Widowed with a Newborn

Dad Daniel shares how his world was turned upside down when his wife suddenly passed away after his baby was born.

When our daughter Rosie was just 10 weeks old, my wife Lily died of bowel cancer. 

The cancer was only discovered following Rosie's birth and the prognosis we were given was six weeks to six months, assuming Lily responded to chemotherapy. Lily's condition was dramatically worsened by also having a pulmonary embolism (PE). She underwent several rounds of chemo in hospital, and for a time appeared to be improving. But unfortunately, the cancer was too far along for the treatment to be effective, and she passed away just a little over two months after diagnosis.

Functioning on Auto-Pilot

Looking back at those months, I still struggle to comprehend the scale of the tragedy. I operated in some sort of a dream mode of waking, assuring Rosie was cared for, visiting the hospice, taking Rosie to see her mum, coming home. Rinse and repeat. I was very fortunate to have a lot of support from family and friends and the wider community I live in. I also underwent counselling services from a cancer charity. 

I think you might imagine the challenges of a 10-week-old new-born. Then add to that funeral planning, grieving, and coming to terms with suddenly being a widowed single parent. I was off work for an extended period dealing with all the logistical challenges and emotional fallout. 

Support from Work

My employers were amazingly supportive of what I was going through - the leadership of my department and directorate gave me space and time to manage my home life before my return to work. I credit my manager at the time and my department's leadership team (including the company CTO) who all personally gave me so much support.

During my absence from work, I had regular phone conversations with my manager, and met him (and others in the team) several times for a coffee, a meal or a drink. Team members, management and colleagues from other departments showed their sympathy by coming to the funeral and at Shiva prayers (the Jewish weeklong intense mourning period) at my home on the following days. 

As I started to return to work, I was issued with a spare laptop so that I could work for extended periods from home. On my return to full-time work, I was given (and still have) flexible working times to allow me to balance work and home-life responsibilities. A few months following my return, when my manager changed departments, I successfully applied for, and was awarded, promotion into the head role. 

Looking Back

Four years later I am fortunate enough to be happily remarried, and I lead the same team that I had worked in since joining the company. Rosie has now grown up into an energetic, curious and playful four-year-old. She is a constant source of joy as she explores her world, from our local neighbourhood, to school and further afield. We are even looking forward to welcoming a sibling for her early this year!

I feel my positive current situation having passed through a tragic and challenging time, was made possible through four critical things: support from family and friends; my own daughter being a source of joy and reason to drive forward my life changes; attending grief counselling; and last, but definitely not least, the support from my employer.