By Jo Goodwin-Worton
I was married to Jay for nearly 12 years when, in 2018, life as we knew it took a very different pathway. Twenty-four days after moving into our first house together in June 2018, Jay was diagnosed with Stage 4 gastro-oesophageal cancer. His cancer was aggressive and from the start, we were advised by his hospital team that it would be a difficult journey with no guaranteed good outcome. Despite the prognosis, there was no hesitation in the decision to fight the cancer and do whatever it took to defy the odds!
Within a month Jay had started chemotherapy and just three months later he underwent a total gastrectomy (removal of the whole stomach). This procedure was followed by further chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The treatment and surgeries were incredibly complex and those few months caring for Jay were probably the hardest I have ever experienced in my life.
Throughout those months, despite them being difficult, we found a way of keeping each other smiling, we developed a rather dark sense of humour and we found happiness in the smallest of activities, like being able to walk to the park or go to the cinema. It was a time of such great uncertainty as we waited for results, but I found an inner resilience which I didn’t even know I had.
In April 2019, Jay recovered from his treatments, but his health had sadly deteriorated quite significantly. In July, he underwent further exploratory scans to establish the cause of his continuing pain. On July 9, he was told that his cancer had metastasised and his condition was now terminal. Despite the bad news, we fought to make the most of our time together and even arranged a renewal of our wedding vows within four days. Jay was in a great deal of pain but his smile on that day will stay with me forever, it was incredibly special.
On July 25, 2019, Jay passed away peacefully, at home, with me holding his hand.
A few months later, I decided that despite being overwhelmed with grief, I wanted Jay’s life to carry on, albeit through me. I left my job and I signed up for a university degree to train to be a grief counsellor. It was the biggest leap of faith I had ever undertaken and to say I was nervous was definitely an understatement. I also signed onto further courses to help with my academic qualifications as well as starting as a volunteer for a bereavement charity.
Then COVID-19 hit the world! Despite being in lockdown and unable to go out, I used that time proactively and studied full-time in order to progress my career. During that time, despite being good academically, it was also beneficial for my mental health. Grief is incredibly difficult and whilst you have good days, the bad days can feel so overwhelming. Having a purpose positively helped me to process all of those difficult emotions and to feel like I had a purpose again.
That was four years ago, and a lot has changed since then. To date, I have now successfully passed and qualified in all of my courses and can now say that I am a qualified grief specialist. I am close to finishing my university degree, which has been a challenge, but one to which I have risen to positively.
I have always channelled my grief into my work and into my future life as it has helped me to find my own meaningful way forward, however, it hasn’t always been easy. The anniversaries and the triggers are always present and are a timely reminder of life before Jay’s diagnosis. My grief for Jay will never lessen, however, my life now is growing around my grief, which allows me to feel happiness again and to see a future full of possibilities.
Before Jay died, we had several conversations about my future and what Jay wanted for me. He told me that he wanted me to have the career I always dreamed of, but also that he wanted me to meet someone else, as it was okay to be happy again. The only stipulation was that whoever I met, had to love me for just being me and that I could be myself around them.
At the time of course, it seemed preposterous to even think about another relationship, but over time, I did start to think about new relationships and how I could process those new emotions to contemplate love after grief. Happily, I did indeed meet someone and our relationship made me feel like I had a future again.
Whilst my love for Jay would never leave me, I knew that I couldn’t be in love with him so I took a chance and went on a date. Meeting Gareth for the first time was both wonderful and surreal, with the barrage of emotions being a mixture of trepidation and excitement.
It was in May 2022 that my life really did change, as Gareth and I were married in a beautiful ceremony, surrounded by our family and friends. I know Jay would be so happy for me, knowing that despite going through the darkest of times, I found happiness both in love and my work just as he had wanted for me.
When you lose someone you love, your life seems to stop, despite the world around you carrying on, and whilst it is incredibly difficult on some days, it is possible to find a meaningful future again.
Throughout my journey with Jay, I kept a journal, it captured the highs and lows from the time Jay was diagnosed until after his funeral. It was whilst looking through the journal that I felt that what I had been through was probably what many people just like myself were experiencing. Using the words I had written, I turned my journey into a book and in May 2022, my book Caring for Cancer the Real Journey was published.
It was a raw and truthful account of the day-to-day life of coming to terms with a loved one’s cancer diagnosis as well as facing the possibility of them dying and ultimately the grief after that person dies. The book was commended for its rich insight into what happens when ‘the doors are closed’ and you face grief head-on.
In May 2023, I took another leap of faith and set up my own company offering grief support and grief training. It was the culmination of four years of academic studies and finding a way to channel my grief into a purposeful and meaningful future.
Working as a grief specialist is a privilege, as I know that although I cannot understand a person’s individual grief, I can relate to it, which is so rewarding. My role now is thanks to Jay leaving me with the strength to find a way through my grief. He empowered me to reach my potential and to help others, which I feel is an amazing legacy to Jay.
Recently, I published my second book, Back to Normal? which has already received wonderful reviews. The book is a collection of inspiring stories, about real people who have experienced a loss and/or bereavement. It offers some insightful and supportive advice about loss, grief and bereavement and asks the question: “Can we really ever go ‘Back to Normal’ after grief?” The book offers a sense of hope and inspiration to everyone and how maybe the term ‘new-normal’ is a better way of describing life after grief.
The last five years have been both the worst and best times of my life. Grief brought so much darkness into my life, but ultimately I was able to find a way through that darkness; with my life being full of so much hope, love and inspiration. My heart will always show the scars of my grief, they will never leave me, but my heart is also now full of happiness and love which is something I never thought possible in 2019.
Grief is unique and there is certainly no right or wrong way to grieve, everyone is different. If you are grieving the loss of someone you love or have experienced a loss which has been life-changing, there is support available to support you.
For more information about Jo, you can check out her website.
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