'My husband died suddenly and left me a single mum. I've since learnt 2 lessons about grief.'

When the father of your child dies, Father’s Day can be a bit of a minefield.

Not only are you trying to nurture and protect your child through the lead up and day, but you also step back into your own grief, and for me it is always a period of reflection. 

In 2017 I was living a very ‘normal’ life as a wife, mother of a four-year-old daughter and working in the world of weddings as a marriage celebrant.  

In fact, by September 2017 I’d officiated exactly 450 weddings, when all of a sudden, I was planning a funeral, and it was for my very own husband.

It sounds like something out of a British romantic comedy, but rather than a bumbling English gentleman coming to rescue me, I had to rescue myself from the depths of grief as my whole life as I once knew it was smashed into pieces.

My husband’s death from an asthma attack was sudden and completely unexpected. We had only just celebrated Father’s Day ourselves, having no idea it would be our last. I went to bed one evening, only to have him wake me in the middle of the night, telling me he couldn’t breathe. In an instant my very worst nightmare began as I attempted to resuscitate him on our bathroom floor until paramedics arrived, before they pronounced him dead in our home. 

Image: Supplied. It’s the kind of thing you read or hear about, never thinking it could happen to you, until it does.  


In one single evening, I’d gone from celebrating love to being swallowed by grief, left a widow, a single mother and wondering how on earth I was ever going to come back from it while raising our beautiful and innocent daughter.  

My perspective on grief has changed so much in the last three years. 

In those early days I was determined for grief not to get the better of me. It was as though I was in my very own version of Survivor.  And I was not only going to win at grief, I was going to smash it to smithereens!  

I was back working at weddings within four weeks of my husband’s death. I took my daughter on an eight week trip to Cambodia for my very own Eat, Pray, Midlife Crisis experience, I walked 40 kilometres in one day for charity, bought a house and attended every family or friend event with a big smile plastered on my grief-filled face.


I attempted to heal with every kind of therapy under the sun. Each time I politely asked if they could heal me, but to do it as quickly as possible because this grief thing was kind of ruining my vibe. 

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud's Father Day bonus episode with Osher Günsberg and Leigh Campbell. Post continues below.

Of course, I googled the hell out of grief and became an expert on the stages and then I treated my grief like a checklist – denial, tick, bargaining, tick, anger, tick, hang on I’m almost at acceptance, tick, tick, tick!

Not one thing was going to get in the way of me living my best damn life, not even a dead husband.

After year one I thought I was almost there, that I was done with grief. After all, I’d put on a winning performance. You should have seen the smug look on my face as I waited patiently for my grief immunity idol. Instead, one year ticked over and I fell into a huge grief like hole that almost swallowed me. I was confused, fatigued and felt an anger I hadn’t felt before.

And that’s where my first big grief lesson came into play.

Grief is not linear.

Grief is so far from being linear that as quickly as you can find yourself at a stage of acceptance, even the most minor trigger can send you back kicking and screaming to denial all over again. It can be as simple as hearing a sad song, dealing with an upsetting situation at work or even doing the dishes on a random Wednesday night, suddenly wishing they were there. 


Another big lesson I’ve learnt is that my grief is not something to be completed or ticked through. 

Whether I like it or not, grief is something that will be with me for life. It’s simply what happens when you lose someone you love so much. Grief isn’t something to be ticked off because our love for that person will always continue - it doesn’t matter how long ago their death occurred, our love for them will always be there, and so will our grief.

After I understood these two lessons, my relationship with grief changed and I seem to be faring much better for it. Once I learned that my grief wasn’t going anywhere, I leaned into it and didn’t avoid the uncomfortable feelings. In fact, I found I was better off treating my grief a bit like a friend and nurturing it and my feelings and emotions as much as possible. 

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WELL HERE IT IS...I WROTE A BOOK! Well it's a journal, but it's kind of a book, but it's also a journal. Introducing, 'Grief - a guided journal' by me. 🙈 I have been writing a social media post about this journal for what feels like 18 years, because I feel so bloody emotional and I don't even know where to start. So here's what you need to know for now; 1. If you're grieving, this journal is for you. I have put my heart and soul into creating a safe writing space for you to explore your grief. A space to let it all out, with no judgment or positive platitudes. There are guided writing prompts every step of the way. From the stages of grief, loneliness, anger and regret, to connection, kindness, gratitude and so much more. 2. If you know someone who is grieving, and all you want to do is help. THIS can help. This journal can be popped on their shelf to be picked up and written in whenever the person grieving feels ready. Or I'm very happy to post it on your behalf. 3. This journal is available to purchase right now via my website - link in bio. 4. I'd love you to share this journal with your family, your friends, your neighbour, work colleagues and even the postman, because I'm sure I will be. I don't care who you share it with, I'd just love them to know it's out there. I'm excited, terrified, happy and sad at the very bittersweet nature of how this came to be - but so proud to be giving grief a voice. Time to watch this space! #givinggriefavoice #griefaguidedjournal Photo @jessegan_ Design @katenosedadesigner

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Since I’ve done this, I’ve been able to help my child further in her grief. Is it easy? No. But I take what I have learned and try to help her with her own grief where I can. We let all our emotions hang out and we reflect on the incredible father we once had. 

Do I hate Father’s Day? Not really. It’s definitely hard, but there are so many incredible fathers out there who deserve to be celebrated, including our own.  

For those of you dealing with Father’s Day and your own reflection on grief, I see you. While I won’t wish you a happy Father’s Day, I will hope it is as peaceful as it can be.

Jo Betz is the author of Grief: A Guided Journal. Jo is a writer and speaker who is passionate about giving grief a voice through storytelling. You can follow her on Instagram.