A bereaved woman has opened up feeling responsible for the “incredibly distressing” final three years of her husband’s life.
Nicky Wake and Andy looked forward to spending the rest of their lives together after meeting online in the early 2000s.
Marrying two years later and welcoming their baby son Finn, things couldn’t be any more perfect for the pair.
But when she returned home from a trip away in London with work in 2017, everything changed after he told her he’d been having chest pains, reports the Manchester Evening News.
“My blood ran cold,” Nicky, from Bury, remembers. “I had a terrible feeling. He was a typical man and didn’t like to talk about health things, but I marched him to the doctors.”
They claimed that Andy, who had always been generally healthy, was suffering from stress, but Nicky was not convinced. She insisted he underwent an ECG – and doctors discovered he was experiencing a heart attack.
He recovered in hospital and was fitted with a stent – a short, wire mesh tube that acts like a scaffold to help keep an artery open. “After about four days I took him home, thinking we’d got away with it, thinking everything was fine,” Nicky explains.
But that night, he had another heart attack. Whilst waiting for the ambulance to arrive, she performed CPR and although her efforts kept him alive, Andy’s brain was starved of oxygen and as a result, suffered a catastrophic brain injury.
What followed was three weeks of bedside agony, hoping for a miracle and after multiple resuscitation attempts, it became clear that Andy was unable to communicate or walk.
He moved into a specialist brain injury unit at a residential home where he needed 24-hour care, leaving Nicky to pick up the pieces at home, having to learn how to parent alone.
Andy’s laidback personality had changed. He could sometimes be aggressive and often mistook Nicky for his mum.
A consultant described the effect the injury had on his brain as being a filing cabinet being knocked over, where all the files are there but in the wrong order.
Nicky was forced to make the painful decision to not let Finn see his father in that way, and instead have a happier, lasting image of his dad.
At the same time, Nicky had to deal with a mountain of paperwork and legal wrangling as neither Andy nor Nicky had sorted out wills, and their savings from their events business were in a bank account under Andy’s name only.
Looking back, Nicky feels responsible for the final three years of his life in the care home because it was her that carried out the CPR.
“I found going incredibly distressing,” she admits. “Seeing the man you love as less than a shadow of his former self was utterly heartbreaking. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
“In some ways, there is a sense of regret – he would have hated every second of wherever he ended up. It was utterly heartbreaking seeing my beautiful gorgeous husband massively disabled. It was like we were in limbo. I knew that we were never going to get a happy ending and that he was never getting better.”
She adds: “Having to solo parent was a whole new world for me; I couldn’t cook! It was possibly the most incredibly challenging period of my life.”
Sometimes on a visit to the home, she would have a breakthrough moment with Andy, which happened the last time she saw him alive.
“I got on the bed with him and we cuddled. It was gorgeous, so poignant, and that’s the memory I take away from it,” she says, holding back tears.
Prior to Andy’s illness, Nicky worked in events and Andy enjoyed a high-flying career in communications with Greater Manchester Police. When she created her own events business, he helped her get it off the ground, which led to him quitting his career to work with her full-time for ten years.
As the business went from strength to strength, Andy took a step back and became the “world’s most devoted house husband,” Nicky says.
Andy’s death meant Nicky had to adopt a new identity – she was a widow at 49, among the 100,000 people a year who lose their spouse before the age of 50 – and she wanted to move forward.
“In my mind, I lost my husband five years ago,” she said. “Timelines for widows can be really complex. I thought I’d put all that [online dating] behind me but apparently not. How did I find someone who is my next soulmate?
“And modern dating has moved on so much… Tinder is like the wild west out there. I’ve used Tinder, Bumble, Hinge – I’ve had some fun dates but been sent inappropriate photographs. It’s what made me think, ‘there had to be a better way’.”
Another challenge to overcome was when to drop it into conversation with her dates that she was a widow, with it being an “elephant in the room”.
While navigating the dating world, Nicky was also attending events with a support group – Widowed and Young – and bonding with others who understood her experience.
“I go to a lot of their social events and I’ve seen that widows instantly connect, there’s an emotional shorthand there,” she said.
That deeper understanding sparked the idea of her next business, Chapter 2 – the UK’s first community and dating app for widows and widowers, set to launch in the UK on November 23.
The idea is that people can choose to use the platform to find love or companionship and friendship. “It’s much more than a dating app; it’s a community,” Nicky says. “Chapter 2 means different things to different people.
“If I can help some people find joy again, which I was bereft of for five years, that would help me make sense of my loss almost. We’re all navigating this horrible world that none of us wanted to be a part of.
“What I’m doing is trying to help people find joy again and realise that they can move into a different chapter but still respect what’s gone before. At no point do we use the word ‘move on’, it’s ‘move forward.'”
Nicky says the platform will act as a forum and community for widows, and as well as serving as a dating site, there will be a legal and financial support section, an emotional support section, plus advice on solo parenting, children’s grief, and how to navigate blended families.
Knowing that many users will have never been online dating, Nicky says she wants to ensure it’s a safe space online, with a detailed sign-up process, images taken within the last 12 months, a code of conduct, and the opportunity to report profiles.
With no age limit, Nicky is hoping to match a couple in their eighties. And, down the line, she hopes to host socials using her experience in event management.
“I’m hoping I find my chapter two,” Nicky says, speaking of her own hopes of finding love.
“I think that that’s around the corner out there somewhere, but I’ve certainly not found it on Tinder, Bumble, or any of those. Nothing makes me happier than helping other people find joy, but if I can find the joy on the way, that would be lovely.”