Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

heaven’s gates

This is a guest post written by Bill Wright

In January 2013 Bill (37) and wife Mandy (36) were excitedly making plans to buy a bigger ‘forever’ house. They had just overcome the initial shock and worries of coping with three children, rather than the planned two, when their twins Ed and Anni were born in 2010 following Bella, born in 2007. Bill had never felt happier his whole life, but then Anni unexpectedly died without warning on 8 January 2013 from a brain tumour. Bill was initially drawn to my blog as I also have a two-year-old son, Jackson, who is grieving and confused. Bill later found out that Ed and Anni share the same birthday as Jackson and that, tragically, Anni died in the same hospital where Jackson was born.

Our two-year-old daughter, Anni, died unexpectedly from a brain tumour on Tuesday 8th January 2013 after we had taken her into hospital with flu type symptoms on Sunday 6th January. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her, but with it being the time of year when there are a host of bugs lurking around, they were confident that by hydrating her with an IV drip, she should make a full recovery within 24 hours. This was the typical scenario with the multitude of other children they would have treated over the winter.

When I left her and my wife at the hospital on the Sunday evening, to return home and care for Anni’s twin, Ed and older sister, Bella (5), I did so in the confidence that she was in good hands and once fully hydrated and with some antibiotics pumped into her system, I would be bringing her home the next day and maybe will even be able to fit in a few hours work from home.

That evening I was even able to relax enough to watch a bit of telly once the kids were tucked up in bed. I told myself that having children poorly in hospital was rites of passage for any parent. Bella had spent a night in hospital with asthma when she was the same age as Anni and that turned out ok. As I watched a lead character in the Danish political drama Borgen succumb to a brain aneurism and then Meryl Streep’s portrayal of a Margaret Thatcher, paralysed with grief, I thought only of the consummate dramatic performances I was witnessing and did not relate it to my daughter. At 10pm that night nobody had any idea that Anni was dying from a cancerous, bleeding brain tumour.

Then I got the call from my wife Mandy. Anni had suffered a large seizure. I had to wait twenty agonising minutes for my in laws to arrive to look after Bella and Ed so that I could get to the hospital. I’m amazed that I managed to safely navigate the twenty minute car journey to the hospital, I felt nauseous with foreboding and my whole body shook with fear the entire time. At this point I knew it was bad. Meningitis maybe, but I didn’t realise that the last time my daughter would look into my eyes, talk to me, cuddle up to me, was in the past.

I watched Anni like a hawk the whole time, carefully placing her foot back into the hospital bed when it got stuck in between the bars as she fidgeted. Even though she was heavily sedated to control the seizures, I like to think that she knew I was there for her. I can’t bear to think that she would not have known this. In the early hours of Monday morning she suffered a final, fateful fit and the hastily organised emergency CT scan confirmed she had a large brain tumour. We were rushed to King’s College Hospital in Camberwell for emergency brain surgery to relieve the swelling on Anni’s brain caused by the tumour and bleeding. At this point we were once again reassigning our expectations and targets, but we still hoped that Anni would wake up and we would be able to tackle the task of removing the tumour.

After speaking to the consultant a few hours after Anni’s surgery at 10am Monday morning, he told us that if it was you or me, it would already be over. Anni was not showing any vital signs of recovery and was being kept alive by machines to keep her vital organs and breathing going, but as children often demonstrate miraculous powers of recovery it was worth waiting for a day or two. We both knew it was not looking good. I tried to stay positive and think ahead to future required operations, radio, chemo, but in reality I knew all that mattered was Anni waking up.

At 11:21 on Tuesday morning, Anni was pronounced brain dead and time has stood still for me ever since. The initial feelings were a mixture of shock, disbelief, the most viscerally agonising pain. It felt like some surreal test of our strength, that we had to come through to prove ourselves and if we did, maybe it would be alright, maybe they had made a mistake and she would wake up? Surely this couldn’t happen to my Anni? Not my perfect little Annikins, who made my life feel complete and made my heart swell like no other. I had such high hopes for her. The narcissistic side of me saw her as ‘mini me’, but a much, much better version, who was going to be kinder, smarter, happier and more successful than me. Even as my wife and I cradled her, as they unclipped the tubes and we watched her take her last breath, I still couldn’t believe what was happening. Four months on, I sometimes still don’t quite believe it has happened, but then Anni’s twin Ed will say a new word or Bella will amaze me with the improvement of her handwriting and I realise that time hasn’t stood still. It just feels like it has.

This kind of thing doesn’t happen to people I know, let alone me. I have felt ill equipped to survive this and to be able to continue to fulfil my role as protector of my family, within the confines of our new circumstances. Anni was, undoubtedly, the star of the family. She was my best friend. She was everyone’s best friend; she was just that kind of person. She had an infectious charisma and aura of love and kindness that had her whole family enraptured with her. How could this have happened to her? How can my wife and I cope without her for the next 40, 50 years? Bella and Ed for the next 80, 90 years?

Anyone who has suffered bereavement will know that you ask yourself a lot of questions that you simply don’t have the answers for. Yet you keep asking the same questions. A lot of religious people turn their back on their faith and conversely, committed atheists find themselves embarrassingly grappling with a newly acquired, secret inquisitiveness of spirituality.

I’ve been an atheist since I was a teenager, the age when many of us begin to search for our own truths rather than just settle for conventional wisdoms, passed down like family heirlooms. Although I have nothing against the religious, religion is not for me. For the sake of my children though, Anni is in in ‘heaven’. All of us often look up into the starry night to tell Anni that we love her, that we miss her and this does provide a small comfort.

I have no plans to go all ‘Richard Dawkins’ on my children until they are at an age when they actively seek my opinions on such matters. Yet when I tell Bella, that Anni is being looked after by my favourite granddad, Jim, I realise a little piece of me desperately wants this to be true. I’ve found myself asking other bereaved parents about their interpretation of religion and heaven, despite still feeling totally unmoveable in my position on this subject.

One evening when I was grief surfing the net, I came across a story about George Bush Snr and Laura Bush, who lost a toddler in the 1950s. Laura said that they still talk about their little girl every day and that George Snr is convinced that when he enters the gates of heaven, the first person to greet him will be his little girl. It broke me. It’s such a lovely, comforting thought for those who have that faith and I guess that I’m envious. I’d give anything to have just one more minute with Anni, and to be able to ease the pain that my wife and children are suffering.

Whilst sitting in my first counselling session today, organised by CRUSE, in an old convent building next to a church, it was difficult to ignore the thought, that religion preaches kindness, compassion, love and understanding to those that are in most need of it. Even if you happen to believe that stories of gods belong in fairy tales and that organised religion has subjugated, divided and infantilised the masses, you still cannot deny the basic message of good will in all religions.

Whether or not, in the 21st century, man is more than capable of being ’good’ without religion is probably a question for a philosophical blog, rather than here. But right now, I suppose I am happy that religion does exist for those that need it, if it provides them with comfort. So long as they don’t tell me that Anni dying was God’s will, or that she is paying for being a bad person in a previous life.

I’ve resolved to no longer question my faith (or lack of) and to be more understanding and feel less militant towards those that do have it. I am repeating the mantra to myself, that has been there since day zero, that Anni lives on through those that love her, she is always here in our hearts.

We are only four months into our bereavement; I’m not qualified to offer advice to others who are also suffering. One of the main reasons I participate in this blog is to listen to others who are further down the bereavement road than me, so that I can absorb some of their painfully learned wisdoms.

However, what I can say to anyone who has recently been bereaved, is that when you are ready, be open to absolutely any offers of support that are out there. It might come in the form of previously perceived ‘B’ and ‘C’ list friends that surprise you and step forward to offer you an understanding ear. Or you might find yourself marvelling that as a committed atheist, you discover yourself sitting in a convent, gratefully receiving the kindness that is gracefully offered.

Bill & Mandy's beautiful daughter, Anni

Bill & Mandy’s beautiful daughter, Anni

49 comments on “heaven’s gates

  1. Sarah Pointer
    May 12, 2013

    Bill, I think you are very courageous to tell your story and I wish you and your family all the best xxx

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      Thank you Sarah

  2. michaela turner
    May 12, 2013

    Bill, life does go on I dont know how it just does, it will never be the same,it just does I know how it feels to lose someone so dear so precious so suddenly.I wish you and your family courage and all the very best x

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      Thanks for your kind words Sarah, it’s that magic equilibrium of moving forward yet not leaving Anni behind that feels unobtainable at the moment

  3. Julia
    May 12, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Bill. One of my closest friends lost a child at exactly the same age as your gorgeous Anni. This helps me to help her. It must’ve been so hard to write but you will be helping so many. I feel so much (as a mother myself) for your wife too.

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      If I can help someone in grief, even in the smallest most insignificant way, that makes me happy. Thanks

  4. SarahM
    May 12, 2013

    Hi Bill, thanks for sharing such a sad story. I couldn’t read it initially, but knew I would at some point today. It moved me beyond words. As a Mum of two, two and a half and three weeks old, my overwhelming feeling is ‘there by the grace of God go I’. It could happen to any of us at any time. I don’t believe in God but have also found myself in a church at a time of need. Your words resound so much with me. I cannot know your pain, can only guess at it, but your words remind of how precious our children are. Thank you for that xx

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      Thanks Sarah. Both the Hospital where Anni died and the funeral parlour that looked after Anni invited us to annual church services for children that have died. Even though we are not believers we didn’t hesitate to accept. To not be there when Anni’s name is read aloud would feel horribly wrong

  5. J. Shah
    May 12, 2013

    Bill, Anni is gorgeous.

    My son died 807 days ago at the age of 23. I know the searing pain you feel. As parents you are supposed to protect your children and for them to die before you just goes against the natural order.

    I am a Jain and was brought up believing in reincarnation but have often questioned it since Nik died. Even if it is true, what causes me a lot of anguish is the thought that I will never meet him as MY Nik. On a side note, my younger son is an atheist whereas my daughter believes in Jainism.

    Your life will never be the same because there is an Anni shaped hole but you are right in saying that she lives on because she was loved.

    Wishing you and your family the strength to cope with your pain.

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      Thank you for your kind words. When I was a younger man before I became a parent, the phrase ‘pride and joy’ seemed like a glib cliche. Anni really was the largest source of pride and joy for me.
      I wish you and your family all the best.

  6. Don Graham
    May 12, 2013

    I count myself so fortunate that our children have survived to have their own children and your story makes me feel even more thankful. I so appreciate you writing this as reading it gives me a pain in my heart and even guilt for sometimes forgetting how fortunate we are.
    Our daughter has an illness which is serious but thankfully currently not life threatening and find that painful enough.
    I admire your courage for writing about your pain, as like you I am none religious but sometime envy those that have faith.
    Many thanks for reminding me how precious all our children and grandchildren are and my wish is you find happiness in your remaining children to at least ease the pain.

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      Hi Don, appreciate your words. I agree it can feel like a hindrance to peace when you feel you know something is a placebo and can provide you no pain relief

  7. fairynarns
    May 12, 2013

    Bill, I lost my dad unexpectedly just over 2 years ago and it broke my heart. I had counciling and it helped me vent the anger and frustration that had built up in me. I blamed doctors, specialists and my family for letting it happen. I felt guilty for not being around enough and getting on with my own life whilst my dad was deteriorating. I have always been an atheist and losing my dad made me question religion even more – why would god take someone who brought so much joy and happiness away before his time was up? Time is a great healer and as each day passes I am grateful for the 31 yrs I had with him, I just wish it could have been longer.

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      I’m so sorry to hear about your Dad. I’m glad you can appreciate the love and time you had with him. Every side of grief is devastating but I think the anger and guilt side is the most destructive.
      The counselling serves me well as it gives me an opportunity to be indulgent and just think about me for an hour and give my brain and heart a thorough workout.
      I’m lucky to have a good set of family and friends to talk to, but not all men find it easy to open up and that is where counsellors are invaluable.
      I should also add that counselling provided by CRUSE is free, which in today’s economic climate can make a big difference

  8. Clare
    May 12, 2013

    I feel compelled to write to you as I can’t begin to imagine the grief and horror of what you and your family are experiencing. As a recently qualified Reiki therapist all I want to say is your little Angel Anni does live on forever in your hearts and memories. We are taught that once gone from this life we pass to Spirit. Anni’s Spirit lives on, somewhere loving, pure and peaceful. Regards Clare, Basildon,Essex

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      Thanks Claire, I definitely feel Anni is with me all of the time. She brought the best out in me and I will try to let her guide me for the rest of my life

  9. lesley
    May 12, 2013

    Bill thank you so much for taking the time to write your post. It is so moving. I lost my brother last year and despite being an atheist I have found myself lighting candles and writing messages to john in churches on a number of occasions. I cant explain why as a non believer I find such comfort in doing this but I do. Perhaps it is the surroundings or the peace.whatever it is it helps me. And what anyone who is grieving should do is that which helps them. At a time when nothing makes sense I perhaps shouldnt be suprised that something that I would have dismissed a year ago has become something that is now important to me.

    I have also had great support from my Cruse counsellor. I hope the counselling is ofhelp to you

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post Lesley, it is appreciated. As you can see from my response to Sarah, as an atheist I had no problem with accepting invites to church services where Anni’s name Will be read out. When her Peppa doll spontaneously giggles without prompting or the garden play house door bell chimes on its own, I momentarily wonder if she is trying to talk to me before mentally slapping myself around the face!

  10. Arline Hall
    May 12, 2013

    Such a sad story I didn’t thinking would be able to read it but I did I felt so upset tho ..Bill I feel your pain I lst my 16yr old son Conor on the 16th June 2011 in a tragic moped accident I saw him just over a hour befor his accident little did I know this would be the last time I would talk to him again had brain injury even tho they tried to save him with a operation his injury was too bad I had to sit for 5days and watch my son die knowing there was nothing I could do I felt so helpless and. Angry ,even till this day it’s almost 2years on and I still can’t except he’s not here my world has been turned up side down never to be the same again he had so much to live for and touched so many people’s hearts . Even now I haven’t grieved for my son because it feels not real …..My thoughts are with you and your family xxx

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      Airline thanks for your thoughts and consideration when you are going through such an horrendous time yourself, I’m so sorry about your son. Whenever something devastating has happened my life (before Anni dying) I’ve always used anger as an energy to fight back. In the horrible circumstances we find ourselves in now, the instinct to project hatred is still there, but it doesn’t make us feel any better. Thoughts are with you.

  11. Lunar Hine
    May 13, 2013

    Nothing useful to say. Just sending very much love to all of you; to all of us. The road doesn’t get easier, but you do become more adept at walking it.

    • Bill Wright
      May 13, 2013

      Thank you for your words, every encouragement from others who have been walking this road before me is welcome

  12. Naomii Chaplain
    May 14, 2013

    I’m no Bible basher but I am a believer and I hope you can take solace from the fact that by telling your story and sharing that divine picture of your little cherub that she will sit in the mind and hearts of all the people who have read this. I will pray for you and your family to find strength and to take positives from the fact that Anni will be forever young. Even if you feel those prayers don’t work – I hope you do feel proud to know that you have helped keep Anni’s memory alive by planting her in our minds.

    • Bill Wright
      May 15, 2013

      Hi Naomii, Thank you for your kind words, happy for people to pray, it is nice to know there are good people in the world who care, regardless of my own personal opinions towards religion.

  13. Annalisa Barbieri
    May 14, 2013

    What an incredible post. Anni sounds like a wonderful little girl. I’m Catholic but over the years I have of course come to question the idea of a ‘heaven’. It was easier when I was little and I never doubted death was but a temporary separation.

    • Bill Wright
      May 15, 2013

      Thanks for your kind words Annalisa, I wish I could trick my mind into believing that there is more to come after death, but I have to take solace from the fact that she is forever with me in thoughts and heart, whilst I am still here. Thank you.

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  15. Janet & Jim
    May 14, 2013

    Beautifully written, Bill. Our thoughts have been with you and your family during these past difficult weeks. Hopefully, time will help to ease your pain and leave you with sweet memories.

    • Bill Wright
      May 15, 2013

      Thank you Janet and Jim, your thoughts are appreciated. Thank you for the gifts you sent Bella and Ed, if we ever make it to America for a holiday, you will be the first people we look up.

  16. Audrey Campbell
    May 14, 2013

    Bill, thank you for sharing your story. I also lost a child – Michael aged 10. He lost his fight to cancer 12 years ago. It was tough, very tough. I dont have faith as such however our other son was only 5 years old and needed some sort of explanation. I needed to know Michael was okay (in the afterlife) so I told myself he would be looked after by my grannie otherwise I would have struggled to go on. Up until his death I never gave much thought to an afterlife but I couldn’t accept that his life was truly over when he passed. Its still tough however the pain becomes a bit less raw each year. Our life as we knew it stopped but very slowly we began to live a different life – without even realising it.
    6 months ago I lost my husband very suddenly – aged just 45, which has now set me right back. All the feelings of the loss of my son have doubled the pain I now feel however I dont want this news to detract from my message to you.
    I know that the loss of Anni is heartbreaking but your hearts will heal over time. You and Mandy will always feel that loss but will draw strength from your other children. I never stop talking about Michael and never will.
    I send you, Mandy and the children huge hugs from Scotland. Take care of each other xx

    • Bill Wright
      May 15, 2013

      Audrey, thank you for your kind consideration, in providing me with hope and encouragement, whilst you and your family are going through such a devastating time. I’m so sorry for both of your losses. I know that Mandy, Bella, Ed and I will talk about Anni every day for the rest of our lives. I would imagine that might seem strange to those that have not suffered bereavement, but those of us who share this unfortunate common bond,understand. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  17. Christy
    May 14, 2013

    My heartfelt love and prayers for peace & sustainability for you & your family. I too must face time forging ahead. Yet I’m caught in strange time warp that leaves me feeling as if it just happened yesterday with the perception that 2 1/2 yrs have passed. In addition, I so strongly feel his presence that I would swear he’s just in the next room- here, but I just
    can’t see him.
    Religion has a way if manipulating the natural connection I believe we all have with our creator, but as you said, most share strong similarities and I believe they derive from different perspectives from witnessing the truth. I am a Christian. I do not share the exact same beliefs as other Christians because I have a personal relationship with God & he made
    us unique…
    Believe what your heart knows; Annie’s spirit is alive-you will be together again.

    on another plane. You will reunite.

  18. Bill Wright
    May 15, 2013

    Hi Christy, my thoughts are with you, thank you for talking the time from your own grief to provide such kind words. For the sake of my well being, I have to believe Anni is with me in some unquantifiable form. She will always be with me.

  19. always a mum
    May 15, 2013

    Hello Bill and Mandy, so sorry to hear about Anni. Wishing you strength as the days, months and years go by. Hope her memory keeps you going and makes life worth living.

    • Bill Wright
      May 17, 2013

      Thank you. Trying to honour Anni’s memory and trying to keep going the sake of her brother and sister is invaluable. I don’t know how we would survive if it wasn’t for Bella and Ed.

  20. Michael
    May 15, 2013

    Hi Bill,

    Thank you for sharing such a tough story with all of us strangers. I lost my wife to cancer two years ago. She was a born again Christian, as am I, and it is of significant comfort to me to know, not so much that I will see her again, which I will, but that she is in a place of peace and rest in the meantime. The bible is unclear on the state of life after death and before the resurrection. I suspect when Christ returns that will be the overwhelming experience for all of us, more so even than our reunion.

    For this lifetime, however, what matters to me and my children most is keeping her memory alive in the here and now. We talk about her pretty much every day – something will be said or will happen and I’ll comment on what Kathy would have said or done, or how she could never have done that or how this was her favourite… It’s wonderful when friends share memories, even if I’ve heard them all before because it helps me to know that she made an impact on their loves and is missed. What else can any of us hope for as a legacy on earth? When we die, we will all be missed – or not – by those around us. The world will continue to mark time with us above or below the ground. It sucks that she isn’t here to watch our children grow older and wiser and learn all the new things they’re learning. She wanted nothing more than to be there with them. I hope that I will get to stick around for many more years with them myself, but I may not. It’s terrible that you won’t get to watch your beautiful daughter grow up and share in all of your family’s joys and troubles and be a living, present part of them. But her memory will live on in you and your family and in all with whom you share her. Keep talking about her, thinking about her, telling people about her. Her life mattered, and her death hasn’t changed that.

    Friends may think it’s strange when I mention things about my dead wife, but it’s really no different to me than them talking about their living ones. Kathy is no less significant in my life because she is gone away from me. She matters to me; I matter to them. I think for the most part they get that. I can think and speak about her now without nearly as much sadness in my voice or in my heart – but certainly with no less affection.

    I will add my prayers for you and your family to the others. Thank you for introducing me to Anni.

    • Bill Wright
      May 17, 2013

      Thank you for your beautiful words Michael. I went to lunch today with a colleague, something I haven’t done in the two months since I returned. It was great to get the space outside of the office and to be able to talk about Anni without fear of upsetting the other person or me and this afternoon is the best I have felt at work since coming back. It definitely helps to talk as much as possible about our loved ones when there is the opportunity to do so. Thanks again for your encouragement.

  21. Christy
    May 15, 2013

    Bill, I wish there were some way to go back & delete previous comments. I wanted to share some things that actually have helped me deal with my grief over the past 2 years, but instead, I so related to your words I somehow got lost.
    1st an online grief support helped tremendously! There I found people with my same crazy thoughts & reactions, as well as encouragement / loving, non-judgemental support. 2. I began attending a small group (from my church) that forces me to get out of the house & be social… They have become family, and last, I started a nonprofit charity in his name- Larry D. Bradley Foundation, dba Food for Thought. This is my way of using time, money & energy that used to be devoted to him, to now helping others in need. This makes feels good! I do my best to live a life he would be proud of. I am better to my self now simply because I know he would insist on buying me a nice outfit, or flower, or meal – things I wouldn’t do before.
    My sincere prayers for a peaceful, positive life for you & your family.

  22. Bill Wright
    May 17, 2013

    Hi Christy, your original words were fine, but thank you for your additional comments. I am slowly getting back into seeing friends and sometimes it is welcome escapism, sometimes I just want to run back home, but there is gradual improvement. I am in awe of people like you that set up charitable foundations in spite of dealing with the most indescribable pain. I definitely think I would find some catharsis in doing something positive in Anni’s memory and I will give it some thought. The problem we have now is that part of the reaction to the grief Bella and Ed are having is that they rarely go to bed before 9, so there is so little time in the day. As soon as they settle down I would like to do something for the charity that housed us for the two days whilst we were at Anni’s bed side.

  23. Gerry
    May 18, 2013

    I am so sorry. Just want to send you and your family warm and loving thoughts. I am thinking of you. xxxx

    • Bill Wright
      May 20, 2013

      Thank you Gerry

  24. Doll
    May 24, 2013

    Thanks so much for writing this. My husband and I lost our first child last Sept and we called her Annie and had referred to her as ‘Annie baby and Annikins’ throughout my pregnancy.
    She only lived two hours. Four months ago my husband decided he wanted to end our marriage so I am now negotiating two ‘deaths’.
    Thanks for sharing.

  25. christcouture
    May 24, 2013

    Such an insightful piece Bill and how painful for you.
    I often wonder how my husband felt about our loss as men don’t often talk about it.

    My husband and I lost our first child in Sept 2012 and we called her Annie and had referred to her as ‘Annie baby’ and ‘Annikins’ throughout my pregnancy.

    She only lived two hours. Four months ago my husband decided he wanted to end our marriage so I am now negotiating two ‘deaths’.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Bill Wright
      May 28, 2013

      I’m so sorry to hear about your little girl and how awful that it has taken its toll on your marriage. I’ve been told that marriages are more at risk from trying to cope with the death of a child than they are from infidelity, which does convey just how devastatingly, emotionally taxing this awful experience is. I really hope that you have a good set of friends and family to help you through this.
      Annikins is such lovely name, we also used to call Anni, Baby Anni, even if she was only the youngest in the family by 25 minutes. Anni’s full name was Annika, but I could probably count on two hands how many times I called her this, Annikins suited her much better and I looked forward to being an uncool Dad and embarrassing her by calling her this in front of her friends when she was older.

  26. helenpatience
    July 2, 2013

    Hello Bill,
    I’m so sorry you lost your beautiful daughter, my heart goes out to you all, it must be a very difficult time. I lost my husband Greg to a brian tumour 10 months ago, when our daughter was 9 weeks old. I just wanted to say how moved I am by your words. Greg was a fan of Dawkins and later of Carl Sagan (and he was aware of his condition), he certainly didn’t believe in any kind of organised religion (and would have kept the Jehovah’s Witnesses who called this morning on the doorstep for hours arguing his point!) In a couple of years my daughter will be asking questions about where her daddy is, and I’m still not sure what to reply. I don’t believe in religion and I trust that we live on in the hearts and minds of our loved ones, and through our children. But even I as a non-believer will imagine Greg is in the room if my daughter starts laughing into thin air, I talk to him sometimes and generally feel his presence around me (and always hear his opinions in my head!) It gives me some comfort although I don’t really believe it’s real. Grief does funny things to you. I am almost jealous sometimes of people’s ‘blind faith’ that we will all be reunited after death. I just can’t buy it myself, much as I’d love to. And I can see how much easier it would be to explain his absence to my daughter as ‘he’s with the angels’ but I just don’t think I can bear to go against the strong beliefs of her dad (and my own). Thankfully I’ve got a while to mull it over before my daughter starts asking questions…
    Thanks for a thought provoking post, all the best,

  27. Bill Wright
    July 18, 2013

    Hi Helen,
    Apologies for my late reply,I have been having a tough time of it of late with various painful significant landmarks. I’m so sorry to hear about your husband. It must be so incredibly hard for you to cope with your grief combined with a newborn baby, I hope you have a good network of friends and family around you.

    I talk to Anni constantly as well, she was my best friend when she was alive, I just loved being around her more than anything in the whole world, so having a little chat with her now is just a continuation of that. In death she is often my wisest counsel with her encouragements, which is quite an achievement for her when she had a vocabulary of only about 30 words! If I’m having a bad day and don’t feel like facing the world I imagine her telling me ‘Come on Daddy, you can do this. Do it for Mummy, Ed and Bella’.

    I’ve got to the point now, where on a daily basis I trick my mind into believing I will be reunited with Anni again. On an intellectual level, I don’t really believe this, but when the sadness overwhelms me, I have to pretend to myself that I will see her again to try and make the pain less unbearable.

    Good luck with which ever path you take when your daughter becomes more enquiring about her Daddy. It’s not an easy choice, you might find your decision is influenced by the personality of your daughter.
    Take care,

  28. Pingback: Being a parent. ‹ Mumaleary

  29. siw8ng
    June 4, 2014

    Reblogged this on For Hugo For Life and commented:
    So many parallels, Hugo died at the same hospital as Kings College on the 10th April 2014 from Meningitis caused brain swelling and failure. He was 20 months old and passed so suddenly. Reading this post about the hospital experience brings the hurt right my core, references jumping out such as “flu types symptoms, CT scans, seizure, kept alive by machines, unclipped the tubes”. Atheist but feeling a human need for religion to believe that he is living in another form, not obliterated from existence and to guarantee my reunion with my boy when I go. If I woke up tomorrow and saw Hugo stomping through the bedroom door, I would accept him in a heartbeat, no questions asked, no fear of the preposterous defiance of nature. My heart goes out to Bill and family for their pain, one father to another.

    • Bill Wright
      June 9, 2014

      Hi, I’m so sorry to hear about your Hugo, like wise, my heart goes out to you and yours during this utterly devastating time. I’ve accepted that it’s a heartbreak that lasts a life time. I’ve long gone past trying to second guess where this grief will take me and just try to get through each day as it comes. It mutates back and forth all of the time.
      Even though, as you know I’m not religious, my wife and I found the Christmas memorial service at Kings in Camberwell beautiful. It wasn’t about forcing hymns down your throat, but a sense of being surrounded by so many other parents who also lost children at Kings, knowing they know what you are going through. I would recommend it to you this Christmas, if you are feeling ready. I presume that you would have had contact with King’s bereavement liaison lady, Annemarie? She will be able to tell you the details.
      The rationalist inside of me has accepted the little cons that I allow myself. Such as telling myself that I will be reunited with Anni one day and that when I am in the garden, having a late night cigarette and the playhouse bell spontaneously goes off I say hello back to Anni and apologies for smoking. Whatever gets you through the day.
      Sending you best wishes.

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