Journalist Mike Spencer lost his wife BBC executive producer Katy Jones suddenly two years ago. He shares his experience.
One moment we were a happy family with barely a cloud in view, the next I’d joined the widowers’ club. One morning in April 2015 my wife Katy died from a brain haemorrhage. She was 51 and in very good health. It was so sudden, so out of the blue, that her last words to me were ‘you must tell the BBC I won’t be in today’.
Katy had been a notable journalist, working with Jimmy McGovern on his Hillsborough drama-documentary and, as a result, was co-opted on to the Hillsborough Independent Panel. The Hillsborough families sent 96 red roses. There were obituaries in the press. More than 300 people came to her funeral. Theresa May wrote. The BBC Director General wrote.
As an organ donor, Katy also saved lives – her heart, lung, kidneys and liver were all successfully transplanted. The pride we felt for her, the adrenaline, the kindness of friends, carried us through the first few weeks following her death. Our 17-year-old daughter had to sit her AS exams or stay down a year. Our son, at university, had to arrange his year abroad as a language student. So life went on. It had to.
It’s said that there are five stages to bereavement – denial, anger, guilt, depression, acceptance. This may be helpful to some people but to me it feels, like five-day diet plans, too neat to be wholly true. I don’t think any of us were ever in a state of denial - disbelief certainly - but not denial. As an atheist I didn’t have a God to rail against nor could we direct our anger towards a drunk-driver or medical misdiagnosis.
Fortunately, and crucially, we had nothing to feel guilty about. At the risk of seeming smug we were an incredibly happy family. It feels to me that one of the hardest things about bereavement is the “baggage” – things said by the living and the dead that can never be unsaid, actions that can never be undone. As to acceptance, well there’s the rub. Two years after Katy’s death acceptance is the last thing I feel. If anything the pain is worse now than in the early months after her death. I have two much-loved children and too many very good friends and relatives to ever feel suicidal.
Nor is my life relentlessly unhappy. See me on a night out with friends and it would be difficult to spot who was the bereaved. Coming back to an empty house is the difficult part.
One piece of online advice about bereavement that does ring true is the rather prosaic: the only way to get through it is to get through it. In the meantime, the living would do well to remember that most obvious but neglected fact of life – death can come out of the blue. I’m told that on the day Katy died a lot of her friends and colleagues hugged each other, recognising that it could have happened to any of them. That’s a good lesson too.
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