One of my Instagram followers recently asked for people willing to share their widow story. I thought about it long and hard and decided….yes. Let’s do it. So, she sent me some questions and I responded openly and honestly. For those of you that don’t know my story…..here you go!
Where are you from?
I am originally from the UK. We arrived in australia on 9 Feb 2005. This year was my 17th ozzi-versary.
When did your husband pass away?
Mark died on 31 August 2019 at 0430am. For his relatives in the UK, that means (with the time difference) he died at 1930hrs on 30 August 2019. Forever and a day I will have two days for his ‘death day’. One is enough but I get two. Funnily enough he always celebrated his birthday this way as well. He would start it on Australia time and finished it on uk time so he had ten extra hours ! He loved to celebrate.
What was his cause of death?
His cause of death was Myasthenia Gravis and Guillain Barre syndrome. Over the last weeks of his life, he’d also been in ICU ventilated with a blood clot, pneumonia and septicaemia.
When did you get married?
6 May 1994. After 6 weeks together we knew. He asked me when we were in Elsecar, Yorkshire. We were stood at the railway station and he threatened to stand on the line if I didn’t say yes!!! When we got back home, he asked my dads permission. We got engaged and the rest is history. We were married 25 years just three months before he died.
Did you have children together?
We were unable to have our own children . Mark had 2 from a previous marriage. Twins, a boy and girl. Now 34 years old with their own families.
Please share one or two of the happiest memories of your life together & what it was about them that made them the happiest.
There are so many. The fact that he knew me so well was a big one. I’d always wanted to learn the drums. One day I came home from work to a drum kit in my lounge. He never did Valentine’s Day as we hated the commercialisation of it but that man bought me flowers every week. There is the fact that we hated being apart. There are just way too many happy memories to tell. I could (and probably should) write a book.
If you have a favourite memory of your husband that’s different than your happiest one(s), please share it & why it’s your favourite.
Coming home to him each day. We had that soulmate, angels singing, harps playing kind of relationship. Cliche and true. Not everyone is that blessed and we both knew how incredibly lucky we were. We hated being apart. We’d call each other through our workdays and talk on hands free all the way home. I loved the silly things like coming home to my favourite chocolate bar in the fridge and dinner cooking. If he was on days off and I was working, he’d do the housework so that my day off was mine…..no jobs to do.
What’s your saddest or toughest memory of your life together & why?
I’d say the hardest was leaving the UK. Mark found it easier than me I think, having been in the army and moved around a lot. I was a homebody and always have been. He encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, something he did all his life.
Getting his diagnosis of MG was tough too . We put blinkers on the first weekend we learned of it but as time went on, it was clear the path we were heading. We were truthful and upfront with family and friends from day one. If the DR said ‘you have 6 months’ that’s what family got to hear. We didn’t want them to have any surprises. They knew the trajectory of the illness. 2000 people in australia have MG. 0.3% of those have severely progressive MG. Mark was that 0.3%.
Des, his brother Martin, along with husband and wife, Tony and Tracy came to visit from the UK. These guys were 30 year friends and flew from the UK for 6 days. They knew it was a goodbye trip, that they’d never see him again. It was an unreal trip. We crammed everything in those 6 days. We laughed. We cried. We drank. You name it, we did it. To fly 16000km for 6 days, knowing it was a goodbye trip…..true friends.
Tough times for me
The times that he was in ICU and ventilated were the hardest. I always had that fear that this was it, that he wasn’t coming home. The last time they had tried to extubate him, it took 6 times with no success. In the end it was fate, pull the tube and what happens, happens. He survived for about a week after that.
Did coming through tough times help your relationship become stronger?
We viewed our relationship as always strong and I know that’s a cliché but it’s true. We worked together with everything we dealt with in life. My uncle summed it up after Mark died when he said “you two were a right proper team”
If you have a least favourite memory of your husband that’s different than the one above, please share & why it’s your least favorite.
There is not a single thing I can tell you. The hard moments and memories we tackled together. The hard ones made us stronger, wiser and better people.
Other than losing your spouse, please share what, if anything, you wish you could have changed or been different in your life together.
I loved his smile. I loved that his touch made me feel so, so safe, it felt like nothing could penetrate his arms. I loved his terrible singing voice to ‘Come on Eileen’ and ‘The Look of Love’
If you could sum him up in one word or sentence, what would it be?
What would you talk about if you could have one more conversation with your husband?
The family- lots have happened since he died, including a new grandson born 4 days after his birthday. My writing career. I`d show him my website and let him give me his thoughts on my work. He was always my ideas man and was my best critic. He never beat around the bush and if something wasn’t right…he’d tell me.
If you could spend just one more day and/or night with your spouse, what would you spend the time doing?
We would stay in bed all day, talking, watching movies and not getting dressed. Just doing the things we loved. Ordering delivery Indian food for dinner as that was his favourite. Plus the delivery guy knew our order! He’d just say “the usual?”
What’s the toughest thing that you’ve had to deal with as part of his death or as a widow or both
Losing people I’d considered friends. That hurt a lot. Over time you learn to accept it but that loss hurts as you grieve the alive as well as the dead. Megan Devine who wrote an amazing book called “it’s ok that you’re not ok” and said ‘grief changes your address book’. She wasn’t wrong. People I’d considered our friends just disappeared and didn’t respond to messages. This is still happening now.
Were you numb / in shock / in a haze for a while after your husband died? If so, how long did that last?
I don’t feel I had a chance to be in shock. We knew it was coming and he’d outlived 2 years of Drs saying “you won’t make Christmas”. Within a short space of time after losing him, I was assisting in the care of my mum who was terminal with lung cancer. Grieving took 2nd place.
I had amazing support in my family. Living with my mum and dad was amazing. Having my brother and sister in law around at the same time was just great, sitting having long chats. I had incredible support from Des, Martin, Tony and Tracy as well as the entire Friel family! They continue to give me support. They’re on the end of the phone. They send messages on Marks birthday, anniversary of his passing etc. They are there for me without me having to say anything. They just get it.
What do you want people who aren’t widows to know about being one?
We need you to call us. Don’t wait for me to ring and say I need you. That won’t happen. A widow can barely get out of bed. Don’t wait for me to say ‘ can you help me’ because I won’t know I need help. Come over and just be there. Cry with me and laugh with me. As a friend of a widow you have to suck it up and be aware that you’re going to be uncomfortable. You might not want to see me cry but hey, it’s gonna happen. Never be afraid to talk about my husband. I love hearing your stories and memories. I need those stories.
Just because he’s died and no longer in your life, think of me……he’s still my husband til I’m gone.
Most of all this would be my advice if you have a widowed friend/relative:
DO NOT TRY TO FIX ME. Grief is here forever and its not a problem that you fix.
DON’T TELL ME THAT HE WOULDN’T WANT THIS – I know what he wanted as I am his wife and I know what he wished for.
DON`T TELL ME ITS TIME TO MOVE ON – I won’t. In time I might move forward, but never without the memory of Mark with me. Those memories will never leave me.
How has your grief changed you as a person?
It’s made me tougher. It’s taken 2 years but I don’t put up with things anymore. Life is too short. My priorities have shifted.
Share how your life has changed, i.e., did you move, quit work, change professions, learned to live alone for the first time, etc.
I moved in with my parents from 2020 to care for my mum with her lung cancer, until her passing Feb 24 2021. While there, my dad suggested I rent my house out and live with him. I’ve been with him ever since, sharing his house. I was a registered nurse but I quit in 2017, when my husband needed 1:1 care. I couldn’t go back to nursing after his death. The passion had gone. However while my husband was sick, I had reinvigorated an old love, a love of writing. I did 2 courses and have published 2 books. Also had 10 articles and 2 poems published. I also built a website (link in my bio)
Were there any people or anything in particular that brought you comfort after your spouse died?
Des. Tony and Tracy and the whole Friel family support network! They are there for me. Email, text, messages, on the end of a phone anytime.
My brother Lee and sister in law Clare. We always laugh about the silly things my husband did such as an evening he was so drunk he forgot he’d had a kebab! Good job I had photo evidence.
My husbands mum and brothers – my “brothers from another mother” and my mum in law is like a second mum. Her cards to me always say from your mum.
How has your widowhood changed as time has passed since your husband’s death?
There are always good and bad days. Eg: 3 nights ago I heard my husband call me. Only he and my mum ever called me Joanne. Everyone else says Jo. It was his voice and said ‘Joanne’. Obviously I must have been dreaming of him.
I love it when my dad wears my husbands shirts. A piece of Mark is still here.
I’ve learned to “not care” about those who want nothing to do with me now – their loss not mine.
I’ve started to remove “bad memories” of when he was sick from sight. There is still a photo on my wall where he is literally being held up in a standing position. It is not a nice image as he is wearing his cremation clothes too. That is going to be changed. While his sickness is part of our life, the happy memories are the best ones.
Are you dating or would you consider dating again sometime in the future?
Not dating but yes I probably would. I had to promise my husband that if the option presented itself, I’d allow myself to love and be loved again. That final night, we had a long conversation and I promised him I would be open to love again.