A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
This is a guest post by Elke Barber
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”.
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 here. Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute? is also available to purchase now at www.isdaddycomingbackinaminute.com