Lucie Brownlee had it all, she had met and married her soulmate Mark and they had a gorgeous little girl, but her world came crashing down one fateful evening when, while making love, Mark utter the words “you’ve still got your socks on” and then collapsed onto the pillow. That night Lucie not only told her daughter the ultimate adult lie, that everything was all right but she also became a widow, at the tender age of 36.
Turning to writing to express her grief, she started her blog Wife After Death and has now written a powerful memoir, Me After You about the heartbreak, anger and her ways of coping as a widow, a mother and a woman.
Here Lucie shares her personal path and how her world changed irrevocably.
After Mark’s death, did people start to treat you differently?
My relationships with people changed, undoubtedly. Some friends stepped up, others faded away. New friends have come into my life; ones who do not remind me of Mark and our shared memories. My family have become closer – we were always close, but now we are impenetrable. I am incredibly fortunate in that I am supported by a cast of outstanding human beings. I call them ‘the cavalry’. They have been key to my ‘recovery’ so far.
Grieving is a very personal experience with each person taking a different path, what was your journey?
My journey has been jagged, chaotic and utterly lacking in any grace, but I have somehow got to this point – two and a half years from the moment I watched my husband die. Much of the first few months after Mark’s death was spent in a spectator role – looking in at the world from within the lonely bubble of young widowhood. After that came the inexplicable desire to sleep with anyone with a penis, drinking to excess, spending money like Ivana Trump and challenging anyone who raised an eyebrow. I charted all this in my blog, and as a result discovered it’s all pretty normal. Turns out lots of widows are out there doing exactly the same thing.
When did you feel you could be a part of society again and what was your breakthrough point?
People do their best, but ultimately, they don’t want to think about the death of their spouse and the turbulent wake that follows. At 37, most people are settling down, having babies – looking forward. They don’t want to be around someone who has stagnated. So in a sense, society shuns the widow as much as the widow shuns society.
I can’t pinpoint when things felt different – it is a very organic process, which persists to a degree. The truth is, I will always be a young widow, it is as much part of me as motherhood, sisterhood, being a friend. However the rawness of the grief subsides; you begin to ‘feel’ again. You have your first belly-laugh, then before you know it, you’ve sat through an entire episode Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and not thought about bereavement once.
Were you a different person and in what ways?
It’s a cliché, but traumatic loss really does stop you from sweating the small stuff. Everyday peripheral crap I used to fret over doesn’t bother me anymore. As I said, the people who have stepped up, ‘the cavalry’, are the ones who have shown they really cared when it mattered most. And consequently, they, and my daughter of course, are the only things I really care about now.
How does becoming a young widow change the way look at the world?
It would be easy to be embittered, resentful of other couples and their happiness. But if Mark’s death has shown me anything it is that life is there to be lived, and it really could be over at any moment. If you’re in a loving relationship, good on you. And feel fortunate, because not everyone is.
Although you can never be ‘over’ something as tragic as this, how do you move on, both for yourself and your daughter?
‘Moving on’ is a concept I raged against when Mark first died – it felt disloyal and I didn’t want to leave him behind. It is inevitable though; but I look at it as ‘moving forward’ (with a good few staggers backward thrown in). I have discovered there is no panacea for loss such as this. You take one step at a time, taking new things on board as you go. You move forward without realising it. My daughter keeps growing, damn her, and carries me along.
What about new relationships and love, can you see a point where this is possible with someone other than Mark?
I am currently in a relationship with another widower. We have been together since November 2013; it is a loving, sometimes difficult to reconcile partnership, but he understands me. He lost his partner ten years ago, so he is able to accept it when I tell him that I will always be in love with another man.
Mark was my soul-mate, the love of my life. These facts will never change. But I do believe there is space for someone else. It’s what makes us human.
How has your daughter’s grieving process been different than yours and how did you, and others help her through?
My daughter was three when her daddy died. She saw me trying to revive him. She knew something cataclysmic had happened, but didn’t understand quite what. As with me, ‘the cavalry’ helped her pick up the pieces. I sought counselling for her at one stage, but if I’m honest, I don’t really think it impacted. She is now six and a much-loved, happy little child. She doesn’t talk about daddy much, her memories of him are scant. This is the fact which hurts me most – that she will never know her wonderful , funny, devoted daddy. But I will do my best to keep his memory alive for her. I mention his name every day.
What was it that others did that was most helpful to you after your husband passed?
I remember sitting on my mother’s bed in the early days after Mark died and not having the energy or will to brush my own hair. My sister took the brush from my hand and gently rid me of the tangles that had built up. It was a beautifully tender and loving moment – unbidden, yet one of those things that says ‘I feel helpless, I don’t know what to do for the best; but at least let me help you to brush your hair.”
Small gestures of kindness are worth their weight in gold.
What advice can you give to people who have a friend or relative who is grieving?
See above! Don’t wait to be asked to do something – pick up the hairbrush, even if you’re subsequently told to put it down again.
What advice do you have for other women who have sadly become young widows?
Take all the help that is offered. Do not be surprised at, or feel guilty about, anything you do in grief. And contact WAY Widowed and Young (www.widowedandyoung.org) at your earliest convenience – a unique support network for young widows and widowers. They understand like no-one else does.