Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

living loss

This is a guest post by Becky Cricther about grief before death

Becky is 35-years-old and mummy to Chloe, aged four, who she lives with in Birmingham. A devoted daughter herself, Becky finds herself grieving her father who, whilst still alive, is suffering encephalitis. This devastating virus attacks the brain. For Becky, the father she loves is still here but the man she knew has already gone.

I asked Becky to write this post because I’ve come to understand that the pain of grief is not only caused by bereavement. It’s possible to feel it from the loss of a personality and not just a person. I’d like to thank Becky for her bravery in addressing this complicated issue of grief before death.

Until Friday 13th July last year my dad was an independent, reliable and active 72-year-old man living alone in Northamptonshire. He often visited our house baring gifts for me and my daughter, Chloe. We visited him lots too. We’d take trips to the seaside, visit farms, go to the theatre and we always had lots of plans for future activities too. We spoke every single day and we’d share banter over text messages about the plots of EastEnders. But sadly he never found out it was Derek sleeping with Kat. Before the storyline concluded, his brain was attacked by a condition called encephalitis.

That day will be imbedded in my mind forever. That day I was at home in Birmingham and he was at home in Northampton. That day I called for an ambulance three times for my dad after speaking to him and realising that something was wrong. That day I thought he was having a stroke. That day I got to my dad’s house before the ambulance, having collected Chloe from nursery, taken her to a party and then driven the 70 minute car journey it takes me to get there.

My dad hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of days. I’d already made him a doctors appointment earlier that week and he’d been sent for blood tests. Now with the paramedics in his house, I was asked if he had packed a bag. “He may need to stay overnight”, they said. He hadn’t, so I packed one for him while he walked himself out of his front door. Little did he or I know that he would never to walk back through his front door again.

They ‘blue-lighted’ him all the way to Northampton General and Chloe and I followed as quickly as we could. I found him in A&E. He was already slipping away from me. His speech was going. One side of his body was weaker but not paralysed. Eventually we left him comfortable and settling into the stroke unit.

When I returned the next day, he was worse and nobody seemed to know what was wrong. I was filled with panic. This was my dad. My hero. He couldn’t leave me.

The doctors were convinced it was an infection in his heart, so I franticly called the hospital where he’d had heart surgery in 2010 to find out which valves were involved, leaving very emotional and tearful messages on many an answering machine.

Days went by trying different antibiotics. Nothing was working and my dad was getting worse. Then came the seizures. Holding someone you love while they are shaking, trying to tell you something with their eyes rolling is worse than any scene from a horror movie. Seven days later they gave my dad antiviral drugs and on the 24th July they mentioned encephalitis to me for the first time.

Encephalitis is a devastating virus that attacks the brain and my dad’s brain had already been under attack for seven days. A CT scan showed he’d lost 70 per cent of the left hand side of his brain. My dad as I knew him had gone.

Over time he made progress. He walked one day. He just got up and walked. He had no idea where he was or where he was going but he just walked. He could no longer read nor write, he had no interest in the television nor the radio. He couldn’t articulate himself. He could talk but he couldn’t make himself make any sense.

During his time in Northampton General, I travelled four, five or six times a week to see him, which was 120 mile round trip. Twice I had ‘the call’ to say, “We think you should come NOW!”

I fought hard for him to be sent to a top rehabilitation centre, which happened in September last year. He was making good progress there, learning to shower and things, but he had no self awareness. His cognition was nonexistent. He needed to be reminded to drink and eat.

Unfortunately he suffered further seizures in November, which have left him severely impaired and he needs others to attend to his every need. He is noncompliant in taking medication, his mobility is poor and frustratingly he knows what he wants to say but just can’t get the words out. He has just been moved to another rehabilitation unit, which again I have fought for. I am hoping this will help him.

Now he is closer to us it is easier to for me to visit him and I will establish a routine of visiting him four times a week. But I’m also conscious that I need keep some kind a social life for Chloe and I need to work!

I’ve felt varying emotions over the last eight months.

I’ve felt anger. How different would he be if they had treated him sooner? Would he have made a good enough recovery to have lived with us with help of carers? Would he have been able to go home?

I’ve felt guilt. Guilt for thinking that if he would just go in his sleep it would be better for him. That I could then grieve for someone who had died rather than for someone who is still alive.

I’ve felt sadness. Sadness for the fact that Chloe has been robbed of her Pops. Someone who treated her like a princess. She was the apple of his eye and was a major male role model in her life.

But most of all I just want my dad back the way he was. I used to call his house number just to hear his voice and his sense of humour on the answer phone, “Leave a message and if I like you I will call you back”. Sadly he never has.

I have had help from the Encephalitis Society and I’ve helped them too. I raised £1,300 for them doing a skydive with a friend, something I had always said I would never do!

Do people understand my sense of grief for a father who is still alive? I’m not sure.

I’ve had the most amazing support from a large number of his friends. They have been loyal and kind and they’ve visited my dad regularly. People who I thought would had ‘stepped up’, however, haven’t. I guess some people haven’t coped very well with it all.

Me? I’ve had no choice.

Becky's daughter Chloe and father Ray pictured together just days before he fell ill

Becky’s daughter Chloe and father Ray pictured together just days before he fell ill

14 comments on “living loss

  1. Laura
    June 13, 2013

    Gosh, what a story. tears here that’s for sure. Thank you Becky, for sharing your story. xxx

  2. Jaclyn
    June 13, 2013

    Becky, well done for sharing your story, it must have been hard! I lost my Mum in January after 10 years of illness. The stages of her illness also meant I grieved for the parts of her I lost before she died. Don’t feel guilty for not wanting your Dad to suffer anymore, I used to think the same too. When my Mum died I was relieved she was free from pain at first, then I became angry that she had to suffer at all as she was only 64. You feel hard done by and let down, but they are all normal stages of grief. You will get through this for two reasons…..because you have no choice but most importantly because your Dad will want you to!! Stay strong x

  3. Gina Sharp
    June 13, 2013

    I lost my dad very suddenly when he was only 68. He died in his sleep and I hope that’s how I go but it was such a shock as he seemed so fit and healthy and then his heart just failed him. I was absolutely devastated with grief and I still miss him terribly. He was my mate and I was only 25 when he died. He never saw my three sons. But I would rather that than having to have gone what you are going through Becky. At least when I think of him, he was fit and healthy and laughing. There are no words that won’t sound fatuous. I hope he finds peace soon x

  4. Ray
    June 13, 2013

    Becky, I can so appreciate your grief and pain. My once fit, active and sporty wife is now in a hospice and can’t get out of bed or communicate with me and is unable to feed herself. It has been so distressing to witness her decline and I now spend everyday at her bedside. Our sons are adults but they are also grieving the loss of their Mum. There are no more of her welcoming meals when they return home, and they miss the challenges on the tennis court.
    Our journey has been tough like yours with debilitating seizures stealing her mind and body. She has been robbed of so much.
    You are doing a great job in difficult circumstances and my heart goes out to you.
    Thinking of you. Ray

  5. Zainab
    June 13, 2013

    He looks like such a dear man… It is awful what happened, and I feel for you and your daughter..

  6. reb1313
    June 13, 2013

    Thank you for your comments.x

  7. Abi Critcher
    June 13, 2013

    I am privileged to call Becky my cousin, the bravery she possesses is incredible. If this was my Dad, Rays brother, I would be in pieces and would not know where to start to achieve the things Becky has. My Uncle would be impossibly proud of her, and I am too xx

  8. Lunar Hine
    June 13, 2013

    What a guy – and what a woman he’s raised. My heart’s open for you and your family.

  9. Sarah
    June 13, 2013

    I have read this with tears rolling….. We have a similar experience with my father who has been diagnosed with ataxia…. a less rapid version of movement/balance loss and loss of speech, caused by brain (cerebellum) shrinkage…… it is devastating to see the “progression” as the medical profession call it. I miss my Dad so much even though he’s here. We have 2 young children who accept it much more easily than I can. Thank you for sharing your experiences, you are no alone xx

  10. 1writeplace
    June 14, 2013

    Not many words, but thank you…

  11. Claire
    June 14, 2013

    “Do people understand my sense of grief for a father who is still alive? I’m not sure.”

    Not sure if it makes much difference, but I do. Thanks for sharing this, Becky. Rung very true to some of my experiences – hence tears currently in eyes! All the very best to you, your daughter and, of course, your dad.

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  14. Carla Critcher
    March 21, 2014

    6 years ago when trying to trace our family tree – I found a cousin (my marriage) that we had no idea existed – that was Ray, I then found he had a daughter – Becky – we decided we had to meet and found Ray to be an amazingly funny, kind, understanding, dignified, honourable and loving man……Becky was a daughter anyone would be proud to have and the relationship between Ray and Becky was a very close one. They were an amazing duo – then Chloe came along and Ray was so happy and proud – Chloe became his main focus along with Becky and the dynamic duo became the 3 musketeers’ – inseparable, loving, always out and about on an adventure, very active and always in contact until that fateful day.

    I was lucky to know Ray as he was then. An amazing man, however Becky has had such a huge fight on her hands to get the treatment and care that Ray so badly needed. She is an amazingly strong, resilient and loving daughter that still has her own daughter to look after and ensure she is there for Chloe. I don’t know how but Becky has coped in such an admirable and dignified way; she is unstoppable and the love for Ray is clearly there and I understand that she is grieving for Ray already as the dad she knew, loved and respected had somehow disappeared due to the wrong diagnosis, the medical staff missed what was really wrong with Ray and the delay in the diagnosis meant that Ray was no more.

    I am so proud to have known Ray and even prouder to say that Becky and Chloe are part of my small family. I love them so much and would do anything I could to help.

    Keep strong my darling Becky – always here for you and Chloe – love you both to the moon and back again xx

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