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Widowed at 26 years old

In this blog, Olivia shares her experience of grieving for her husband. She reflects on her experience of the journey of grief and starting this process early – grieving before a loved one has passed. 

From a night out to a life changed

The 18th of March 2019 is a date that has been etched into my heart forever, a permanent scar in my memory which will never fully heal. On that day I watched the love of my life, my best friend, my everything, die. After a nearly three-year battle (and I know some patients think that word is clichéd, but trust me, life had become exactly that) with chondrosarcoma, a rare cancer, my husband drew his final breaths.

Dave and I met aged 18, working at a supermarket. We didn’t actually talk that much at work, however one evening bumped into each other on a night out with our friends. We made the most of the evening’s Dutch courage with a dance and a kiss, swapped numbers, and I suppose you’d say the rest is history.

Fast forward seven and a half years and I am widowed at 26. Life, changed forever.

The first few days after Dave’s death are somewhat blurry. I remember barely eating (not like me!), crying in the supermarket because I couldn’t decide what to buy, and having a meltdown about getting in the shower. It was probably because I just didn’t feel motivated – what was the point in doing anything at all now that Dave was dead?

Grieving early

Nearly eight months on and every day still hurts, but the levels vary. Grief is a very personal journey, and everyone’s experience is different.

I started grieving for Dave when he was still alive, and other widows and widowers have told me the same of their terminal partners. I believe it’s partly because I started this process “early” that I’m coping relatively well, better than I expected.

There are other factors which help. I have an amazing network of family and friends, I’m in touch with my emotions and how to manage them, I’m an open person and don’t often bottle things up. Most importantly, I’m comforted knowing that Dave isn’t suffering any more, trapped in a body which by the end only enabled him to exist (and in agony at that), not to live. Even coping well, though, has its own issues – feeling guilty and the fear of being judged (I’ve learnt these feelings are quite common amongst widows and widowers).

The difference between coping and happiness

Coping well and not being fundamentally happy, though, are not mutually exclusive. Because I’m able to socialise, go out, and have fun doesn’t mean that I don’t live with pain in my heart every single day. Because I’m able to enjoy doing nice things for myself doesn’t mean I don’t constantly miss and think about Dave. Because I’m able to find another person attractive doesn’t mean I wasn’t and won’t forever be deeply in love with Dave; we’ll always be together. Because I’m able to genuinely smile and laugh doesn’t mean there aren’t nights when I cry myself to sleep. Because I don’t feel completely broken all of the time does not mean I feel whole.

I have felt married, widowed, and single all at the same time.

I hate dreaming of Dave because waking up is awful – but at least in dreams I get to be in his company. I can’t bring myself to watch Bake Off or Gogglebox if it can’t be with him. I dread future Easter seasons (his birthday, our wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of his death all fall around then). I can’t bear the thought of Christmas without him. I experience triggers, and have flashbacks to his dying moments, out of nowhere and then feel I could cry forever.

“Everyone you have loved is still loved”

Some of these things may change over time, some may not. The unpredictability of grief can be hard to process. It’s also horrible having to accept that my life will now contain moments of indescribable pain, and that nothing I can do will ever change that, because Dave is gone.

But he is only gone in person. It feels appropriate to end this blog post with a quote from his funeral:

“Everything you have done is still done. Everyone you loved is still loved. You will live on in our hearts, and in stories that will be told for generations to come.”

Olivia Meheux

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Grieving through song writing

In this blog, Rachel reflects on how song writing has helped her through her experience of grief. The driving force behind Rachel’s music is her desire to evoke compassion toward ourselves and one another by sharing vulnerable experiences with the hope of encouraging connection & authenticity. She hopes that her songs provide hope and a source of connection for those who listen.

Pain and beauty

My grief journey has felt like the most profound combination of painful and beautiful. Kristoff and I crossed paths when we sought healing from our own personal battles, mine being depression-related, and his relating to the tragic loss of his son to suicide in 2017. We were lucky enough to seek healing in the same place and found tranquillity in each other’s support and kindness. Kristoff had a beautiful willingness to vulnerably share his struggle and created a safe and empathic space for mine.

His unexpected passing on the morning of February 3rd, 2019 flooded me with shock, disbelief and deep sadness. It felt beyond unfair. He remained so kind-hearted, loving, and hopeful, despite the immense emotional pain he had to encounter in his life.

“I stand in awe of life”

Wanting to connect with his memory, I picked up my phone to revisit our last text exchanges. It felt like he somehow knew those words would be his final goodbye. He possessed such admirable optimism, writing, “I stand in awe of life. However brief, it is magical.”

He ended the text with these beautiful words, reflecting on our time together: “I felt your pain, & revelled in your happy moments. I am here if you need me.” It feels as though he was telling me he would look out for me even when his physical presence was gone.

Feeling helpless, I sent a text message to his phone, unsure if anyone would ever see it. A portion of it read, “If anyone can receive this, I just want you to know how incredibly impactful Kristoff was on my life. He had to endure such pain & somehow still provided the rarest of light to those he crossed paths with. I’m so grateful to have known him.”

To my surprise, his 15-year-old daughter replied, thanking me. She said that my text was the only one she answered, and she didn’t know why, but she felt drawn to me and my message. That in itself felt like the first of many synchronicities Kristoff would leave for me.

Sitting at the piano

My overwhelming grief was the driving force behind what drew me to the piano on the day he passed. I allowed my sadness to flood over me as I sat at the piano and played. Somehow, as if on autopilot, Kristoff’s last words were woven into a song.

In all other circumstances, the song I wrote for him wouldn’t have left my notebook pages, but I felt the undeniable need to bring it to life in the recording studio as a gift to his daughter.

“Warrior” was the first song I ever recorded, and my life has changed in so many ways since then. I realised that there can be a beautiful purpose in sharing my songs publicly (something I never thought I would do).

Sharing the love

I started a project called #lovethroughlyrics where I share my music along with the knowledge that has helped me through my darkest times. Each song touches on different areas of mental health and I have begun showing younger generations how to express themselves creatively and therapeutically through song writing.

I wholeheartedly believe that Kristoff has had a hand in all of this and that he is ever-present throughout my days. I will be forever grateful to him and strive to approach life in a way that he would be proud of.

The lyrics to Kristoff’s song, “Warrior,” are included below.

You can listen to “Warrior” (original & acoustic) on any music platform by going here: https://fanlink.to/rachelleycroft_warrior

Rachel Leycroft 

You can connect with Rachel & follow the #lovethroughlyrics journey via Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelleycroft/

Warrior lyrics

The brightest light touched on everything you crossed 
despite the fight you battled into the dark.
You gave your soul with little left for you behind 
and held your hope with such little left to find.
And in a moment, nothing’s the same.
And we are left to endure the pain
of all that’s missing, starting today.
And it’s the greatest feat.
Your passion, love and peace…made the world change.
Chorus
You said life holds magic, even if brief.
You said we establish our own journey.
You told me I’m a warrior, as long as I believe. 
You said you’re here if I need. I wish it were that easy. 
‘Cause not a soul was ready for you to leave… 
And I know you weren’t ready to leave.
We’re luckiest if we feel an empty space; 
the silence, the void that only you’d erase. 
Because with this, we had the gift of having you. 
We’ll try to live the way you tried your best to do.
And in a moment, nothing makes sense,
and we are left to make sense of it.
And all that’s missing is forever missed.
And it’s the greatest feat,
but when we dream, we’ll meet…and you’ll be your happiest.
Chorus
Bridge
I know your girls are desperately missing you; 
and all the world, too, but maybe Julian needed you. 
And just like him, you left us all too soon…
but it’s impossible to forget you.
Chorus
(But you’re a warrior on your new journey.)

The evolution and repetition of grief: a reflective account

In this blog, Katie talks about grief being a personal journey that evolves, repeats and grows with you. She reflects on her own story and how she has taken control of her grief so it no longer defines her. Together, we’re talking through the taboos of loss and death. Get in touch to share your story.

My dad died when I was 9 and my mum died when I was 21 and this was not the narrative I imagined. Grief is a personal journey that evolves, repeats and grows with you. Like a never ending pass the parcel, wrapped up in papers of emotion and bounded by a suffocating cellotape. As you slowly unwrap the tape and release the emotion, you find yourself faced with different unravelling emotion, whilst you just want the game to stop.

Before my mum died, I was at University in Edinburgh, living my best life and discovering a new city 400 miles away from home. I remember my mum saying cancer would not stop her attending my graduation, but sadly I had to leave my studies during my second year. Life was tough, whilst my friends graduated, I was getting used to life as an orphan.

Feeling stuck

Whilst my dad’s death taught me to embrace life, my mum’s death was dictating my opportunities. I spent many years trying to create a happy narrative, despite having respectable jobs and a life that was moving on, I felt stuck. I was resentful and angry with my circumstances.  

It wasn’t until I married Jak, that I realised despite our wonderful marriage, our beautiful home, respectable jobs and fantastic holidays, none of this was fulfilling the life that my mum’s death denied me.  I came to realise that fulfilment and satisfaction come from within.

Taking control of my future

I spent so long living in the past that I was never catching up with the present. I decided to no longer let my past dictate my future. Grief consumed me, it dictated my emotions and led my decisions. Whilst desperately trying to create a happy narrative, I lost myself in the story.

The optimist in me will do anything but admit that life has been tragic, but I needed to accept my past in order to move forward. It’s a scary decision to stop the conveyor belt of life and change the direction you travel in but it’s one I urge you to do.

2018; 19 years after my dad died, 7 years after my mum died and 10 years after I initially went to University, I’ve changed the direction of my life and no longer feel like a product of my circumstances. I’m in control again and grief doesn’t define me. I’m a proud first year Occupational Therapy Student at UEA.  

Doing it for me

In three years, it will be graduation day, when friends are surrounded by loving parents and despite it being another reminder that mine are absent, I can’t wait!  A scene I once avoided is the exact scene I’m longing for.  I’m doing this for me, and that is something special.

Katie Mansi

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Joy & laughter, sadness & pain: Coming to terms with the loss of both parents

In this blog Sarah describes the loss of both parents and the loneliness that can follow.

I screamed like I have never screamed before

I had just finished playing a netball match when I had a missed call from my sister. When I called back, she said “Its mum…she’s dead”.

I managed to pull the car over and screamed like I have never screamed before. If I think about it now, I can still hear myself and it’s awful.

My mum, who was 52 years old when she died in March 2014, had an alcohol problem for many years and, over time, as me and my siblings left home, things got worse. Our relationship had its ups and downs due to her illness, however she was such a kind and gentle person who would help anyone out.

Some memories I have with my Mum make me laugh out loud. One year, she dressed up as the Easter Rabbit for my sister’s playgroup. We howled with laughter and had tears running down our faces, I often still think back to this day with happiness. My mum at her best.

“Thanks for being there”

On the 12th June 2016, two days before my 27th birthday, my dad passed away. He was 62 and had early onset dementia and had been unwell for several years.

While there wasn’t the indescribable and unexpected shock I had experienced when my mum died, there was an element of relief for him, but such sadness that this cruel disease had taken him so young. Why him, such a big character and life and soul of the party?

When I think of him now, I try to remember the big, tall Welshman that he was. And not the hunched, thin, shell of himself who often became very distressed as the dementia progressed.

My dad would always finish off a phone call by saying “Thanks for being there” and I’m so thankful that he was there for me and was able to see me off to university and see me graduate. I know he was very proud.

The loneliness of pain

Two months after my mum died, I continued with my planned move to Scotland to live with my now husband. I had a new job to move into and it felt like a good distraction from the pain, guilt, sadness and total emptiness that I felt at losing my mum.

In many ways I still continue to use distraction as a way of coping with my loss. I often find myself saying “I’m fine” and powering through the hard days, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day without telling people that I’m not okay.

Occasionally I feel jealous of people who still have their parents and can enjoy family time. I can’t help but feel jealous of friends who can call their mum or dad just to say “How long do I cook this for?” or “My car is making a funny noise”.

However, I find it difficult to speak about my sadness and jealousy. I feel like there is no one else who really understands. It can be a very lonely place to be.

Living between the past and the future

Grief is always there and there isn’t a day that goes past when I don’t think about them both. However, I take comfort that they would have been very proud and somewhere up there are watching over me.

Like my sister, I hope that one day that I will have my own children to love and experience the parent-child relationship once more, from the other side.

Sarah Linklater

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27. Male. Bereaved.

Liam, one of our meet up Hosts in London, has written this piece about his experience of being bereaved at a young age.

This blog is about my personal experience with grief and being a bereaved male in a world that expects us to ‘man up’. I promise to be as honest as possible, and if I can help just one man relate to something and feel less isolated then I have achieved my goal.

Boxing Day, 2011, I got the news that my best friend had cancer. At the age of 20, you never imagine that something like that could happen to your closest friend, and my reaction initially was one of denial. He will recover. He is my best friend. He is too young to die. Isn’t he?

A new reality

After a heroic six year battle, Matt passed away two years ago. You would think that knowing what was coming should have made it easier, but when that day arrives there is nothing that can prepare you for your new reality without that person and their presence in your life.

I have never been married but Matt is my Best Man. A once in a lifetime friendship gave me the privilege of being his best friend for 15 years. We have a great group of friends and I know I speak for us all when I say that his presence is missed every single day. No social occasion has felt quite right since and I don’t think it ever will.

The unpredictability of grief

Grief is a journey and a rollercoaster; one that will never stop. It is different from day to day, week to week and month to month. Sometimes raw and painful, other times lighter and less intense, but one thing that never changes is that it is always there in some capacity. This used to bother me but over time, I’ve learnt to accept it and embrace it.

It is almost two years to the day since Matt died, and needless to say the emotions are still raw and difficult to manage. Although grief is unpredictable, my experience has taught me that time goes a long way towards learning to accept the bad with the good and ride the wave.

There are landmark dates: May (his birthday), September (the date of his death), October (my birthday and his funeral), Christmas and New Years Eve (his diagnosis). Although painful, the inevitable emotions that come with these dates provide something of a much needed cathartic release.

I am personally very guilty of allowing feelings to bottle up and keep them under wraps, and this is not sustainable. 

The pressure to ‘man up’

In society, there is a dangerous pressure on men to ‘man up’. Men shouldn’t get upset. Men shouldn’t cry. Men shouldn’t get depressed.

But we do, and the world hasn’t accepted that yet. Fortunately, these views are (slowly) changing and us men are beginning to fight the stigma, but we are a long way from where we need to be. 

I promised I would be honest. It’s clear that being open and honest is something that I and my fellow bereaved men don’t do enough, because opening up and asking for help is scary. I thought keeping quiet and getting on with life would benefit my relationships with those closest to me. I was wrong. 

Grief changes us, it’s inevitable. In some ways the changes are obvious, in others only my friends and family were able to notice.

I’ve gone weeks at a time barely speaking to anyone. Is it because I don’t want to, or don’t care? Of course not. It’s because of the fear of bringing others down with me and being a burden. If it was as simple as ‘just talk about it’, we might not have half of the problems we currently do with mental health issues in men.

Finding a balance

If there is any advice I can offer to people living the bereaved life: be good to yourself. If you need to lie in until midday at the weekend, do it. If you want to stay at home alone and watch Netflix with ice cream, binge the series and finish the tub.

Everyone has their own happy place. Mine is going for long walks listening to Country music (Matt would never let me hear the end of that one). When your thoughts start to run away with you, take deep breaths, practice mindfulness, do whatever you need to do to ground yourself. It really works.

And talk to someone. Please, please talk to someone. Reach out to those close to you and ask for help. If nothing else you’ll learn who your real friends are.

I’ll finish by sharing one of my favourite quotes which sums it all up beautifully:

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.” 

Liam Butcher

Got a story to share? Talking about loss is a powerful, brave thing and helps us all feel less alone in our grief. If you want to tell your story, email us at blog@letstalkaboutloss.org.