3 years ago
It was about 7 am when Amy heard the kids wake up. Their normal routine was to come out of their bedroom, head to the lounge room to wake Joe up. He slept there most nights as he would have to get up early for work, and didn’t want to be woken up by Amy, who had to be up several times a night to breastfeed their 6 month old baby, Mia.
Amy heard the kids say, “Dad, wake up…” quite a few times. She continued to lay in bed with Mia, listening out for her two older kids, Henry (aged 5) and Ruby (aged 2.5).
She heard Ruby asking, “Dad, open your eyes, why aren’t you opening your eyes?” Henry and Ruby started coming down the hallway, yelling out to Amy, “Mum, Dad’s not waking up!”
Amy still didn’t think anything was wrong. Instead, she was thinking, “Why isn’t he getting the breakfast ready?” like he usually did. She got out of bed and saw Joe lying on his back, on the lounge room floor. She ran to him… and screamed.
“I was hitting his face to wake him up… but I could feel… that he was actually dead. He was cold and already going a bit stiff. I was screaming and yelling out his name the whole time. I was lost for a minute, and then I thought – oh my god I need to ring the ambulance.” She ran back to her room to grab her phone.
She sat on the floor with Joe, while stroking his face and rang 000. She screamed out to the operator, “My husband’s not breathing, he’s not breathing!” He asked her to check Joe’s airways but his teeth were together. She told him she couldn’t get her fingers in his mouth. She heard the operator go silent… That’s when Amy realized, “I think he knew… He said don’t worry, help is on the way.” She forced herself out of her hysterical mode and gave the operator her address. She tried to give him CPR. She panics again, “How many breaths? How many compressions? I can’t remember?!” The operator said, “Look, just keep doing what you’re doing.” Blood started coming out of Joe’s nose. That’s when Amy threw her phone to the floor and thought, “This is not gonna him help anymore.”
The kids were crying for their breakfast.
The next few hours were a blur. The police came, followed by the ambulance. Her neighbours rushed over. Her brother-in-law, who was driving past on his way to work, had seen the ambulance and police at their house. Little did he know then, that tragedy had struck the family.
The police advised Amy and the kids to go over to their neighbour’s house. She can remember saying, “He’s gone. He’s gone.” Over and over again. She was numb. She felt her body physically melting down. She threw up in the toilet several times. But she couldn’t really cry, she said. She was in utter shock. That was Day One.
Amy and Joe in Thailand, 2004
Joe died on a Tuesday and the funeral was about a week later. The celebrant for Joe’s funeral was the same celebrant that married Joe and Amy. “He married us, and he ended us.” Amy and Joe were both aged 36.
I asked Amy to describe the months after Joe was gone. “The hardest was not knowing what to do with myself. Anxiety was horrible. I didn’t know what to do, as in, do I speak to someone? Like a psychologist? People were saying I needed to speak to a counsellor or to a psychologist. But I felt sick talking about it. I almost didn’t want to talk about it but I felt like I HAD to. It’s the thing that you do… Someone’s died – Talk about it. And I found that really hard because it was hard to talk about. I got huge anxiety. I would leave the sessions and come home and take a Valium. I felt like everything lost its purpose.”
“I was at the shops and I’m like, what am I even doing here? What am I buying? Why am I buying clothes? My husband is dead, and I’m out buying clothes, this seems ridiculous. And I’d just go home. I’d be like, what’s the point in all this? And I did that for such a long time and I struggled with doing stuff. How can you function? How can you go on with your husband dead? It just seems wrong. So to me, that was a very hard thing to do.”
“I think what got me through, was having to get through with the kids. I HAD to get up. I HAD to feed them, I HAD to send them to school, I HAD to pack lunches, I HAD to feed Mia. I was still breastfeeding. I just had to do stuff. I just put up a wall and do what I needed to do. And not really think about what I had to do tomorrow, the next day or the next week. The best advice I got from a grief counsellor, was to just, at the very beginning, literally take everything hour by hour, then eventually day by day. As long as I get through today, that’s all I need to do. And that helped me because I didn’t have to think about tomorrow. That was too hard. And certainly not next week, that was too far away. So the advice of just getting through day by day was probably the only thing that got me through the first few months.”
Amy and Joe had been together since they were 16. She had never lived by herself, she had never been on her own. She always had Joe as her security. As tears streamed down her cheeks, she cried softly, “Losing him as my security, was the hardest thing for me. It still is. How was I ever gonna bring up 3 kids on my own without him? How could I live life without him? It was a really scary thought.” It was very raw, and she felt so lost. But she knew she HAD to keep moving. There was no escaping it, she had to deal with what she’d be given.
She described it as, “I was left out in the snow, completely naked, with no blanket, nothing to keep me warm and I had to find my way back to shelter.”
So she took things hour by hour, day by day, and then week by week. She took sleeping tablets to help her sleep. And after a few months, she was able to fall asleep without them.
There were adjustments Amy had to get used to since Joe’s passing. Putting the bins out, picking up the dead leaves, cleaning the pool, doing all the “man” stuff. The decision making. Not having him around to bounce ideas and concerns off. “It’s just me now. Where do I send them (the kids) to school?”
She talks about their son Henry, who is hearing impaired. “Joe and I used to talk about Henry all the time together, we were the only ones who understood Henry. He’s different… He’s just quite hard to get your head around. How to handle Henry, what set him off, why did it set him off, what do we do about it? So that was very difficult, I didn’t even want to talk to anyone about it because no one knew Henry like me and Joe did.”
Amy & Joe’s kids – Henry, Ruby & Mia
Amy still sees a holistic counsellor. She feels that it is much better for her than seeing a clinical psychologist. “I think I very quickly discovered myself. It probably took about a year that I started feeling ok about being by myself. And being able to make decisions and not be scared about it. Actually feeling empowered at the same time. I actually got through the first year of the worst entire time of my life. And I got through it. And I haven’t resorted to drugs or alcohol. I was happy that I was able to come through it in my own way, without people telling me how to do it.”
Just before Joe passed away, they had just finished renovating their home. Their house was a blank canvas. There were white walls everywhere. And so, Amy started painting. She let her imagination run wild with what she wanted to do with the house. It started off with the kids’ room, which was about a 2 week project, and she LOVED every minute of it.
“It took me to a place where my grief wasn’t there. And all that was there was… I was just IN THE MOMENT, enjoying doing what I was doing. I had to learn how to use a drill. I learnt by myself. When I finished that room, I cried. It was the biggest achievement I’ve ever done in my whole life.”
“I’ve never really felt like I had a passion for anything. And all of sudden I was doing something that I was totally in love with. It was therapy, I just let my mind go where it needed to go. I stopped thinking, which was for me – a huge relief. It was a confidence builder. And I finally said to Joe… ‘There you go, I just found my passion, Joe.’ He’s always wanted me to find my passion. His was surfing and he always encouraged me to find mine. We tried everything together but I never stuck at anything because I never liked it!” she laughed. “Nothing made me want to go back and do it even more. Except now… Interior design. It’s the path I’ve found myself heading. And I’ve never looked back!”
Amy was always under the umbrella of Joe’s big and strong personality. She said people would always see her, simply as – ‘Joe’s wife’. But she’s now a very different person to who she was 3 years ago. They would say to her, “Amy, I don’t know how you do it.” “Well, I actually don’t know any other way.” she said. “I don’t know if it’s come through Joe or whether I actually, deep down, AM this person. It’s just – I wasn’t able to BE this person with such a strong personality over me… I feel like I’ve really found myself. I’m now very perceptive of my feelings and my emotions and my thoughts.”
I asked Amy what it was that actually killed Joe. She explained that Joe had a blocked artery in his heart. There was some plaque in his artery, and a tiny piece of it broke off. It was just enough to stop the blood from coming through. She was told by the medical team that his death was near instant. Her spiritual counsellor had also told her that he passed over very, very quickly. But Amy adds, “He had no symptoms of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or was overweight. Very, very healthy. Very fit. He ran to work or rode his bike every day. Hardly drove to work, surfed all the time, ate normal food, probably ate too much salt and fat but his body could handle it. He was young and fit. However, anyone that knows Joe, knows that he was quite highly strung. On the edge a bit, and stressed. He always was quite stressed. He was worse at home, than what he showed anybody.”
“I know I have friends there but what a lot of people who have gone through grief would say; that if you haven’t been through it, you JUST don’t know. And even if you can imagine it, it’s just not the same. So in the early days, I found myself only wanting to be around people that have lost a husband. I almost wanted to seek it because that was all I wanted to know about. That was a very strong emotion that I so desired to get. But I never got it.”
“What I need my friends for – is almost like an escape. I need them to make me laugh. I need them so I can let my hair down and have some fun, and escape the life of having three children. Escape a bit of motherhood. Not too crazy but I do love to have a laugh. I’ve got a new appreciation for girlfriends. Now I really appreciate the time I spend with them. I’ve had a few friends that have dropped in and talked to me, and I think I’ve helped them, through just talking about me and what I’ve been through, and also how I see life now in a very positive way.”
“And I was told this by a spiritual person and I truly believe it… Is that our whole lives together, Joe was up on the stage. When he died, he pushed me up there and said ‘It’s your turn now. It’s your turn to shine.’ So I feel like he’s given me a gift and it’s his gift to me to say, ‘You deserve happiness. You deserve life. You deserve the path that you’re meant to be on. Go find it.’ And I did. I thank him every day for giving me the life that he did with him. There’s no way anyone would’ve travelled the world like he did… And I got to go along that journey with him. And I consider myself so lucky. I’ve travelled the world, I have 3 children, I have a beautiful home, I’m looking at a new career which I love. I’m content, I’m happy. Life is good. So without Joe dying, I may not have had all this appreciation and love for life and myself.”
Some of Amy’s creations!
My husband Adam was best man at Joe and Amy’s wedding. Joe was one of our groomsmen at ours. I remember the day Joe died. I got home from work and Adam was home early. I asked why he was home early and I could see tears in his eyes. “Joe’s gone. Joe’s gone. He’s dead.” I was shocked, speechless and we both held each other in our arms and cried. All we could think of was, “How could this happen? He was so young… What’s going to happen to Amy and the kids?”
I recall having coffee with Amy a few months after Joe’s death. She saw a friend from Henry’s school at the same coffee shop and I remember her saying, “She doesn’t know about Joe. I don’t want to have to say anything. I just can’t.” I felt so much pain for her, but like she said in our interview “If you haven’t been through it, you JUST don’t know. And even if you can imagine it, it’s just not the same.” I understand that now.
While we all miss Joe dearly, I’m so proud of Amy. So proud that she has been able to blossom, with Joe’s death, she found herself. She found strength, passion, contentment and self-love. I wish Amy and her 3 beautiful children – Henry, Ruby and Mia, all the best in the world. And I love that she believes Joe will always be watching over them.
Let’s all appreciate the life we have now, the people we have around us and always, always be grateful. Find the positives in what we have now, and be thankful for it all.
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