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Robin Bailey: This is the life lesson I had to learn after my husband died

“I know there is a world of people wanting to step up for me but the hardest part is the realisation that I still feel I am failing if I am not doing this on my own.”

Why can’t I let people help me? What is it about the words “let me do that for you” that sends shivers down my spine when on paper I am the chick that you would think needs the most help.

Let me explain…

Thirteen months ago my husband died suddenly by his own hand, leaving my three sons and I to pick up the devastating pieces.

My boys are amazing. At ages 15, 13 and 10, they have had to grow up very quickly and not only deal with the catastrophic trauma of their father’s death but battle the usual angst of teenage boys while coping with a mother who is sometimes apoplectic with worry for them.

We have also moved house in that time, so their adjustments have included reclaiming their space in a new home and renegotiating school runs, soccer schedules and their ever increasing social calendars. They are great kids but part of their new regime is learning to cook and clean and take care of each other. It has been a big readjustment and one I am proud to say they have accepted, if not sometimes begrudgingly.

robin bailey husband's death
Robin Bailey. Image via Facebook/Robin, Terry and Bob.

I returned to work five weeks after my husband’s death predominately because we all were desperately looking for normalcy and me working was our normal. I am a breakfast radio announcer in Brisbane for the KIIS station 973 FM. I start work at 4 o’clock in the morning and have been doing so for the last 20 years.

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When my husband was alive he ran a business from home and we shared the childcare. He did mornings, I did a lot of the afternoons and we shared cooking and the running around. So when he left us, logistically I needed help. My youngest is too little to leave on his own and despite my boys being amazing, they need support and the chance to be just kids.

So three weeks after his death I got a wonderful Au Pair called Charlotte to live with us… and herein lies the first of my problems when it comes to getting help. I’m happy if it’s a business arrangement, but feel awful if it’s friends and family.

Why? Because they have been my life blood. In the first few months when I struggled to get out of bed, my core group of girlfriends made me meals and fed me chocolate and held me while I cried. They did pick-ups and drop-offs and took my boys for outings and kept us moving forward. My mum and sister, who live in Sydney, came up often and we made it through all the firsts.

So why oh why is it now, 13 months down the track, that I struggle to say “yes, please” when someone says, “I will do that for you”?

Robin sat down with Mia Freedman earlier this year to talk about her husband’s death. You can watch the video below.

Here’s why. I’m a mum and my job is to cope, right? Yes, I’ve had some big things happen, but haven’t we all? And there has been enough water under the bridge now that surely says I’m supposed to have it all together by now.

Come on, be honest. All of you reading this now, wouldn’t you say the same thing? I’m not sure if it’s because in my head there is an invisible line in the sand that says ‘beyond this you get it together like every other single mum’. You suck it up and absorb the sucker punches and just move on.

I know that my line was drawn a month ago when I got through all the firsts since my husband’s death and thought that by now I should stand on my own feet. If I’m truly honest in my head I was also saying ‘enough, you are not worthy of so much love and concern. There are others who have done it equally as tough if not tougher than you who can get by so why not you?’.

robin bailey husband's death
Robin with her co-hosts, Terry and Bob. Image via Facebook/Robin, Terry and Bob.
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Sadly for me, this core belief meant that despite all the offers of help — and they have kept coming from the nicest, kindest, most sincere of friends — I stopped taking it. In the bank of self care I left nothing for me and as each day turned to weeks I realised that I was doing nothing for myself — and worse still, it was turning into self harm.

It’s a funny thing about mums, isn’t it? We make the joke of always eating the burnt chop, but when that chop also means putting ourselves last in every scenario… What is left? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

And that’s what happens to me. On the first Wednesday of the school holidays the boys and I were unpacking the last of the boxes in our new house and I accidentally scratched my foot on top of our Millennium Falcon Star Wars figurine and caused a graze.

I momentarily stopped and swore and then kept going, thinking nothing of it apart from annoyance that I had hurt my foot. Three days later the graze started to get infected and by the Saturday night my body had gone into shock. I suffered a screaming temperature of nearly 40 degrees and sweats while shaking uncontrollably.

By Sunday morning enough was enough and I placed myself in the hands of the emergency ward of the Wesley Hospital. I was put on intravenous antibiotics and admitted only to watch my foot deteriorate to a swollen mass of puss by day five.

On day six they operated to clean out the foot and on day 10 here I still sit in my hospital bed waiting for the infection to heal enough for me to go home. I’ve had hours and hours on my own away from my children, friends and family to think about my choices and work out a way forward — because clearly in my world something has to give.

robin bailey husband's death
Robin in hospital with her foot injury. Image via Facebook/Robin, Terry and Bob.
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Literally hundreds of texts, visits and Facebook messages later, I know there is a world of people wanting to step up for me but the hardest part is the realisation that I still feel I am failing if I am not doing this on my own.

I am not super woman and I really don’t think that I am but I struggle a lot to let myself have a moment to breathe amid the chaos of my life. I don’t think my needs are equal to my sons or my work but if they’re not, where will I be in six or 12 months?

If a Star Wars toy can put me in hospital for two weeks then surely that is warning enough that I need to prioritise me. Please don’t all yell at this page at once or stop reading in frustration because I do not think that my choices are very different from a lot of mums — it’s just I’m a little extreme.

So what do I do now? To be honest I’m still formulating a plan. Tonight I spent an hour and a half on the phone with someone who loves me dearly, trying to find solutions. And despite some fantastic ideas we came to the conclusion there really is only one solution — for me to put me first.

Not every time, and certainly not before my kids’ basic needs, but to have time every day just for me. I need to smell the roses, go for a run or better still, sit on my bum and do absolutely nothing. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

There is no moral to this story of my complicated life, only I hope that by reading this another mum who only ever puts herself last stops and thinks ‘I’m worth it’, because God help me that is all I am trying to do right now.

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