‘I became a widow at 36, after only 62 days of marriage’

·5-min read
Stacey Macdonald with Chris
Stacey Macdonald with Chris

I had been married for 62 days when I had to give my husband CPR. When the paramedic arrived, he put his hand on my shoulder and told me to stop. It was as if someone had pulled a rug out from underneath me.

Chris and I met at a bar in Motherwell, Scotland, and were married on October 18 2013, after six years together.

We were happy and content with our life, working hard, enjoying meals out and walking our dog. Chris was a joker and always made me laugh. He had a funny story for every situation.

But on December 19 – just weeks after our wedding – he suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of 45. It was six days before what would have been our first married Christmas together. There was no warning. I found him dead on the sofa at 5.30am.

I think I went into shock. I didn't eat for days. Family and friends were worried about me but my priority was getting through Christmas Day and his funeral on December 28.

In the weeks that followed, I felt as if I was falling into a deep black hole. I went into autopilot because the reality was too hard.

It's true to say that while losing Chris was a tragedy, it was also life-changing in a different way. As I grieved for him, I changed. In that time, I made some very big decisions that have shaped my life.

Chris was the only father my 12-year-old daughter had ever known and I realised very quickly the only way I was going to be mum to a child who had just lost her dad was to put one foot in front of the other. I had to do the day-to-day living, to go through the motions. I had to show up and continue to be the mother, the daughter, the co-worker and the breadwinner. But suddenly, I had a new label attached: at the age of just 36 I was a widow.

I wasn't ready to accept that. So I made the decision not to conform to what society, my church at the time or some of my friends thought I should do. I wasn't ready to be put in a box.

Just as there's no instruction manual for bringing up children, there is no instruction manual for losing a husband or dealing with grief.

So I set out on a path of doing things in a way that was true to myself. I wasn't going to compromise who I was, and I wasn't going to compromise my feelings, or my thoughts.

People expected me to cry and wail and show my grief outwardly. I didn't – I held my emotions very close to my chest and people thought I was “over” it too quickly. I went back to work on January 6, less than three weeks after Chris had died. My boss and colleagues couldn't understand why I seemingly wasn't falling apart.

I burnt some bridges, upset some people and moved through a period of huge grief for the first six months after losing Chris.

And it was needed. It was challenging, it was cathartic, it was painful, it was joyous. The emotions I could list are endless.

When I woke up each morning, in that split second before I was fully conscious, nothing had changed. I often describe this time as a twilight zone where everything is rosy: he's still here, and we're still married.

But every single day, I also had that moment when I came to and remembered what had happened, and the life I had been dealt. I had to make a conscious decision to put one foot in front of the other – the decision I still make every morning now.

That motto of taking just one step forward every day is the one I have lived by ever since. I have had the opportunity to talk about it with other people who have also lost their husbands, been bereaved or are grieving. I've been able to draw alongside them and say “I can understand”.

I can never say “I know what you’re feeling” because I have never walked in another person's shoes, but my experience has given me an insight into a different part of life. I believe this has helped me draw out stories in my own life and for other people. I'm passionate about telling them.

Much academic research into bottling up emotions has been carried out and, while I'm no expert, I certainly agree that if you can talk about the person you've lost – if you can name them and remember them, if you can tell the stories – then there is some part of the process that becomes easier.

It doesn't matter what your story is. It doesn't matter what life has thrown at you. Whether you have sunk or swum. What matters is that you are still here today to tell that tale. And there's a certain amount of honesty, vulnerability, and healing that happens when you do.

Every time I tell mine, I always say: if one person can take one grain of comfort from my words, that's my purpose.

I am now a communications expert. I work with female business owners to show them that their real life experiences can and should be used for their business. I can teach you how to tell a damn good story.

Today, aged 44, I have found a way to grieve and live. The chapters of my life that Chris occupied will never be changed or re-written, but my own story is not finished. I am writing new stories with a new husband, in a new location with a new appreciation of living in the moment. I don't plan very far ahead as life has a way of throwing you curveballs, but I am so thankful every day for the lessons they have taught me.

themodernstoryteller.co.uk

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