A story of grief by a man and a boy

double tragedy

This is a guest post by Rhian Burke

Just over a year ago Rhian Burke was a happily married mother of three who had everything. Then without warning her life was shattered by the unexpected death of her one-year-old son, George. Tragically, worse was still to come when five days later her husband Paul died too. Since losing her two boys, Rhian has channeled her grief into raising awareness of the lack of support for suddenly bereaved parents with emphasis on shock and trauma support. Details of her charity, 2 Wish Upon A Star, can be found here

It was Valentine’s Day 2012 and my little star George’s first birthday. Where had the year gone?

George was mine and my husband Paul’s third child and perfect in everyway. He made our family complete and he just never stopped smiling. With a happy family of five, I had all I could have ever wished for and I thought it would all last forever.

Then tragedy struck. Just one week later and my perfect life as I knew it was over. And it would never be the same again.

Holding George in our arms he appeared to be sleeping. Peaceful with a button nose and little chubby wrists. However, he wasn’t asleep. Our little boy had died suddenly and was gone forever after just a year and a week on Earth.

I can recall us just sitting there holding him. No tears, just this gut wrenching feeling and an intense desperation to wake up from this living nightmare.  He had been happy and crawling around our home, giggling as he went just two hours earlier.

‘This just does not happen,’ I thought.

I can vividly remember lying on the hospital floor in shock and Paul trying to pick me up.

‘You see this on TV, this really is not real life,’ all thoughts rushing round my head.

They tried to save our son for two hours. He started fitting suddenly but they fought in vain. It seemed he was too good for this world.

When we woke up in the morning I lay there waiting for the baby monitor to start talking to me. Of course it didn’t. Our other two children came in and asked where George was and why we had left him alone in the hospital?

“Won’t he be lonely?” they asked.

How do you explain something to a three and four-year-old that you cannot understand yourself?

The physical pain inside was unbearable and all I wanted to do was turn the clock back 24 hours and for everything to be alright

‘We must have failed our son’, I assumed.

As parents you are there to protect them and instead we watched strangers fight to save our precious little one while we watched on. What more could we have done? Guilt is a horrible thing but combined with shock and trauma it’s the worse type of emotion.

The thing that confused me most though was that one minute I was howling in pain and the next acting completely normal. Was I going insane? I still had two babies to bring up but how could I try and hide the pain from them? The truth is I couldn’t and when we sat them down to say George was now sparkling high up in the sky in the stars, the tears flowed.

I wanted to go back to work the next day. If I tried to carry on as normal then maybe this would all go away.

But then just when I thought that things could not get any worse and that my life was already shattered into as many small pieces as possible, the devastatingly unexpected happened.

My amazing, perfect husband walked out of the house and never came back. Paul took his own life five days after we lost Georgie. In a state of distress and shock he walked out of my life forever.

Pain? There was no pain. Not for a long time. I did not cry for weeks. In fact I went into autopilot planning this perfect send off for my boys. I thought I was ‘okay’ and could get through this but looking back I did not have a clue what I was doing. I felt nothing. Literally nothing. My heart, which was once so full of love and laughter, was now hollow.

I needed Paul and missed his strong arms around me. He would make it all okay and take the pain away. He would ‘fix’ this. I had never felt so lonely in all my life despite being surrounded by so many people.

For the first five months I did not leave the house. I did not want to experience life outside without my boys. It reminded me of my old life that was now gone forever. I did not want to start a new life with new memories without them.  I didn’t want fingers pointing and people pitying my children. I thought I was living but I was simply existing. I found it so hard to look at my beautiful children. Motherhood no longer made me feel fulfilled. I thought I had failed George and now being a mummy was a chore rather than the enjoyable and love-filled experience it once was.

This was not the plan. Paul and I had three children and we were a family. How could I now do this alone?

People always ask if I’m angry with Paul. And the answer is, yes I am at times. Angry that he has deprived himself of a wonderful life with his wife and children. I am never angry with him for leaving us though. Why would I be? I believe he is now with our son so he is no longer alone. He always made me happy when he was alive and that was never going to change once he was gone. I have to make him proud like he still makes me, every waking hour of every day.

Some days I look at photos of my boys and smile but more often than not I cry. I cry with such pain and anguish and the feeling of longing. I just want to go back to the 21st February last year. I want to appreciate what I had and tell them both how much I loved them. But you can’t. Five months of crying in my house taught me that. You can cry, scream and long for the past but it is only the present that is there to cling onto.

We’ve just passed the first anniversary of George’s death.  Another year gone by. Some days it feels like yesterday but others it feels a lifetime since I held my baby boy in my arms and felt him warm next to me. It has also been a time to remember Paul. I felt okay about it to be honest. I actually feel that every Monday morning at 9.30am, the day and time when I lost Paul, is an anniversary and every Wednesday is the same for George.

Just over a year on I still hope that this is a dream and that they will come home. I still think about it and talk about it non-stop to the point that I am actually now bored with this constant feeling of sadness.

I am starting to look at my children and smile again. I am their best chance now and I can’t let them down. For their daddy and brother to live on in their hearts they need me to be there and so we must move forward with joy and happiness. They will be proud of them one day when they understand. I have to stop worrying everything they say or do is a result of the tragic events of last February.

But my boys will always live on. Everyone who was lucky enough to know them will one day smile again with warmth in their hearts. I also truly believe I will too. I have to believe that. I don’t know when or how, but one day I pray that my children Holly, Isaac and I will have a happy life.

It will never be the same life, the one that was all mapped out in front of me but it can still be good.

Sleep tight in the stars my angels, I will always love you.

Father and son Paul and George together in happier times

Father and son Paul and George together in happier times

13 comments on “double tragedy

  1. Lucille
    March 22, 2013

    What a tragedy and still so much love. Rhian – you’re a hero!

  2. Paul R
    March 22, 2013

    I have a hard enough time with the loss of my spouse, I can’t image the loss of a child and a spouse. Blessings upon you and your efforts to support others in grief.

  3. Gina Sharp
    March 22, 2013

    My heart goes out to you. I can’t find any words that are adequate because there are none.

  4. Elke Barber
    March 22, 2013

    Wow. Such beautiful words. I’m sat in the middle of a very busy place, yet all I can hear is your sad words, filled with love, courage and determination. Crying. Sending hugs. Don’t really know what to say, but had to let you know how much your post touched me. Sending hugs. Xxx Elke

  5. allison
    March 22, 2013

    I can not believe how much my heart hurt when I read your story,,my thoughts and prayers will be said in church this sunday for you and your family,to give you the strength that you need to continue your life in this world with your children, with out Paul and George. Im a mother of 4 myself and could not dare to think how it must be for you,,I know how I felt when my father had died very suddenly at the age of 56 then my younger brother dieing at 31, I felt heart broken and there is not a day that goes by that I think about them both,..All I can say is that you must take each day as it come,s and always talk about your loved ones as I know you will already being doing that, may god watch over you and your family and help you through your life,,Im sorry I dont know you but when I read this story I just felt the need to wright this,,sending you lots of love and hugs,god bless, Allison xxxxx

  6. Bill Wright
    March 22, 2013

    Speechless. My heart goes out to Rhian and her family.

    March 22, 2013

    Dear Rhian what happen to you is so sad its unbearable that something like that happens in real life . how do you manage to go on i dont know .i give you all the credit to you . the love that you have for your children much be very strong that keeps you going . i could not image my life with out my two children . i wish you all the best for the future .lost of hugs xxx Nelio

  8. Cath
    March 22, 2013

    What a woman, Your words made me realise that all the trivia I have been moaning about all week is just that.xxxx Thank you for sharing you personal thoughts and feelings. Love to you and your little boys

  9. Ruth hong
    March 22, 2013

    X cant think of any words xxx

  10. Melissa
    March 22, 2013

    Wow, crying here, such a brave, brave lady. Sending you love xx

  11. lesley
    March 22, 2013

    Your post has me in tears. My brother took his life 28 weeks ago. He left behind a beautiful wife and 2 childre. People seem suprised that I am not angry with him. But I am not. I am just desperately sad.sad he wont see his children grow up.sad his wife is a single parent.sad our mum lost her child.sad I lost my best friend.i have struggled to deal with his death.the death of my mum in law recently was nearly to much to cope with. The only thing that helped was the thought she will be with my brother ( though before he died I would have never have had such a thought ). Rhian I can not imagine what life has been like for sound like an incredible person.reading posts like yours is what helps me get through each day.thanks so much for sharing your story x

  12. Emilie Adams
    March 22, 2013

    Dear Rhian, as my three boys and I prepare to mark the first anniversary of their father’s death this week end, your words have touched me very deeply indeed. Despite the tragic events which can strike our lives when we least expect them, positivity will help us through. I love your attitude and I’m glad you’re smiling again. I too believe that life will be good again. I have already seen some glimpses. Lots of love, ‘courage et patience’. Emilie x

  13. Debbie
    April 28, 2013

    The hardest thing in the world grief is I have never felt such pain losing my dad to cancer then my nan 12 wks later but having ur partner and ur kids to help u throu it helps You must be a brave and selfless loving mum going alone in this life but u still got two lovely kids to help u they will make u smile when u DNt want to they will make u look forward to things In life again such as Christmas ect time goes so fast when I think of my dad and nan I thk I’m going to enjoy my life as time goes so fast one day I will meet them again xx

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