JULIE, Mother of Four
Julie’s husband survived a horrific car crash in Autumn 2010. But the trauma had a lasting impact and just over a year later he committed suicide.
Life changed forever for me and my family at 1.30pm on 27th November 2010. I received a phone call from a paramedic informing me that my husband had been involved in a car crash. At the hospital, staff told me that Pat’s survival was nothing short of miraculous. He had been stationary at a junction in our Classic Mini Cooper and had been hit from behind by a car which hadn’t even attempted to slow down. The impact forced his car onto a main road where it was hit by an oncoming van. Pat’s head went through the side window. Apart from the massive bang on the head, Pat had apparently escaped with cuts and bruises. That night I considered us to be the luckiest family in the world.
Over the next few months, my husband’s mental health began to suffer. When our marriage broke down, he continued to live locally and remained involved in the care of our four children. For two years, my children and I witnessed his suffering as, tragically, his mental health deteriorated.
On the evening of 8th January 2012, Pat left the home he shared with his girlfriend and he did not return. His body was found at first light the following morning in a children’s play area next to his home. He had hanged himself using the chain of a baby swing.
The children were at school when I was informed of their dad’s death. As I waited for my parents to bring them home to me, I was very aware that my words were about to change their world forever. I also knew that I wasn’t going to allow this tragedy to devastate their childhoods. As they sat on the sofa, I explained that Daddy had taken himself to heaven. Erin who was 10 years old at the time, and Sam who was seven, immediately burst into tears. Ben, four and Daniel, two, looked on bewildered. I told them without doubt that Daddy was happy and safe, having left behind the pain and suffering we had watched him bear for so long.
Pat’s funeral was a celebration of a life which had been so much more than those cruel, final years. Erin and Sam were involved in the planning and guests were encouraged not to wear black. During the service we played ‘Billy Hunt’ by The Jam. Maybe not the most popular funeral song choice but it was one the children and their father had often danced to together. As the music played, Sam spontaneously leapt out of his seat in front of hundreds of mourners and danced in the aisle in his dad’s familiar style. At that moment I had never been so proud of my son.
In the weeks and months that followed, questions were asked by each of my children. I answered each one with honesty. I now understand that the truth is often far simpler than what a child’s imagination can create. When Erin asked me where her dad had died, I took her there. She later confided she was expecting the Tower of London and gallows, not a quiet park.
The children and I talk about their dad often and with ease. We laugh about the silly stuff and we talk about the things we miss. Erin, Sam, Ben and Daniel are dealing with their loss in a way us adults could learn from. When they achieve something, they’ll look skyward and ask ‘Did you see that dad?’. If they spot a rainbow, they take a moment to admire its beauty and thank daddy for sending it to them.
My children and I are not travelling our bereavement journey on our own. I had always been a fiercely private person but, by its nature, Pat’s death was a very public event and news spread fast through our village. In the following dark days, we were loved and comforted by family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. I cannot express how a simple, friendly smile from a fellow mum at the school gates helped me cope with my day. The children in the village supported mine in the perfect, innocent and no nonsense way that only children can. At school, I knew they were safe and happy. The head teacher and her staff handled it beautifully by quietly supporting my children without making them feel different.
We are lucky to be surrounded by a fantastic network of family and close friends who keep an eye on us and enrich our lives. From our best friends who we consider family, to my mum and dad who are the most important and loved grandparents in the world. My partner Dave has been by our side through the worst of times. He understands my boys better than I do and when he wraps his arms around Erin, kisses the top of her head and tells her he loves her, I feel so grateful that we have him. Every little girl deserves to be loved like that. Quite simply, Dave is my rock.
As a family, we fundraise for Winston’s Wish, the charity for bereaved children. With the support of our amazing community, we have raised almost £2000 over the last two years. As yet, I haven’t used their services, but as my children grow, their grief will adjust and it is a comfort to know that expert help is only a phone call away should we need it.
Erin, Sam, Ben and Daniel inspire me every day with their happy smiles and love of life. They find joy in the simplest of things and their laughter reminds me that despite everything, we are a happy family. We have a sign on the wall in our home which reads: ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain’. My children are the best dancers – and I am the proudest mum in the world.
To donate to Winston’s Wish http://www.justgiving.com/Anna-Todd1