Guilt and Grief

Grief can be one of the loneliest places on the planet. It is completely isolating, debilitating, soul destroying and painful. At a time where you wish everything would just stop, where you could hit rewind and change the events, life keeps whirling by and it can take everything you have to hold on.

In September 2006, two days after my son turned 3 and with an 8 month old in tow… My life imploded. My husband, driving to attend a funeral was killed in a road accident. The events of that day are ingrained in my memory and if I allow myself to dwell, I actually think I can stop my own heart beating. It is still that raw. I guess I just don’t allow myself to do it that often.

My story is like so many others… there are only small differences in people’s grief journey really, and that comes more from how we choose to cope. The trauma or shock, the loss of control, the loneliness and confusion all of this goes with the unfortunate territory. I’m no lone soldier in dealing with all of this, so I won’t bore you with the details.

For me, an aspect of my widow journey that I wasn’t prepared for… and trust me there was A LOT I was not prepared for, was the guilt I would feel when happiness returned. Or more importantly, when I chose to be happy and seek out happiness opposed to being riddled with distress and sadness. I actually don’t think happiness just turns up, we have to make a conscious decision to go about creating it.

As desperately as I wanted to create happiness and forge a new future, the guilt of this was all too consuming. You see, when you are widowed and you have children, your decisions tend to impact more than just you. This was something I struggled with terribly. The unfortunate reality was, every decision I made pulled me further and further away from my past. There’s a massive degree of guilt that can follow these major decisions. It changes the course of so many people’s lives and I felt accountable for that.

Time and healing have helped me understand that all of what I have done, Uni degree, moved, met someone… all of this is the natural progression and I am entitled to create the life I need, albeit very different to my previous life. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t hours and days where I feel bad for being so happy again. I mean, really? Do I really deserve to be this happy? What does that mean and say about me? My husband didn’t make his 33rd birthday, never finished his family and doesn’t get to see his boys grow up. Yet I’m off creating a happy future! I guess it means I have chosen to not allow his death to be in vain! He was very big on why worry about what you can’t change and deep down I know he would want his kids to be happy… Happy Mum, happy sons right?

I may not be living the life we would have created but I’m teaching my boys what resilience is. I’m showing them that no matter how bad things get, we have the choice to rise from the ashes. I’m teaching them that bad things happen to good people but it doesn’t have to destroy us. I’m showing them that good things can come from bad situations. I’m teaching them that happiness is our responsibility. I’m showing them how important it is to love and care for each other because life is short. I’m teaching them so many things because of their Dad’s death. Things maybe I didn’t fully understand before his death.

I am not the same person I was before my husband passed away. I truly believe no one ever is after losing a loved one. My ability to fully appreciate the things and people I have in my life has been heightened through facing such a traumatic experience. I understand more readily the responsibility I have in my own life and the direction it goes. I chose and continue to choose to be happy… I’ve worked through the guilt, some still resides, but essentially I am proud of who I have become despite what forced me here.

There are so many emotions and feelings that come from losing a loved one. The anxiety and isolation only began to lesson for me after connecting with EA. Suddenly I was talking to people with as many questions and insecurities as me. People just like me fighting the fear, the unknown, the judgement, the confusion. Finally there was a forum for me to express myself and feel understood. SERIOUSLY understood without judgement. If Andrew’s death taught me anything, it was that whether I liked it or not I had been cast into the spotlight. I had to defend myself against personal decisions because of the impact it had on others and this was not always the easiest of burdens to carry. Finally people, somewhere, behind a computer screen got just how tough some of this stuff was.

We have shared the lows and celebrated the highs and no matter where our journeys lead, I know I wouldn’t have made it through without these lovely ladies. All from different walks of life, coping with different traumas but tied by the bond of young Mums coping without their kids Dad. Maria and Aisling you are the guardian angels for so many.


My Childhood Sweetheart by Shelley

Grab a cuppa and a bickie (or maybe the packet). It’s going to be a long one. Oh and tissues may be required. O.K tissues will be required.

I started writing this a while ago, but never finished it. It’s a hard story to tell. There has been a few stops and starts, a tear or two and some doubts on putting words to paper.

So, are you comfortable? Oh, where to start. The beginning they always say. Right at the beginning? Well, why not.

News Eve 2006 :: I married my childhood sweetheart. It took us a long while to get there. We broke up more times then I like to remember. I was 15, he was 17, breakups are inevitable, right, when you are teenagers discovering what life is really about. But by time we reached a more mature age of 25ish, we had worked things out. We made it through the high school years, uni life and come through the other side more settled and committed then ever. By then we were one of those smug couples that looked at others relationships and thought we were pretty darn perfect.

We went down the typical road. We bought a house and got a dog, or the other way round. And we got married.

So, our wedding day. Cliche, yes, but it was the best day of my life, before children. On a hot and humid new years eve we said our I do’s and partied under the stars.

We had already decided to try start our family ASAP and almost conceived the honeymoon baby. Technically I think it was a few days later. 9 months later we welcomed a little (a little 10lb 2ozer!) girl to our family. We spent 3 months blissfully happy, sleep deprived, but never happier. Spending hours staring at this little bundle we created. She was a true Daddy’s girl right from the beginning.

Then he died.

He went to footy training and never came home. Instead, two somber, nervous looking policemen knocked on our door, asking me if I owned a grey Mazda 6. Telling me that it had been involved in an accident and the driver had died at the scene.

I doubt I will ever forget their faces.

There I was holding our baby, our baby girl, he adored so much, being told her Dad was never coming home, ever. My life, our life, was forever changed in that instance. 29, a widow and a single mum.

The hours, days and months following, all blur into one. The pain immeasurable, emotionally and physically. I had a three month old baby to care for, who fed constantly and slept rarely. At times I barely had the energy to hold her. In fact I didn’t. I remember my Mum taking over one morning when I physically could not hold her any longer.

I cried more tears then I knew was possible. Tears that make you ache all over. But mostly they were my tears, I didn’t share them often, I still don’t. There were a lot of long showers, long walks and a lot of tears.

I moved back with my parents for a while. My Dad, my Mum, well they were my rock. Dad taking care of the official stuff. Mum, taking care of me. Looking at my own girls now, I know the pain they must have felt seeing their daughter go through this. My brother too, was home in limbo, after coming home from overseas. As a single 27 year old he changed nappies, got up during the night, bathed her, loved her. My sister, was there too, weekend after weekend. My god, I’m not sure I ever have thanked them enough. But, I know they know.

Lost, I spent ours online searching for stories of young widows. Although, I felt alone, like I was the only one who had lost her husband so young, at least the only one I knew. But, I knew I couldn’t be the only one. I needed hope. Hope that things get easier, that the pain does ease.

I was constantly being told time heals. Seriously, if I heard that one more time. Then, I found EA. And there they were. Other woman, similar ages, all with young children, all lost their husbands. Some through illness, some like me, through accidents. But all feeling the same, facing the same challenges and having the same fears. Oh, they were my saviour. I read there stories, over and over again, repetitively nodding and understanding. Most of all feeling relief. Relief that everything I was feeling was normal.

I’ve since met a few those girls, friended them on Facebook and followed them through their journeys. Some have remarried or are engaged. I was even lucky enough to attend one of their weddings. Some have had babies. The two amazing ladies that started the site have written a book and continue to help young widows everywhere. All of them, the most inspirational, strongest women I have ever met.

Strangely enough, although I wanted it to stop, life went on around me. We had bought a block of land just before the accident, so our new house continued to be built. Our little girl continued to grow before my eyes. She got her first teeth, she crawled, she said ‘dadda’ and we celebrated her first birthday.

And for everyone around us life went back to normal. Back to work, back to school, back to their families. But our normal was no longer normal. I had to rediscover myself in this new life. I was determined for our little girl to have a normal happy life. Not one where her Mum was sad all the time. To not let loosing her dad define her or me for that matter. So, I chose life.

To honour my husband by choosing life. To continue to be that women he loved. To give that little girl everything, everything he ever dreamed of for her. And for that I needed to be happy. A new kind of happy. A happy without my husband. Because what do they say about a happy Mum. Happy Baby?

Amazingly with everything going on around her. She was a happy baby. An absolute joy. During the darkest days her smiling face was the only thing that kept me going. I had to get out of bed in the mornings, there was a little girl that needed me and she needed all of me not a shadow of the person I was before the accident.

Then somehow it was 25th Feb 2009. 12 months on.

We had survived the first 12 months. I’m often asked how did you cope. To be honest I have no idea how I did. One day at a time, some times one hour at a time.
Somehow, you just do.

These words, from a grief counsellor have always stuck in my mind.

“He’ll always be your husband and Emmy’s father. Death doesn’t take that away from you. You will always have a relationship. That relationship, obviously, will just be different.”
And he is still my husband. And still her Daddy.

I not sure this depicts the true story the emotion at the time. I don’t think my writing does it justice as it barely touches the surface of my grief and experiences. Or the amount of love and support we received from friends and family.

8 years on I have remarried and had two beautiful babies now 1 and 3. But that’s another part of my story. Part II {I met a boy} to come.


Changing Relationships

There are many changes to relationships when you have experienced the death of your partner. The changes can be for the better or the worse and can be with different types of relationships: your family, your in-laws and your friends. Grief is a time of crisis where many people also evaluate their relationships.

Many of us are surprised by “friends”, who completely disappear from our lives as soon as the funeral is over. It can be very hurtful at a time when you already feel weak and vunerable. Maria and I have received many emails and had many conversations about the withdrawal of friendships during this difficult time. So why does it happen?

Firstly death is an uncomfortable subject! For many people who have not experienced death and grief they will find it easier to avoid you and any talk of your deceased partner. I’ve certainly experienced this: a few months after my husband’s death, I saw his friend’s wife at the shopping centre. She pretended not to see me, and ducked into a shop! She later mentioned to a mutual friend that she had seen me but just didn’t know what to say. So to sum that one up, some people will feel uncomfortable and you will feel like a leper.

There may also be a lot of changes with people who were your partner’s friends before you met, such as childhood friends. They will also be grieving for the loss of their mate, and they may find that being around you brings on these feelings, and they may possibly retreat.

As time goes on, you may also find that the invitations from people who you and your partner socialised with will diminish, or maybe cease completely. There can be a few reasons for this. Firstly as previously mentioned others worry about what to say around you, or may be concerned that you will turn into a blubbering mess! Secondly, insecurity: you may be unaware of this but now that your husband is dead you can be viewed as a threat! Yes, there are women who feel threatened by a widow. It is sad but it happens, I can assure you.

In my experience some people will fall away and it is hard to deal with at a time when you are in a mentally fragile state, but they make room for new people to come into your life also.You may be surprised by the people who step up to support you. And there will be those who walk with you on your journey through grief. The ones who will listen to you cry,remember you at milestones and are there for you. These are your true friends,remember to let them know how much you love and appreciate them.


Widows Supporting Widows

When I first became a widow I never imagined the bond I would form with a group of strangers. These strangers were widows just like me. Our husbands all died in different ways, our ages varied, we lived in different cities and states, we came from different walks of life, but we all had one thing in common – we were young widows. Young widows who needed each other’s support, understanding and strength to get through our grief. We formed a place to vent, to ask questions, provide insight and understanding. It was safe to speak our thoughts and not be pitied or fixed. It was a Godsend to have these women who understood the thoughts, feelings, emotions of a young widow. We advised each other on how to help our young children with their grief and to answer the questions our children would ask. We were all learning to raise our families as a single parent.
We would support each through our bad days and there were plenty of these in the beginning. As time went on we not only shared our down days but were able to share good days too. There have been many tears and many laughs as each of us has learnt to adapt to our new lives. After speaking to each other over the Ever After forum, through private messages and emails for months we decided to meet up in person. We arranged for everyone to fly into Sydney for a weekend. Finally I could put the faces to the names and voices of these widows who had become so important to me. The weekend together was great, plenty of champagne was consumed, plenty of tears were shed and plenty of laughs had too. The weekend brought us all closer together.
As I look back at the last 8 years I see how far we have all come. Now we can share in happy and special occasions with each other. The distance between us does not stop us attending special events. One memorable event I will never forget was when I attended the wedding of one these women. Most of us were able to share in this special day. It was an emotional day on so many levels, there was sadness of what was but happiness for the future. We shed tears and laughs and celebrated into the early hours. For my fortieth birthday I had a party and invited family and close friends, my widow friends were there too making my night even more special.

My advice to all our members on the Ever After Widowed forum is to reach out to each other. The members on this website are the ones who will truly understand the road you are travelling.

It has been a blessing to have these beautiful women in my life. Through tragedy we formed a friendship which will last for life


All You Need Is Love

How to Support a Grieving Person
You may want to ask family and friends to read this section.

Understanding their grief

• Be aware that grief is like an emotional rollercoaster there will be highs, lows and setbacks and everybody deals with grief differently.
• Grieving involves extreme emotions and behaviours. The bereaved needs reassurance that what they are feeling is normal.
• The bereaved needs to feel free to express their feelings without judgement.
• It’s alright to sit in silence with the bereaved; sometimes they do not want to talk they just need a comforting presence.
• Don’t avoid talking about the deceased person, it’s important to the bereaved that their loss is acknowledged and their loved one is not forgotten.
• There is no time frame to grieving, so don’t pressure the bereaved person to move on.
• Do not compare their grief to that of a divorced person or to one that has lost an elderly parent or any other type of grief.
• Don’t assume if they were together a short time like 10 years, their grief is much less that a couple who were together for say thirty years. We beg to differ; it is the depth of your love, not the length of time.

Practical Assistance

• Drop off a casserole or other type of food.
• Offer to stay in their home to take phone calls and receive guests.
• Assist with forms and bills.
• Offer to watch their children, pick up from school, sports, etc.
• Offer to take their children shopping to buy a gift for their parent on significant occasions such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays and Christmas.
• Offer to drive them wherever they need to go in the first weeks.
• Look after their pets.
• Go to support group meetings with them.
• Accompany them on walks.
• Ask them to join you on activities.
• Remember them at milestones (birthdays, anniversaries..) A card, text or call to acknowledge is often greatly valued.