Jim Wells 'dreading Christmas without Grace being at home'
Jim Wells will spend Christmas day with his precious grandson as his wife remains in a care home after suffering three strokes this year.
The DUP MLA has revealed he is dreading the coming fortnight as families across Northern Ireland join together to celebrate the festive season.
The Christmas period will be very different compared to previous years for the DUP MLA as wife Grace - who he describes as "the heart" of the Wells family - continues her recovery in a Co Down nursing home.
"I could smile and say everything is wonderful, but it's a lie," he said.
"I am very fortunate that I will spend Christmas Day with my daughter and her family, especially her son, my grandson, Josiah.
"He has been a wonderful light throughout the most difficult period of my life."
Mrs Wells (57) suffered a stroke at the family home in February. She subsequently suffered two more strokes in hospital, and Mr Wells was warned she may not survive - before she underwent surgery to repair a hole in her heart.
Mrs Wells spent a total of seven months in hospital where she underwent intensive rehabilitation, but she has so far been unable to return home due to the effects of her strokes.
As a result, she is now living and being cared for in a residential care home in Banbridge.
Like many families, Christmas has been a tough time for family and friends of Grace and 58-year-old Jim.
This year, Mr Wells has not even put up a tree in their home.
"It all sounds terribly sad, but I don't even know where the decorations are," he explained.
"Grace was a home economics teacher, so she was wonderful at cooking and decorating the house for Christmas.
"She was a typical rural housewife. Every time I came home she would be up to her elbows in flour, baking something. She was always cooking.
"Our house was always full with all the children's friends, so it seems terribly quiet.
"We would hear them laughing their heads off. There was very much an open-door policy in the house, but obviously I am alone this year.
"Grace ran everything with such precision. She would organise a full schedule of visiting family and friends, and when it came to Christmas Day all I was expected to do was turn up with my knife and fork.
"Grace was the heart of our family, so I have to admit that I am dreading this year.
"We will be able to bring Grace to my daughter's for a few hours before taking her back to the nursing home to rest for a while, and we will visit her for a few hours in the evening.
"I think Grace knows it is Christmas soon, but she wouldn't know when it is.
"I know that Christmas Day won't be too bad because I will be spending it with the family, but it is the period between Christmas Day and New Year that I'm worried about.
"I will see Grace every day. We try to make sure she has something to do every day.
"I have an adapted car and our three children are now insured to drive it, so we try to get her out as much as possible.
"I do spend an awful lot of time with Grace at the nursing home, so much so that I think the staff must be bored looking at me, but I've found over the year that the worst thing to do is sit at home by myself, and Christmas just makes it harder.
"I've worked out that the best thing to do is stay out of the house, so I try to get up early and stay out until as late as possible.
"Actually, I have found one of the best places to be at night is Stormont.
"It's funny that I can be in a building with 400 rooms and one security man and feel less lonely than when I'm at home, but I do get a lot of paperwork done.
"It has been an incredibly difficult year.
"This time last year I had the job of my dreams and had a happy and healthy family.
"It's amazing how much things can change in one short year.
"One thing that has helped me through the difficult times is the support that I have had from the public, even from people that I don't know.
"I am certain that, without that support, I would have done something stupid. I certainly wouldn't have coped with everything."
Earlier this year, Mr Wells revealed his wife of 32 years still did not know he was no longer health minister.
The South Down MLA stood down from the post after he was falsely accused of linking child abuse and gay marriage, prompting a police probe into the alleged comments.
The Public Prosecution Service subsequently announced that the case against Mr Wells had been dropped.