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Your Later Life Q4 2021

Learning to cope with life after death

Photo provided by Marie Curie

Janet Ellis (pictured)

Marie Curie Ambassador

Janet Ellis shares her experiences of coping with a bereavement in later life and how talking helped her come to terms with the death of her husband.


My husband, John, died of stage four secondary lung cancer in July 2020.

After John’s diagnosis, we had another two and half years together. We didn’t investigate the prognosis and I think I’m relieved I didn’t know it could have been less time. Otherwise, every time he’d so much as stubbed his toe I might have thought: could this be this it?!

Having difficult conversations

We had 35 years of conversations, including the sort of important conversations you probably don’t know you’re having. There’s nothing I wish I’d asked him and it was important and we knew what mattered most to each other. Obviously, we had to discuss him being in hospital and his care afterwards, which are probably not conversations you imagine having. But that doesn’t mean they’re impossible to have.

For me, it was all about talking at first. It helped and still does.

Building support networks

When John died there was an extraordinary, sudden and complete absence. I was not in any way prepared for how that would feel. I would take my dog for a walk every day and ask different people to walk with me every day. Anyone who asked how they could help was invited along. They all listened to me trying to make sense of it all – I’ve always found talking about how I’m feeling necessary and therapeutic. Side by side conversations can be both very freeing and very intimate. Of course, there are lovely distractions along the way too.

I’ve gradually built a network of people who support me in all sorts of ways could help with particular things, including my lovely children, of course. I think you discover quickly who can help put you back together and its not always the people you’d expect.

For me, it was all about talking at first. It helped and still does.

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