WHAT I’M THINKING AFTER MY HUSBAND HAS DIED

EMOTIONAL, LOVE & MARRIAGE

Last September, Stacey wrote the most harrowing list What I’m Thinking As My Husband Dies, which was unbearably moving and heart-wrenchingly painful. Seven months on since Greg died, I’m honoured to share more of Stacey’s powerful words.

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  • My husband Greg died seven months ago from cancer at age 44. Maybe it was less than that, maybe more. Time has stopped making any sense.

  • To think back to then now feels like an eternity ago. Despite our relationship being 15 years long, it feels like it was just a story I was once told.

  • The main memories of the weeks and days leading up to his death are of rage and confusion. Despite all my best attempts of researching and asking questions, I knew so little about dying. It felt like being dropped into another country where you don’t speak the language.

  • I realised quite quickly why people don’t talk about it – because it’s horrific. Physically, mentally and emotionally, it is the ultimate exhaustive experience.

  • There were so many physical things I was not prepared for, that no one speaks about. I spent a large portion of time desperately Googling things to understand what was happening in front of me.

  • I didn’t know what would happen to someone’s skin as they die, that it would dramatically change in texture and consistency. That purple bruising starts to appear. That Greg would stop blinking. That the scent of death is like a mixture of saline and biscuits and I will never not be able to smell it when I think about those last days. I could vomit at the sickly memory of this smell.

  • During the last days of Greg’s life, I wanted to punch every medical person who said to me ‘every death is different’ when I asked again and again when Greg would die.

  • My overriding emotion in the last days was fear. Terror in fact. Terrified to watch Greg take his last breath. The last few days felt like sitting up on the highest point of a roller coaster, filled with adrenaline, waiting for the fall.

  • Greg’s funeral was one of the best and worst days of my life. I have never experienced such a searing pain as standing behind his coffin, crying open mouthed, holding our daughters’ hands. I’ve also never felt such comfort and joy at seeing how many hundreds of people attended and the tangible impact he had on so many people.

  • So many people mentioned to me that having children at the funeral changed their view of what such an event should be. All the children danced on the stage of the venue at the wake and invited adults up for dance battles. Greg would have loved this.

  • Funeral etiquette is real and should not be ignored. None of my friends managed to get seats in the crematorium so stood outside but I saw people who hardly knew Greg sat inside. There were people there who I was so touched to see – the girls’ headteacher and teaching assistant came and bought a jar of money they had raised for us. There were also people who had no business being there at all, those who had ghosted Greg and our family during his illness. This is grief tourism at its worst and if they had the audacity to speak to me at the funeral, I would have had no problem in telling them everything I thought (unfortunately/fortunately – they didn’t)

  • I lost my voice for weeks after the funeral. I felt in shock and had nothing left to say.

  • Grief is so often viewed as sadness but in the first few months, I very rarely ever felt sad. I felt numb and transcendent, as if I was floating above everyone. I would forget the day as soon as it was over and wouldn’t be able to recount what happened the next day. I felt fearless and reckless as if nothing could hurt me again.

  • I had insomnia for the first time in my life. I would wake up for three hours to just stare into space in the dark, with no real thoughts in my head.

  • I had read every book written about grief while Greg was still alive but have been shocked to the core at how ill prepared I have been for the feelings I’ve had.

  • I’ve felt deliriously happy on some days, like I’ve woken up for the first time. Looking at trees and the sky makes me feel dizzy with joy that I’m alive and get to witness such beauty.

  • Some days, my body and mind shut themselves down. All I can do is take the kids to school and go back to bed until 3 where I will nap all day, listen to podcasts and stare at the wall.

  • People stop checking in at around the three-month mark. I’m not annoyed by this at all, people have their own lives and I understand that my own personal loss doesn’t have the same impact on them.

  • At around the six-month mark, something shifted in me. The bulletproof nature of early grief started to dissolve and the sadness set in. It feels like grief is in your bones and starts to seep out of your pores. I started crying all the time and wore sunglasses at every opportunity.

  • I am so aware of the mortality of every single person in a way that I could never have comprehended before. To stand over Greg’s dead body changed me intrinsically. To know that we are all going to end up this way; merely a vehicle to house something incredibly magical that will disappear into the ether.

  • Greg was so obviously dead when I saw him. He didn’t look asleep. He looked absolutely dead; something had left him. I will often think about that image and feel like I have been punched in the stomach although my brain has blurred his face. We have very clever defence mechanisms to protect us from trauma that might be too much for us to withstand.

  • If there is one feeling I have felt the most since Greg died, it would be overwhelmed. The intensity of becoming a solo parent while dealing with the grief of your young children and your own is a new kind of weight. There is no time or space to begin processing what has happened.

  • I’ve had intense sexual feelings since Greg died. I want to kiss someone; I want to have sex but I don’t know who with and I don’t want a relationship. I want to feel alive and young, instead of the very old, tortured person I feel now.

  • This is all very difficult, practically and emotionally. I don’t want to go on dating sites, I don’t want to have to explain myself. I think I just have to sit here, like a yearning teenager until an opportunity presents itself.

  • I don’t know if anyone can begin to understand these strange sexual emotions unless you have experienced it yourself. It’s a real thing called ‘widow’s fire’. Google it and make sure you don’t judge others because you think it’s got anything to do with the dead person; it hasn’t at all.

  • I miss Greg now so desperately. I miss just chatting over coffee in our kitchen, discussing the news. I miss the lightness he brought to conversation that I feel is now missing in our house. I am the only adult and that makes being in my house a very lonely experience.

  • I can’t cope with looking at photographs of him yet. It makes me feel so homesick, I could cry immediately. I know his face so intimately, to think I will never see it again except in images makes me want to curl up in a ball.

  • I have no idea how I will have another relationship again. I feel so tainted by the past few years; I have experienced so much that others my age haven’t. I have no idea how you would go about blending families but I suppose no one does and it happens at the time. It definitely scares me.

  • My self-confidence has taken an extreme knock. I now find making phone calls hard, I will stay quieter in group situations and find it hard looking in the mirror sometimes because I don’t recognise myself.

  • We are all so bad at talking about death and grief. We can work out what to do to support people in early grief; deliver food, phone to check in but as time moves on, we don’t know how to show up for others. This is hard when grief really starts to rear its head at this time.

  • I feel like I’ve had a lobotomy and have to walk through each day as if I’m recovering. It’s such a slow process that changes every day, it’s not a straightforward route.

  • I so desperately want to feel happiness again. There are times where I want to push the sadness down and ignore it because I’ve felt such traumatic emotions for so long, I feel done with it. Distraction is good but I know to ignore these darker feelings would be a mistake. They would definitely come back to take me down at a later date.

  • I am both hopeful and broken about my future. I cannot die with Greg, that I know for sure. It would be an enormous disservice to all of us. I know these dark times aren’t going away any time soon but there are more chinks of light on the horizon and I’m running towards them when I can.

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HELPFUL RESOURCES:

Mind (bereavement): mind.org.uk

The Good Grief Trust: thegoodgrieftrust.org

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FANCY SOME MORE?

–  READ Anna Lyons’ profound list What Death Has Taught Me. As an end of life doula, she is passionate about improving people’s care and the dialogue around death. 

–  READ The Loss Of An Adult Child by Ninette Hartley, whose grief is incomprehensible because, as she says, for a child to die before you is not the correct order of life.

– READ This Is Grief, a list by Vikki Muston whose capacity for survival is unbelievable after she lost 10 people in two years. It’s full of helpful ideas and suggestions. 

–  READ Cock Off Cancer by the incredible Deborah James, who was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in her 30s.

–  LISTEN to to Griefcast host and comedian Cariad Lloyd on Honestly podcast as she opens up the conversation around death and dying. 

–  LISTEN to the episode of But Why? podcast where Stacey Heale talks about her experience of death and grief, and how to really live.

 

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OR HOW ABOUT WRITING A LIST?

Find submission guidelines here.  All writers and topics are welcome.

 

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** ‘But why do people die and are they just sleeping?’ and ‘But why isn’t my family like everyone else’s?’ are some of the tricky questions I tackle in my debut book BUT WHY? which is available to order now and also on audiobook.**

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3 Comments

  • Reply Danielle May 10, 2022 at 1:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. I wept at some of the points, from your sadness and honestly, the thought of it happening to me. I intensely fear death, my own and those around me. I wish I could offer something to make it all feel a bit easier , but I can’t. The only thing to offer is, when a new relationship comes, don’t settle. Find someone who ticks the happiness boxes. And a blended family takes work, very open and honest communication (which sometimes hurts but is necessary) and will be a constant compromise from all parties to keep the ship afloat, but it’s worth it x

  • Reply Matthew prigmore May 12, 2022 at 8:14 am

    Thank you for explaining these feelings, I was widowed last year and I’ve experienced exactly what you’ve managed to get down in words.

  • Reply Anoushka May 26, 2022 at 5:06 pm

    That’s it, that’s exactly how it is, ALL OF IT! I don’t know how you have managed to put this all down so coherently. Its beautiful and oddly very grief affirming. I live like a grief ‘alien’ amongst my friends. Your writing was like reading something from very own broken life…..I now feel like I might come from a planet where others live too. My brilliant, beautiful and hilarious husband died last August. It was awful. Even with the wonderful support of at home hospice care there was so much that was never pre-explained. I carried him through to his last breaths and so much of it was a total surprise. The world is an entirely different place now and though I function as a caring, focused and loving mother, I have no clue what my new life is supposed to be without that wonderful human that I loved so hard

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