Helen’s Story

So many of you have submitted stories to Planet Grief that I must apologise if you are waiting to see yours published. I knew that there was a need for a space for the grieving to share their story without the commitment of maintaining a blog, and I was right.

I have read so many stories which drip with pain, but this story of Helen being widowed at the age of twenty-three after her husband was struck by lightening, had me weeping over my keyboard. There are positives to be taken out of Helen’s story, but as she says, the loss will always be with her. All of us reading this will be nodding in recognition of that statement. The challenge is learning to live with this constant undercurrent of sadness.

Thank you Helen.

I heard you on Woman’s Hour today and have found your website this evening.

I was widowed at the age of 23, just a year and a half after I married David who was 27 when he died. We were working in West Africa; David was a geomorphologist and had got work with a diamond prospecting company. We lived on a camp in the bush with a group of other ex pats and local people. One evening while watching a video in the communal dining ‘room’, which was a grass roofed open sided hut, a terrible thunderstorm began. The next thing we know the top of the grass roof had been hit and had caught fire. We all took shelter in the kitchen area which had a zinc roof. It was clear that there was no way we could stop the fire so we decided to salvage what we could from inside the hut before the fire became too great. While we were doing this there was another enormous bang – lightning had struck again. We rushed back into the kitchen and it was at this point I realised that David was not there. We found him in lying in the hut – he had been struck by the lightning. We then had a nightmarish journey in the landrover to try to get help – the main camp with the doctor was some distance away. I spent the whole journey trying to give mouth to mouth resuscitation, while one of the other men was giving cpr. When we arrived at the main camp we took David into the doctor’s house but it was clearly no use. My dearest love was dead.

The camp doctor dosed me up with tranquillisers and arrangements were made to fly us home. One of the men from our camp was due to leave to go home to Canada so he accompanied me all the way back to Scotland. It was a hellish time – I recall getting very upset when there was an issue with making sure that David’s coffin was transferred at Heathrow onto the flight to Glasgow. I really wanted to know he was coming with us.

On my return my parents took me to David’s family where David and I had been living in a static caravan. My life as a widow had begun. Back then – more than 30 years ago – there was precious little help for someone as young as me. I remember when I had been told that I could get some benefits and went along to the social security office in Carlisle – I explained to the lady at the desk why I was there – and her reaction was ‘you’re joking!’. No I wasn’t. Thankfully someone took over and saw me in a private room but that lady’s reaction has stayed with me.

It was difficult to be a widow at 23 – when all your friends were at the getting married stage. I was lucky that one of David’s best friends had lost his girlfriend in a climbing accident a year or two previously so he was a great support to me. It took me a long time to create a new me – with such a huge hole inside. After 10 long years I eventually met someone new. We married within a year and I now have 2 lovely daughters – one 19 and the other 17. My husband is a lovely person – he has had to deal with some difficult times as I think I have suffered from depression off and on. But I still miss my David. I don’t have anyone to talk to about David – I am quite a private person and most of the people I know now do not know that I was married before. In the last few years when people have been celebrating 25 or 30 years of marriage it has been sad because if David had lived we would have been too. I only told my eldest daughter just recently – and even then I did that in writing. I don’t know if I have any uplifting message. I suppose life goes on, a new life is built – but that loss is always going to be part of me.
Thank you for listening.


Reply April 18, 2016

Dear Helen ,I have only just stumbled on this page tonight after seeing a post on my Facebook wall and have been reading all the stories .
When I read yours I just felt I had to comment.
I am now 47 but when I was,21 I lost my husband who was only 19 we had only been married 14months and we also had our first baby who was only 8 weeks old at the time.
My husband was murdered, but I won't go into all the details but I just wanted you to know that I felt a deep connection with what you wrote.
It is very hard to be a widow at such a young age as when you meet people and have to tell them because it's such a shock to them as your so young they don't stop at just oh I'm so sorry for your loss, they want to know all the details and your left explaining and answering questions all the time. I have since married again to a wonderful man and we have had four more children and I'm very happy to say that he has treated my first child who he adopted as his own since we first met and never, ever, shown any difference between him and his biological children.
It's very hard to lose a loved one so young and I've found that people think you tend to get over it more quickly.
I am still not over my first husbands death, it haunts me till this day and has caused me to suffer depression on and off over the last twenty odd years.
I think about him very often, perhaps too often even though I have a very happy marriage I don't think I will ever get over him and what happened to him and all the aftermath afterwards with the murder trial especially as it was committed by people we knew and were very close too that just made it all the worse
. That time in my life was like something you read about in the papers that happens to someone else as it seems to unreal to be happening to you.
For years after I still thought he would come back and just walk through the door, my life was in limbo I only existed for my child, when his needs where seen too I'd just slip back into my dream world, even on my wedding day I had this irrational thought that he would turn up at the church and say, what are you doing your married to me.
I don't think you can put a time limit on grief and how long it takes you get over it as it's different for everyone plus I don't think you can every get over it.
Yes you may be able to push it further away into the back of your mind but it's still there just waiting for that trigger to set it all off again.
I truly believe if it hadn't been for my son I wouldn't have been here now, as being so young and immature my brain just couldn't have handled it, as I thought this is my lot I've lost my husband and ill be alone forever now, as at that point you never even give a though that sometime in the future you may meet someone else and be happy again. So I just wanted to say to you that you should be so proud of yourself that you did it, you coped at such a young age and on your own back, as you didn't have a child you had to stick around for you did it on your own merit.
You made it through it all and have come out the other side to live and love again and make a family and that is something you should be proud of.
I wish you all the best for the future and may you have a fantastic life.