So, here we are. 7 weeks into widowhood and it’s been quite a journey.

I wrote quite a bit about our experiences following Pete’s diagnosis, and so many people got in touch to say that it had helped them, which gave us both a lot of comfort, so it seemed a bit selfish not to share the rest of the journey. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way, they are my experience, everyone’s grief is different. Here’s how it’s been for me.

  1. It feels surreal. Even though you know it’s coming, even though you have talked about it for months, and you were holding hands when he took his last breath, you saw the coffin at the crematorium and you’ve got his ashes in a container, it doesn’t feel quite real. I half expect him to come back through the door and tell us that it’s all some elaborate practical joke.
  2. Preparation really helps, we talked about everything. We planned his funeral together, he chose the celebrant, the coffin, the colour of the flowers, the readings, the songs, and the venue for the wake, in fact, there were very few details we hadn’t discussed. This meant that organising his funeral felt like I was fulfilling his last wishes and made every decision so much easier. It made for an uplifting service, there was inevitable sadness, but we felt his presence. Lots of friends have discussed their wishes with each other as a result, and I would urge anyone who hasn’t done this to do so. It’s not a conversation anyone wants to have, but it’s an act of tremendous kindness towards those you leave behind.
  3. The fact that nothing was left unsaid is a great comfort. A couple of days before he died, I asked Pete if there was anything he needed to say or anyone he wanted to see who he hadn’t, and he said he was content that he had said everything he needed to, and that we all knew how he felt about us, and he knew how loved he was, he wasn’t scared and was ready to go. That’s given us all a lot of comfort.
  4. The administration is time-consuming, frustrating, and exhausting. Even when you think you’ve prepared and have everything sorted, there are always complications. (I’m looking at you TPS and ID mobile!)
  5. People want to help and are really kind. Taking their help, makes them feel like they’re doing something useful.
  6. The few days before the funeral are really hard, I don’t know if this was made worse by having bit of a gap between the death and the funeral, I don’t remember it being as hard when we buried my dad, but this time I found the last few days before the funeral really tough. By that stage, everything is organised and the funeral hangs over you like a cloud.
  7. Having a lot of people at the funeral really makes a difference and gives comfort to the family. I will never be able to put into words how much it meant to us that so many people made the effort to come to send Pete on his final journey. I know it gave his children and parents a huge amount of comfort. Never underestimate how important it is to be there and always go if you can, no matter how hard.
  8. Planning something after the funeral is important. Everything prior to that is building up to the funeral, you’re busy organising and making sure that everything is ok, and it can feel very flat afterward. My sister and friends who have lost partners warned me about this, so we planned a weekend in New York (go big or go home, right?) but anything, whether it’s a trip to the coast, afternoon tea with a friend, a picnic, anything will help to focus on something different.
  9. Having things to look forward to really matters. Once the funeral is out of the way time seems to stretch infinitely in the distance. Putting things in the diary, both work and play help to fill up the time. I’ve booked some gigs, a holiday, gallery visits, gin school, a spa day, and some days out. I’m even toying with a festival or two.
  10. Saturdays can be tricky. Maybe because that’s when most people are spending their time with loved ones, and the reality that he isn’t here anymore really hits, maybe because he died on a Saturday, who knows? Friends have been brilliant at making suggestions such as Saturday brunch club, to keep us busy and stop us from overthinking.
  11. Getting on with it really helps. I’ve found myself having to deal with things which we would either have done together or Pete might have done because I’d be busy working. Just getting on with it without overthinking has meant that I have a sense of achievement, and I’ve accomplished quite a lot in a short time. For me putting things off would have led to me thinking I couldn’t do it, so I’ve dived right in. What’s the worst that could happen?
  12. Saying no is ok. I’ve had so many invitations to go out and do things, which is lovely, but sometimes I just want to be at home and not have to socialise. Friends understand this and are not offended if I tell them I’m staying at home.
  13. Conversely, forcing yourself to do something when you may not really feel like can also be good.
  14. It’s important to get the right balance, I’ve had a year of not working face to face with people. It would be so tempting to throw myself back into full-time work at 100mph but I’m really not ready for it. So, pacing myself has been my biggest challenge. My natural tendency to want to help out and to say yes and squeeze things in has had to be suppressed. I’ve done this by setting myself some very strict boundaries. I’ve found I work best in the morning and am quite tired by mid-afternoon, so have tried to avoid working then. I’ve set clear boundaries for when I return to work full time. No more than 2 overnight stays a week, anything outside a 1.5-hour driving radius will need an overnight stay, everything else will be online. If people really want me, they may have to wait. I have turned down work in August, I’m taking it off this year and spending precious time with family and friends. Training myself to say “no” is pretty much impossible, so instead, I’ve opted for, “not yet” and so far everyone has been ok with that. I’m aware that this is a privilege of working for myself. The downside is that there will be less money coming in, but I think it will be a price worth paying in the short term because we all need to be there for each other right now.
  15. Grief can be really tiring. Debilitatingly so. This is frustrating but the best thing to do is just accept it and rest.
  16. You can be rumbling along quite nicely, and able to talk about all sorts of really difficult stuff without shedding a tear, then the most ridiculous thing will floor you out of the blue and you won’t be able to speak for a while.
  17. Pete’s absence is a presence. This is the thing that I’ve found most striking. I’ve been used to working away for a few years now, I’m also used to Pete being at work and then in and out of the hospital so not always being at home, but since his death, his absence has become a presence in our house. I feel it when I wake up in our bed alone, I feel it when I walk into the empty house after dropping Hannah at school, I feel it when the girls have gone to take the dog for a walk. It’s almost tangible. I wonder if I will get used to it. It doesn’t disturb me, in a way I find it oddly comforting.
  18. Getting a dog has been a life saver – I appreciate not everyone can do it, but I’m so glad we could. In my head I can hear Pete joking about, “being replaced by a bloody dog” but our pup has brought a great deal of joy to our house when we’re all tremendously sad, and that’s priceless.
  19. It’s early days in the journey, I haven’t yet fallen apart but that doesn’t mean I won’t and if I do, I know I have some good people around me to help put me back together again. I know because Pete told me, that he wanted me to go on and live life to the full, so that’s what I’m trying to do, one day at a time.
  20. You have to keep on keeping on, because there isn’t an alternative, so you may as well make the most of it!

16 responses to “This much I know”

  1. Nazma Meah avatar
    Nazma Meah

    I had so many words in my head to write but nothing seems right when I type it. so all I want to say is, thank you Ruth. These honest and heartening tips are so important because, they are not just in some self help book…but from a real person going through it.

  2. Donna Margaret Kettle avatar
    Donna Margaret Kettle

    Ruth, as always it is a humbling experience to read your blogs. You truly know how to connect with others and to write from the heart. Your recent experience and your advice to others will certainly influence my outlook on life, illness, death and whatever else lies ahead for me.
    I wish you all the very best as you start to make sense of life. I am so happy to hear that you sense Pete’s presence every day.
    If you are ever in Whitby, I would love to buy you a coffee, or even better, a local gin! Take care. X

  3. Kathryn Solly avatar
    Kathryn Solly

    Ruth, your words as usual are very wise and heartfelt. Death is something we are often taught to avoid and not discuss. Many children and adults are curious about it and yet it’s something that’s avoided. You have hit the nail on the head with Peter’s help in that you are educating folk that death is part of life and something to be embraced as normal. Thank you. Xxx

  4. Raj Unsworth avatar
    Raj Unsworth

    Like Naz, I cannot seem to find the right words Ruth. Except to say it’s been a privilege to share your journey with you as a family, even from a far. So much of what you say will resonate with those who have lost loved ones.
    Keeping going, one step and one day at a time. Much love to you and the girls. Xxx

  5. Maureen  Hunt avatar
    Maureen Hunt

    As always you write so beautifully and with such dignity and truth. Your ability to think of others is humbling and hopefully brings you comfort also. Thank you for such beautiful words reminding us of the important things. xx

  6. Alison Moore avatar
    Alison Moore

    Thank you for sharing your journey. It is so different for everyone but your journey sparked many memories of my own experiences of loss.

  7. Gill Rowland avatar
    Gill Rowland

    I am a bereavement volunteer with Cruse. There are many models of grief designed to help people understand their bereavement, but your lived experience is powerful and will help others.

    There is no template for grief – it’s different for everyone and, as Grollman says, “The only cure for grief is to grieve.”

    Be kind to yourself. My thoughts are with you.

  8. Arlene Honeyman avatar
    Arlene Honeyman

    Ruth, your ability to connect is such a gift and allows us to relate with ease. I so respect your authentic voice and wishe you and your beautiful girls, and Buttons, a full life. Let there be tears when there needed, laughter to lift you all and many adventures. You are an amazing and generous woman

  9. Chris Chivers avatar
    Chris Chivers

    Hi Ruth,
    Beautifully written, heartfelt and honest.

    I can say that my experience was virtually the same. In many ways, having time to talk and plan aspects together made some of the more challenging periods bearable.

    I eventually wasn’t able to return to headship as I had a teen-age son to consider. The demands of the job would have caused stresses in other areas. Part time SEN work established stability from which consultancy and uni work was added. It was life changing.

    However, on discovering that Della had cancer, we fulfilled a dream to buy a small house in France, which I have retained, largely because of its restorative opportunities. Time away from the day to day

    I wish you periods of calm, good friends with whom to talk and quality distraction when needed.
    Be well. The pain of grief eventually passes.

  10. Debbie Higgins avatar
    Debbie Higgins

    This is all so true.
    This time last year daughter and I were nursing Peter through what turned out to be 4 months of steady decline. He had encephalopathy, so wasn’t able to understand what was happening to him, but I’m sure he felt safe and loved.
    You are doing a marvellous thing sharing your experiences with those of us in a similar situation. Thank you so much.

  11. Sue Cowley avatar
    Sue Cowley

    Such a tender and loving blog Ruth. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. Beautiful writing. Xx

  12. Penny Rabiger avatar
    Penny Rabiger

    My heart aches for you all, and I feel enriched by your compassion and care for each other and for those of us for whom such certain yet terrible loss awaits in some form or another. Death is the only certainty yet the most inconceivable thing to so many of us.
    Take care Ruth. Love to you all

  13. Alison C avatar
    Alison C

    Thank you just thank you.

  14. Helen Moylett avatar
    Helen Moylett

    Reading this brought back memories and resonated with my own experience 7 years ago. I remember those Saturdays! Absence being a presence is so true. When you have been with someone for a long time they are always part of you – your other half as people say. When you lose that other half you are unbalanced in some strange ways. Time really does help and heal -specially with the support of friends and family but I don’t think you ever ‘get over’ grief just learn to live with it in a less all consuming way. I can still be wobbled by little things – his favourite dish on a restaurant menu for instance but rarely get completely overcome. I am keeping on keeping on and have many blessings to count. My thoughts are with you – all bereavement journeys are different – there are no real shortcuts but there is learning and joy as well as sadness along the way. I found writing helped me understand and process what I was going through and I am full of admiration for the way you have documented and shared your experiences. Much love x

  15. Christine avatar

    Thank you for sharing this, Ruth. Although a different experience, I lost my Dad in April and so much of what you have written about here resonated, particularly the parts about the funeral and the frustrations of ‘sadmin’ : why are some companies so amazingly compassionate and others completely fail to show any understanding whatsoever? I hope you’re able to take the time you need over the summer and that your work is a helpful focus for you. Thinking of you and your family as you navigate a journey no-one would choose. X

  16. Julia Skinner avatar
    Julia Skinner

    I’m writing this on the day we hear about Deborah James & for me, there is a great similarity between your stories. You have both been so open & honest & for everyone, that is such a comfort. You have told it how it was & is & that makes the whole cycle of life & death so ‘organised’. I couldn’t think of another word but it feels normal.
    What isn’t normal is the short lives that Pete & Deborah lived & which is so bloody unfair.
    Thank you for sharing Ruth. Keep on keeping on. Not only is that how you are, but it would also be what Pete expects! xx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *