Life After Bereavement - Sink or Swim? | #HILife

Life is extremely complicated.  You'll find that for me, it has been no different.  I think it is so important, especially with the things going on in today's world, to stop and think about all that we've conquered.  Whether they're big or small, bad or good.  No life event is less significant than another if it has changed your life or impacted it in some way.  For this reason, I've decided to launch this segment called 'HI Life' on the blog.  

Why HI Life?  Essentially, we're saying hello to life.  The good and the bad, the happy and the sad.  To make it even better?  It's a segment written by the members of the Heard It Community and I, that's what makes me so proud of it.  Sadly, it's not the Hawaiian Life, but it's certainly the high life.  So welcome to the HI Life, where every week, I will feature someones story.  Uninterrupted, the way they want to tell it.

This week, we start with the beautiful and lovely Lisa Hoptroff of Thirtysoemthing Belle.  Lisa is a British lifestyle blogger out of the UK and here is her story.

Exclusive HI Life Forward
I wanted to share my story with you. Tragic? Yes. However my main reasoning behind writing this was also to show that you CAN get through anything - I promise! Even the worst,most devastating moments of your life DO get better with time. Everything changes and the dark times pass. Keeping a positive point of view is so very important and an almost stubborn determination not to 'sink' helps too. 

Lisa's Story
Death. That one little word that sums up so many emotions. Heartbreak, love, memories, shock, injustice, anger, fear. For many, we cannot imagine losing the people closest to us. For some, it is a sad reality we have to brave.

My fiancé died. There, I said it. Today should have been our 7 year anniversary. I want to give you an insight into this significant part of my life and the months that followed. Whenever the topic arises, the awkward atmosphere swiftly follows. It's a conversation that nobody really knows how to have (including me) yet many are curious about so here goes...

On 27th March 2014, Neil passed away. No warning, no chance to say goodbye. He'd been poorly with what we all assumed was a flu type bug for a few days. I even came home from work in my lunch break on the 26th March to see how he was feeling and we joked about his 'man flu'. Sadly less than 24 hours later, we were told Neil had gone.

After a long night and emergency neurosurgery, the consultant explained that Neil had contracted a rare virus - streptococcus intermedius - that had quickly become fatal. I will never forget the heartbreak of that day, especially my drive home from the hospital to tell the girls this horrific news.

The next few weeks passed in a blur of condolences, flowers and funeral arrangements. I don't remember much bar getting on with the basics - making sure the kids were fed, snatching a few hours sleep on the sofa, paying the bills. I actually returned to work 2 weeks after Neils death to try and get some kind of normality again, to keep my over active brain busy.

We were surrounded by friends and family in the early days, offering a shoulder to cry on. I saw the pity and the helplessness in their eyes. Nobody knew what to say or do. Hell, I didn't know what was the 'right' thing to say either. Our friends were shaken to the core with a universal sense through our social circle that we simply shouldn't have to deal with this. We were too young. We should be seeing each other get married, have children. Not saying a final goodbye. I felt isolated, like I didn't belong anymore. Here I was, 30 years old and for all intents and purposes, a widow. I was lost in a reluctant limbo. This article from the Telegraph this week resonated with me:

I stayed strong for my girls and for our families however when I was alone, I would break down in disbelief, despairing and lost. I swore, I wailed. I was angry. Angry at myself for not 'knowing' that Neil was so poorly (despite the surgeon stating that even if Neil visited a GP that morning, he'd have been diagnosed with sinusitis and sent home to rest) Angry that my girls and our families were hurting. Angry that Neil had left me here. Underneath the weak smile and the constant lie of: "I'm fine" I was bubbling with rage and a pain I can never put into words.

I was contacted by a wonderful lady who is friends with my sister. She explained that she herself had been in a similar position and offered advice if I needed it. After striking up a friendship, she introduced me to a group called WAY (widowed and young) which offer support for people under the age of 50 who have lost partners, regardless of marital status or gender. I reluctantly joined after having associated a certain stigma with the widowed community. How very wrong I was. I will happily eat humble pie and say that the people I met via WAY are some of the most incredible, wise, supportive and fun people I know. We were all on the same surreal journey together. They became my home during the very darkest moments, where I'm almost ashamed to admit that on occasion, I felt there was no sensible way out. They understood.

Reading others stories broke my heart and I was sad that so many 'normal' peoples lives had been similarly torn apart. The news of Rio Ferdinands wife recently made me shed a tear - I had complete empathy of the situation him and his family are now forced to face. With the support of a few close friends, family members and fellow WAYers, my life slowly began to make a little sense. After months of endless tears, frustrating questions which could never be answered and merely surviving day to day, I woke up and decided it was time for change.

I developed a more positive, optimistic attitude and was determined to 'move on'. What does moving on mean? It sure as hell doesn't mean forgetting. I think it's impossible to forget the past nor would I ever want to. I have just learnt to incorporate it into my new life without it crippling the future.

As time went by, so did friendships. Not everyone could understand nor support the girls and I on our new journey. Relationships with some friends and family members deteriorated and drifted away in the months after the funeral. At the same time, some friendships - pre and post Neil - flourished and I will be forever grateful to the people who are still around. They have gotten us through times of unbearable grief, seeing us at our most vulnerable. I spent a long time being angry and upset before realising that this kind of thing was actually sadly quite common after a bereavement.

Some people have judged harshly and openly, others have praised the way we've dealt with this - however I truly think unless you are/have been in a situation yourself, you simply cannot know. Remember that not a single one of us chose to be in this position nor want to be. We still hold the right to be happy and to make mistakes without being scrutinised or put on trial. We are learning as we go, just like everyone else. I have met widowers and widows who have gone on to remarry within 18 months of losing their spouses, others who still feel the pain just as deeply after 10 years and could never contemplate 'starting again' on any level. Some have sold their homes, started families, moved abroad and made various life changing decisions. There really are no rules here and although the death of loved one may shape you, it certainly shouldn't define you - the way you choose to lead your life in the aftermath is 100% your own choice.

I was ready for change. I decided to leave my job for a better one, started a new relationship and braved adventures that I'd never had the courage to do before. Life feels so very different but I can say that this tragic experience has changed the way I view things, for the better. The little things really don't matter. I try to cherish the good times and the loved ones around me. I absolutely refuse to spend whatever time I have left being bitter, negative and miserable which is what some people have expected me to do and have even been angered that I don't conform to this cliché. Over a year later and I don't know what the future holds. I sure don't take it for granted anymore.

One positive to come from Neil's untimely death is organ donation. Neil hadn't yet signed the organ donation register so as a family, we collectively made the decision to donate Neil's organs on his behalf. This act has gone on to save 4 people's lives who otherwise may not have have been so fortunate.The NHS transplant team were incredible and keep us regularly updated on how the recipients are doing. I'd like to meet them at some point in the future but for now, it's one day at a time. The fact that Neil's legacy continues in such a fantastic way is a huge comfort and inspired me, my girls and our friends to register which makes me very proud.

The girls and I talk of Neil often, more so with happiness these days. He will never get old. He passed away at the peak of his days with a loving family, good career and bright future ahead. Friends and family remember the happy, funny guy who left us too early and with fond memories. Rest in peace Neil.

Editor's Notes

All copy is written by Lisa, unedited by me. Nothing has been changed.  Check her out here.

Thank you so much to the lovely Lisa for sharing her brave story.  I am so happy to have her talking about something so close to her that she has amazingly conquered in her life.  The beautiful memory of Neil will live on forever and ever.

If you'd like to be considered for HI Life, please feel free to e-mail me.  I'd love to have you.  Or, reach out to me on Twitter.  Thanks for reading!  

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