Standing on the sidelines

What is your role when your ex-husband dies?

I have shared the sadness and anguish of my two daughters in the last year during his dreadful illness.   I have felt for them as they made emergency dashes to the North for fear that death was near and shared the relief when he rallied and seemed to be responding  to a new drug.   I have felt their heartache and disappointment as doctors told them, time and time again,  that the treatment failed to work.

He passed away on Saturday 10 December 2011 at the age of 60 having suffered from a particularly rare form of Encephalitis.

When I last saw him October 2010, it was clear he was unwell and as we departed we had a big hug.  It is that hug I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

We were married in 1975 and divorced in 1995 after 4 years seperation.   There was no animosity between us and as the father of our two beautiful girls we had a bond and he will always have a special place in my heart.   I have happy family memories and in recent years, with our grandchildren, there was a further bond, these are never broken.   My pain is that I have lost him again.

The girls spent a lot of time with him in the hospital the week before he died.  They hope that he was aware that they were there.   Many people don’t get to say goodbye to their loved ones and  to be able to tell them things they have always wanted to say but never did.    I know they have also been a great support to his wife of 10 years who has had her future happiness taken away from her.

I am finding it tough because not only am I grieving for the young man I married and the lost times ahead sharing family gatherings and birthday parties of grandchildren.  I grieve for my daughters and their loss.

When your children are little you can give them a lolly, put a plaster on the hurt and give them a  big hug.  It doesn’t work that way when they are women in their 30’s.  They don’t live near me and  we haven’t yet got together since his death.  Both are married, they have turned to their husbands for support, which is only to be expected, it is right and fitting.   Like an itch that needs to be scratched,  I ache with the need to hug my girls,

At the moment they are dealing with their grief in their own way.  Daughter #1 has taken on the role of writing to friends, past and present.    This has proved difficult for me, because I would have liked  to tell those friends that we had during our marriage but understand her need to do this.   Daughter #2 has been busy helping his wife with the funeral arrangements.

This is where my question of “what is my role” comes in.    Friends, say “Just be there for your girls”.    They will be with their husbands at the funeral and standing by the side of their step-mother.    I will have to step back, watch their pain and be just one of the funeral party, remembering that as the ex-wife I have no place of importance on this occasion.   My hugs will have to wait until afterwards and with God willing we will have many years of hugs ahead of us.

Daughter #1 posted a most wonderful poem on Facebook  that I want to share with you.

When God saw you getting tired
And a cure was not to be
He put his arms around you
And whispered come to me
He didn’t like what you went through
And he gave you rest
His garden must be beautiful
He only takes the best
And when we saw you sleeping
So peaceful and free from pain
We wouldn’t wish you back
To suffer that again
Today we say goodbye
And as you take your final rest
That garden must be beautiful
Because you are one of the best.


Daughter #2 has set up a Just Giving page in memory of her father and the Encephalitis Society.  Please take a look as she explains what he died of.

I hope that we all have a happy Christmas with fun and laughter again, although it will be tinged with sadness.


  1. My deepest sympathy and condolences to you and your daughters… This is both complex and painful. You loved him deeply once, he is your children’s father… so sad… I hope you are healing one day at a time…


  2. I read both posts, linked through FrizzText and just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss and your daughters’ loss.
    How wonderful you could share the grief and were welcomed.


  3. I am sorry to hear your sad news and for your loss. Even though you were no longer married, you spent a lot of years together and have the bond of your daughters, therefore you are experiencing a different loss. I don’t suspect that your daughters have been able to distance themselves from the events to realise, that you too are feeling a loss.

    Today would have been my Grandmother’s birthday – her 99th. Just after she passed away, Mum and I had to arrange a funeral, sort and clear and it is only after the domestics that you finally get chance to sit, grieve and reflect. By coincidence I have written about that today as part of my Advent post –
    and have made a loan for the Genealogist for Families project in my Grandmother’s memory. It might be something that you could do in his memory.


  4. I think your friends are right you need to be there for them but you will find its not right now. I think you will find that you can help them more in a couple fo weeks when the funeral is over and life is supposedly back to normal. When my sister died I had to be there for my parents and my sons – I didnt feel like I could grieve. Do your grieving and then you can be strong for them when they miss him at their childrens birthdays etc. Thats when they will need your strength. It is 2 years since my sister died and I still experience huge waves of grief but luckily my boys and boss support me through it


    • Thank you Helen. Daughter #1 said she has found having the children very strengthening. It has been good for me to write this post, sometimes words fly around your head and when they are out and on paper it clears the mind. I have had such support also from ‘virtual’ friends it has been heartwarming.


  5. Shalom,
    To step back can be painful for you but giving your daughters the breathing space they need to recover. But surely they shall feel that you are willing to be near. When you let yourself be seen at the sideline, they shall probably come up to you when the time is ripe. So be patient and pray that all of you may be comforted by the heavenly Father and that you all shall be able to remember the good moments you had together and bring those memories back to live with the future generation.
    Lots of strength.


  6. Is there a friend amongst those that you would have liked to write to, who can be with you so you do not have to stand ‘alone as one of the crowd’? Someone friend enough that you can ask for this friendship? I have seen your posts, and been lost for words. Sending a small hug from a virtual friend.

    If you feel a deep need to write to old friends, you could still do so. For old times sake?


  7. This must be very difficult for you, you must feel very much like an outsider even though you have those common bonds. Hold on to your own ‘good memories’ of the past and as has been already said it is important to be there for your daughters. xx hugs


  8. What a beautiful poem!

    I don’t know quite what to say. I’m sure your daughters don’t mean to distance you as such from the grieving process and I don’t think for a minute they have even stopped to consider your grief after you have been aprted for such a long time.

    {{{hugs from afar}}}


  9. Your blog gave me time to think this morning. It is a difficult position to be in. A friend of mine last year had a similar experience when her ex-husband met with a particularly harrowing death. Her emotions were very mixed as she helped her children cope with the dreadful news. They didn’t have the opportunity to say those lovely things they would have liked to have said.
    We are currently coping with the serious illness of a much-loved parent and know that we will lose her soon. Although it is dreadful to see her suffer, at least we have the chance to tell her how special she is and how much we will miss her.
    You are right. Your role is to be there for your girls but it is still ok for you to grieve for the loss of your daughters’ father. Sending you big hugs.


    • My parent are elderly and my mother is 92, we have had some close shaves over the last couple of years but she is still with us. As parents get older you become prepared to lose them eventually no matter how sad that is, but when they are still relatively young, and 60 is young these days, it is all the more tragic. Thank you for your hugs and warm comments.


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