elieve me, I know what it’s like to feel the unrelenting pain of searing grief, to long to spontaneously combust in front of the meal-for-one section in M&S, to stand in the park and scream into the sky, “Where are you?” and to sob hysterically over having to drag a slug-covered wheelie bin into the street, alone, late at night, week after lonely week.
On the 27th February 2011, whilst on holiday in Barbados, my husband got off his sun lounger, adjusted his glasses and headed into the sea for a swim. Moments later, I heard him call for help, and watched helplessly from the beach as he was pulled out to sea by a rip tide. He drowned. Bizarrely, after he died, almost the first thing I said was, “But I’m wearing a bikini!” as if bad things can’t happen when you’re wearing a good bikini. But they can, and it did. At the age of 46, I crash-landed on Planet Grief, a place where nothing, not even my own reflection in the mirror, felt familiar.
Helen Bailey was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and grew up in Ponteland, Northumberland. She spent more than three decades living and working in London, but since 2013 has lived in Royston, Hertfordshire, with her partner (AKA Gorgeous Grey Haired Widower), his two sons, her dachshund and a permanent sense of bewilderment as to how radically her life has changed since February 27th 2011, the date on which JS, her husband, drowned whilst they were on holiday in Barbados.
Helen gained a degree in science and worked with vomiting ferrets at a London teaching hospital, later blaming her post-graduate choice of employment on the fact that the hospital’s canteen had an extensive menu, and wearing a white lab coat to work made her feel important. It wasn’t long before NHS catering lost its allure, the pristine white coat was drenched in ferret musk (and worse), and she realised she was more comfortable in a wine bar and wrap-dress than wrestling with rodents. Shutting herself in a disused lab under the cunning guise of ‘analysing data’ she taught herself to type from a magazine article, dumped her festering lab coat on a tube train on the Northern Line, and after ten minutes of post-ferret euphoria, freaked out about having no job and no money. A temporary post answering the phone led to meeting her husband and a twenty-five year career at London’s leading character licensing agency handling the marketing of internationally renowned properties such as Snoopy, Nintendo, Rugrats and The Simpsons, later forming the company which launched the publishing phenomenon, Felicity Wishes.
By day, Helen was negotiating contracts for Snoopy underwear, but by night (and weekends, holidays and on the bus) she wrote and published over twenty books of short stories, picture books and young-adult fiction, including the successful series of teenage novels: The Crazy World of Electra Brown (www.helenbaileybooks.com)
Persuading her equally workaholic husband that they needed a break, after a rigorous regime of Pilates, low-carbing and depilation (for Helen, not JS), the couple landed on the idyllic island of Barbados on which they had married.
Days later whilst wearing a bikini, Helen watched helplessly from the beach as her husband was dragged out to sea in a rip-current and drowned. Alone and more than three-thousand miles from home, she was a wife at breakfast, but a widow by lunch.
With her life as she knew it shattered, Helen began to chronicle living after loss in a blog – Planet Grief – gaining a worldwide following from those experiencing grief whether through bereavement or divorce.
Having sworn she could never live anywhere she couldn’t hail a black cab in the street, her current challenge is adapting to life outside London, something which may well prove more difficult than dealing with the aftermath of death.