In 2013, after 10 years of serving in the army, having deployed on 3 tours and aged 28 my husband took his own life. We had been together for 8 years, married for 3 years and had two sons together aged 23 months and 7 months. I think I spent quite a long time in denial, distracted by the practical task of caring for my sons and the short term tasks in hand. But this also became like being in limbo as I did not know what to do with myself, desperate to get back to ‘being ok’ and get my life back on track, but knowing that I was not really emotionally ready to take on any new tasks. There came a time when I was desperate for a break and some adult company. This was my motivation for first signing up to attend the Army Widows AGM. Some people were wary of me going, as at only just 26, they didn’t place me with the stereotypical image of a widow. I remain grateful, to this day, that I did not take their advice.
The AGM provided so many things for me. I was able to switch off my ‘mummy brain’ and focus on myself, I enjoyed the activities planned and was happy to be able do something different to break up the monotony of every day life. The ladies did not fit the stereotypical ‘widow image’, they were lively with a good sense of humour. But the most significant thing for me was talking and meeting all the different people. It was so inspiring to hear the other ladies stories and to see those further along the path of grief as reassurance that there is a way through this.
How my husband died did make me slightly hesitant in joining the AWA. There are feelings of ‘being entitled’ to join that I had to work through. I, like a few other widows have mentioned, was quite daunted by the thought that all the other husbands would have died during service. At the AGM I learnt that it only roughly half the members that are widowed from a death due to service. Although we talk about how our husbands died, it is not a defying factor of us, it doesn’t make our grief any more or less significant, the association is about helping us as widow/ers to cope and continue on. This is one of the reasons I found the peer-to-peer support one of the most valuable, having your thoughts/feelings confirmed and shared by someone else experiencing grief, confirming that it is natural and part of the process, but also perhaps raising issues that you had not encountered. Although I initially used the AWA for social support I’m thankful that they will also be there to point me in the right direction should I need help with various aspects of grief such as counselling/support for my children, or life afterwards such as resettlement, pensions.
I was only 25 years old when I was widowed in the summer of 2008. My husband was an armourer attached to 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment in 2008. He maintained weapons at the forward operating base in Kajaki. My husband was killed in action on 22nd July 2008 as a result of an Improvised Explosive Device striking the ambulance he was driving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Just before he was killed, he had helped in the rescue of a colleague. My husband was a selfless, caring man. We had an extremely close relationship since we met in 2004.
The AWA has been a tremendous help in the aftermath of my husband’s death. When your husband dies in the forces, everyday people find the death of a soldier extremely hard to deal with. They don’t quite know what to say, so avoidance is their way of dealing with it. By becoming a member of the AWA you realise you are not alone and that other ladies are going through the same thing. More importantly what you are feeling isn’t right or wrong. As members are varied in the amount of time they have been widowed they help the newer widows with mundane paper work and know about what sources of help are available.
In 2009 my world changed forever when my husband (partner at the time) was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma. “It’ll be fine” he said as we walked away from the hospital, treatment information swimming around my head. We had been together for 3 years but known eachother for 10 years. We didn’t have children, but as you do, we had mapped the next few years out ahead of us. The Regiment and his closest friends were amazing. He was REME attached to 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and they took him on as their own. Over the next 3 years he went in and out of hospital but worked through it all. Our plans had already massively changed, but his “can do”, “carefree” attitude and infectious smile rubbed off on all of us, so we got on with it.
After 2 years of treatment he proposed and we were married in March 2012, giving us time to focus on his treatment in preparation for a bone marrow transplant. Sadly this was not to be, a bout of shingles meant he missed treatments which allowed his cancer to take over. In May 2012 he slipped away in his sleep holding my hand as he took his last breath.
The next few weeks came and went in a blur of funeral plans, interment of ashes, and a memorial service (the Regiment were away when he died). It wasn’t until after that, when everyone returned to work, and their lives continued, that I realised quite how much mine had changed. I felt so alone, even with family and friends around me. I had received a letter and membership form from the Army Widows Association, so relucantly filled it in. A few weeks later two of the most remarkable women I had ever met, sat on my sofa, handing me tissues, and telling me their stories. Being a cancer widow I never thought I’d fit in, but everyone has a different story ending in the same loss. 2 weeks later I attend me first weekend retreat and have never looked back. Everything I feel or say, someone else has been through exactly the same thing. There are tears, but there always will be, and slowly they have helped me move forward. I have met women of all ages and all walks of life, and can, without a doubt, say I have made some of the most amazing friendships, and now have ladies in my life I would never be without. I hope if you are an army widow (recent or even a while ago), you join us, you won’t regret it.