A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
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.