"You put on a mask every day when you’re
grieving to help you get through the day"
When Paul died suddenly at work, life changed for Sally and her daughters. St Helena's Bereavement Support programme for young families helped them feel not quite so alone. This is Sally's story...
Paul and I met when I was about 20 and he was 27, he had been married before, no one thought that we would last!
We got married in 1992 and had Abbie at the beginning of 1998, Livvy in 1999 and Jess in 2002 and life was great. We had our own business, which we ran from home so I could look after the girls, Paul was a heating engineer - I did the administration and he went out and worked on jobs.
Paul was grumpy, and quite hard to live with at times, but as well as being grumpy, he was loving, thoughtful, kind, generous and very, very funny! He was just a normal bloke, he put us first all of the time; he worked hard and thought the world of his girls.
The two of us went on a cruise down the Rive Nile in 2010, and we came back on the 25th May, his birthday. We’d had a brilliant week, the girls had stayed with their grandparents and had a great time being spoiled.
Paul died twelve days later at work. He was electrocuted. Life has not been the same since.
Everything changed when Paul died. For a month my Mum moved in because it was hard to keep going. I’m very capable and resilient but it was the shock I think. I didn’t have a job, so I had no income because the business went with Paul. I don’t know how to explain the first few months; there was so much anger from the girls, it was just getting through each day – that’s all I could think. I would wake up every morning and think I’ve just got ten hours to get through and then I can get back into bed.
I went to see Paul at the chapel of rest and upon return, the girls said that they too wanted to see him. As a Mum I wanted to protect them, I felt it was too much and would be too upsetting for them to see him so I said they couldn’t. A close friend of mine volunteers at the hospice and after asking her advice she recommended I speak to Cherie in the bereavement team. I had little knowledge about the hospice but at the time just needed some advice on what was best to do. Cherie advised that the girls should go – if they want to, then they should. Looking back that was definitely the right thing to do because if not, the girls would still be looking for their Dad.
After my first conversation with Cherie she advised us as a family to have some time to grieve and she would be in touch in a few months to see how we were getting on.
Cherie called five months later and came to the house and worked with us, we worked through ‘Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine’, a Winston’s Wish therapeutic workbook and did a lot of work in the comfort of our family home. The girls then started going to visit the bereavement team at the hospice’s Myland Hall – they didn’t go together they went as was needed. The bereavement team met with the girls and together they did art therapy and different techniques to work through their grief.
In September 2011, we were invited on the hospice’s STARS programme that the bereavement team run for bereaved families.
STARS is a programme for the whole family. We took part in activities, for example, we all made masks. The mask had to portray your feelings – It made you think about how you were feeling and what kind of mask you put on – none of us realised that you do actually put on a mask every day when you’re grieving to help you get through the day.
It’s quite a lonely place being a widow because you don’t normally know any other people who are. Paul died three weeks before I was forty and the STARS programme made me feel not so alone.
Other people were feeling the same as me, everyone had different ways in which they had been made a widow; we had all had someone die but in various ways. It was so helpful for me as an adult more than I thought it would ever be; you become part of a club. Before I went to STARS I felt like I was on my own and nobody knew how I felt. You don’t want anyone else to feel like you do but it was so nice to become close to the other widows and we didn’t feel as lonely. The girls also appreciated having peers at a similar age who were in the same situation as them; they were not the only ones feeling how they did.
The girls have really done well, I am very very proud of them and I think we’ve done alright as a family since Paul’s death.
The bereavement team are so supportive, they have said the door is never shut; I know I could ring up and say we need to see you and they would be available. There is not a long wait, they will just be there for us.
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