real life

'After my husband died, my 6-yo daughter summed up our loss in six heartbreaking words.'

We need a lot of distraction in December. Alone just the four of us when it seems like other families are whole and complete. My husband, Chris, died five years ago, just over a week before Christmas. He was 48 years old, I was 43. Our twins were six, and our eldest eight years old.

Nothing was the same.

School holidays had just started and the girls and I were in Melbourne with my sister and family. Chris decided to remain in Sydney as December was always a busy time for his work. We spoke and texted intermittently Friday and Saturday. Sunday I was unable to reach him, but I wasn’t unduly worried. Chris had a relaxed relationship with his mobile phone and I knew he had a busy weekend, work, an early morning paddle planned and a kayak function on Sunday night.

Plus, I’d asked him to put Santa on the roof.

By Monday morning though when I still wasn’t able to reach him I started to worry. I called his work to see if he’d arrived. No, he hadn’t. His business partner assured me that he had meetings scheduled and would arrive soon. I called a kayaking mate and asked if he’d made it to the kayaking function on Sunday night. The mate called around, called me back, no he hadn’t shown up.

By now I was feeling frantic – perhaps he had fallen from the roof while attaching Santa. I asked the friend to go to the house and check. He called back, the police were at our house and wanted to speak with me. My sister took the phone and it was then we learnt that Chris had been found by fishermen early Sunday morning out of his kayak – his emergency beacon activated. I think I went into shock. Adrenalin coursed through my body. I told the girls immediately, nothing sank in. Somehow we got ourselves on a plane back to Sydney.

The week prior to the funeral passed in a surreal blur. Speeches to write, friends to invite to carry the coffin (who to choose?), photos for a montage to select, catering to organise. Like planning for a wedding but with so much sadness and shock instead of joy.

LISTEN: The grieving process has seven phases. Bec Sparrow and Robin Bailey walk through each of them, on The Well. Post continues after audio…

As friends and family showed up at the house shocked and tearful I so often felt the need to reassure everyone that I was “fine”. We could cope, we would be OK. My grief came to the fore with near strangers. The vet, the pharmacist, a dry cleaner were all confronted with racking sobs and bewildered they did their best to say the right things.

Everyone wanted to help, to fix, to “be there” – good intentions abound but there were few people I felt comfortable enough to expose myself. I wasn’t this person, desperate, scared, lonely and I wasn’t prepared to let many people see me in those raw moments. So many days a mask was put on. Maybe people were fooled, maybe they weren’t.

I felt like the laughter had been taken from our house. Chris was the funny guy – the king of Dad jokes, the rumble and tumble Dad, the jump in the pool in the middle of winter Dad. I was in charge of logistics. It was Lucy (one of my twins) who summed up our loss one night when she said: “Nothing will be fun anymore, Mummy. Who will jump in the pool with us?”

So I tried. Kind friends nurtured us at Patonga. I jumped off the jetty with the kids, I swam in the ocean but without the same joy and abandon that Chris did.

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"I still miss Chris every single day."

But alongside the fear and the grief lay determination. This would not define us. We would continue to be a family. Planning and logistics distracted me and kept me moving forward. That first year we kept to our routines, the girls did ballet and started netball. I kept going with my netball and for 40 minutes on court every week I was able to forget.

A friend from France invited us to her wedding. I accepted and embarked on planning a four week holiday to Europe. We rode bikes in the Loire valley, went horse riding in the Dordogne and did a cooking class in Paris. The girls were invited to the wedding ceremony but not the beachside reception. I sat on the beach and sobbed on the phone to my sister. I left in a taxi back to my girls in the hotel and sent my apologies to my understanding friend.

I needed a bigger project. Sane and wise friends talked me out of selling the house and buying a farm but encouraged me when I said I wanted to move to France for a year. My planning skills went into overdrive as I dealt with French bureaucracy. In order to obtain our visa, proof of school enrolment and an accomodation lease needed to be secured. I did it and we were off to France.

We made good friends and learnt another language. I drove on the right side (my greatest fear) and once even put snow chains on the side of the road. I was forced into situations that challenged me to find solutions on my own and we thrived.

I still miss Chris every single day. But as time goes on, I realise I don't want to be alone anymore. I know Chris would want me to be happy and have companionship - and so going into 2018, that is what I'm looking for. For a widowed single mum of three, I don't know how easy that's going to be - but I'm going to attack the dating scene with the same positivity and vigour that I did these past five years and hope something special comes my way.

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