Bernadette’s Story

As I stood in my living room staring out the window, the dark, dismal, rainy morning reflected every bit of what I was feeling inside. Outside the world continued on, people going to work, children going to school, the postman delivering letters. How could they? Why had everything not come to a standstill – my believed, precious Paul was dead. My world had been ripped apart at the seams and my heart felt truly broken to pieces. I knew that life would never be the same again. There was a constant stream of visitors to the house, but in the midst of the crowd I felt so lonely and alone. I felt sad, numb and angry. I was angry with everyone, including Paul, who had left me here to pick up the pieces of our shattered dreams. This wasn’t how it was meant to be, this wasn’t the future we had planned.

Even the smallest tasks like having a shower and making breakfast seemed overwhelming. Every day was a struggle. In the early days, I was very caught up I the children’s needs and felt I had to shelve my own grief. Everybody seemed to be avoiding mentioning Paul’s name and yet my children desperately needed to talk about their Daddy. Maybe “the adults” felt it would be too painful or upsetting for them to hear his name –could they not have asked the children what they wanted?

My greatest fear early on was that my brain would wipe away the memories of Paul. I panicked if I couldn’t recall his face for a moment. I was also plagued with guilt as I remembered whispering to Paul at the end that if was OK for him to let go of life and that I would be all right. Did he feel I had given up on him? It took a long time for me to accept that I had done the best thing for Paul; that he needed to feel free to stop struggling.

I was so used to taking care of Paul during his illness that I now felt useless and abandoned. I also found it difficult to cope with remarks from people that I was “young and strong” and that I would “get over it”. I didn’t want to “get over it”. I wasn’t interested in a future without Paul.

In the early months after Paul’s death, I felt my grief ravaging through every second of my days and nights. It seeped into every bone of my body. It was as if a tidal wave of emotion had poured through me, there was no escaping it. I wanted the world to stop so I could get off for a while.

Many months after Paul’s death, I reached a turning point. I made a conscious decision to make Paul an on-going part of my life and the children’s life; but in a new way. We now looked at photos and talked about happy and sad times we’d had together. My children loved hearing stories about their Daddy when he was young. I was slowly beginning to wake up with feelings of hope that I might have a future. I began to balance despair with hope, tears with laughter and bad times with good times.

When Paul’s first anniversary came around, I was shocked at the intensity of the feelings that emerged again. After all, this was a year down the road and people seemed to expect me to be back to normal. I realised then that I would always grieve for Paul, that the pain of this loss would never truly leave me. But I have come to accept the changes that his death has brought to my life. I am open to new experiences and I know now that I have a future.

What helped me:

  • Writing about Paul’s death; I used my writing to express my loneliness, my desperation and my panic. I also tried to get down on paper as many precious memories as I could
  • People in my life who simply listened, with patience and respect to whatever I had to say. People who didn’t’ try to “make me feel better”
  • Availing of Bereavement Support in the Hospice where Paul died
  • Allowing myself to have a “bad day” even long after the 1st anniversary of Paul’s death had passed
  • Going for long walks on the beach or in the park and listening to music

What I learned through Paul’s Illness and death:

  • I learned that when you love someone they never fully leave you
  • I learned that death is not separate from life and I am frightened by it no longer
  • I learned that grief is like a journey – I had to be patient, understanding and kind to myself along the way
  • I learned that it was important to talk openly with my children even though they were very young. I tried to answer their questions honestly, and I found they were OK with me crying and being sad sometimes
  • I learned that I needed to grieve in my own way, and that nobody else could fully understand what it was like for me

These stories were contributed by the Irish Hospice Foundation and are published in their book, Irish Stories of Loss and Hope, 2007, edited by Dr Susan Delaney. Many thanks to the authors and the Irish Hospice Foundation for permission to reproduce their stories on this site. Further information on bereavement, including downloadable leaflets and audio recordings on grief, may be accessed on the website www.bereaved.ie