Nina Joy from Leeds in the UK had an affair twenty years ago which destroyed her marriage. Nina has recently been diagnosed with stage four incurable cancer and has written this emtional letter to her ex husband asking for his forgiveness so that she can pass on with a clear mind. Read below...
Last Valentine’s weekend you popped into my thoughts, like you always do. Your birthday is the day after Valentine’s Day so the myriad heart balloons, red roses and restaurants full of loved-up couples always trigger memories of you.
When I realised the date, I suddenly felt a need to do something spontaneous — to reach out to you, wherever you are.
I logged onto Twitter and Facebook and wrote this simple message: ‘It’s my ex-husband’s birthday today. Hope you’re healthy and happy wherever you are. Thank you for many wonderful years together. I’m sorry. x’
The response from my friends and the thousands who follow me as an author was touching. How lovely, they said, to send such a heartfelt message. Of course, they wondered why I was apologising and what for.
The answer is simple. I want forgiveness. It’s a word I’ve considered a great deal in the last three years and I’ll explain why in a moment. But, in essence, I hope that by saying sorry for all the hurt and pain I caused in the past, I can convey how strongly I regret what I did — and that you will be able to forgive me.
Can it be 38 years since I first met you? We were teenagers in 1977 — me 16 and you 18. A trained chef, you’d had enough of the anti-social restaurant hours and were working at a greengrocer’s in Halifax, West Yorkshire, and I was studying at college, and would come to buy an apple every lunchtime, as an excuse for a bit of flirting.
On Friday nights, I’d make sure that our little gang of girls always ‘bumped’ into your gang of boys so we could chat. You were tall, dark and handsome and I was smitten.
We had what I’d call an ‘on and off’ relationship for several years, but we became serious after my 21st birthday party. You were part of my family. My parents loved you, as did my sister and her fiancé. We’d often go out as a happy foursome — or even six-some — enjoying meals, parties and trips out. They were very happy times. I hope you remember them fondly, too.
Tentatively, we began talking about the future together. In a nod to tradition, you asked my father for my hand and when you proposed to me on Bonfire Night in 1985 ‘because you wanted to give me a sparkler’ — a beautiful ring with nine diamonds — I was absolutely on top of the world.
Do you remember how I suddenly became all ‘left-handed’, showing the ring off as much as I could?
We began building our life as a couple: you moved from the greengrocer’s and took a job at an engineering firm. Together with my wages from the building society where I worked, we were able to save up enough money for our wedding in July 1986. It was a beautiful church wedding and the reception was held in a marquee in my mum and dad’s garden.
I was the happiest woman in the world. Hand on heart, Gary, when I said my vows, I meant them. I never ever thought I’d betray you as I did.
At first, married life was everything I’d dreamt of. I thought of you as my ‘partner in crime’ and I know you felt the same way. Our house was party central as we loved having friends and family round.
You never forgot my birthday or our anniversary, but it wasn’t about showy gifts, it was small thoughtful gestures, too. You’d bring me cups of coffee in bed — and with your chef’s training, you’d even slice up apples and oranges into beautiful designs to make a ‘boring’ dessert more appetising when I was on one of my diets. It was so lovely. Yet, I threw it all away. How could I have been so stupid?
Children were not on the agenda, we were far too busy having fun. I wonder if, had we been together longer, we might have had a family. I know you would have made a great father.
Yet it wasn’t to be: six years into our marriage, things went horribly wrong. We moved to a bigger, better house, which meant taking on a large mortgage when interest rates were cripplingly high. As the breadwinner, I felt more pressure, but I knew we’d cope. We were a team.
But you’d been unhappy in your job for some time and one day you walked out of the office and quit. Just like that. Without even discussing it with me.
I was devastated that suddenly we had such huge financial responsibilities and only one income. Our rows were huge and explosive.
Angry and resentful, I set myself on a destructive path, which led me away from you and into the arms — and bed — of a colleague.
Of course, I don’t blame you for how I reacted — it was entirely my doing — but occasionally, I wonder what might have happened if you’d only talked to me about quitting your job first. I would have supported you.
John was someone I’d worked with for ten years who was constantly flirting with me. I was very attracted to him, but always rebuffed his advances, telling him I was happily married — which I was.
But one day after you’d called me at the office — I think it was about a failed job interview — John came into my office and found me crying. He took me to lunch to calm me down, and that’s how it began. One lunch turned into several lunches, which turned into evenings out and ‘working late’ and eventually into a full-blown affair.
Because my job would often take me around the country on overnight trips, it wasn’t too difficult to hide what I was up to. It’s no excuse, but John caught me at a low point in our marriage. Yes, I was vulnerable, but I could have said no. Ultimately, I think I was looking for something that made me feel good, to take my mind away from the stresses and tension at home.
In my defence, John wasn’t just a meaningless affair. I fell in love with him — even though I was still in love with you. Those who have never been in my position will say it’s impossible to love two people at the same time, but I know it’s not.
I knew I should stop seeing John, but an affair is like a drug — it’s addictive. It was stressful living a double life, but the highs of an affair meant I kept going back. Now, with hindsight, I still can’t believe I did it. It’s a mistake I’ve learned from but, at the time, I was in too deep.
Meanwhile, my relationship with you was deteriorating. We’d stopped communicating and laughing, and became distant. My behaviour must have aroused your suspicions.
Seven months later, when we returned to our room at the end of my work Christmas party at a country hotel, you confronted me. Had you been studying my colleagues that night wondering: ‘Which one is he?’
Thankfully, John wasn’t there that night, but you must have picked up on something because when we got back to our room, you simply turned to me and said: ‘Are you seeing someone?’
Those few seconds remain, to this day, the worst of my life. Standing opposite you, a man I still very much loved, I was petrified because I knew that the next words to come out of my mouth were going to break your heart. And they did. I’m not a good liar, I had to tell you the truth.
You ran to the bathroom and threw up. I couldn’t have hurt you more if I’d stuck a knife in your back. I remember us both crying as the truth came out. Eventually, I held you tightly on the bed as we both fell asleep, broken by exhaustion and shock.
The next day is a bit of a blur. I know we left the hotel early, not wanting to be anywhere but in the sanctuary of our marital home. I remember explaining again why the affair had started, that I’d needed someone to talk to and you — being such an honourable, dignified man — even tried to understand why I had needed someone to turn to, and your part in the situation.
At first, we thought we could work it out. For me, admitting to the affair was in some ways cathartic. I’d been living a lie. We both had a sense of moving forward, although neither of us knew how, or if, we could.
One hurdle standing in our way was that I had to work with John. As a couple, we couldn’t afford for me to quit my job so I continued to work in the same office, but told John we had to cool it. Unfortunately, that was harder than I expected. I really did love him, seeing him every day fanned the flames, and the affair reignited a few weeks later.
But you knew. Every time I walked out of the door to the office, your head must have been filled with all kinds of suspicion.
Eventually, we could take no more and when you told me you could no longer trust me, we agreed our marriage was over. I’d failed it, ruined it. I let you down, my family down, and I’d let myself down.
My family were distraught. They supported me throughout it all, but they missed you and all the lovely times we had together. I never spoke to your family again. We should both be proud that our divorce wasn’t a hostile battleground. We agreed there would be no solicitors and lived separately so we could automatically divorce two years later.
You moved out and, although we spoke on the telephone, it was as clean a break as anyone could hope for in such a situation.
Still, when the divorce papers came through and I saw you’d cited ‘adultery’, it hurt. I don’t blame you, though. What a sad ending to our story. John and I were together for 15 years afterwards, although we chose not to have children.
For a good few years after my divorce I carried a huge amount of guilt and it took me a while to feel happy again. But I do now.
Sadly, John and I drifted apart and separated in 2005. Inevitably, I reflected on whether breaking up from you had been worth it. But I’d had many good years with John, and I hoped that you were happy, too, so it probably was the right outcome for both of us.
I’ve wondered about you in the intervening years. Whenever I hear I Only Want To Be With You by Dusty Springfield or a song by your favourite band, Dire Straits, I am transported back to when I was with you.
There have even been instances where I’ve seen you on the street in Halifax. When you moved into your new home, I even called and wanted to apologise then, but you hung up on me.
Remember when we happened to be in the same restaurant a few years after we split? You blanked me, understandably, and I deserved that. I don’t blame you.
But losing contact with you was like a bereavement. In fact, it was worse. At least a bereavement is no one’s fault. I had brought all this on myself. Today, I’ve no idea where you are or what you are doing. Through snippets of information from friends I have a feeling that you remarried and that you might have a stepdaughter. I think that’s wonderful because you’d be an incredible dad and a lovely husband to the right person.
I truly hope that’s the case. Please don’t think this is a plea for you to get in touch. I know you will have moved on with your life as I have with mine. The last thing I want to do is to cause you further pain. So why am I saying sorry now and so publicly?
In 2012 I went to my GP, concerned by a sudden change in one of my breasts. I was referred for tests and, although I was prepared for a cancer diagnosis, I was stunned to learn it had spread to my lymph nodes, lungs, bones and liver and was incurable.
It’s ‘Stage 4’ cancer. To give you an idea of how bad that is, there is no ‘Stage 5’. About 50 per cent of women given this diagnosis will die within 3.6 months.
I was petrified but, to be honest, my thoughts right then were not of what I’d done in the past, but of the future I wasn’t to have. I don’t subscribe to the belief that cancer is caused by something someone has done in their past. But would I see my niece get married? Would I fall in love again? It sounds bizarre, but I even wondered if I’d see the end of Downton Abbey.
But that was nearly three years ago and I’m still here. I believe that is because I’m dealing with this disease in my own way. I’ve become something of a cancer maverick and have written two books about it. It’s also inspired me to become a motivational speaker.
I’ve not eschewed conventional medicine entirely. I’ve paid nearly £40,000 for private chemotherapy at a German clinic, a kind unavailable on our NHS which targets tumours rather than damaging the body’s entire immune system.
But I’ve also researched and learned about the effectiveness of alternative treatments. Therapies that focus on the mind, the toxins we put in our body as well as nutrition. Some will label these therapies as ‘wacky’ but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is lots of evidence to the contrary and I am living proof.
Looking after your mind and spirit includes forgiveness, both forgiving others and being forgiven yourself. It came about as part of an exercise I did at a German clinic last year. Repeating the phrases ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you and I love you’ over and over again, I felt a release of negative emotion that was incredibly powerful.
Now I’m in remission. I have no cancer symptoms and I’m living my life to the full.
So you see, my apology is not entirely altruistic. Selfishly, I thought you might want to know I had cancer but truly, I don’t expect you to do anything about it.
Of course, I would love you to forgive me — and knowing you as I once did, I think you will — but you don’t have to contact me. Simply thinking it in your head or saying it out loud would be a lovely gesture.
And even if you can’t find it in your heart to give me this gift, I still maintain what I wrote in my original message last Valentine’s weekend. I hope you’re healthy and happy wherever you are. And I’m sorry.
With love, Nina