How Work Helped Me Survive My Husband's Sudden Premature Death

Linda gives a frank account of how work helped her through the toughest time of her life

Dying young ain't what it used to be. It's a wide-ranging term these days. It used to be the preserve of people who passed away in their 30s or 40s, 20s even. Now it can still be readily applied to people in their 60s, even some of us spritely souls who are pushing 70.

I'm guessing the youth-tag is stretching because older folk today are generally much fitter, healthier and more active than in previous decades. Many of us in our early sixties are still working, if not full-time, then part-time or maybe, if we have retired, we're providing our own children support with their childcare - often we're doing both.

The dying-young term now is now particularly poignant, as when it happened to me, my husband was 63, I was 61. We were both still working, him in his last year before retirement and me part-time as I waited for him to call it a day. We both felt like we were still in middle age - albeit clinging on with our fingernails - then, one day he dropped dead.

Overnight, our life-plans and retirement dreams were blown away. Who wants to go on a world cruise alone - some people maybe, but not me.

Unjust. Unjust. Unjust

To say it shattered my world is an understatement. Everything - and I mean everything we had planned - disappeared in the space of an afternoon. As the ambulance drove my now dead husband of 40 years away, just hours after we'd been talking over lunch, I couldn't comprehend that that was the last I would ever see of him, our dreams going up in the smoke of its exhaust.

I was broken. I didn't want to live. I didn't want to believe or feel or think. Unjust. Unjust. Unjust. That word that kept rolling through my brain. At first I tried not moving from my bed but somehow that was worse. I'm a naturally active person, so lounging around doesn't come naturally and anyway it was our bed, now with just me in it.

Going Back to Work

So, I found myself in a daze, going back to work after my compassionate leave ended, carrying on with the mundanities of life while in a trance of shock and despair.

A couple of colleagues at work were great but most ignored the fact that he had died and carried on as usual, too embarrassed and awkward to mention it after their first condolences, and afraid it would trigger tears. I wasn't, and still am not, embarrassed to cry and it felt incredibly isolating to be back functioning 'normally' externally, whilst being internally in such turmoil. But like those sayings on mugs go, keep calm & carry on, I just kept quiet and carried on.

I barely remember that first year. It was other-worldly. Me on autopilot, going through the motions of living without knowing what I was really doing and without wanting to be there. The loss was almost unbearable.

It's stating the obvious but it was just so so hard, the worst thing that's ever happened to me or my family - by a long shot - and I honestly didn't know if I would have the strength of character to rise up from my ashes of despair. I got married when I was 19, I had no idea who I was without my husband, how to be alone or live life without him.

Work Gave a Purpose

It's now two years down the line. I have just decided to retire - having put it off as I was too scared to jump off that precipice alone - but I've done it and had a little time to reflect.

In retrospect, I have no idea how I managed to cope and to be honest I'm not even sure that coping is the right word as I didn't really- 'survive' is perhaps more apt. But I am glad I had my work to go back to. Regardless of any of the ups and downs and the awkwardness of some around me, the simple routine of needing to go into a job and function for periods of time gave me purpose, a structure and a reason to get up in the morning.

As I reeled distractedly through that first year I went through varying stages of grief. I still am. I don't think I'll ever come to terms with his death, so young, and at times it still feels like a dream - or rather a nightmare. But while I'll never get over it, I am now, more days than not, learning to live with it. Plan A has disappeared and I'm left needing to forge Plan B alone because there's nothing else but that to do.