Joby's Story

June 2023

Joby writes how the recent change in the law to extend bereavement support to parents who weren’t married or in a civil partnership has impacted her…

Will with Annie

Will with Annie

I registered Will’s death in the same room in which a year and a half earlier he and I had registered the birth of our baby, Annie. That first time the three of us had gone in together. Excitement, some disbelief, at making her official. Bound to me in purple fabric, she slept right through it. They asked for the name we had chosen and we gave it like a blessing. The registrar was impassive, concentrating hard. In training, he told us. He wrote slowly. We left in a haze that characterised much of her first few months. I’m tempted to describe it as bliss. The three of us. 

When I next went to the council offices I was alone; I’d left my daughter with a childminder. I took a ticket from the same dispenser and sat and waited my turn on the same row of chairs. The registrar was more fluent, but no more sorry for my loss this time than he had been adoring of my new baby the first. Afterwards I leaned my back against a pillar and slipped down it and onto the floor where I allowed myself ten minutes to fall apart before I was due to pick up Annie. 

The bureaucracies of death’s aftermath come with so many little cruelties. Will died in early 2017 and I was not entitled to any economic support from the government because we were not married or in a civil partnership. Despite having been in love for 11 years, sharing a house and a mortgage and a one and a half year old child, and the infinite other domestic and romantic ingredients that made up our life together.

The financial implications of losing him existed somewhere so different from my emotional experience of his sudden death as to seem just irrelevant at first. But the ramifications are huge, and for some people completely debilitating. There are immediate costs: a cremation, a funeral (even if you choose an inexpensive coffin and a self-drive van instead of a hearse), and then of course you are a whole income down, and with your childcare options cut in half. 

Annie’s seven now, nearly eight. Six birthdays without him, Christmases. Impossible milestones that we’ve not been able to share: she learned to ride a bike! To write! To read! I sit alone in the bleachers watching her splash her way across the training pool. A whole width under water! There’s no one to share it with; no one who cares as much as me. 

Had Will and I been married when he died none of this would have been mitigated of course. But (along with being able to tick the widow box in the personal information section of forms - single is the only option available to me currently, and that’s not how I feel), I would have been entitled to over £300 a month. It’s hard to imagine the impact of that, the decisions I’d have made differently about childcare, my job, our home. On my state of mind.

“The extension of bereavement benefits is an enormous step that will allow bereaved families to focus more fully on the needs of our children.”

In February this year, after a long campaign by the Childhood Bereavement Network and other charities including WAY Widowed and Young, the government announced that cohabiting parents and carers would be allowed to claim bereavement benefits.

Joby and Will with Annie

Joby and Will with Annie

Some families bereaved as long ago as 2001 may be eligible for retrospective payments. They have until 9 February 2024 to submit a claim. And so I downloaded the form. 

It asked, with predictable lack of nuance, had we lived ‘as if we were married’? Like did we play scissors paper stone under the duvet in the morning to see who had to make the tea? Did we squeeze together on the hospital bed with a takeaway watching our new baby asleep in her cot? Did we have a vernacular so particular to each other that, after he died, I almost forgot how to speak? Yeah, then I guess we did. 

The bureaucratic negation of our relationship, like that of many others, has had an insidious effect, psychologically as well as financially. The extension of bereavement benefits is an enormous step that will allow bereaved families to focus more fully on the needs of our children.

Read more about WAY's campaign work