Guest post: "You don't get over bereavement, you get on with it"
Two and a half years after her husband's death, Beth Phillips says the initial shock and exhaustion has passed, but she and her sons still take each day as it comes
Young(ish), widowed and mostly still smiling
Posted on: Wed 25-Nov-15 14:46:41
(25 comments )
In April 2013, my wonderful husband went to play football with friends. Ninety minutes later Dunc was pronounced dead, having collapsed on the pitch due to a previously undetected heart condition. He was 39.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy had claimed another young life and, in the process, left me as a single widowed parent to my two gorgeous boys, who were just three and five years old. In the two and half years since that fateful night, the three of us have been building a new life as a slightly smaller 'Team Phillips'.
About eight months after Dunc died, an acquaintance innocently asked me, "Do you think the boys are over the worst of it?" I knew that she meant well. However, I was already aware that the untimely death of the boys' fantastic daddy was not something that they would overcome in eight months, but something that will continue to affect them for the rest of their lives.
The initial shock and exhaustion that comes with a sudden death eventually passed. Sam, Tom and I have plenty of fun together, and make lots of new memories, but Dunc should be there with us. There is nothing I can do as a mum to change the fact that there are now three of us, not four.
The boys constantly ask me to find them a new daddy. I have tried to explain that the process of falling in love is complex and lengthy, often aided by the opportunity to leave the house after dark without two small children as minders. In fact, I do have a lovely new partner who joins in our adventures at weekends with his own bereaved little boy, but ultimately, he is not Andy Murray – usually the boys' preferred man of choice - and therefore he doesn't quite tick all the right boxes yet, for them at least! Actually, Andy's sporting credentials might be impressive, but I still don't think the boys would be satisfied with him. They just need their own daddy back.
Tom, frequently wakes feeling sad and in need of a cuddle from his Daddy. Aged five, he understands the permanence of the situation and is grieving. No amount of cuddles from me can make up for those from his daddy that he can barely remember.
I spend many evenings at Sam's bedside. Sometimes, he just wants me to sit with him and look at his framed picture of him and Daddy. Sometimes, he wants to know why it had to be his daddy that died and why couldn't the doctors make his daddy better. He is not wishing bereavement on his friends, but he finds the injustice hard to accept. He feels different to them and desperately wants to be the same.
I frequently get up at night to Tom, who wakes feeling sad and in need of a cuddle from his Daddy. Aged five, he now understands the permanence of the situation and is finally grieving. No amount of cuddles from me can make up for those from his daddy that he can barely remember.
In addition to the sadness that the boys still feel on a daily basis, when Daddy isn't there to admire swimming certificates or to receive their Fathers' Day cards (because, frankly, putting them in their memory boxes is no replacement), they also worry about what might happen to me. Their dreams should be as full of fun as their waking hours are, but instead, at the moment, they are filled with me dying, or them getting lost. Then, they wake up tired and unsettled and try to get through another day at school, doing their best to concentrate on their work alongside their peers.
If you met Sam and Tom, you would have no idea of the struggle that they face. They are bright, lively boys who amaze me daily with their strength, their resilience and their love of life. They tell me they feel sad at school sometimes, but they don't usually want other people to know. It is mostly at bedtime when they express their feelings and draw me pictures of sadness and anger. They enjoy reading our 'grief books' and talking about their memories of Daddy.
Both boys have had counselling through school, and Sam has had more access to external support than Tom, as he was the 'right' age for it when Dunc died, while Tom was deemed 'too young' and is now 'too far along'. They get as much from being part of WAY (Widowed and Young) as I do, because they feel the same as the other children and get to do exciting things, like Go Ape.
Have the boys 'got over the worst of it'? Who knows? We take every day as it comes. We are on a journey that takes us on a bumpy and unpredictable ride, with little in the way of helpful signage. Just because we have faced a huge trauma, does not mean that we are exempt from facing further difficulties en route.
Already, unplanned hospital stays and tricky parents' evenings have highlighted the magnitude of our loss. Anniversaries, birthdays, weddings and other life events will always be poignant and we will always grieve for Dunc - for the things that he will miss and for the empty place that he should have filled.
Sam, Tom and I still imagine Dunc on his cloud above us, and it brings us comfort. However, Sam's recent picture of him reaching up to Daddy on his cloud, and Daddy not quite being able to reach down far enough to hold his hand sums up the feelings that he and Tom deal with day after day.
One in 29 children in the UK have lost a parent or sibling and all of them will face that every day for the rest of their lives. You don't get over bereavement; you get on with it because you have to. We really want to get on with it, but we all need a little support and understanding along the way. Our children need it when they are young to help them to become the adults we always dreamed of them becoming, before bereavement got in the way.
By Beth Phillips
Thank you so much for your post. I lost my husband to undiagnosed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in October 2013. He left myself and our twin boys, then 11, behind.
I've lost count of the times I've had to explain that none of us have got over it. We've picked up our grief in our own way, and carried him with us. Unfortunately there are those who choose to judge. They're not there to see the private moments of grief we all have. They see the boys continue with their lives, blossoming into the young men their dad should have been here to see, and decide we've forgotten him. Hurtful and untrue. A little help and understanding would've been wonderful. Take care and for your loss.
Beth, I remember your thread so well, and it's lovely to hear from you. Your boys just look so sweet. Thank you so much for sharing your update. I must admit that you and your boys come to mind fairly often, and I always cross my fingers that you're all doing ok. I wish you all well xx
Thank you for writing so beautifully about something so difficult to express
Your boys are beautiful.
I'm pleased that you found WAY, they helped us too.
Grief walks beside you, the uninvited guest, it can trip you over when you're least expecting it.
I'm sometimes still in the brace position seven years on.
I think for children as they grow older and through different stages they face more ways of feeling the loss, new situations are difficult feeling different when you'd rather not be.
The fear they might forget Daddy, his smell his voice, everything they had yet to discover about him.
We had a Daddy book, to write down things as they and when they were remembered, for fear of losing the memory forever.
I'm glad your boys have had some counselling It really does help them to have someone unconnected to talk and share stuff with. Keep on talking and writing.
I don't think anyone gets over someone's untimely death. You get on eith it/learn to live with it, as you say. I'm so sorry Beth x
Beautifully written and incredibly moving. God bless x
That's a great blog post and very moving.
I was slightly surprised how many children (1 in 29) have lost a parent but I shouldn't be because when I think about it my own two children know four sets of children in their years at school who lost a parent while they were under the age of 11.
Sometimes I worry about my own children. My wife was very ill just before they were born and I know one day that illness might come back. As each day passes and they get that little bit older I think to myself well it will be a little bit easier for them to cope if it does happen - but just tat little bit harder for me.
I cant imagine how hard it must be to try and help young children grieve about the loss of their Daddy when you are grieving that loss yourself.
I don't know what to say other than moving words.
Thanks for writing this. My little DNeice - and my big DNeice - lost their big brother last year. You've made me question whether I need to talk with them - and of course crucially listen - more than I have done as yet, especially with the little one. Thanks and for your journey x
I am 3,5 years down the line and was pregnant when my OH passed away. DD turned 3 last week and has just started to grieve properly, it's heartbreaking to see that she finally understands that someone is missing from our lives and that he should be here. We will never get over it but must get on with it.
Lily how dreadfully sad for your daughter.
My heart goes out to you Beth, I relate to every word you've said. I lost my husband in May 2013, leaving me with our two children aged 13 and 16. People have no idea, my own parents think I should have "got over it" by now and "be back to normal" as it was two years ago. My grief is an inconvenience to them. You have to put on a front to the world, people don't want to know that you're still aching inside and have a massive, unfillable void inside you and your whole world. They just assume you've moved on and are back to normal. They don't want to hear that every minute of every day is a massive struggle and about the endless sleepless nights. Sending you love, strength and hugs xx
I can relate to it because my husband died suddenly and unexpectedly when our son was a baby.
You never do 'get over it' - you learn to live with it and the pain goes. I am now over 30 years on and I wouldn't go back because I have rebuilt my life and have a husband and more children, but I still think of him and I can run events through my mind as if it was yesterday.
It is a long, slow process and you have to keep your good memories. It is a very difficult process- I see that Prince Harry is saying that he never got over the death of his mother and she left a huge hole in his life. People need to understand that you never do get over it- life moves on, things change and you manage.
Other people, in the same situation, helped me the most- they really knew what it was like.
Best wishes to you and your boys.
I lost my husband 3 wks ago still in shock son 5 and daughter 3
Wow, what an incredibly powerful one moving post, and the same for the thread that follows.
I lost my Dad when I was 21, and only now at 28 a few months after getting married and starting to plan for a family of our own has it dawned on me the enormity of my mums loss, and everything she did for us to keep us whole as a family and keep us going. At times I am utterly gripped by a fear of losing my DH and being put in my mum's position, I can't imagine what it would have been like with such young children.
You are all incredibly strong and brave women, and no one will ever know the moments of pain that happen behind closed doors and I find it shocking that people judge.
Your stories are heartbreaking and inspirational at the same time, thank you for sharing x
So sorry, linda79, I hope that you are getting support.
Linda I am so sorry for your awful loss.
Beth, thanks so much for sharing this. It brought a tear to my eye. I don't think one ever gets over the loss of a loved one - the love we felt is in direct proportion to the grief we'll feel when they've gone. Sending you and your boys a big hug.
PS I love Daddy's bench - how lovely that your sons can have somewhere so special to remember their beloved Dad at.
I'm sorry Linda79. Those first weeks are very hard. Have you joined WAY? I would recommend it if you haven't. Its a very supportive group and myself and the children have got a huge amount from it. (we're nearly 4 months in on this journey.)
I'm sorry to read of your loss Linda79. It is the 4th anniversary today of my husbands death. I was just out walking this morning thinking today that this is the first anniversary that I haven't felt too anxious about the day. Each and every day that passes creates new challenges but also strengthens you in untold ways. Take little steps...each little step is a step closer to life being okay once again. I think we all know this from the beginning that time helps. You will be happy once again. It's early days, take care of yourselves and God bless X
We found my mum this past Monday she had died on (we think) the Sunday of what the post mortem has told us was an enlarged heart. We saw her on Saturday for a while and she was absolutely fine. I'm an only child and my dad passed away 4 years ago. I'm really struggling knowing I'm "alone" although I have my son (8 months) and fiancé, I don't feel like I have anyone left! Hoping I get over it xx
Oh Hilbil21 I'm sorry to hear that, big hug. I don't think you ever get over the death of a loved one you just learn to live with it. Those precious memories that you have will be with you forever xx
So many well meaning people who say such thoughtless things
Those of us who have lost someone close
Have to put up with
"It was a blessing"
Actually it wasnt !
Equally bad when people say nothing though Alexander?
If only people would just say something simple and heartfelt, like "I'm sorry (for your loss)"