‘As time goes by you do get stronger’ says Ipswich mum widowed in her 40s
- Credit: Claire Croome
Following the death of Prince Philip last month, a public outpouring of emotion was felt not just for the royal family as a whole, but especially for the Queen, who had suddenly lost her husband of 73 years.
Statistics from Age UK show the average age for becoming widowed is typically around 73 for women, and 77 for men - but what is it like when your husband passes away while you’re both still young and in the prime of your lives? Where do you go for support and advice?
Claire Croome, 42, of Ipswich, is what you’d call a ‘young widow’. This refers to someone who’s lost their partner when they’re aged 50 or under.
Recent statistics from Suffolk Cruse Bereavement Care show that the charity supported around 111 young widows in the county last year. “However, it should be noted this number is probably higher, as not all of our clients provide us with their age,” adds Susannah Downing, area co-ordinator for Suffolk Cruse Bereavement Care.
Mother-of-two Claire met husband Ed when they were 25 and 30 respectively, and they shared a wonderful life together, having met through work.
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“We actually met over the phone,” she explains.
“I tried to sell him some advertising, as I used to sell on trade magazines and he was one of my customers.”
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But deep into their marriage, tragedy struck when Ed was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 41.
“It was a bit of a shock as he was only in his 40s and at the time we had a four-year-old and a nine-month-old baby together,” Claire says.
“He then went through chemotherapy for a year, and had a year where he was in remission.”
During that year, Ed raised money for Cancer Campaign in Suffolk by biking from London to Paris, raising just over £5,000.
“He then had a bone marrow transplant - but the cancer unfortunately came back. During that period, Ed spent a lot of time either being in hospital or working in order to leave us enough money.”
Ed spent six years battling cancer before he passed away on February 11, 2016 at Addenbrookes Hospital, aged 47. The two had been together for 15 years.
“Even though I had to turn off his life support by the end, he always thought they were going to find a cure – he was always very positive,” Claire says.
“It was still such a shock when he died, however. I do feel there’s a difference between people who die suddenly and people who are terminally ill - but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
When Ed passed, Claire suddenly found herself having to look after two children and a house by herself. “I luckily had a friend who could help with all of the finances - I found that the hardest as Ed was always in charge of that,” she says.
“Buying a car by myself was quite weird too, but you just have to trust the people at the garage. Dads normally come in useful for that sort of thing. But you soon get used to cutting the grass and putting the bins out yourself though – you just do what you’ve got to do.”
Alongside having her nearest and dearest rally around her and offer their support, one of the biggest comforts Claire found over the past few years has been speaking to those who have gone through loss at a similar age.
“I wouldn’t even say there’s a stigma around younger widows and widowers – it's almost non-existent. What did help me was young widow groups on Facebook, where you’re able to find people who are grieving similarly to you and are all thinking ‘where do we go from here?’
“I also think because I didn’t work, I needed it in more ways than some. Whereas if you’re planning on going back to work, you’ve got more to focus on and less time to grieve, and getting back out there will help see you through it.”
A number of support groups are available to help people who have lost their partners at a relatively young age, including Way Young and Widowed.
Established in 1997 by Caroline Sarll, Way Young and Widowed was set up following the death of her sister’s husband at the age of 35.
Prior to lockdown, the group would organise days out and weekends away for adults and their families after suffering the bereavement of a partner at a young age.
In addition, charity Care for the Family’s Widowed Young Support offers help to those who have lost their partner up to 50 years of age. Before the pandemic, it would also run support days and weekends, with the aim of helping men and women living with loss after the death of a partner.
But with the pandemic hampering such plans over the past year, these groups have had to move their support sessions online for the time being.
Stay-at-home mum Claire has found a number of ways to keep herself busy, while also giving back to the hospital that cared for her husband in his final days.
“I’m someone that loves to help others, and when we had the first lockdown, I set up a scrubs making group of around 50 ladies. We made 400 sets of scrubs for the hospital, as I felt I needed to pay them back for their six years of care for my husband. That also helped keep me super busy, spending time cutting out patterns.”
For anyone out there who may be going through similar, Claire says it does get easier with time, even though it may not seem like it ever will.
“As time goes by though, you do get stronger, even though it’s pretty heartbreaking. I don’t want to say ‘time heals’, but I do feel after five years, I’ve become very robust to it all,” she says.
“There are many extra and difficult challenges when suddenly bereaved when young,” explains Jane O’Riordan. She is a bereavement volunteer for Cruse Suffolk, and has encountered a number of young widowed clients during her time with the charity.
“Lots of emotions and feelings take over, and there can be complications of financial challenges as I had experienced with a client when a will had not been made. It can mean there are more difficulties with the grief work when you have the fear of maybe losing a house, having little income suddenly, or no one to help with childcare.
“When your life is turned upside-down, grief affects you physically, too. Lots of people in society don’t understand grief and find it difficult to say things or know what to do in order to help - which can make things worse for a bereaved person. We know that the love and connection of others can help you through challenging times.”
This is where Jane knows that Cruse, and bereavement support as a whole, can be a vital lifeline to many people.
“Well-trained and supported volunteers can really listen and ‘hold space’ for someone, and they can sign post as well. People comment the relief of knowing that what they are feeling is normal, that in time they will be able to have some sort of new life around the person they loved and lost. There is no ‘timetable’ for grief, and that in itself is very, very hard.”
To find out more about bereavement support here in Suffolk, visit Suffolk Cruse's website.
Bereavement charities who can offer support
Way Young and Widowed – also known as WAY – is the UK’s only specialist charity that offers a support network for anyone who’s lost a partner before their 51st birthday.
Cruse is a national charity for bereaved people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its Suffolk division, Suffolk Cruse, is comprised of four localised branches: Suffolk Coastal, Ipswich, North Suffolk and Great Yarmouth and West Suffolk.
The Compassionate Friends is a charity that supports bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents following the loss of a child or children at any age, of any cause.
Sudden is a charitable service that deals with people who have been bereaved by a death that has happened suddenly, including and not limited to Covid-19, accidents, terrorism and suicide.
Winston’s Wish supports bereaved children, young people, and their families following the death of a parent or sibling.
Macmillian offers support and a number of services to anyone who has lost a loved one through cancer, including how to plan a funeral, how to claim bereavement benefits, and general grief advice.