Dealing With Bereavement

The evening of Dunc’s death is gradually becoming a blur. I presume that it is my brain’s way of helping me to cope. However, I can vividly remember that I was worrying immediately about the future. There were many lovely people around me that night, to whom I will be indebted forever, and they encouraged me to try and stay in the present and to take one step at a time. My way of coping with anything big or difficult was always to plan, and planning has just not been an option in the last few months. In its absence, I quickly expressed a need for a manual.

One of my mum’s familiar old phrases sprang to mind: ‘When all else fails, read the instructions’. It transpires that it is perhaps more relevant to constructing flat-packed furniture than to dealing with bereavement. In this case, there are no instructions to follow and I still find myself making up the rules day-by-day, hoping that I’m leading us all in roughly the right direction. My goals? To stay (relatively) sane myself, and to bring the boys up in the way Dunc and I had intended, helping them to deal with his death along the way. I did buy a book, written by another young widow, and began reading it avidly. What it taught me more than anything though, was that no two people experience the death of a loved one, or deal with bereavement, in the same way.

My experience of dealing with bereavement bears several similarities to bringing home a newborn baby. For example, you awake to a sea of flowers and gifts (both of which continue to arrive for weeks), and to a myriad of visitors and phone calls. People cook you dinners and rummage through your cupboards to try and find things stored in places that are illogical to them (but that make perfect sense to you!) Meanwhile, you try to concentrate on doing little things that just a few days ago took no effort at all, but now seem monumental and completely unmanageable. Then there’s the crushing, mind-numbing tiredness that envelops you and prevents you from thinking straight (and, five months on, it still is. My previously photographic memory now struggles to recall why I walked up the stairs!) There is no manual to which you can totally relate, and as you don’t really know what you are supposed to do, you learn to wing it, gaining confidence in your new life as you go along. You laugh when inside you feel like crying, and you smile because it is more socially acceptable to do so than frowning, when people offer you the most ridiculous of platitudes.

I am learning fast that dealing with bereavement is very definitely a marathon, not a sprint. With many things in life, I expect to be able to ‘carry on regardless’ in a week or two. I wasn’t naïve enough to put the death of my gorgeous husband in that bracket, but I did assume that the tiredness, the sadness and the confusion (about how my boys and I have ended up in the middle of all this madness) would start to fade. I’m still waiting, and all I see on the horizon at the moment are a series of further hurdles which I must clear first. I have very good days, bad days and days when I just keep busy because it is easier than dwelling on the situation. A day may start well, only for it all to come crashing down around me when I realise that Sam and/or Thomas have not shared my positive start. Alternatively, days sometimes start with a wave of sadness and the realisation that this is my new reality and one that currently has no end in sight.

I feel I might be further forward if I had more time to myself, but the last five months have been rather busy. I have concentrated very much on putting the boys and their needs first, at the expense of my own, as any mother would. Helping them to deal with losing their fantastic daddy, on top of my own feelings, constantly requires a lot of energy, way beyond the huge amount of energy and investment that is required to bring up lively children anyway. For example, I might think that I have completed the chores before the boys’ bedtime so that I can sit down afterwards, only to find that one or other of them has a different idea and needs my understanding and patience for a further ninety minutes. It is then that I often have to try and answer questions about the mechanics of the heart (and its failings), when I am likely to die, why Daddy can’t come back and how the spirit leaves the body at the moment of death.

Last night Sam was determined to stay downstairs with me because he thought I would be lonely without Daddy and needed some company. In many ways, he has hit the nail on the head and is just too perceptive for his own good. However, it is not the responsibility of my five-year-old to look after me – it is my job to look after him and, of course, I was quick to reassure him, without wishing to be disingenuous. In reality, the evenings can be lonely and I struggle to force myself to go up to bed alone. In the daytime, trying to work with the medics to get the best for the boys, and keeping them healthy on my own is a massive task. I watched a man on the television recently saying to the mother of his sick child, “You’ve been the perfect mummy today. You’ve done everything right.” It made me cry because I find the loss of that support and reassurance from the person whom I love, at a time when I really need it the most, hard to bear.

This week the boys and I will be visited by a volunteer from Guy’s Gift ( I have requested their support to try and help the boys to deal with their emotions and particularly their anger. I have supported several children through bereavement during my teaching career, but it is vastly different when you are stuck in the middle of the situation with your own children. As for me personally, I have been awaiting counselling from Cruse ( since the end of June. I know that I need some help to work through my feelings in order to deal with Dunc’s death. I owe it to myself, and to the boys, to make sure that I emerge as mentally and physically fit as possible from all of this and I fully intend to do so. One thing that hasn’t been dented yet is my determination, and while that remains intact, I suspect that we will all make it through this.


Sam, Thomas and I in Cornwall, September 2013.



17 thoughts on “Dealing With Bereavement

  1. My husband passed away when my children were 11 and 13. My advice would be to take each day as it comes and to look after yourself.take care x

    • Thank you Helyn, I am trying hard to do exactly that (says she, still typing at 11pm!!) Thanks for reading and leaving me a message. Sorry to hear you have been through a similar situation. Good luck to you all.x

  2. Thanks, in the aftermath i was perceived as something no longer worthy, because i could not find the person i was. It felt like i was shunned almost – by some peers in social situations because i might not have the “socialite” answer or attitude they expected, after all 18 months, is enough is it not…2 voices kept me going each softly spoken on days where i struggled to hold it together “I have been through it, i know, stop a min and just breathe” even now i am not as confident as i was, I try hard for the kids who like here, are young but i can’t quite compute people that acted like i was somehow damaged broken and not normal any more….. It just adds to the confusion and the feeling of the world not quite spinning right.

    • That sounds very hard for you Karen. At the moment I am lucky enough to still have great friends rallying around me. I am just starting to experience people who know me less well not knowing what to say to me. Whilst we were out shopping the other week, I felt like I’d ruined someone’s shopping trip! I think I will have to grow a thicker skin for that kind of interaction. Love to you and your family. Beth

  3. Hi Beth

    I’ve just seen your blog via the mumsnet blogger page and recognized your name. I’m so sorry for your terrible loss, wishing you great strength and thinking of you tonight. Ps your boys are beautiful 🙂 with love. Kathryn ( B, from school)

  4. My husband died when he was 31 – of a heart attack. This was nearly 20 years ago now, and I remember howling with the pain and the injustice of it. The way that people could look at you and not have a clue as to the amount you were hurting, and how it was a miracle that you had even got out of bed that day.

    I gave myself rules to get myself back on track – I wore mascara regularly when I needed to be at work, or somewhere where I just couldn’t cry (I couldn’t have make up running down my face, whatever would people think?). You learn to ignore the unhelpful things people say: “don’t worry, you’ll meet someone else” (on the eve of his funeral) or “good job you didn’t have children” (we were trying to have a baby) or the most difficult one of all, later on: “Are you married?”

    Beth, eventually the pain dies down. The loneliness recedes. You stop focussing on his death, his life, every single moment of the day. And then a day comes along when you realise you’ve had a good day, and it doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten, or you’ve stopped caring. It just means you’ve learned to live with it, and your life does still go on. Think of this analogy: your life with your husband is a book, filled with wonderful pictures and words and memories. In the beginning you have the book open on your lap and you can’t move without it, in time you will look at it once a day or so, and eventually it will be a beautiful book that you take down off the shelf and look at it with great love, but no more tears. I wish you well on this journey, you’ll find your own speed.

  5. I lost my wife of 40 years who was in her mid fifties in December 2013 after a short courageous fight against cancer and even had to battle against the medics to get her home on her last day in accordance with her wishes. I was with her at the very end when she pased away on the morning of Christmas day and ever since it feels as if I have been on a rollercoaster and that I am being punished for having been overly devoted to one person for a large part of my life.

    I am trying to deal with my survival with the same courage and conviction that my wife showed when facing her illness but find that life feels empty and I am completely devoid of the love and affection that was at the fore of our relationship just like a power engine has been drained of its energy or a light bulb that is waiting to be dimmed.

    While trying to cope with the grief and searching for information on coping strategies I came across your blog and have to say that found this more beneficial than any of the mainstream stuff produced by technical experts and other charitable or health related organisations and that your efforts to re secure some form of normality and happiness is truly inspirational

    • Thank you so much for your message. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I haven’t written my blog since November as there has been so much to deal with: My birthday (and the decorating of Thomas’s birthday that kept me busy in the days before it); building Sam a cabin bed; Christmas and all that it entails; surviving two weeks at home with the boys, almost single-handedly; applying for a new job (and getting it, before having to sort out my extraction from my old job!) and now a huge number of medical appointments and procedures for both boys. There have been posts in my head that haven’t quite made it onto my blog, due to lack of time and energy, but when I read your message last night, I decided it was time for an update. I’ve written it tonight but need to sit on it until Monday night, when I will have finalised the end of my job contract. I’m so glad that my posts have helped you and I wish you strength through the months ahead. I feel I turned a corner in my personal strength and belief after Christmas, if that’s any comfort to you. Take care.

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