Recently we shared the touching story of Fiona and Eric to mark Grief Awareness Week. The couple had 30 years of marriage together, Eric was diagnosed with dementia and passed away 2 years ago from pneumonia. Fiona explains the emotional roller coaster in coping with grief and how life has been in the last 2 years since Eric passed away:

It’s hard to believe it’s almost a year since I recorded my three videos for Alzheimer Scotland about my experience of bereavement. As we come up to their grief awareness week I thought I would watch them again. My first surprise was how composed I seemed. But I remember we had to stop recording a few times as I got upset. My second thought was how things have changed since then; what a rollercoaster of a year it’s been. So I thought it would be an idea to write a blog as an update on what’s happened since the filming and to add my reflections or advice to others going through the same sort of experience. So here I go!

Not long after the recordings were made my mental health deteriorated badly as my anxiety levels went through the roof. I was constantly worrying, over thinking, and unable to make decisions. I think the years of stress worrying about my husband and then dealing with the bereavement just all came out. I knew I needed help so contacted my doctor. She was great and suggested a combination of antidepressants and talking therapies. In the Highlands, only cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is available on the NHS so she referred me for that but also advised me to contact the charity CRUSE for some bereavement therapy. 

I called CRUSE and spoke to one of their helpdesk advisers who assessed me and decided I would benefit from bereavement counselling but they had quite a long waiting list. I remembered I had a little health insurance policy and was surprised they offered bereavement counselling and that I could start straight away. It was a huge turning point for me. I had 6 sessions which were all very upsetting but enabled me to talk about things I didn’t want to talk to family and friends about. In particular, Eric’s last couple of weeks. I needed to understand what had been happening to him and what he would have been feeling. It really put my mind at rest. Having desperately tried to avoid thinking about that time as it really upset me I can now go there. Within a couple of weeks of starting the counselling, I stopped taking the tablets, the counselling was what I needed.

When the sessions ended I felt so much better and didn’t think I needed any more. But I was then contacted by CRUSE and they assessed that more sessions would help. But it was very different. The previous ones were very much backward looking and these were looking to the future. The most important thing I learned was I needed to allow myself to be happy and to spend more time doing things that made me feel that way. It sounds obvious but it really helped. For me, one of those things is walking in the country or on the beach with my dog. So I spent a fair time in the summer off in my motorhome, sometimes with friends but often on my own. I only needed 3 of the 6 sessions offered. I also did some CBT as a refresher, giving me tools to cope if the anxiety came back.

A big issue for me was passing the first milestones. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and of course the first anniversary of Eric’s death. But over the year, each got easier. Lots of people said the first year would be the most difficult. I wasn’t convinced but I have been a lot better since the last milestone passed. I still think about Eric every day and probably will for the rest of my life. And I still get upset over silly things and sometimes for no reason at all. But I also feel like the old me is re-emerging. In the videos I said I needed a purpose. Well, I now do a fair bit of volunteering and am involved in local community groups. I have also stopped the comfort eating and started sorting out my health. I do several exercise classes, have taken up tap dancing and lost 2 stone! I wasn’t ready to do it before and needed to be kind to myself.

So what are my reflections on all this? Everything I said in the videos is still true. A key message was that everyone is different, we will all experience grief differently and we all need to do things at the right time for us. How right that was! I had no idea when I did the videos what was about to happen to me or how things would change. But now I would add another key message, one of hope. It will take time, and there will be difficult times, but it will get easier and there will be happier times ahead. I’m not completely there yet but I’m getting there!