Interview with Yuri, whose wife, Danka died 2½ years ago when Lilly was 4 and Leo was 1.
My name is Juraj, but I prefer to use Yuri which is easier to remember and pronounce. I lost my wife Danka. We had been together for 14 years, loved each other, laughed together, lived together, travelled, started the family, planned our future…until…she was diagnosed…it was very fast, very painful, very tragic…
My son Leo doesn’t remember my wife, Danka, as she died just 3 weeks before his second birthday. My daughter Lilly has memories, she was four, but I can see that’s she’s starting to forget things now, but she still says she misses her mum, especially when she’s upset.
Recently at nursery they were talking about Mother’s Day. Leo knows his Mum from the pictures he’s seen but doesn’t really show any emotions. I haven’t had the courage to show him the videos – I’m not strong enough, it’s still too painful for me – I think perhaps he’s too young. I don’t know. He was too young when she died and doesn’t remember her voice – there’s nothing left – which is both a good and a bad thing. With Leo, it’s much easier – he wants cuddles from me, but then he’s always been cuddly. But he sometimes gets cuddly and needs me more when I go away. Lilly was scared in a past that I was going to die too and would ask “Are you going away? When are you coming back?” When my wife was ill, it was very difficult for all of us.
Lilly sometimes gets emotional, but she is forgetting. She’s not pleased with my answer to her question when I say that ‘Mummy’s in heaven’. Early on, when we met with some ladies, Lilly wanted them to stay with us and asked if they would be her new mum – it was very strange for me. But now she understands that it’s a fact, it’s only Daddy, and that’s it.
The first year after Danka died – my first year without her – was really tough, as so many things were changing – everything was changing. Before she died, being a Mother and Father was very much split business. I had the job, was in charge of paying the bills and being with the children, mostly at weekends. Their mum was always there with the children, looking after them, cooking with them and making plans. Now I have to do everything by myself – looking after the children, planning out futures.
I’ve had some black moments, and have been through all things. Sometimes I felt like a failure, that I’d let everyone down. But I got through it by working, keeping busy. Those black moments are far less frequent now.
I grew up in Slovakia in times where we didn’t celebrate Father’s Day, there wasn’t such a thing then, so for me it’s just an ordinary day. But it’s never been easy for me. I do the shopping, washing and make breakfast every day! We haven’t celebrated much yet. Christmas I find easier as the children are concentrating on the presents, and the cakes. The 3rd May is Danka’s birthday and it’s a sad day. But the children and I stay together, switch off the phone and the internet. This year, we had a nice day, went to the park and the cinema and talk about the things we used to do together.
So now every weekend for me is ‘Father’s Day’! I work Monday to Friday. I have an au pair now which is a great help, but the weekend, it’s usually 48 hours with the children and can be pretty tough – so that’s my Father’s Day. No doubt they will have a surprise card for me or something that they’ve made at school. The children are older now, so we are going to talk about it on Father’s Day. We’ll talk about the importance of both parents. When I was losing Danka, I thought that the mother was always more important than the father. Now I think that both people are equally important.
I wanted to try Child Bereavement UK’s family support groups and meet new people. It was more about me than Lilly at the time. From the groups, I could see how people do cope and the children cope. Lilly was only four, and quite young to understand – the other children were older, but she was a different person from the first time I went, to when it finished, and became more confident. School helped her a lot. I didn’t want to talk about it much at the time, and I could see the sadness in people’s eyes. It was painful for me, bringing up memories and talking about the special person we’ve lost. It was very painful but very good for me too – it did open my eyes. After that, I kept busier and started to focus more, and realised (I’m 40 now) that I wanted to be amongst younger, happy people – having young children helps.
As time went on, and I didn’t realise for a little while, some people stopped calling me after a few months. Some of the mums at school said their husbands were jealous. I just wanted to spend time with people and let our children play together, rather than being sunk in sadness.
I decided to take up running – long runs – and I’m really into it now. I’ve done a marathon, and will do one again. My wife was sporty, and would be proud of me. I wanted to get everything out of my head and running helped with that. Now I really enjoy it – it has been very good for me.
I’m very grateful that I’ve got young children – if I didn’t, I don’t know what I’d do – I don’t think I would be here. I’m trying to live as normally as possible. But people still go quiet when I say I’ve lost my wife. People don’t know what to talk about. Friends who knew Danka that didn’t contact me for some time said they were scared and didn’t know what to say. But now some of us meet up a few times a year and it’s great. I now have lots of new friends, and I can talk about completely new and different things with them.
If giving advice to other widowers, I would say that family is the number one important thing. Secondly, make new friends and meet lots of new people, and thirdly, keep in touch with your old, good friends. And keep going. If you have young children, you have to. I do all the work, looking after the children and organising, but I need rest as well. I could have ended up lazy, homeless, just sleeping and crying. But I have to get up every day and make breakfast. And live healthily – it makes you feel young.
In life you see some very brave people, for example, people who live with disabilities. I’ve lost my wife, but I’m complete. For me, they are the bravest people. Death is tragic, like cutting your arm off, but it can grow back. And maybe one day I will meet another special person.