Katherine’s death was sudden: In a second my life went from everything I’d dreamed of to darkness and chaos.

From the beginning I was so overwhelmed, the feelings of bewilderment, anxiety and self-reproach had their sights locked onto me like a pack of wolves. The capacity for me to cope naturally diminished instantly when dealing with her passing. Little did I know my body had already called in the cavalry; SHOCK! I had no preparation and no time to gradually absorb the reality that my world was about to change. My loss was so disruptive, all my adaptive capacities had been severely assaulted.

For the first 12 months, without me even knowing, the shock had absorbed everything I should have been or should have done. I lost all control of my world and my expectations had experienced a major violation. I had to face the massive gap between the way my world should be and the way the world is now. The only thing I could manage was the day-to-day care of my 9-month-old daughter.

When I look back, I often feel ashamed in the way I did things and acted. I’ll always regret never becoming the grieving widower at the start. Unconsciously, from the beginning when Katherine passed, I became this pillar of strength to everyone and everything. Though I presented myself as the superhero dad, doing everything by the book. Deep down I just wanted to crumble and be dragged down into the pits of emptiness, sadness and pain. These feeling were now squatting deep within my ego, waiting to emerge when the time was right. Almost as if the shock had engaged some sort of masculine centred autopilot which had total control over my being.

The loss of my wife didn’t make sense, it still doesn’t. At the time my understanding of what actually happened was missing. For a period of time, the shock made it very difficult for me to accept that Katherine’s death occurred, and it became inexplicable for a long period of time. I repeatedly went over the series of events in my head numerous times each day, as it had no understandable context.  For logical progression I found myself making the situation more manageable by looking back at the time leading up to her cardiac arrest in search of clues that could have indicated what was to come. Reconstructing every event in my mind in order to find some anticipation of her death. It drove me mad!

My next chapter of shock came in the form of responsibility. I started to hold myself responsible for not perceiving clues and for my actions before and during her cardiac arrest. I felt some levels of inordinate guilt for a period of time.  Of course, I understand now I would need to be a physician and to have given my wife an electrocardiogram (ECG) test to have known anything was wrong with her. Reflecting on this now, I was demoralised and trying to cope with my drastically altered world. I felt a lot of anguish for the first 12 months, I just wanted to say good-bye – I needed a positive close. I wish I could have had one brief moment with her to say how much she meant to me and how much I loved her. Just one more time!

I understand that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Shock is a traumatic stage of losing someone suddenly, you won’t admit or notice it at the time. Friends and family won’t spot it either. Having this awareness now enables me to look back on how I acted and the things I said without negativity. 

Over a period of time, it has been quite an ironic but positive consequence that the shock from a sudden death made me audit and identify my state of mind more than ever. Working professionally within an academic environment I’ve always been a reflective person. I’m not saying I’ve pulled something meaningful out of my tragedy. I mean this in the way that when we experience bereavement, we change and become something new. I’ll share my experience on this topic in my next post.