Heart breaks every day

Dear Sheila,
Unfortunately it seems to be commonplace for well meaning but insensitive remarks or gestures to be forthcoming as part of consoling those of us who have been bereaved.
When my husband died very suddenly I received a photo of our wedding from a cousin who included it in with his condolence card as a reminder of happier times. As if I hadn’t got a large number of my own and that being reminded of the happy start of our 35 year marriage would cancel out the utter despair when it ended so sadly.
Another ‘close’ friend asked me if I knew that my husband wanted his ashes to be scattered at sea? As he was a keen sailor all his life I had known this forever and I knew it was mentioned in his Will. Why on earth she didn’t think i might be party to this information but she was I have no idea. She wanted to make sure I carried out his wishes. It’s staggering how often friends overestimate their ability to console.
There are those who haven’t suffered a close bereavement who probably see us as hypersensitive to remarks and should just be grateful to be contacted. I think it is impossible to be over sensitive when grieving. So many responses are uttered or sent with no real understanding of how they will be received and end up being a tick box exercise rather than an attempt to genuinely empathise.
When we are at our lowest ebb, as low it gets on the scale of human emotions, insensitive remarks are like salt on an open wound. Grief is impossible to imagine until it is experienced and nothing anyone says or does can ease its rawness but at least it shouldn’t be added to by ignorance.
After nearly 15 months I am getting better at pointing out hurtful comments which still come my way. I have learned that from my son who was with my husband when he collapsed and died. It is his defence mechanism following some truly mind numbing thoughtless remarks from friends and colleagues.
Losing a thoughtless friend is nothing compared with what we have already lost. I’m so sorry for what you are enduring. X


Dear Sheila/Jobar,

The list does go on and on, it’s not surprising many people isolate themselves just to avoid hurtful/tactless comments …

Shortly after my partner’s death, one “friend” of his asked me if he had been drinking and smoking excessively (which he hadn’t) and CPR could had saved his life (he wasn’t lying flat, I was in panic mode and I was afraid to hurt him, he was a big man), I always wish I could’ve done more even without his inputs and these comments still haunt me today. Maybe it was part of my fault but in my defence, this “friend” wasn’t there to know every detail of the situation. In retrospect, I now feel disgusted to have met him after the funeral (he did bring some flowers for the cremation ceremony and sent me messages of reminiscence though). Perhaps I should cut ties with him as I think he’s also super weird, paranoid and insensitive (despite being gay) it probably explains why he has never been in a romantic relationship and is now in his 70s. I pity him for not having been loved…

Dear Riley

I find myself looking back on what I could have done different, starting with insisting he got rid of his motorbike with a bit more force. Some of the most hurtful comments came from my husband’s family stating better he had died than been severely injured and needed care - that was on the day he died. I reminded them that I took my marriage vows seriously and would have done anything to care for him rather than loose him. Following the funeral we rarely speak.

I now screen my contacts, asking people to text to see if I am up to a chat that way I can avoid those who are going to speak inappropriately. When really angry I often want to go back and say try walking in my shoes for a short while and then get in touch.

I so wish my husband was still with me and that I had been enough so that he did not go out that fateful day.

Thinking of you.


Dear Riley,
I am so sorry that you witnessed the death of your partner and endure the guilt which inevitably seems to follow attempts to perform CPR.
My husband was in a bar with our younger son after an evening football match when he suddenly collapsed. He was talking and said he felt dizzy and then lost consciousness. No pain just fell to the floor. Two minutes earlier he had been exchanging messages with me via WhatsApp and I had replied waiting for his response. It never came.
Because of where he was a member of staff immediately started CPR and a defibrillator was activated. A policeman also continued CPR until the paramedics arrived. Nothing could restart my husbands heart. He had suffered a sudden catastrophic arrythmia and a normal rhythm could not be reactivated. He had never smoked and as the designated driver that evening was drinking a soft drink. He only occasionally drank alcohol.
My husband had been taking medication for moderate hypertension for several years but to all intents and purposes it was controlled , or so we thought. A post mortem revealed an enlarged heart and an abnormal heart valve neither of which had ever been diagnosed or discovered despite check ups at the GP. I have read so many articles on heart disease (how I wish I had read them earlier) and I now realise that once a heart has become damaged , such as enlargement, CPR is unlikely to be successful. In fact outside of hospital less than 10percent of people survive CPR. The secret of good cardiac care is to prevent damage rather than react but how often is this opportunity missed? We genuinely thought my husband was doing all the right things and looking after his heart. His energy levels and general well being belied a heart that could ever have responded to CPR.
The other unimaginable scenario is one such as yours when you are called upon to put aside the overwhelming panic which inevitably occurs and perform a life saving procedure on the person you love most in the world who has suddenly stopped breathing. There is no manual on earth which can prepare a person for this. Even trained personnel suffer extreme anxiety when performing CPR on a stranger. For anyone to criticise what you should have or should not have done is unforgiveable. You will only have done your best in the circumstances. What people think they will do is entirely different from what they may be capable of. I can remember the panic I felt when I received the phone call telling me my husband had collapsed. It is impossible to describe what it does to our mind and body. Even breathing required a conscious effort. I knew I had to get to the hospital but I couldn’t think how to do it.
Films and tv give a completely false impression from real life and lead to unrealistic expectations of survival. This leads to so much unnecessary guilt and self reproach. If only this could be explained at the time but so often it is left unaddressed and the trauma continues.
You loved your partner dearly and you know that if you could have saved him you would have. Take care. X



It wasn’t your fault to let your husband do what he loved, I know how hard if not impossible to change a man. I hope one day you can come to terms with the fact that no one could have foreseen an accident like that. I often asked my partner to have healthier food options (other than the British chips/bread staple carb source), but my suggestions often ended up upsetting him and were futile anyway. Would a better diet have changed anything? Maybe, maybe not, but one thing for certain is that I’ll never find out. I’d learnt it was better for our relationship if I just “respected” his choices.

He used to tell me ‘you can only help those who want to be helped’, I now realise ‘you can also only change those who want to be changed’. We loved them for who they were, it’s part of the unconditional package. We need to remind ourselves that when we think of the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.


I’ve read your reply twice and it’s very emotional for me to empathise what you and your son have gone through. I really appreciate your thoughtful and insightful posts like always. It’s both a curse and blessing to have been there for him, I only hope that my presence provided him some kind of reassurance when he passed, that he knew he wasn’t alone… The on-site counsellor told me people retain their auditory sense for a while after being certified death, a police was there to monitor when i went to say my last goodbye in the hospital, he told me not to touch but I did anyway on top of his head and whispered in his ear ‘I love you, it’s ok to go’… I hope he really heard that.

My heart goes out to you and your family xxx

Back to top