Men’s Health Week: David’s story

June 2024

To mark Men’s Health Week, we are pleased to share an edited version of an article originally written for Yorkshire Bylines by WAY member and local government professional David Kirlew-Morris – describing how he is looking after his own mental and physical wellbeing since his wife died…

On 15 January 2024, my beautiful and amazing wife – my inspiration for so many things – passed away due to sepsis. The chances of getting this were increased due to her already weak immune system being further affected by treatment for oesophageal cancer.

When I first heard the ‘c’ word I – like a lot of people – thought there was an immediate threat to the love of my life. This was different to the laundry list of medical conditions she’d accumulated since the age of six which had already made her vulnerable. My mental health went downhill. Immediately. I didn’t care about my diet, exercise or anything related to my own mind and body. I just wanted my wife to get clear of this.

On that day in January, she didn’t seem well at all – something was very wrong. I needed to call the ambulance. My stress levels increased so much. Previously I’d always found ways to help her feel better, but at this point I didn’t feel like I could do anything. I felt useless.

She wasn’t in A&E for that long, although I got the distinct feeling she was in the same space where my dad was when he died of pneumonia in 2020. I wanted her out of there as soon as possible and eventually she was taken to intensive care with suspected sepsis.

For hours and hours, I was unable to see her. Thankfully, family was with me along the way, but I didn’t really feel much better. My mind was racing, with all sorts of thoughts entering my head like ‘should I have done anything else?’. Her family rapidly tried to get that out of my head, thankfully.

Sadly, later that day she passed away. I could tell she was giving it one last fight with all the energy she had left, but it was too much.

“My entire world collapsed”

Devastated doesn’t accurately reflect how I felt. My entire world collapsed. The person I had so much fun with was gone. My inspiration for many things who’d immeasurably changed my life for the better wasn’t with me anymore. If I had a tough day for some reason, I could no longer talk to her about it.

My weight ballooned and there was a period early on where I just couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. I lost interest in so many things and I no longer knew what to do with myself. I couldn’t care less about anything.

Two days after her death was my 40th birthday. Our wedding anniversary was on 11 February and, of course, there was Valentine’s Day. I found that my wife had (whilst she was ill and weak) bought and wrapped presents for all three events. I found it a real struggle to keep it together on each day.

Without help from family, I would have never been able to cope with the funeral arrangements. I’m eternally grateful and she ended up getting the send-off she deserved.

When my wife died, I started to struggle. I had great support from friends and family and continue to receive that, but they obviously don’t have the exact same experiences that I do.

When a friend from university (who also lost his wife at a young age) told me about WAY Widowed and Young, I was pleased to know such a group existed and it wasn’t long before I signed up.

I’ve taken part in multiple new member Zooms since then and they’ve been so valuable. I’ve been able to share things with people who feel the same. I’ve shed tears, shared my story and it’s part of what’s helping me to heal.

I started attending walks organised by a fantastic group called Mental Health Mates. I cannot thank everyone enough for what they’ve done.

I am not back to how I was, though, and I won’t ever be. I still lack motivation and interest in certain things. I cry at random intervals (which I try to hide from my young niece and nephew if they’re nearby). I dislike being alone with my own thoughts and can’t stand silence at night. I find I have to constantly fill my calendar with all sorts of things to distract me. Seeing an ambulance always reminds me of that last day.

I am experiencing a ‘new normal’ and trying to work out what to do with my life and how to honour my wife’s memory. With the latter, I have found motivation to get back into shape by signing up to a 26-mile hike around the Yorkshire Dalesfor Macmillan Cancer Support. I’ve also signed up for a sign language course starting in September. Where possible, I am trying to repay my family and friends for all the help they’ve given me.

If she were here, I hope my wife would be proud.

Please remember this:

It’s perhaps easy for me to say, but you do not have to suffer in silence. If you don’t have a support network of family and friends, there are organisations and services out there who can provide you with help. There are helplines and all sorts of online resources. If you see someone who you think might be suffering in some way, don’t ignore it. Engage with them and see if there’s any way you can help.

With greater awareness and openness, things can start to get better.

This is an edited version of an article that David originally wrote for Yorkshire Bylines, a regional online newspaper that supports citizen journalism.