Bare’s grief and bereavement specialist Claire reflects on life as a widowed mum, after the sudden loss of her husband.
I am a widowed mum who knows all too well how easily life can flip you into unfamiliar, and sometimes terrifying, territory.
In May 2018, my husband Garryn was suddenly and traumatically taken from me. He was 42. There was no goodbye. There was just this ever-present fixture in my life, suddenly gone.
The hours and days that followed were filled with a mixture of complete clarity and utter fog. It was hideous. The person I needed to plan this with wasn’t here any longer.
We were young and had a 10-year-old daughter, Ava. We both thought we had time.
Time to heal our wounds.
Time to work on our relationship.
Time to get our finances sorted.
Garryn and I ran a small organic grocery and smoothie bar business. When he died, he left our family with a mess to clean up and no way of helping me raise our daughter in the years to come.
Despite being quite an independent woman, I relied on Garryn in ways I didn’t truly appreciate until he was gone. Facing the pressures of small business ownership and full-time parenting as a widowed mum, in a small regional area, was really, really tough. I ended up selling the business six months after he died. It had all become too much and I needed time to heal and concentrate on Ava’s healing too.
Rebuilding life as a widowed mum
Garryn’s death, and rebuilding my life as a widowed mum, highlighted to me the fact that we are brought up in a world that shuns death. It’s not spoken about enough, which is a huge disservice.
Regardless of how old you are, if you are an adult you need to have plans in place. If you have a child, make sure there is a support network available to help raise that child if tragedy strikes. Becoming a true single parent is really tough in a society that supports the nuclear family. If there are things that you can put in place, do them now.
I have had to rebuild myself in this journey and it hasn’t been easy. And by rebuild, I mean in every sense. I am proud of myself and I know that I was only able to do this through the support of some very dear friends who created space for me and Ava time and time again. Your relationships are worth more than gold when your life is ripped apart.
Time is not a guarantee
While I’m still on my own grief journey, what I have learned from this experience is that time is not a guarantee. The unexpected happens each and every day and people are constantly encountering hardship and sorrow.
In the last few years of Garryn’s life, we didn’t do much except work, work, work. We just don’t have many photos together, which I grieve over. If there is any advice I can give people is to record, record, record! I used to think it was better to look through your eyes than a camera lens. After this tragedy, I no longer feel that.
Having endured my own gut-wrenching loss, my goal is to help navigate change in how our society approaches death and grief. Since Garryn’s death, I have become a certified Compassionate Bereavement Care Provider with the Miss Foundation, in Arizona. As an end-of-life educator and grief guide, I am committed to helping people when they are suddenly thrust into these transitioning hallways of life.
We cannot always control when and where we are going to die, but there are things that we can control if the unexpected happens. We should plan for the unexpected and approach each day with a level of awareness that includes how little in control we actually are.
Embracing death makes life more meaningful
Planning for the unexpected, or even the expected, ensures you get the care you want and avoid the things you don’t want, even if you are unable to speak for yourself. Arming yourself with the knowledge of your own contemplations is the best weapon you can have when death comes knocking. Because it will come.
Whether you are young or old, ill or in good health, giving death a seat at your table is necessary. Why? If we can embrace the fact that we are going to die, our lives actually become a whole lot more meaningful. We receive each moment with gratitude and by embracing our own ultimate death, we also embrace the fact that all those we love will die.
Talking can help us achieve a ‘good death’
Regardless of your stage of life or health, get your legal documents in order. If you go outside and get hit by a bus today, your family might find that being hit by a bus wasn’t the only bad thing to happen.
Consider your priorities for end-of-life care, life-sustaining treatments (if the shit really goes shit!) and religious beliefs and traditions. What do you feel is most important to you on your deathbed? Talk about these wishes with your partner or family.
Talking with loved ones about your end-of-life care options help establish deeper connections and greater understanding. Even some of the closest people to us aren’t always completely aware of our beliefs and wishes. Knowledge is power and gives us greater clarity for our lives and what is possible in this age.
The grief journey is different for everyone, but one common thing is our need for human connection and good, healthy conversations about grief. I am an advocate for speaking truthfully about our loss, our grief. No longer can we pretend that everything should return to what it was like before someone we love is taken by death. I encourage anyone who has lost a loved one to turn towards grief and not away from it.
How you can plan ahead
The single most powerful thing a person can do to improve their chance of a good death is to talk about it. Talk to those who have the greatest impact on your care options and get their understanding of your wishes.
To help, I have written an end-of-life planning workbook called Die Rite. to help Australians consider their priorities and discuss what is most important with their families. You can download a free copy of Die Rite here.
Planning ahead will lead you to feel more empowered about life and about death. How would you approach your life if you knew the end date was soon?
You can read more about my grief journey in my previous article The Day My World Changed Forever. I have also produced a series of grief videos and other bereavement resources to support others in their grief journey. You can find these on Bare’s Grief resources webpage here.
At Bare, we know we often meet you at a difficult time in life. But for us, that means we can support you when you need it most. That’s why we love what we do.
To learn more about us, visit the bare.com.au or give us a call on 1800 071 176 (immediate-need funeral) or 1800 202 901 (prepaid funeral).