Death is a loss, no matter how you dress it up. The end result is the same – you will never see, speak or touch that person again. How heart-breaking to endure such thoughts and devastation? But when death literally comes knocking on your door to deliver bad news without any preparation, the goal posts change.
The trauma of sudden death is difficult to comprehend. A road crash seems to be such a meaningless and cruel way to go.
I left my office with my handbag and friend in tow. Blue-lighted out of a government building like an opening scene from the latest television drama. Yet this was ‘real life’, and although I didn’t know it within 48 hours this was about to become my ‘new life’.
I was 38 years old, my husband, Stuart was 42. Ironically the night before we had been preparing our Wills before a trip the following week to New York to visit friends. The Will never happened, the trip never happened and our friends jumped on a plane to attend their best friend’s funeral.
Stuart had been waiting for his latest company car. A new job, a great career move and after some delay (mainly down to his indecisive nature) he came home with the vehicle. I was indifferent – only really interested in the colour! I was cooking and after a brief sojourn out into the cold, dark and wet evening to look enthusiastic about his new toy we quickly settled into our normal weekday evening. Our last weekday evening was ordinary – had I known it was to be our last I’d have made more of an effort. But that’s life!
While I was drying my hair for work at 7.30am on Wednesday, 31 January 2007, unbeknown to me Stuart was fighting for his life on a roadside on the Wirral, close to his work. Strangely, I look back and treasure that moment of ignorance and freedom of the mundane, before I knew and before I had to man up and live life as a widow. It may sound selfish but what was coming our way was unbearably painful, shocking and above all surreal.
A friend who lost a loved one in the 7/7 London bombings was coaxed back into the real world by the kindly assistance of shock. She told me that shock stays with you for a reason and will not let go until your body is strong enough to fend for itself. Until then it envelopes you with a warm, safety blanket that I can only describe as looking like that character from that 1980s Ready Brek advert.
After initial devastation and loss, heartbreak, organ donation, funerals and the furore of being thrust into the spotlight following dramatic death, normal life resumed for everyone else. For me, life would never be the same. I would never be the same.
But there was and always is a choice to be made. I quickly realised that I could go under and live life as an empty shell, consumed by my own grief and misery. I was like a child being fed and watered by my family. It was never going to be easy to turn my life around. In fact, there was a weird change in my psyche. After several months I became fearless, turned off my filter and started to live my life, partly for me but partly for my husband. The penny dropped that he wasn’t here to enjoy life, I hadn’t died and therefore I had a duty to move forward. But it was hell. It looked great on the outside. Trips abroad, comforted by more shopping than was healthy, alcohol, socialising. All it was doing was filling a massive black hole that I just couldn’t fill.
But I’d made a choice and with those choices I’d leant heavily on the support of family, friends, work colleagues, the police. I tried to access counselling because I knew I needed to untangle the confusion of what had happened. I had lost my identity, my life partner and I was now no longer married but a young widow on the edge of a very different life.
“When I spoke to Jackie at Aftermath Support, who will forever remain in my address book as ‘Aftermath Jac’, I knew that there was hope.”
Friends who hadn’t had the same experiences could only take me so far, but Aftermath gave me a sense of understanding. “Different doesn’t have to be bad” is the mantra I used daily, courtesy of Jackie. There was no shame or guilt in building a new life and Aftermath made me realise that.
I was moving into a new chapter of my life. Although the next pages would be different and challenging in the same way that the previous 38 years had been, there was much to do. I wanted to explore who I truly was and test this unexpected freedom I had been granted. Aftermath may not have been the traditional-style counselling that I expected for myself (that would come many years later) but its’ listening ear service counselled me into the next phase. For that I am extremely grateful.
It’s easy to drag that duvet up over your head and never get up again. I still have days like that even with a new life, a new partner and twins to contend with. But if you are reading this either because you have suffered an awful, devastating and life-changing loss, or you no someone who has, there is hope. There is always hope. The choice is ours and ours alone – and we owe it to our loved ones to go out and have the adventure that they were so cruelly denied.