I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

Scotsman article Dec 019

Self-promotion isn’t really my thing. And I’m aware I don’t do nearly as much posting and blogging as I should be doing. At the same time I know that important stories deserve to be told, especially if there’s a chance they might inspire others in their own journey. 

So when the invitation came along from The Scotsman, one of Scotland’s biggest national newspapers, to write down the story of Fire & Rain, I took the opportunity to share it. The story was published on 23 December 2019 and this is what I wrote: 

We never know what’s around the corner – good or bad. I learned that the hard way when my life changed from complete happiness to utter devastation within a day.
The year 2015 started as a very happy year for David and me. After a period of working abroad and commuting between Scotland and the South of Germany for 18 months, I had finally returned home to Scotland, and to the home I shared with my partner David, for good in September 2014. I had secured a job as Senior Management Consultant back at my old firm in Glasgow where I had worked before I took on the post in Germany. So, all was well and we were enjoying life together.

I’m a Christmas baby and my birthday is on Christmas Day itself. Christmas Day 2014 was super-special as it was my 50th birthday and David presented me with a trip to Paris in March to celebrate in style. And for his 50th, also in March, we were going to fly to Düsseldorf in Germany to see James Taylor in concert – this was my birthday present for him. James Taylor was David’s all-time favourite artist and the music helped him through the more difficult times and moods in life.

So, we had a lot of lovely things to look forward to and most of all we looked forward to our future together. It still came as a surprise to me when he proposed to me on top of the Eiffel Tower. I still remember the words: ”Ute, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Would you consider marrying me?”. Yes. Yes. Yes! It was a dream come true. We had both been through a lot and had now found the person we really wanted to be with. It was the kind of relationship where we both turned into the best version of ourselves. The I-like-who-I-am-when-I’m-with-you kind of relationship.

Four weeks and two days after our romantic engagement in Paris David was dead. My strong, healthy, extremely gorgeous man, who had never been sick in his life – apart from two episodes of asthma triggered by a cat allergy – died of an asthma attack, in the hospital! Mistakes had been made in his care, but that’s a different story.

“Unfortunately, David has just passed away.” The words nobody wants to hear. Words that changed my life forever. I hadn’t expected leaving the hospital alone. With a binbag full of things. Clothes, shoes, mobile phone, keys….the accessories that had touched that beautiful body just hours previously.

I remember the days, weeks and months that followed as a blur. My daughter’s loving arms around me trying to get me to eat; friends bringing cakes, books and wine; my dear sister-in-love (David’s sister), who was grieving for her golden baby brother herself, nurturing me with her warmth and wisdom. All these were glimpses of bright light during those darkest of days. After two weeks I went back to work as I thought it would help me. Whom was I kidding??

Unless we’ve been there it’s impossible to understand the true impact of the grief over losing that special person in your life – mentally but also physically. My heart literally ached as if it was broken, the brain stopped working (serious case of widow’s brain!), I lost more hair than usual, every social interaction required an enormous amount of effort. The rage – at what or whom? During those long nights when I was lying awake I was reading greedily. My own private research journey into death, the afterlife and survival. I wasn’t interested in self-help books at all. Such as the nonsense about the stages of grief.

The only things I was interested in were: anything I could find about the afterlife – where do we all go? Stories and research on near death experiences. Also, stories of survival. People who have been there and survived. Who managed to make sense of their new normal and found new meaning. I learned to understand poetry, as well, all of a sudden. One of the biggest questions for me was: why am I still here?

My friendship with nature became even deeper and closer. She was both an important lifeline and wise teacher. I walked and walked, preferably on my own as company was both exhausting and distracting. And I didn’t want to have to explain why I stopped to listen to a robin sing or admire the dramatic display of clouds that nature had put on especially for me…obviously. I became a crazy rainbow-hunter, I saw them long before others’ eyes could make them out.

Lunchtimes were spent sitting in a corner somewhere in a café in Glasgow, crying and writing in my notebook. Having been unfamiliar with Buddhism and meditation until then, I also discovered drop-in lunchtime meditation sessions at the Buddhist centre in Merchant City. An oasis of calm in the buzzing city centre, it offered a place to sit, close my eyes and escape reality for half an hour.

The journey also led me to yoga. I had been doing Pilates for many years, but couldn’t just go back to the same routines as if nothing had happened. And I couldn’t face the pitying looks which made me feel worse than I already did, if that was possible at all.
We widows are strange creatures. It’s difficult for others to do or say the right thing. If they behave as if nothing had happened we consider it outrageous. If they say something well-meant chances are it’s still the wrong thing. Although grief is a deeply personal and individual thing, I don’t think I’m just speaking for myself here. Over the last few years I’ve spoken to so many widows and widowers who experienced grief in a similar way, for example when it comes to dealing with those looking in on us from the other side of the glass wall, i.e. those who still have their cosy, unbroken lives.

Rather unexpectedly really, I did start feeling better. Gradually, I learned to appreciate life again. At the same time came the realisation that I couldn’t afford to waste any time and effort on things that had lost their meaning for me. That everything and every day has to be meaningful is probably one of the most significant differences between my life before and after. And the desire to help others who are going through a similar hell. That’s when the idea for Fire & Rain Soul Spa was born.

I quit my job without having a source of income – that made me very creative in finding ways of making my savings last for as long as possible. And I set up my business Fire & Rain, named after the James Taylor song. Fire & Rain is a song about living through difficult times. With Fire & Rain I offer retreat holidays in stunning locations in Scotland for widows and widowers. It’s a way of sharing some of the things that have helped me in my own healing journey, with others. I already had experience of creating feel-good experiences in Scotland for guests from all over the world, from my other business Wild at Art Ltd. I had co-founded Wild at Art, which offers small group art holidays and tailor-made art experiences in Scotland, back in 2012. But until a couple of years ago it was just a small project on the side.

On the Fire & Rain retreats there’s no formal therapy, but they are all about self-care and enjoyment. About stepping back from everyday life to allow what comes up, and trying out new things that could easily be built into one’s personal routine. The soul spas build on the power of peer support and the main ingredients are: spending time in nature, yoga, mindfulness and meditation, delicious food and drink, tasteful surroundings, creative writing and other creative things, as well as a kind, compassionate, non-judgemental environment. Everything in the programme is optional. The soul spas offer space to just be – in the company of people who really understand. Feedback from all soul spa guests so far has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s so motivating to know that participants experience exactly those outcomes I set out to achieve, among the most important outcomes being that they feel more positive about their future, new ideas and inspiration, new friendships. It’s obviously limited what we can do in a few days or a week, but being in this inspiring and supportive environment can kind of spark something in people that leads to other positive steps.

I now run both Fire & Rain and Wild at Art, which keeps me busy. I still can’t accept that David had to die so young and the pain will never go away. But I’ve learned to live with it and have found meaning in what I do. Creating experiences that inspire and help others is hugely rewarding and I appreciate every day I have left in this life. We always think we have time, but I know from first-hand experience that that’s not always the case.

Dragonfly resized