Anushka’s story: Navigating secondary losses on Mother’s Day

February 2024

WAY member Anushka was on the brink of countless adventures with her partner Max when he died suddenly in March 2020 at the age of just 33.

She reflects on the emotions that many young widowed people without children feel particularly keenly on dates like Mother’s Day… 

In the summer of 2019, Max and I were in a fortunate enough position to put an offer on our first home together. We’d both chosen to go back to university, and in the September of that year, Max started a four-year long MA. In the same year, and on a different campus at the same university, I began an MSc conversion course with the hope of retraining as a Psychologist. Although it was a hectic and challenging few months, we knew we had so much ahead of us, and everything to look forward to.

Max had proposed to me the previous summer, but we agreed to wait until we were settled into our new home before properly announcing anything. Still, the two of us would map out our lives together over dinner, or whilst we were packing boxes and sharing interior design ideas for our soon-to-be home. We finally got the keys at the end of January 2020, and couldn’t wait to get in, unpack and start making our plans come alive together.

It was exactly six weeks after we moved in, on Saturday, 7 March 2020, that everything changed. Max got up before me to start making breakfast, one of his regular weekend gestures. When I went to join him in the kitchen, less than 10 minutes later, I found him collapsed and unresponsive.

Although Max made it to intensive care, where he remained for five days, he never regained consciousness. We eventually found out that he had an undiagnosed heart condition, which was the cause of the sudden cardiac arrest.

"We were both 33 when Max passed away, and on the brink of countless new chapters and adventures."

Around two weeks later, the country went into lockdown for the first time. Although the early days and weeks remain very hazy, there were a couple of things that I’ll always remember. The outpouring of love from family and friends, and their ability to shield me from absorbing what was going on in the outside world. And, my repeated attempts to rewrite the narrative, convinced that I could somehow change the order of events, cheat time and bring Max back.

One of the hardest things at that time was hearing people say how much they were looking forward to things ‘getting back to normal’. Whenever anyone would talk about how frustrating or boring they had found lockdown, or how they couldn’t wait to start ‘living’ again, I remember feeling this rage inside me, because Max would never experience that. 

The idea of my ‘new normal’ felt unbearable and impossible. I’d think about all of the paused weddings that eventually took place, and all of the babies that were conceived during lockdown.

"As well as losing Max, I’d lost our shared plans for the future."

All of those layers and losses made the grieving process incredibly complex. Due to the age I was when Max passed away, it was inevitable that the pregnancy announcements in my social circle would soon begin. I’m fortunate that everyone I am close to told me in the kindest, most sensitive way, but the underlying pain that accompanied each and every announcement was always there. I wasn’t amongst that friendship group in the same way anymore, and the world felt like an incredibly lonely place without Max.

Finding a way forward


I came across WAY and the subgroup for WAY members without children (known as WAYWOC) in August 2020, thanks to someone I had randomly met on a weekend away several years earlier. 

In those early months after I joined WAY, although I was warmly accepted into each of the WAY subgroups, it was WAYWOCs that became a lifeline for me – that specific, shared understanding of what it was like to be widowed without children. Whether it was during the period that I posted multiple times a day, or when I had become a lot less active on the group, I was always received with open arms, and without judgement.

In terms of dealing with my grief, and I say dealing because it’s something that will always be with me, as will my love for Max, it has been a combination of factors that have carried me through. In the early days, it was purely the love and support from family, friends and WAYWOCs. Also, the connection that I have been fortunate enough to maintain with Max’s parents. I would spend a lot of time in the aftermath writing down the things that were too profound to verbalise. I have several notebooks containing scribblings of dreams, letters to Max, my thoughts for that day. I was a lot less communicative in the earlier days and weeks after he died, and in addition to writing, I was glued to cookery shows on TV for many hours of the day. These were the only programmes I could watch that made my brain feel safe.

As time went on, it became clear that I needed some distance from the flat. It felt impossible to process what had happened whilst remaining in a place where promise and happiness, trauma and devastation, coexisted in one small space. Two of my closest friends had a room in their house in Liverpool that became available, so I moved up there and stayed for two and a half years. That decision saved my life and I don’t know where I would be without them. There aren’t many people in this world who could do what they did for me.

"I know that moving forwards will always mean different things to different people, and that moving forwards is never moving on. I carry Max with me everywhere I go. I always will."

For me, moving forwards over time has meant returning to work in the field of mental health, now in an Ambassador role. It has meant a move out of Liverpool and a return to the flat, a new relationship, a different purpose and a new set of life challenges, encased around the old.

Some of the changes have felt too incremental for me to notice, but the one thing I know for sure is that, in those earlier days and months, I was convinced that I wouldn’t survive. I didn’t think it was possible to live in so much pain, nor did I want to. It has undoubtedly been other people who have helped me to reach this place, and pretty much those same people who’ve continued to provide the fuel to keep me going – family, friends, strangers, (old and new) work colleagues, the WAY/WAYWOC community, my incredibly patient and skilled therapist, my supportive partner who embraces Max’s continued presence in my life.


Navigating Mother’s Day


For many WAY members and WAYWOCs, Mother’s Day can be an especially difficult time. The secondary losses that accompany that day might be connected to a loss of motherhood/parenthood. For some, Mother's Day might still be a day of celebration and gratitude as well as a day that represents loss. For others, the day might represent multiple, complex losses. It might be a day that passes like any other or a day that holds extra significance. 

"Whilst I am still in a fortunate enough position to celebrate my mum and all that she is, I also grapple with the loss of never becoming the mother of Max’s children."

These feelings exist at different times, and in different ways throughout the year.

Although life will never be the same, and nothing will fill the void that Max left behind, I am grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to keep living, even though it’s along a completely different path to the one I thought I would be treading. 

From adverts to social media posts, it can be difficult to avoid Mother’s Day - we have more tips about navigating Mother's Day from different perspectives.

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When you join WAY you’ll have access to a community of other widowed people who understand what you are going through.

Members can access, a telephone support line offering counselling, legal and financial support, a subscription to our members magazine, specific groups to connect with others and helpful resources to help you understand your loss.

We are sorry you or a loved one needs to be here, but we all understand how difficult these times can be and we’re here for when you are ready.

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