Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

daddy’s books

This is a guest post by Elke Barber


Elke is a self-employed graphic designer and the author of Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute?, a fully-illustrated children’s book explaining (sudden) death to very young kids.

Elke was just 34-years-old when she was suddenly widowed in April 2009. Her son Alex was three at the time and the only person present when his daddy suffered a totally unexpected heart attack 200 miles away from home. It was Elke’s daughter’s first birthday just four days later.

In March 2012 Elke was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of breast cancer. Too ill from chemotherapy to work and look after the kids, her partner, who she met in May 2010, gave up his job to help out. The family lived off the savings Elke had put aside to produce the book she had written as she has fought through chemo, surgery and radiotherapy. With the money spent she was left unable to bring the book to market and so turned to crowdfunding to an overwhelmingly positive response. 

Elke has now written her second book, What Happened to Daddy’s Body?, and is once again hoping for crowdfunding to cover its costs. She is also aiming to produce an audio version of the book. In this guest post, Elke reveals how the first book came to be and how life never ceased to throw new challenges and opportunities at her after the death of her husband, Martin.

On April 22, 2009, my husband’s heart stopped suddenly. And with that, so did my world. I was only 34-years-old, our son three, and our daughter just 11 months. My husband suffered a fatal heart attack out of nowhere, no previous symptoms, no family history, right in front of our three-year-old son, 200 miles away from home in a caravan park with only the two of them there. Alex somehow managed to get an ambulance, but Martin died at the scene. He was also just 34.

Explaining to my three-year-old son that his daddy couldn’t ever come back, was possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.

“He is too young to understand”, people started saying, and, “Don’t worry, children are resilient”.

Yeah right!

So why did my son ask countless questions like:

“Will you have to die, Mummy?”

“Who will look after me when you die, Mummy?”

“How many more sleeps until I have to die, Mummy?”

With no bereavement support available for children under four-years-old, I turned to books. Unable to find anything useful to us (Martin wasn’t a cat, he wasn’t old, and he wasn’t ill) I vowed to write my own.

It took me three and a half years to get Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute? out there, but it was worth every second if it can help others in similar situations.

When Martin died, I could never have imagined my life would take this course. But then one thing I’ve learned over the last four years is that you really never know what life is going to throw at you.

After his death, my first instinct was to keep everything the same. I would keep the garden going just like he did, be a mum, a dad, a cleaner, a self-employed graphic designer, and be all these things simultaneously. Needless to say it didn’t work. Finally somebody told me, “The sooner you stop trying to live your old life, the sooner you can start to build a new one”. I didn’t want to hear it, but it was so true.

In May 2010 I was fortunate enough to meet my new partner, John. Don’t get me wrong, my world didn’t stop the second I saw him, in fact I felt reasonably indifferent about the whole thing. But that all changed when we had our first casual goodbye hug. It felt as though I was holding my oldest friend. And in that moment our emotional rollercoaster began.

I wasn’t prepared for all the confusing feelings that followed. Love, guilt, passion, loss, excitement, responsibility and grief all hit me. How could I feel so sad and so happy at the same time? Well, nearly three years on, I’ve sold the house and bought a new home. And that’s where we are now, very happy and grateful for every minute we get. We have seven kids between us, aged between four and 16, and they all get on brilliantly. We realise that we are so, so lucky.

Despite originally saying that I wouldn’t spread Martin’s ashes until the children were old enough to understand, when I sold the house it didn’t feel right to take them with us. Instead, in February 2011, we filled two tiny little bottles for the kids to keep, planted a tree to take with us, then spread the rest. It was a really good day and it felt positive to let go. I never thought it would.

Then just as things were looking up I was given a massive wake up call about how fragile life can be. In March 2012 I was diagnosed with a very aggressive kind of breast cancer. Once again my world ground to a halt. My daughter was only a month older than Alex had been when his daddy died. I went to pieces. Then a week later I got my treatment plan. I picked myself up and fought it. I had chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, and successfully finished my treatment in November last year. I am still on Tamoxifen and will be for the next five years, but, as far as we know, I am all clear.

With life back on track again, I was taken aback when my son started asking new questions about his dad.

“Mummy, what happened to Daddy’s body?”

This next phase of his grieving process led me to write my second book, What Happened to Daddy’s Body? 

Once again I am looking to crowdfunding to cover the costs including illustration and printing. If you would like to contribute you can do so by clicking hereIs Daddy Coming Back in a Minute? is also available to purchase now at


8 comments on “daddy’s books

  1. Violet
    March 14, 2013

    I have sat here for ages trying to write a ‘reply’ everything I type sounds trite and over emotional. So I am not going to type much, your book is such a brilliant idea, and I hope you get the funding for your second book. Your family must be so proud of you.
    My love and best wishes to all of you xx

    • Cj Swaby
      March 15, 2013

      I’d like to echo what Violet said. Outstanding and powerful idea. So much in need. x

    • Elke Barber
      March 16, 2013

      Awww, only just seen this. Thank you so much Violet. xx

  2. Rosie Cully
    March 14, 2013

    I find you such an inspiration, as you say life is so precious and we really dont know what is around the corner. My husband also died of a heart attack in September 2011, aged 40 and i have been left with two young children aged at the time 4 and 6 – He was in the Lothian and borders police, ran marathons, ultra marathons, played rugby – generally a fit guy! , as your husband he never showed any signs of being ill. I have started raising a lot of money for chest heart and stroke scotland, we are having a big cycle round the Borders in aid of Steve – he is sadly missed by us all. Steve was really spiritual, and i find this so comforting as i try to focus on all the positives in life now – not easy all the time though! Im currently reading Tuesday’s with Morrie, it presses the re -set button on life i feel. Anyway i wanted to also say my kids LOVE your book and Hannah has made her own copy (copied from yours) which i love, it will go into the memory box. Keep up the good work and stay happy. Love Rosie Cully xx

    • Elke Barber
      March 16, 2013

      Wow – I would LOVE to see Hannah’s copy. Could you take a picture for me and email it to me? That would be awesome. My husband was also an L&B officer – he was E Division. I wonder if they knew each other…. Sending big hugs to you all lovely Rosie. xxx

  3. Emilie Adams
    March 14, 2013

    I love this post. You have had more than your fair share of difficulties in life but yet what I’m reading is full of positive energy : the books, the garden, the tree, the ashes, the new relationship, the house, the saying about living your new life….it’s all good, liberating and so inspirational. Keep well. Emilie x

  4. Elke Barber
    March 16, 2013

    Thank you so much Emilie. I feel very, very lucky – I just hope I get to stick around to cuddle, annoy and embarrass my grandchildren. ;o) Big hugs, xx Elke

  5. crocusgroupinverness
    October 7, 2016

    Elke, I was at the GCBN day on 4/10/2016 and I was truly inspired by your story. It always seems the hardest part, when you realise you will need to live your life that little bit differently. I work for Crocus Group in Inverness and we are looking forward to using your books with the bereaved children we support. It is so often the factual information that is missing from their minds and this will be a great way to explain things to them. We would love to hear from you if you fancy doing a small talk in Inverness?

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