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Heather had been my mentor, minder, soul mate and biggest supporter, so in addition to dealing with my bereavement, I had to learn how to live as a trans person on my own.

Lucy

Lucy* and her wife, Heather, met at the age of 16 and were joined at the hip for 58 years. When Heather died, Lucy struggled with feelings of guilt, as well as having to learn how to live as a trans person on her own. 

When Heather died two years ago, I thought I was better prepared than most to deal with my forthcoming bereavement, but nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of grief when it happened.

I was completely surprised by the extreme guilt I felt, centred around the circumstances of her last two days but which quickly spread to the whole of our long relationship. I knew it wasn’t justified because we had a wonderful life together, but that didn’t stop me beating myself up unmercifully. I found it impossible to acknowledge the good times and how fortunate I had been during our life together.

Managing grief

The last two years have been by far the most difficult period of my life. There have been times when I have been really worried about myself. 
 
I was well able to look after myself and run the house efficiently so in that respect I was able to maintain my physical health without any difficulty.

10 months after Heather’s death, I sold up, downsized, and moved to be close to my family back to Bovey, where we had previously lived some 10 years before. That has proved to be a good decision for all of us. I see so much more of my grandchildren, son and daughter in law, this has been a tremendous help in dealing with my loss. I have found it very emotional going back to the places where we had many happy times together, but but forcing myself to go to these places has been the right thing to do.

Finding support and comfort after Heather's death

Heather was committed to the hospice movement, she had been in charge of a busy day hospice in the last 10 years of her nursing career and had been a volunteer at our local hospice when we moved to Devon, until she became ill.

Shortly after she died, I started as a volunteer there. It was "against the rules” but  I managed to talk my way in. It was something I felt I had to do, don’t know why. It has been a wonderful experience, everyone there has been so kind to me.

The first time I went back to the hospice, I forced myself to go into the room where she had died, it was hard but I’m glad I did it because it gave me a sense of connection with her which has continued ever since.

Here I should mention I am transgender. I have continued as a volunteer and last year I was asked to lead a session on the end of life issues facing LGBT+ patients, at a seminar for healthcare professionals, I did a lot of preparation but sadly it was cancelled due to COVID.

Recently I was asked as a carer, volunteer and bereaved, to join the Steering Group and Workshops to take forward a major project, which I have greatly enjoyed. The hospice has been a wonderful source of help and comfort to me.

Dealing with feelings of guilt after a loved one dies

I knew that all our thoughts are valid and need to be faced up to. My thoughts were disturbingly conflicting, with thankfulness for the good times versus guilt for my part in the difficult times which happen in any healthy relationship. It was easier to be hard on myself but in the end I came to accept that like everyone, I am not perfect, so I had to be more forgiving of myself.
 
I went through a period when I only wanted to talk about Heather. I knew it made others uncomfortable, and I came to realise I had to be more patient with those relatives and friends who didn't know what to say. 
 
I miss Heather just as much now as I have ever done, in some ways more so.  I see little prospect of that ever changing much. I still get dreadfully upset thinking or being reminded about her, often unexpectedly but I seem to have grown more comfortable with these episodes, and in a strange way I don’t feel I want them to go away.

I do get bouts of extreme loneliness, despite my loving family but thankfully they don’t last. I can usually get over them by reminding myself how fortunate and privileged I am and being thankful for having spent 58 years with a special person.
 
Finally, and this is something cisgender people will find hard, if not impossible to understand. For me the biggest single factor which has enabled me to get through to this point, is the peace and contentment within myself which came from my transition, and to experience how kind and accepting people have been to me. I don’t like to think how would have coped if i hadn’t made that journey. It has given me the courage to be proactive in facing the many difficult challenges of bereavement.
 

*Image from stock

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Juggling care, guilt and grief

Lucy attended our 2021 event, 'An Extra Pair of Hands: Juggling Care, Guilt and Grief' with bestselling author Kate Mosse, and former Hospice UK CEO Tracey Bleakley. Despite having different experiences to Kate, Lucy said that it was a welcome reminder of the similarities of the issues we all face, particularly on the subject of guilt and commitment. 

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