Sunday 25 February 2018

Camilla Griehsel on losing her husband: 'You become very aware of each day. It's important to tell people that you love them'

Camilla Griehsel (51) is a singer-actress. Born in Sweden, she and her husband, Colin Vearncombe (singer Black), came to live in Schull, west Cork with their sons - Max (25), Marius(18) and Milan (14). Colin died last year

Camilla Griehsel. Photo: Emma Jervis Photography
Camilla Griehsel. Photo: Emma Jervis Photography

Ciara Dwyer

I wake to birdsong, with the sea right outside my window. I have a view of Cape Clear. I let the dogs out and then I get the boys up. I live with my two sons, Marius (18) and Milan (14). Max, the eldest, lives with his girlfriend, Polly, and their baby, Arthur.

I grew up by a lake in Stockholm. As a child, I spent all my time outside - skiing, sailing and swimming. Then, after 15 years in London, and with three children, I was very keen for them to have something like that experience. We arrived here in 2003. It was a relief to be able to see the horizon. Hearing the waves lapping calms you down. You learn that the troubles are going on in your head and everything else out there is a constant. No matter what, the tide still comes in and goes out. Going outside has always helped me during difficult times.

I get up and make porridge. I still make the boys' lunch, even though they are big boys. I love being a mum. I relish the whole experience of everyday activity, even more after things have been so shocking. You just become very aware of each day and the preciousness of it. Marius got his driving licence six months ago, so he drives to school with Milan. It's wonderful not to have to do the school run any more. We always say, 'drive safely'. Those words take on a different importance now. They were the last words I said to my husband Colin before he had his car accident. I had also told him that I loved him. Many people would know him by his stage name - Black - and be familiar with his hit song Wonderful Life.

He died on January 26 last year. He was driving to Cork Airport, on his way to Edinburgh, where he was going to write some songs with a colleague. There was some black ice on the road. Another car was coming in the opposite direction. The back of Colin's car swerved and he got hit very hard. Because it was a sideways crash, there were no air cushions. Luckily, two firemen came along. They were able to get the right kind of emergency help very quickly and they were in Cork University Hospital, with Colin, within half an hour. He was still breathing. He went straight to ICU [Intensive Care Unit]. That was on January 10.

It was a massive concussion. For the first week, they didn't know what was going to happen. He was already unconscious, but they put him more under so that he could recover. He looked absolutely fine, apart from a bang on his head. He looked like he was sleeping. We had 16 days. In the beginning, we were full of hope. Then the surgeon told us that it was very unlikely that he would wake up, and even if he did, he would not be able to do anything for himself.

I got a second opinion. Then we had to decide to turn off the respirator. That was very tough. When we turned off the machine, we were all with him - our children, his parents, my sister and his manager. We sang to him until he drew his last breath.

When Colin was in hospital, we stayed in Bru Columbanus. It is a hostel especially for people who have near and dear ones in the hospital and don't live close enough to be there. It is all free. At a time like that you are so distraught, but it is a great relief that you don't have to worry about anything money-wise. Usually that is another thing.

Colin's mum and brother arrived the day after his accident, along with his manager and my sister. All of us were able to stay there. There is a communal kitchen, so you can bring your own food and cook. You meet lots of people who are in the same situation as you. It was a great help, because we could talk and console each other. Bru Columbanus is a five-minute walk from the hospital. Sometimes I wasn't able to sleep, so I'd get up in the middle of the night and just sit with Colin or wash him.

I am so grateful to Bru Columbanus. These days, a lot of my time is taken up working on fundraising events to help them. We have performed Colin's songs at some concerts, and there has been extraordinary generosity from artists and audiences. When we sang in Cork Opera House, it felt like a sea of love. Music has been a great healer for me.

Now we have this special sun pendant to raise funds, too [Camilla is holding and wearing the silver version, above]. It has a smiling sun and it is exactly like one I had made especially for Colin when we first met.

Colin and I had been separated, but I had moved back into the family home. We weren't sleeping in the same bed, but we were living together as a family. It was probably the best ever, working together as a family.

I'm a singer and an actress and my career was on hold when the boys were smaller. But I was getting back to performing. When Colin had the accident, I was in the middle of a master's degree in performance. I deferred it, but I will finish it. I spend my days singing and rehearsing and working on new material.

My latest project, Mother and Sun, is about life from a mother's perspective. Going around the world and stopping off in different places, following the sun.

I work from home, because I want to be here for the boys. We need each other. It's not like we talk about Colin's death all the time. We are doing OK and we just get on with things, but life has changed. You are much more present now; present to how much you love people and how much they mean to you.

Every day I say: 'I love you'. I've always done that anyway, but now it has taken on a different importance. It becomes very important to say what you need to say, every day.

enibas.com

Enibas jewellers launches the 'Wonderful Life' pendant in memory of Colin Vearncombe (Black). It is in aid of the Bru Columbanus charity

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