Our Widowed Young Support Coordinator, Danielle Patton, shares how her summers changed forever and how she found a new way forward with her family.

The Beatles once sang, 'There are places I’ll remember. All my life, though some have changed.'

Indeed, there are places and moments in time that will deeply resonate within us, each one very unique and very precious. There are so many of these places and moments that carry great significance for each one of us, especially for those who have been bereaved.

For my children and I, one of these places was Portnablagh in County Donegal, Ireland, where we spent happy summer holidays as a family. At the time, I had no idea that those two weeks in July 2013 would be the last time we holidayed there as a family of five. I had no idea that I would be planning a funeral a month later, after my husband was tragically killed in a road accident on 19 August 2013. Suddenly, there was another moment and place that I am unable to forget, and I could show you exactly where I was standing in front of my house when a police officer stood in front of me and delivered the news that would devastate and forever change our family.

We had just had an amazing time away as a family, and the rest of that summer was set to be a time of barbecues, picnics at the beach and ice cream on the North Coast. We had been enjoying day trips and walks in the forest in the days preceding his death, but summertime had changed. His absence loomed heavily and painfully as we tried to survive what was left of the summer and prepare my two oldest children for the start of school in September. My four-year-old was starting her first day of primary school within days of the funeral.

Summertime had now become something that we just wanted to ignore. The very idea of going away on holiday without my husband was not something I even wanted to contemplate. Going away on holiday by myself with three children was not even remotely desirable. I knew that the children still needed to find some joy over the summer. A friend of mine had become a single mother only months before I had been widowed, and although it was not through bereavement, we both knew we needed to find a way to navigate this new season of single motherhood. We would get together with the kids for days out and meals together.

However, the children and I struggled with the idea of going away on holiday, and none of us wanted to go without Daddy. I dreaded it when people would ask me what I was doing with the children for the summer holidays, and I would come away from these conversations feeling guilty that I wasn’t forcing myself and the children to enjoy the summer in the way we had before.

Honestly, none of us were ready, and I refused to be forced to just ‘move on’ and ‘get over it’. The grieving process is a journey, and grief is not contained to a specific time of year or season. Grief is relentless, overwhelming and unpredictable. It can happen at any moment, whether expected or unexpected. We had to navigate this in our own way and at our own pace. Just because we weren’t holidaying in the same way that other families were, did not mean that we were not creating new memories. It meant that life had changed, and so had the way in which we spent our summertime.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on how you should navigate grief. Maybe others felt ready before I did, but I just did not want to face it. It wasn’t until the summer of 2016 that we felt ready as a family to go away somewhere, and we decided to return to Donegal, albeit a different part. My father offered to fly over from America and go away with us. This was so significant because it meant that I could have his support as we took this step. I did not have to do it alone. For the first time since that summer in 2013, we were excited to create a new way of spending the summer holiday. We had an absolutely amazing time, and we created some incredible memories. I needed that support the first time; to have someone with me who would be supportive and not critical of how I was doing things. Now, we go away for a week or two every summer. The summertime is not as daunting, even though Russell’s absence is still very much felt. We take day trips, have barbecues, go for ice cream and spend time at the seaside. We do it while remembering Russell. I can smile when I watch the children play, and I have found the ability to do new things in new ways at our own pace. There is always that awareness of absence, and there are moments when it hurts because he is missing so much. However, we continue to move forward and carry his memory with us.

I remarried in 2019, and now we are creating more memories in a new way. Alastair is now the person that helps us navigate the summer and do things in a new or different way. It is now a completely different dynamic. Russell is in no way being replaced, and his memory is very much present every single day.

In all of this, I have learned to cherish every moment and make the most of life and holidays with my family. Maybe we do things a bit differently, but we are spending the summer in new ways and at our own pace.

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