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Because family life matters

Elaine’s story: “I can’t do this”

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Celebrating her fortieth birthday with her husband, Gavin, Elaine’s life changed forever when he died suddenly of a heart attack.

Ten days after my fortieth birthday we were away celebrating this milestone when Gavin, my husband of nearly eighteen years, died suddenly from a massive heart attack while walking on Snowdon. Being an organised person, I sorted out the funeral details with my two daughters and tried hard to carry on with life somehow. I went back to work, which I did from home, and, in my eyes, continued to keep it together.

A few months after Gavin died my Care for the Family magazine arrived on the doorstep and inside it there was information about a support weekend for those widowed young. My thought then was that I certainly didn’t need to attend anything like this – I believed I was coping well.

However, as I approached my forty-first birthday and therefore the first anniversary of Gavin’s death I crumbled very dramatically! I was starting to have trouble sleeping and to feel very lethargic. I was so emotionally and physically drained at this time that I found myself unable to make any decisions, however small.

After a few weeks of crying most mornings, I visited my doctor who diagnosed reactive depression and arranged for a number of blood tests to be taken. These showed that I also had an overactive thyroid.

After some time, despite the GP’s wonderful support, I still wasn’t feeling any better within myself and believed that I needed something else. It was then that I remembered the Widowed Young Support event which was taking place in Bournemouth. I booked a place.

I arrived a few hours before registration, but while walking on the beach I suddenly started to panic. “I can’t do this. I can’t go and stay with a bunch of total strangers. What am I doing? I’m going home, it’s just too difficult.” Wonderfully for me, at this exact time a very wise friend called me and asked how I was. I told her exactly how I felt and then started to cry. Her words were, “Elaine, if you don’t like it when you get there you can leave, why don’t you just go and see what you think.”

As soon as I arrived, to a lovely welcome and a card and chocolates left on my bed, I felt very comfortable. During the weekend I had so many conversations with others who had travelled a similar journey.

During the weekend I had so many conversations with others who had travelled a similar journey.

More often than not I had been finding it difficult to really express to my friends and family how I was feeling. There just weren’t words to describe the total sense of loss and grief, and how it was affecting me emotionally – the physical symptoms are easy, it’s the emotional symptoms that are difficult to explain. At the weekend, I had no need to explain how I was feeling because the others just knew.

I learnt so much on the weekend and laughed on numerous occasions. I understood the grief that I was experiencing so much better. I stopped beating myself up for feeling as though I could not cope with life, for not getting over it after a year, and for feeling useless and unable to make decisions. Instead, I accepted that I was on a grief journey that was unique to me and that there was no right or wrong way of making this journey.

That weekend in Bournemouth eleven years ago put me on the road to recovery, and I have learnt to live life and love life. I retrained as a social worker and found that helping others helps me too! The wound of bereavement has healed, albeit with a scar that occasionally gets knocked. I am forever grateful for the hope that the Widowed Young Support weekend gave to me for my different journey and my future.

Find out more about Widowed Young Support.