Losing My Husband and Brother

My brother died on Friday 9th December 2011 in a car crash. He was fit and healthy, a police officer, a son, a boyfriend, a friend – my big brother. That evening my mum phoned and said she was worried about Edward because he was late meeting her and she couldn’t get hold of him. I told her not to worry and that I would get hold of him – he always picked up his phone to me. But he didn’t answer his mobile or landline when I called.

I felt that sinking feeling that something was wrong but then told myself that I was worrying for nothing. It wasn’t long after that the police – including an officer that knew my brother – came to my mum’s house and told her that Edward had been killed instantly in a car accident. My mum told me by phone and we finished the short conversation with me telling her that we would all be okay. I felt far from okay but wanted to comfort my mum. As soon as the call ended I started crying and barely stopped for the following days.

Everyone handles death in their own way – at first it is just about surviving yourself. I cried myself to sleep and dreaded waking up for worry that the news would hit me again as soon as I woke – but I woke knowing it all. I travelled to my mum’s the next day so that I could be with my mum and sister. I was the ‘crier’ of the family; soon after I stopped crying I started again. It just felt like endless grief. My sister was the practical person in the family; she spoke to people and went back to work on the Monday. Keeping busy helped her cope. My mum looked like herself but it wasn’t her, I think her subconscious knew that the emotional pain of losing her son was too much to cope with and so it shut the feeling part of her brain down.

As is normal at Christmas we were receiving many cards; some were Christmas cards, some were sympathy cards, some were Christmas cards with messages of sympathy. We didn’t put up the Christmas tree that year. We didn’t send Christmas cards. We dealt with loss and prepared for my brother’s funeral on the 22nd December.

The loss of my brother was more than enough to cope with but there was more to come. My fiancé, Warren, had been very unwell with a brain tumour for nearly two years. In recent months he had been coming to the Day Hospice at Birmingham St Mary’s once a week and he had recently had a short stay for respite during one of his courses of treatment. At that time I knew his health was very poor and that we were running out of treatment options – but we were holding onto hope that he would recover.

On the 18th December his symptoms worsened and I knew it was the end. I had to wait until the following day, a Monday, until I could speak to his oncologist to be given the results of his most recent scan. The tumours had spread through his brain and down his spine. His oncologist, who had always spoken to us as if we were friends of his, told me that this was the end, there was no more treatment and that he had hoped he would never need to tell me that. It was a nice way to be told the worst. I told Warren’s family and then went upstairs with his dad to tell Warren.

I knew then that I needed to stop crying, I needed to be strong, because I needed to make the best of the time I had left with Warren. We were given a room in another hospice that was local to mine and Warren’s family in Milton Keynes. It was decorated for Christmas and had a warm but calm feel to it. My heart hurt for my brother and for the imminent loss of my fiancé. We were told we had days, weeks or months left. I had told Warren that he never had to go back to hospital and that we would do what he wanted and be where he wanted. It lifted my heart when he said he wanted to get married. Warren and I had been together for 8 years from when I was 18 and he was 23, we had got engaged in our 6th year (planned by myself in the early days of our relationship when I told Warren I would like a ring if we were still together after 6 years to which he immediately agreed! So the plan was made of engagement in our 6th year, marriage within a year or two, and to start a family when I was 30 and he was 35). Fitting with our life plan we had started to organise our wedding the previous summer but due to the unpredictable nature of his illness, we cancelled the church and venue, and postponed it until he was better. But now we knew he wasn’t going to get better.

For Christmas Day, the hospice in Milton Keynes supported Warren so that he was able to leave and our room was going to be kept for us to return within a couple of days. Warren was very ill at that time but he insisted on cooking curry, something he had talked about doing many weeks before. It wasn’t traditional but that suited us all well after losing Edward.

Warren and I got married on the 28th December (the first non-bank holiday after Christmas). My mum made bridal party flowers from the white lilies and roses for Edward’s funeral, we had bought wedding outfits the previous day, and friends and family brought cakes (three in total!), champagne and decorations. Weddings in hospices are a special event, the staff joined in with our happiness, and we all had the most wonderful day.

I had the underlying feeling that my world was soon going to fall apart but that was almost completely covered by the happiness and love we all felt. For that day, Warren and I were just a man and a woman marrying the person we loved most in the world. The only significant sadness of that day was that my brother would have been giving me away. I asked the hospice Chaplain to say a few words about the loss of my brother and he did so beautifully.

On New Year’s Eve, Warren and I had a quiet night together in the Milton Keynes hospice and we returned to our home in Birmingham on the 2nd January 2012. There is no place like home and life felt a little normal to be back there. We woke the following morning to find that Warren could not stand; his legs had been getting a lot weaker but suddenly he could not take any weight.

We contacted Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice who welcomed us as they always had. We spent just over 3 weeks there. Warren’s health deteriorated so quickly but we had the best medical and emotional support from all the staff and they happily agreed for us to have a wedding party in the conservatory so we could celebrate our marriage with people who had not been able to come to our wedding. Birmingham St Mary’s later helped coordinate everything for Warren to return to our home in Birmingham since this was his wish.

Warren died on the 9th February 2012. He and I were together in our apartment and I could not have imagined a more perfect death for him. He had been so strong for so long but now it was the end. He just let go while I told him how much I loved him and that everything was okay. My heart broke a bit further.

The following December brought back many memories of loss. While most people were excited about Christmas, I was remembering the previous December. I didn’t send Christmas cards and barely bought any presents.  A lot of friends and family got in touch on the 9th December which I appreciated. As well as the memories of losing my brother, I remembered finding out that I would soon lose Warren. We visited family on Christmas Day which we usually did on Boxing Day. I think it was important for my mum, sister and I not to be in our home where we had always spent time on Christmas Day with Edward and for the last 8 Christmases with Warren. My cousins’ children were there which helped us to feel happy but I didn’t take a family photo like I always had.

The following year my sister had given birth to a daughter which gave us all a new person to love and to focus on at Christmas. We have always toasted Edward and Warren, a tradition which will continue along with sharing stories. For the last two years I went to the Birmingham St Mary’s Choir Christmas concert (which I can highly recommend to help you get into the Christmas spirit) and last year I had the honour of speaking at the Birmingham St Mary’s Light up a Life event and turning on the Christmas lights. There are so many happy parts of Christmas even if they are isolated moments amongst feelings of sadness.

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I don’t think the pain of losing loved ones gets easier but people become stronger to deal with it. I love my brother and late husband as much as I ever did but I need to move forward since I am blessed to have my life. Five years on, it still hurts and I feel the 9th December before it has even happened. But this year is different. I have decided to take back Christmas – not just the odd part but to try to embrace all of Christmas.

This year, my boyfriend and I went to our local Christmas lights switch on, we put up a Christmas tree and decorations, we have started our advent calendars, and we are going to send Christmas cards. The loss of my brother and late husband will always be in my life but life needs to go on. The only different thing about this year is that I am choosing to be happy about Christmas. The loss is still there but it will be surrounded by joys of Christmas this year.

To everyone who has experienced loss, a saying of mine is that it only hurts so much because of how much you loved the person; I would rather hurt more because I loved more. There is no right or wrong way to cope. The people we have lost have lost their lives and all the joys within, but we are here and deserve to be happy. I wish you all a merry Christmas, or as merry as that can be. We at least have a Christmas, and I hope that whether it be the first Christmas or many Christmases after loss, that this time of year can bring happiness to you and closeness with your friends and family. This Christmas, may you be able to remember the past with love, enjoy the present, and have hope for the future.

Thank you for being so brave Beth and sharing your story with us.

We hope Beth’s words offer some strength to all of you remembering loved ones this Christmas and hope you all have a wonderful time over the festive period.

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