We had been married for 13 years when my husband Tony died at the age of 37. Our children were then aged eight and three. Life had been normal and then one morning I woke and found Tony dead in bed beside me. He’d had mild nocturnal epilepsy since his teens, and it appears that a fit had killed him. The cause of death was recorded as ‘Sudden Unexplained Death with Epilepsy’ (SUDEP).
In one way I was very pragmatic. I realised that my life had suddenly become very different, that I couldn’t change what had happened, and that I’d have to come to terms with Tony’s death in the next months. But it takes longer than that. Everyone grieves differently and there is no set time for how long the process should last. You will always have to live with that loss and life will grow in different ways around that.
Lots of people offered to help, and I was able to build up a network of those who supported us with cooking, housework, the kids’ homework or by being positive male role models, for example.
I thought carefully about who I asked to do what, as different people are good at different things. I learned that I wasn’t imposing. People want to help; to do something, as they are grieving too.
I also asked people who had memories of Tony and connections with him to talk to the kids about him, to help keep their memories of him alive.
About nine months after Tony’s death I went on one of Care for the Family’s Widowed Young Support weekends in London. I discovered I wasn’t the only one in this situation; other people were also dealing with their loss and were on ‘different journeys’ and at different stages of their grief.
I learned a lot of useful information about grief, especially children’s grief, and also the labels that people can give you. I felt encouraged and it reduced my feelings of being the odd one out.
I realised my children would take a while to grieve, but that I could help them. I always answer questions about their dad when they ask. They have tried to be very protective of me; as they have lost one parent, they don’t want to lose the other.
Children, too, go through different stages of grief. You can’t expect it all in the first year. No matter what age they are when they lose their dad, there will be times when they miss him. My kids are now at a point where life is changing for them, so they feel the loss of their dad in different ways.
Looking back, I wish I’d known how important it was to be kind to myself. Because of the suddenness of Tony’s death, I felt I had to live life at a faster pace to make sure I did all I needed and wanted to do. I wanted to do everything now. But there’s a time for everything, for every season that we go through, and we don’t have to do everything all at once.
Looking back, I wish I’d known how important it was to be kind to myself.
Until this happened to me I didn’t know my own potential and I realise more now what I am capable of. But I know, as well, how important it is to find balance and know when to stop. You must also feel comfortable asking for help, and realise that it’s a sign of strength to ask for it, because that means you know what you need and you are in control.
I met a Widowed Young Support befriender and she inspired me to join the team of telephone befrienders. I realised I wanted to encourage and help other people. Death does cause some things to come to an end, but it also brings new beginnings.
There are people to walk with you, who understand at least some of the journey you are on. There is hope. You will need time to grieve the loss of your hopes and dreams, and some will have gone forever, but life is still full of new possibilities and opportunities. It’s up to you to decide to take them.