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Reflections on Father's Day from widowed parents

June 2020

Father's Day can be challenging for WAY members for many different reasons, whether they're strugglling with raising children on their own as a widowed parent or whether they've not had the chance to have children. Here we hear what Father's Day means to three widowed parents...

Tadgh's story

When I was younger, I was fortunate to live in a foreign country. Whilst I was there, a national holiday occurred. People geared up to follow traditions, shops hung up signs to celebrate. I was told of stories of things that had happened in previous years. Yet whilst invited, when the holiday arrived, I felt like a passenger watching from a window. Everyone enjoying themselves but aware that this day was not a day for me. This is how now I feel during Father’s Day.

On previous Father’s Days, my twin boys were only one but I had a card signed by them with handwriting suspiciously like my late wife Jess’. I think that particularly in the early years of childhood, Father’s and Mother’s Day is a way for partners to say how proud they are of their co-parent through the children. But in solo parenting you are aware in the lead up there is no card coming, so there is a tendency to step back from the day, ignore it to protect yourself.

However, I am starting to feel like this is the wrong approach. While I cannot mirror what others are doing, I should at least try to own it for myself.

The first step is to ignore other people’s Father’s Day praise on social media. Especially from Alice from accounts, who has written five paragraph essays on the wonders of her husband with photos edited within an inch of their life of the perfect family.

However, do celebrate. Even if that celebration is a quiet five minutes to yourself whilst in the toilet, thinking about the wonderful things you have done for your kids. Despite the drudgery of solo parenting, you would have done some things that made the kids smile, and there’s more than you can remember. Say well done.

I know it sucks because it is yet another thing you must do yourself, your partner is not here to, but they would be proud of you. So while buying a “Colin the Caterpillar” cake is optional, if anyone deserves it, you do.

 

Al's story

Monday 20th June 2017 at 8:05pm will be the worst day of my life for all time, that was the exact time I found out that my fiancée Marie was being rushed to hospital. At that time I didn’t know the reasons, just that I had to get there as soon as I could. It would turn out to be the longest, loneliest, and heart-breaking night of my life, but that’s not where the story starts.

Three years previously Marie and I had a daughter, who was born very premature, at 27 weeks, and weighing just 1lb 7oz, she fought for her life, and spent 4 months in an incubator, and nearly 8 months in hospital being fed through tubes, and having help breathing. Our daughter nearly died several times, and had to be intubated a few times, as she’d stopped breathing. I thought at the time, it was the hardest thing I would have to endure in my life, but it was ok, because I had Marie by my side, and we would help each other through it all. Our daughter came home in February 2015, and we could finally start being a family together.

Marie and I had been engaged to be married for a few years by the time our daughter was born, and that put the plans to marry on hold, mainly due to finances, but also due to jobs, and looking after a young child. We had decided to get married in October 2017, and had booked the venue, paid all the deposits, bought the wedding dress, and were both really excited about it all. Sadly that was not to be as Marie was pronounced brain dead on the 21st June 2017 after suffering a catastrophic bleed to the brain.

At first after Marie’s death, I couldn’t function, I didn’t want to. My life had been ripped apart, and all I wanted was to be with Marie. Nothing else mattered, nothing, including my daughter. I didn’t want to be in the same room as her for the first few days, as she was a constant reminder of Marie, and it hurt too much in the early days.

I was lucky, I had family who all rushed to be with me. They came round, cleaned the house, looked after my daughter, and gave me the space I needed just to be able to breath, as that’s all I could manage, just to breath. Marie’s sisters, and my sister were the most helpful, organising my life for me, as I just simply couldn’t.

I decided to go back to work far too early, but it was the only way for me to start functioning again, something to take my mind of things, something else to concentrate on apart from the situation I had found myself in. Work were brilliant, they let me have reduced hours so that I could take care of my daughter, and meet her needs, I mean, how do you explain to a 3 year old that their mummy has died?

The first year after Marie’s death was a blur, it went too fast, so fast that I actually don’t remember much about it, I was just functioning, not really thinking about things at all. For me just getting through a day was a real achievement. Then comes all the anniversaries or milestone dates. The first Christmas without Marie or mummy, the first Mother’s Day to celebrate without mummy, the first birthday for our daughter without mummy to celebrate it with us, all of which were incredibly difficult, but we got through them.

The next issue to deal with was finances, things would have to change. We had dropped nearly £50,000 in household income, but I still had all the bills to pay, and childcare to take care of. That nearly broke me, for the first 3 months I had to pay nearly £980 a month for nursery fees until September when we could finally take advantage of 30 hours free childcare, but that only reduced the monthly average bill to £700 a month. When my daughter finally went to primary school it was a financial godsend, so yeah, the first year was a tough one, but we got through it.

Not being married meant I’m not entitled to bereavement support payment, which I find truly unfair, especially so, as we were due to get married, and had paid for the whole thing. But also due to circumstances I have not been eligible for any other benefit, or financial help. I’m fortunate that I can cope without it, but it doesn’t mean that it’s any less annoying that it’s my daughter who suffers because of it.

The second year after Marie died was a lot easier, I was getting back out and visiting friends, thankfully family offered to have my daughter overnight so I could have a break, and I started feeling much happier in my life. In 2019 I decided to try dating again, but it was never going to be easy, first actually having any opportunities to meet anyone, and second having time to spend with someone, especially as I only had a couple of days without my daughter a month (which I’m grateful for despite loving my daughter dearly!).

I met a couple of women, who while lovely, just didn’t compare to what I had with Marie. Maybe it was too early, maybe I just wasn’t ready to date again, so these ended quite quickly. I decided to stop trying, and not bother looking anymore, and that was fine.

The isolation I’ve experienced since Marie died has been extremely hard to cope with, spending endless evenings alone in the house after my daughter was in bed, gave me far too much time to dwell on what I’d lost, and I had started slipping into a nightly ritual of self hate, melancholy, and generally wishing things were different. It was never as bad as contemplating suicide, or just ending it all, but I did consider for a brief moment, giving my daughter up for adoption. When I thought about giving Juno up for adoption, I was so tired, exhausted from the emotions of grief, I just couldn’t deal with Juno as well as that, I had no one else to turn to at that time, and I considered adoption as my only option. It was a selfish reaction to the situation I found myself in, I wanted all reminders of what had happened gone, I wanted my old life back, an attempt to erase everything and start again with a new life, because the one I had was broken and beyond repair. I resented Juno for being a burden I never asked to deal with only my own, it wasn’t fair, and I wanted to scream at everyone.

That thought disappeared as quickly as it occurred, I was just lashing out at how unfair this new existence has been. I was desperately lonely. Most nights I cried myself to sleep, which is not a good look when you wake up, and I drank heavily, which also wasn’t a great idea, as I worried what I would do if my daughter needed urgent hospital care as she still had issues with underdeveloped lungs, so I stopped that fairly quickly too.

Then 2020 happened, I think for someone grieving it has probably been the strangest and toughest year to cope with, being a single dad, trying to be mum, dad, house cleaner, cook, and hold down a full time job is hard enough, but mix into that the isolation, it has magnified the grief and loneliness exponentially. I don’t get to have a break, I can’t go and see my parents as they live too far away in Scotland, all of Marie’s sisters live at least 2 hours drive away, so we can’t just pop round for a socially distanced ‘chat’.

This year so far has been a struggle to say the least, I’m still grieving, crying, lonely, and desperately craving close adult contact other than work. I still have the milestone dates to cope with especially the 21st June 2020, which will mean that our daughter has been alive longer without her mummy, than she got to spend with her. But I’m still here, and that’s something I’m proud of, and I’m sure my daughter thanks me for sticking with it through everything.

I’m proud of what I’ve achieved since Marie died, and there’s still a lifetime of memories I can make with my daughter, and that fills me with hope for a brighter future.

 

Lucy's story

When I met Gary, I already knew he was a good dad because that’s all he talked about. His big boys, who were always his little boys to him. He’d tell me endless stories of their childhoods and beamed of pride when speaking about them. He enjoyed watching them play rugby throughout our 14 years together and although quiet on the sidelines, he was full of pride.


Gary was always keen to have a family with me. When I finally agreed and we got pregnant it wasn’t a rosey story.


I was quite poorly and utterly miserable during both pregnancies. Gary nursed me, rubbing my feet, helping with insulin injections, doing some really gross stuff. His utter care for me whilst pregnant was so full of love. Both births were difficult, stressful and long. Gary going white in the corner of the room as Henry was born not breathing. He was more prepared with Grace and talked me through everything that was happening when they tried to stimulate her. Both babies had week long stays in hospital. Gary came daily to mop up my tears and offer support. We watched Henry in his special care box, limp and we prayed the infection he had would be sorted. There were more Hospital stays with both babies and Endless appointments, but Gary was always by our side. A tag team, one supporting the other when they were totally exhausted.


Both babies had feeding problems. Neither slept... and we learnt to function on just a few hours sleep. Days when I could hardly stand, Gary would take over. Our babies were hard work. Needing to be rolled up in blankets, sang to for hours on end and bounced. Gary had endless patience to hold his babies in his arms, and in the dark of night stand for hours singing ‘baa baa black sheep’ and bouncing his knees. I’d look up from my pillow and think he was my hero.


Through the first 6 months of Grace’s life Gary was poorly. Putting himself second to looking after us. Then the cancer diagnosis came. He didn’t use that as an excuse to step back from parenting. He did everything. He came with us to Clacton, and despite agonising feet and exhaustion from chemo he played on the beach with our children and had zoo trips with us. He took our babies to Gullivers land, riding on water shoots and kiddy rides.


We carried on celebrating life although the 2 1/2 years since Henry had been born were the hardest yet. We had a wonderful baptism and first birthday for Grace. Surrounded by everyone Gary loved and everyone who loved him. He beamed that day, despite being in pain. Behind closed doors there were tears. A fear that he would not see his babies growing up. He walked Henry to his first day at nursery. He was a husband and father before anything else. His family was everything. I knew how lucky we were to be loved so much.


Gary died wrapped in my arms with me whispering promises to look after our babies.


Our children would have been better people for having his continued love and guidance in their lives. But now we must keep his spirit alive. Tell stories about him, share pictures and videos filled with love.
For my children are so lucky to have had a dad who loved them so much. And so unlucky to have him taken away so soon. Gary you are the most wonderful man I’ve ever known. We are where we are because you held us up and made us strong. Forever our best daddy...