real life

'Two years ago, my husband died suddenly. These are the lessons I've learned from his death.'

Rob and I were 'that couple'. Everyone looked up to us for the love we shared. Life was picture perfect – not just on Facebook, but in real life.

We got married only 10 months after we met; something I would’ve said to be impossible if you'd asked me... but that was before I met Rob. When he proposed to me under the stars, on a houseboat on the Hawkesbury River, my instant answer was "of course!"

We met in May, moved together in August, he proposed in October and we got married in March. Then we were blessed with two boys and moved into our own home. Most of our free time was spent at the beach... Life could’ve hardly been any more perfect. Okay, Rob travelled quite a bit for work, yet it was a choice we had made temporarily, with very different plans for the future.

Marie, Rob and their two sons. Image: Supplied. 

Then one day while Rob was on another business trip, I received a phone call that changed these plans dramatically. The man on the phone introduced himself as a Sergeant from the Coroner’s office – and after assuring I had somebody with me, proceeded to say, "I am sorry to inform you that your husband was found deceased in a hotel room in Perth this morning."

It was like somebody scratched the needle over a record player while playing your favourite song... Our sons were only 10 and eight at the time and the thought of them growing up without their dad tore my heart apart. My deepest wish for them was a happy life, and I was determined to make this happen. 

Fast-forward 28 months, these are the three things I did to help me and my boys get our lives back on track and allow happiness back in.

The art of saying "bye for now".

I’m looking down from the stage at our boys in the front row, all dressed up like little gentlemen. Next to them their dad, laid out in a white coffin with red and orange flowers on top. Their only form of closure was lifting the lid onto the coffin after the viewing. My heart breaks. I had not envisioned my speech about love and connection to be held at my husband’s funeral.

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"I can hear Rob calling me 'lil' old lady'" I open the eulogy, putting on my reading glasses and almost yodelling the words; soaking up a very welcomed laughter and warm smiles from an audience of over 500 people.

I share many happy memories about Rob, his passion for cooking, his Dr Dolittle acts of kindness in the animal world and him teaching me about choices.

The news about Rob’s passing returned a wave of thousands of messages from around the world. People were shattered; there was nothing but disbelief and broken hearts. Rob was one of a kind – and so was our relationship.

I remember my son Flyn asking me straight after delivering the news about their father’s passing, "Who will take care of us now Mum?" and I responded, "I will Flyn. I will take care of you!" Looking down from that podium, life seems surreal. They are 10 and eight... and their hero is gone.

Image: Supplied. I hear Rob say: "If something was to ever happen to me, I want you to find love again – create a happy life for our boys!" we had said to each other... It was always theory, yet I knew this was now my choice to make. Happiness. What a bizarre concept to think about when loss slaps you in the face unexpectedly. "It’s a choice!" I hear Rob say.

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Our marriage was filled with beautiful choices, and most of them had 'love' written all over them – in particular our two sons. 

At the wake, the room is crowded with warmth and laughter. Everywhere I walk, stories are shared about Rob; some of them very familiar, others new.

Working my way through hugs and stories, my eye catches Flyn lying on the floor in his suit pants, looking up at the video screen that showcases a tribute to his father’s life. Another moment that squashes my heart… "That’s all that’s left?" I catch myself thinking. At the same time, joy infuses me, watching kids running around carefree, as if it was just another cousins' get-together.

Rebecca Sparrow and Robin Bailey discuss their experiences in dealing with grief on The Well podcast. Post continues after podcast. 

Focusing on love. 

There’s one thing I have learned with Rob’s lesson about choices. Yet if I would just deliver it to you as is, you might not be able to take it in. So, allow me to share a little exercise with you. Start by picking your favourite colour. In my case I choose orange. See how many orange things you can find in one day when you really put your focus on it. It won’t take long – and even if I told you, you could stop looking, you’d still see orange things everywhere you go.

Now replace the colour with your favourite emotion, something you’d like to feel all the time. In my case that’s love. This is where the magic happens. You’ll start seeing it everywhere. A smile, a couple holding hand, somebody letting you in front in a queue, a compliment from a stranger, a happy check out chick at your local supermarket, a child’s laughter, a warm ray of sunshine. Love is everywhere. All we need is direct our focus on how we want to feel!

Once we start focusing on love, we can’t un-feel it; it becomes a habit. A life-changing habit. Enriching, healing and simply beautiful.

Image: Supplied. 

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Sharing our story.

About four months after saying "bye for now" to Rob, I had an epiphany. It was a moment when sitting with my counsellor and I shared with her how people tend to swamp me with advice and expectations, yet none of those seem to suit our situation or mindset...

She calmly asked me, "What does grief mean to you, Marie?" And to my surprise the first word that came to mind was "Empowerment!". It was the moment when I realised how differently I was grieving to most – and I knew I had to share our story.

I wanted the world to know how we met, fell in love and how I dealt with Rob’s abrupt departure; so I wrote and published Loving Life after Loss. I felt so blessed to learn our story made it to the top 100 list in Australia on publishing day. I realised I had something that people needed. On a very revitalising trip around the world with our boys, I found my clarity in Vienna, when I knew I needed to do more with this gift.

Only nine months after losing Rob I chose my purpose to be guiding others on their journey of healing loss. I opened the doors to my movement, gave it the same title as my book Loving Life after Loss and people from all around the globe joined to share their path with me. I love sharing my journey and healing retreats to support people.

It has become an evolution to interrupt the stigma of grief, to gift people what they need on this path: Someone who listens and offers them more than devastation and heartbreak; they need hope, love and support. 

Read more: Marie's husband told her he'd call at 7.30am. By 7.31am she knew he had died.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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