Jim Wells says wife Grace 'has no idea' that he lost his job
Jim Wells has revealed that his ill wife Grace has no idea that he is no longer Health Minister.
The DUP man, who was forced to quit his post in April after he was accused of making homophobic remarks at a pre-election event, said his wife of 32 years was not well enough to be told.
In an emotional interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Wells, the father of two girls and a boy, said that the past six months had been the "darkest and loneliest" of his life.
Grace remains in a care home where she requires round-the-clock care after suffering two devastating strokes earlier this year.
"I have not told Grace I am no longer Health Minister," Mr Wells said. "But in a way it has protected her from all of this, and that is one positive.
"It has been extremely difficult, however, because the one person I have wanted to speak to about everything, the one person I just want to go home to at the end of the day and have them tell me everything is going to be all right, has no idea what is going on.
"She has absolutely no concept of what is happening in the outside world. There are times when she won't even speak to close family members during visits because of the way her brain was affected by the stroke, and sadly that is something that is unlikely to ever change."
The 58-year-old said it could be very upsetting to spend several hours with his wife when she refuses to communicate at all.
"There would be no point in me trying to tell her what has happened because she wouldn't understand anyway," he added.
"During my time as a minister, I had a driver called Noel, and she still asks after him every day.
"In the beginning, I was terrified Grace would see the headlines in the newspapers, but they would be sitting right in front of her and she would take no notice.
"She would have been absolutely heartbroken if she had known what was happening.
"It's been so lonely. I found the only way to cope was by getting up very early in the morning and staying out of the house until very late so I wouldn't be at home by myself, as I couldn't face it. I would have attended meetings and other events I wasn't speaking at just to keep myself out of the house."
Mrs Wells suffered her first stroke on February 3 when she was caring for her grandson, who was just one at the time. It is believed she lay in the kitchen of her home for several hours before she was finally discovered by a family member, by which stage she had suffered extensive brain damage.
She suffered a second stroke while in hospital before undergoing an operation to repair a hole in her heart, crucial to preventing her suffering any further strokes.
"I was accused of making homophobic comments just a month after doctors told us we would lose Grace," continued Mr Wells.
"Of course, at that time, I thought things couldn't possibly get any worse, but I was wrong, and there have been times since April 23 that I thought I would never get through.
"Probably the darkest moment was when I was returning home from a play and I made the fatal mistake of driving home on my own. By the time I got home to Castlewellan, I was at the lowest point of my life because I had given myself time to think and it just hit me that my career had been destroyed over something I hadn't done.
"I was overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of injustice by everything going on in my life, and I never want to live through an experience like it again."
Mr Wells said he had been overwhelmed by public support, but added he has been hurt after people he had known for four decades - and who he considered friends - stopped contacting him after the hustings event in April.
"The phone went very silent for a while," he explained. "I was maybe getting just two or three calls a day from a core group of people and I don't think I would have got through everything without their support.
"People I thought were friends stopped contacting me even to ask about Grace, and that was very difficult to cope with. I felt terribly alone. They can't have failed to know what I was going through as it was on the front of every newspaper, but perhaps they thought there was no smoke without fire."
Last week, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced that Mr Wells would not be charged in relation to the incident in Downpatrick in April.
"I wish more people had phoned - that is one thing I do wish had happened," he said. "There are still some people who I have known for 40 years who haven't spoken to me since April, and still haven't spoken to me to this day even since the PPS announced they are not going to prosecute me, which has been very difficult to come to terms with.
"Something that upset me particularly was when my old school withdrew an invitation for me to be the keynote speaker at their prize day.
"It may seem insignificant, but I was so excited about it. I felt it was a privilege to be asked, but after the accusations were made I received a call from the school to tell me they felt it would be better if I didn't attend so I could spend more time with Grace.
"Of course, I knew exactly why they didn't want me there, and I did feel sorry for the person who had to ring me and break the bad news, but it still hurt and I know I won't ever get that opportunity again.
"If there is one thing I have learned from all of this is that if someone is in a similar position to me, I will be the first person to lift the phone and ask them if they are all right and offer them some support."