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Reflections on the grieving process

8th August 2020

Read a moving piece written by Justin Bowen to mark the one-year anniversary of his wife Helga’s death.

In the piece, Justin reflects on his grieving process and documents his experience in the hope it will bring comfort, or be of use, to others in a similar situation.

Helga was supported by Sue Sharp, the secondary breast cancer nurse specialist at St Richard’s Hospice. Justin describes Sue’s support as “a huge help to both of us”.

Reflections on grieving process, by Justin Bowen

“It’s a year today since H died. Thank you for the kind messages – it means a lot to know there will be many people thinking of her today.

“A year on I thought I’d say a little of what it’s been like. I won’t be offended if you scroll on past at this point!

“Much of it will be familiar to anyone who’s lost someone. Maybe it will be useful to someone.

“When your wife dies young and you have children to raise there are basically three lots of grief to bear.

“Firstly, you grieve for your own loss – the life that you had that will be no more, the future that you imagined that will never be, how you & your family’s life is now all on you.

“Secondly, you grieve for your wife’s loss – for the things she’ll never do, the places she’ll never see, how she’ll not see your children growing up, getting married, having your grandchildren. The life she’s lost.

“Thirdly, you grieve for your children’s loss – the time with their mum they’ll not have, the cuddles they’ll miss, the wisdom they’ll not receive, the way everything will be different to how it was going to be.

“Now thankfully this grief, it isn’t constant. It comes in waves. Big waves, turbulent waves, crashing over you. And in those moments that a huge breaker is bearing down, you can do one of two things.

“You either let it smash you against the rocks, breaking you into pieces. Or you become the rock – digging deep, letting each wave break on you, weathering the storm and being weathered by it, until it passes. Then, when the calm settles and the sun comes out, you get to look around and see that you’re still there, that there is so much to appreciate and enjoy and that your children still need you. And that’s your motivation when the next one hits.

“So, at first, after losing your companion, your best friend, your confidant, the person you love the most, those waves come one after the other after the other. Relentless, with never a moment between. Each one threatening to wash you away. But gradually, as time goes on and you weather each storm, gaps start to appear. There is a lull between each one, and that lull grows imperceptibly longer each time. Moments to breath, to gather yourself, to start to think about what next.

“Now don’t get me wrong – the waves can still be big. They can catch you unaware and stop you in your tracks. But the weathering of them becomes more familiar and you gain strength from that. You realise you’re doing it, you’re getting through.

“A year on and today, at some point, there will likely be a storm. But it will pass and the children and I will carry on with our new life. I made a promise to Helga on the day she died that we would have a good life. I said it so that Helga knew it was safe for her to go. I also said it because it’s true. I miss her loads, but we’re doing ok.

“Thanks for all of your love and support.”