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.