Sarah’s Story and appearing on ITVBe's 'Life After Tom'

December 2022

On 1 December, the first episode of Kelsey Parker’s documentary Life After Tom aired on ITVBe at 9pm and included  Kelsey joining  a Kent WAY meet up where she talks to members about their experiences of being widowed young. 

WAY member Sarah shares her story and why being involved in the documentary was important to her.

Sarah's story

Sarah and her husband

“Steve was unexpectedly diagnosed with terminal liver cancer on New Year’s Eve 2018. Explaining his diagnosis to our children, who were then 10, 8 and 5, remains one of the things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy – joined since then with other things you never imagine you will have to do before your 41st birthday. 

Steve died in May 2019 and we are now coming up for the fourth anniversary of the New Year’s Eve that exploded what we thought we knew. The last four years have continued to deal us an unexpected hand.  There have been some really challenging moments trying to help three children who process change and emotions differently cope with such a huge bereavement, while keeping things going, and while grieving myself.  

There has been darkness and loneliness and fury at the unfairness of it all.  But we have found our own way to deal with the continuing way that bereavement impacts our lives, building new memories, having adventures in new places, remembering him whenever we can with little things like guessing what he would have ordered when we eat out.  

The children are now 14, 12 and 9 and have lived a lot of life without him - the world sometimes seems like a totally different place to what it was when we were a five.   We've accessed counselling when we needed it and fought hard to find a version of family that honours him while we keep moving through life without him.

We've messed up on the way – for sure – because nobody can tell you how to put your life back together when you are sat in the rubble of what was. But we’ve been real while we do it, and found amazing people who can cope with that on the way"

Why did you want to get involved with the documentary?

"I remember seeing articles when Tom Parker was diagnosed, and reading them so differently because of what we had been through.

When the opportunity came to talk about our story, which resonated with hers, I was just interested to meet her. I think there's a fellowship and understanding once you’ve been through what we all have, and I wonder if that’s even harder to find when you are a more public figure. 

By the time we were approaching the first anniversary, the pandemic had hit, and stripped us of all our support, as well as that opportunity to meet people in real life who were a little further along in their bereavement journey and who might have been able to share hope and advice and tips for navigating loneliness and solo parenting. So I felt like this was an opportunity to maybe be that for someone else.  

It is the end of our world as we knew it, but we have to keep going, so any chance to help people understand so that more people can talk about grief is a chance I like to take - and Kelsey’s documentary seems like an excellent way of doing it."

Sarah and family

What it was like on the day of the filming?

"The filming was really relaxed. As always with WAY meet ups, there’s that fairly quick easy familiarity of people who ‘get it’, and the filming was really just an extended chat. We could have gone on for ages! 

We talked a lot about how isolating life can be as a young widow, because people just don’t know what to say or how to deal with you when you are going through something nobody can imagine until they are living it. 

While I wish nobody there had any reason to have this in common, if we have to be in this club, it's nice to know there are such awesome people alongside."

Do you have any tips for others who are recently bereaved?

"My main tip for the recently bereaved is to be kind to yourself and bin any cultural expectations that you feel are being put on how you are coping with life after your person dies. There's only one right way to grieve and that's the way that feels right to you as an individual.  

We know that the firsts don't stop after the 365 days of year 1 are finished - everything new we experience without him - from my youngest losing his first tooth to my eldest buying his blazer for secondary and maybe university and careers and weddings in the future - are going to be firsts that are bittersweet - so giving yourself grace to grieve your way for the long haul is really important, I think."

How has WAY helped you on your bereavement journey?

"It was so lonely and discombobulating not knowing if how I was feeling was "normal" or meant I was losing the plot as well as my husband.   WAY provided a sounding board for me.  

With the number of members and our different relationships, circumstances, and ways of handling grief, of course not everyone will be the same, but I've found there is always someone who can validate what you are going through at any given time, and make you feel less alone at a time when you feel more alone than you ever have.

It's a place where I both get help and can give it to others - and both of these have been hugely important to figuring out who I am now that I'm not who I was before all this.  

I've been to a couple of local meet ups, I really enjoy 1:1 coffee (or cocktail!) catch ups with others from the local WAY group, and the Facebook Group has been a lifeline, particularly during lockdowns.

You can read more of my thoughts as we've gone through the past few years in my blog."

WAY are listed along with other support on ITV’s ‘Life After Tom’ resources page.