In March 2021, Debbie’s husband Doug died after being ill for a long time. Nearly a year after Doug’s death, Debbie found the Sue Ryder Online Bereavement Community, and wrote her first post.
Here she shares how learning about grief and connecting with others has helped her cope.
The day he died, I called an ambulance to take him off to hospital. I couldn’t go with him because of Covid. I never dreamt that when I said goodbye then, that would be the last time I talked to him.
Doug had been ill for several years before he died. He had refractory anaemia, sleep apnoea, type 2 diabetes, and asthma. I had been his carer for some time. We had a great day the day before he died. He told me he loved me. The next day, he couldn’t get out of bed, and couldn’t talk. I realised afterwards he was in the process of dying. Me and my daughter got to the hospital just in time to see him go. He just drifted off. It was a good way to die.
We could only invite 26 people to the funeral, but we live streamed it as well. We did memory bags at the funeral because we couldn’t meet up afterwards. We had cake and tea bags and sugar so people could have a drink with us in spirit.
Learning to live without my husband
The first year was a blur. There were lots of tears.
I run the reprographics department of the local secondary school and didn’t go back to work for seven weeks after the funeral. They were caring and supportive. But I loved the job before Doug died - now I feel I’m just going through the motions, and don’t have the flair I used to. I feel ready to retire.
Just before Christmas last year, I saw lots of posts coming up on Facebook about the Sue Ryder Online Bereavement Community and decided to join. I can tell people things on the forum I would never dream of sharing with even my own children. When I’m feeling awful and I don’t know where to turn, the forum is the place to go. If you’re having a down day, you can go on and say how you’re feeling, and someone always responds almost straight away.
The community has helped me a lot, especially in the early days because there were lots of emotions I was feeling – you say to yourself ‘is this normal’ but reading other’s experiences lets you know that it is.
Then I got to learn about Grief Guide. I’m journalling on there and doing the online memory box. I post photos of special things like our wedding. I recently arranged with the council to put a bench in the local park with Doug’s name on, and posted that on there too. When I’m struggling, I often go on Grief Guide, and read the articles that fit that emotion I’m experiencing.
Then someone on the forum mentioned Grief Coach, so I’ve signed up for that and started getting the text messages. I had a message recently saying, ‘the reason you miss them is because you loved them’, which really resonated with me. Grief Coach sends me videos, and links to articles and podcasts, and I read and listen to those. I picked up some books that were recommended on there too. I wanted to compare how I was feeling to how everyone else was feeling and I’ve realised that there’s no right or wrong way, everyone’s different.
My grief journey
I’ve found the second year harder than the first. Everything feels like so much more effort. I’ve had Covid twice since Doug died, and you think ‘what if something happens to me? There’s no one here to look after me and make me a cup of tea!’ It hits you more in the second year that you’ve got no one to chat to. It’s night times I find the worst.
It’s interesting how people approach grief differently. Some people don’t like having photos around, but I love them, and have them everywhere. I have a shrine in the garden where I scattered his ashes and talk to him every night before bed. Sometimes I swear at him for leaving me. I keep some special clothes in the wardrobe, and often go to just feel them and touch them. I still send him birthday and Christmas cards and buy him something to put in the garden. He’s centrally part of my life. He may not be here physically, but he’s here in my heart.
Grief is a journey – a journey without an end. You just have to keep moving forward and take the person that’s passed away along with you. I’ve learnt so much about grief from Sue Ryder in the past few years. It’s such a fantastic charity.
Our online bereavement support currently receives no statutory funding. This means we are heavily reliant on fundraising activities and donations in order to be there for people like Debbie.
Will you help us make sure that no one has to grieve alone?