
Homer: Darn right. And to make sure, I want to be stuffed and put on the couch as a constant reminder of our marital oath.
Of course not many people in the real world are quite as forthright as Homer Simpson. But there is a feeling of guilt when looking for a new partner after a bereavement which must be compounded enormously if you feel that your former partner did not want you to move on.
The dating game
As the months went by I began to feel the need for that special person. It was true that part of me was still in mourning for Clare. But I was expecting it to be a long quest so I thought it was better to start the first step of my 1,000 mile journey as soon as I had the strength. So I had the motivation but what about the means? As a single father with two dependent children, my freedom to seek out that special person would have, under other circumstances, been extremely limited. But by virtue of internet dating agencies there was at least some possibility of finding that somebody. I signed up to a site called Dating for Parents so that it was clear to anybody that I might meet that I was a fulltime parent and that Jack and Ben came as “part of the package” as it were.
So I (North Somerset environmental consultant with two children – Jack 10 and Ben 8; short-medium height (depending on part of the world he is based in), athletic, brown eyes, interests – all things sporty, environmental, travel, occasionally sociable) took the plunge and steeled myself for what I envisaged would be the start of my three year search. One date came and went, then another and then there was Julie (Dorset nurse with two children – John aged 10 and Isobel 6; medium height, slim, blue eyes, interests - reading, good company, kayaking, walking with the dog, exploring historical places, socialising with the odd glass of wine … and with the odd person): my third such meeting and her first.
Julie and I met in Glastonbury (the town not the festival), situated halfway between our respective homes, on Tuesday 5 June 2007. It was a day that I will never forget, although the precise details are lost in a wonderful haze of love. It was one of those occasions when time stood still, when we just talked and talked and talked as if we had known each other forever. Our walk around Glastonbury town was pretty much as random and circuitous as any walk could ever be. I swear that we went around the same streets about 10 times, before finally finding ourselves on top of Glastonbury Tor without a clue as to how we got there. We were just completely absorbed in our bubble of love. That, plus the fact that both of us have a lousy sense of direction!
What can I say about Julie? She is probably the kindest and most loving person I have ever met. She has a passion for making the world a better place and a life that centres around caring for people – she is one of those people who immediately puts others at their ease. She was previously a midwife and had been working as a nurse on the Salisbury neonatal unit when I met her. She has since then diversified into a variety of caring and healing jobs and is now blazing a trail for EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) a form of energy therapy. Julie sees the good in everybody, is adventurous, and profoundly spiritual yet is not over-earnest and zealous about all this deep, meaningful, worthy and potentially heavy stuff.
Legacies, letting go, merging families and playing the long game
Clare was still very present in my life in those early days, despite the fact that Julie and I we were deeply in love. I spoke about Clare a great deal and her legacy was everywhere in my house – photos, books, her artwork and so on. This was not always easy for Julie at the time when she, wrongly, sometimes felt second best. In a perfect world I guess Julie and I should have got together after more time had elapsed. All things considered, our romance was pretty unlikely. I was expecting a three year search, and Julie had not been long separated and only joined a dating agency because her friends had twisted her arm. So neither of us were anticipating finding a deep relationship at this stage. But I guess the universe had other plans for us. What is pretty clear is that given our circumstances, things could have never have worked if we did not love each other so much. Together Julie and I had found that perfect combination that helped us to meet those needs that were missing in our separate lives. We had found that union of two kindred spirits who could grow together as we explored our potential, and helped to contribute to the growth of those around us.
We had many hopes, dreams and aspirations, but one crystal clear objective stood out above all others – our desire to be together and merge our two families into one. The question was - How we could best achieve this taking into account the welfare of everybody concerned?
We may have found the perfect love but we were not a young couple who could just please themselves. I had two children, Julie had two children, Julie had her job, and John and Isobel had their Dad who lived close to them - a few of the very tangible things, all of which are collectively known as “baggage”. Baggage is not a word I am very comfortable with, as it implies that your loved ones and the sum of your experiences represent something heavy – a kind of burden. I prefer the words “history” or better still “legacy”. But whatever word you choose, the fact of the matter is that me, Jack and Ben, and Julie, John and Isobel did not all come from the same family unit; and, other things being equal, this does make some things more challenging than they would be for a “conventional” family. So we ended up weighing up every major decision we made with the needs of all “stakeholders” in mind.
One of many examples concerned social gatherings. Initially, we probably tried too hard to engineer the “perfect family unit” - one in which you can’t see the joins. For example, we would always want all four children to participate fully in events organised by either my friends or relatives or by Julie’s friends or relatives. But it is actually OK if this doesn't happen. We took some time to learn that! We cannot deny that some bonds will be closer than others – this does not constitute a crisis but we sometimes thought that it did in those early days when we aspired to a kind of “family communism”. Paradoxically the less you try the easier things get and over time the family has actually become amazingly fused. We now have a shared history that is systematically becoming longer than our separate histories. The joins may still be visible but we are most certainly a family unit.
In family fusing, as in so many aspects of life it is best to play the long game. To fully appreciate how far you have come you sometimes need to stop, reflect and look back down the line. One of those days for reflection was Friday 13th April 2012 when Julie and I got married in Glastonbury - our special place. All sides of the family were there including Clare’s folks as well as John and Isobel’s Dad. It was a magical day in which Julie and I could publically celebrate our love and thank everybody who helped us along our journey. There have been a few ice bucket moments along the way and no doubt there will be a few more before we are done. But ice melts and it doesn't have to keep you frozen in time.
Without the help of the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Weston Hospicecare our lives would have been so much more difficult. Both organisations rely on volunteers and donations so anything you can spare would be gratefully received.
Clare’s mother Sue-Jane has set up the Clare Viva Towner Mauremootoo Tribute Fund. All money donated goes to the Motor Neurone Disease Association.